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Maternal Mortality

4. Barbara Follett (Stevenage) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to help developing countries reduce maternal mortality. [123723]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We set out our priorities for trying to improve maternal health in our 2004 strategy on reducing maternal deaths. We made it clear that we would, for example, prioritise the strengthening of health systems to increase the number of health workers with midwifery skills and seek to deliver better access to family planning and contraception services.

Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. However, with one woman dying every minute of every day of every year in the developing world, what can he do to persuade the United States Government to lift the gag rule that was introduced by the Reagan
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Administration, which prevents family planning organisations in the developing world that receive funding from that country from advising termination in the case of high-risk pregnancies? It is estimated that that costs 150,000 lives—unnecessary deaths—every year.

Mr. Thomas: I share my hon. Friend’s view on the impact of the global gag rule. We have a very different view from our American friends’ on this issue and we continue to encourage them to reconsider their position. In the meantime, we continue to support a variety of international organisations that provide access to safe abortion services, such as the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF. We were the first donor to support the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s global safe abortion action fund.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): DFID rightly supports many programmes to prevent the transmission of HIV from an infected mother to an infant, through the use of retrovirals. On previous occasions I have raised the issue of the failure of those programmes to continue to provide treatment to the mother, so that she typically dies within two years, leaving the infant as an orphan. Has the hon. Gentleman pursued that issue and made an assessment of what could be done?

Mr. Thomas: We continue to pursue the issue of improving access to antiretrovirals and support to people once they have started on a programme. The hon. Lady will know that there have been encouraging signs of increased access to antiretrovirals, but an awful lot more needs to be done by the international community and developing country Governments to increase access to health care, including these drugs, and to reduce the price of second-line and third-line antiretrovirals. We continue to look at what else we ourselves can do.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): What is my hon. Friend’s Department doing to end the scandal of unsafe abortions in the third world? In this day and age, no woman should die from an unsafe abortion.

Mr. Thomas: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the numbers of women in the developing world who die because of unsafe abortions. The World Health Organisation estimates that some 70,000 women lose their lives every year because of them. We support a variety of international organisations that provide access to safe abortion services, such as the United Nations Population Fund, of which we are one of the largest funders. As I said in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), we were one of the first donors to the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s global safe abortion action fund.

Education (Fragile States)

5. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What his Department’s policy is on education in fragile states. [123724]

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The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): The United Kingdom will provide £8.5 billion over the next 10 years for education and this will include more support for fragile states. In some countries, we will work through UN agencies— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Can we allow the Secretary of State to be heard?

Hilary Benn: In some countries, we will work through UN agencies and civil society where they can make better progress than Governments, but we will also work to strengthen Governments’ capacity where there is a clear commitment to improve education but a lack of resources to do so.

Mr. Evennett: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, which is very encouraging. Save the Children has found that 38 million children in conflict-affected fragile states are still missing out on primary education. So much more needs to be done in those states to allow young people to have a future.

Hilary Benn: I praise Save the Children for its work to raise public awareness of the problem of education in fragile states. We recognise the importance of that, and it is for that reason that the UK’s bilateral spending on education in fragile states has trebled in the last few years and currently stands at about £33 million a year.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the conflict has had a catastrophic effect on the number and percentage of children enrolled in primary and secondary education, and there is a growing gender gap between the numbers of girls and boys who are literate. Will my right hon. Friend say what the early indications from the new Government of Joseph Kabila are, and what investment we are making in that country to ensure that every child has the access to education that they deserve?

Hilary Benn: We have a large and growing programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, precisely because this is the best chance that that country has had for more than two generations to make progress. The new Government have only just been formed, as my hon. Friend will be aware. Part of that support will be to help education in the Congo, so that children who have lost out on the chance to go to school finally get the chance to do so.

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Despite the life-saving and life-giving benefits of education, in war, emergencies and protracted conflicts in fragile states children miss out, not only then but for the rest of their lives, because education is not part of the humanitarian response. Does the Secretary of State agree that education should be an automatic part of first-response humanitarian aid?

Hilary Benn: Yes, I do agree. It is for precisely that reason that a cluster that will take responsibility for education in humanitarian emergencies, to be led by UNICEF with the support of Save the Children, is to
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be set up. When disaster strikes, the first priority is clearly to give people food, water and shelter, but we must not forget that the children who have been affected by the disaster need to have the right to continue to go school. The cluster will work to make that possible.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Patient Services (Oxfordshire)

Q1. [123705] Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What assessment he has made of the impact on patient services in Oxfordshire of financial pressures on the NHS.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): The financial pressures on Oxfordshire primary care trust are real. To its credit, the trust is sorting out those pressures and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the PCT will receive some £727 million in the next financial year, which is an increase of 19 per cent. in two years. Given that huge increase in resource, I am sure that the trust will continue to improve services to its patients in that period.

Dr. Harris: Does the Prime Minister’s briefing note make reference to the plans to restrict access to various operations in the county, for the strategic health authority to spend £2 million asking PricewaterhouseCoopers how to privatise commissioning services, or to cut nearly two thirds of the community hospital beds, including at Abingdon community hospital? If he provides the number of nurses for which his funding—which I voted for—has paid, will he explain whether the figure is net or gross of the hundreds of job cuts at the Oxford John Radcliffe hospital?

The Prime Minister: It is true that, for financial reasons, minimum waiting times were introduced, but they will disappear at the end of March. As a result of the changes that have been and are being made, the number of people who are waiting more than 26 weeks for in-patient treatment has fallen in the past 10 years from more than 21,000 to nothing.

It is true that there will be some 60 compulsory redundancies, I think, but there have been almost 20,000 more NHS staff in the area. An enormous amount of money is going into new hospital schemes in Oxfordshire, including—with direct reference to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency—a £134 million private finance initiative scheme to relocate services from the Radcliffe infirmary to the John Radcliffe hospital site, a £129 million programme to open a new Oxford cancer centre, and a £26 million expansion of cardiac care. On every measure—waiting lists, heart disease, cancer treatment and accident and emergency—performance is up and the number of people waiting is down.


Q2. [123706] Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 28th February.

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The Prime Minister: Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to send our condolences to the family and friends of Royal Marine Jonathan Holland, from 45 Commando, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. I am sure that the House will also wish to send condolences to the family and friends of the serviceman from 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, who was killed in Iraq yesterday. As we have said many times in the past few days, those people are working heroically and with enormous courage doing service for their country and the wider world, and we should pay tribute to them.

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.

Mrs. James: First, I associate myself with my right hon. Friend’s expressions of condolence.

My right hon. Friend will know that the UK Borders Bill will give ports such as Swansea increased security and help in tackling illegal immigration and fighting organised crime. Will he assure my constituents and Public and Commercial Services Union representatives that increased customs and security measures at Wales’s second city will be introduced as a measure under the Bill?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that the UK Borders Bill will improve security at our ports, and I pay tribute to the work that has been done by people in her constituency. The measure is in addition to a big investment in electronic borders, which will allow us to track the movements of people in and out of the country, but it is necessary to combine those measures for better border protection with the introduction of identity cards and a proper identity management system, because that is ultimately the only way of tracking illegal immigrants to this country and making sure that they can be deported.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Royal Marine Jonathan Holland and Marine Scott Summers, who have died in the past week through service to our country and Afghanistan. I also pay tribute, as the Prime Minister did, to the soldier who, it was announced this morning, was killed in Iraq.

The Government’s NHS plan says that England has too few hospital beds, but the Health Secretary says that fewer beds are a sign of success. Who is right?

The Prime Minister: It depends on whether the beds are there for the acute care that people need, and for emergency care. For example, the number of critical care beds has actually gone up under this Government, rather than down. As a result of the transfer of a huge number of cases to day-case surgery—we are now doing about a million more operations a year through day-case surgery—in some circumstances there will be a reduction in the requirement for beds. The most important thing is that people are getting better care, and that is precisely because of the investment that the right hon. Gentleman opposed and the changes that allow us to ensure that, for example, people who used
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to spend several days in hospital for their cataract operation can come in and get that done through day-case surgery.

Mr. Cameron: Let me ask the Prime Minister specifically about hospital beds and the NHS plan. We should remember that the NHS plan was launched by the Prime Minister personally in the House in 2000. He promised 7,000 extra NHS beds. How many more beds are there today than in 2000?

The Prime Minister: It is exactly as I was saying: there are more acute hospital beds, but where there has been a reduction—for example, in the number of learning disability beds—it is because that is no longer the way that we treat people. There has been an increase in the number of critical care beds, but most important of all, there has been an increase in the numbers of people whom we are treating, and in the speed with which they are treated.

Let me just explain to the right hon. Gentleman that if people no longer have to spend days in hospital for their operation, and if the operation can be done in one day, that is of benefit to the patient. Let me just remind him that in 1997, hundreds of thousands of people used to wait—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] That was the problem in the national health service. For example, on heart disease, when I first came to power I used to get letters from people whose relatives had died waiting for cardiac care. Now, the average is down to below three months. That is what is important in the national health service, and that is why we say that it is improving.

Mr. Cameron: The fact is that the Prime Minister cannot run away from his promises. He promised 7,000 more beds, but in fact he has delivered a cut of 9,000 beds from the NHS. Is not the truth about the NHS under Labour that 43 maternity units are under threat, 106 community hospitals face closure or cutbacks, and 17 accident and emergency departments face closure or cutbacks? Meanwhile, 13 members from his own Front Bench have appeared on picket lines, objecting to his own policy. Why did he promise more beds, and then cut them?

The Prime Minister: The promise was in relation to acute beds and critical care beds, and the right hon. Gentleman will find that we have increased both of those. In relation to the overall situation in the health service, he asks what has improved in the health service. Let me tell him what has improved. Waiting times have improved in the health service; the number of nurses and doctors has improved in the health service; and the waiting time for heart disease and cancer treatment has improved in the health service. When we came to power, more than half the NHS building stock was built before the NHS was created; that figure is now 20 per cent. Why did that happen? It was because of investment and change, and he opposes both of them.

Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op): I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the Airbus Power 8 announcement being made in Toulouse later today. What assurances can he give my constituents and others who work at Filton and Broughton that our Government are doing all that they
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can to ensure that high-value, high-tech engineering and manufacturing skills are retained in the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister: First, I pay tribute to the work force in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I can tell him that I understand that Filton is set to secure the manufacture of key wing components on the A350. That will represent valuable new capability for the UK, and will help to maintain the UK lead for future programmes. In addition, we expect the UK’s role as a continuing centre of excellence for wings to be confirmed. Of course, both at Filton and at Broughton, there is a tremendous amount of work done by a highly skilled work force. Airbus itself, which is a project of European collaboration, has been of enormous benefit, not merely in terms of jobs in this country, but jobs across Europe. The number of Airbus orders is now about 2,000 for the new plane. I have seen it myself, and it is quite superb. It is an extraordinary piece of design, engineering and skilled work, and I know that the work force in my hon. Friend’s constituency will continue to play a major part in its development in future.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): May I join the Prime Minister in his expressions once again of condolence and sympathy for those who have lost their lives? When does he intend to tell the House of Commons the nature of his discussions with President Bush about the possible deployment of part of an anti-ballistic missile system for the United States in the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister: We will tell the House as soon as there is something to say. At the moment, those discussions are at a very preliminary stage, but it is important that we have them with the United States to see what options are available for this country and whether ballistic missile defence would be good for us or not. It is entirely sensible that we have those discussions—obviously they are on a confidential basis, but as soon as we have something to report we will do so.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Does the Prime Minister accept that the system that has been proposed is largely untried? Indeed, it has been described as

In the circumstances that he described, any deployment would undoubtedly have enormous strategic and political implications, not least for arms control. Is it not right that we should have those discussions in the House, and not behind closed doors?

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