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Volume 546: debated on Wednesday 20 June 2012

Q9. Wales is the only nation in the UK without a single yard of electrified rail track, thanks in part to the Labour party. As a former Secretary of State for Wales, could the Foreign Secretary persuade the Government that extending the track as far as Swansea, not just Cardiff, would be great for jobs, great for Wales, and somewhat cheaper than the current refurbishment of Tottenham Court Road station? (112668)

I know that my right hon. Friend the Welsh Secretary is working hard on this. We are committed to electrifying more than 300 miles of railway routes, which compares with just 9 miles electrified under the previous Government—an interesting contrast in infrastructure investment. The Department for Transport is currently considering a business case for electrification between Cardiff and Swansea prepared in Wales, and I understand that the decision will be made by the summer. Of course, it will depend on whether it is affordable and on the assessment of competing priorities as well.

There is more work to do, but for the third month unemployment has reduced in Scotland, and for the second year in a row Scotland is the best performing location for foreign direct investment in the UK. Will the Foreign Secretary take the opportunity to congratulate the Scottish Government and Scottish Development International, which is the lead agency that secures foreign direct investment?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the employment figures, which we must never be complacent about. There is always so much more work to do, but the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) did not ask about the figures, which show a quarterly fall in unemployment of 51,000, the rate of unemployment coming down in the quarter and, importantly, youth unemployment coming down by 29,000 in the past quarter, although long-term unemployment is still rising and remains a challenge. Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, is an attractive place to invest. I congratulate many Scottish people and businesses on their work. They would have much harder work to do if Scotland were not part of the United Kingdom.

Q10. While welcoming overseas students who come to this country to get a world-class education and then return home to benefit their countries, will my right hon. Friend look extremely sceptically on vice-chancellors who believe they cannot compete unless students are given an additional incentive to stay on in this country, legally or illegally, especially as last year 120,000 students sought and were granted the right to extend their stay here? (112669)

Yes, as my right hon. Friend knows, the Government have introduced radical reforms to stamp out abuse and restore order to a student visa system that was out of control, making the immigration system easier for students, universities and the UK Border Agency. We are closing bogus colleges and regulating the remainder, restricting the right to work here and bring dependants and making sure that all but the very best go home at the end of their studies. On that basis, of course talented students from around the world are welcome here in the United Kingdom.

As MP for Rotherham, may I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has realised his ambition, thwarted in 2001, and is now briefly in charge of the clattering train? As two Asian Nobel peace prize winners will visit the House of Commons this week, will he take the opportunity to invite a third, Liu Xiaobo, currently rotting in the Chinese gulag, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize last December, and will he mention his name, Liu Xiaobo, from the Dispatch Box, rather than referring to it in the human rights dialogue, and invite him to London next year?

It is good that nice words about Rotherham are being exchanged at Prime Minister’s Question Time, so I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s question. We do raise individual cases with the Chinese, often publicly, but I will assess which ones to raise and when to do so. The human rights dialogue we have with China is very important, and it is important that in China there is an understanding of our deep concerns about many of these cases. He can rest assured that I will be raising them.

The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) has got his answer on Liu Xiaobo and will doubtless be content.

Q11. In the cause of deficit reduction, the Government are reducing police funding by 20% in real terms over four years. Can my right hon. Friend therefore assure me that, also in the cause of deficit reduction, he will insist on a reduction in our contribution to the European Union budget of more than 20%? (112670)

Highly desirable though that would be, my hon. Friend is aware that that contribution is not determined by a single decision of Government; it is the balance between two large figures determined in other ways. However, he can rest assured that we will be far better at negotiating on this than were Opposition Members. When the shadow Foreign Secretary was Minister for Europe, the Labour party gave away £7 billion of the British rebate, for nothing in return—an abject failure of negotiation and leadership that we will not repeat.

Q12. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), who was quoted in Newcastle’s The Journal as saying:“I see no economic argument for introducing regional pay”? (112671)

I think that there is a variety of views on regional and local pay in all political parties—I pointed out earlier the views expressed by the former leader of the Labour party on local and regional pay. It is also worth pointing out that the previous Government introduced local pay into Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in 2007.

Does my right hon. Friend agree how wonderful the announcement was about the investment in Derby for Rolls-Royce, which will mean future engineering jobs? Bombardier is looking for 44 new jobs and unemployment in South Derbyshire has gone down by 150 in the past two months.

That is indeed good news, as my hon. Friend says. It is good news for investment in this country and for Derby and the surrounding area, and it is good news for the long-term security of this country that we are prepared to invest confidently in submarine technologies for the long term.

Q13. How does the snoopers’ charter that the Government plan to introduce shortly differ from the 2009 proposals, which both governing parties opposed when they sat on the Opposition Benches? (112672)

It differs enormously, because the previous Government’s proposal was to hold all data in a central database. Our proposal would require providers to hold on to their data. The hon. Gentleman uses the catchphrase “a snoopers’ charter”, but it is designed to be a criminals’ nightmare. If we do not update our ability to detect terrorism and criminality in this country, that will have a very serious effect, so I encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at this in detail. It is very important for maintaining law and order in the UK.

Q14. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the highlight of the Olympic torch relay will take place on 6 July, when it arrives in Southend to be met by a choir of 2,000 on the longest pier in the world, with its new, iconic building? Does he agree that the Olympic games are an opportunity for our country to come together and celebrate this Government putting the “Great” back into Britain? (112673)

The arrival of the torch in Southend is one of the highlights, the other being the fact that today it is passing through Richmond, Yorkshire—and I would have dearly loved to be there to see it. But that is one of the highlights, and my hon. Friend is quite right: the Olympics are an enormous opportunity for this country. We are looking, through the Olympic games, to secure more than £1 billion of inward investment, to attract an additional 4 million visitors, including to Southend, and to use the games to inspire more young people to take up sport. It is a great moment for Britain.

Q15. We all know that the Prime Minister likes to “chillax” down the pub, but when it comes to Anglo-French relations should he not adopt a more sober approach? (112674)

The Prime Minister always has excellent relations, in my experience, with any President of France, including with the new President of France. We should welcome and applaud the fact that the city in which we are sitting is the seventh largest for French people in the world, and they are of course welcome here in the United Kingdom whatever their Government are doing at home.

I understand why the right hon. Gentleman would have liked to have been in Richmond, but he has paid the price of fame, which is why he has had to be here instead, and we are extremely grateful to him.

We now come to a statement from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Secretary Cable. [Interruption.] Order. I know that Members are toddling out of the Chamber—quickly and quietly so that we can hear from Mr Secretary Cable.