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Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): At about the same time as Kiyan Prince was being murdered with a knife, a head teacher at a school in my constituency was being forced by the independent appeals panel to take a boy back into school. The boy had been found in possession of a knife, and had been found guilty of violent conduct. Understandably, the head teacher is angry and in despair at this perverse judgment of the appeals panel. Will my right hon.
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Friend look into the case, with a view to changing the procedures so that such a perverse judgment cannot be made again?

The Prime Minister: I certainly will. It seems an extraordinary decision to come to. These decisions are made by people locally, but I will certainly look into the point that my hon. Friend raises.

Q3. [74879] Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): In the light of yesterday’s report from the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, does the Prime Minister now accept that my constituents are right in believing that the huge number of extra homes being foisted on the south-east by the Deputy Prime Minister will make the current water crisis even worse?

The Prime Minister: No, they will not. There is provision for the additional homes that are to be built to have the proper water supply. We work carefully with Ofwat and with the water companies to achieve that. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues to say that they are against the building of new homes—but let me read to him what the shadow Chancellor said just a few days ago, when addressing something called Property Week, which I suppose is intended for property developers. He said:

So I think there is a slight instance of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) saying one thing and the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) saying another.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As you are aware, because of your generous support, Mr. Speaker, 100 Members from all parts of the House will be taking part in the Westminster mile for Sport Relief in the next hour or so, to be started by Roger Bannister. Will my right hon. Friend pass on his congratulations to Sport Relief on its work and the projects that it runs? Will he commit himself to taking part, as he did in 2004? Most importantly, will he put at the heart of the Government’s approach tackling poverty both at home and abroad, to make sure that in the future projects like Sport Relief are not needed, because we have the means and the technology—now we just need the political will—to tackle the worst causes of poverty across the globe?

The Prime Minister: I am taking part in the mile run in aid of Sport Relief, and my hon. Friend is right to say that it is important. I understand that more than 100 hon. Members have signed up to run. My briefing tells me to say that I hope that the sight of MPs in their running gear will encourage all people to participate in the run. That may be slightly sanguine, but it is an excellent idea none the less, and Sport Relief does a huge amount of work right across the globe to relieve poverty.

Q4. [74880] Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Every year hundreds and possibly thousands of people, including young
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children, are brought into this country under the cruel practice of human trafficking. This is modern-day slavery. What measures does the Prime Minister have in mind to ensure that this barbaric practice is put to an end in the United Kingdom and abroad?

The Prime Minister: The most important thing is to work with the new Serious Organised Crime Agency, which has a specific remit, along with the intelligence services, to try to track down those who are engaged in people trafficking. The hon. Gentleman is right to describe it as a problem, but the only way of resolving it is by means of the measures that we have introduced, which will allow us to seize the assets of people engaged in this trade. I hope that when we introduce new measures, which we will do in the autumn, specifically to tackle organised crime, of which people trafficking is a part, his party will support those measures. The last time we introduced such measures— [Interruption.] I am afraid that the Opposition did not support them. It is important that the next time we do, they do.

Q5. [74881] Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share the concerns that many of us have about the increase and potential increase in counterfeit drugs? More than 2,400 internet sites sell drugs, of which experts believe 80 per cent. are counterfeit. Last year, a man with a lab in his kitchen that could produce a million drugs a day was jailed, and two weeks ago in my constituency two people were arrested in connection with chemicals that could produce a date rape drug. Does he share our concerns?

The Prime Minister: I do, and my hon. Friend is quite right to say that this is not just a problem here but a global problem. We are working closely with the Medicines and Health Care products Regulatory Agency, the industry and other key stakeholders and international counterparts to combat the threat of counterfeit medicines, so I can assure him that we take it very seriously indeed.

Q6. [74882] Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Prime Minister may have seen the remarks by his colleague, the Labour Mayor of London, that Crossrail is necessary to enable Scotland to live the lifestyle to which it is accustomed. Does that not show something of a brass neck, considering that this year £12 billion of Scottish oil revenues are enabling the Prime Minister’s Government to live in the style to which they have become accustomed?

The Prime Minister: Crossrail is important for London and the whole country, but what would be absolutely disastrous for Scotland would be to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom. That would be devastating for jobs in Scotland, devastating for the economy and devastating for the Scottish people, which is probably why the hon. Gentleman supports it.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend accept my personal gratitude for his swift response to a recent meeting that I had in his office, along with the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and representatives from the Association
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of Children’s Hospices, in granting an additional £27 million over the next three years to children’s hospices? That is fantastic news, but will my right hon. Friend give me his reassurance that the Government will continue to have discussions and engage with the association, not just in the short term but in the medium and long term, on children’s palliative care?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and others who made their case in an extremely persuasive way, along with the children’s hospice movement. We are pleased that we have been able to find £27 million over the next three years. My hon. Friend is right that we also need to review the long-term arrangements for the way in which hospices are funded—a point that was impressed on me very strongly. That review will now take place, and we will work closely with the children’s hospice movement and others, including my hon. Friend, to find the right solution.

Q7. [74883] Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): As the Prime Minister has already said, he rightly seeks to secure the energy security of the UK in the future. In this context, once the energy review has published its findings, or even before that, will he meet a delegation led by the Centre for Alternative Technology to discuss how Wales could address its energy needs by entirely sustainable means and without nuclear power? Clearly, such a meeting would not commit him to that blueprint, but the dialogue would contribute towards our shared goal of addressing the looming energy crisis safely and effectively.

The Prime Minister: I am sure that it is important that we engage in a dialogue with all interested groups, including the Centre for Alternative Technology, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that we must balance the energy interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Q8. [74884] Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): The pension credit system has been absolutely brilliant in my constituency. More than 5,600 pensioners now receive up to £30 a week more than they would have done if the Tories’ income support had stayed. But just occasionally, errors are made. When official error does occur, will my right hon. Friend endorse the sympathetic approach that is usually applied by officials when hardship results?

The Prime Minister: That is important, of course, particularly when dealing with pensioners, but my hon. Friend is right to say that as a result of the pension credit, there are people who are receiving £40 a week more. These are pensioners who under the previous Government in the winter months would very often have to choose between heating and eating. Now they have not merely the winter fuel allowance, but the extra support for energy and home insulation. The pension credit gives literally hundreds of thousands of pensioners a decent standard of living for the first time in their lives, and we can be very proud of having introduced it.

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Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): Is the Prime Minister aware that ending the sale of television licences at post offices, together with ending the Post Office card account, will cause a catastrophic loss of income for many thousands of post offices, as well as serious inconvenience for many people living in rural areas? Will he meet a delegation of postmasters from the highlands to discuss how his Government can better support post offices, rather than undermining them at every turn?

The Prime Minister: It is not our intention to undermine post offices, but as technology and people’s lifestyles change, it is necessary to make reforms. The problem is that we already subsidise our post offices to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, and we must look carefully at how we manage to make ends meet within the public finances while providing rational and logical support to post offices. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make his point to the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Q9. [74885] Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that there is concern in the west midlands about manufacturing. With Peugeot, the trade unions appreciate the fact that the Government got discussions going, but the problem is that the company will not engage in meaningful discussions about the trade unions’ alternative. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the company’s senior executives to start meaningful discussions?

The Prime Minister: I certainly agree that it is important that the company gives the unions’ alternative proposal to keep Ryton open the most serious consideration, and we will do what we can to make sure that it does. In the end, the matter is a commercial decision for the company, and I think that everyone understands that, but if anybody is made redundant, the partnership that has been set up in the area will do its utmost to make sure that they are given the fullest possible support. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that every alternative is considered, because the closure of that plant would mean difficulty and hardship for hundreds of families.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that there will be great delight at yesterday’s acquittal of the guardsmen? However, there will also be bewilderment, and indeed a degree of shame, that men with such fine service should have been placed in such a position on such flimsy evidence. Can the Prime Minister imagine what it is like to be a young soldier in Basra, having to look ahead for bombers and snipers and behind for the Attorney-General?

The Prime Minister: That last point is wrong and unfair. I am delighted that the soldiers were acquitted, and I hope that the lessons will be learned by the prosecuting authorities. As the hon. Gentleman knows—I hope that he will not suggest otherwise—decisions to prosecute are entirely separate from Ministers.

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Q10. [74886] Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Thanks to the Chancellor’s economic miracle, unemployment, which the Tories deliberately caused, has been eradicated in most of this country, but in some constituencies, such as mine, it remains a serious problem that lies at the heart of white working-class alienation, which risks becoming a thematic undercurrent. Will my right hon. Friend set up a working group now to deal with that scourge, so that those people—our people—know that they have not been forgotten, and that the miracle has not left them behind?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend has said, it is important that we tackle the remaining areas of unemployment in our country, and inner-city regeneration is one way of doing so. In our view—this is a major point of difference with the Conservative party—we should expand and extend the new deal for the unemployed, rather than closing it down, which the Conservative party would do. If we want to tackle unemployment, the new deal for communities and the new deal for the unemployed should be deepened and strengthened and should not be cut back. I will certainly consider my hon. Friend’s remarks in that context.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Will the Prime Minister agree to discuss with his Secretary of State for Education and Skills the range of inspection grades available to Ofsted teams, which are currently “outstanding”, “good”, “satisfactory” and “inadequate”? In a recent inspection at the Sacred Heart of Mary girls’ school in Upminster, which was very good overall, its achievement levels were described thus:

and “students achieve exceptionally well”. The team did not seem able to describe that performance as “outstanding”, so it was described as “good”. Does the Prime Minister agree that there is a huge gulf between “outstanding” and “good”? Will he agree to discuss
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with his Secretary of State the introduction of an in-between grade of “very good”?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly consider what the hon. Lady says, but she will probably understand that in the end it would not be wise for me or the Secretary of State to make those judgments; that has to be left to local inspectors. I am sure that the people in her local school of the Sacred Heart at Upminster do a superb job for their children, and I congratulate them on the strong showing that they made in the report—but it is difficult for me to intervene in the way in which reports are written.

Q11. [74887] Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Salford city council has been very effective in reducing antisocial behaviour through using antisocial behaviour orders, joint working, and the Together action line. However, we still have some problem families who can make other residents’ lives a misery. Can my right hon. Friend tell me when we will be able to take forward the measures to insist on rehabilitation for people evicted as a result of antisocial behaviour, so that nuisance neighbours are helped to change their behaviour and not just moved around?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the problems of antisocial behaviour. As a result of the new powers, drug dealers’ homes can be shut down and people can be evicted from them, and antisocial behaviour orders and dispersal orders have a real effect in many communities. However, we are looking to see how we can strengthen this still further. We particularly want to ensure that those who are evicted and then receive new tenancies do so under the strictest possible conditions and restraint, and that we have a system to ensure that where people move across different areas there is some sharing of the available information. Antisocial behaviour is still a huge issue for people in very many communities, but the new powers and resources are making a real difference where they are being applied. I make it clear again that if the police and local authorities want even further powers to deal with it, we shall give them those powers.

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NHS Performance

12.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the NHS chief executive’s report and NHS finances for 2005-06.

Sir Ian Carruthers, acting chief executive of the NHS, today publishes his first report on the performance of the NHS, including the provisional financial out-turn for the last financial year. A copy has been placed in the Library, together with a more detailed report on the finances from the Department’s director of finance, Richard Douglas. This information also forms part of the Government’s evidence to the Select Committee on Health, which is conducting an inquiry into these matters.

I should like to begin by reminding the House of the context. Following decades of growth averaging around 3.1 per cent. a year, since 1997 the NHS has received annual average growth in funding of 6.4 per cent. The NHS budget, which has already doubled compared with 1997, will have trebled by 2008. That unprecedented investment has enabled the NHS to employ an additional 307,000 staff, including 85,000 more nurses. I am sure the whole House will want to express our thanks to all NHS staff for their outstanding dedication and hard work. With that investment has come reform, giving patients more choice for elective operations, using the independent sector to add to the capacity and innovation of the NHS, and establishing NHS foundation trusts with more freedom to respond to local people’s needs.

Sir Ian’s report shows that NHS staff are continuing to improve patient care. Waiting times are continuing to fall. Virtually no-one now waits more than six months for an operation, compared with 270,000 patients who were waiting more than six months for an operation in 2000. The majority are treated much more quickly—the average wait for an operation is around just seven and a half weeks. There is now a maximum 13-week wait for an out-patient appointment. Again, the average wait is much shorter, with four out of five people getting their first out-patient appointment within eight weeks.

Nearly 99 per cent. of people with cancer are treated within a maximum of 31 days of diagnosis, and more than 91 per cent. are treated within 62 days of an urgent referral from their GP, compared with only 75 per cent. one year ago. Early deaths from coronary heart disease, cancer and suicide continue to fall. Patient care is improving everywhere but some parts of the country face significant financial problems.

The provisional unaudited figures for 2005-06 show a net overspend across the NHS, excluding foundation trusts, of £512 million. That is made up of a gross deficit of £1.27 billion, offset by surpluses of £765 million. Although we clearly cannot allow that position to continue, we also need to put it into perspective. The net deficit in the NHS is less than 1 per cent. of the NHS revenue budget and is concentrated in a minority of organisations.

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