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Does the Prime Minister accept that that poor central management, and the financial crisis in the NHS, is harming patient care—yes or no?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that patient care is not improving in this country. I believe that patient care is improving in this country. That is perfectly obvious from the publication of the results this morning, but also from the fact that when we cane to office, literally hundreds of thousands of people used to wait for 12 months, sometimes 18 months, for their operations. We are now on course for an 18-week period from door to door for the in-patient and
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out-patient lists combined. That is happening not just as a result of massive investment, but as a result of change.

Not only did the right hon. Gentleman vote against the investment, every penny piece of it, but he is now apparently opposed to the reforms and changes that are necessary to provide value for money in the health service.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks of the situation when he came to office. Let me tell him that when he is leaving office, accident and emergency departments are threatened, maternity units are under review and community hospitals are closing. The Prime Minister must be the only person in the country who thinks that patient care is not suffering.

Is not the problem the fact that that the Government cannot address the problems of failure at the centre because the person at the centre is a lame duck? Why does the Prime Minister not give us all an early Christmas present, and tell us when he is off?

The Prime Minister: I hope the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw the claim made by his shadow health spokesman that 29 accident and emergency departments were to close. I have been through this. It is true that many are subject to consultation about changes in provision, but 12 are not even subject to consultation about change.

Let us look at what is happening overall. Accident and emergency departments have been transformed from how they were a few years ago. When we came to office, people had to wait for weeks and weeks, sometimes months, to see a cancer consultant. They no longer have to do that. As for cardiac care, people used to die waiting for operations; now people get their operations within three months. People used to wait for more than two years for cataract operations; now the average is three months or less. Moreover, the largest hospital building programme since the inception of the NHS is under way.

The fact is that the NHS is getting better. It is getting better under a Labour Government. After years of cuts and under-investment under the Tories, the NHS is once again the pride of the country.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): I hope that the Prime Minister will ignore the fatuous invitations to inform the Opposition about his departure intentions, but will he tell us whether he has any plans to visit the House of Commons to lead a debate on the current and deteriorating situation in Iraq, so that the House can exercise the duty of scrutiny that has so far been accorded only to the Americans?

The Prime Minister: I have to say to my hon. Friend that I do of course answer questions on Iraq at this Dispatch Box the entire time. Over the next few weeks, there will be the US Administration’s response to the Baker-Hamilton report that has been presented to it. We will also come to a different position ourselves in respect of how we deploy troops in Iraq, provided that the operation currently being conducted in Basra is successful, for all the reasons that the Defence Secretary
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and the Foreign Secretary have given. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will tomorrow give details of how we can make sure that the House has an opportunity to debate these issues properly.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I join the Prime Minister in his earlier expressions of sympathy and condolence.

Like the rest of us, the Prime Minister is obviously shocked by the disturbing events in Suffolk. Is it not clear that we once again see that there is a link between poverty, prostitution and drug abuse?

The Prime Minister: There obviously is a link between all those things, but let me say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that although there might well be lessons that we have to learn as a result of the terrible events of the past few weeks, I think that those lessons are best learned in a considered, rather than a reflex, way. At present, our priority must be to find the person responsible and to give our full support to the police. It is wise for us to leave to a later time a more considered response, and potentially a policy one, to the issues that have arisen.

Sir Menzies Campbell: At that later time, will the Prime Minister consider having a wholesale review of the law in this area so as to make sure that we do everything in our power to ensure women’s safety?

The Prime Minister: As I have said, I think that we should try to learn the lessons of this whole issue at a later time. But I should just make this point as well: when we published a consultation paper last year, the responses showed how difficult policy in this area is.

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend next visits Liverpool will he meet Kay Fyne, who came to Britain from Germany on 26 August 1939 with the Kindertransport? Does he agree that the painful, honest testimony of folk such as Kay brings shame to those who deny the holocaust?

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with what my right hon. Friend says, and I think and hope that the response right across the civilised world to the attempt to deny or cast doubt on the holocaust at the conference in Iran sends a very clear signal that people such as Kay, and the misery that they and their families went through, should never be forgotten.

Q2. [108580] Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): The Chancellor has downgraded his forecast receipts from the North sea by £2 billion. Does that not highlight the need for us to diversify our energy resources, in which endeavour Scotland has a key role to play? Will the Prime Minister recognise the critical mass in offshore technology that exists in and around Aberdeen not only for oil and gas but in respect of offshore wind and offshore wave and tidal energy, and that that, along with our two excellent universities, makes Aberdeen a prime location to play a leading role in the Government’s proposed offshore technologies institute?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on both the excellence of Aberdeen and the
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facilities there and the potential for renewable technologies. The difficulty is how long it will take to get those technologies to market. I also agree with him about diversity of energy supply. That is why we recently concluded the deal with Norway on the import of Norwegian gas into this country, which will meet about 30 per cent. of our gas needs. I also happen to believe that that is why we need to replace our existing nuclear power stations as well. But, whatever we do, the Government will make a significant additional investment in renewable technology, and co-operation between business and the academic world will be of prime importance.

Q3. [108581] Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the new United Nations target on universal access to reproductive health by 2015 under millennium development goal 5? Does he agree that that will help save the lives of the 500,000 women in Africa who die every year from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related causes, and will he congratulate the Department for International Development and the United Kingdom NGOs who have worked tirelessly to secure this new target?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend says, the non-governmental organisations and the Department for International Development have done a superb job that is deeply necessary. We will provide about £1.5 billion of extra money in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Some 4 million people get infected every year in Africa, but the more positive news is that 800,000 people there are now getting treatment, and that number can rise very substantially over the coming years if this millennium goal is met. That shows that, if the necessary political will is there, it makes a difference on the ground in treating people who need such treatment.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Since the Prime Minister is so fond of apologising to foreigners for the conduct of our long-dead ancestors, will he now, particularly in view of the “accumulated turbulence”, apologise to the British people for his own folly in leading us into the Iraq disaster?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that I will not, because I believe that it was right to remove Saddam and that it is right now to support people in Iraq, who want democracy. As for the earlier comments—I do not think that I have ever heard the word “foreigner” expressed with quite such strong emotion—I am always amazed at how these things are treated. I should have thought that even the hon. Gentleman and I could agree on our saying in 2006, as we approach the anniversary of the abolition of slavery, that it was a shameful trade.

Q4. [108582] Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I know that the Prime Minister is well aware of the immense regeneration benefits that have resulted from the Government’s support for British Waterways since 1997, and of the contribution that waterways now make to leisure, tourism, education, heritage and transport. Is he aware of the very serious problems and fear being caused by the sudden cuts in grant from the
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Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and will he discuss with ministerial colleagues a sustainable funding model and status for British Waterways that secures the future of this unique national asset?

The Prime Minister: I must confess to my hon. Friend that I was not fully aware of all the changes in British waterways and canals—but I am now. It is correct to say that in the past few years, there has been a very significant rise in people’s use of our canals and waterways. The British Waterways board has done a superb job, and as a result, the situation has been turned around from the position a decade ago. However, it, like everyone else, has to live within the means that we set ourselves. We are giving moneys additional to those that were available in 1997, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, like everyone else, must live within its means.

Q5. [108583] Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): Four decades after the screening of “Cathy Come Home”, 1.6 million children are still living in temporary or unsuitable accommodation. In my own constituency, 2,600 families are on the waiting list and 110 families are statutorily homeless. The response of the Tory local council has been to create one single affordable dwelling in the past year. When will the Prime Minister really tackle this issue by imposing a duty on local authorities to create social housing, and when will he give them the resources and policies to be able to do so?

The Prime Minister: I in no way, shape or form underestimate the problem that the hon. Gentleman raises, but we have put some £2 billion into social housing, and we have tackled not just rough sleepers but the concept of families being in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for long periods. But I agree that we have to do far more, which is why the investment coming over the next few years will be very important. The danger in giving yet another statutory obligation to local authorities is whether they are able to meet it within the resources that they have, and whether it is right for central Government to set them such a target. But I entirely agree that it is a proper responsibility that local authorities should take seriously.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the independent Audit Commission yesterday announced that Labour-controlled Wigan council, superbly led by Lord Smith of Leigh, was one of only two councils in the country to be awarded four stars. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Labour councillors on their strategic success, and the officers on their superb achievement? Does he also agree that it is important that we provide additional resources for excellent councils such as Wigan, not just the freedoms that were announced in the local government White Paper?

The Prime Minister: I am certainly happy to give my congratulations to Wigan council and the councillors and officers who have made such enormous progress there over the past few years. To take just one example, I know that education in Wigan has seen a tremendous amount of improvement and change, including record
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results. The area has also had substantial reductions in unemployment, and increases in tax credits and additional child benefit have reduced poverty. The partnership between a strong Labour local authority and a Labour Government has delivered for the people of Wigan.

Q6. [108584] Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Is the Prime Minister aware of plans by any of the coalition partners for long-term, permanent bases in Iraq?

The Prime Minister: The issue of bases in Iraq must be considered with the Iraqi Government. Any discussions on that basis start and end with the Iraqi Government, as they are a sovereign Government.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend is in Brussels later this week, one of the most difficult problems that he will have to deal with is Turkey, as the opposition of several centre-right Governments and politicians in Europe has made its application to join the European Union much more difficult. Does he therefore agree that the decision by the Conservatives to break all links with the centre-right parties of Europe—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I made a mistake calling the right hon. Gentleman.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): People will be concerned today to hear that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence report recommends that some teenagers may, as a last resort, have to have surgery to treat obesity. Would it not instead be better to deal with problems with nutrition through the healthy start programme? While the extra money for low-income families is welcome, is not nutritional and exercise advice the best way to tackle the growing problem of teenage obesity?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the healthy start scheme—a good scheme that provides vouchers for healthy food for hundreds of thousands of children. Through extended schools, the increase in breakfast clubs and after-school activities, many children who previously did not get a meal before school are now doing so. Also, as a result of the several hundred specialist sports colleges, we are increasing the availability of sport in schools. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a major area in which the Government have to expand our activities and deepen the support we give people, because the issue of public health—on which the future of the national health service depends, in large measure—can be met only by people having the opportunity to live healthier lives and taking some responsibility for doing so.

Q7. [108585] Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): The Government have announced a consultation process on the introduction of an Irish language Bill, which would outrage the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. Will the Prime Minister confirm that in the event of devolution it would be entirely for the Assembly to determine whether such a Bill would proceed and in what terms?

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The Prime Minister: I assure the hon. Lady that of course under the provisions of any such Bill no one will be forced to speak the Irish language. In relation to the consultation document that has been put out, we will await responses. However, the sooner it is possible to get devolution back up and running again, the easier it will be for such decisions to be taken where people in Northern Ireland would wish them to be taken.

Q8. [108586] Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Friends of Reddish Baths is a local community group that has drawn up a superb business plan to reopen and manage the local swimming pool that was closed last year by the Stockport Sports Trust and Lib Dem Stockport council. What hope can my right hon. Friend give to local groups who want to self-manage community facilities but are constantly slapped down by town hall bureaucrats and Liberal Democrat councils?

The Prime Minister: I wish the campaign for Reddish baths well, and hope that it is successful. My hon. Friend draws attention to the strength of our voluntary and community groups, and in fact we held a reception for them in Downing street last night. Up and down the country, those groups provide facilities in the way
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that he described, and perform all sorts of magnificent social enterprise work. The Government fully support them and the work that they do, even if the Liberal Democrats do not.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): When inquests are held into the deaths of service personnel whose bodies are returned to the UK, the Government are represented by the Treasury Solicitor, who has access to effectively unlimited taxpayers’ funds for QCs, witnesses and support investigations. In contrast, families of the bereaved attending the same inquest have to pay out of their own pockets. Is it right that the dice should be loaded against the bereaved?

The Prime Minister: First, when we talk about those who have fallen in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, we should pay tribute to their heroism, courage and dedication. I know that the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) is looking carefully at the arrangements in respect of coroners. I do not have anything to say about that at present, but it is of course important to make sure that bereaved families are given every possible facility.

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