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Law and Order

Q3. [203000] Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): When he next intends to visit Nottingham, North to review progress of cross-departmental working on law and order issues; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: I have no current plans to do so. However, I am always pleased to see good progress in cross-departmental working on law and order issues. As my hon. Friend will know, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's full ministerial team visited the region on 4 and 5 November. They saw some 26 projects in the region, including several focusing on community safety. They also engaged in discussions with local people. That is precisely why it is important that we continue with cross-departmental working, particularly in order to reduce antisocial behaviour in our communities.

Mr. Allen: The Government are doing all that they can from the centre to tackle law and order problems, including introducing welcome legislation and massive resource provision. However, that must have an echo at a local level, with people being reunited with the criminal justice system. Most people in my constituency
 
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do not know what the Crown Prosecution Service is, or the probation service or magistracy. Will my right hon. Friend accept that the next phase of our attack on crime must be to organise a crusade to link every tenants association and neighbourhood watch back to the criminal justice system, so that we can effectively progress the fight against crime?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend and that is why the local criminal justice boards were established. It is obvious, when we look at antisocial behaviour, that many communities are now using the extra powers and the extra police officers and community support officers, and they are getting local partnerships working. The powers are there and the resources are there, but—he is right—it does require local people on the ground to use those powers and resources adequately. What we can and do provide from the centre is the framework within which that can happen. Many hon. Members will know from their constituents that even though there are still major problems with antisocial behaviour, real and good work is being done by the police, local authorities and others on the ground to tackle that menace.

Engagements

Q4. [203001] Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): I can tell my right hon. Friend that the extra investment in health in Dartford is extremely welcome, with an accident and emergency extension and a £9 million treatment centre being built at my 3-star Darent Valley hospital, and a £2 million local improvement finance trust—or LIFT—programme to modernise general practices in the area. As he is aware, the Thames gateway is a massive regeneration and growth area with significant projections for new jobs, housing and population. Can he reassure my constituents that the extra investment needed in infrastructure, especially in health, education and transport, will be sustainable in the future?

The Prime Minister: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance because, as part of the Thames gateway project, we will ensure that there is the proper investment in the infrastructure in those areas. He is right to say that the improvements will come from the LIFT programme, but they will also come from the reduction in the waiting lists, the investment in hospital buildings, and the increases in the number of nurses and doctors, which are yielding results. As one of the international reports indicated this week in relation to health care, the UK now has one of the fastest improving health care systems anywhere in the world.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): In Labour's first term, crime rose, detection rates fell and the number of asylum seekers more than doubled. Presumably the Prime Minister agrees with his current Home Secretary, who thinks that after four years of Labour Government he inherited "a giant mess"?

The Prime Minister: At least he never said there was "something of the night" about him. Let me remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that in our first term
 
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crime fell under this Government, and under this Home Secretary crime continues to fall and we have record numbers of police officers—as opposed to the record of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who cut the numbers of police officers. Not merely have we got record police numbers: we have community support officers as well.

Mr. Howard: I shall tell the Prime Minister what his Home Secretary says about me. He thinks that I was the first Home Secretary to focus on cutting crime. That is what he says. Now I shall tell the Prime Minister what his Home Secretary thinks about the current Foreign Secretary's time at the Home Office. [Laughter.] Wait for it. He says:

He does not stop there. He thinks that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is weak; the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry does not think strategically; and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has not developed as expected. He also says that the Prime Minister does not like being told the truth and—as no doubt the Prime Minister will agree—that the Chancellor is a bully. Could the Prime Minister please arrange for the Home Secretary to make regular reports on his Cabinet colleagues and place them in the Library?

Hon. Members: More!

The Prime Minister: I think that we have had quite enough. Since we are talking about records as well as the comments that people make—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Well, the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not actually want to discuss the alternative records of his time in office and our time in office, but that is what I am going to do. When he was responsible for employment, it went down and unemployment went up by 1 million—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] That is right, is it not? When the Home Secretary was in charge of employment, unemployment fell by 500,000. When we were in office, we increased the investment in health and education, we got mortgage rates down and we got inflation and unemployment down. People remember not the comments but the record, and it is the record of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's time in government that we will concentrate on between now and the election.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon) (Lab): Given that absolute poverty kills a child every three seconds, has the Prime Minister seen the "Make Poverty History" early-day motion, which has more signatures than any other on the Order Paper? What is he doing in preparation to make next year the year when the international political will is created to make poverty history?

The Prime Minister: : The main focus will obviously be the UK's G8 presidency. The Commission for Africa report will be published in March, and will focus not just on increasing levels of aid but on removing trade barriers for the poorest countries in the world, by making sure that we have the right framework for
 
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conflict resolution in Africa, since it is often conflict in Africa that creates disease, famine and death. We will also make sure that we are reducing debt levels. In other words, there will be a comprehensive plan for Africa. I hope that we can get it agreed at the G8 and then, literally, take it out to every part of the international community and get the necessary action. I know that my hon. Friend will agree that we are leading the way on these issues and as a result of the successful management of the economy, as well as increasing investment in our own health and education services, we have been able to treble aid to Africa, to reach £1 billion a year, which ties in very well with the campaign that will be launched right across the country to make poverty history—a campaign that we fully support.

Q5. [203002] Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): If a police officer makes an improper expenses claim, he will face disciplinary action. He then has the right of appeal to the Home Secretary. How can this Home Secretary sit in judgment on any such appeal?

The Prime Minister: : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. If any claims are made, they can be submitted to the normal authorities here and investigated.

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): One of the proposals in the Queen's Speech was for a Bill on consumer credit, and that proposal received almost universal acclaim from consumer groups, Citizens Advice and the majority of the financial services industry. Given such widespread backing, may I urge the Prime Minister to ensure that the Bill is introduced sufficiently early in the Session to give it a good chance of becoming law if by some chance there were to be an early Dissolution of this Parliament?

The Prime Minister: : It is important that we give consumers proper protection and we are doing that. We shall also be providing money to help more people to establish bank accounts and to deal with some of the problems of financial exclusion from the banking system. The measures that the Chancellor announced last week will make a major impact in that regard, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the Bill would be an important piece of legislation and I hope that it will command support right across the House as that would hasten its progress.

Q6. [203003] Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): As the Prime Minister will know, by next summer all councils must have held compulsory ballots of their tenants on stock transfer. The ballot options are financially rigged by the Government against the option of staying with the council rather than opting for a housing association or private finance initiative landlord. Will the Prime Minister explain to my constituents in Chesterfield, a quarter of whom are council tenants, and to his own Back Benchers, why he and his Government have such a dogmatic, ideological prejudice against those who democratically vote to remain council tenants?

The Prime Minister: : That is a very odd point to make. We are giving people a vote; I think that there have been more than 150 already, and 70 per cent. or more voted
 
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in favour of the change. People should be able to make up their minds; where they vote for change, they believe that it is in their interests. The hon. Gentleman should allow his constituents the right to vote on that, as the Government's purpose is actually to give his constituents the chance to decide their own future.

Q7. [203004] Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Not a road or pavement in any town or city in the country is not smeared and disfigured with great white blobs of chewing gum. What penalties will the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill impose on people who drop chewing gum in the streets? Why do not manufacturers sell chewing gum in packets that contain a slot in which to put used gum; and should not the packets have a warning showing the penalty for dropping chewing gum in the streets? Perhaps the manufacturers should pay for cleaning up the mess that their customers create.

The Prime Minister: I had not quite appreciated what a social evil chewing gum was until my hon. Friend made that impassioned plea. Of course, there are provisions in respect of litter in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, but they are part of a general series of measures that will allow local communities to deal with issues such as fly-tipping, abandoned cars, graffiti—the things that really degrade and devalue the look of an area—and along with the other measures that the Home Secretary has announced, will result in the most comprehensive programme of measures on antisocial behaviour that this country has ever seen. Many people, including some hon. Members, were doubtful about the importance of those measures on antisocial behaviour, but they now recognise that they are actually working in communities up and down the country.

Q8. [203005] Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Does the Prime Minister accept that, for this country to comply with its international legal obligations, we must hold a full, independent inquiry into the number of civilian casualties in Iraq since the invasion last year?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that. In our view the figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which has surveyed the hospitals there, constitute the most accurate survey that there is, but me just make this point to the hon. Gentleman and, through him, to the authors of the letter today: those who are killing innocent people in Iraq today—those who are responsible for innocent people dying—are the terrorists and insurgents who want to stop the elections happening in Iraq. Any action that the multinational force or the Iraqi army is taking in Iraq is intended to defeat those people, who are blowing up innocent people, preventing people from joining the police force and killing innocent aid workers—killing anyone trying to make the country better.

So let us be quite clear about this. If we want to stop any civilian deaths in Iraq, the best way to do so is for the hon. Gentleman and others to come behind the
 
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electoral process, come behind the UN-appointed Iraqi Government and ensure that we stop the terrorism and start the democracy.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich) (Lab): By the middle of next year, four new schools will be built in my constituency—three new primary schools and one secondary school—and 24 schools have been involved in an education action zone. Last week, they celebrated the success of that education action zone. They are now moving into school clusters. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the support for the education action zone will remain there for the school clusters in the future?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that the record investment going into our schools will remain in place. That money is set aside. Over the next few years, there will be a massive injection of capital funding. In any constituency in this country, we can see the difference in school buildings, extra computers, extra teachers and extra classroom assistants—of course, that turns up in the best results for 11-year-olds, GCSEs and A-levels that this country has had—and every single penny piece of that investment was voted against by the Conservative party.

Q9. [203006] Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May I ask the Prime Minister a question of which I have given him notice? Is he aware that less than half of home-owning pensioner households are claiming the council tax benefit to which they are entitled, so a staggering £750 million goes unclaimed each year? Having been successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills, I intend to introduce a one-clause Bill that, I hope, would better inform and better enable those pensioners to claim that council tax benefit. Will the Government support such a Bill?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, on the support for the Bill, we would have to see the specifics of it, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman is in discussion with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Incidentally, I thank him for notice of his question. Of course we support the principle of getting as many people as possible the benefits to which they are entitled, and we have made certain changes both to the forms that people have and in relation to the information campaign, to ensure that people get the information that they require. I am afraid that we will have to look very carefully at whether we can go further and engage with
 
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the statutory responsibility in the way he describes—there are obviously a lot of ramifications—but in general, of course we want to ensure that the more generous payments that we are giving to people, particularly with things such as pension credit, actually get to them. But I am afraid that, on the specifics of the Bill, we will have to wait until the outcome of the considerations that he and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions must have.

Q10. [203007] Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Given the present security situation in Iraq, is my right hon. Friend confident that the January elections can take place?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I am. I emphasise that the elections are overseen by—indeed, the terms of them are dictated by—the United Nations. The United Nations people engaged in the process believe that the elections can take place. Somewhere in the region of more than 200 parties have registered to participate in the elections. All the information that we have from people in Iraq is that they are desperate to take part in the elections.

This is a good moment to talk about elections in Iraq, the day after President Karzai was sworn in in Afghanistan, a country that for years and years was a failed state, run by a gang of murderers, thugs and fanatics. It is now a country in which millions of people—men and women—can vote. That is the same vision as we have for Iraq. If we succeed in that vision, Iraq and the world will be a more stable and safer place.

Q11. [203008] Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): Is the Prime Minister proud of the measure stealthily slipped into the pre-Budget report, whereby the tax on orphan assets in life insurance policies is to be raised to 30 per cent. from 10 per cent.? Is he aware that the chief executive of Norwich Union, the biggest life insurer in the country, calls that a disgraceful clobbering of his policyholders, and that it will cost them £150 million over the life of their policies? Is he not satisfied that damage enough has been done with the removal of dividend interest tax relief on pension funds? Why clobber the pensioners and retiring people twice?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that. There have been discussions with all the institutions over a period of time on the issue. There is a balance of funding review, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we should await its outcome.


 
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