Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): While agreeing with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) that there should be no question of an amnesty, surely there is some merit in the proposal from the Northern Ireland Attorney-General that rather than incurring enormous expenditure pursuing crimes committed during the troubles decades ago—where the evidence is difficult, if not impossible, to establish—the justified grievances of victims, including widows of police officers and prison officers, should be addressed in other ways so that Northern Ireland can move on from its hideous past.
The Prime Minister: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman’s views on this issue. He served in Northern Ireland and knows how important these issues are. I would make two points. First of all, I do think it is important to allow Richard Haass to do his work about parades, about flags and about dealing with the past. Clearly, the dealing with the past part is the most difficult of the three and the most difficult to unlock. The second point I would make is that we are all democrats who believe in the rule of law and believe in the independence of the police and prosecuting authorities, who should, if they are able to, be able to bring cases, and it is rather dangerous to think that you can put some sort of block on that. But of course we are all interested in ways in which people can reconcile and come to terms with the bloody past so that they can build a viable future and a shared future for Northern Ireland.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab):Since two thirds of the green levies on people’s energy bills were established under this Government, why has the Prime Minister been attacking himself?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. [Interruption.] The fact is that many of the green levies were put in place by Labour. Let me remind him that one of the first acts of this Government was with the £179 renewable heat initiative, which the leader of the Labour party wanted to put on the bill of every single person in the country—and we took it off the bill.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): If we are giving impetus to association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, where does that leave Turkey? What assessment has the Prime Minister made of the reports that Germany and France may be revising their attitude to Turkish membership of or association with the European Union? Surely Turkey should be a greater priority, given its crucial role as a gateway between Europe and Asia and between the Christian and Muslim worlds.
The Prime Minister: We should take the two cases separately. We are in accession negotiations with Turkey and another chapter has just opened in relation to its membership of the EU, which I support. Ukraine and the other Eastern Partnership countries are a different matter. They are obviously under an enormous amount of pressure to join a trade area dominated by Russia. We want to say to those countries that if they want to have a relationship with Europe and to trade with it, they can. This is an opportunity to say to countries such as Ukraine that they must continue to make progress with governance and justice if they want to have that relationship. That is an important part of the EU’s relationship with those eastern countries. I therefore think that the two cases are slightly different.
MP for Neath Peter Hain has joined the Trussell Trust in calling on the Prime Minister to launch an official enquiry into food poverty, following the news that food bank use across the UK has tripled within a year.
There are two food banks currently operating in the Neath constituency, one in Neath town and one in Ystalyfera. Both food banks are accessed regularly by local people who have fallen on hard times.
According to Mr Hain, ‘Average household incomes in Neath are low whilst the cost of living, particularly food and fuel prices, continue to rise. The Government meanwhile insists on hitting hard-working people with economic policies such as the Bedroom Tax, pushing even more families into poverty.’
Neath Food Bank can be found at the Orchard Place Baptist Church opposite Victoria Bus Station in Neath and is open Tuesdays and Fridays 2pm-4.00pm. The food bank in Ystalyfera, ran independently by the local charity CATCH (Cwmtawe Action to Combat Hardship), operates out of St David’s Church Hall and is open Wednesdays and Fridays 11am-2pm.
Mr Hain has praised the work of the volunteers who run both food banks, describing them as ‘a crutch for our communities’ who offer support to those who have been left with nowhere else to turn.
Concluding, Mr Hain said, ‘As we approach the winter months, I remain deeply concerned about the most vulnerable in our communities who will be forced to choose between putting food on the table or heating their homes this Christmastime.’
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Can I take it from the Prime Minister’s statement that he now agrees that the Syrian civil war can only be ended not by military action but by a negotiated settlement, however difficult, involving the Iranians, the Russians and, yes, Assad too? Will he use his influence with the opposition forces, which have so far been unwilling to come to such a negotiation, to say that they must have ceasefires locally and access to humanitarian relief, and nominate people who will serve as Ministers alongside existing Government Ministers in a Government of transition to prepare for elections?
The Prime Minister: We would certainly encourage all parties to take part in the Geneva II talks when a date is set and they get moving. It is obviously in all our interests to see that political process work. The only point that I would make to the right hon. Gentleman is that at the same time it is absolutely right for the British Government and other like-minded Governments to stand up for the millions of people in Syria who want a future free from terror—a future free from Assad. We need to make sure that there is a Syrian opposition who are strong enough, both on the ground as well as diplomatically and politically, to do that.