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25 Apr 2007 : Column 934

The Prime Minister: Let us nail down the issue of 80 per cent., 90 per cent. or 100 per cent. I am sure that we would all like to give everyone 100 per cent. of what they want all the time, but it has to be paid for. Even with a payment of £8 billion, we can only afford as much as 80 per cent. We are prepared to look at any measures, and we have looked at the Treasury loan idea. Having looked at it, we do not think that it is a suitable or correct way to try to provide that help. In the end, it all has to be paid back. It is like the right hon. Gentleman’s policy on unclaimed assets. We are happy to look at the issue and in the next few months we will report on it, but I cannot make promises to people on the basis of some unspecified Treasury loan that would have to be paid back or the idea that there is a pot of gold lying about in bank accounts, building society accounts or pension fund accounts that we can lift up and give to people. Life does not work like that.

Mr. Cameron: I do not think that the Prime Minister understands the point. Many of those people have reached retirement age. Some of them, such as my constituent John Brookes—who is 67, has leukaemia and paid into a company pension scheme for 40 years —are desperately in need of the money. Given that the Government have said that he will get 80 per cent. of his money anyway, why not use a Treasury loan and start the payments now?

The Prime Minister: That would have a financial consequence, which we would have to meet. I am totally sympathetic to the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent and to others, and it is only under this Government that any help has been available to people in those circumstances. I am happy to correspond with the right hon. Gentleman about the problems with the Treasury loan idea. What I will not do is say to his constituent or any others that I will promise something unless I am sure that we can actually deliver it within the financial means that the Government have.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the cuts to the voluntary sector by Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham council? Our local law centre has been cut by 60 per cent. and organisations helping refugees, the homeless and the unemployed have been cut by 100 per cent. I thought that the Tories claimed to support the voluntary sector: can he explain what is going on?

The Prime Minister: What is happening is a metaphor for what would happen with a Conservative Government. Having said that they would support the maintenance of services, the Tories have instituted some £34 million of cuts in those services, which are having a damaging effect on some of the most vulnerable people in my hon. Friend’s constituency. People should understand that when they come to vote on 3 May.

Q4. [133607] Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Why is it that my constituents in the London borough of Bexley face cuts and the downgrading of NHS services of locally? Who does the
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Prime Minister think is responsible for that, and perhaps he will give an answer for which we would be grateful?

The Prime Minister: I do not believe that in the hon. Gentleman’s area health services are being degraded or downgraded. In fact, in the strategic health authority that covers his area there has been an investment of about £1.7 billion; there have been 27 LIFT—local improvement finance trust—schemes for primary care premises; there are about 16,000 more nurses and 2,500 more consultants. It is true—and I understand the problem in his area—that people are changing the way in which services are delivered, but that is for a very good reason that affects many constituencies, and I truly believe that the Conservative party has taken the wrong position. The reason services are being changed and reconfigured is that they are becoming more and more specialised, and it helps patients if they can gain access to more specialist services. That is not being driven by cost-cutting, because the NHS is receiving billions of pounds more. It is being driven by the fact that we have a changing health care system in a changing world.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): In a most excellent report published today, Lord Lofthouse highlights the scandal of overpaid solicitors double-charging miners. Will the Prime Minister get the Department of Trade and Industry to write to every miner and miner’s widow who has put in a claim to highlight both the scheme’s success in paying out compensation and the way in which people can make a complaint to the Law Society if they have been doubled-charged by their solicitor?

The Prime Minister: I entirely understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. Lord Lofthouse’s report is obviously very important, and I will certainly ask the DTI to look into his suggestion about how that is taken forward. As a result of the action that has already been taken, about £100 million of fees have been taken back from law firms. However, I would like to emphasise one thing: as a result of the measures that we have taken, we have paid out over £3 billion in miners’ compensation. I believe that for those who used to work down the mines and for mining communities that is something that would only ever have happened under a Labour Government.

Q5. [133608] Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): In 1999, the Prime Minister made a personal pledge that within two years everybody would have access to an NHS dentist, regardless of where they lived. Eight years later, according to the British Dental Association, less than 50 per cent. of the adult population of this country is registered with an NHS dentist. In my own constituency, no dentists are currently taking on NHS patients. When does he expect that promise to be fulfilled?

The Prime Minister: It is, and has been, a real problem, and I entirely accept that. The reason is very simple: even though we have increased the number of NHS dentists, we cannot stop dentists going outside the NHS if they wish to do so. They are entitled to do so, and despite the fact that we are paying dentists far
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more and hiring far more of them in the NHS, we have not been able to fulfil that pledge. The majority of people can access an NHS dentist in their area if they want to do so, but the figure is not 100 per cent.—I accept that. Ultimately, that will be dealt with only by increasing still further the number of NHS dentists, and that is what we intend to do.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recently published crime statistics for London are thanks, at least in part, to the commitment that the Mayor of London has shown to safer neighbourhood teams? Does he agree, too, that local authorities have a part to play in fighting crime, but that it has hardly been played well by my local Liberal council in Islington, which, despite its recently trumpeted installation of CCTV cameras, has installed fewer cameras in the whole borough than Ken Livingstone has installed at Angel tube station?

The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to the work of the police, the Mayor of London and the local authorities that have used the powers and resources available to them. The other thing to which my hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention is the fact that crime in London, particularly violent crime, has fallen significantly. That is extremely important, but she is right, too, in saying that a major reason for that is the neighbourhood policing teams and antisocial behaviour and other laws that the Government have introduced.

Q6. [133609] Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): Will the Prime Minister have a word with his further education Minister and Minister with responsibility for regeneration and European funding to ask them to block a potential £20 million of taxpayers’ money being used to relocate Dartington college from one part of the south-west region to another? That would have a devastating impact on the south Devon economy.

The Prime Minister: I am perfectly happy to look into the matter, but I shall have to correspond with the hon. Gentleman about it as I do not know the details.

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I was delighted to hear from my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Skills and for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that a video of Al Gore’s film will be released to all secondary schools. However, will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the local Conservative councillor who has taken the Government to judicial review over the decision?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) can have a word with his local councillor and bring him into line, although I wish him better luck than most party leaders on that score. However, I think that it is a very important film, and I am sure that schools will enjoy seeing it. It is both entertaining and highly informative, and it deals with one of the most important issues in our politics today.

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Q7. [133610] Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree with me and all members of this House about the need for conservation in the marine environment. The Government have published their White Paper, but, if the Prime Minister wants a legacy, does he think that it would be a good idea to give a firm commitment to introducing a marine Bill? Otherwise, could he leave a note for his successor?

The Prime Minister: As I recall, introducing a marine Bill was part of our manifesto so, given that the Parliament has not finished, we will no doubt proceed with it.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): On the theme of the marine environment, my right hon. Friend will be aware that hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage were discharged into the Firth of Forth last weekend from a plant operated for Scottish Water by the privatised water company, Thames Water. Initial investigations have raised real concerns about the stand-by procedures and contingency plans at that plant. Will he ensure that Ministers work closely with the Scottish Executive to ensure that such procedural failures cannot be repeated elsewhere in the UK? In that way, we can ensure that no other community is damaged in the way that Edinburgh and the communities around the Firth of Forth have been damaged by that incident.

The Prime Minister: I entirely support the First Minister’s decision to hold a proper inquiry into the incident. I am sure that we will learn the lessons for Scotland and the UK as a whole.

Q8. [133611] Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con): With barely two weeks to go before the Prime Minister announces the timetable for his departure, will he share with the House what his greatest regret will be when he leaves No. 10 Downing street?

The Prime Minister: Having defeated the Conservative party three times at successive general elections, I think that it is probably the hon. Gentleman who should be expressing his greatest regret, not me.

Q9. [133612] Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): A year ago, a brand new £7 million health centre opened in my constituency, and that was followed last month by the opening of a second health service facility. Together, they are transforming the primary care and community services available to my constituents. Inevitably, however, what my constituents want from the NHS is the £110 million redevelopment of North Middlesex hospital, which serves some of the most deprived communities in the country. We are nearly there, and the redevelopment is almost complete. Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to assist with the project, so that we can start the new build in June this year?

The Prime Minister: I can tell my hon. Friend that, as a result of the decision taken in February, the project to which he refers will proceed, subject to a number of conditions being met. I hope that a full and proper announcement about that project will be made shortly, but it is only one of a scheme of changes that are being made across the country. Investment in that project
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amounts to £111 million, and the new wards will provide 150 in-patient beds. The development will house a diagnostic and treatment centre, an emergency care centre and an acute critical care centre. My hon. Friend is right to say that it is part of the changing pattern of health care. In 1997, the clear majority of NHS buildings were erected before the service came into existence, but that figure is now down to 25 per cent. That is the scale of the capital investment in the NHS that this Government have made.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Will the Prime Minister think again about his ill-considered plan to break up the Home Office, which has attracted such widespread criticism? Just for a moment or two, will he cast his mind back to those halcyon days when he was shadow Home Secretary, when of course the Department had a much wider remit than it does today? Does he share my recollection that at that time both he and the Home Secretary of the day were able to discharge their respective responsibilities perfectly competently and without any undue difficulty?

The Prime Minister: That is not exactly my recollection, actually. I recall that when we came into power, after the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been Home Secretary, the average time that an asylum claim took was 20 months and the backlog was 60,000. There had been a number of category A prison escapes. Although not under him, to be fair, but under the Conservative Government, crime had doubled, so I think that I prefer our experience to his.

Q10. [133613] Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The Prime Minister will recall that DAC Peter Clarke’s speech included a reference to the leaks leading to a damaging lack of trust in intelligence. What impact does he think the unfounded allegation made by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron)—that they might be the responsibility of Ministers or civil servants—will have on trust in intelligence?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. If people have evidence, they should produce it; otherwise they should not make the allegation.

Q11. [133615] David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Over recent years, there has been a decline in the health service throughout the United Kingdom and the closure of schools, yet we see in the press today that the Government plan to spend £30 million to open an academy to teach parents to sing nursery rhymes to their children. How can the Government justify that?

The Prime Minister: At this moment in time I am loth to disagree with anything that anyone from the hon. Gentleman’s political party says. However, I cannot agree that we have cut spending on the health service or schools. I do not know the precise facts in respect of Northern Ireland, but the investment that has gone into health and education throughout the UK has been enormous. I gave a statistic about the health service a moment or two ago. More new schools have been built in this country in the past five years than were built in the previous 25. I do not know about the £30 million investment in nursery rhymes—that strikes
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me as not very likely—but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are making a huge investment in public services.

Q12. [133616] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Avon and Somerset police on making full use of the powers given to them under antisocial behaviour legislation to close 56 crack dens, which is more than have been closed anywhere in the country outside London? Does he share my astonishment that the local council is claiming credit for this, given that its controlling party voted against the legislation that made that possible?

The Prime Minister: That is a fair point. My hon. Friend talks about the record on closing crack houses. When we introduced the power, the Conservative party told us that it was a gimmick, while the Lib Dems opposed it and said that it represented an interference in people’s civil liberties. It allows local authorities to evict people from a house—

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): How come so many Labour MPs have Lib Dem councils?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman voted against these powers, did he not? He should be getting
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Liberal Democrat councils to stand up and thank the Labour Government for introducing the powers. When we next bring forward a new batch of powers, he should be voting for them, not against them.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): My constituent, Jamil el-Banna, has been held in Guantanamo Bay for more than four years without charge, without trial and without hope. The British Government claim that they cannot intervene on behalf of a non-British citizen because they have no consular locus. Does not the return of Bisher al-Rawi entirely undermine that position?

The Prime Minister: No, I do not agree. It is important that we do not take on responsibility for people in those circumstances who are not British citizens. Although we have made clear our desire to see Guantanamo close and to make sure that the people there are subject to a proper trial, it is also always important to remember that there have been real issues about them and their conduct over a period of time. The hon. Lady should remember that this arose from 11 September and Afghanistan, so I am afraid that I cannot give her the assurance she wants.

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Point of Order

12.30 pm

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Today in the Daily Post, a newspaper covering parts of north Wales, Liverpool and north-west England, a full-page campaigning advertisement for a Member of Parliament for the Welsh nationalists appeared, covering an array—

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I interrupt the hon. Lady? Has she made it known to the Member concerned that she is raising this matter today?

Mrs. Williams: It is a general point; I was not intending to name the Member, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: If the hon. Lady intends to name a Member from another party—

Mrs. Williams: I am not.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady has already mentioned the Welsh National party. She clearly stated that she was raising a matter about something that was done by another party, so it would better if she wrote to me, and I will look into the matter.

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