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Perinatal Care

5. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): Pursuant to the answer of 3 May 2006, Official Report, column 954, on tourist medical facilities, what recent discussions he has had with the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services on the provision of perinatal care. [93420]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular meetings with the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services covering a range of issues.

Michael Fabricant: The Under-Secretary knows that the maternity wards at Llanidloes, Machynlleth, Tywyn, Newtown and Dolgellau are currently mothballed. Does he know that, at Bronglais district general hospital in Aberystwyth, there are moves not to provide 24/7 paediatric consultant cover? If that goes ahead, it means that Welsh babies will be born in Shrewsbury—we need Welsh babas to be born in Wales. Will the Under-Secretary therefore give me, the people of mid-Wales and visitors from Lichfield to mid-Wales an assurance that Bronglais will continue with 24/7 cover?

Nick Ainger: As a grandfather for the first time a year and a day ago, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point and appreciate the need for specialist baby care units that are consultant led. A review is taking place and no decisions have yet been made. Indeed, a member of the review team has said that people should not assume that the consultant-led obstetric department will be removed from Bronglais hospital. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members some assurance.

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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): I hear what the Minister says about the presumption that the consultant-led service will not, after all, be moved from Aberystwyth. Does he realise, however, how vital that service is to the whole of mid-Wales? Tywyn hospital, for example, utterly depends on that outreach consultancy service. Will the Minister redouble his efforts, together with his colleagues in Cardiff, to ensure that the service continues, in the interest of the whole of mid-Wales, including south Meirionnydd?

Nick Ainger: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point that the service covers an area far wider than just Aberystwyth. I recognise personally the importance of having consultant-led specialist baby care units to cover rural areas. We all recognise how difficult it is to provide such services, but the consultant-led service in Aberystwyth covers a very large rural area. I shall make the views of hon. Members on this matter known to Dr. Brian Gibbons.


6. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on police performance in Wales. [93421]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): Regular ones. Additionally, I recently visited north Wales with my hon. Friend the Minister for Policing.

Mr. Vara: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Does he agree, however, that the money wasted on trying to merge the four Welsh police forces would have been better spent trying to recruit more police officers?

Mr. Hain: We have recruited 1,000 extra police officers in Wales under our Labour Government; there were cuts in real terms to police resources in Wales when the Conservatives were last in power. It was right that we tried to identify the gap in protective services in Wales and elsewhere in order to fight terrorism, serious organised crime and drug dealing, and I had a very productive meeting with the Welsh police authorities only the other week in north Wales to try to take things further.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Community policing in Wrexham has improved markedly as a result of neighbourhood wardens, community support officers and police officers working together. Will my hon. Friend therefore please explain what on earth possessed the Lib Dem-led council in Wrexham to propose the scrapping of neighbourhood wardens? That proposal is being vehemently opposed by my constituents.

Mr. Hain: I never know what possesses Lib Dem councils anywhere, including Wrexham. They often cut services, including vital ones such as neighbourhood wardens, and thereby lose the respect that local people might otherwise have had for them. That is why we need a Labour council back in Wrexham as soon as possible.

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7. Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on Welsh prisoners on the prison estate. [93422]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on all matters that affect Wales, and last week I had a meeting with my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for prisons.

Hywel Williams: I thank the Minister for that answer. Before the Welsh Affairs Committee’s investigation takes place, will he look into the question of custody for 17 and 18-year-olds—given that there are only 36 places for them in Wales, none of which is in mid-Wales or north Wales—so that he will be able to respond properly to the Committee’s investigation later in the Session?

Nick Ainger: I had some difficulty hearing what the hon. Gentleman was saying, but I understand that he was expressing concern about young people in prison. That is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was listening to his question. I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of the prison estate before and asked whether it would be possible to establish a prison in north Wales. Following my discussions with the Minister with responsibility for prisons, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, if a suitable site can be identified in north Wales, the Home Office will give the matter very serious consideration. Perhaps he would like to contact the Minister directly if he has any sites to promote.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Parc Supporting Family Forum, which works with prisoners in Parc prison in my constituency to roll out programmes to prevent reoffending and to ensure that family links with prisoners are maintained? Will he also urge Bridgend county borough council—

Mr. Speaker: Order. One supplementary question is fine.

Nick Ainger: I congratulate the organisation that is working so hard in my hon. Friend’s constituency. It is accepted that we need to maintain family links for prisoners, so that they improve their opportunities for rehabilitation and we prevent reoffending when they are discharged.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): As the Minister is aware, all female Welsh prisoners are housed outside Wales. I have had a case recently of a female prisoner being held at Drake Hall—a great distance from her three children and her terminally ill husband. Given the importance of sustaining family relationships both to the successful reintegration of ex-offenders into our communities and to ensuring that children do not develop offending behaviour, what discussions has he had with the Home Office to improve the situation for female prisoners?

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Nick Ainger: Again, that will be part of the review of new prison sites, and the Home Secretary announced a few days ago that 8,000 new places are to be created. The issue of women prisoners from Wales will form part of that review, as I understand it.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [94489] Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 18 October.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Charlotte Atkins: My local health staff have ensured that all cancer patients are seen within two weeks, and 97 per cent. are treated within the target 62 days. Will the Prime Minister therefore guarantee that those health staff receive the training, pay and pensions they deserve, unlike the Conservative party, which attacked the pay—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The question was all right up until then.

The Prime Minister: First, I would like to congratulate the staff in my hon. Friend’s constituency on having met the target. Of course, when we came to office, only about 60 per cent. of cancer patients were seen by a specialist within two weeks. That figure is now 99.9 per cent. for the whole country. Now, for the whole country, 97 per cent. of cancer patients are then treated within the 62 days—100 per cent. in her own area.

That is why it is important that we keep those national standards and targets for things such as cancer and cardiac care so that we ensure that we continue with the record that, in cancer alone, has saved more than 50,000 lives since 1997. For all those targets, there is a patient who has been helped to get care in circumstances where, a few years ago, they were not getting that care.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Last week, the Chief of the General Staff said on Iraq that

The Prime Minister has never said that, so is it now Government policy?

The Prime Minister: No, our policy remains to ensure that Iraq continues as a democracy. We have a democracy in Iraq for the first time in that country’s history, and 70 per cent. of the people came out and voted in the election, which is an extraordinary achievement, despite all the terrorism and intimidation. What is more, they voted for a non-sectarian Government in which the
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Sunni, the Shi’a and the Kurds all work together. I believe that the maintenance of democracy is absolutely essential for us, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. I know it is difficult, but our task is to stand with the moderates in those countries against the extremists.

Mr. Cameron: We all support the elected Government of Iraq and we all want to get the job done, but when the Prime Minister says we are going to get the job done, we need to know what he means. It is no use having him say one thing and the Chief of the General Staff another. Let us look at something else the Chief of the General Staff said on the “Today” programme:

Again, this is something the Prime Minister has never said. Is that now his view?

The Prime Minister: It is our policy to withdraw progressively from Iraq as the Iraqi forces are capable of taking on the security task. That is why it is important, when we are able to hand over to them, that we do so; otherwise we are a provocation rather than a help to them. That is why, earlier this year, we ceded control of al-Muthanna province, as there are now 5,000 Iraqi forces there doing that job. We are just withdrawing, or the Italians are, almost 3,000 forces from Dhi Qar province, where the Iraqis again will come in and do the job. We have already reduced our forces significantly over the past few years but, for example, we are working with the Iraqi forces to go through Basra part by part, making sure that we clean out the militia, put in place proper Iraqi security forces and undertake reconstruction. That is vital work, and I do not want to dismay our allies or hearten our enemies by suggesting that we will do anything other than stay until the job is done. I believe that it is a strength that there has been a bipartisan policy on this, and I hope that that is maintained.

Mr. Cameron: My party supports what the troops are doing in Iraq— [ Interruption. ] Yes. We have never backed a premature timetable for withdrawal, but we want the Prime Minister to give frank, candid answers about the situation in Iraq. The problem is that the situation on the ground is difficult and unstable, but the message given to the British people is quite different. Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that our objectives in Iraq, our troop numbers there and the progress that we are making— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Even though you are some distance away, Mr. Ian Austin, I can both hear and see you. I will ask you to leave the Chamber if you carry on like that.

Mr. Cameron: We will have to get used to the Chancellor’s boot boys shouting in Prime Minister’s questions.

When it comes to our objectives and troop numbers in Iraq, as well as the progress that we are making, will the Prime Minister give a guarantee of frank, candid and honest answers from the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons?

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The Prime Minister: I hope that I have just explained very clearly what our strategy is. It is to withdraw progressively as the Iraqi forces build up their capability. For example, in the south of Iraq for the first time, there are 10,000 Iraqi troops who are trained to the fullest extent. They are very capable, and are doing an excellent job under the command of the Iraqi Army —[ Interruption. ] Yes, of course it is. As we are able to cede control, we do so, but to withdraw prematurely before the job is done would be disastrous.

There is a sense, because of the discussion in the past few days, that we have been sitting in government saying that there is no way in which we are going to withdraw and that we are going to stay there for ever. That has never been the case. May I quote to the right hon. Gentleman what I told the Liaison Committee just a few months ago? I said:

I said it then, and I say it now. General Casey, who is in charge of the whole multinational force in Iraq, said back in August:

That is the policy of ourselves and our allies—not just America, but the other 20 or so countries that are there. It is important that we send a signal to those people who are trying to wreck the chances of Iraqi democracy by killing innocent people. It is the self-same extremism that threatens our troops and Afghan civilians. There is terrorism in countries around the world, and the message that should go out from us and from this country is not just that we have enormous pride in our troops—we should have such pride in them—but that the policy of standing up and fighting those extremists abroad and at home is the right one, and there will be no quarter given to those who oppose us.

Hon. Members: More!

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Recently, the British Nuclear Group was fined £500,000 after pleading guilty to the leak of 80,000 litres of spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield. Some 25 per cent. of British Energy’s share price was wiped out after it admitted to cracks in the boilers at Hunterston B and Hinkley Point, as well as underground leaks at Hartlepool. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if, after all that, someone comes forward with a plan for a new fleet of nuclear power stations, the Government’s policy remains that there will be no further subsidy from the taxpayer?

The Prime Minister: Our policy remains exactly as is, and it is important that it does so. My hon. Friend’s point, however, is a perfectly good one. There are all those issues to do with replacing the existing generation of nuclear power stations. The reason the issue is on the agenda, as we can tell clearly from the launch earlier in the week of the Norwegian-British pipeline, is that, over the next few years, this country will go from being 80 to 90 per cent. self-sufficient in oil and gas to importing 80 to 90 per cent. Obviously, those are fossil fuels, and there is a danger that we will become increasingly dependent on imported supplies of energy.
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It is therefore right that we replace existing nuclear power stations. But of course all the points that my hon. Friend raises must be taken into consideration.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I cannot help making the observation that complaints about the Government’s policy over Iraq would be more acceptable from those who had opposed the policy in the first place. The Prime Minister’s answers, however, give an impression that is not borne out by events on the ground. The United Nations calculates that 3,000 Iraqi civilians are being killed every month. In those circumstances, how can the Prime Minister maintain that our presence is not, as General Dannatt told us, exacerbating the security situation?

The Prime Minister: It is correct that innocent civilians are dying in Iraq. But they are not being killed by British soldiers. They are being killed by terrorists and those from the outside who are supporting them, in defiance of the United Nations resolution that says the future of Iraq should be determined democratically by the Iraqi people. Whatever disagreement people have with the original decision on Iraq, I would have thought that we should all now support the United Nations and Iraqi Government position that we should stand up against the extremists and in favour of the democrats.

Sir Menzies Campbell: But surely we are entitled to question the strategy to which the Government are committed. Is it not clear that the opinions expressed by General Dannatt, Brigadier Butler, Senator John Warner and now James Baker lead to only one conclusion—that the Government’s strategy has failed? In those circumstances, the choice is stark: change the strategy or else get out.

The Prime Minister: I suspect that the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that we should simply leave Iraq. That would be a mistake. Let me explain to him again that it is important to understand that if we desert the Iraqi Government now, when they are building up the Iraqi forces to take over security, it would be a gross dereliction of our duty to them. Incidentally, our mission in Basra, where, as we speak, British soldiers working alongside Iraqi forces have already gone through four of the 16 areas that are part of the process, is vital in restoring proper law and order to that city. If we got out now, when the job was not done, and simply deserted the situation, what good would that do, other than to ensure that those who support the extremists around the world gained heart from it? Of course, we should all debate the strategy, but the strategy is clear: progressively to withdraw as the Iraqi capability is put in place, and not to desert the democrats but to support them.

Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recall the days when Dover was suffering great difficulties coping with large numbers of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers? Does he recall the setting up of an induction centre and a detention centre in the town, and does he recall writing to my constituents:

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