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The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the extra money that has gone in. It is that extra money which, for example, in the strategic health authority in which his constituency is situated, has meant more than 6,000 more nurses, 800 more doctors and over 1,000 more consultants; and for treatment for the patients, all the waiting times, out-patient and in-patient, have come down dramatically. But all health trusts will have to live within their means. That is so, irrespective of the amount of money that we put in. It is important that health authorities and the trusts take the decisions that are necessary to put our health service on a sustainable basis. That sustainable basis is one where waiting times will continue to fall and treatment will continue to improve.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recall his Defence Minister saying in April that the Helmand mission would last three years and the British Army would come out of it without firing a single shot? Five of our soldiers have died, and many Afghans have diedsome Taliban and some civilians. With this mission, which has been described by many in the military and elsewhere as a mission impossible, are we not in grave danger of driving the ordinary people of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban? Could we explain to our American friends that we cannot win hearts and minds by using bombs and bullets?
The Prime Minister: First, let me correct the impression, which my hon. Friend has just repeated, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that not a shot would be fired on this mission. My right hon. Friend actually said that he would be happy if that were so, but went on to warn people that
We are here to stabilise and build the country and the Taliban and the terrorists want to stop us doing that. If they attack us we will defend ourselves and if defending ourselves at the operational level means taking pre-emptive action we will do that.
He did not say that it was a mission without dangerhe said precisely the opposite. On the idea that, somehow, we are driving people into the arms of the Taliban, there is a democratic Government in Afghanistan for the first time. That is why girls have been allowed back into school, which I would have thought even my hon. Friend would support. Our job is to stay with those people who want Afghanistan to progress as a democracy and to defeat the terroristsanything else would be a dereliction of duty.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): This week marks the anniversary of the first suicide bombing attacks in Britain. The whole country will remember the 52 people of all faiths and none who were killed and the hundreds who were wounded. Of the 500 victims who have applied for compensation, almost 300 are still waiting for final settlement. Does the Prime Minister agree that those people should not have to wait so long?
The Prime Minister:
I agree that it is important that their claims for compensation are dealt with as quickly as possible. Obviously, the compensation authority is independent from the Government, but it is trying to make sure that not only the interim claims but the full
claims are paid out as soon as possible. We constantly discuss that matter with the compensation authority as well as with the relatives of the victims of 7/7.
Mr. Cameron: Yesterday, the Prime Minister was right to emphasise the role that the Muslim community itself should play in helping to root out extremism, but we all have a role to play in helping to foster a greater sense of common citizenship. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need an ambitious nationwide programme, including youth volunteering and school exchanges, as part of that? Does he further agree that such a programme would work best with the participation of all parties right from the start? And will he make sure that that happens in all cases in future?
The Prime Minister: I agree that it is important that we engage everyone in fostering good community relations and in saying that irrespective of whether people are of one religion or creed or another, we share the British values of tolerance, respect for other people, democracy and liberty. It is important that those values are carried through into every part of our community, and I welcome the help and participation of all political parties in that. Indeed, it is very much to the credit of the political system in this country that all major parties are committed to such a future for Britain. When I said yesterday that I think it important that the Muslim community confront the issues within it, I did not mean to diminish our responsibility to do our part, too. The fact is that we are all going to have work very hard at rooting out extremism. We face a global movement with a global ideology, and we will defeat it only when we defeat its ideas as well as its methods.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Reports today have once again highlighted the recent increases both in household fuel bills and the profits of energy companies. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Department of Trade and Industry to look at the case being made by consumer organisations for a better use of social tariffs, which bring down fuel bills for vulnerable consumers while at the same time meaning that those who consume more energy and the power companies pay more?
Q3.  Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) launched Safer, a campaign to stop all forms of early release. Given that a poll conducted over the weekend shows that 89 per cent. of the public support such action, does the Prime Minister think that the time has come to make sure that prisoners serve the sentence handed down by the courts in full, and if not, why not?
The Prime Minister: There has always been a system of parole in this country. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that over these past few years prison sentences have been longer and there have been more people in prison. What is important is that there is consistency in sentencing, and we are working on that with the Sentencing Guidelines Council.
Q4.  Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that I am a Glasgow MP representing a Glasgow constituency. Is it his intention to make me a second-class MP representing a second-class nation?
The Prime Minister: No, I can assure my hon. Friend that that is not my intention. As a member of the Conservative party said yesterday, such a thing would be a constitutional abortion. It would be completely wrong. The fact is that our constitution relies on there being one class of MP in this House. That is absolutely right, and under this Government it will always remain so.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Will the Prime Minister tell the House on how many occasions he has started an investigation under his ministerial code, and whether he thinks it appropriate that his Deputy Prime Minister should stay with an American business man
Q5.  Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Churchfields school in my constituency was one of 100 schools that achieved specialist status earlier this week. The school, where I am a governor, was in special measures until three years ago, so specialist science and maths status represents a considerable achievement by the staff and students. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Churchfields and all the new specialist schools? Does he agree that specialist schools not only provide choice and a guarantee of educational achievement for parents but are crucial in fulfilling our aim of motivating schools to achieve better results
The Prime Minister: First, I should like to congratulate Churchfields school in my hon. Friends constituency on attaining specialist status. A majority of schools are now specialist schools, and their results are improving very rapidly; they go alongside those of the city academy programme. The truth is that having significantly raised results in primary schools, we are now creating the basis upon which we can get those increased results in secondary schools as well. This is all part of the process of investment and reform to give us a 21st century education system.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Can the Prime Minister explain to my constituents why they face the prospect of the downgrading of the accident and emergency unit at St. Richards hospital in Chichester and the downgrading of the A and E unit at Worthing hospital, why Littlehampton hospital is a pile of rubble, with the rebuilding programme on hold, and why the Richard Hotham mental health unit in Bognor Regis war memorial hospital is to close just five years after it opened?
The Prime Minister: I do not know about the specific circumstances of the hon. Gentlemans constituency. However, I have no doubt that if I do look at the specific circumstances, I will find that there has been massive investment in health care services in his constituency, all of which was opposed by him and his colleagues, that waiting lists are down, and that cancer and cardiac treatment is better. Yes, it is true that difficult decisions have to be taken in all constituencies as to how we configure health care for todays world, but those decisions need to be taken no matter how much money is put in. It is absurd for Conservatives to complain about funding in the health service when they voted against the very funding that we put in.
Q6.  Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Despite some very challenging financial situations in my constituency, the staff of Southport and Ormskirk hospital have done fantastic work in meeting, ahead of schedule, the Governments waiting list targets and achieving the best waiting times for A and E in the strategic health authority. Does my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating those staff?
The Prime Minister: I give my congratulations to my hon. Friends hospital. If we take health care throughout the entire country, we see that it is not merely that in-patient and out-patient waiting lists are dramatically different from where they were nine years ago. In accident and emergency departments, which we were discussing a moment or two ago, I think that most people would say, never mind even on a statistical basis, that they are considerably improved from where they were a few years ago. That is because we have not only put in extra money and staff but reformed the system of working. Many congratulations to my hon. Friends hospital; I am sure that that situation is replicated in many places throughout the country.
Q7.  Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating staff at Winchcombe hospital in my constituency on the services that they provide for the quite elderly population there? Given that the Government quite rightly want to see more patients being treated closer to home, will he also join me in condemning the decision by the local health trust to close the hospital?
The Prime Minister: Again, I do not know the precise circumstances of the situation in the hon. Gentlemans constituency, but I shall be very happy to look into the matter and to write to him about it. I am sure he would accept, however, that, as a result of the investment that has been put into his constituency and many others, all the measurements for waiting times for treatments are now significantly better than they were a few years ago. But, as I said in answer to a question a moment ago, no matter how much money we put in, there will be a limit, and health authorities and trusts must operate within that limit.
Q8.  Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab):
Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree not only that the rising energy costs for domestic customers are unfair but that the whole of the manufacturing sector is now suffering because of the rise in energy bills of
between 35 and 40 per cent. in the past 12 months? That is placing the heavy users of energy in this countrys industrial sector at a disadvantage compared with our European competitors. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to get a fair deal from the energy companies?
The Prime Minister: The issue that my hon. Friend raises is an important one for industry, and it is one that the energy review specifically addresses. We need to improve our storage capacity for the energy that we import, but we also need to ensure that we have a sustainable basis for energy supply that will not make us dependent on imports. As my hon. Friend rightly implies, prices have gone up three times in the past few months, which has made things very difficult for intensive energy users. The answer is to keep the economy stable, which we are doing, and to ensure that we have secure supplies for the future.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the Northern Ireland Assembly is to come back on Friday? Is he also aware that IRA-Sinn Fein have announced that they will boycott that meeting? Does he agree that the deputy leader of IRA-Sinn Fein would be better employed doing the work that he is supposed to be doing for his constituency, rather than going round the world praising other terrorist organisations and their murder campaigns?
The Prime Minister: Obviously, it is important that that debate takes place on Friday, and I hope that everyone will participate in it. However, the single thing that would make the biggest difference, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman accepts, would be to ensure that we have proper devolved institutions in which these debates and decisions can take place.
Q9.  Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Africa bears 24 per cent. of the global disease burden, yet it has only 3 per cent. of the worlds health workers and 1 per cent. of the worlds health spending. A year on from the Gleneagles G8 summit, how does my right hon. Friend view the progress that we have made on Africa and on climate change? What steps will he take to ensure that those two issues are kept at the top of the international agenda at St. Petersburg and beyond?
The Prime Minister: We will have a debate on Africa at St. Petersburg, where I hope we will recommit ourselves to the commitments made by the G8 last year. There has been substantial progress on debt relief, which has meant that hundreds of thousands of people in countries such as Nigeria, for example, are now able to have schooling that they would otherwise not have had. We have also put forward a plan, with funding, to achieve near-universal access to HIV-AIDS treatment. Treatment of the killer diseases is another key objective from Gleneagles that we are taking forward. Furthermore, our £8.5 billion investment in education in countries overseas over the next 10 years is an example of this country playing a leading role in what I have often described as the great moral cause of our time.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Given that we want to get people out of cars and on to trains, will the Prime Minister explain to my constituents why the Minister for Transport has accepted a bid that included a baseline proposal of an increase in fares and fewer passengers on First Capital Connects lines?
The Prime Minister: It is, of course, important that we get more people using public transport. In the end, however, the companies must make ends meet, and the only way in which the Government could avoid such developments would be through putting even greater public subsidy into transport. I know that the hon. Lady was not a Member of the House at the time, but when we put forward plans allowing us to treble transport expenditure, her party voted against them.
Q10.  Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will be aware that at the end of May, the National Institute for Health and Clinical
Excellence confirmed its decision to restrict the Alzheimers drugs Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl, and completely to withdraw Ebixa from the NHS. That decision was met by Alzheimers carers and doctors with utter dismay, and it will obviously have an adverse effect on 750,000 Alzheimers sufferers. Even at this late stage, will my right hon. Friend revisit that decision?
The Prime Minister: As I understand it, an appeal against that decision continues. In respect of Ebixa, I think that I am right that NICE said that it should be part of a clinical trial rather than available now. We are putting more research and development money into cures for Alzheimers and dementia, but I totally understand the concern, which has led to the appeal. The fact is that having an independent system under NICE has been right. My hon. Friend will remember how many different arguments there were, before we set up that institute, about whether treatments were justified. The system is right; the decision can be looked at.
Dear Mr Speaker,
As I have previously indicated to you, I would wish to retire on 30th September this year, on the 41st anniversary of my first joining the service of the House.
The procedural and management responsibilities which are now combined in the post of Clerk of the House present a formidable challenge. But I have been able to rely on the high quality and commitment of the staff at every level in the House and on the strengths of my fellow members of the Board of Management, who bring a richly diverse range of skills and experience to their work for Parliament. I have also been greatly assisted by the moral and practical support which I have received from you, from the Deputy Speakers, and from your colleagues on the House of Commons Commission.
The House of Commons is a much criticised institution; and its own Members are often as critical as anyone. But whatever its perceived failings, the House remains at the centre of political and public life and is the envy of most other countries in the world. Its durability and occasional bloody-mindedness have made, and continue to make, a crucial contribution to the countrys stability and prosperity. I have never for a moment regretted making my career in the House, and I am very grateful for having had the opportunity to serve as its Clerk.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Members on both sides of the House who have benefited from the sound and impartial advice of the Clerk, Sir Roger Sands, will be sorry to learn from your announcement, Mr. Speaker, that he is due to retire. As I have no doubt that Members on both sides of the House will wish to express their appreciation of his service to the House, I shall table a motion relating to his retirement before the House rises for the summer recess, to give them an opportunity to pay an appropriate tribute to him.
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