Parliamentary Session 2007-08

Parliamentary Sessions 2007 – 2008

Questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Wales:

Renewable Energy – 26 November 2008 

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend ignore the strictures of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Robert Key) and look at the expert evidence from Dr. Rob Kirby? It shows that there has been a catastrophic decline in shore bird species—especially the dunlin—in the past 40 years because of the different impacts of the environment on bird life in the Severn estuary. If we had a Severn barrage, biodiversity would rapidly increase. It would be a win-win, representing the biggest renewable energy project in Britain and an improvement in biodiversity, including shore bird life. Will the Government please go ahead and push the project?

Mr. David: I commend my right hon. Friend on the excellent work that he did as Secretary of State for Wales in taking forward the project. It is important. The Sustainable Development Commission has given it a positive recommendation, and there is a strong case for further investigation into a sustainable Severn barrage. I give a commitment to the House that the work will continue.

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Questions to the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions:

Benefits – 24th November 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): The fact that the numbers of people on jobseeker’s allowances are rising is, nevertheless, a big contrast compared with the 1980s and 1990s, when people were just abandoned in the terrible Tory years. [I nterruption .] As we are entering a period of turbulence in the jobs markets and rising unemployment, will my right hon. Friend specifically look at the question of people not receiving their benefit and support quickly, if not immediately, particularly in respect of mortgage relief and of those who are made redundant? People should receive their benefit right away and then be helped back into work instead of languishing for a period in no-person’s land.

James Purnell: We are introducing today the lone parent changes, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for that radical welfare reform package, for which he was responsible. He is absolutely right: we need to ensure that we get people their benefits as soon as possible, and that is why we have brought forward the help that people receive if they lose their job and need to pay their mortgage, from 39 weeks, as it was under the Conservative Government, to 13 weeks.

I know that Opposition Members did not like it, but my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to remind them that in the ’80s and ’90s, millions of people were abandoned when the Conservatives massaged the figures to get people on to incapacity benefit. We will not repeat that mistake.

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Questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Political and  Economic Developments – 19 November 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the astute way in which he supported the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in reaching this important agreement—a relief to me, as I promised to be the last direct rule Secretary of State. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the process will take time? It was never envisaged that there would be a big bang devolution of policing and justice, but that it would be phased. That will now occur speedily, and relatively soon there will be progress towards that objective.

Mr. Woodward: Once more, I take an opportunity to place on record not only our thanks, but, I think, the thanks of all politicians in Northern Ireland for the work of my right hon. Friend. He helped to steer the parties to the St. Andrews agreement, which allowed the two Governments to provide and reach a framework within which the institutions could be restored. On the basis of that agreement, it was possible yesterday to produce the historic agreement by the First and Deputy First Ministers that will allow devolution to be completed. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise, however, the need for all of us to continue to support the Government in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can. Even if there are setbacks in the months to come, we remain resolved, and the Prime Minister remains resolved, to provide every help we can to ensure the completion of devolution.

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Questions to the Prime Minister:

G20 Summit – 17 November 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister ignore the bumbling opportunism of “boy George” and the Conservatives, and instead learn the lessons from Keynes that they have clearly failed to learn, by recognising that to avoid a 1930s-type slump it is necessary to borrow to invest and to cut taxes of the kind he is advocating? The alternative advocated by the Conservatives would result in a prolonged slump in Britain.

The Prime Minister: I fear that the shadow Chancellor said on Sunday:

“Gordon Brown told us before going to Washington that it was all about getting a global agreement for a fiscal stimulus package. He has not done that.”

How out of touch are the Opposition.

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Questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Criminal Justice and Policing – 15th October 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I welcome what the Secretary of State has said and endorse his determination to seek progress. I remind the House that, operationally, policing is pretty well devolved already, through the Policing Board. However, it is the unfinished business of the settlement last year and it is crucial, especially to the nationalist and republican communities, that the devolution of policing and justice should occur. The republicans signed up to an historic move to support policing and the Democratic Unionist party deserves great credit for insisting on that. However, the other side of the bargain was that devolution should take place. The whole House should fully support the Secretary of State and all those involved at Stormont in achieving that as soon as possible.

Mr. Woodward: I thank my right hon. Friend for everything that he did as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He played a very significant part in helping to achieve the agreement that allowed devolution to go forward in the elections last year, and his continued work through the BIIPB—British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body—is an extremely important part of the work of politicians in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. This issue is a matter of relationships between those people elected in Northern Ireland. Progress has always basically been made in Northern Ireland as an article of faith and trust. It is essential that we build that faith and trust to go forward, but as I have already remarked, our view is that there is no issue on which the parties need not find resolution if they wish to.

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Questions to the Chancellor:

Financial Crisis – 6th October 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I commend the Chancellor and the Prime Minister for their calm and authoritative leadership, but global political leaders and central bankers seem to be behind the curve, as the financial crisis spreads rapidly into the real economy. Does he agree that it is no longer simply a question of sub-prime versus prime, but about asset quality in infrastructure, businesses, commercial and other property and even car loans and so on? In addition to the special banking powers that he is taking, will he consider legislating to enable reserve powers over infrastructure—rail, vital utilities and similar things—in case they fall into serious problems, as I fear they might, so that we are not behind the curve but ahead of the game, with those powers sitting ready to be taken, perhaps involving stakeholdings, recapitalisation and other matters and procedures that might prove necessary?

Mr. Darling: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support, and I agree that it is important that all of us—Governments, central banks and regulators alike—keep an eye firmly on problems that might arise in future. I also agree that it is important to ensure that investment, especially in transport infrastructure, continues; I feel very strongly about that, for reasons that he will understand. That is why I am pleased that our Government have been able hugely to increase the amount of money that they are spending on transport infrastructure, and why it is important that, in what will undoubtedly be a difficult time, we ensure that investment does not suffer. Long-term investment in infrastructure is very important.

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Questions to the Home Secretary:

House of Lords Reform – 14th July 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I commend my right hon. Friend’s thoroughness and progress on this issue but express disappointment that this important question of Lords reform is still in the slow lane? This House voted by an overwhelming majority for a 100 per cent. elected Chamber and by a smaller but none the less clear majority for an 80 per cent. elected Chamber. There is no justification for not introducing a Bill in the next Session, and one of the advantages of doing so would be that it would test Conservative support for Lords reform. I should like that to be put to the test and for us to finish this unfinished business as part of the radical proposals for constitutional reform that I am proud our Labour Government have introduced.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support and, in a sense, I welcome his impatience. As a former Leader of the House, he will be aware of the issues about what is included in the legislative programme. In practical terms, given the huge amount of detail that must still be resolved, it will be difficult to include legislative proposals in the next Session. Given all the fits and starts on Lords reform—including under my party between 1966 and 1968—the measure of cross-party consensus represents significant progress, and we must rapidly build on it.

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Questions to the Prime Minister:

G8 – 10 July 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I congratulate the Prime Minister on the strong and principled leadership that he showed at the G8 summit, and on Zimbabwe I welcome the sanctions measures that he announced. However, will he consider three additional measures: first, return home the ruling clique’s sons, daughters and other relatives who are being expensively educated abroad; secondly, ban all Air Zimbabwe flights to the European Union, including Britain, and internationally; and thirdly, discuss with the South African Government their continued supply of electricity, which enables Mugabe and his ruling clique to escape the universal and persistent cuts that are imposed on almost everybody else? Finally, as a fellow anti-apartheid activist of decades ago, he will recall exactly the same arguments being used against sanctions on South Africa as are now being used against sanctions on Mugabe: they were wrong then and they are wrong now.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has a long-standing interest and suffered a great deal from his involvement in anti-apartheid campaigns over many years. He is absolutely right that many things must be considered, and he mentioned the supply of electricity and energy from South Africa to Zimbabwe, but I must say that the starting point is to have the whole international community imposing sanctions. It is all very well for one country or one continent to take action, but it works successfully only when we have the whole international community behind what we are doing so that the regime is genuinely isolated from the whole international community.

We have now started work in the United Kingdom to identify assets in other countries of Africa, where we know they exist, in Asia, where we believe that the regime’s members have assets stocked away, and, of course, in America and Europe. We are doing a forensic assessment to identify the physical assets, the bank accounts and the financial holdings of those 14 main people, who are part of the Mugabe cabal. That is the first step, and it is my hope that we will have the whole international community behind us so that the full pressure is felt on the Zimbabwean Administration.

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Questions to the Prime Minister:

Zimbabwe – 18th June 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): With opposition voters in Zimbabwe being murdered, beaten and starved, with independent monitors being abducted and terrorised, with the head of the pan-African observers saying that there is no way that next week’s election will be free and fair, with Mugabe declaring war on anyone who dares to vote against him, is it not time that the international community—including my old anti-apartheid friends in Pretoria—demanded that this election be called off, that the results of the first free and fair round be recognised, that the winner, Morgan Tsvangirai, be declared President of a Government of national unity, and that Mugabe be forced to recognise at last that the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe want him to go and want him to go now?

The Prime Minister: I have great respect for the views of my right hon. Friend, who has been involved in the politics of southern Africa for many years and has done great things.

There have been 53 confirmed deaths, some 2,000 people have been injured and 30,000 people displaced during this campaign. Four million people are in need of food aid, but are being denied it by the regime. The deputy leader of the MDC, Tendai Biti, is in police custody. Those are not circumstances in which a free and fair election can take place.

We have asked the regime to allow in observers for the 9,400 polling stations. Hundreds ofobservers have gone in, and more are to go in. We demand that those observers come from not just Africa, but different parts of the world. We also demand that the UN human rights envoy be admitted into Zimbabwe and that proper monitoring of the elections takes place. If that does not happen, it will be difficult to justify the elections as free and fair.

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Questions to the Foreign Secretary

Zimbabwe – 2 April 2008

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one fact is crystal clear—Mugabe has lost? First, if he had won, he would triumphantly have proclaimed that fact, as he did on all previous occasions. Secondly, for the first time we have an aggregation by independent monitors of results posted up outside local polling stations, and they show that he has lost. That being the case, it is vital that the international community stand together with the UN, the European Union and the southern African countries to ensure that an orderly transition of power takes place, and that there is an end to the prevarication and, frankly, the complicity with Mugabe’s murderous rule, which there has been from Beijing to southern Africa for far too long. Mugabe has shown consistently that he will not go unless he has no alternative but to go. Quiet diplomacy has never worked with him.

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend, I am sure, is right about the significance of international unity, and seeking that international unity across the EU and the southern African countries is important. I very much concur about the significance and stress that he placed on the role of the civil society organisation ZENS—the Zimbabwe Election Support Network—and the highly innovative mobile phone-based photography it has produced of results posted outside polling stations, under quite some threat to the individual security of its members. I choose my words carefully: like my right hon. Friend, I have seen the results that came out of the sample—540 of 9,400—that the civil society organisation chose.

There will be time for a post mortem on how we got here, and no doubt there will be different views on which countries played what role. At the moment, however, I would prefer to stick with the importance that my right hon. Friend placed on unity and the role of civil society organisations.

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