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Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): Ten people a week die from asbestos-related cancers because of the negligence of their former employers. I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give an answer right now, but will he look into the issue as a matter of urgency, to ensure that those workers get their rightful compensation instead of being dragged through the courts by multinational companies?

The Prime Minister: I know about the issue that my hon. Friend raises and I have met other hon. Members to discuss it. I hope that in the next few weeks we will be able to provide some comfort and succour to the people in the position that my hon. Friend describes.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tributes paid to Eric Forth. I, too, can pay tribute to his occasionally painful wit.

Following the tragic shootings in Dunblane 10 years ago, Lord Cullen recommended a national firearms register. Why has the Home Office not yet put that in place?

The Prime Minister: We have of course banned the use of handguns and taken many other measures, including saying that those in illegal possession of a firearm get a minimum five-year sentence. We believe that the measures that we have taken, along with the other measures that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is announcing today, are the best way to deal with the issue.

Sir Menzies Campbell: But three weeks ago, the Prime Minister told me that the Home Office was fit for purpose: yesterday, the Home Secretary said that it was not. Which is it?

The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the reasons that I have just been explaining to the Leader of the Opposition. There are huge challenges in the immigration and nationality directorate, because of the changing nature of migration, and if we want to deal with those issues, we have to take measures that allow us to do so. I was saying a moment or two ago that the Conservative party had voted against many of the measures necessary to strengthen the law on immigration, asylum and crime. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been thoroughly consistent and voted against every measure necessary to strengthen the law against illegal immigration, against unfounded asylum seekers and in respect of crime. If he and the Conservative party want to support the police and others in the work that they do, I hope that they will support the next measures that we introduce.

Q2. [73143] Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What can my right hon. Friend say to my constituent, Mr. John Flynn of Llanishen in Cardiff, North, who worked for Allied Steel and Wire for 30 years and will retire next year at 65, when he will receive a works pension of £80 instead of the £800 that he was expecting and had contributed to for 30 years? Can my
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right hon. Friend extend the financial assistance scheme to help Mr. Flynn and all the other Allied Steel and Wire pensioners?

The Prime Minister: As I think I said in March, there is a strong and compelling campaign for the review of the financial assistance scheme. I said then that we would expedite it: we have done so and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will make a statement tomorrow on the pensions White Paper that will also deal with that issue.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): The Education and Inspections Bill to be considered later today will give schools greater independence, raise standards and give parents more choice. It will pass without being wrecked because we have given it our backing. The Prime Minister has been prepared to drop tribal politics and accept Conservative support in the interests of parents and pupils. Does he think that the Chancellor will take the same approach?

The Prime Minister: Well, I shall point out to the right hon. Gentleman what the Chancellor has done. We have the strongest economy since the war, and interest rates that are—

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): Go on.

The Prime Minister: Yes, I shall take every opportunity to do so. The Leader of the Opposition asked me about the Chancellor, and I should like to talk about him. As a result of my right hon. Friend’s economic record, interest rates are half what they were, unemployment is down and employment is up. We have been able to invest in schools, in our pupils and in higher education. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that that investment, along with the reform, will continue.

Mr. Cameron: If the Chancellor is doing such a good job, why does not the Prime Minister let him take over? [ Interruption. ]

The Prime Minister: The Leader of the Opposition may want to forget it, but we had a general election a year ago. We won, they lost.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): I know that the Prime Minister is aware that the question of illegal immigration is in the papers consistently. It is a difficult one, but I came across a case the other day involving a man from Ghana. He came here for an eye operation, and stayed for 10 years on benefits. This bloke did not work at the Home Office; he was a Tory party worker in 1995. The Home Secretary at the time should have been counting illegal immigrants, but he missed one right under his nose. We are now told that the Tory party wants to spread happiness—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: I do not know whether that man’s greater mistake was to enter this country illegally or to work for Tory central office.

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Q3. [73144] Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): In January, the Government’s Health White Paper said:

Just before last year’s general election, the West Suffolk primary care trust confirmed that a new community hospital would be built in Sudbury, in my constituency. Those plans were cancelled just after the election, and the trust has now decided to shut the existing and highly valued community hospital. Does the Prime Minister want his legacy to the people of Suffolk to be the destruction of their health service, or would he prefer to meet my constituents for just 10 minutes to understand why they prefer the policy in the White Paper to what is happening on the ground?

The Prime Minister: The organisation of services is obviously a matter for the local PCT and strategic health authority, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that health funding has increased by more than 30 per cent. in the past three years, and that it is due to increase by 20 per cent. in the next two. As a matter of fact, I think that our record in respect of his health authority is rather good. The number of people there waiting more than six months for in-patient treatment has fallen—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”] Well, Opposition Members should know that people care about these matters. The number of people waiting more than six months for in-patient treatment has fallen from more than 12,000 to just two. That is part of this Government’s record.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister think it right that only 30 per cent. of women reaching state retirement age are entitled to a full state pension? That compares with 85 per cent. of men.

The Prime Minister: No, and that is one reason why it was so important to have the Turner commission and report. Tomorrow, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will set out the Government’s view of the long-term pension framework for the future. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that many women have not built up their pension contributions because they have been unable to work, perhaps because they have had to care for someone. That is precisely one of the matters that my right hon. Friend will address tomorrow.

Nuffield Speech and Language Unit

Q4. [73145] John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): If he will make a statement on the future of the Nuffield Speech and Language Unit.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue and I recognise that it is something about which he feels strongly. The staff at the Nuffield speech and language unit have a good track record in providing intensive speech and language therapy to children with severe learning difficulties. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the future of the unit is currently under consultation. However, I understand that the trust will hold a meeting later this week to discuss the
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whole future of the unit. I am sure that the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust will listen to all the views expressed before making a final decision.

John Bercow: I thank the Prime Minister for that helpful and informative reply. For 35 years, the Nuffield unit has provided the specialist help for children with very severe speech and language disorders that the Prime Minister described. Given, however, that as things stand the unit faces the threat of closure purely on financial grounds, will the Prime Minister agree to consider how to safeguard it, whether by specialised commissioning or by some other means, as a unique resource for the benefit of some of the most vulnerable children in the country?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, this is primarily a matter for the trust, but we certainly should consider how to preserve the unit and its expertise. The hon. Gentleman knows what the issue is: as I understand it, there are a number of children in the unit at present, but a significant proportion of them are due to leave in July and therefore the income for the unit will diminish. However, I understand that referrals have been taking place over the past few weeks, so it is in that context that the meeting will take place next week. I am happy to keep an eye on the matter personally and to correspond with the hon. Gentleman about the outcome of the meeting.


Q5. [73146] Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the Prime Minister confirm that he did indeed ask the Deputy Prime Minister to give up his grace and favour mansion at Dorneywood?

The Prime Minister: I have no intention whatever of discussing the reshuffle or any matters associated with it.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the appalling murder last week of Kiyan Prince, a popular, hard-working student at the London academy in my constituency—a 15-year-old boy whose bright future was tragically cut short by an assailant’s knife. We all hope that the knife amnesty starting today will succeed, but what can my right hon. Friend do to convince young men that knives are not fashion accessories but offensive weapons and that carrying a knife risks a heavy sentence and increases the likelihood of becoming another knife victim?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, that was a particularly tragic case and our condolences go to the family of my hon. Friend’s constituent. As he is aware, the knife amnesty starts today; such an amnesty worked successfully some years back and, we hope, will again. It follows the successful gun amnesty in April 2003. In addition, we are doing two other things: adding a range of knives to the offensive weapons list and raising the minimum age at which a person can buy a knife. Where a child is threatened in any way it will constitute an aggravating factor. With the police, we
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will continue to do everything we can both to ensure that the penalties for those in illegal possession of a knife are sufficient and to discourage young people from getting into a knife and gun culture, which is not just appalling for its victims and the people who suffer its violence but does nothing for the lives of those engaged in it.

Q6. [73147] Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Given that the Hutton report was an inquiry about the death of a public servant, should copies signed by celebrities be auctioned to raise funds for a political party?

The Prime Minister: I do not believe that any offence to anyone was intended.

Q7. [73148] Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): This week, at the start of the UK-wide knife amnesty, the Scottish Parliament will be debating an amendment proposed by my MSP, Charlie Gordon, which calls for mandatory prison sentences for anyone carrying a knife in public, in exactly the same way as the law currently deals with those carrying guns. Will the Prime Minister consider introducing a similar law for the rest of our country?

The Prime Minister: We are certainly looking carefully at how we can deal with that situation, which is somewhat different from that of guns, because there can be reasons for particular people to carry a knife. We are giving urgent consideration not just to banning a whole series of other knives that could be used as offensive weapons, but also to ensuring that there is a minimum sentence if someone is found in possession of a knife without good reason. That is something well worth looking at.

Q8. [73149] Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): In 1997, the Prime Minister said that things can only get better. Nine years on, when will the Home Office get better?

The Prime Minister: First, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say how things have got better. The economy is stronger, unemployment is down and employment is up; waiting lists and times are down in the national health service; and school results have improved at 11, 14, 16 and 18. In relation to the Home Office, crime is down, as I pointed out earlier, and there are record numbers of police—indeed, there are record numbers of police in his own area.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may have noticed that the EU is trying to control the salaries of top football players. Does he agree that the salaries of some others—those who run railway companies, chief executives of housing associations, and even vice-chancellors—are out of control, especially by comparison with the pay awards being received by those who work for them? Surely nobody should earn more than the person who runs the country.

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The Prime Minister: I am not sure about that. I thought that my hon. Friend was going to make a really helpful suggestion and say that the person who runs the country should be paid the same as the footballers, but no. There are always issues about how many people we should have on what salaries, but my own view of this, including in relation to football, is that it is very difficult to find a system that properly controls such things, especially in what is pretty much a global commercial market.

Q9. [73150] Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): The health White Paper says that community hospitals threatened with closure should not be lost for short-term budgetary reasons. Both Dilke and Lydney community hospitals in my constituency are threatened with closure for exactly that reason. What is the Prime Minister going to do about it?

The Prime Minister: It is surely the case that, in the end, the question for the Government is the amount of money that we give to areas such as the hon. Gentleman’s, and we have increased the funding again dramatically over the last few years. It has been doubled over the period of this Government. [Hon. Members: “Where has it gone?] I can explain where it has gone in the hon. Gentleman’s own area. There are almost 3,000 more nurses, 500 more consultants, 400 more GPs, and a new £32 million hospital opened in March 2005—the new Honeybourne specialist rehabilitation and recovery centre. There is a massive amount of work going on in his area, but in the end how services are organised has got to be for the locality.

Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Swansea division of the South Wales police on its excellent recent crime figures? Overall crime is down by 32 per cent., burglary is down by 32 per cent. and auto crime is down by 48 per cent. I am sure that he will agree that those figures are worth celebrating.

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to congratulate the police in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Of course, that is part of a pattern in which crime has fallen
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overall in the past few years. That is no consolation to anybody who is a victim of crime, but the fact is that the police have got more resources than ever before and the law has been toughened to allow them to deal with things such as antisocial behaviour and now serious and organised crime. I am delighted to see that that has produced such good results in her constituency.

Q10. [73151] Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In Northamptonshire, 250 people are classified as persistent and prolific offenders and they commit 85 per cent of the crime in the county. Should not the law be changed to ensure that those people, when caught and sentenced, serve their time in jail in full?

The Prime Minister: Surely the most important thing is that, all the way through their sentence and afterwards, they are properly monitored and supervised so that even after they have left prison—because some people who are prolific offenders will leave prison—they are supervised in a way that allows us to track their movements and to know exactly what is happening to them. Those are precisely the measures that we included in the legislation that the hon. Gentleman and his party abstained on. What I say to him is that if we want to tackle any of those issues, whether they are to do with drugs or organised crime—where, again, the measures were either voted against by the Conservative party or abstained on—we have to have the measures necessary. We will propose those measures and I hope that he supports them.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I remind the Prime Minister that he and I were elected on a manifesto that included a commitment to make bank holidays over and above the minimum national holiday provision. Will he give an undertaking that that commitment will be fulfilled and implemented by the third summer of this Parliament?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has rightly referred to the Warwick agreement, and I assure him that it will be honoured in full, as we have said totrade unions and employers. It will bring decent minimum standards into the workplace, which is an important difference between the Labour Party and the Conservative party.

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