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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD):
Is the Secretary of State aware that the Telford and Wrekin primary care trust board plans to withdraw from the process of re-providing Shelton hospital? The lack of mental health provision in mid-Wales means that cutting that vital facility would have serious
consequences for the whole of central Wales. Will he make representations to the Telford and Wrekin PCT, which is an English health trust, to protect a service that is crucial and irreplaceable?
Mr. Hain: I fully accept that for the hon. Gentlemans constituents and for him this is a very serious matter and, of course, I am happy to make those representations to assist him and his constituents to see whether we can resolve the problem.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Sometimes I think that the Secretary of State lives on another planet and does not spend enough time in Wales. With the NHS in Wales £71 million in debt, the former chief executive of the ambulance service claiming that the service is in crisis and that lives are being lost, hospitals such as Withybush, Bronglais and Llandudno under threat, and 60 per cent. more people waiting for treatment than when the Assembly Government came to power, does the Secretary of State think that the Welsh Health Minister is fit for purpose?
Mr. Hain: That really takes the biscuit. The hon. Lady does not even represent a Welsh constituency. I live in Wales. I am in Wales every weekend in my constituency, so she should not make accusations like that. When she looks at the record of health investment in Wales, plummeting waiting times, extra nurses, extra doctors, improved health performance, and 10 new hospitals being built or already built in Wales under our Government compared with all the hospital closures that the Tories were responsible for, she will realise that people in Wales know that it is only under Labour that the health service is safe in Wales.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend and I, along with the Welsh Assembly Government, are working to maximise the benefits brought to Wales by the London Olympic and Paralympic games. Wales has many excellent training facilities and will offer a warm welcome to visiting teams and their supporters, and I am delighted that the Millennium stadium in Cardiff will host part of the Olympic football tournament.
Simon Hughes: I am grateful for that answer. Will Ministers in the UK and Welsh Governments realise that, if we follow the example of the Sydney Olympics, where much of the training was done a long way away, there is a great opportunity to use the swimming facilities at Swansea, the velodrome in Newport, the Millennium stadium in Cardiff and, I am sure, the wide range of facilities in Blaenau Gwent? Will they all be put to maximum use and can we have a commitment?
Nick Ainger: I can certainly give that commitment to the hon. Gentleman. He is quite right that, at the Sydney Olympics, more than £400 million was spread throughout the economy in New South Wales in 2000. We intend to ensure that as much of the benefit as possible is spread throughout the UKparticularly in Wales. As he rightly says, we have a wide range of facilities: the velodrome, the national pool in Swansea and the Menai sailing centre. All those are good potential training facilities for teams and we will certainly push that forward.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): The Olympic Delivery Authority has given a commitment that the 2012 Olympics will be the most sustainable ever. Given the strength of Waless renewable energy manufacturing industry, such as Sharp UK in my constituency, which makes photovoltaic cells, will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss the potential for Welsh manufacturers to serve the Olympics in 2012?
Nick Ainger: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. He may know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to push the importance of renewable energy facilities in the new buildings related to the Olympic games. I will be able to give him further information when we meet in the near future.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): The pensions White Paper shows that under our Governments policies, Welsh pensioners can be assured of proper pension provision in an ageing society.
Albert Owen: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. I welcome the Government White Paper, which is building a consensus for pensioners for the future. At present, many pensioners throughout Wales, including in my constituency, benefit considerably from the pension credit. Will he ensure that, during the transition period to the earnings link, pensioners on pension credit do not lose out; and will he further urge the Department for Work and Pensions to campaign vigorously so that there is a greater take-up of pension credits throughout Wales by our neediest pensioners?
Mr. Hain: We will certainly do that. Indeed, the pension credit has been of enormous benefit to pensioners in Wales and, in particular, to some of the poorest pensioners in Blaenau Gwent, where 4,760 of them have benefited from it. The people of Blaenau Gwent and Wales as a whole need to be told by the Leader of the Opposition whether he will maintain his policy of abolishing the pension credit system.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Does the Secretary of State accept that many people in Wales are disappointed by the Governments pension proposals and would much prefer a citizens pension that is paid to everyone at a decent level to be a right of Welsh citizenship?
Mr. Hain: The people of Wales pensioned off Plaid Cymru years ago. It is the Labour party that is providing a future policy for the people of Wales and the United Kingdom so that they can look forward to security and decency in retirement.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the families of Lieutenant Tom Mildinhall and Lance-Corporal Paul Farrelly, who, sadly, were killed in Iraq last week. They were doing a vital job for their country and the security of the wider world, and we should be proud of them.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are political groups in the European Parliament that are opposed to women standing for election, that are homophobic and that wish to ban bicycle riding on Sundays. Will he undertake to keep this Government in the mainstream of European politics, rather than on the extreme right-wing fringe, where the Opposition would like to put us?
The Prime Minister: It would be a gross error of judgment and leadership to leave the mainstream groupings in Europe, because that would marginalise a party in Europeand if the Conservative party were ever to be the Government, that would marginalise the Government. If one wants any proof of that, one can see that the Conservative party website boasts about the role played by one of its members in the services directorate as a spokesman for the European Peoples Party, although the party now wants to leave that group. I suggest that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) show some leadership and ditch that policy as well.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con):
May I add my tribute and those of my hon. Friends to the soldiers
who died in Iraq serving their country? I also add a tribute to the members of the camera crew who lost their lives in Iraq.
In the past week, we have discovered that in each of the past two years almost 2 million households have been overpaid tax credits, by £2 billion. Some of the poorest households in Britain are now having that money painfully clawed back. The Treasury Committee says that the Department was incompetent. Will the Prime Minister tell us which member of the Cabinet is responsible for this piece of incompetence?
The Prime Minister: Let me just point out to the right hon. Gentleman that tax credits provide support to some 20 million in this country, including 6 million families and 10 million children. They are responsible for lifting 700,000 children out of poverty and 2 million pensioners out of acute hardship. The Government are proud of the role that tax credits are playing in alleviating poverty in our country.
Mr. Cameron: The Chancellor is responsibleand it has come to a pretty pass when the Prime Minister cannot even bear to say his name. Citizens Advice says that the Chancellors system has left families in severe hardship and that the number of people coming for help has not dropped. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who was the first welfare reform Minister in this Government, says that the Chancellors approach is
like attempting keyhole surgery with a hacksaw.
The Prime Minister: With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, let me point out to him what tax credits have enabled us to do. We have 2 million more people at work in this country. That is in part not just because of the minimum wage, which he opposed, but because of the working families tax credit, which makes work pay for people. As a result of the childrens tax credit, we have been able to give help to millions of families in this country. Those families were let down by the Tory years of boom-and-bust economics, high unemployment and poverty, which was why we made the change, and we are proud of it.
Mr. Cameron: But all our surgeries are full of the victims of incompetence [Interruption.] Yes, his incompetencethe Chancellor designed and administered the tax credit system, yet he has not made a single statement, or answered a single oral question in the House of Commons, on tax credits in the past year. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that Ministers should not just blame officials when things go wrong. I agree with that. But is not the Chancellors behaviour typical of this Government? Ministers create a massive bureaucracy that becomes a painful paper chase for hard-working families, so why do they refuse to take responsibility when it all goes wrong?
The Prime Minister:
The right hon. Gentleman talks about families coming to his constituency and other constituenciesbut we remember when families used to come to our constituency surgeries at the time of 10 or 15 per cent. interest rates, with kids who could not
get jobs for years. There were families with kids living in poverty, and nothing was done about it. Yes, it is truetax credits have helped millions of families in this country. The problems that are there will be dealt with. We are glad that under this Government families have not just a stable economy, but a Government who back children and families, and help them out of poverty into work and into a decent standard of living.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): The Prime Minister has indicated that the nuclear energy option is back on the agenda for policy review. Will he recognise that many of us, particularly people on the east coast of Ireland, are totally opposed to the expansion of nuclear energy because of our experiences of the output, the outfall and the discharges from Sellafield? What cognisance and what weight will be given to the opinion of the people of Northern Ireland and of the Republic of Ireland, who will be affected if the policy is pursued?
The Prime Minister: Of course we will give full weight to that. That is one of the reasons why we have reduced discharges considerably over the past few years. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that this is not about an expansion of nuclear power. The fact is that over the next 15 or 20 years we will lose that 20 per cent. of our electricity presently generated by nuclear power. It is in the interests of people in Northern Ireland and in the whole of the United Kingdom that we have secure supplies of energy for the future. Therefore, we need a balanced energy policy. A major component of that will be additional renewable energy and a big push on energy efficiency. My own view is that we need a mix of all these things if we are to safeguard the future of the country.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): May I begin by associating my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of sympathy and condolence for those who have died in Iraq? Such events happen too often on the occasion of these proceedings.
The Prime Minister: We have said absolutely all that we have to say on this. There is nothing more to add to it. The Council of Europe report adds nothing new whatever to the information that we have.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I think that the Prime Minister might find careful reading of the Council of Europe report particularly rewarding. It says that rendition involves disappearances, secret detention and unlawful transfers to countries that practise torture. On 7 December the Prime Minister told the House that he fully endorsed rendition. Does he still do so now?
The Prime Minister:
I think that what I actually said was that rendition had been the policy of the American Government for a long period, under the last Administration as well as this Administration. We have kept Parliament informed of all the requests that we
are aware of: four in 1998, two of which were granted and two declined. As for the rest of what is in the Council of Europes report, that concerns other countries, and obviously I am not in a position to speak about them.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Last year the Derbyshire asbestos support team helped nine people in Amber Valley suffering from asbestos-related diseases, two of whom have since died from mesothelioma. Will my right hon. Friend discuss with his Cabinet colleagues whether the excellent Compensation Bill that will be discussed in the House tomorrow can be amended to reverse the appalling House of Lords Barker judgment that denies justice and compensation to many people suffering from that long-drawn-out disease?
The Prime Minister: I totally understand my hon. Friends concern. As I said a short time ago in the House, we are looking at this very carefully in the context of the legislation that she described, and I hope that we will be in a position to make an announcement shortly.
Q2.  John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I start by declaring an interest because, along with the governor of California and one or two hon. Members, my body mass index is over 30. A growing number of primary care trusts have refused to put patients on waiting lists unless their body mass index is under 30, to save money, reduce deficits and ration health care. Does the Prime Minister believe that that is an acceptable way of rationing access to health care?
The Prime Minister: What I can tell the hon. Gentleman about the waiting times in his area[Hon. Members: Answer!] Well, he was talking about people who have been put on waiting lists, and the fact is that the number of people waiting more than six months for treatment was 5,000 when we came to power, but it is zero today. What is more, in-patients are being treated more quickly. Under this Government, we are investing more and the national health service is getting better.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows the joys of family life. He knows, too, that this Saturday is national infertility day. Thousands of couples remain childless, and they desperately hope to access the medical intervention of in vitro fertilisation in the hope that it will give them the precious gift of a child. Will he restate the commitment that he gave in February 2004 that every infertile couple should be given one NHS IVF treatment, and will he join me in condemning the 25 per cent. of primary care trusts that deny people access to IVF and other PCTs that claim that it is only available to couples over 30, when the intervention process is seriously dysfunctional?
The Prime Minister:
We are working with the leading organisation for patients requiring fertility treatmentthe Infertility Network UKto help them in their relationships with the primary care trusts to make sure that their voice is heard. Ultimately, those are decisions
for primary care trusts, but it is important that the cycle of treatment is available to people. Obviously, it is agonising for the families involved, which is one reason why we asked the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to produce a report, which was published last December. We will do all that we can to take it forward.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Fatal stabbings have increased by almost a fifth in the past eight years, and now represent a third of all recorded killings. Six months ago, the Labour party voted against our proposal to increase the sentence for carrying a knife. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will support a tougher sentence, and will he tell us when it will be introduced in the House?
The Prime Minister: As I think the Home Secretary has made clear, we will look carefully at the issue of whether we need to toughen the minimum standard for sentences for individuals who are in illegal possession of a knife. As my right hon. Friend explained when this was debated, there are issues about whether it is possible to do this in a sensible way, but I totally agree that knife crime is extremely serious. That is why we have extended the types of knives banned under the legislation, and why we have made surefor example, in sentencing guidelinesthat sentences are tough for individuals who carry knives.
The Prime Minister: A lot has happened [ Interruption. ] May I just explain what has happened? Following the introduction of the legislation, if a knife is listed as an offensive weapon, the maximum penalty for carrying it is four years. Since 1997 we have added stealth knives, disguised knives and batons to the offensive weapons list. We are raising the minimum age at which someone can buy a knife from 16 to 18. There is a new offence of using someone to mind a weapon, and there are extra powers, along with extra resources, for head teachers to search pupils for weapons. In addition, there was a national knife amnesty a short time ago. I will look at whether we need to increase minimum sentences. As I said, the issues were explained in detail when the matter was last debated, but in principle, we want to make sure that anybody who is found in illegal possession of a knife is subject to the toughest penalties possible. May I point out to the House that in respect of firearms, we introduced a mandatory minimum five-year sentence, which is now in operation?
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