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The Prime Minister:
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says at all. The fact is that if Saddam Hussein had been able to acquire fissile material, it would have allowed him to develop nuclear weapons. That is correct. The one thing that we know is that he was somebody who used, not nuclear, but chemical and
biological weapons against his own people. So, let me just say to the hon. Gentleman, some people may take the view that Saddam was not a threat; that is not my view. He was a threat and we dealt with him.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On 20 May, a constituent of mine, Sir Richard Knowles, will celebrate his 90th birthday. Dick Knowles became the leader of Birmingham city council in 1984. Despite a Tory Government who did not believe in investing in our cities, he changed the face of that city. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Dick Knowles on his birthday, and will he share my hope that the weak and indecisive leadership that we are currently experiencing in Birmingham will soon come to an end?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. Let me join her in wishing Dick Knowles all the best on his 90th birthday. He did an immense amount for Birmingham. The work that he did is one of the reasons why Birmingham is such a thriving and successful European city today.
Mr. Cameron: Two years ago, the Prime Minister told us that he would serve a full third term. Yesterday, he said that he would be off in weeks. He has told us who is going to wear the crown; can he tell us who wielded the knife?
The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about leadership and candidates, I certainly will not be following his example regarding the Mayor of London. I can assure him that the person I will be backing for the leadership of the Labour party will at least be a member of the Labour party.
Mr. Cameron: Why is the Prime Minister so coy? Why will he not tell us a bit about the man who will be our Prime Minister and how that man managed to get the better of him? Given that the Prime Minister said that he would serve a full third term, does that mean that when he walks out of No. 10 Downing street, this Parliament is at an end, or was that the last of his broken promises?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman asks me to tell him something about my right hon. Friend, I will tell him about what we have achieved together over these past 10 years: economic stability through the independence of the Bank of England; record investment in public services; better maternity leave and maternity pay; more support for pensioners; the repeal of section 28; a ban on tobacco advertising; the climate change levy; and, of course, the minimum wage. What do they all have in common? The right hon. Gentlemans party voted against them.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my growing concern about the seeming acceptability of taking cannabis and the fact that it can lead to mental health problems? Does he know how to grow ones own dopeplant a Scottish nationalist?
One part of the Governments modernisation programme that is proving very popular with older people is bus passes for the over-60s. Is the Prime Minister aware that Lib Dem authorities such as Teignbridge are meeting that command, while the Tory mayor of Torbay and the Tory council of East Devon are denying older people the freedom to travel across Devon? Will the Prime Minister tell us which is right, and will he ask his successor to ensure that funding is available so that the scheme can continue
The Prime Minister: First, I should thank the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to what we are doing for pensioners. I have some other things to add that the Liberal Democrats have posted on their website about the Governments record over the past 10 years. They have given the
Blair/Brown years...4 out of 10
stability for the economy. A Foreign Policy with an ethical dimension
historic modernisation of our political system
with the creation of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly.
After initially sticking to Tory spending limits, investment in Britains dilapidated public services started. The fruits of that investment can now be seen. In the NHS
more staff, reduced waiting lists, better care in...areas such as cancer. In Education a schools building programme, better paid teachers, more books, and better equipment.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I know that my right hon. Friend is an enthusiast of both education and football, so may I draw his attention to the Aces scheme in my constituency, which is a partnership between West Bromwich Albion football club, local schools and the local authority that has raised academic standards by an estimated 9 per cent. over the past two years and is funded by the neighbourhood renewal fund? Will he make an undertaking to monitor that scheme and see what potential it has to be rolled out in other historically deprived educational areas?
The Prime Minister: I echo the congratulations that my hon. Friend gave to the scheme, and I thank West Bromwich Albion and all those other partners for the work that they are doing. It is important to recogniseand I have seen this for myself, for example, in the new facilities that are very close to West Bromwich Albion itselfthat there has been a massive increase in regeneration in our inner-city areas, which is why it is important that we keep that funding going. Good use has been made of it, and it is producing better facilities and it has reduced levels of deprivation. I entirely support his congratulations to those involved in that scheme.
Q4.  Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): In 1997, the Prime Minister said that one of the reasons why people elected a Labour Government was their concern that the NHS was failing them and their families. [ Laughter.]
the present state of childrens services in Leeds is not fit for purpose and we are anxious about the continuing safety of children in hospital.
May I ask the Prime Minister in the dying days of his premiership whether that is his NHS legacy in Leeds, or will he, before he goes, promise the people of Leeds that they will at last get the much needed childrens hospital that was approved in 2004 and shelved in 2007?
The Prime Minister: I wonder whether that was a planted question, because the NHS legacy is more staff. In the hon. Gentlemans area, there have been 31,000 more NHS staff, including 7,000 more nurses, and there are reduced waiting liststhe number of people waiting over six months has fallen dramatically. In relation to the childrens hospital, yes, we are committed to that extra investment in the health service, but he should know that, for example, in Making it Better, there was a request for Leeds MPs to come along to a meeting, but he did not attend, which does not say a great deal for him.
The Prime Minister: If it is not correct, I apologise entirely, but I am also told that the hon. Gentleman had two meetings arranged with the chief executive of the strategic health authority which he has cancelled, too.
Rev. Ian Paisley:
The Prime Minister will be aware that yesterday, we had a visit in Northern Ireland from the President of the European Commission. At that meeting, the President made an announcement that he
was instituting a taskforce to look into Northern Irelands position regarding the money that comes from Europe, and also to help new industry. Will the Prime Minister join me and the people of Northern Ireland in welcoming that announcement, and will he give us a promise today, before he leaves office, that he will back it all the way?
The Prime Minister: I understand the importance of the visit by the President of the European Commission, which was made partly in direct response to a request from the right hon. Gentleman. I can assure him that I will fully back whatever the Commission does to support investment and industry in Northern Ireland.
Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): A company called Whipp and Bourne, which is one of the countrys largest manufacturers and exporters of switchgear, announced this week that it is to close, with the loss of 200 exceptionally well skilled jobs. The rumour is that the company may be intending to move to China or India. How can the Government encourage companies like Whipp and Bourne, first, to remain in my constituency, and, secondly to remain in the UK? I am meeting the trade unions on Friday, and I would like to give them some hope.
The Prime Minister: First, we should extend our sympathy to those who have lost their jobs and been made redundant as a result of the decision that the company has taken. It is difficult for us to prevent companies from deciding to relocate. The best thing that we can do for business and industry is to keep our economy strong, improve the levels of investment in skills, and make sure, as we now do, that where major redundancies are announced, we provide proper structured help for those who are made redundant. Where we can, of course, we also encourage companies to keep their location here in this country. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to discuss those possibilities with the Department of Trade and Industry. It is an unfortunate fact here and round the world that companies are highly mobile. The most important thing, however, is to keep the economy sufficiently strong so that we are always generating new jobs.
Q5.  Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Yes, it is me again, Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister please use his final weeks in office to secure the release of the hostages Alan Johnston and Corporal Gilad Shalit, working together with the Palestinian Authority? I believe that that will secure a way forward for peace in the middle east.
The Prime Minister:
I am sorry that Alan Johnston and, in a different context, Corporal Shalit are still kept as hostages. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that their release would make a big difference in the middle east. In respect of Alan Johnston, there is no conceivable reason for him to be kept. He was a journalist doing his job out there. There have also been many calls from Palestinian leaders and Palestinian journalists for his release, and we continue to do everything we can to facilitate that. The hon. Gentleman is also right to say, in respect of Corporal Shalit, that his release would allow a whole series of
things to happen, not least releases of Palestinian prisoners, and other things that would allow us to move the situation forward. There continues to be nothing more urgent than the middle east.
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the efforts being made by the Welsh Assembly under Labour to promote social enterprise and co-operative initiatives? Does he agree that economic and social development in Wales depends on a continuation of the strong partnership between the House of Commons and the Assembly, both under Labour? Will he encourage people to fear the dangers of a negative nexus of nationalists and Conservatives?
The Prime Minister: When we look at the large investment in Wales and the tremendous strength of the Welsh economythe action that has been taken by the Welsh Executive under the leadership of Rhodri Morgan has been essential in that I should have thought that that is infinitely preferable to the ragbag strange coalition between the Conservative party and nationalists.
Q6.  Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Today, Mrs. Ogg retires as sub-postmistress after 30 years service in the post office in Laurencekirk. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating her on her retirement, and ensure that when the Department of Trade and Industry announces the future of the Post Office, her successor enjoys the same success as he hopes his successor will?
The Prime Minister: Of course I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Mrs. Ogg on her service and the work that she has done over the years. I point out that it is a result of this Government that we have managed to invest about £2 billion in the post office network. We know that for all the reasons that are understandable it is still subject to intense pressure, but I hope very much that the successor in that post office is able to continue and make sure that the post office has a viable future, but it must be viable within the subsidy that we are able to give.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for visiting my constituency a few weeks ago [Interruption.] Opposition Members might consider this to be important. My right hon. Friend visited my constituency to review projects for local people who are suffering major change following the collapse of MG Rover a couple of years ago. Will he assure me that that support, particularly for community infrastructure, will continue? Does he agree that ongoing support from Government year in, year out for local communities facing change is vital, rather unlike what we experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s?
The Prime Minister:
There has been a big change in the way in which we deal with situations in which there are large numbers of redundancies. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done in respect of the collapse of Rover, as that was an important part of our bringing together all the different partners. We made a
big investment from Government and, as I saw for myself when I visited his constituency, a large proportion of those people have now found alternative work and employment. An immense amount of effort has gone in, and I think that that is what a modern welfare state is aboutnot trying to pretend that we can stop companies closing if they are not profitable or a decision is made to relocate them, but getting underneath the work force and supporting them in their desire to achieve new work and be able to cope with the process of that redundancy. That has been immensely successful in relation to MG Rover, and I pay tribute to everyone engaged in it.
Q7.  Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Recent court decisions have left us in the extraordinary position that the Government can neither deport nor detain dangerous foreign terrorists. These decisions flow directly from the Human Rights Act 1998. As it is within the power of this House to amend the Act and within the power of the Government to file a derogation from the European convention, why does the Prime Minister not introduce amending legislation so that this situation can be remedied?
The Prime Minister: Because it is not the problem. The problem is the European convention on human rights. The reason why there is a problem is the court case, I think in 1996, in relation toI think I am right in saying thisthose who were alleged to be engaged in terrorism in respect of India at the time. As a result of that caseI think it is called the Chahal casethis difficulty has been created. We are trying to get that decision overturned in respect of the European Court of Human Rights, and it is essential that we do so, because where I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman is that we cannot have a situation in which people come to this country and engage in acts of terrorism, inciting terrorism or encouraging terrorism, and then we are told that we cannot deport them back to their own country, even with a memorandum of understanding with that country, when they simply say, We may be mistreated when we go back there, despite what they are doing here. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing about it. What we are doing is trying to get that decision overturned. It is not correct, however, that it comes about as a result of domestic legislation. It comes about as a result of that case, decided under the last Government and under the European convention on human rights.
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