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The Deputy Prime Minister:
Without disclosing any confidential discussions that I had, which I have conveyed to the Prime Minister, I think that it is public knowledge that the Chinese were not happy with the announcement that was made, of which they had very
little notice. The hon. Gentleman must accept, however, that China played a major part in doing what the whole international community wantednamely, bringing pressure to bear to get North Korea to the table so that the six-party talks could continue. The whole House should welcome that [ Interruption.]
Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the proposed major Chinese investment in the borough of Wigan. Did he discuss this matter with representatives of the Chinese Government during his visit? Will he use his best endeavours to ensure that there are no blockages at the UK end to this important investment in Wigan?
The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend knows that I take every opportunity to press the case for British investment in China and, indeed, for Chinese investment in the United Kingdom. There was a great deal of discussion about how we can improve that. Indeed, the subject is one of the major items for the China taskforce, which I chair with State Councillor Tang on behalf of the two Prime Ministers.
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): As the Government intend to tax the public to the hilt in their efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, will the Deputy Prime Minister make a commitment to reduce foreign travel to support the green agenda?
The Deputy Prime Minister: If the hon. Lady knew anything about these global problems, which require global solutions, she would know that Members of Parliament have to travel to different countries to negotiate the agreements involved. The Government have a scheme under which all such travel will be taken into account, credited and used as part of the carbon agreements.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Hon. Members will be aware that the Office for National Statistics announced last week that the pay gap between men and women is at its lowest recorded level. I am sure that the whole House will welcome that. However, there remains more to do. The Government have issued a clear action plan to respond to the women and work commission. I have chaired meetings with Baroness Prosser and the general secretary of the TUC to discuss how we can continue to narrow the pay gap. I intend to continue to meet interested parties, including the CBI, to discuss how we can continue to narrow the gap further.
Natascha Engel: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. What are the Government doing to help public sector employers to break down the barriers faced by women in the labour market and narrow the pay gap?
The Deputy Prime Minister: It is important to engage employers on the matter. We have started to build up a set of exemplary employers from both the public and private sectors that have good practice initiatives to improve the situation. We are building on an initiative fund, which stands at approximately £500,000 at the moment, to increase the number of senior, quality jobs that are available part time. We are setting up funding for a network of equality representatives and trade union reps to champion equality in the workplace.
The Deputy Prime Minister: That probably reflects the negotiation techniques that have been used in the pastI suspect that the hon. Gentleman is aware of them. The recent Cadman judgment stated that pay related to years of service had definitely worked against women. The Government are having to take that into account.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): The Government believe that people with severe mental health problems have the same rights as other citizens and should be supported to manage or overcome their problems, especially if their needs are complex. We all have a role to play in challenging stigma. However, as is recognised in the social exclusion action plan, employers have a particular role and obligation to ensure that they do not discriminate, that our workplaces encourage mental well-being, and that employees are offered support if problems occur.
Mrs. Moon: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. With one in three people who visit a general practitioners surgery having a mental health problem, with one in five people likely to experience anxiety or depression during their lifetime, and with 40 per cent. of those on incapacity benefit having a mental health problem, employers play a critical role in ensuring that people can build stability into their lives and return to constructive employment. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming BTs initiatives and work to ensure that its staff have support if they experience mental health problems?
I support the important points that my hon. Friend has outlined relating to peoples well-being at work. The pathways to work pilots, with their strong local partnerships between Jobcentre Plus and the national health service, have been
acknowledged internationally as the best way of helping people on incapacity benefit to get back into work quickly. The programme has been the most successful to date in getting people with mental health problems back into work. I hope that my hon. Friend and other colleagues will work locally to ensure that more of that happens in their areas [ Interruption. ]
Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): The Minister referred to the pathways to work pilots, but is she aware that the evaluation suggests that they have not been especially successful for people whose first reason for claiming benefit is their mental health? Will she thus consider what the Governments response should be to the proposal of Lord Layard to increase substantially investment in cognitive behavioural therapy so that measures to help people with mental health problems back into work can be more effective?
Hilary Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman is right: it is more difficult to get people with mental health problems back into work than any other single group. That is why we are implementing pathways to work, which has been more successful than any other programme. It is also why we have been working with Richard Layard and others on the increased use of talking therapies so that we can ensure that more people do not get on to incapacity benefit. That strand of work is important. I am working with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and other Departments to ensure that we make the best of that and build capacity. A significant amount of work has already been done through the Department of Health to fulfil our manifesto commitment on the issue.
Mr. Donaldson: I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in condemning the incendiary bomb attacks in Belfast last night. The republican terrorists behind those attacks have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland. As the Democratic Unionist party continues to consult widely on the St. Andrews agreement, will the Prime Minister once and for all confirm that the Government will not grant an amnesty to IRA terrorists who are on the run, and will not reintroduce the deeply offensive legislation that was previously brought before the House or seek to achieve the same objective by any other means?
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has already made it clear to the House that there will be no amnesty for on-the-runs, and that we have no intention of bringing back legislation on the issue. On the first point that the hon. Gentleman makes, I entirely share his condemnation of the attacks last night. He is also right to point out why they are taking placebecause people do not want the prospect of agreement that was offered at St. Andrews. They are trying to disrupt it and change the stated desire of people in Northern Ireland to live together in peace. The best response to such acts of violence is to make sure that the St. Andrews agreement is fully implemented, that we get the institutions back up and running, and that the peace process thrives and moves Northern Ireland forward. If we can do so, that is the best response to those who use violence.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): Apropos the St. Andrews agreement, does the Prime Minister agree that secret side deals can frustrate even the most creditable agreement? As the parties have very many difficult points further to negotiate, will he lift the veil, so to speak, from these side deals so that we have a better relationship, as was said before, and no further side deals can be done? For example, does he agree that the question of education by academic selection or otherwise in Northern Ireland is not for one party alone, but for the entire community?
The Prime Minister: The most important thing is that the decisions on matters such as education are taken by the directly elected politicians in Northern Ireland. That is one reason why we want the St. Andrews agreement to succeed. The agreement is very open about what is necessary. We need to resolve the issues in relation to policing, but there is a tremendous desire right across the political parties in Northern Ireland for the St. Andrews agreement to be implemented. The basic deal that has been at the heart of it since the outset has been peace in return for exclusively democratic means being used in order to further peoples political objectives. If everyone can get behind that essential position in Northern Ireland, the St. Andrews agreement will be implemented and the peace process will move forward.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Today hundreds of health workers will be lobbying Parliament worried about deficits, cuts and low morale in our health service. The Governments chief medical officer [Interruption.]
from within the NHS...tells a consistent story for public health of poor morale, declining numbers, inadequate recruitment and budgets being raided to solve financial deficits.
The Prime Minister: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is actually happening within the national health service. There are 400,000 fewer people on waiting lists than there were in 1997, waiting times for cataracts and heart operations are down, people now get their cancer treatment on time, and there are 300,000 more staff in the NHS. If he wants the best evidence of improvement in the NHS, someone said this morning:
if you were to say to me is the NHS better now than it was in 1997, I think there have been improvements.
Mr. Cameron: What about the chief medical officer, who advises the Government? As ever, the Prime Minister never answers the question. Let us hear from someone else in the NHS. The chairman of the British Medical Association says:
This year has seen vitally needed healthcare professionals losing their jobs.
the incoherence of current government policies and the damage they have caused to the NHS.
There are real improvements to applaud and celebrate.
Patients are seeing real improvements to health care services in England and Wales. They are waiting less time for treatments. There are now more doctors, more nurses and more health care professionals. Of course changes are taking place in the NHSand rightly, because more cases are being dealt with as day cases, new technology is shortening waiting times, specialist care is being developed, and more is being done in primary care settings now. All that is part of necessary change. The Conservative party, having first opposed all the investment in the NHS, now apparently also opposes reform. The only way in which the NHS will improve is if we keep the money coming in, not cut it back, which is his policy, and make sure that we make the reforms to get value for money.
Mr. Cameron: The health service professionals are not here protesting about our policies; they are protesting about his cuts. If the Prime Minister will not listen to people within the health service, will he listen to his own health guru, Sir Derek Wanless? Derek Wanless told the Chancellor that the money could have been better spent. We now have an account of how the conversation went. Sir Derek said to the Chancellor that the Governments policies since 1997 had made the NHS worse. There was then
an uncomfortable silence... Brown was no longer interested in the conversation.
The Prime Minister:
There is one issue: whether the NHS has got better since 1997 as a result of the investment and reform. Now, even the right hon. Gentlemans own shadow health spokesman admits
that it has. It has got better because we got the largest ever hospital building programme under way. It has got better because there are more staff in the NHS. It has got better because the very targets that he wants to scrap are resulting in reduced waiting times and reduced waiting lists. Yes, it is true that there are real difficulties in the NHSof course there are. There are bound to be when we undergo a process of change. The right hon. Gentleman says that staff are protesting about our policy, not his, but that is hardly surprising when we look at what his policy is. [Hon. Members: Order!] I was just about to indicate why we would not follow it.
Mr. Cameron: For once, the Prime Minister admits that there are real difficulties in the NHS. Are not the real failings in the NHS due to bungled contracts, endless reorganisations and top-down targets? Are not those the hallmarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
The Prime Minister: The reason why we have managed to get waiting times and waiting lists down, why people are being treated for cancer far quicker and why we have 150,000 fewer deaths from heart disease since 1997 is precisely that we have laid down targets for minimum treatment. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that he is going to get rid of targets inside the NHS, that will mean that those patients who are currently guaranteed proper waiting times and treatment, or who are guaranteed that when they go to accident and emergency departments, for example, they can be seen quickly, will no longer have those standards. If that is his policy, he is not merely committed to cutting the investment in the health service, but to taking away the very minimum standards that have delivered the improvements that his own health spokesman admits to.
Mr. Cameron: I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about the Chancellorhe cannot even mention his namebut let us just spend a moment on the subject. Let me put the question that I put to him three weeks ago. In January, the Prime Minister said:
I'm absolutely happy that Gordon Brown will be my successor.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I allowed the right hon. Gentleman to get away with that before. I will not labour the pointthe Prime Minister is here to talk about the business of the Government. [Interruption.] Order. I am giving a ruling on an important point. Questions should be about the business of the Government. The issue of who will be the next leader of the Labour party is for the Labour party to talk about and decide. [ Interruption. ] Order. I am giving a ruling. Ultimately, that leader may become the Prime Minister, but I am telling the right hon. Gentleman that it is not a matter for the Floor of the House. [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Gentlemen should not keep interrupting me, or I will suspend the sitting and the Leader of the Opposition will not be able to speak. I am making it clear that it is not a matter for the Prime Minister, who is responsible for Government business.
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