Parliamentary Session 2009-10

Parliamentary Session 2009 – 2010

Questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Dissident Republican Groups – 22nd April 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I agree with my right hon. Friend about Hugh Orde? As Secretary of State, I could not have had a better or more astute Chief Constable with whom to deal.

On the dissident threat, does my right hon. Friend agree that it was aimed not least at trying to torpedo the agreement between the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, and between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, on the programme and principle of the devolution of policing and justice? Does he agree that it is absolutely essential that none of the parties is deflected by dissident attacks and tragic murders from pursuing their course and completing the process of devolution that is so essential to entrenching stability and peace in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Woodward: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is very clear that the criminals behind the so-called dissident attacks set out to destabilise and damage the confidence of the people in Northern Ireland in the peace process and the political process. Of course what they also did, regrettably, although I continue to pay tribute to those who were murdered, was reveal the strength, depth and width of the political process and the peace process. It is stronger today than at any point before, and people in Northern Ireland can have great confidence in their political institutions.

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Questions to the Prime Minister:

European Council – 23 March 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I welcome the fact that the European Council has adopted many of the ideas that the Prime Minister has advocated consistently now for months—a co-ordinated response on regulation and, yes, on a huge fiscal stimulus. Is it not extraordinary to get the same vacuous and juvenile posturing from the Leader of the Opposition when unemployment is 7.6 per cent. across the European Union and expected to rise to more than 10 per cent., with about 5 million jobs still to be lost across the EU? What we need in that context is huge public investment: the Tories simply will not learn the lessons of the 1930s and, yes, their own failure in the 1980s to tackle these problems through the power of Government, using a fiscal stimulus to do so.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is right at this time to use the Government’s powers to help people who are unemployed, to help mortgage holders with their mortgages and to help small businesses get the funds that they need. Of all the parties I know across Europe, only this Conservative party is saying that there should be public spending cuts: the German, the French and other conservative, right-wing Governments have supported fiscal stimuli. The Tories cannot walk away from the fact that they are the only party calling for public spending cuts.

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Questions to the Prime Minister:

Northern Ireland – 11 March 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): The Prime Minister made some welcome observations about the terrible tragedies in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that what is especially encouraging is the fact that the leaders of republicanism have spoken out so clearly and unequivocally in condemning those terrible criminal atrocities, and have been united in doing so? Even a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that the Deputy First Minister, with all his history, would stand alongside the First Minister and the Chief Constable and say that we would not tolerate this criminality, while still retaining his republican objectives. That gives us encouragement, or should, in the current circumstances.

The Prime Minister: I spoke to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on Sunday, and met them both on Monday. Both revealed their determination to make it absolutely clear that violence cannot be tolerated, that terrorists must be rooted out, and that the community should co-operate with the police in doing that. They condemned absolutely the killings of a police officer and the killings of Army officers who were, sadly, on their way to Afghanistan, and who would have left that night but for the terrible incident.

I say to my right hon. Friend that out of this tragedy something is emerging which shows that the people of Northern Ireland, as well as the politicians, want the political process to be both maintained and strengthened. I think that that gives reassurance and encouragement even in this most difficult of times.

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Questions to the Secretary of State for Wales:

Manufacturing – 11 March 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend take no lessons from Conservative Members on the impact of the global credit crunch on manufacturing in Wales? Their policies in the 1980s and ’90s decimated manufacturing in Wales, and they show every sign of wanting to repeat those policies. I hope that my right hon. Friend will stand up against them.

Mr. Murphy: I certainly agree that, during the recessions back in the time of Mrs. Thatcher’s Government, the situation was very different. It is most important to understand that we cannot simply sit back and do nothing. The Labour Government here, and a Labour-led coalition in Cardiff, are actually being positive about the help that we can give businesses in Wales. That is something that we did not see before, and I fear that we are not seeing that from the Conservative Opposition now.

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Questions to the Shadow Secretary:

State for Wales  – 26 February 2009

Mr. Hain: The hon. Lady mentioned Conservative policy on banking. Has she read the letters page in today’s Financial Times? Tom Brown, senior credit executive at Norddeutsche Landesbank, finds it especially disconcerting that the shadow Chancellor is revealed as a man who does not have ‘the haziest grasp on the cause of the crisis’ or how banks work. If the hon. Lady is taking advice from the shadow Chancellor, surely those comments are devastating.

Mrs. Gillan: The right hon. Gentleman obviously has more time on his hands than I have. What with preparing for the debate, for a television programme on which we will both appear later today and my private Member’s Bill on autism, I have not had time to scan the papers. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman remembers the remarks that some foreign politicians made about Labour Front Benchers, which I am too much of a lady to repeat. After prioritising help and removing the blocks on lending, I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that we have a duty to look long term to ensure that Wales can emerge from the recession with the tools to flourish and prosper. To do that, we must make some major fundamental strategic plans rather than going for quick fixes or cheap headlines.

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Question to Secretary of State for Wales:

Police Force – 26th February 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend speak with those who are responsible for setting the precept for the South Wales police force? The chief constable gave MPs and AMs a briefing on this matter, which I attended. She has asked—reasonably in my view—for a 10-year 10 per cent. increase. That would amount in total to about £13 a year on bills. The difference between what has been allocated and what she is asking for is about 2p a day. I think that my constituents are willing to pay that to keep more police officers on the beat and to see more neighbourhood policing. Why should the precept for South Wales police continue to lag behind by about £50 compared with North Wales and £30 compared with Gwent and Dyfed-Powys? I would be grateful if he used his good offices to influence a resolution of the problem.

Mr. Murphy: Like my right hon. Friend, I have spoken to the chief constable on this subject. She came to London a few weeks ago to discuss that and other matters, and he and I were present at that meeting, here in the House of Commons. Next week, when I meet the Home Secretary, I will raise these issues again. There is a strong case for South Wales police, because it is not only the biggest police force in Wales, but covers our capital city, where major events take place. The Government have invested £1.3 billion in Jobcentre Plus. Those investments are working alongside the policies that the Assembly is advancing—ReAct and ProAct. The ProAct scheme, in particular, has been of great interest, not just in Wales but beyond. That programme has started very speedily and is backed by European funds. Take-up is now starting—in the past few days, at least two companies have been given a ProAct grant, and 15 others are in the process of having their applications considered. It is a uniquely Welsh programme that is very useful in ensuring that people are retained in their industries during the slowdown so that, when the changes eventually come, their industry is not badly affected and will continue, perhaps even stronger than before.

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Questions to the Shadow Business  Secretary: 

Royal Mail – 11th February 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): This is good, knockabout, Oxbridge stuff [ Interruption. ] That is why all the Oxbridge types behind the right hon. and learned Gentleman are cheering him. But if he welcomes the Hooper report, why does he not support the Government’s efforts to address the pension deficit? The Tories would leave Post Office pensioners in the lurch by pursuing their obsession with privatisation, as they always have.

Mr. Clarke: We have been trying to get the Government to say what they will do about the pension deficit. I trust that we will receive some enlightenment today. I shall put the issue in context. I have already said that there is widespread consensus about Royal Mail. For example, there is widespread consensus that any proposals for its future should be based on the universal service obligation, which Royal Mail should accept, whatever its form. It is necessary to have a nationwide service, with deliveries to any citizen or household at a uniform price; Royal Mail must continue to discharge that obligation. Indeed, the Hooper report says that the changes that it recommends are above all necessary to ensure that the universal service obligation can be continued.

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Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members:

9 February 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, I have unwillingly become a bit of an expert on this stuff. I agree with many of the points made by Opposition Members. What I have just heard seems to be nonsense on stilts. I regularly have annual dinners in Neath. If 200 people come to one, paying £15 a ticket, and some pensioners take part in a raffle, and the profit—from a couple of hundred different people—goes over £1,000, as it often does, that is surely different from my writing to somebody asking them for sponsorship. If sponsorship money from a single individual came to more than £1,000, I would be in a sense obligated to that person and that should be registered, but the way in which this matter has been described seems to me a complete mess.

Chris Bryant: If there were a fundraising dinner whose tickets cost not £15, as in my right hon. Friend’s case—in my constituency they normally cost £20—but £500, the order of magnitude would be rather different. The issue is whether there is a significant financial benefit to the individual; the key point is whether that benefit is more than £1,000. If hon. Members are in doubt, they should consult the Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests so that they can have absolute clarity. However, I reassert that the rules say that the interest should be registered when there is a benefit of more than £1,000.

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Questions to the Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs:

 Lindsey Oil Refinery – 2 February 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I agree with the Minister that right-wing anti-Europeanism and protectionism would be disastrous for British workers. Do I understand from his statement that ACAS will investigate the implementation of employment rights in respect not just of statutory minimum standards such as the minimum wage, but the national collective bargaining agreements that apply at all of those sites? The wages there are many times higher than the minimum wage. I still find it puzzling that European companies can bring their labour in, meet all the costs of accommodating and transporting them—both to this country and to and from work—and still claim to abide by national pay rates and conditions of service. That does not seem to add up, and I wonder whether the real answer to that puzzle is to be found in the fact that these subcontractors subcontracted all the way down the line to a point at which nobody really knew whether the workers concerned were being exploited or whether local workers were getting the justice and fairness to which they are entitled.

Mr. McFadden: My right hon. Friend asks several questions, which I will try to answer. He asks about the national agreements setting standards that are higher than the basic minimum wage. He is right about that. Claims have been made that the subcontractors on the Lindsey site abide by the national agreement, and that is a legitimate issue for ACAS to look at. He mentioned the costs involved and I suggest that employers may not always choose the cheapest tender, and that speed or the overall package that a subcontractor offers may be strong factors. The statement issued last night said that the subcontractors did abide by the national agreement, and ACAS will doubtless examine that claim with the employers and the unions involved.

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Questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:

Saville Inquiry – 21 January 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I ask my right hon. Friend about any lessons that could be learned from the tragedy that the Saville inquiry is investigating? Is there any read-across to the inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson into the Omagh bombing, a statement on which was made this morning? That statement seems to have exonerated GCHQ from any of the allegations made by the BBC, among others. It seems that if there was any malpractice or any problems, they were more on the Royal Ulster Constabulary special branch front, which was largely addressed by the 2001 reorganisation. Does my right hon. Friend agree about that?

Mr. Woodward: I thank my right hon. Friend for providing me with the opportunity to make that read-across from Lord Saville’s work to the Omagh report, and I commend Sir Peter Gibson for the thorough and exhaustive way in which he has approached the task of considering lessons to be learned from the sharing of intercept material on the day, and around the time, of the Omagh bombing. I ask the House to note that I have placed in the Library today not only my written statement but Sir Peter’s summary report and a response to it by the Chief Constable. I thank Sir Peter for his comprehensive work. It is difficult to make a direct read-across to Lord Saville, except to say that for those involved, it is important to produce material as quickly as we can.

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Questions to Foreign Secretary:

Gaza – 12th January 2009

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Would the Foreign Secretary agree that the terrible horror unleashed in and around Gaza represents an epic failure of foreign policy on all sides and that we need a new approach? The messages coming from President-elect Obama’s team, reported at the end of last week—making direct contact with opponents, including Hamas and seeking to negotiate an end to the conflict—stand a much better prospect of succeeding, because in the end we do not solve conflicts such as this by military means, as we learned in Northern Ireland. We solve them politically.

David Miliband: We do indeed solve them politically and I believe a new approach is on the table. It is a comprehensive approach to the problems of the middle east, recognising that while the Israel-Palestine conflict is the core of the middle east problems, issues in respect of Syria and of Lebanon and the Golan heights and the Shebbaa farms are also part of the picture, as is the fundamental fact that in the end security for Israel does not come from the Palestinian state alone—it comes from the normalisation of relations with the whole of the Arab world. That is why before the Christmas break we were talking in the House about the importance not just of a two-state solution but of a 23-state solution. I believe that new approach will be essential, more akin to the approach of the Madrid negotiations than the Annapolis negotiations.

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