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Engagements

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 26 March 2008

Q6. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity over the next few days to talk to President Sarkozy about working closely and helpfully with the Chinese Government in order to find a peaceful and lasting solution to the Tibet question? Will he do that? (196468)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as this issue concerns not just France and Britain, but the whole world. As I said last week, I have talked to Premier Wen about it. My hon. Friend may know that a human rights dialogue took place with the Chinese Government at the beginning of the year, and officials from Britain visited Tibet and reported on it. We are determined to draw to the Chinese Government’s attention changes that need to be made. We urge restraint where there has been violence and we urge reconciliation where there is a lack of dialogue. I repeat that the authorities in China and the Dalai Lama should, subject to the conditions laid down, get into talks. We are determined to help and facilitate a process of dialogue and reconciliation.

Q7. Given reports that embassy staff in Washington have been forbidden from using the expression “the special relationship”, will the Prime Minister—for the benefit of the people of this country and perhaps of President Sarkozy—define his understanding of the meaning of “the special relationship” between the United Kingdom and our closest ally, the United States? (196469)

As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is our closest ally and our single most important partner, so I use the term “special relationship” with pride.

Q8. As my right hon. Friend knows, the Foreign Secretary launched the Government’s annual human rights report at the Foreign Office last night. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the many volunteer organisations that contribute so much to fostering human rights across the world—including my fellow members of Soroptimists International in north Wales, who, through their project Sierra, aim to transform the lives of orphan children following the war in Sierra Leone? (196470)

I believe that the House should congratulate the Soroptimists and all those who work for human rights in every part of the world, particularly those who work for the achievement of the Geneva convention, but who do so under dangerous and risky conditions that can sometimes threaten their lives. The human rights report published by the Foreign Secretary yesterday draws attention to areas in the world where human rights abuses have to be addressed. One important area that will be in the eye of the world this weekend is Zimbabwe. It is important that we draw attention to the abuses there and call for a restoration—a full restoration—of democracy in that country.

Does the Prime Minister think it right that the west coast main line should have to wait until 2012 for new carriages? Will he intervene in the dispute between the Department for Transport and Virgin Trains in order to secure a resolution to the problem?

I just have to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have spent £7 billion modernising the west coast main line and that no Government could have done more to make it possible for more people to travel on that particular line and on railways more generally. Indeed, the number of passengers using the railways is now more than 1 billion for the first time since the second world war.

Q9. What would my right hon. Friend say about a local authority that has slashed services to disabled people in such a cavalier fashion that they are threatening to take the council to court for its failure to comply with its equality duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005? (196471)

It used to be the Conservative councils that were the only ones making huge cuts, but it is now Scottish National party and Liberal Democrat councils, which explains what has happened in Aberdeen. I think that people will be particularly sad to hear that members of the disabled community in Aberdeen are the biggest victims of the cuts being brought in by that administration. I hope that public opinion will express itself and say that disabled people should not suffer in that way.

In the spirit of the entente amicale as well as that of our special relationship with our American allies, may I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the state of relations between the EU and NATO, which the Defence Committee has urged should be a priority matter for next week’s NATO summit? May I urge him to address what the American ambassador to NATO has called the senseless and frozen conflict between the two institutions and to secure the agreement of President Sarkozy, whom we welcome in London today, to resolve the problem so that neither the EU undermines NATO, nor NATO the EU?

I believe that both NATO and the European Union have important jobs to do. In my discussions with President Sarkozy, I believe that we will see him being amenable to changes in NATO that will bring its European members closer to the heart of NATO in the near future. I also believe that a relationship between the EU and NATO in which the EU does more of the civilian reconstruction work, matching the military work of NATO, as is happening in Kosovo, is one of the ways in which we can cement a better relationship between the two organisations. We are proud to be a member of both NATO and the European Union.

Q10. As science is so important to the north-west and to the UK economy, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the science research council retains key scientific skills at Daresbury laboratory so that we can continue to produce world-leading science there? (196472)

I can tell my hon. Friend, who has fought hard for all the investments made at Daresbury science park, that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is committed to creating a science and innovation campus at Daresbury. That was announced in the Budget of 2006 and confirmed in December 2007. The next step is that Sir Tom McKillop, the chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland, has been asked to include Daresbury in his north-west review. We are committed to additional investment in science and technology in my hon. Friend’s region, and to all the jobs that flow from that, making it possible for the north-west to continue to increase employment during a difficult period for the world economy.

In his article in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, on why we must stand up for the Union, with which I heartily agree, the Prime Minister mentioned Scotland, Wales and England. Will he now tell the House what his predecessor once said: that he values the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

Not only do I value the Union but I will work to make that Union strong. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Daily Telegraph website, he will see that Northern Ireland was included in that article, not excluded.