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The Prime Minister: I am sure that we will have the discussion in the House and, indeed, outside the House when we reach the point at a which a proposition can be put before people. Of course, the technology is untried and is under development in the United States which, as was indicated a short time ago, is in discussion with Poland and the Czech Republic about whether to site ballistic missile defence systems there. It is entirely sensible for us to work out the possible options and what the country’s possible interests are. When we have a proposition to put, we will come back
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and put it. No doubt, the right hon. and learned Gentleman can then tell us whether or not he is in favour of it.

Q3. [123707] Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating our film industry on its recent magnificent achievements? I shall not be tempted to dwell on “The Last King of Scotland”—a very British film—but does he accept that the contribution of people such as Helen Mirren to the renaissance of the British film industry is truly outstanding, and will he continue to give it his support so that that can be sustained?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that everyone would join my right hon. Friend in sending our congratulations to Dame Helen Mirren and to those who won an Oscar at the Oscars ceremony. He has put his finger on a very important point, as the support that has been given to the UK film industry in the past few years is an immense part of building its success. It is not simply the support for the Film Council—film tax relief is worth millions of pounds, and is very important indeed, and we fund the British Film Institute, too. As I heard for myself yesterday, across arts and culture in the past 10 years there has been, as one participant said, a golden age in the way in which we project this country through arts and culture. That is an important part of making this country, its economy and society successful for the future.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Can I for the first and possibly last time ask the Prime Minister a question about his engagements? Did he find time in his busy day to attend the meeting this morning organised by two former Cabinet colleagues to work out how to relaunch his Government?

The Prime Minister: No, I did not actually, but I am delighted that a full policy debate is taking place in the Labour party. The strength of our policy contrasts with the weakness of the right hon. Gentleman’s. He has made only one policy announcement in the past 12 days. He announced on the morning of 16 February that an absolute commitment had been made to introduce tax breaks for married couples, only for the shadow Chancellor’s spokesman, according to “Channel 4 News”, to denounce that furiously because it was merely being considered. When the right hon. Gentleman gets his own policy making in order he will be in a position to rebut ours.

Mr. Cameron: As part of that hugely welcome great debate, could the Prime Minister solve one of the great mysteries of British politics? Why is it that so many people who have worked so closely with the Chancellor think he would make a terrible Prime Minister, but they do not seem prepared to stop him?

The Prime Minister: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should reflect on the Chancellor’s record. He has delivered us the strongest economy of any major country, the lowest interest rates that we have had for 30 years, the lowest unemployment for 30 years, the highest employment ever, record investment in health and education and, as I pointed out yesterday,
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for the first time in years the bottom 40 per cent. of the population have seen their incomes rise in percentage terms more than the top 20 per cent. That is the Chancellor’s economic record. What is the right hon. Gentleman’s?

Mr. Cameron: Is not this the whole problem: the Prime Minister seems to think the Chancellor is Einstein, but half the Back Benchers think he is Mrs. Rochester? Why does not the Prime Minister let him out of the attic so that we can get on with the main event?

The Prime Minister: In the end, as the right hon. Gentleman will find out, it is policy that will determine the future of this country. Every time it comes to policy, he does not know where he stands. If we want an example of that, a few months ago he was telling us that he wanted more engagement for the voluntary sector in the prisons and probation service. Today, he will lead his troops into the Lobby to vote against that voluntary sector engagement. It is policy that will determine the future of this country. We have it and he does not.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab) rose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Give the right hon. Gentleman a chance.

Mr. Meacher: As private equity firms are going after healthy, well managed companies with a large cash flow, often extracting huge personal gains at the expense of enormous job losses and crippling a firm with large debt, will my right hon. Friend set up an inquiry into their operation, focusing particularly on the tax relief that they receive for leverage buy-outs and on the need for them to produce in each case a clear contractual statement of their impact on the public interest, including stakeholder and employee interests?

Hon. Members: More, more.

The Prime Minister: Should my right hon. Friend ever find himself answering questions at the Dispatch Box, he will find that the single most important thing for us as a Government is to keep our economy strong. I totally understand the concerns about private equity firms, but it is important to recognise that we live in a global market. One of the strengths of this country has been the pre-eminent position of the City, which has increased under us in the past 10 years, I am pleased to say. The combination of a strong economy and a commitment to social justice has allowed us to win three elections. It is therefore important that we continue with that strong new Labour position. Despite the obvious interest in and attraction of seeing my right hon. Friend at the Dispatch Box, I think that that will continue, but probably not under him.

Q4. [123708] Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Why did the Prime Minister tell me last month that the criminal law would not apply on a European Union basis, whereas the European Court has judged the exact opposite?

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The Prime Minister: I do not know the particular judgment to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I assure him, as is obvious from the amount of legislation before the House, that it is the House that is in charge of the criminal law of this country.

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my enthusiasm for the introduction of 14-to-19 diplomas into our secondary schools next year? Does he agree that if they are to be truly successful, they must be delivered by all our secondary schools, not just some?

The Prime Minister: It is important that the diploma is widely used. Let me again congratulate the education authorities and schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency that have made such rapid improvements in the past few years. We introduced the system, which was based on a recommendation in the Tomlinson report, to allow those aged 14 for the first time to get a really good vocational stream of education whereby they will be able, for example, to go out and spend some time getting work experience with local employers. This is all part of trying to bring that vocational educational system closer to the world of work and to give youngsters who may decide that they do not want to go down the academic route a far better and preferred way of getting educated. On top of that, we are dramatically increasing the number of apprenticeships. That is also an important part of ensuring that this country gets a skilled work force for the future.

West Midlands/Staffordshire Ambulance Services

Q5. [123709] Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): If he will make a statement on the proposed merger of the West Midlands and Staffordshire ambulance services.

The Prime Minister: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced on 16 May, the intention is that Staffordshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust and the West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Trust should work together to prepare for a merger. A timetable has not been set for the merger, but a partnership board has been established to take forward work relating to it.

Michael Fabricant: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer. He might know that in fact a merger is now being proposed. The Health Secretary gave assurances to Staffordshire Members of Parliament that there would be no merger until the West Midlands trust had reached the same high standard as Staffordshire. However, if, God forbid, one was to have a cardiac arrest in Staffordshire, one would have a 60 per cent. chance of recovery, whereas in the west midlands one would have a 65 per cent. chance of dying. The standard has not yet been reached, yet a merger is still being proposed. What can the Prime Minister say to people in Staffordshire to assure them that our ambulance service will not be degraded through that merger?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point. Obviously, the terms of the
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merger are extremely important. Within the past few days, the partnership board chairman has said:

I think that he was talking about the idea of the return of spontaneous circulation—

In other words, this is clearly about the West Midlands trust coming up to the very high standard that has been set by Staffordshire, not the other way round.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Is it not the case that even after any merger Staffordshire Ambulance Service will remain an autonomous locality, operating to the same methods and standards as at present, including using the LUCAS device, which aids resuscitation, and its pioneering system status management, which has put Staffordshire Ambulance Service at the top of the national ambulance tables for eight years? As my right hon. Friend says, this is about levelling performance up, not down.

The Prime Minister: I assure my hon. Friend that that is precisely what it is about. She is absolutely right in saying that the purpose is to get the synergy that is there from the merger, but at the same time to lift the standard of West Midlands up to that of Staffordshire. She is also right in saying that the location issue will be very important and has been properly dealt with. In addition, thanks to the investment that we are putting in, Staffordshire PCT has had an increase in funding of about 20 per cent., which will help the ambulance service to maintain its very high standards.


Q6. [123710] Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Last month, unemployment in Wellingborough increased yet again. At the end of last year, it was higher than it was at the end of 1997. Who should my constituents hold responsible—the Chancellor or the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: As a matter of fact, my understanding is that as a result of the strength of the economy nationally, the economy in Wellingborough is doing extremely well, and we have more jobs in Wellingborough.

As we are on the subject of Wellingborough, the hon. Gentleman may recall that last week in Prime Minister’s Question Time he asked me about Kettering general hospital’s new £18 million treatment centre and suggested that it was not going to open. Let me tell him that it opened this Monday. It is an £18 million investment and another example of our commitment to Wellingborough.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that amid the generally encouraging trends in crime, attacks on those who replenish cash machines are rising? That organised criminal activity, which often harms those who are carrying out their work delivering cash and puts
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customers at risk, needs to be substantially reduced. Will he join me in calling for measures to do that?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend’s point is absolutely right and valid, and I understand that police forces in different parts of the country are now focusing a strategy particularly on cash machines and how people can be robbed at them. Where that strategy—which often involves CCTV and community support officers—is put in place, the offence has been sharply reduced. We are therefore trying to collate that good practice and spread it across the country, as that specific form of robbery has risen over the past few years. The measures show, however, that it can be dealt with if the right system is put in place.

Q7. [123711] Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Given the increasing cost of the Olympics, does the Prime Minister share the concern of London council tax payers, particularly pensioners, about the Olympic levy and those rising costs? If so, what is he going to do about it?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, it is important that the Olympic delivery authority will publish its budget in the next few weeks, and that we keep costs properly under control. The Olympics will do an immense amount for London and the whole country. It will be a huge investment in the future of this country and a wonderful showcase. People of whatever age, whether youngsters or pensioners, in whatever part of the country, should be extremely thankful that we have the Olympics. We should make the investment necessary and ensure that the Olympics in 2012 is—as we believe that it will be—the greatest sporting event on earth.

Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): The Government have rightly prioritised tackling antisocial behaviour. Last year, in Greater Manchester alone, 26,000 complaints were made against so-called mini-motos. Nationally, they are responsible for 40 per cent. of complaints about nuisance. On Friday, the House will consider proposals to regulate those dangerous machines. Why are the Government not supporting those proposals?

The Prime Minister: I am not aware of the specific point that my hon. Friend raises about regulations, and I am happy to look into that. My understanding is that as a result of antisocial behaviour measures taken in different parts of the country where mini-motos have been a problem, those vehicles can be lifted away and, if necessary, destroyed. He is right that the new antisocial behaviour legislation has been used vigorously by the local council in Manchester, as elsewhere, to make a great difference to people’s lives. I would not want anything to impede our ability to deal properly with disturbance caused by mini-motos. I will look into the matter and get back to him.

Q8. [123712] Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): When the Prime Minister launched his crusade against gun crime, he must have known that three times as many people are killed by knives as by guns. Why is he ignoring knife crime? Furthermore, 10 years on, what has happened to his promise to be tough on the causes of crime?

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The Prime Minister: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. As well as tackling gun crime, we are introducing tougher sentences for the possession of knives as illegal weapons. It will be more interesting to see whether the Liberal Democrats support those proposals, as they usually oppose any tough measures on law and order.

I entirely agree that we need to deal with the causes of crime. That is the reason for Sure Start, the inner-city regeneration programmes, our great investment in schools, the introduction of extended school days and the use of school facilities for voluntary groups and others. We are doing an immense amount on that. In respect of both crime and its causes, we are being commensurately tough.

Q9. [123713] Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): My constituency has recently seen an upsurge in the amount of public underage drinking, which has led to antisocial behaviour and worse. The police are doing what they can, and my local newspaper is running a campaign aimed at reducing that blight on the lives of many of my constituents and people across the country. Will my right hon. Friend join me in commending the “Cork It!” campaign of The Falkirk Herald? The Prime Minister: I am happy to support the “Cork It!” campaign of The Falkirk Herald, and I agree that that is a real issue, but I know that the Scottish Executive have a strong plan to deal with it using antisocial behaviour legislation that is very similar to that which we have in the rest of the United Kingdom. This again shows that crime and disorder are very important issues for people out on the doorstep. They want to make sure that in their local community people are behaving properly, and I therefore give my full backing to the campaign of The Falkirk Herald.

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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Later today, the House will debate the national Offender Management Bill. In the consultation leading up to its publication, 96 per cent. of respondents said that they were against the new service. That was said across the piece, by knowledgeable people and organisations including the National Association of Probation Officers and the prison officers. My question therefore is: what was the purpose of the consultation—and how much did that exercise cost the taxpayer?

The Prime Minister: The purpose is, obviously, to find out what people think about this, but let me just tell the hon. Gentleman— [Interruption.] Before he shakes his head, the hon. Gentleman should listen to the answer. In the voluntary sector, for example, organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which has a long record of handling some of the most difficult offenders, the voluntary organisation authorities themselves, the chief executive of Crime Concern, Turning Point, the Rainer Foundation and the chief executive of the association of voluntary organisations are all saying something that we all probably know from our own constituencies: sometimes the voluntary sector can be better at rehabilitating, and dealing with, some of the worst offenders in society. All we are saying is that where that can be shown to be the case, why not use the voluntary sector and the independent sector to reduce reoffending?

We have put a large amount of additional money into probation and more probation officers, but we believe that we can get the best deal possible if we have a partnership between the public and the voluntary sector. That is why I say, with the greatest respect, that if people really want to tackle reoffending in our society they should support the Bill tonight.

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