Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons 2002-03While speaking in the chamber of the House is a high profile activity for an MP, much other work is done elsewhere, in committee, as well as a large casework load for constituents.
17/11/03 Lloyds TSB closure
29/10/03 Appointments Commissions (PMQs)
14/10/03 Alvis Vickers
06/10/03 Future Rapid Effect System
15/07/03 Regional Disparities in Transport
09/07/03 Transport (A1)
24/06/03 Air Weapons
17/06/03 A1 Study
11/06/03 London Olympic Bid
12/03/03 Antisocial Behaviour
12/02/03 Low Income, Debt and Poverty
06/02/03 House of Lords Reform
05/02/03 Local Government Finance
04/02/03 House of Lords Reform
29/01/03 PM on House of Lords Reform
22/01/03 New Deal
21/01/03 House of Lords Reform
13/01/03 Working Families Tax Credit
13/01/03 Minimum Income Guarantee
09/01/03 National Minimum Wage
18/12/02 Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill - Clause 1
18/12/02 Debt and Financial Exclusion
17/12/02 Traffic Congestion
05/12/02 House of Lords Reform
05/12/02 Local Government Financial Settlement 2003-04
26/11/02 Regional Assemblies (Preparations) Bill
20/11/02 Regional Government
13/11/02 Queen's Speech Debate
Mr. Smith: I understand the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend on behalf of his constituents, and I can well imagine local anxieties. However, my answer is the same as the answer that I gave earlier. It is by investing in skills and competitiveness that we can best ensure jobs for the future. I urge employers in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere to keep the promises that they made to local workers and urge Members on both sides of the House to back a strategy of investing in skills so that more people can fill the 10,000 vacancies that are reported to Jobcentre Plus each and every day.
Economic stability and success are generating jobs in all parts of this country, and unemployment has fallen most in the areas where it was highest. If people face job insecurity, that is worrying, and we must do everything that we can to support them, but it is by equipping people with skills for competitiveness and supporting our competitive industries that we will best ensure employment for the future.
The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend's question indicates, there is a range of views. I have made clear my own position, but I do not doubt that the debate will continue over the coming months. In the end, there will be a free vote for the House to determine the outcome.
Mr. Ingram: Some 60 AVL personnel went to Kuwait to support British troops on Operation Telic. Equipment availability is a key factor in any military operation, and we greatly value the contribution made by civilian contractors. The capacity to support equipment effectively when it enters service is a consideration for acquisition programmes, and this will be the case with FRES.
Mr. Clelland: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to award a contract for the demonstration and manufacture phase of the Future Rapid Effect System. 
Mr. Ingram: The project to introduce a Future Rapid Effect System is currently in its Concept phase. The Department is now considering procurement options but no date has yet been fixed for the award of contracts for future phases.
Mr. Clelland: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the average age is of the British Army fleets of (a) the 430-Series vehicles, (b) CVR(T) and (c) Saxon; and when these vehicles will be replaced by the Future Rapid Effect System. 
Mr. Ingram: The average age of the British Army fleet for the FV430, CVR(T) and Saxon Light Armoured Vehicles is detailed in the table:
|Average age (years)
An endorsed in-service date for the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES), and the numbers and types of vehicles to be procured as part of the FRES programme, will not be determined until the assessment phase of the programme has been completed. We are therefore currently unable to confirm which in-service vehicles will be replaced by FRES vehicles or when that might occur.
Mr. Darling: Yes, I do. If my hon. Friend examines identifiable public spending by region, he will realise that although a great deal of money is undoubtedly spent in London for clear reasons, the North-East is the next most obvious beneficiary. A case can be made for spending more on transport and other matters in every area of the country. We are trying to ensure that our approach is fair for the whole country. I understand my hon. Friend's point about last week's announcement in which I was able to give the go-ahead to some projects but not others, but if he examines the figures for identifiable public expenditure, he will find that the Government are spending substantial sums of money in the North-East, as they are entitled to do
Mr. Darling: The details of all my announcements are in the Vote Office. Some 400 hon. Members should have received a letter setting out detailed proposals. There are difficulties with the western side of the A1. There was a suggestion that the stretch of road should be tolled, which would be the first time that a through road had been tolled to sort out a local problem. I am aware of the pressures on the road - I have driven along it often enough - and I have asked the Highways Agency and the local authority to consider what can be done to stop local traffic spilling out on to the improved A1. Otherwise, the problem might be sorted for five years before building up again. The study did not come up with an especially satisfactory solution for that stretch of road and I acknowledge that further work is required.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): I am aware of both proposals, which are part of one of the studies that I hope to deal with before the summer recess. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I hope to make a statement about six or seven multi-modal studies that need to be dealt with. I am aware of the issues in relation to the roads and the metro. My hon. Friend will understand that I am not in a position to give commitments in respect of any of those things at the moment, but I am aware of them, and I am aware of the pressures that Newcastle and Gateshead, like a number of other areas in this country, face.
The Minister will be aware that the previous Conservative Government introduced the concept of a sports academy, which was to be based in Sheffield with satellites spread around the region. Gateshead was to be the North-East regional satellite. The Labour Government modified the concept to the institute of sport, but it remained as it was and Gateshead remained the North-East hub. The original plan was for £150 million of capital expenditure to be distributed around the 10 hubs. Some hub sites have developed. Sheffield, Loughborough, Bath and Manchester are hubs as a result of the spin-off from the Commonwealth games.
Gateshead has done some serious planning, and was about to enter a detailed study and design stage when Sport England announced a moratorium on projects funded by lottery money. Gateshead could not take the financial risk, and immediately had to put its plans on hold. Sport England announced that it was to undertake a stocktake of all lottery-funded projects, and told Gateshead that there was a distinct possibility that Sport England would de-commit - an interesting word - from some projects, including the sports academy hub site plan. The decision on that was expected on 14 April. It was then deferred to May, and deferred yet again on 3 June. We believe that the Olympic bid is already making Sport England rethink its distribution of funds throughout the country. The Olympic-sized pool that Newcastle city council was hoping to develop now seems to be in jeopardy, and Sport England is unwilling to commit itself to funding.
We are concerned that the Olympic bid will further exacerbate the situation, and we cannot stand idly by and watch that happen. If the Olympic bid is being pursued on the basis of prestige for London and the development of east London - which I accept is much needed - but at the expense of developments in other regions, it will not be in the interests of the country as a whole. Will the Minister reassure us that that will not be the case?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Christopher Leslie): My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) referred to the role of Gateshead in the sports academy hub plan and the fact that the town is still awaiting a decision from Sport England's funding review. I shall convey to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport the comments and concerns of my hon. Friend. However, I am assured by officials that the review is not driven by or directly connected with the Olympic bid and that Gateshead will not be at a disadvantage.
Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend and his parliamentary colleagues from the North-East have been running a very effective campaign on this issue. I am deeply sympathetic to ensuring that we get the penalties and the signals right, and individual cases have highlighted the fact that, at the moment, they are not right.
Mr. Cook: I am not quite sure which of the statistics that I quoted my hon. Friend is taking exception to. If he wants to amend any of these statistics, I will cheerfully correct the record, but I notice that he did not suggest that I was wrong in any particular fact in respect of those that I quoted. What I did say is that all options were defeated - there were no winners on Tuesday. I agree with him that the status quo is unacceptable, but unfortunately, as a result of Tuesday we do not currently have an alternative to it, and there is no facile and easy solution.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Cook: I will, because I know of my hon. Friend's great interest in this matter. Then, if I may, I will continue my speech.
Mr. Clelland: Does my right hon. Friend agree that if appointment - a word that I do not particularly like - came about through regional authorities or devolved assemblies appointing members, and they arrived at their appointees by way of indirect election, that would be entirely in line with our manifesto, because it would be a reformed and more democratic process?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is describing not a process of appointment, but a process of indirect election. The key test is that if indirect election is to be democratic, it should issue from bodies that are themselves elected by universal suffrage and by direct election. If those bodies themselves have direct election, it would be entirely democratic - should that be the way in which we choose to go ahead - for them in turn to elect from their number representatives to the second Chamber. That is the democratic mandate of several second Chambers in Europe. If my hon. Friend wishes to achieve that outcome, he will have to support one of the options for an elected, not an appointed, second Chamber.
Mr. Clelland: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the list system, which I presume his party favours as a proportional representation measure, is a form of appointment? It would provide for individuals to be appointed by political parties. The electorate would have no say. Does he further agree that, if the Scottish Parliament were to appoint members of the second Chamber by a form of indirect election, it would be more democratic than the system that we have at the moment?
Mr. Tyler: That would not be a form of appointment. I support the recommendation of the Select Committee in this House that election should be by open list or a single transferable vote. Therefore, the situation that the hon. Gentleman suggests does not apply. The electorate would choose, not the parties.
Mr. Clelland: Does my right hon. Friend believe that an elected second Chamber will have the powers to make the changes that the people want?
Estelle Morris: Not without a change in the way in which politics is mediated and we debate matters. We need to be far more mature and grown up about our debates. Without change, the elected second Chamber will not achieve what my hon. Friend suggests. By the way, I do not come down in favour of a wholly elected second Chamber.
Mr. Clelland: Is my hon. Friend suggesting that individuals should be elected, but have no link with or responsibility for the people who elect them?
Mr. Fisher: They should have links with or roots in a region. This country has distinct regions, and the world looks very different in Cornwall or Devon from how it looks from the North-East. Members should be nourished by those roots, but they should not represent individual constituencies.
Mr. Clelland: Does my hon. Friend agree with the Leader of the House, who told us that a vote for direct elections can also mean a vote for indirect elections? Is she aware that in the Committee that prepared the report before the House, there was only one vote on any option, and that was a vote by those members who favour elections to eliminate any reference in the report to indirect elections?
Julie Morgan: Indirect elections can be considered as part of the elected whole.
In conclusion, we have an historic opportunity to move forward, and I urge hon. Members to go the way of democracy. Let us have a fully democratised second House.
The Prime Minister: My briefing very helpfully starts by saying "I understand that there are a range of views on this issue." However, everyone agrees that the status quo should not remain. Everyone agrees that the remaining hereditary peers should go and, what is more, that the prime ministerial patronage should also go. However, the issue then is whether we want an elected - [Interruption.] I am asked for my views; I am giving them. Do we want an elected House, or do we want an appointed House? I personally think that a hybrid between the two is wrong and will not work.
I also think that the key question on election is whether we want a revising Chamber or a rival Chamber. My view is that we want a revising Chamber, and I also believe that we should never allow the argument to gain sway that, somehow, the House of Commons is not a democratically elected body. I believe that it is democratic. [Hon. Members: "A free vote?"] It is a free vote; people can vote in whatever way they want, but I think that all Members, before they vote, should recognise that we are trying to reach a constitutional settlement - not for one Parliament, but for the long term. In my view, we should be cognisant not just of our views as Members of Parliament, but of the need to make sure that we do not have gridlock and that our constitution works effectively.
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The available information is in the table.
|Total number of programme participants1
|Newcastle upon Tyne2
|New Deal for Young People (from January 1998)
|New Deal 25 plus (from July 1998)
|New Deal for Lone Parents (from July 1998)
|New Deal 50 plus (Employment Credit claims) (from April 2000)
1 Up to end of September 2002.
Note: The information is not available at local authority level for the New Deal for Disabled People and New Deal for Partners.
2 Local authority areas.
Source: New Evaluation Database.
Note: The information is not available at local authority level for the New Deal for Disabled People and New Deal for Partners.
Dawn Primarolo: The number of families with children receiving Working Families' or Disabled Person's Tax Credit in each local authority, and the average weekly values, appear in "Working Families' and Disabled Person's Tax Credit Statistics. Geographical analyses". This is available on the Inland Revenue web site, at www.inlandrevenue.gov.uk/stats/wftc/wfdptc_geog.htm.
Mr. McCartney: As at August 2002, 12,800 pensioners in Newcastle upon Tyne received on average £43.63 Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) per week and 8,400 pensioners in Gateshead received an average weekly MIG of £41.92.
Source: Income Support Quarterly Statistical Enquiry, August 2002.
Alan Johnson: We do not have information on numbers of national minimum wage (NMW) beneficiaries specific to Newcastle upon Tyne or Gateshead. For the north east region as a whole, it is thought that around 80,000 people should have benefited from the introduction of the NMW in April 1999. The number who should have benefited from the NMW uprating in October 2001 is estimated to be 110,000.
In spring 1998, prior to the introduction of the NMW, the average wage for full-time employees on adult rates in Newcastle upon Tyne was £336.9 and in Gateshead it was £352.5. In spring 2002 the average wage in Newcastle was £409.9, an increase of nearly 22 per cent., and in Gateshead it had risen to £389.4, an increase of 10.5 per cent. over the period. Over the same period the average wage for the north east as a whole increased by nearly 18 per cent., to £399.3, and for Great Britain by 21 per cent., to £464.7.
The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women (Mrs. Barbara Roche): My hon. Friend is right; there are some absolutely disgraceful cases, which is why the community finance and learning initiative is so important. Those pilot schemes promote financial education and good practice so that we can crack down on loan sharks, who cause a great deal of disruption to our community and feed off vulnerable people.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Alistair Darling): My hon. Friend makes a key point. If we are to tackle congestion, we need to look at its causes, and, in particular, at the places where it occurs. He will be aware that I made an announcement last week about a number of road programmes. The road mentioned by my hon. Friend is being studied by the Highways Agency and, as and when we have something to say about it, I shall report that to him and to the House. The key point in relation to congestion is that we must, as a country, commit ourselves to sustained investment, year on year, decade on decade, which successive Governments have failed to do in the past.
Mr. Cook: We have given an assurance that the issue will be taken on a free vote. That was the basis of my statement last June. Indeed, any motion that we put before the House is, by definition, amendable. My understanding is that plenty of options will be proposed by the Joint Committee, and I am not sure whether it will be necessary to table amendments to provide for any more options than the many with which we will be presented. As to the timing, I said last week that the Chairman of the Committee had given an undertaking that he would report before the winter solstice. The solstice is even nearer than it was last week, but, nevertheless, I believe that the Joint Committee has a programme of sittings that should enable it to meet that target.
Mr. Raynsford: I am pleased that my hon. Friend acknowledges the progress that we are making in terms of grants to local government, and in eliminating some of the anomalies and unfairness inherited from the previous Government. I believe that the settlement announced today is good news for both Newcastle upon Tyne and Gateshead, both of which have received significant increases. Above all, my hon. Friend will be pleased that there is in place a framework that acknowledges the needs of more deprived communities. Deprivation is taken into account and the resource equalisation process helps authorities with high needs but a low council tax base. That is an important element in our new structure.
Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, as he has exposed one of the Bill's most basic flaws: even if it receives a Second Reading - Labour Members who properly opposed the whole principle this evening none the less suggested that they will be loyal Back Benchers and troop through the Lobby - and completes its parliamentary progress, we shall not know whether there will be a referendum in the north-west of England, as the Deputy Prime Minister has not been good enough to explain to us how he will judge the demand for it. We have a bizarre proposal before us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) is not in the Chamber, and I would be careful in making this remark if he were: there may be some interest in the proposal in the part of the country represented by the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland), but there certainly is not in mine.
The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend will recognise that our White Paper spelled out exactly what the functions and powers will be. By next week we will have had an opportunity to debate the referendum Bill, so that the debate can begin.
Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO
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