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Why, after four Home Secretaries, 43 pieces of legislation, and nine years, should anyone believe that he is the right man to sort it out?

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The Prime Minister: For the simple reason that, as I have just pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman in stating the facts on asylum and immigration and on the criminal justice legislation, there are changes that have made a real difference. But yes, I agree that we have to do much more. That is precisely why we need the new measures such as identity cards and border controls that allow us to do something about it.

If we are comparing records on crime, let me just say to the right hon. Gentleman that under this Government, according to the British crime survey, overall crime is down, domestic burglary and vehicle theft are down, and police numbers are at a record high. When he was in the Home Office and the Conservatives were in office, crime doubled. I do not say that we have got everything right—of course not; we have got to do far more. What I do say, however, is that every time the tough measures that the right hon. Gentleman goes out and tells the media he wants are introduced here, they are opposed by him and his party. Next time we introduce them, perhaps he will put his vote where his mouth is.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): A recent report on levels of disposable income showed that this Government’s policies on tax and benefits are helping to boost the income of poorer households. In my constituency, that means up to £40 a week for two out of five pensioners and up to £50 a week extra for a third of working-age households with children. Although all work on equality is important, does my right hon. Friend agree that this work on reducing household income inequality is one of our most important goals?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. It is important, therefore, that we continue with the measures that have seen big rises of, I think, 25 per cent. in real terms in child benefit and in the working families tax credit, which has helped many families to get into work and ensured that they have a decent living income. Somewhere in the region of 2 million pensioners have been lifted out of acute hardship. That has been achieved by a combination of measures—helping with fuel poverty, as well as the pension credit. It is important to realise that, even though there are still too many people in our country living in poverty, the situation is a world away from where it was in 1997.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): May I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of condolence and sympathy for those who have died and been injured in Iraq? May I ask the Prime Minister this: will British forces have been withdrawn from Iraq at the time when he leaves office?

The Prime Minister: British forces should remain in Iraq until the job is done. Incidentally, they are there in Iraq—this is important to emphasise—and have been there for three years with full United Nations authority and with the consent of the first-ever democratically elected Iraqi Government. They are doing a magnificent job there. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. That country wants its democracy to work, and that is why it is important that they stay until the Iraqi forces are capable of engaging with their own security themselves.

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Sir Menzies Campbell: By the time the Prime Minister leaves office, will Guantanamo Bay, which the Attorney-General has described as unacceptable, have been closed down?

The Prime Minister: It might not surprise the right hon. and learned Gentleman to learn that I am not personally responsible for closing Guantanamo Bay. I agree that it is an anomaly that should be closed; I have said that all along. However, it is important to recognise that in Iraq and Afghanistan we are fighting a battle against the same forces of terrorism that want to disrupt our way of life here and to kill people. This is a global struggle, and it is right that Britain stand firm with its allies in engaging in that struggle and defeating the enemies of democracy and freedom.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend might be aware of the recent decision by the Law Lords to limit the amount of compensation for workers suffering from asbestos-related diseases and to their families. That decision will be devastating for thousands of workers and families throughout the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend, or the appropriate Minister, agree to meet a small delegation of like-minded colleagues to explore the options for dealing with this outrageous decision taken by people who do not live in the real world?

The Prime Minister: I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I would be very happy to meet him and his delegation to discuss the matter.

Q2. [71295] Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Given that the Prime Minister has decided to bounce the country into building new nuclear power stations even before his sham of an energy review has reported, and before we have found any solution to the problem of disposing of historic, let alone new, nuclear waste, are the Scottish communities that figured in the last Nirex report now back in the frame as possible nuclear dumps? Will this be the Prime Minister’s legacy to Scotland?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, we have to dispose of the existing nuclear waste in any event. However, if we are to address the energy security needs of the United Kingdom—including Scotland—we have to be prepared to take the necessary decisions to ensure that we do not end up entirely dependent on foreign imports of gas. That would not be sensible, in my view. I do not believe that nuclear power is the sole answer. Of course renewables are important, as are energy efficiency and carbon sequestration. All the measures that we are taking will assist us, but we have to debate very seriously whether we need to replace nuclear power stations to guarantee the future energy needs of this country; otherwise, we would be engaging in a collective dereliction of our duty.

Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): I understand that my right hon. Friend is meeting a delegation from the hospice movement later today. Will he bear in mind the essential and excellent work done by the Treetops hospice in my constituency, run by the
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Donna Louise Trust? Perhaps he could find time in his busy schedule to meet representatives of that hospice, preferably in the hospice.

The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to the work of the Treetops hospice in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I also understand the concern across the hospice movement about the changes in relation to lottery funding and other issues. I am meeting people from the movement today, and I hope that the Government will be in a position to say what we can do to try to meet those concerns as soon as possible.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): In January, I asked the Prime Minister to consider setting interim targets to ensure that we met the goal of getting treatment to all sufferers of HIV/AIDS by 2010. At the time, he said that that would be difficult because other countries needed to take action as well. Will he confirm that the Government are now supporting the campaign to set interim targets? Now that we have domestic consensus on the issue, will he tell the House what progress is being made internationally?

The Prime Minister: The whole point is that this needs to be done on an international basis, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would accept. I think that there is to be a meeting at the United Nations shortly, and we need to try to agree how we should stage the delivery of as near as possible universal access to HIV/AIDS treatment by 2010. The whole purpose of what we are trying to do is to ensure not only that our money will help to deliver that target but that there is a co-ordinated effort right across the international community. Fortunately, the auspices for that are reasonably good.

Mr. Cameron: I welcome that reply, but the point is to try to set an interim target for 2008, to give us a better prospect of hitting the overall target in 2010. Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the real challenges is to help children with HIV, who need access to specialist paediatric drugs? At present, there is little demand for such drugs in the west, but there is a big demand in Africa. What steps is the Prime Minister going to take to talk to the drugs companies to ensure wider provision of these vital treatments?

The Prime Minister: Again, what we are trying to do is to get the right buy-in from the pharmaceutical and drug companies, which are prepared to work with us to try to make sure that the treatments are available as cheaply as possible. Over the next few years, we are contributing in the region of £1.5 billion to tackle AIDS, TB and malaria, which is a huge commitment from this country, and rightly so. If we can set staging posts for universal access by 2010, we will do that. The important thing, however, is that that be done on a collective basis. It is important, too, that we do not forget the other two components involved in helping Africa, which are decisions that will be taken this year: first, the 20,000 peacekeepers that we need to have trained by the end of the year, which will be dramatically important in places such as Sudan; and secondly, the World Trade Organisation deal. That development package is of essential importance to the
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future of Africa. The good thing that is happening now in the international community is that those issues are being considered together and not in isolation.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): One of my right hon. Friend’s predecessors, Harold Wilson, was a great advocate of HP sauce, produced in Aston. The company was taken over last year by Heinz, which is now threatening the livelihood of 120 workers in Aston, Birmingham. In relation to the discussions that I am having with Heinz directors, will my right hon. Friend give a commitment to the House that he will provide the support that those workers need to ensure that those manufacturing jobs are retained, which the area deserves?

The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to the Heinz workers in my hon. Friend’s constituency and in many others constituencies in the country. I will give any support that I can to my hon. Friend in his efforts to preserve their jobs.

Q3. [71296] Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): Given the universal opposition in Suffolk and elsewhere, including from the police authority and the police themselves, will the Prime Minister instruct his new Home Secretary to put a stop at once to the uncosted, unwelcome and completely undesirable regionalisation of our police force?

The Prime Minister: There must be a proper process of examination, I am afraid, to make sure that we get the most effective police services in our country. It is generally accepted that it is right to review the service boundaries for all the reasons that we know. As I have repeated often in the House, the reason for doing that arises from a report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary which said that it was necessary to conduct that review. However, I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take account of the representations made to him.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): This morning, our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) are at the Vauxhall plant trying to persuade the owners to make the necessary investment in the company so that the next generation of Vauxhall Motors can be built in Ellesmere Port. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to make sure that the Government do everything that they can to help that process?

The Prime Minister: First, the announcement of the loss of jobs at Ellesmere Port is deeply disappointing. I commit the Government and the Northwest Regional Development Agency to work with the company and the trade unions to support those facing redundancy. As my hon. Friend rightly implies, the key campaign is to get the new Astra model built at Ellesmere Port. The Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are at Ellesmere Port today, and I will seek an early opportunity to talk to GM’s chief executive, Rick
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Wagoner, to put the case for Ellesmere Port and to offer any UK Government assistance that is appropriate. The work force there are magnificent, they do a great job, I know that they would be worthy of securing the new Astra model, and I very much hope that they do so.

Q4. [71297] Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The Prime Minister says that our forces in Iraq are doing a wonderful job, and, of course, they are—we all acknowledge that. However, the Saddam Hussein regime was overthrown three years ago, yet the violence is getting worse all the time, even in the south of the country. Our forces are often the target of terrorist attacks, and the very presence of coalition forces is used by terrorists as an excuse for their appalling violence. Would not a timetable for an orderly withdrawal of coalition forces, say, over the next 12 months, force the Iraqi Government and Iraqi citizens to come to terms with this problem and take control of their own destiny?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman put his finger on it when he said that the presence of coalition forces was being used as an excuse by the terrorist groups. It is important to understand that the Iraqi Government which I hope will be formed in the next few days will be, for the first time, a genuine unity Government. In other words, they will include as part of a coalition across all the different groups in the country representatives of the Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish people. If that Government are in place, obviously the whole of Iraq can take a more benign path and escape from its current difficulties.

The purpose of both the militia in the south of the country and those who are still fighting, along with the al-Qaeda people, in the centre and the north is to stop that democratic Government functioning. I think that we must work with the new Government once they have been formed. Of course it has always been our strategy to withdraw when the Iraqis wish us to do so—when they are capable of handling their security themselves. We need to sit down with the new Government once they have been formed, and work out how we can ensure that the rest of the build-up of the Iraqi forces takes place so that of course, in time, we can withdraw. That is the very purpose of what we are trying to do.

It is important to realise one thing, however. The purpose of these groups—who know perfectly well that our desire is not to stay there, but to leave once the job is done—is to prevent the country from securing a broad coalition of unity across all the groups so that Iraq can be governed properly. In my view, it is the Iraqi Government who are the key to determination of the timetable, not the terrorist groups.

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): I have to tell my right hon. Friend that many of my constituents who hear the clamour and speculation about his future are concerned about when it is time to move on. They want to know if and when they will be able to move on, and move out of inadequate accommodation into decent, affordable, quality homes in the Bedford area. Does my right hon. Friend recognise their concerns, and does he agree that increasing the availability and quantity of decent homes is one of the key and serious tasks of this Labour Government?

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is completely right. If I may say so, that is another example of the decisions that must be made for the long-term future of the country. It is really no use people complaining about the affordability of housing in the south if they then say that no new homes should be built and there should be no development. That development will happen in a planned way, but it would be of great assistance, frankly, if the opposition parties agreed that we will have to build more homes in the south if we are to relieve the pressure on housing and allow families—particularly younger families—to get their feet on the first rungs of the housing ladder.

If we add that to the measures that encourage brownfield development, the affordable house—the £60,000 house launched by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister—and other measures such as shared equity, and put all those measures together in a proper package, we shall be able to deal with the problem. But we must be prepared to make the tough decision to say that we will need to build homes in the south.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Prime Minister will be aware that the Assembly met on Monday. He may not be aware that at that meeting, every Member of the Assembly stood for one minute’s silence in memory of the young Ballymena man, Michael McIlveen, who has been grievously murdered. Today his family are laying his body to rest, and I suggest that our thoughts and prayers should be with them.

Does the Prime Minister know that there is a strange significance to this particular murder? Those who are charged cross the religious divide: they are Protestants and Roman Catholics. That seems to me a very strange thing. I feel that the Prime Minister should help the police at this time. The chief of police in Ballymena has made a statement saying that the situation may change, and that Protestants could be attacked in the same way. In order to prevent any retaliation, will the Prime Minister back the police by giving them the men who are needed to do the job, which is a very difficult job to do?

The Prime Minister: First, I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and join him in sending our condolences to the family of the young boy who was murdered. I also thank him for the responsible way in which he personally has handled the issue. It is very significant that there was a minute’s silence that stretched
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right across the community in the Assembly. Yes, I will certainly give the police every support in the work that they do.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Further to that reply, on reading the messages left at the McIlveen family home and at the scene of the attack, I was struck by the fact that young people were not only sharing their grief and shock, but were desperate also to share hope. The sight of so many young people in Celtic and Rangers jerseys emblazoned with Michael’s nickname has been a great comfort to his family. Should it not also be a spur to all politicians and an inspiration to older generations, who have tolerated, excused or indulged sectarianism for too long?

The Prime Minister: I agree totally with what my hon. Friend says; he is absolutely right. Of course, the very best and most significant thing that could be done to demonstrate that people are working across the communities is if we can get devolved government back up and working again in Northern Ireland, with everybody committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. What my hon. Friend is saying is the future of Northern Ireland; what that appalling murder represents is, hopefully, the past.

Q5. [71298] Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reassure his Labour colleagues that it will be he who will lead the Scottish election campaign next year, and from the front; that it will be his face that will appear on all the literature; and that he will take full advantage of his personal popularity to put the case for new nuclear build? If he does that, he will have my overwhelming support and that of my hon. Friends.

The Prime Minister: It is very kind of the hon. Gentleman to give me that ringing endorsement. One thing that I and my colleagues will be pointing out is that, as I understand it, the Scottish National party manifesto for the Scottish Parliament says that it would introduce an independence Bill in the first 100 days. Is that right?

Pete Wishart indicated assent.

The Prime Minister: Well, we will certainly be making a very great deal of that between now and the Scottish elections.

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