Speeches and parliamentary questions in the House of Commons
While 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.
04/04/05 Right Hon. Lord Callaghan KG
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I just want to add my brief personal encounter with Jim Callaghan to the tributes. I came to the House of Commons after a by-election in 1985, and I made my maiden speech on what became the Public Order Act 1986. I was immediately drafted on to the Standing Committee, where the Opposition were led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who kindly decided that on Report Members who had served in Committee should move their amendments at the Dispatch Box. After only a few months in the House of Commons, I therefore found myself moving Opposition amendments at the Dispatch Box. After moving one amendment and filing into the Lobby, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned round and saw Jim Callaghan, who said, "Was that you at the Dispatch Box?" I said, "Yes, sir, it was." He said, "Very good. Don't let them move you on." That was kind of him, and it only confirms what has been said about his generosity to new Members. Unfortunately, his words of wisdom were not passed on to the powers that be, but they confirm that, above all, he was a very kind and decent man, and he will be sadly missed.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Prime Minister may be aware that the National Institute for Clinical Excellence is proposing that certain drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and dementia should no longer be available on the NHS. However, is he aware of the massive impact that this would have on the quality of life of sufferers and carers throughout the country? Will he intervene to ensure that these drugs remain available on the national health service?
The Prime Minister: The situation is now under review. Obviously, it is important that we keep closely to what the institute advises. Under this Government, we have set up for the first time in this country an independent body that advises us on these things, and I think that it is now taken virtually as a model around the rest of world as to how these things should be done. Occasionally, it will make proposals that are highly controversial. For that very reason, we have said that we would look at these issues again with the national institute, but I do not think that that should be taken as any reflection on the institute's general work, which is very good.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Does the Minister agree that the first imperative is to settle on a reformed second Chamber's specific role and powers? Would not any advisory function carry more weight, and be more respected, if the second Chamber were less able to engage in the sort of party and oppositional politics evident last week? That problem would be aggravated if we had an elected House of Lords.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie): It is true that the second Chamber has a legitimate revising and scrutinising role, but its Members must also respect the fact that this House must make the final decision. Ultimately, people need to know whom to credit when things go right, and whom to blame when things go wrong. Elected Members of Parliament must stand up in front of their constituents - and Opposition Members are about to find out the public's view of their proposals.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Is my right hon. Friend aware how welcome it is that a British Government have finally woken up, 50 years after its invention in this country, to the important role - [Interruption] - that linear motor can play in the provision of fast, efficient, environmentally friendly inter-city transport? Can we look forward to early indications that serious consideration is being given to this mode of transport, known elsewhere as Maglev, being introduced in the UK?
Mr. Darling: I apologise to my hon. Friend - just as he was making the most telling point in his argument, somebody's mobile phone went off, so I may have missed what he was trying to say. If he was referring to Maglev - magnetic levitation - we obviously need to consider that technology, although there is currently only one example of a Maglev train running any distance - that is, 30 km in China. The sort of distances that we are contemplating, though not great by comparison with distances in China, are considerably longer. Now that we have fixed many of the problems that affected the performance of the railways in the past, as a Government we need to consider what additional capacity will be necessary in the future and look at the possibilities that might be presented by high-speed rail links. However, I should tell my hon. Friend that Maglev is only one of a number of possibilities, and it would be quite wrong to suggest that we are committed to that particular course of action, as some people outside have sought to do. We are examining a variety of options. What is important is that we look ahead and plan for the future.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): The Minister sounds as though he is saying that he would have some sympathy with amendment No. 30 if it were put in the right context. Would he be prepared to consider this issue again in another place?
Mr. McNulty: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because if that is the impression that I gave, it was entirely illusory. I was merely expressing sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley because amendments Nos. 29 and 30 sat together, and it was a shame that we could discuss only one and not the other. The two should have come as a package. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) for allowing me the opportunity to clarify my position on that; I would not want to mislead him in any way.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): My right hon. Friend rightly acknowledged the contribution that British businesses make to construction and reconstruction in Iraq. PB Power in my constituency has received a grant from the Department, and the company is now using its considerable skills to create a national electricity generation and distribution system in Iraq to power hospitals, workplaces, homes and schools for the ordinary citizens of Iraq.
Ms Hewitt: I congratulate PB Power, which is doing immensely important work, along with many other companies. I hope that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the British firms and British workers who are working alongside the Iraqi people and helping to rebuild that country in difficult and often dangerous circumstances.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Is my right hon. Friend aware that what has been described as the finest music auditorium in the world is not in Paris, not in Rome, not in New York, and not even in London? [Hon. Members: "Where is it?"] In fact, it is in Gateshead. When my right hon. Friend visits the new Sage music centre on the bank of the Tyne, which he will do fairly shortly, will he take the opportunity to congratulate all who have been involved with it, and in particular congratulate Gateshead's Labour-controlled council on its vision? Will he also ask his Ministers to co-operate fully with the council in its further efforts to develop the quayside area of Gateshead?
The Prime Minister: Anyone who has visited the quayside area knows that what my hon. Friend said is absolutely true. The centre and, indeed, the whole development are a testament to the vision and leadership that have been offered locally. I think that that is one reason why people now consider the area one of the places to go in Europe, a fact of which my hon. Friend and his constituents can be very proud.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech but those of us who are in Committee have to take what opportunities we can.
Will it be possible during the Bill's passage to introduce provisions to give the Secretary of State the power to put a ceiling on interest rates? My hon. Friend knows that some constituents are unwittingly led into credit agreements with incurring interest rates and charges that can exceed 300 per cent. If such a provision cannot be included in the Bill, will he at least ensure that the measure provides for secondary legislation so that it could be introduced in future?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I understand my hon. Friend's problem with the Committee sittings this afternoon. I shall refer to ceilings on interest rates shortly but I give him the commitment that although we will not include such powers in the Bill, we shall keep the issue under review for reasons that I shall mention later. I am sure that my hon. Friend will get a copy of Hansard and I am happy to meet him to talk about the matter.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps his Department is taking to develop a long-term strategy on the role of local government. 
Phil Hope: The Government launched a debate on the future of local government with the publication of a discussion paper on the future of local government, and a prospectus for local area agreements, last July. Over the coming months, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister intends to publish further discussion papers on key issues, the first of which will look at neighbourhood engagement and leadership.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Notwithstanding what my right hon. Friend has said about the safeguards that he hopes to build into the Bill for PTEs in the future, does he agree that removing them as co-signatories to franchises weakens their position with franchisees? Can he give some examples of the difficulties and complications that the present system has caused?
Mr. Darling: It would not weaken the PTEs' position. The newer franchises have a far greater degree of specification - of performance and so on - than the older ones. Those specifications can be enforced in the future because a contract to provide services can be enforced by the Department, which will be the contracting party. My difficulty with what my hon. Friend says is that negotiations have not been a matter only for the PTE and the SRA - or the Government in the future - and the TOC. Often, negotiations have been between the PTE and the Government or the SRA. Those discussions have held matters up on several occasions. To put it bluntly, sometimes matters have been resolved by a compromise under which the Government pay some money to the PTE. I can see why the PTEs might think that that is a jolly good arrangement, but it is not, to coin a phrase, a very good way to run a railway.
We are trying to develop a rational system that is simpler than the present one. It will not diminish the role of the PTE. Indeed, what we propose - this is the whole thrust not only of the railways White Paper, but of the transport White Paper published a few weeks later - is that over time we will decentralise funds as far as possible to give the PTAs greater power and, crucially, to give them greater flexibility. At the moment, railways are regarded as somehow different from the transport that PTEs do, such as bus and light rail, but they should all be considered together. In some circumstances, it might not be right to run heavy rail because light rail would do the job better.
We are planning to give the PTEs greater power; when they get greater control over the money, that will provide greater influence over the TOCs. No doubt such matters will be explored further in Committee, but our proposals are an improvement. I know that a group has been organised in the past two weeks to campaign against the proposals, but its concern is misplaced.
Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO
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