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Royal Shrewsbury Hospital

6. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): If he will meet the Secretary of State for Health to discuss the burdens on Royal Shrewsbury hospital arising from cross-border patient flows from mid-Wales. [50381]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend regularly meets Cabinet colleagues and discusses a range of issues.
 
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Daniel Kawczynski: I thank the Minister for that response, of sorts. The Royal Shrewsbury hospital has had quite a few chief executives over the years, but they all say that the hospital loses between £2 million and £3 million every year in subsidies to patients from across the border in Wales—the Welsh Assembly pays less per patient than English authorities. What is he going to do about it?

Nick Ainger: I assure the hon. Gentleman that an agreement is in place between Powys local health board, which provides patients to the Royal Shrewsbury hospital, and the hospital, where the chief executive has told us that there is not a problem. This is the second time that the hon. Gentleman has complained that patients from Wales cost his trust a lot of money. On 16 December, however, he wrote to the Assembly seeking an assurance that more patients will come to the hospital in order to protect services in Shrewsbury. I am pleased that he recognises the benefits that Welsh patients provide to the Royal Shrewsbury hospital.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The decision-making process on drugs such as Humira, which involves the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group, is now so convoluted that a Welsh patient lying next to an English patient in hospital would not get the same treatment for an identical condition. How can that be right, and what steps will the Minister take to ensure that Welsh patients are not disadvantaged in the future?

Nick Ainger: Well, that is news to me—I am staggered by that claim. As I have said, Welsh patients are supporting services in English hospitals. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) recognises that point, because it is important for health services in his area that patients continue to travel into England from Wales.

Private Sector Investment/Employment

7. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the level of private sector investment and employment in the Welsh economy. [50382]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The private sector in Wales is thriving. Government policies have resulted in close to record employment in Wales, with 119,000 more people in jobs than in 1997. The private sector accounts for approximately three quarters of all jobs in Wales.

Mark Tami: My right hon. Friend will be aware of the success of the Deeside industrial park, which has more than 140 companies employing more than 7,000 people. If we are to build on the success of that site, we must not only expand it but improve the infrastructure, which means improving the Wrexham-Bidston line in particular.

Mr. Hain : My hon. Friend makes a good case. He agrees that his entire region has been transformed under this Labour Government, with massive new investment,
 
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huge numbers of new jobs and a booming economy, in contrast to the Tory record. The Conservatives have put the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in charge of economic policy. If he wrecks their economic policy as much as he wrecked Wales when he was Secretary of State, he will do us all a great favour.

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [51587] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD) : If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 15 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) on the birth of his son yesterday. We wish him and his family well.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Paul Rowen: The Leader of the Opposition has offered the support of his party to get the Government's education Bill through the House. Is the Prime Minister aware that Labour is in coalition with the Conservatives in Rochdale? Can he envisage such a thing happening here?

The Prime Minister: I do not need to envisage that but can tell the hon. Gentleman as a fact, that, thanks to the Labour Government, we are spending an extra £1,500 per pupil in his constituency, with more teachers, more teaching assistants and greater investment in schools. The results are up as well. The Labour Government are doing a good job, and I thank him for giving me the opportunity to say so.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): In case the Prime Minister finds himself momentarily concerned by the recent Dunfermline and West Fife by-election result, may I ask him to cast his mind back barely 18 months to the similar by-election result in Leicester, South? If he does, he will note the same swing against the Government, the same media predictions of disaster, the same devastation to the Tories, and the same temporary jubilation on the Lib Dem Benches. Will he join me in looking forward with confidence to the same outcome at the next general election?

The Prime Minister: We certainly hope that that result will be repeated.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his good wishes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and his family, which I will convey to him.
 
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For the first time in history at Question Time, all three parties are represented by a stand-in for the real leader.

Does the Prime Minister agree with his former Home Secretary that there was a "deep reluctance to act on the information coming out of Abu Hamza's own mouth"?

The Prime Minister: No, I do not agree that there was a reluctance on the part of the services to act. It is important to realise that the services felt that it was only when they raided the home of Abu Hamza in May 2004 that they had sufficient evidence under existing law to prosecute with success. That is, of course, their decision.

The point that I would make to the right hon. Gentleman, and to his hon. Friends who have been asking why action was not taken earlier, is that it is precisely because we want to take action earlier that we need the legislation before the House today. With the greatest of respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that he understands that he and his colleagues will vote for something today that would significantly dilute and weaken the provisions that attack glorification, which are vital if we are to defend this country successfully against the likes of Abu Hamza.

Mr. Hague: Would not it be better to have a watertight law designed to catch the guilty rather than a press-release law designed to catch the headlines? The Home Secretary said on the radio this morning that he wanted to deal with those who exalt terrorism to try to get young men to behave in an unacceptable way. The Lords amendment, which we support, would create an offence of

Why does the Prime Minister continue to posture on the matter when he could have cross-party agreement, in accordance with the Home Secretary's wishes?

The Prime Minister: Let me go straight to the substance of the issue and explain why I disagree profoundly with the right hon. Gentleman. First, if we remove "glorification", we send out a massive counterproductive signal. It is a word that members of the public readily know and understand and that juries would understand. It is in the United Nations resolution, and removing it would send completely the wrong signal.

However, there is another point, on which the right hon. Gentleman touched. Let me explain why I disagree so strongly with the position of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. He mentioned the terms of the amendment that he will support, which is about "the listener". It does not cover written statements or images. In other words, it may deal with a sermon but not a placard. It would be incredible at this moment, after what has happened in the past few weeks, if we were to dilute the proposed law in that way.

As for political press releases, let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has been writing in the News of the World—perfectly understandably—in the past few
 
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months. His basic case has been that the Government have not been tough enough. Let me quote what he wrote a short time ago:

That is what he says in the News of World. What he will vote for today is precisely the opposite.

Mr. Hague: What kind of message does it send when someone such as Abu Hamza is at liberty to encourage murder and racial hatred for years on end, as happened under the Government? What sort of message does it convey when the Prime Minister wants to send signals, but people were on the streets two weeks ago inciting violence and murder, and no one has yet been arrested? The Government have let Abu Hamza preach hatred for seven years but have arrested people who heckle the Foreign Secretary at the Labour party conference. There are old powers that the Prime Minister will not use and new powers that we have seen abused.

It is the opinion of all decent lawyers—the Prime Minister should ask one; he probably has one at home—that the Lords amendment that we support covers more than written statements. That should put his mind at rest. Is not it the case that proper enforcement of existing laws and careful consideration of new ones would be better than the current brand of ineffective authoritarianism?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry but, as ever with the right hon. Gentleman, the jokes are good but the judgment less so. Let me explain exactly why he is wrong. The words in the amendment that he and the Liberal Democrats support—I hope that his hon. Friends realise this—refer to "the listener". That does not cover images, placards or written statements. Supporting that would significantly weaken our ability to prosecute the very people about whom he complained on television a couple weeks ago.

That is not all that the Conservatives have done to weaken the legislation. They would also change the wording of the test from there being an offence if the

to "would infer", thus imposing on the prosecution a subjective test, which is harder to prove.

Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman, all the Conservatives who will vote for the relevant amendment and the Liberal Democrats, would remove any reference to glorification in the proscribed groups. That would significantly weaken our ability to proscribe groups that glorify terrorism. Hon. Members must understand that, if we remove any reference to glorification from the Bill, people outside will infer that we have decided to dilute our law at the very moment when we should strengthen it and send a united signal that we will not tolerate those who glorify terrorism in our country.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): More than 100 cancer patients now receive the licensed drug Tarceva, but Morecambe Bay NHS Primary Care Trust refuses to prescribe it to a cancer sufferer in my constituency, Paul Bould, despite the fact that his consultant feels that it could help to prolong his life.
 
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Who does the Prime Minister believe should make these life-or-death decisions? Should it be Paul Bould's doctor or an NHS manager?

The Prime Minister: Of course my hon. Friend is right to suggest that it should be clinicians who take those decisions. I will look into the specific issue that she has raised, which I was obviously not aware of, and I will write to her about it. Of course, we want to give everyone the drugs that can help to prolong their lives. That is why there has been a massive expansion in the number of people receiving them under this Government, for both cancer and cardiac care, but it is important to ensure that this is done in the most effective way. I will look into the situation of the person my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of congratulation that the Prime Minister gave to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). Would the Prime Minister like to take the opportunity to welcome another new arrival, namely my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie)? If the Prime Minister has any tips on how my hon. Friend should deal with his new constituent, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should be very happy to pass them on.

Rather than creating ambiguous and controversial offences such as the glorification of terrorism, should not the Government introduce the effective and practical measure of permitting the use of telephone intercept evidence in our courts, so that we may bring suspected terrorists to trial?

The Prime Minister: As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows perfectly well, the reason why there is a debate over intercept evidence is the view of the security services—not held throughout our law enforcement services—that allowing intercept evidence would damage our ability to prosecute terrorists or those involved in organised crime. That is the reason for it; it has nothing to do with civil liberties or a desire not to take action.

I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned this matter because he does not want to face up to what he and his colleagues are going to do today. The term "glorification" is easily understood by members of the public and by juries. They know exactly what it is, and they know exactly what signal we should send out if we removed any reference to it from the legislation today. The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends should think again. By weakening our law on terrorism at this time from what was proposed, we would send the wrong signal to the whole of the outside world, and we would do no service to those in the police and the law enforcement agencies who are desperately anxious to get on with the job of prosecuting people.

Sir Menzies Campbell: If the Prime Minister thinks that everyone understands the meaning of "glorification", he should look at the definition in the Bill, which is opaque, to say the least.
 
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Telephone intercept evidence is used in almost every other European country, and the problems that the Prime Minister describes can be addressed by adequate safeguards. If that is good enough for them, why is it not good enough for us?

The Prime Minister: For the very reasons that our security services have given. I know exactly why the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised this issue: he wants to divert attention from the actual issues in the Bill. That is obvious to everyone. Let us be quite clear that this is not only about the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats combining to take "glorification" out from the offence; it is also about taking out any reference to glorification from the list of proscribed groups. That would mean that we could not proscribe people who were glorifying terrorism, unless it could be proved that they were actively inciting terrorist acts. We have to send a clear message to those groups that that type of behaviour is not tolerated in this country. There is freedom of speech, but it should be exercised responsibly.

Q2. [51588] Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): My right hon. Friend recently had a bad experience flying, or trying to fly, on an out-of-date American aircraft. If he is considering a Blair force one, may I suggest that he looks for modern, reliable Airbus aircraft to operate it?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for that kind advice and pay tribute to all the Airbus employees who do such a marvellous job in his constituency and elsewhere. It is a remarkable example of European co-operation; 30 or 40 years ago, people would have found odd the idea of a European conglomerate being able to compete with Boeing, yet today, it not only competes but does so on equal terms and very effectively.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Prime Minister will recall the manifesto commitment, and his personal promise in 1999, that anyone who wished to access NHS dentistry services would be able to do so by the end of 2001. It is now 2006, and there is one NHS dentist in north Wales. When, if ever, will the Prime Minister keep his promise?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the huge problem that there is. I am afraid that the only answer is to hire more NHS dentists, which we are doing. We are bringing them in from wherever we can and increasing the number of dentistry places. Unfortunately, however, we cannot force dentists to go back into the national health service.

Q3. [51589] Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Cast metal and other metal manufacturers in my constituency are reporting increases in energy prices of up to 50 per cent. for electricity and 300 per cent. for gas, which are considerably higher than those faced by their European counterparts. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what plans the Government have for creating a level playing field in energy costs and supplies for British manufacturing?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this issue. Tomorrow, the European Commission will produce its interim report on the gas
 
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and electricity markets. It is important that a level playing field across Europe is driven through, which is very much in our interests. Obviously, world energy prices have been rising. For the past decade, the UK has had lower energy prices than many other EU member states. It is correct that they have been rising over the past few months, however, and I entirely agree that it is in the interests of our country and the whole European Union that we both liberalise energy markets and create a level playing field for customers in the UK and elsewhere.


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