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The Prime Minister:
I understand that the review will report in the summer. No, we cannot make it a
cross-party review as such, but we are perfectly happy to listen any ideas put forward by Opposition parties or, indeed, by anyone else. If I can come back to the nub of the issue, when the right hon. Gentleman says that it is only a £30 million cost in the first year, that is correct, but it then builds up over time, so our worry is that we would end up with an unfunded commitment that runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. If we accepted the amendments today, I think that I am right in saying the full cost would be £2.48 billion. We simply cannot responsibly make such a commitment until we know whether we can fund it. That, with the greatest respect, is the difference between being in opposition and being in government.
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): Is the Prime Minister aware of the major disruption that will occur in NHS hospitals in Northern Ireland and in parts of Britain, too, on 1 August next, following the introduction of the hospital doctor training programme known as modernising medical careers? Will he advise the Secretary of State for Health to postpone the programme for a year until the administrative problems are sorted out?
The Prime Minister: Yes, we are aware of those problems, which is precisely why the review was announced, as we want to make sure that this happens in a better way for next year. I understand entirely both the complexities of the system that has been introduced and the need to make sure that it accords properly with the needs of the health care system in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. I would point out, however, that as a result of the measures that we have taken in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, there has been a huge increase in the number of junior doctors, a 70 per cent. increase, I think, in the number of training places and, of course, pay has gone up in real terms by 30 per cent.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence. This is a bleak and sombre day. He will be aware that nurses leaders are threatening strike action in relation to the Chancellors pay offer. Can he explain why nurses in England and Wales are not getting their full increase up front?
The Prime Minister: For the reasons that the Chancellor gave. To make sure that we deal with the overall issue of pay in the economy, it is important that we stage the awards. However, on average, as I understand it, there will be an over 4 per cent. increase for nurses. May I point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that when we came to office, pay was just over £12,000 for nurses starting out in their profession? It is now almost £20,000, so there has been a huge real-terms increase in nurses pay over the past 10 years. Incidentally, there has been an 85,000 increase in the number of nurses, too. I entirely understand why staging an award is never popular, but in this instance it is necessary.
Sir Menzies Campbell:
It is not just pay that is at issue in the national health service. Newly qualified nurses cannot get jobs; nursing assistants will be hit by the Chancellors abolition of the 10p tax rate; and
junior doctors are up in arms. Is it any wonder that the Government have lost the confidence of health care workers and of their patients?
The Prime Minister: If we look back over the past 10 years, we can see that the publication, for example, in the past few weeks of the annual winter report on the NHS was instructive. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that in the last years of the Conservative Governmenteven, indeed, in the first years of this Governmentevery single winter there was a winter crisis. There has not been one for several years, because of the extra investment and the extra capacity. [Hon. Members: Warmer winters?] No. If we look at waiting times, investment in the national health service, the treatment of cancer and cardiac disease, and accident and emergency departments, the truth is that the patient is getting a better deal in the national health service today, precisely because of the investment and reform that we have put in.
Q3.  Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Prime Minister please join me in sending condolences to the family of Eden Galvani-Skeete, a beautiful six-year-old girl who burned to death in Turkey last summer, and assist the family in getting justice from the Turkish authorities and ensuring that those responsible are brought to trial?
The Prime Minister: I am sure that the whole House will want to join the hon. Gentleman in sending our condolences to Edens family. I understand that the deputy head of mission and British vice-consul at our embassy called the Minister at the Turkish Ministry of Tourism on 8 February to raise our concern about the general safety of British nationals in such unsupervised shows. The Turkish authorities have started legal proceedings against some members of staff at the hotel complex. The next hearing is scheduled for 8 May. Consular staff in London have remained in contact with the Galvani-Skeete family and are keeping them updated with any news from the court case in Turkey. We will continue to do that up to and all the way through the proceedings.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Last Sunday, on the BBC politics programme, the Prime Minister gave an excellent summary of the myriad benefits delivered by our Governments domestic policies since 1997, but I was alarmed by his assertion that all English secondary schools should soon become academies or trust schools. If he comes to North-West Leicestershire before late June, will he meet the governors of Ibstock community college to tell us why an excellent, accessible, genuinely comprehensive school should pursue this policy path and risk distancing ourselves from the local community or being taken over for a knock-down price by the richest local bidder?
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about our record on education. It is true, for example, that when we came to power there were only just over 80 secondary schools in the whole country with 70 per cent. of pupils getting five good GCSEs; the figure is now more than 600. The reason why I believe that in future most secondary schools, or all secondary schools, will become trust or academy schoolsit is a choice, of courseis that they benefit from these partnerships. In doing so, academy and trust schools remain with a fully comprehensive intake. Indeed, academy schools have a higher percentage of pupils taking free school meals than the average secondary school. We have increased results dramatically since 1997 partly because of the ability to have partnerships with outside bodies. Specialist schools were the first step in that. At the time, people said that they would spell the end of the comprehensive system; they did not. Of course, my hon. Friend has four excellent specialist schools in his own constituency.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): When it comes to who should be the next Prime Minister, the Environment Secretary has now ruled himself out, so will the Prime Minister now explicitly endorse the Chancellor?
The Prime Minister: I am afraid that once again I have to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman and others, because I will make my statement at the time I decide to stand down. However, I would say that after yesterdays debate, and the absolute and comprehensive drubbing that the Chancellor gave the Tory Front Bench, he should be rather more worried about the leadership potential on his side of the House.
Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister thinks the Chancellor did such a good job, why did not he turn up and vote for him? Was he too busy? I am not asking the Prime Minister to say anything new. Before the coup last year, he said:
Im absolutely happy that Gordon will be my successor.
The Prime Minister: For the very reasons that I have just given. What the right hon. Gentleman, and the Conservative party, will have learned from yesterdays debate is that when it comes to serious policy on the economy, on health, on education and on law and order, we have the serious answers to the serious questions, and he is not at the races.
Mr. Cameron: The interesting thing is that the Prime Minister will not endorse the Chancellor. We know why we do not want the Chancellorhe has complicated the tax system and virtually bankrupted the pensions system, he is impossible to work with and he never says sorry. That is why we do not want himwhat does the Prime Minister think is wrong with him?
The Prime Minister:
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is right with the Chancellor. The right hon. Gentleman has some experience of the economy, has he not? He had something to do with the British economy once, back in 1992, did he not? He was the
special adviser to the Chancellor of the timewe remember Black Wednesday.
The Chancellor has delivered the strongest economic growth that this country has ever seen, interest rates that are half what they were under the previous Conservative Government, the highest employment, the lowest unemployment for years and rising living standards. What has the right hon. Gentleman delivered for the British economy? A bit part on Black Wednesday.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): The council tax in Scotland raises just over £2 billion. Increasing income tax by 3p in the pound would raise £1 billion. That would leave a shortfall of more than £1 billion. Does my right hon. Friend agree that introducing such a scheme would lead to massive cuts in public services or tax hikes in unforeseen areas?
The Prime Minister: The policy, which we will not adopt, of replacing the council tax in Scotland with a rise of 3p in the pound in the basic rate of income tax means thatapart from the shortfall in the money, which would leave public services short of several hundred million poundsa two-earner couple in a household, or, even worse, a three-earner household, would be hit heavily by a local income tax. That is why it is such a bad idea and why I believe that people will reject that policy on 3 May.
Q5.  Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Under this Government, millions of innocent people have been added to the DNA database, which is the largest in the world. People are locked up without trial for 28 daysthe Prime Minister wanted 90 days. Free speech outside Parliament has been banned, children are routinely fingerprinted in schools and there are plans to curb trial by jury and force ID cards on us. Yet, last year, the Prime Minister said:
I dont want to live in a police state or a Big Brother society or put any of our essential freedoms in jeopardy.
The Prime Minister: I gather from that rant that the hon. Gentleman is not entirely in favour of my position on those issues. I caught at least part of it, about the DNA database. Let me explain why it is an important policy for the country and for fighting crime. As a result of the DNA database, we can now match samples, sometimes several hundred and even several thousand a month. Consequently, we are solving murders, rapes and some of the most serious burglaries and assaults. It is essential to use new technology, such as CCTV and other things, to ensure that we make our country safer. The idea that, by doing thatand thereby, for example, solving some of the unsolved murders from years agowe are creating a police state shows how far the Liberal Democrats are out of touch with reality.
Q6.  Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): With the ever-increasing rise in house values, the prospect of further interest rate increases and the Halifax telling us that it is difficult for key workers to find homes in some of our towns, will the Prime Minister assure me that the Government are doing all that they can to ensure that key workers, young people and first-time buyers can get on the property ladder without incurring punitive and potentially dangerous levels of borrowing?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises a crucial issue for the country. It is interesting that his constituency in the Wirral shows that it is not simply a problem of London and the south-east. We have to do three things: invest more in social housing, which we are doing; improve the availability of shared equity schemes, since I think that they will be of great help, especially to young couples buying their first home; but also make available land for development. The simple truth is that, unless we are prepared to make more land available for development and build the homes that people need, prices will be even higher. It is obvious that many young couples are finding it a tremendous struggle to get their feet on the first rungs of the housing ladder, but we cannot solve that unless we are prepared to make the difficult decisions about housing supply.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): May I associate myself and my Friends on these Benches with the remarks already made from both Front Benches about those who have given their lives for our freedom? May I also ask the Prime Minister whether he is going to come to the opening of the new Assembly to mark the new regime that is going to come into order on 8 May? That is a firm date that is not going to be changed, because the people of Ulsternot any of his Ministershave set it in stone. Although it will be the birthday of his hard-working Home Secretary, I am not asking him to come and celebrate that in Northern Ireland. I am asking him to join the Northern Ireland people to mark the fact that that part of the United Kingdom is going to have a Government in the same way as Wales and Scotland have. It is his duty as Prime Minister to be there, after all the work that he has done on this matter.
The Prime Minister: It is not absolutely universal, in my experience, that people actually want me to visit that particular part of the country, but I thank the right hon. Gentleman very kindly for his invitation. Certainly, we have it well in mind.
7.  Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the nurses, doctors and other health professionals in my constituency whose hard work and dedication have contributed to a 37 per cent. fall in mortality rates from heart disease since 1997? Assuming that he agrees with me that that is also due to the sustained rise in investment in the NHS, will he guarantee today not to threaten that investment by an irresponsible policy of sharing the proceeds of economic growth between tax cuts and public spending?
The Prime Minister: The point that my hon. Friend makes is correct, in the sense that the winter report that I mentioned a moment ago shows that the number of cancelled operations has gone down in the past few years by about 30 per cent., and that the rates have hugely improved for people being seen quickly for cancer treatment and in accident and emergency departments. It is also truethis is something that even the Conservatives apparently do not realise any morethat we need to make changes and reforms in the way that the health service works. The report published today by Professor Darzi shows clearly that, as a result of the changes in the NHS, we are moving towards a system in which more care is done in the community and in which the number of day cases has risen by about 1.5 million a year. People can now often get day-case surgery when previously they would have had to spend days in hospital. We are therefore having to change the health care system; that is inevitable. If we manage to carry on making these improvements, by the end of next year the constituents of my hon. Friend and others will have a maximum wait of 18 weeks for diagnostic, out-patient and in-patient treatment, with an average wait of eight weeks. That will be a fundamental change from what we inherited in 1997, when people often had to wait 18 months or more just on the in-patient list.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Following the Prime Ministers last answer on housing, is he aware that official figures show that, over the 10 years of this Labour Government, average earnings across Britain have gone up by 41 per cent., while average house prices have gone up 169 per cent.more than four times as much? Is not the truth that, for the millions of people in terrible housing debt, and for those who are not even able to get on to the housing ladder at all, one fundamental thing has not changed
The Prime Minister: It is correct to say that living standards have gone up, and that house prices have gone up significantly. I agree with that, but the answer, as I said a moment ago, is that we must be prepared to release more land for development and to do more brownfield development, which this Government are doing. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman and to the Liberal Democrats, we cannot have a situation in which the Liberal Democrats say that there should be more housing, while locally opposing every development that is proposed. In the end, they, like the Conservatives, have to understand that if the Government want to deal with these problems, hard decisions have to be taken, and the truth is that we take them.
9.  Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): What is the Prime Ministers response to the campaign by speeding motorists against the £15 surcharge on court fines that has been imposed on them to finance services for victims of crime?
The Prime Minister: That surcharge is paying for a whole range of victim and witness services. It is providing some £3 million for witness care units, and some £3 million for independent domestic violence advisers. If victims feel more comfortable about giving evidence in court, they will be more likely to secure the convictions of those who are guilty. One reason why we have significantly lowered levels of domestic violence is the fact that we are giving more support to people who need to bring such cases to court. The surcharge, although controversial at the time of its imposition, is yet another example of a difficult decision that was fully justified.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Is the Prime Minister aware of the widespread hospital closures throughout Wales? Is he also aware that the British Medical Association in Wales has called for an independent review of the working of the Barnett formula to establish whether Wales is being short-changed, as many of us believe it is?
While the Prime Minister ponders that, may I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and warmly invite him to visit Wales as many times as he can between now and 3 May? His presence there will dramatically affect voting patterns.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman says that we have been cutting NHS investment in Wales. Actually, we have increased NHS investment in Wales enormously. Ten new hospital schemes are coming to Wales, and waiting times have shortened. People receive vastly improved treatment and receive it faster, and they receive it precisely because of the investment that a strong economy has allowed us to deliver. The truth of the matter is that the policies of the hon. Gentlemans partywell, the leader of the Welsh Nationalist party wants to form a coalition with the Tories, does he not? [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: Yes! I remember now! The hon. Gentleman wants to join in a ragbag coalition with the Tories. Well, if he thinks the people of Wales believe that the Tories are better than us at running the national health service, it is he who will be worried on 3 May.
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