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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): Poor countries should be given priority in the allocation of European Community development funds. In November 2000, my right hon. Friend helped to secure the first ever commitment by the EC to poverty reduction as the central objective of its programmes. However, that commitment has yet to be put into practice. As my right hon. Friend has just told the House, the percentage of EC aid being spent in poor countries remains low. We also continue to press for a far more effective EC aid programme.
Hugh Bayley: Does my hon. Friend agree that the most effective aid is that spent on helping poor people in poor countries whose Governments are committed to pro-poor development? Does he recognise that the proportion of EU aid going to low-income countries is not only low but declining, having decreased from 70 per cent. in 1989 to 51 per cent. in 1999? Will he reassure the House that our Government are voicing the strongest possible arguments in the Council of Ministers and in bilateral relationships with other EU member states to increase the proportion spent for poor people?
Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is entirely right about the declining proportion of the EU's aid budget that goes to poor countries, which is precisely why all of us have a responsibility to ensure that that changes. As he will be aware from his visit, along with other members of the Select Committee, to Brussels last week, that has been going on for a very long time, and it is to my right hon. Friend's credit that we have told the EC that that needs to begin to change, but it will be a long haul if we are to make progress, and we need to work together.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I applaud the efforts to ensure that the poorest people in the poorest countries get all the aid that can be made available to them, but does the Minister agree that in Zimbabwe, which should be one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, there are extremely poor people? Does he also accept that a new poor is being created, consisting of those who have been forced to flee from the brutality of the Mugabe regime? Could not our Government give further consideration to assisting those British citizens who have been displaced and forced to return to the United Kingdom?
Hilary Benn: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the very difficult situation in Zimbabwe and the effect that it has had on the people whom he mentioned. We are giving humanitarian support, including food aid, which is a measure of how bad the situation currently is.
Laura Moffatt: The Prime Minister will be aware that a review of health services in and around Crawley has been taking place. Will he join me in thanking all the people who have taken part in the review, particularly Councillor Brenda Smith, our independent chair, Peter Bagnall and the health campaigner, Christine Earnell? Is that not a fine example of the new ways of working in the national health service that have been so well illustrated in the modernisation board report?
The Prime Minister: I congratulate all those who have been involved in the review of health services in my hon. Friend's constituency. I understand that they will consider a final report from the review team tomorrow.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that the modernisation board report of a couple of weeks ago said that, although there were still major challenges in the national health service, there were real signs of improvement as a result of the investment going in and the reform. That is why we believe it is so important that the continued, sustained investment in the national health service continues, and that it is matched by reform to deliver the national health service that the people of this country want.
The Prime Minister: No, I do not. The most recent analysis of accident and emergency services appeared in the modernisation board report. It showed that, although there was still a long way to go, as a result of the extra investment, by March this year 75 per cent. of people requiring such services should have to wait four hours or less, and that, by 2004, that should be the case for everyone. That does not mean that there are not real pressures on casualty departments in many parts of the country, but the only answer is the one that I have given before, which is to put in the additional investment that gives us the consultants, the nurses and beds that we need.
The Prime Minister: No, I will not. Let me inform the right hon. Gentleman of the change that has been made by this Government. Whereas his Government used to measure the time that people spent in accident and emergency from when they were first seen, we measure it from when they enter the accident and emergency department. I am afraid that he has got his facts wrong.
The Prime Minister: I do not accept that. What I certainly do accept, however, is that there are accident and emergency departments across the country that are under real pressure. What is important is that just as we should not pretend that the national health service is perfect, the right hon. Gentleman should not pretend that the service is rubbish. We know exactly why he is doing that. The answer to the pressure in accident and emergency is extra consultants. There have been 60 extra since we came to power. By 2004 that will have increased by two thirds over the 1997 figures. There are also 600 additional accident and emergency nurses. In addition, as a result of the £120 million package announced last October, improvements are happening across the country, including in Kent and Canterbury. The only answer is to keep that investment going in. Can we now have an answer from the right hon. Gentleman, as we have given our answers: is he in favour of that investment or not?
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister is very keen to ask us about that, but figures available in the past few days show that public investment in public services has fallen below that of the previous Government. Before he gets too sanctimonious, we must first of all ask him the same question: is he prepared to accept, on his own measure and own figures, that he has made a mistake and got it wrong? One minute he says that the public servants leave scars on his back; the next moment he is running to hide behind them when there is a problem. He then turns the entire weight of his Government and their machine on a 94-year-old lady[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: We are putting substantial sums of additional investment into the national health service. The right hon. Gentleman may recall that when we did so, the Conservative party called that extra spending reckless, irresponsible and dangerous. I gather that he is now saying that we never spent enough on the national health servicea slightly curious position for the Conservative party to be in.
We have made it clear throughout that the national health service faces huge challenges: it is bound tothere are 5.5 million operations a year and 12.5 million or 13 million out-patient appointments, and 270 million people see their GPs. We know there are challenges, but as the independent review by the modernisation board found, there are also real improvements. My point is that we will sustain those improvements only if we keep the money going in and match it with reform. So far, we have failed to get any indication at all from the Conservative party that it supports that investment. We have our strategy on the health service, and the Conservatives have theirs. Our strategy is to rebuild the national health service; their strategy is to run it down so that they can dismantle it.
Q2.  Valerie Davey (Bristol, West): Communities in Bristol that are experiencing crime and violence that is directly linked to class A drugs are working closely with the police. Their efforts and co-operation are leading to an increased number of arrests, yet the availability of those drugs remains high. What more can the Government do to ensure that those drugs are prevented from entering the country?
The Prime Minister: I know, as my hon. Friend rightly says, that there are serious problems in her constituency and elsewhere as a result of that particular drugs trade. She will know, however, that Avon and Somerset police are working closely with Customs and Excise and that they recently met the authorities from Jamaica and are constructing a programme to deal with that issue. I very much hope, as a result of the measures that we are taking with the Jamaican authorities, that we can stop a lot of those drugs coming to this country. They cause nothing but misery and mayhem for people on our streets and we have to do everything we can, nationally and internationally, to stop the trade.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): Why is it that, since the right hon. Gentleman's party came to power, the number of cancelled national health service operations has gone up by 50 per cent?
Mr. Kennedy: The Government's own figures, given only on 23 January this year, show that last year 77,000 people had to put up with the trauma of a cancelled operation. All of us know from our constituencies that bed blocking is a national scandal and that there are elderly
The Prime Minister: They do deserve better, which is why it is important that we reduce waiting lists and waiting times. Seventy per cent. of people in this country now get their operation within three months, and as a result of the extra nurses and consultants now coming into the health service, we are making progress on every single aspect of waiting lists.
However, the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes about bed blocking is right, which is why, before Christmas, we put some £300 million extra, over and above the original budget, into bed blocking; as a result, delayed discharges in the past few months have fallen by about 12 per cent.
Denzil Davies (Llanelli): Has my right hon. Friend seen reports that the European Commission has censured the Government of Germany for straying too close to the 3 per cent. ceiling on borrowing, as set out in the Maastricht treaty? Given that Germany is struggling to get out of a recession, does my right hon. Friend not agree that the Commission's action shows that there is a fundamental flaw in both the 3 per cent. limitation and the absurdly named growth and stability pact?
The Prime Minister: I know that my right hon. Friend has strong views on those issues, but I must tell him that I am not responsible for the German Government. I am thankful that as a result of the brilliant management of the economy by our Chancellor debt and public finances in this country are in an extremely healthy state.
Q3.  Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): If the Government are prepared to spend at least £100 million, or £5 for every taxpayer in the country, on the Saville inquiry into an event that happened at least 30 years ago, how can the Prime Minister justify, on either cost or delay grounds, not holding a full public inquiry into the foot and mouth disasteran event that happened only 30 days ago?
The Prime Minister: The answer is that in the events of Bloody Sunday many people lost their lives. With foot and mouth, it is important to learn the lessons properly and direct agriculture forward for the future. That was the purpose of the Anderson inquiry report published yesterday. However, the situation regarding Bloody Sunday is quite different. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's implication that we should not have set up that inquiry. Sometimes it is important to get to the truth of what happened, even though it was a long time ago, because what happened a long time ago affects the present day as well.
Q4.  Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Is the Prime Minister aware that nearly £300 million has now been committed to objective 1 areas in Wales? Will he make certain that the interests of Wales are represented in the decision on the follow-up programme that will take place
The Prime Minister: We shall certainly make sure that people are properly consulted on the next phase. It is as well to emphasise one point. As my hon. Friend rightly said, some £300 million is going to west Wales and the valleys, which is boosted by match funding of £400 million or thereabouts. As a result, there will be substantial additional investment in west Wales and the valleys. As a result of the work that has been done and the state of the economy, the hon. Lady will know that, although unemployment remains a severe and real problem in those areas, the fall in unemployment there has been the largest of any constituent part of the UK.
Q5.  John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): The Prime Minister will be aware of the widespread concern that exists about deep vein thrombosis and its connection with long-distance flights. Does he share my concern that the World Health Organisation study into DVT has not only failed to begin, but will take two and a half years to complete? What measures will the Government take in the interim to ensure the safety of the one in 10 people who develop blood clots on international flights, which can develop into life-threatening conditions?
The Prime Minister: We issued guidance on the subject in November, as I understand it. The World Health Organisation report will take some time, but it is as well to wait for what will be a detailed piece of research. That should provide us with the basis for further guidance. In the meantime, people will be well advised to follow the guidance that has already been issued.
Q6.  Phil Sawford (Kettering): I recently visited the new cardiac ward at Kettering general hospital where I saw the new building to house our MRI scanner, which will shortly be in service, and in a few days I shall attend the official opening of the hospital's new creche facility. [Interruption.] Is my right hon. Friend aware of the stark contrast between the situation now and with the public appeals, bingo sessions and car boot sales that we used to rely on to fund health services in Kettering when the Conservative party was in power?
The Prime Minister: The Conservatives were howling at my hon. Friend because they do not like to hear any good news about the health service. He is right. The MRI scanners that are going not just to his constituency but to other constituencies, and the fact that more than 90 per cent. of people with suspected cancer are seen within two weeks, are important signs of progress, but of course there remains far more to do.
Mr. Duncan Smith: According to the Electoral Commission, the answer is in excess of £84,000. Of course, the union also gives extra perks to certain members of the Cabinet, whom we already know. Yet that is a union[Interruption.]
Mr. Duncan Smith: That union is causing misery for millions of rail passengers throughout the country. While passengers trying to get to work are losing money, the Prime Minister's party is still making money from the union. It is not enough for him to say that he condemns the strikes. Will he take a lead, take action and sever his links with that striking union?
The Prime Minister: I have made it clear that we regard the strikes as unjustified and unjustifiable. In relation to how we deal with them, the important thing is to state that clearly on behalf of the Government, and to make sure that the measures that we take enable the investment and the change in the railways to go through. The worst thing that we could do would be to adopt the suggestion that the right hon. Gentleman made yesterday and ban the right to strike. I do not think that that is the right way forward. Instead, we should state clearly that it is not right for the strikes to take place, and in the meantime to make sure that we put into the railways the investment that is needed.
Q7.  Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): With a majority both inside and outside the House in favour of a ban on hunting with hounds, will my right hon. Friend put us out of our misery by telling us that he will introduce such a measure urgently and ensure that there is enough time for it to proceed successfully through both Houses?
The Prime Minister: I am afraid that I am not going to put my hon. Friend out of his misery yet. As we have made clear before, and as I said in the House a couple of weeks ago, the House will have an opportunity to vote on the issue. We will announce the date of the vote at the appropriate time.
Q8.  Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Does the Prime Minister agree with York district hospital, York city council, which is run by the Labour party, and the Selby and York primary care trust that their problem is lack not of money but of care home places? The Government have presided over a historic loss of 50,000 care home places in the past five years. In the city of York alone, we are looking for 50 care places. The Prime Minister has increased the costs of private care homes; what does he propose to do about it today?
The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the hon. Lady's figures, and I do not know her trust's specific position. However, I would be surprised if it claims that the problem has nothing to do with money. Many care homes face serious problems because of the level of fees
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough): Is the Prime Minister aware that participation in community sport continues to fall in this country? My appearances for Burstall rugby club's first team have nothing to do with late recognition of my skills; we simply no longer have a second or third team. Will my right hon. Friend join me and others who have signed early-day motion 702 and ensure that the Chancellor introduces tax exemptions for such clubs in his Budget, which he suggested he would like to do, rather than following the charitable route? That would make an enormous difference to 150,000 sports clubs throughout the country and to the 1.5 million volunteers who give their time for sport.
Q9.  Annabelle Ewing (Perth): Following the revelations of the past few days, will the Prime Minister accept that the Arthur Andersen private finance initiative report on which the Government relied is fundamentally tainted and that his flagship PFI policy has been holed below the waterline?
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Lady to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the PFI, which found that it was excellent value for money. She should also talk to people throughout the country who have seen new hospital buildings, GP premises and school buildings, not least in Scotland, built through a partnership between the public and private sectors. It is important to continue to use the private sector to help to lever in greater investment when that will work. Overwhelming evidence, not only from the PricewaterhouseCoopers report but from the National Audit Commission, shows that the partnership provides good value for money. People such as the hon. Lady who oppose that must explain where they would get the money.