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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): Tackling crime is a priority about which I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, and with members of the Cabinet in the National Assembly. Yesterday, I had a useful discussion with David A'Herne, the crime reduction director for Wales, who is charged with implementing our key policies and initiatives on crime fighting and disorder. I hope before too long to arrange a meeting with Mr. A'Herne and all the Welsh Members of Parliament, at which he will give a briefing and take part in a question and answer session so that we can better understand the work that he is doing.
Ann Clwyd: The provision of closed circuit television cameras has been extremely beneficial in Cynon Valley, and has been welcomed by the public, who get greater security as a result, and by the police. In view of the increased demand for more CCTV cameras in our communities, will my hon. Friend consider giving extra money to local authorities, so that they can attempt to meet the growing demand?
Mr. Touhig: I take note of my hon. Friend's point. So far, £285,000 has been made available for CCTV programmes and initiatives in her constituency. All Members will agree that CCTV is an important contribution to tackling and reducing crime and antisocial behaviour. I discussed this matter yesterday with Mr. A'Herne, and I hope that some time in the future another tranche of money will become available so that we can expand CCTV coverage.
Alan Howarth: I know that my hon. Friend is in touch with Gwent police, and he will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I also recently met them. Will my hon. Friend pay tribute to the remarkable work that they are doing on serious crime? Has he or my right hon. Friend discussed with Ministers in the Assembly the damaging consequences for policing in Gwent and elsewhere in Wales if the guidelines that the Assembly has issued to local authorities are not relaxed at least to take realistic account of the costs of maintaining existing levels of police activity? Has he or my right hon. Friend also inquired why Welsh local authorities should be so constrained when English authorities are not?
I know that my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently discussed the funding of the Gwent police with the chief constable. Along with parliamentary colleagues and colleagues from the Welsh Assembly, I met the chief constable last week and was given a very full briefing. Since then my right hon. Friend has raised the issue with the Assembly's First Minister, who will reply to the chief constable after further deliberations.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): Will the Secretary of State press the Home Secretary to introduce a standard and honest way of measuring crime, so that standard and honest comparisons can be made between crime in north Wales and in other parts of Wales?
Mr. Touhig: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that crime has fallen throughout Wales. I think that that is due to initiatives taken by police services across Wales, and also to the funds that we have put in. There has been a considerable increase in the number of police officersthere have been an extra 206 in the past yearand funds have been provided for a further 259 until next year. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, like me, will welcome that, and will recognise that fighting crime is something in which all of usthe whole wider communitymust participate. We want to ensure that our police service has the tools and resources to achieve what is needed. [Interruption]
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet the First Minister and Cabinet colleagues regularly to discuss a range of issues, including the Welsh economy. I welcome last week's labour market statistics, which show that unemployment in Wales fell by 7,000 over the last quarter.
Dr. Francis: The steel industry remains a vital part of the Welsh economy. I am sure that everyone will welcomeas I did in my constituencylast week's announcement of a £75 million investment in the rebuilding of the No. 5 blast furnace at Port Talbot, where, sadly, three men were killed in the recent explosion. No doubt the Secretary of State will welcome that excellent news for my constituency and for the neighbouring constituency of Ogmore, as well as the news that all but two of the injured steelworkers have been released from hospital. Does he share my hope that the new investment means a new beginning for the steel industry in Wales, and in particular a reaffirmation
Mr. Murphy: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he did on behalf of the families of the deceased and injured in Port Talbot. I went to Morriston hospital and saw some of the injured, and I also pay tribute to the medical team there.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend: the news that £75 million is to be spent on the new blast furnace at Port Talbot is great news for Port Talbot, and for the steel industry in Wales. It will safeguard 3,000 jobs in my hon. Friend's constituency. It represents part of the change in Welsh manufacturing that we have seen over the past few months, as a result of which 6,000 more people are now in work.
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Does not the fall in the three-month unemployment figures for Waleswhether it is measured on the basis of claimant or International Labour Organisation figurescompare favourably with increases in the United Kingdom generally? Surely it is a tribute to the Liberal Democrat-led partnership in Cardiff.
Mr. Murphy: I think that it is a tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and what he has done to make our economy one of the strongest in the world, with interest rates and inflation at a record low. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency the claimant count is down by some 0.03 per cent., and in all but one or two Welsh constituencies unemployment has fallen dramatically in the past few months.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet Assembly Ministers regularly to discuss a range of issues, including progress with structural fund programmes in Wales. However, day-to-day administration and individual project approvals are matters for the National Assembly for Wales and its executive agency, the Welsh European Funding Office.
Kevin Brennan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware of the potential of the Arjo Wiggins paper mill site in Ely in my constituency to create up to 2,000 jobs, and that it is next door to an area of high unemployment? There are long-term unemployment problems in Ely that we need to try to solve, so will he pledge the full weight of his Department, including himself, his junior Minister and all 44 of his staff, to work in partnership with the Assembly and the local authority to get the maximum job potential out of that site?
Mr. Murphy: Yes, I will. That project, which is the result of a good working partnership between a Labour Government and a Labour-led Administration in Cardiff, will mean 1,000 jobs, 1,000 new homes, retail expansion, a new school and a district centre.
Mr. Pond: The Government are investing heavily in public services, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we still need more nurses and teachers, and that we need them to be better rewarded? People working in schools and hospitals in Gravesham tell me that they welcome that new investment, but that our drive to improve standards in public services is placing them under extra stress. Will he do his very best to ensure that staff are properly rewarded, properly valued and fully respected?
The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to our public servants and the work that they do in our schools, our hospitals and in public services up and down the country. As a result of the additional investment that is going in, we are increasing spending on health and education as a proportion of national income, we are employing more people in our public services, and public sector pay this year will outstrip private sector pay for the first time in many years. That investment also means that we are training and recruiting more nurses, more teachers, more doctors, more policemen and women. That of course is why it is so important to keep that investment going through the system and not to cut it back.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health dismissed as fiction the fact that Rose Addis, the 94-year-old mother of my constituent, was left lying in casualty for days because the local hospital did not have a bed for her. Will the Prime Minister now apologise to Mrs. Addis for her treatment, and more particularly for the Secretary of State's comments?
The Prime Minister: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman realises this, but the case that has been raised by the Evening Standard is strongly disputed by the hospital concerned. It disputes in particular the idea that Mrs. Addis was left untended for days. Let me read the letter that has been sent to the Evening Standard by the leading professor of medicine and consultants in that hospital:
To deride health staff publicly for a callousness of which they are innocent does real, lasting damage.
Along with those we serve, we recognise the problems caused by years of underinvestment in the NHS. We welcome the fact that this is changing, but it will take time, commitment, optimism and imagination."
My constituent said that, after two days, Mrs. Addis's clothes still had not been changed. Her daughter had to borrow a bowl of water to wash the blood that had become caked on her mother's hands and feet. Those are the facts, not the hyperbole of a letter. Will the Prime Minister now apologise for his Health Secretary's comments in dismissing the case?
The Prime Minister: I will not. The Leader of the Opposition says that he prefers the statement of his constituent to the statement that I have made, but it was the staff at the hospital who made the statement, not I. In addition, the two other cases raised by the same newspaper are in dispute.
The right hon. Gentleman was not present when his constituent was treated, and neither was I. However, I do not think it right for the right hon. Gentleman, in circumstances where the staff issue such a strong denialand they strongly deny the allegations that the right hon. Gentleman has just madeto use the case to run down the national health service. No one should be in any doubt about why the Conservatives want to use such cases, disputed as they are, to run down the national health service. They use them because they want to say that the NHS has failed, that no one gets proper treatment, and that we should therefore get rid of a service on which so many people depend. They also want to say that the extra investment is worthless.
The truth is that the extra investment is providing new resources, more nurses, the refurbishment of accident and emergency departments, and new hospitals up and down the country. The worst thing that could happen to the health service is to go back to the Tory policy of cut, cut and cut.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Government have been in power for nearly five years, and it is so illuminating that the Prime Minister can never apologise for anything that has been done. If he would like to talk again to the staff involved, and to my constituent, he would find that what the letter from the hospital manager called a separate A and E wardthe space where Mrs. Addis's mother was putturns out to be nothing more or less than a corner of the casualty room. The manager reclassified the space, instead of moving the patient.
Because the Government manipulate the figures, the reality is that there is a far bigger problem. Hospitals are now forced to manipulate patients. It is not just a matter of casualty wards being changed. Appointments are being offered to people on holiday so that their waiting times
The Prime Minister: First, according to the hospital, the patient to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers was kept in a medical assessment unit. The hospital states that that is a perfectly proper way of looking after her.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman knows that in-patient waiting lists have fallen by more than 100,000 since this Government came to office. Under the previous, Conservative, Government, those lists rose by 400,000. Under the Conservatives, the numbers of nurses and doctors in training and the number of beds were all cut. In the past year, this Government have been increasing the number of beds, and we have increased the number of nurses and doctors in training.
The difference between the Government and the Opposition is very clear. That was evident from the right hon. Gentleman's interview a few days ago in the Financial Times. He believes that we should cut back on the extra investment, that we should give the money to people in tax cuts and that they should then fund their own health care. We believe that health care is best funded out of general taxation, and provided through the national health service.
The right hon. Gentleman therefore has to run down the health service and denigrate the activities of all those dedicated nurses, doctors and consultants to make the political case that the Tory party has been after since the inception of the health servicethat is, to get rid of it.
Mr. Duncan Smith: We get promises, promises, promises, but never any delivery. The Prime Minister talks about people running down the health service, but the Government have been in charge for more than four years. More illuminating is what my constituent said to me at the end of the conversation. She said that there were three generations of Labour voters in her household. They wrote to the Prime Minister to congratulate him on his election. They expected much more. Mrs. Addis's daughter also said to me:
The Prime Minister: Let me repeat what I said to the right hon. Gentleman in reply to his earlier questions. Those facts are totally disputed by the hospital in question. Before coming to a judgment, it might just be as well if the right hon. Gentleman actually listened to what the hospital said, too.
In respect of the national health service, however, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman what people say. Yes, there are examples of poor treatment within the national health service. There are some 5.5 million operations a year and some 270 million doctor's appointments, but the vast majority of people who use the health service say that people get an excellent standard of care.
As a result of the extra investment going into the health service, waiting lists are coming down, there are more nurses, there are more doctors, and more hospitals are being built. The question is: is it better to carry on putting that investment into the national health service or take it back out? In the debate yesterday, the Conservative health spokesman, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), was asked that question. The Leader of the Opposition has been asked it several times in the past few days. Now let us have an answer. We are prepared to put this extra investment in, year on year on year; is he?
The Prime Minister: The most important element of this process is reconstruction in Afghanistan. The aid conference has pledged a very substantial sum of money to reconstruction in Afghanistan; I welcome that. The British armed forces are of course playing a vital role in helping to stabilise the security situation. I believe that we now have the same international coalition in favour of reconstruction in Afghanistan as we had in favour of removing the hated Taliban regime. That is excellent news, not least for the people in Afghanistan.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): Would the Prime Minister acknowledge that there are people in all political parties who think that his current proposals for the next step in reforming the House of Lords are at best halfhearted and at worst half baked? Would he therefore, on that basis, agree to all-party talks to see whether we can find some consensus for a properly democratic House of Lords, fit for modern Britain?
The Prime Minister: I entirely accept that there are people in different parties with different views; that of course is the nature of the debate. If a consensus could be found, that would be excellent. Having read the debates in this place and in the other place, having heard of the savaging that the Leader of the Opposition got from his own peers yesterday, and remembering that the legislation must pass through both Houses of Parliament, I am afraid to say that, at the moment at any rate, we are quite a long way from that consensus.
Mr. Kennedy: Surely the Prime Minister is aware of the irony of the situation, given that if he went for an overwhelmingly elected second Chamber he would have the majority support of his own party, he would have the majority support of Liberal Democrats andheaven forbidhe would even have the support of the leader of the Conservative party these days. That being the case, why does he not see the merit of proceeding on that basis, instead of just trying to introduce a hashed-up job of patronage, based on placepeople?
I read the reports of the debates in this place the other day and in the other place. I read the speeches, for example, of several of the Members who spoke from the Conservative Back Benches. They did not agree with the proposals of the Leader of the Opposition. I spoke to many people who[Interruption.] Well, it is true that there are different views in all parts of the House. If we can find a consensus on the way forward, fine, but the fact that the Leader of the Opposition agrees with those proposals does not mean to say that he can carry his party with him, as he found out yesterday.
Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth): Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the publication last week of the chief medical officer's report on ME, which has recognised for the first time that
The Prime Minister: I certainly congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on the campaign that they have waged over a significant period, and I am pleased that the significance of ME is now properly recognised.
Q2.  Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): Has the right hon. Gentleman noted the recent report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which predicts that the euro is likely to continue to be a weak currency, and the statement by Mr. Alan Greenspan that the prime reason for the weakness of the euro is what he describes as the unrelenting flow of capital from continental Europe to the United States? Does the Prime Minister disagree with those two assessments?
The Prime Minister: I am afraid that I certainly disagree with the assessment, if the hon. Gentleman is implyingI know that he is strongly opposed to the single currencythat the single currency could in no circumstances be of benefit to this country. But where he is right, in a sense, and certainly Mr. Greenspan is, is that it highlights the importance of economic reform in Europe. Now the question is: are we better placed to deliver that economic reform in Europe by constructive engagement or by the position of total isolationism favoured by the Conservative party?
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the appalling decision that was made in the Appeal Court on 13 December in the Fairchild case? The judgment effectively means that a person suffering from mesothelioma cancer, who has been exposed to asbestos and has worked for more than one employer where he
Q3.  Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): The waiting time for a hearing test at the Lymington hospital in my constituency remains pretty constant, at 33 months. It is the only specialty in which the over-85-year-olds are given priority, in the hope that some of them will get one before they die. What action will the Prime Minister take to ensure that the New Forest primary care trust is empowered to take over that problem from the Southampton trust, because it wishes to explore innovative solutions involving a partnership with the private sector?
The Prime Minister: I do not know the details of the particular circumstances that the hon. Gentleman talks about, but of course the very purpose of setting up the primary care trusts is to enable innovative solutions to be found. That is why it is so unfortunate that the Conservative party did not support their creation; but on whether such things are done by that primary care trust or elsewhereas I say, I do not know the particular case that he alludes toagain, I say to him that if we want better treatment inside the national health service, then we have to put in the investment, because there are capacity constraints within the NHS: an insufficiency of consultants and nurses, bedsoccasionallyand doctors. Of course, we want to put in that investment, and I am afraid that, a few days ago, the Leader of the Opposition tied the Conservative party to exactly the position that it was in before the last electionopposition to that investment.
Q4.  Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): Does the Prime Minister recall a famous warning many years ago about private affluence and public squalor? Should not the fourth largest economy in the world be able to boast some of the best public services in the world? Will he explain to people that they will get only the services that they are prepared to pay for and that, just as it took a decade of sustained reductions in public investment by the Conservative party to get the country into its current condition, it will take a decade of sustained investment by the Labour party to get the country out of it?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to say that we need sustained investment. It is important that we have that sustained investment on the basis of what is now the fourth largest economy in the world. We have produced economic stability, lower interest rates, low inflation and low unemployment precisely as the result of
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister wants to go back and check with his staff. There is the 10-year plan that the Transport Secretary pointed out never starts but is now under review again a week later; there is Lord Birt's plan; there is No. 10's plan; and today we discover that the Chancellor has got his own plan. Rail passengers know that they suffered a 75 per cent. increase in delays in December and they know that the Prime Minister's Transport Secretary has not even got a plan. One thing is sure: if no one trusts the Transport Secretary and if even the Prime Minister does not trust him, as he spent two hours telling him, why does he have him?
The Prime Minister: The plan is outlined by the Strategic Rail Authority and it is a plan for investment over a number of years. What the right hon. Gentleman referred to in relation to the Treasury are merely the normal discussions for the comprehensive spending review. Those discussions would take place whatever Government were in office.
The difference between us is again the issue of investment. I have to warn the Conservatives that when they keep raising the issue of public services, I welcome that. Let them keep raising the issue of public services because, in the end, there is a very simple choice. We believe in sustained investment in education, health, transport and law and order; they believe in taking that investment out.
What the right hon. Gentleman committed himself to a few days ago would mean that people would pay less in tax and would have more, as he said, to spend on the public services that they choose. What he means is that they will get a tax cut and will then have to go and buy their health care, buy their education and buy their security. The problem is that, although that may work for the top 10 per cent. of the population, the other 90 per cent., who rely on decent, properly funded public services, will not get them. So let the Conservatives carry on raising the issue of public services. Let that be the issue at the next election, because the result will be the same as at the last one.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Does the Prime Minister recall that, eight weeks ago, the Transport Secretary announced the construction of terminal 5 at Heathrow in my constituency and also offered a cap on flight movements? Yet today it is reported that the
Q5.  Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): Can the right hon. Gentleman tell my constituents in Beckenham whether Ken Livingstone's proposed increase of 35 per cent. in the precept for the Greater London Authority is a fair and reasonable settlement, or is it a stealth tax?
The Prime Minister: It is for the Mayor of London to propose the charges. I am afraid that the Labour candidate was not successful in the mayoral elections, as I know only too well. If the hon. Lady wishes to have a lower charge, she should take the same position as Labour Members of the Assembly. They are trying to make sure that the Mayor's plans are more responsible.
Q6.  Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Does the Prime Minister share my horror at the death of Laura Touche, following the delivery of her twins in the private Portland hospital, because of a basic failure of nursing care? Can he assure the House and the country that in addition to the improvements that we are making to the national health service, about which he has spoken, he will also look at improving the quality of care in the private sector?
The Prime Minister: Of course it is important that we make sure that proper minimum standards of care are adhered to, whether in the public sector or the private sector. I do not know the position of the case to which my hon. Friend refers, and our sympathies obviously go to her constituent and her family. However, with a health care system that has 5.5 million operations and 270 million GP appointments, it is important that we do not get to a positioneither in the public or the private sectorin which we use every instance of where the treatment has fallen down to say that that is typical of the whole health care system. It is important to have balance. There are, of course, cases of poor treatment, but they tend, in the public or private sector, to be the exception, not the rule.
Q7.  Matthew Green (Ludlow): The Prime Minister will know that at 16 young people are considered old enough to marry, to have children, to pay taxes and to join the armed forces, yet they are not allowed to vote until they are 18. Does he consider that those things are a lesser responsibility than voting? Will he meet me and a group of young people from a range of youth organisations to discuss reducing the voting age to 16?
The Prime Minister: I am not sure that we would always want 16-year-olds to do all the things they can do. I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on the voting age. I think that it should remain as it is.
The Prime Minister: I do know of the concern that has been raised. I am sure that it will be studied by the relevant Department, although ultimately, of course, the decision is for the private rail company.
Q9.  Hywel Williams (Caernarfon): Is the Prime Minister satisfied with his industrial relations policy, which has led to workers who were on strike at Friction Dynamics in my constituency being sacked after eight weeks? Now, 40 weeks on, they are still waiting for a resolution of the dispute. Is it his policy to deny justice and then to delay it?
The Prime Minister: I do not know about the particular dispute in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but I believe that the industrial relations settlement that we brought about in the past few years strikes the right balance. People have the minimum wage in place. They have the right to join a trade union and, in circumstances in which there is a majority who wish it, the right to trade union recognition. New provisions for consultation and information are also coming in. I do not believe that we should go back to the industrial relations days of the 70s, which is the implication of his question.
Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow): Will the Prime Minister pay tribute to Niall Quinn, not just because he plays for the greatest team in the world, but because of his unselfish decision to donate the proceeds from his own tribute game to charity? Is not that magnificent gesture on the part of Niall a perfect example to his fellow pros and, indeed, the many thousands of youngsters who see footballers as heroes? Will the Prime Minister visit the Stadium of Light before the end of the season to thank Niall personally on behalf of all those charities that will receive the money?
The Prime Minister: I do not always praise Sunderland footballers, as my hon. Friend knows. However, Niall Quinn is a constituent of mine and I am absolutely thrilled that he has decided to donate so generously to charity. It is typical of the individual. In circumstances in which people in sport often get a lot of bad publicity, I agree that this is an example that we can hold up to everyone.
Q10.  Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): In Zimbabwe, with Mugabe imprisoning his political opponents and expelling all overseas journalists, what more needs to happen before the Prime Minister will lead the campaign to expel Mugabe's Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth?
The Prime Minister: As we made absolutely clear, we totally deplore what is happening in Zimbabwe. The actions of Mugabe are a disgrace to his own country and also badly affect the reputation of the whole of southern Africa. However, in order for a motion to succeed at the Commonwealth to expel Zimbabwe, it is necessary to get all the countries supporting it. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working urgently and energetically
Q11.  Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): My right hon. Friend is on record demanding increases in the survival of the environment and wishing to ensure that recycling is paramount in that programme. Is he aware of the problems that local authorities, which are responsible for waste collection and disposal, are experiencing with the disposal of fridges? We want to ensure that they get support from the Government. Will my right hon. Friend take it upon himself to ensure that we get that support for local government so that we can clear the backlog of fridges deposited with local authorities?
The Prime Minister: I entirely accept the problem to which my hon. Friend is drawing attention. As I understand it, it arose in part because it was not until June 2001 that the regulations were finalised. It is important that my hon. Friend recognise that we are providing a dedicated sum of money, about £6 million, to try to ease that situation. Of course, we will do whatever we can; I entirely accept that there is a problem. We have got the resources and I am sure that the relevant Department is working on the right strategy to deal with it.
The Prime Minister: I do accept that it is important that we get more resources into care and to elderly people, which is why the Government have made substantial additional provision for pensioners, both in care homes and the national health service. However, there is always a limit on the amount of money that we can spend. I was talking about Conservative proposals a short time ago; I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has come across a recent interview with the leader of his party, in which he said that he would like to go into the next election favouring lower taxes.
The Prime Minister: If The Guardian has misquoted the right hon. Gentleman, I understand. In the end, there is a finite amount of money, but it cannot be disputed that, if we take the additional money for care in the national health service for pensioners, we are making substantial additional provision available. But yes, it is true that we could always do more.