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Volume 471: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2008

Q9. In view of the disturbing events that continue in Kenya, including the massacre of women and children, tribal conflict and the assassination of an Opposition Member of Parliament, will my right hon. Friend continue to support the efforts of the international community and Kofi Annan to reintroduce peace and democracy to that country? (182962)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has taken a long-term interest in Kenya and in what happens in Africa. I talked to Kofi Annan and to Graça Machel, the mediators, last evening. I wanted them to send three clear messages to the Kenyan regime. The first is that democracy is not defended by killing people, and that those who are behind the violence will be held to account in the future. Secondly, dialogue and negotiation are the only way forward in resolving this crisis, and Kenya’s politicians must now show the leadership that the Kenyan people want. European Foreign Ministers have made that clear, as did European leaders in a statement last night. Thirdly, the international community will not let the people of Kenya down. We have given £2 million to the Red Cross to help to relieve urgent humanitarian needs, and we will do everything we can through the Department for International Development to provide help to those who have been displaced and harmed. We also stand ready to provide financial support to a genuinely representative Government who are prepared to put the interests of the people of Kenya first.

How does the Prime Minister reconcile his assertion that Parliament should be at the centre of our national life and his promise that the European Union (Amendment) Bill would have full consideration in this House with the draconian timetable motion that we have had thrust upon us this week?

The Bill is being discussed in very great detail. It was discussed last week, it is being discussed this week and it will be discussed next week and the week after that. I think that the country will know that there has been full and detailed discussion of every aspect of this legislation.

Q10. With the energy supply companies, including Scottish Gas, putting up domestic fuel charges by at least 15 per cent. at the same time as Scottish Gas declares an obscene 636 per cent. rise in profits to £700 million—proving, as Energywatch said, that the market is rigged against the public—surely it is time for Ofgem to return to its original role of restricting the price rises of these rip-off suppliers. What is the role of the regulator if not that? (182963)

The regulator has been asked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look into all those matters. The fact is that there has been a 60 to 80 per cent. increase in coal, gas and oil. We cannot deny that those increases are taking place in every country in the world, causing inflationary pressures, including on ordinary consumers. We have the winter allowance in place, which provides £300 for pensioners over 80 and £200 for those over 70. The energy companies have been asked to provide additional money, which is being raised from £40 million to £56 million, to support consumers and we will also do more to help fuel-efficient provision of energy services for households under the Warm Front programme. That will help people to insulate and draught-proof their homes. More money will be going into that in the next few years. We continue to look into all those aspects of the problems people face as a result of energy bills and we will make further announcements to the House.

The Prime Minister may be aware that the Post Office earmarked four post offices for closure in the Mid-Sussex constituency. It invited a detailed consultation for six weeks, to which there were more than 6,500 replies—all unreservedly in favour of retaining those post offices. On Tuesday, however, the Post Office announced that they are all to be closed. Why does the Prime Minister allow his Government to be party to such a rotten deceit of the public in respect of that consultation?

We have made available £1.7 billion to help post offices in this country and we will continue to make money available for Post Office services. There is a process of consultation and an appeals system, although I do not know whether it was taken up. I urge the hon. Gentleman to meet the Minister in charge of the Post Office. We are listening to what people say, but the fact of the matter is that many post offices are not used in any great detail. We will continue to put the money in to help the Post Office service.

Q11. Will the Prime Minister find time to examine the evidence heard yesterday by the Home Affairs Committee on how the Government’s own forced marriage unit cannot get even its own posters advertising advice and support for young people into local schools for fear of upsetting local opinion? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to investigate this problem and introduce new guidelines to ensure that support services are available to young people at risk of being forced into marriages against their will? (182964)

I am extremely concerned by what was said there and by what my hon. Friend now says. I believe that Ministers with responsibility for schools will want to look further into this. Indeed, we will do so and report back to the House.

The Prime Minister will understand the importance for his constituency and mine of the construction of the two new aircraft carriers. Will he therefore explain why, although the Defence Secretary agreed the go-ahead for those aircraft carriers last July, the contracts for their construction have not yet been signed?

We were able to announce the two new aircraft carriers. They will benefit not only Rosyth, but many shipyards around the country. We are in the process of agreeing contracts to go ahead with them, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is our intention to go ahead with those contracts.

Q12. The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh is renowned for the quality of the medical treatment and care it gives to its young patients, but as a result of a review being carried out by the Scottish National party Administration in Edinburgh it is currently facing downgrading, and in particular the loss of its children’s cancer services. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of the hospital staff over many years, and in congratulating the Edinburgh Evening News on its “hands off the sick kids” campaign, to reflect the public concern over this threat? (182965)

I gather that the Scottish National party does not want this issue to be raised in the House of Commons. I have some knowledge of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. It has given service to the community over many decades, and it is valued in the community. Unfortunately, the rate of increase of expenditure on health care in Scotland is not now the same as the rate of increase in England. That is the unfortunate result of policy decisions made by the SNP.

I must tell the Prime Minister that Shropshire’s local education authority is ranked 145th out of 149 LEAs for funding, and that all Shropshire MPs have to fight tooth and nail to save our primary schools in small rural villages. When will the Prime Minister give fairer funding to rural shire counties such as mine to sustain rural village schools, and not pour money into Telford? Why should Telford have £200 more than Shrewsbury?

We have doubled expenditure on schooling. We continue to increase the amount of money that is spent on education. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to increase expenditure on education, he had better change the policy of his Front Bench, who have opposed our increases in money for schools.