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The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Graham Stringer): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is very familiar with the work of life education centres, and officials in his Department remain in close contact with the organisation. The approach to drug education that life education centres offer is one of a number that schools may choose to adopt, but the decision must be made at a local level, in order to address the specific needs and circumstances of the pupils.
In support of the Government's 10-year anti-drug strategy, the Department for Education and Employment has, through the standards fund, made some £7.5 million available to local education authorities to support drug education in schools. Local education authorities may choose to use some of that money to provide life education centres in mobile classrooms.
Mr. Taylor: In underfunded education authorities such as Leicestershire, much drug prevention work in the primary sector depends on generous contributions from Rotary clubs and from parents and schools. Is my hon. Friend convinced that £7.5 million for 7.5 million children of school age is adequate support for this crucial work and for organisations such as life education centres? Will he ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to boost the core funding of this work so that we can ensure that children make healthy choices and continue to wage an unremitting war against drugs in our country?
Mr. Stringer: I agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. That is why, at the last comprehensive spending review, the Government put more than £200 million extra into the fight against drugs. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has listened to my hon. Friend's case, and my hon. Friend should listen to what my right hon. Friend has to say next week in his spending review statement.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Seven and a half million pounds is chicken feed compared with the £2 billion a year that the Government are spending on more government. In Lancashire we do rather well for life education centres, but they are supported by groups such as Rotary. I fear that other local authority areas may have no cover from organisations such as life education centres. What encouragement can the Minister give to other charitable groups to buy in life education centres for their areas, or to businesses to sponsor life education centres for primary schools?
Mr. Stringer: Some areas are not covered by life education centres because it is a matter for the school and the local education authority. Quite simply, the £7.5 million that is going into educating children and getting them to make the critical decision not to accept drugs is £7.5 million more than the previous Government were willing to give.
Mr. Stringer: My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office has already visited a number of the centres. I am sure that she and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be delighted to visit a number of others to further the fight against drugs.
The House will no doubt be aware of the sad news of the death of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie. Lord Runcie was a man of great faith and moral courage, who carried the Church of England united through momentous and historic times. He was also a spiritual man of humility and modesty, who will be missed by millions of ordinary people who saw him as their friend, both inside and outside the Anglican Church.
Mr. Bradshaw: Does my right hon. Friend agree that voters at the next election will make a judgment based on facts in the real world, rather than on the froth that sometimes swirls around this place? In Exeter, those facts include record employment, more doctors and nurses, a refurbished accident and emergency department, a new renal unit, two new health walk-in centres, more teachers and classroom assistants, more school buildings, more bus services, and much more. How much of that will Exeter lose under £16 billion of Conservative spending cuts?
The stake was driven through the policy yesterday. Not only did the shadow Chancellor disintegrate the credibility of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) on tax, he impaled him--as my hon. Friend said--on a £17 billion cuts guarantee. That is the new guarantee. Every Conservative Member had better realise
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): May I begin by associating the Opposition with the Prime Minister's remarks about Archbishop Runcie? We will remember him for his integrity and moral leadership, and we entirely join in the Prime Minister's tribute to him.
Mr. Hague: Do we not have an extraordinary situation in a Cabinet, where the Prime Minister cannot give a straight yes as to whether he agrees with his own Foreign Secretary? Are not the Government utterly divided and shambolic? The Prime Minister cannot agree with the Foreign Secretary on a central issue of policy. He wants the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) to be Foreign Secretary--no one else does.
The Prime Minister: We have made it absolutely clear that, in principle, we are in favour of joining the euro and that, in practice, the economic tests have got to be met. The difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party is clear. The right hon. Gentleman has another guarantee--his sterling guarantee that he is going to keep the pound. Will he keep the pound for just one Parliament, or more?
Mr. Hague: The Foreign Secretary, who has mysteriously disappeared this afternoon, is pursuing his own private policy on the euro. The Prime Minister is too weak to get a grip on the Cabinet. He said last week--[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not like to hear the truth about the Government. He said last week that he would sack anyone briefing against Ministers, since when a friend of the Chancellor--that narrows down the lists of suspects dramatically--has said, "Tony and Gordon have both agreed to rubbish Cook."
I think that it is the right hon. Gentleman who wishes that he had disappeared this afternoon. The fact is that we have the right policy--in principle in favour and in practice the economic tests must be met. At the next election, on many other areas of policy as well as the euro, there are clear dividing lines. We do not rule it out--we will give the people a choice in a referendum. On public spending, we want to invest in the country's future, and on the national health service, we want to rebuild it, not privatise it. That is the real test--the policies for the future of this country, or a Leader of the Opposition who jumps up at one party conference and says that he has five guarantees, and nine months later not a single one of them stands.
Mr. Hague: Today the Prime Minister has attempted the third relaunch of his Government in a single month under the inspiring slogan of "We're getting there"--a slogan last used by British Rail when it was not getting anywhere. Is not what is really behind that the desperation of Ministers to conceal next week's crime figures and their utter failure on crime? The Government obviously have the figures, so will the Prime Minister now come clean and tell the House the figures for the rise in crime?
The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Gentleman is the one in need of a relaunch. Let me just tell him about the policy. What is important with rising crime is that we are now able to make the investment in extra numbers of police officers. Let us have a little discussion about this. It is correct that for the past six years--three years under the previous Government, three years under ours--police numbers have fallen. Now, as a result of the additional money, they will rise. We know, however, from the spending policy adopted yesterday, that the right hon. Gentleman is due to cut the numbers. Every person concerned about crime and every police officer in the country knows that if the right hon. Gentleman comes to power, he will cut police numbers further.
Mr. Hague: So the relaunch did not extend to giving a straight answer to a question. If the right hon. Gentleman will not tell the House the figures, I will, because although the Prime Minister will not give a straight answer, the police force does. Taking 33 out of 43 police forces, there were 183,000 more crimes committed in the past year than in the year before. Under this Government, is it not the burglars who have had a relaunch, the muggers who are fighting back, and the violent criminals who have a new deal? Will the right hon. Gentleman now confirm the figures of the police that show that at least 183,000 more crimes were committed in the past year?
The Prime Minister: Of course it is true that in the past year there has been a 3 to 4 per cent. rise in crime, as we know. Over the period of this Government, there has been a fall in crime. What we also remember, however, is that when the right hon. Gentleman was in
Let us get to the difference between the two of us. I believe that the priority is to make that investment in schools, hospitals, transport and the police. Does the right hon. Gentleman stand by the cuts guarantee on spending made yesterday by himself and the shadow Chancellor, or does he not? If he does, anything he says on police numbers has no credibility whatever.
Mr. Hague: This morning, the right hon. Gentleman stood up in Downing street and said "We're getting there"; but millions of people throughout Britain know that this Government are getting nowhere. What does it say to people who are more likely to be victims of violent crime when the Prime Minister says "We're getting there."? What does it say to people waiting longer to see a hospital consultant when he says, "We're getting there."? What does it say to people whose teenage children are in larger classes? What does it say to people persecuted by the Chancellor every time they drive their car when he says, "We're getting there."? It says to those people that this Government are complacent and incompetent and that they have lost touch with the people they were elected to serve.
The Prime Minister: On the subject of incompetence, let us look at the right hon. Gentleman's national health service guarantee. Nine months ago, he said that every patient would have a guaranteed waiting time in the NHS under the Conservatives. It took two questions on BBC's "Question Time" for him to say, "Of course, we couldn't say that everyone was going to get a guaranteed waiting time." That is my definition of incompetence.
It is true that we have raised public spending; it is correct that class sizes are down for five, six and seven-year-olds; and there is extra money for school buildings, but it is true that we still have a long way to go on schools. Yes, the in-patient lists are coming down, but we still have far more to do in the health service. It is also true that we need to make additional investments in our police and transport. However, we now know that all those investments would be cut by the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever he says about public services, the one thing that everyone in the country now knows is that if they vote Tory at the next election, there will be fewer nurses, fewer teachers, fewer police officers and fewer hospitals.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing concern of the people of Yorkshire at the plans of Kelda plc to offload Yorkshire Water on to its customers now that it has exploited the easy pickings of water privatisation? Does he agree that that cannot be allowed to proceed without fuller and further consultation with Yorkshire people, including a ballot of every Yorkshire Water customer?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that the proposals raise important issues. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment is meeting the regulator today to discuss those issues.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): I entirely associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tribute that the Prime Minister so properly paid to the late Lord Runcie, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
On the other issue raised by the Leader of the Conservative party, if, next week, the Home Office figures show that violent crime has gone up yet again--as widely anticipated--whom will the Prime Minister blame for that?
The Prime Minister: I entirely accept our responsibility to do the very best we can to change that situation. What is happening is that crime is not rising in every police area; in many it is still falling. It is correct that the number of burglary and car crimes are falling; the rise is in violent crime. We need to tackle that--both by extra investment, as I have already indicated, and by measures in the criminal justice system. I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will support the measures such as those to ensure that, before those who are tested positive for drugs are given bail, they agree to take treatment for their drug condition. I think that such measures in the criminal justice system are an important part of turning the tide back.
Mr. Kennedy: Is it not the case that, rather than appointing a part-time Lord Birt to look at the issue, the public want more full-time police on the streets and in the community? Is not the sad fact of the matter that, having spent years in opposition quite rightly criticising the Tories for their lamentable record and for the decline in police numbers, the Government in office have presided over exactly the same story?
The Prime Minister: I have been open about the first three years of the Government and the position on police numbers, but I have also said that we now have the ability to make the investment. As a result of the measures that we have taken with more people in work, welfare bills falling and interest payments on the debt falling, we are able to get more investment into the police. What we have said all the way through--I say it again today--is that by the end of the year police numbers again should be rising. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that is one part of what we have to do, but we can do it only if we are prepared to make the commitment to invest.
Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): Three years ago, the Government announced a £1.4 billion injection into the science budget and last week we heard that an additional £1 billion would go into that budget. That money is desperately needed and is welcomed by the vast majority of scientists and engineers working in this country. Under the previous Administration, that potential
The Prime Minister: Yes. My hon. Friend should know that the Conservatives are shouting at her because they do not want to hear the facts about what they intend to do to the science and education budgets. I am afraid that the science and education budgets would also be cut under the Conservative party were it to come back to power. The £1 billion announcement on science is very important and the reason for the investment is that stability in the economy is important. More jobs are obviously important, but we also have to make that critical investment in the nation's prosperity. Unless we also make the investment in education, skills, technology, science and the transport infrastructure, we will not be able to guarantee--if I can use that word--prosperity and opportunity for people in the future.
Q2. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Will the Prime Minister give careful consideration to the recommendation by Lord Norton that Prime Minister's Question Time should return to twice a week? Does the Prime Minister agree that, if that were to happen, it would provide greater accountability from him to this place and might give him the opportunity to reduce the spin, the rhetoric, the waffle and the general rambling that has characterised his performance to date?
The Prime Minister: I think that we heard rather more waffle today from the Leader of the Opposition than from me I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman about Prime Minister's questions. In fact, if I can give him the figures, compared to the previous Prime Minister, I have spent more time answering questions in the House and more time giving statements.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have seen the reports on the international AIDS conference in Durban this week. Although he might share my disquiet that President Mbeki appears to have given some support to people who would deny the scientific evidence on the links between HIV and AIDS, does my right hon. Friend agree that President Mbeki was absolutely right to point to the problems of drug pricing, poverty and the lack of access to basic education and health? Will my right hon. Friend use the next opportunities that he has, through the G7 or the European Union, to press for a substantial increase in support to the countries that are suffering the worst from
The Prime Minister: I agree strongly with my hon. Friend. Of course we shall raise the issue of AIDS in the developing world and the problem of debt at the summit in Japan in the next couple of weeks. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it is important to link in action on poverty in the developing world. In addition, we have put special investment into South Africa to tackle the serious HIV-AIDS problem, which is significantly reducing life expectancy in many countries in Africa when, throughout the rest of the world, people are looking forward to increased longevity. That is an important part of the strategy of the Department for International Development.
Q3. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Since the election, the number of police officers in London has fallen by 800, and the number of officers in Sutton has fallen by 21 in the past couple of months. Retention is still a problem in the service, which is the view that Sir John Stevens expressed a couple of days ago, after the Home Secretary's welcome announcement on pay for the Metropolitan police. Can the Prime Minister give my constituents a guarantee that Sutton police will have the resources that they need to make Sutton not the second safest borough in London, but the safest? Can he guarantee my constituents that the number of police officers will not fall below the 25,600 which Sir John Stevens believes is necessary?
The Prime Minister: First, the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that, as a result of housing costs and other issues that we are trying to address, there are particular problems in London with retention and recruitment. However, it is important that we start to bring in investment, which can help to increase police numbers. That should be happening in the Metropolitan police area and elsewhere by the end of the year.
I accept the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. When we first came to office, we had to make difficult decisions on public spending and I very much hope that, when the comprehensive spending review is published next week, the hon. Gentleman's party will join ours in saying that the country really needs those investments to secure its future.
Liz Blackman (Erewash): John Reddington, a former child migrant, will shortly return to my constituency from Australia, not having seen his home for 50 years. That was a shameful policy practised by both countries in the post-war years. Will my right hon. Friend press the Federal Australian Government to make funding available, as this Government have, to ensure that more migrants can be reunited with their families? Does he agree that some kind of joint responsibility for that atrocity is essential?
The Prime Minister: I discussed that matter with the Australian Prime Minister when he was here. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that is important that we make sure that we try to at least alleviate the pain so far as we can for people who had an immensely traumatic experience when young.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will write to her on the issue of funding. I do not know the up-to-date position vis-a-vis the Australian Government. From our point of view, we have made some funding available, and I hope that we can do more.