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The Prime Minister: I congratulate all who managed to win the opportunity to host the world skills competition in London. We won the competition, as my hon. Friend has stressed, against fierce competition
from other countries, because over the past few years we have put extra resources into skills education. We have allowed about 750,000 people to get qualifications that they did not previously have. It is the emphasis that we have placed on a skilled work force that has allowed us to make this progress.
The Prime Minister: Yes. Of course we do. That is why, after the chief executive of the agency resigned, we tried to ensure that the money was paid through to people. It will be extremely important to ensure that the changes that have been made over the past few months are kept going so that people receive the payments due to them.
Sir Menzies Campbell: The Prime Minister knows that this arises not just from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. There istrouble at the Home Office and, judging by todays report from the Kings Fund, there is trouble in the national health service. Following the right hon. Gentlemans reshuffle, does he accept that the people of the United Kingdom are much more likely to be motivated by appreciation of the Governments performance than by personalities? Does he accept also that his Ministers will be judged by their achievements, not their preference for him or the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When will the Prime Minister do something about the NHS, about DEFRA and about the Home Office?
The Prime Minister: Difficult changes are being put in place in the health service, but the important thing is that we achieve our target of an 18-week maximum wait not just for in-patients but for out-patients. That is revolutionising the national health service, and it means that people can book an appointment. It builds on the fact that we used to have hundreds of thousands of people waiting more than six months for an in-patient appointment, and we do not any more. People used to wait years for simple operations such as operations for cataracts, but they do not do so now. It builds on the fact that we have about 85,000 extra nurses in the national health service. That is a pretty good list of achievements, and I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say so.
Q3.  Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): May I draw the Prime Ministers attention to Amnesty Internationals publication today of a report on the havoc caused by the trade in small arms? Does he recall that a recommendation of his Commission for Africa was that negotiations should begin on an arms trade treaty by the end of 2006? Will he put his weight behind such negotiations, because I fear that not much will happen if he does not?
The Prime Minister: The point that my hon. Friend makes is very important indeed. There will be negotiations so that we can achieve a treaty, hopefully at the United Nations General Assembly this autumn. That was raised not just during our European Union presidency but at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. We are in touch, too, with all those people in civic society who have led the campaign, and I very much hope that we will secure a treaty that is sufficiently effective to include all the major arms-exporting states. This is not just about constraining illegitimate sales of defence equipment but about tackling illicit and irresponsible transfers, particularly, as he said, of small arms, which do so much damage and tragically kill so many people in Africa.
everyone who is a foreign national who serves a prison sentence is automatically deported.[ Official Report, 3 May 2006; Vol. 445, c. 963.]
unless there are special circumstances we need to think about whether or not somebody who commits an imprisonable offence should be deported.
The Prime Minister: Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman why the point that he is making is wrong. [ Interruption. ] He asked me, and I am about to give the answer. The fact is, the people who should be deported are foreign prisoners. In other words, they are foreign and they have been in prison. The point that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor made was not that this is about everyone who is convicted of an imprisonable offence, as some of those people may not go to prison, but that everyone who is in prison should be deported. That is why they are called foreign prisoners.
Q5.  Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): When preparing for a speech on workers memorial day at the memorial in Bathgate, I was shocked to find that in 2004-05, 220 workers died in UK workplaces and that there was a 29 per cent. rise in deaths in Scotland to 36. What will the Prime Minister do to reverse the trend since 1998, as the UK index has risen from 100 to 107? In the same period, the index for workplace injuries has gone down to 82 in the European Union.
The Prime Minister: I accept, as my hon. Friend implied, that this is a serious issue, although I would point out that fatalities are at a record low, with major injuries down by two thirds since 1974. As he may
know, the Health and Safety Commission published a strategy on workplace health and safety in Great Britain to 2010, and we will make further improvements based on the recommendations in that report. I hope that that will deal with some of the issues that he has raised.
The Prime Minister: As I understand it, the PFI review team visited the trust in the hon. Gentlemans constituency last week. I understand that it was a successful meeting. A number of financial and contractual issues need to be resolved, and we expect the work to take approximately six months but hope it will have an optimistic conclusion. The scheme is worth £170 million or more, so it is a very important development. I think I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that it will go ahead as quickly as possible, once the remaining issues have been sorted out.
Q7.  John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): More than 25,000 people die every year in the United Kingdom from deep vein thrombosis. That is more than from breast cancer, AIDS and road traffic accidents put together. As this is national thrombosis week, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Lifeblood, the thrombosis charity, on raising awareness of this deadly and debilitating disease? Can he tell me what measures his Government will introduce to reduce that alarming number of deaths in our hospitals?
The Prime Minister: I entirely understand my hon. Friends concern. There are about 25,000 deaths a year from thromboembolism. It is a serious issue, as he rightly implies, that requires comprehensive action. Following the report last year of the Select Committee on Health, the Department of Health established an independent expert working group, which will report to the chief medical officer. Recommendations will be made by the summer, so within the next few weeks we will be in a position to say what more we can do to try and tackle the problem.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): A 77-year-old farmer in my constituency fired a warning pellet at a stray dog that was worrying his sheep. A dozen armed policemen in six police cars arrived in his drive, arrested him in front of his terrified grandchildren and detained him in a cell for hours without allowing him to speak. When the Prime Minister said he was tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, was that what he meant?
The Prime Minister: For fairly obvious reasons, and with respect to the hon. Lady, I do not know anything about the case that she has raised. How the police respond to a particular incident is for them. I have learned enough about such cases to be wary of commenting on them until the full facts are known.
Q8.  Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Given the African Union discussions last week culminating in the Abuja agreement, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House his understanding of the impact of that agreement on the long-suffering people of Darfur, who are of course entitled to the support of the whole international community?
The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to all who have been involved in the negotiations, particularly the President of Nigeria and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who played a crucial role, with others, in achieving the agreement. I would make two points to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). First, it is important that the Government of Sudan end their opposition to the UN force taking over from the African Union. Secondly, we must make sure that in the new force that is deployed, we have sufficient firepower to enable us to ensure that any agreement is properly policed. We are considering the matter urgently, with the United States of America, particularly, and with other NATO partners, to see what more we can do.
The situation in Sudan is very serious indeed. Thousands of people are dying needlessly. It is a classic example of why the Commission for Africa report recommendation about a standing peacekeeping force for Africa is so important. In the end, the problem in such situations is not just humanitarian: unless the opposing sides can be kept apart, which requires military force, it is extremely difficult for humanitarian aid to be effective. We will continue to work hard on the problem.
Q9.  Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): This Saturday will be the first anniversary of the massacre in Andizhan of innocent, unarmed civilian protesters by Uzbek security forces. What are the Government doing to ensure that President Karimov and his loathsome regime will be held to account by the international community for that act of butchery?
The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, the UK was at the forefront in condemning the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force that resulted in that killing. It was under our presidency that the European Union imposed measures such as a visa ban and an arms embargo. We will look at strengthening those EU measures, and we have been sponsoring a United Nations resolution through the European Union. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will keep up the pressure on Uzbekistan in order to make sure that the human rights situation is changed.
Q10.  Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): As West Lancashire has very little burial space and no crematorium, local people are forced to pay neighbouring local authorities a high premium to use their burial plots or crematoriums. Will the Prime Minister join local clergy and residents in calling on Conservative-controlled West Lancashire district council to meet its moral obligation to allow local people to bury their dead nearby?
The Prime Minister: I know that that is an important issue in my hon. Friends constituency. As she knows, local authorities currently have no duty to provide burial grounds, although most do so and planning for burial ground provision is part of authorities normal strategic duties. We are reviewing the matter, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will make an announcement shortly.
Q11.  Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): On 8 February, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Health and the entire parliamentary Labour party heard me present a petition to the House signed by 6,056 of my constituents to support the Dilke memorial hospital, which was built with contributions from coal miners in the Forest of Dean. Today, we have heard about plans to close the hospital owing to NHS deficits. My constituents receive just £1,128 of health spending per head, while the Prime Ministers enjoy £1,442. Does the Prime Minister think that that is fair?
The Prime Minister: It is fair to point out that funding for West Gloucestershire PCT, which includes the Forest of Dean, has increased by 31 per cent., which is £53 million, and will increase by a further 20 per cent., which is another £50 million, over the next two years. Whatever amount of money we put into the health service, PCTs and hospital trusts must live within their budgets. One thing is absolutely sureif people vote Conservative and get a Conservative Government, they will get less money, not more, in the health service.
Mrs. Williams: At a recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Malta, delegates from St. Helena expressed their gratitude for UK investment, which will enable them to open an airport by 2010, but there are infrastructure problems involving water, electricity and the health network. Is my right hon. Friend aware of any plans by the international community to help the residents of that remote island
The Prime Minister: When my hon. Friend first mentioned St. Helena, I wondered what was coming in the rest of her question. I am happy to add that important issue to the other issues that I must resolve, but I am not entirely familiar with her point.
Q12.  Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I offer my support to the Prime Minister on his decision to relieve the Deputy Prime Minister of departmental responsibilitiesit is very good for all of us to see nine years of unremitting incompetence
finally rewarded. However, I want to go further in my support, because the Prime Minister has been criticised for allowing the Deputy Prime Minister to keep his salary and the vast perks of his office. I am with the Prime Minister, however, because the new arrangement is an improvement: he is right that it is better to pay the Deputy Prime Minister for not running a Department than it is to pay him for running one.
The Prime Minister: I remember the hon. Gentlemans Deputy Prime Ministerafter his two years in office, the Tories achieved their worst election victory on record. [Hon. Members: Oh] The hon. Gentleman remembers Michael Heseltine, who became Deputy Prime Minister and two years later the Tories had the worst election result in their history. This Deputy Prime Minister has presided over three election victories, so I prefer Prezza to Hezza.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): May I congratulate the previous Tory Government on their £8 million investment in the St. Asaph business park in
my constituency in 1990 and on their £2.5 million investment on a flyover for that business park? Before the Prime Minister starts to think that he is dealing with the first Labour defection of this Parliament, may I say that that business park lay empty for seven years under the Tories and that, since 1997, the Labour Government have created 2,700 quality jobs. What measures will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that that economic success continues in my constituency and in the rest of Wales?
The Prime Minister: People remember that, in my hon. Friends constituency and many others, those were the days when interest rates averaged 10 per cent., there were 3 million unemployed [Interruption.] Oh yes, we do not forget those days. Under this Government, we have 2 million more jobs, the lowest unemployment rate for three decades, interest rates half what they were under the Conservatives and record investment in schools and hospitals. That is why my hon. Friend is right to be proud of his Government.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Two weeks ago, I raised a point of order to register my concern that information was given to the press that had been alleged in an answer to a parliamentary question as being unavailable. You kindly advised me, Mr. Speaker, to resubmit that question and I was concerned when, on 3 May, that question was answered with a holding reply, saying that the question would be answered shortly by the Minister with responsibility for planning. Since I am asking for information that has already been given to the press, surely it is a discourtesy bordering on contempt for Parliament that that information is not available immediately. Will you advise me what steps I can take to have that information provided to the House?
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received notice of a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence, as I understand that a press release has been issued within the past hour announcing the closure of three Army bases in Northern Ireland, one of which is in my constituency? Its closure will put hundreds of civilians out of work within the next few months and many of them will encounter great difficulty in gaining employment outside the military environment. Have you, Mr. Speaker, received notice of an intention to make a statement to the House?
Mr. Speaker: I have not received any such notice [Interruption.] Let me answer the hon. Gentleman. I understand that no one wants redundancies and job losses in their constituencies, so my advice is that the hon. Gentleman should call for a meeting with the relevant Minister to discuss the matter.
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