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Does the Prime Minister think that that was an accurate forecast, or a bad career move—or maybe a bit of both?

The Prime Minister: I think what was also said was that we all remember, as an example of change, that it was our party that introduced Bank of England independence, opposed by the right hon. Gentleman; it was our party that introduced the minimum wage, opposed by him; and it was our party that introduced record investment in schools and hospitals, opposed by him. So it is not this side of the House that has had to change its mind; it is him.

Q3. [121277] Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My friend is a great champion of the private sector and wants to give it a much bigger role in the NHS in Lancashire and Cumbria, and the South African company, Netcare, is to carry out work in six specialties—gynaecology, urology, orthopaedics, rheumatology, ear, nose and throat, and general surgery. Will he explain to my constituents and to me why the contract is to be regarded as commercially confidential? How can that possibly be justified, and if it is secret, how will we know that we are not being ripped off?

The Prime Minister: The contracts that are entered into by the national health service with a range of different private contractors are commercially confidential. The reason why they have been introduced, and why we have got the independent sector working alongside the national health service, is that for many of the things that my hon. Friend lists, it is actually cutting waiting times, improving the quality of care, and giving us the possibility of creating a
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national health service that is fit for the early 21st century. The reason why, for example, in the past few months we have managed for the first time to get in-patient and out-patient average waiting times down to a few weeks is precisely that combination of investment and reform. It is creating the national health service that we want to see, so I suggest that my hon. Friend support it.

Q4. [121278] Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Nearly eight years after the intervention by NATO in Kosovo, the Prime Minister will be aware that there are still several hundreds of thousands of people frightened to return to their homes. Does he consider that situation acceptable in a modern Europe, and does he not agree that until those people have the confidence to return to their homes, we cannot consider that intervention a success?

The Prime Minister: I certainly agree with the first part of the question; it is important that those who are still in fear of returning to their homes are able to do so. Where I disagree with him profoundly is on any notion that the intervention in Kosovo was anything other than successful. Of course, we have still got to sort out the ongoing constitutional status of Kosovo, but as a result of what has happened in Kosovo, and as a result of that intervention, the whole of the Balkans is a changed region. We have proper democratic elections in Serbia, Croatia is now a candidate to become a member of the European Union, and for the first time in round about 100 years, there is the prospect of peace in the Balkans, with, of course, if his party does not mind me saying so, the prospect of future European Union membership as a tremendous bonus for the countries as they make progress. I totally agree that there are still many things to be done, in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans, but I have to say that I believe that our intervention in Kosovo was necessary and right, and has given the Balkans the prospect of a decent future.

Q5. [121279] Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): In light of the recent firearm murders in the capital, will the Prime Minister join me in condemning that evil, and in congratulating the Mayor of London on placing more police on the street? Will he ensure that the Government re-examine the real and entrenched poverty in London, so that we make sure that we remain tough on the causes of crime, as well as on crime itself?

The Prime Minister: First, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that it is a tribute to the Mayor—and, I think, to the Government as well—that there are extra police and community support officers patrolling the streets, and that there have been very significant falls in crime recently in London—despite, obviously, the recent terrible events. She is completely right, too, in saying that we have got to carry on reducing poverty in the country, but there are some 2.5 million fewer people in relative poverty than there were some years back, and the inner-city regeneration programmes in her communities and elsewhere are playing a real part in doing that. We have to continue with that, and we have to take the specific measures necessary, within specific criminal cultures, to deal with
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those who, as we have seen recently and all too tragically, are engaged in gun violence.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): The Prime Minister’s recent decision to accede to the Council of Europe convention on trafficking will be widely welcomed. However, is he not aware that that additional signature will mean that there are 20 such Council of Europe conventions to which the United Kingdom has attached its signature, without having got round to ratifying them? Will he undertake to look into the situation and report back to the House?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to look into that and report back. Of course, there is a difference between signature and ratification, and I think that I am right in saying that that particular convention has probably not been ratified by a majority of European countries. However, it is extremely important that we make sure that we abide by its provisions and implement them here. As we said when we commemorated the abolition of the slave trade, there is a new form of slave trade in the world today—people trafficking, which is often linked to the most appalling forms of prostitution, so the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we should deal with it.

Q6. [121280] Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating everyone at the Camrose Sure Start centre in my constituency on an outstanding Ofsted report, which found children from a multiracial, disadvantaged estate showed outstanding academic achievement and outstanding spiritual, moral, social and cultural development? Does he agree that that shows that investment by the Labour Government has improved the lives of children in disadvantaged areas?

The Prime Minister: I send my congratulations to the Camrose children’s centre in my hon. Friend’s constituency. Such centres will number roughly 2,500 nationwide by 2008, and a whole new frontier of the welfare state has been developed. They do a fantastic amount of work, not just for the children but often for their parents who, for the first time, have gained access to advice about skills and jobs. They are therefore a very worthwhile addition to the provision that the Government make for people in this country.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Can the Prime Minister explain why after increased investment in the NHS, my local NHS trust has to slash £24 million from its budget in the next 18 months, and has resorted to removing one in three light bulbs in St. Helier hospital to cut costs?

The Prime Minister: Whatever the level of investment, each trust—and this is the whole point about making sure that we have proper financial transparency in the health service—must live within its means. There has been a massive increase in investment, and as a result, waiting lists have fallen dramatically in the hon. Gentleman’s area, as in others. Cancer treatment has improved, cardiac treatment has improved, and accident and emergency treatment has improved. Despite all of that, it is correct that trusts must live within their financial means. I am afraid that
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that is the case, no matter what amount of money goes in, and it is a lesson that the Liberal Democrats must learn.

Q7. [121281] Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister make an ongoing commitment to the use of the Barnett formula, which has delivered substantial investment in public services in Scotland, and assure the people of Scotland that a Labour Government will not be tempted to create a massive financial deficit by pursuing proposals for tax autonomy, proposed by the London-based leader of the Scottish nationalist movement?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that we have no proposals at all to change the Barnett formula, which, as he rightly said, has delivered substantial investment for Scotland. The other reason why investment is going into Scotland is the strength of the economy, which, whatever the formula, allows an additional amount of money to go into health and education services, and provides help for people in Scotland, not least pensioners. I can assure him that the Barnett formula and the strong economy will continue under a Labour Government and a Labour Executive.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I wonder whether someone who has been put—I hope temporarily and certainly unwillingly—in the departure lounge can ask someone who already has his boarding ticket what he expects and hopes to be remembered for before he goes off on the lecture circuit.

The Prime Minister: Whatever the circuit, I look forward to seeing the hon. Gentleman on it. I hope that he recognises that one thing has changed. There has been a great deal of debate in the country about division, poverty and inequality over the past few years, but I hope that he recognises that as a result of the assistance given to families through the tax credit system, the minimum wage, investment in child benefit, and inner-city regeneration, the country is a fairer and stronger place than it was 10 years ago.

Q8. [121282] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): Bristol has the second highest number of drug addicts in treatment in the country, but in the past year was given only £639 per addict in treatment, compared with cities such as Birmingham, which got nearly three times as much. Can the Prime Minister assure me that the very welcome recent 40 per cent. increase in funding for next year will not be a one-off and that we can look forward to future increases, so that Bristol gets the funding that it deserves to treat the serious drug problem in the city?

The Prime Minister: Over the next couple of years there is something like a 70 per cent. increase in the budget in Bristol. We are doubling the amount of assistance given for drug treatment programmes. The important thing is to make sure that those who have a drug problem, particularly if they are connected with the criminal justice system, get the treatment that they need. If we do not treat that drug abuse problem, we
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are not likely to reduce their propensity to reoffend once released. I pay tribute to the work that I know is going on in Bristol among some of the drug action teams, which are doing superb work, and I hope that the additional funding will help them do even better.

Q9. [121283] Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Last summer a new mini hospital was completed to serve my constituents. There are no patient complaints, no delays, no operations cancelled. That is because the hospital has never opened. The only activity is the administration department paying bills to keep an empty hospital maintained. Is that not an episode straight out of “Yes Minister”?

The Prime Minister: I will tell the hon. Gentleman what is also going on in his constituency. Whereas in 1997 over 30,000 people had to wait six months, the figure today is 90. There is a new radiotherapy building at Northampton general hospital, there is the new Oakley Vale dental practice, and there is a £10 million expansion project on its way in Northampton general hospital. As a result of that, waiting lists are down, cancer care is improving and heart disease care is improving. All that money was voted against by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.

Q10. [121284] Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister back the popular campaign to bring the Lindisfarne Gospels home to the north-east? He may recall that last time they were there, hundreds of thousands of people queued round the block to see them. With his backing, perhaps he and I could pop along to see these cultural icons together when they are back in our region.

The Prime Minister: As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, it is for the British Library Board to decide where the gospels are located, but I share her desire to see them widely available in the north-east. I know that she recently met the Minister concerned in order to discuss the matter, and I am happy to give her any support I can to make sure that as many people as possible in the north-east get access to a huge cultural icon for people there.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): In direct response to me during consideration of the Identity Cards Bill, the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) gave me and all of us on the Committee an undertaking that the police would not be permitted to trawl through the national identity register. Yesterday the Prime Minister ripped up that undertaking. Why?

The Prime Minister: I do not believe that we have gone back on any of the undertakings that we have given. What is extremely important, however, is that we have such a register, because not only will it help us to tackle crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, but an identity card scheme, with the new technology available—and the vast bulk of the cost will be spent on passports, anyway—will allow consumers to access better private sector services as well. The Tory opposition to ID cards is regressive, old-fashioned and out of date.

Q11. [121285] Ms Diana R. Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend knows that Hull has produced its share of great parliamentarians,
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most notably William Wilberforce. This year is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade, which Wilberforce brought about. Will my right hon. Friend find time to visit Hull to celebrate Wilberforce 2007?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, there are a number of events, including a national memorial service at Westminster Abbey in March this year, which will commemorate the abolition of the slave trade. The most important thing, however, as I said in response to an earlier question, is that we recognise that we still have challenges ahead of us. I mentioned one, in respect of people trafficking. There is another, in respect of education for all in Africa. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development recently announced proposals that will give us the chance, if we are supported internationally—as I hope we will be at the G8 this year—to make sure that all children in Africa get the possibility of primary education, because at present there are still tens of millions of them who are unable to do so. Probably as much as any memorial service or commemoration, that would be the most fitting way to mark a huge and wonderful parliamentary campaign 200 years ago.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): In my area there are now no antenatal classes, and £2.50 a day must be saved by staff who do not use dressings or offer blood tests. GPs in Dacorum have sent e-mails saying that they do not believe the proposals are fit for purpose, and an elderly person is mounting a legal challenge to the moving of all services to Watford. Does the Prime
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Minister agree that the health services provided in Hertfordshire are not fit for purpose?

The Prime Minister: Obviously I do not know enough about the individual circumstances in the hon. Lady’s constituency to respond now, but I shall be happy to look into the matter and correspond with her about it. I should say, however, that the changes in maternity services are being made so that people can be given a better service. It is a case of specialising and concentrating the most difficult cases on one site. The money that we are putting into maternity services, including antenatal services, is increasing, not diminishing, and we are also increasing the number of midwives in training.

I do not agree with the hon. Lady that change is necessarily a bad thing—in fact, I think it is a good thing—but I shall be happy to look into the specific matters that she has raised.

Q12. [121286] Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): What is my right hon. Friend’s response to Mohamed el-Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who said recently that Britain could not modernise its Trident missile system and then credibly tell countries such as Iran that they do not need nuclear weapons?

The Prime Minister: I should remind my hon. Friend of the non-proliferation treaty, which makes it absolutely clear that Britain has the right to possess nuclear weapons. As Mohamed el-Baradei is the custodian of that treaty’s implementation, I think it would be a good idea for him to act accordingly.

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Iraq and the Middle East

12.32 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, I shall make a statement on recent developments in Iraq and across the middle east.

Saddam Hussein was removed from power in May 2003. In June 2004, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution setting out the support of the international community for the incoming interim Government of Iraq, for a political process leading to full democratic elections overseen by the United Nations itself, and for Iraq’s reconstruction and development after decades of oppression and impoverishment under Saddam’s dictatorship.

In January 2005 the first elections were held for a transitional national assembly, and 7 million people voted. A new constitution was agreed. In December 2005 full parliamentary elections were held, and 12 million Iraqis voted. May 2006 saw the forming of the first fully elected Government of Iraq, an expressly non-sectarian Government including all the main elements of Iraqi society, Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish. There has been full United Nations backing throughout for the political process and now for the Government of Prime Minister Maliki.

Successive United Nations resolutions have given explicit approval for the presence of the multinational force. The political process has thus continued through the years. For example, as we speak the Iraqi Parliament is awaiting the report on amending the constitution from the constitutional review committee, a draft law on de-Ba’athification relaxing some of the restrictions on former Ba’ath party members, and the new hydrocarbon legislation, which will attempt to spread fairly and evenly the proceeds of Iraq’s considerable oil wealth.

However, the political process—the reconstruction, reconciliation and everything that the UN has set out as the will of the international community and for which Iraqis have voted—has been thwarted or put at risk by the violence and terrorism that have beset the country and its people. From the day of the appalling terrorist outrage in August 2003, which killed the United Nations special representative and many of his colleagues, to this day, Iraq, and Baghdad in particular, has been subject to a sickening level of carnage, some of it aimed at the multinational force but much of it aimed deliberately to provoke a sectarian struggle between Sunni and Shi’a. The bombing of the shrine at Samarra in February 2006 was designed precisely to provoke Shi’a death squads to retaliate against Sunni.

The violence comes from different sources. Some of it originates with former Saddamists; some with Sunnis who are worried that they will be excluded from the political future of Iraq. Many of the so-called spectacular suicide bombings are the work of al-Qaeda, whose grisly presence in Iraq since 2002 has been part of its wider battle with the forces of progress across the world. Now Shi’a militant groups such as Jaish-al-Mahdi are responsible for the abduction and execution of innocent Sunni. These groups have different aims and ideologies, but one common purpose: to prevent Iraqis’ democracy from working.

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