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The Chancellor says that he wants to see more humility in Government. Given that home information packs are opposed by almost everyone with an interest in the stability of the housing market, why does he not listen to those people?

The Deputy Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman looks back at the record on home information packs he will find that consumer groups fully supported them when I introduced them after we came to office. They made the point that they wanted the costs to be switched from buyers to sellers. Buyers already have to pay those costs, and many of them bitterly complain. They enter into arrangements to purchase a house before a contract has been produced and then find that they lose thousands of pounds in paying for things that they cannot claim for. The situation I have described does not arise in Scotland because Scotland had the courage to make the change. We have faced vested interest groups that have constantly opposed improving the lot of people moving house. However, in the end there will be a debate. There is no doubt that the energy part of the process has been improved, which is welcome, although the Conservatives will vote against it. That is another classic example of the difference between their rhetoric on the environment and what they actually do in this House.

Mr. Hague: Home information packs will not deal with the point that the right hon. Gentleman has just raised. He mentioned Scotland; he will need the votes of Scottish MPs to force this measure through here in England. The Chancellor talks about admitting to mistakes, but no one is held to account on junior doctors. He talks about boosting home ownership, yet home information packs go through. He talks about humility, but refuses to listen even to the Consumers Association. Does not that show that the Chancellor cannot be the change that this country needs, and if a new Cabinet will have the same attitude as the old, collapsing Cabinet, should we not have a general election and let the people decide?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be a bit careful about calling for a general election. I remember him doing that and getting horribly beaten—it was one of the worst results of any Tory party. Given those circumstances, he should not ask for that. This Chancellor has been responsible for an awful lot of Government policy. That has resulted in a record period in office, with us winning three elections despite all the calls for general elections that we have had.

The right hon. Gentleman points to difficulties to do with differences in view. May I ask him, as I have seen this today—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”] I just wish to make a point. I notice that the leader of his party is away today and that there has been a change of policy on grammar schools. When the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was leader, he promised that there would be one in every town. I do not know how popular this U-turn is within his party— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Some leeway is always given, especially in the current circumstances.

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The Deputy Prime Minister: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I do not know how popular this new policy is in the right hon. Gentleman’s party. Will all the Opposition Members who support it put their hands up?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Even the Deputy Prime Minister has now gone a bit too far.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): We recently celebrated the 1 millionth child being helped by Sure Start. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the many parents and children in North-East Derbyshire who have been helped by this fantastic service that it will be safeguarded for the future?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Everybody agrees that Sure Start has been a very successful service. So far, about 1 million children have benefited from it and we are on course to achieve 3,000 Sure Starts within the next few years. There has been a real improvement, and we are proud of it. The next stage in the finances involves the comprehensive spending review, which is under way. We have given assurances that we are committed to this programme and they will be followed through in that future spending commitment.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): May I express my colleagues’ support for the McCann family?

At the Labour party conference last year, the Chancellor said:

that was last year—for the creation of 100,000 new environmental jobs. Where are they?

The Deputy Prime Minister: There are considerable advantages in such jobs and plans are under way to achieve that aim. The development of new low-carbon houses and the investment in the environment that is being made will constitute a major investment in creating jobs and will change the whole economy. The commitment to the 60 per cent. of emissions target that we have set ourselves requires many of our regions to make considerable changes to their economies and development. Such changes will bring that new type of investment and a tremendous number of jobs, and we are on the way to achieving that aim. The primary purpose of my speech at last night’s John Smith lecture was to make precisely that point. Major changes are happening, and they are coming about because of climate change. Along with any kind of industrial revolution comes jobs.

Dr. Cable: The answer to my specific question is that this was an attempt to imitate the Conservative leader’s undoubted talent for coming up with environmentally friendly but empty soundbites. Another soundbite that we heard this week was the proposal for eco new towns. Why does it make sense to provide tax breaks for developers to build on greenbelt land, when 25 million householders who want to improve energy efficiency and the quality and quantity of housing have to pay full value added tax rates?

The Deputy Prime Minister: There is no doubt that the hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but it is not a question of building on the green belt. The record
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of this Government since 1997 shows that we have transferred a lot of house building on to brownfield sites. The figure for such building was about 50 per cent. under the Tories when they left office; it is now 72 per cent., which is a considerable change. We are looking at the example of China and working with the Sustainable Development Commission on how to move away from the motorway cities into which Birmingham and Leeds have developed, for example, and to develop instead new types of cities and sustainable growth. That is the challenge and we are working hard on it. I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of the lecture that I gave last night, which, as I said, was about precisely this issue.

I take this move on the environment as perhaps being a leadership bid. According to today’s edition of The Times, half of Lib Dem voters want a new leader. Perhaps the time has come to pass the heavy mantle of leadership on to a younger man. The hon. Gentleman might bring true youth and vitality to the role—by the way, I congratulate him on reaching 64 last week.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his expressions of sympathy and support for my constituents Kate and Gerry McCann, who are in Portugal, and their family. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that what has happened to the McCann family is every parent’s worst nightmare? Will he join me in expressing the thanks of the House and of this country for the support of the authorities and people of Portugal in their efforts to find Madeleine, and will he express the hope that their efforts will be rewarded by success as quickly as possible?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The whole House will agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is indeed every parent’s nightmare, and like everyone in the country, we hope and pray for the safe return of Madeleine. We are doing everything that we can to support the McCanns in Portugal. The Foreign Office has been actively involved, the Leicester police are involved and we are doing everything that we possibly can to assist Madeleine’s parents in this most difficult situation. The investigation is of course the responsibility of the Portuguese police, but our people are assisting where they feel that that is necessary. The right hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) and I will meet Madeleine’s relatives at about 1.15 pm, and I will express what I know is the full feeling of this House in these difficult circumstances.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend visited Ellesmere Port last year, he saw some wonderful new school developments built under this Government. He also visited West Cheshire college, which is on the site of his old secondary school. He will be interested to know that the college is going to expand in order to increase the opportunities for young people in my constituency. During the last few weeks of his time in office, will he ensure that he does all that he can to promote the development of the college’s next phase, and to ensure that the architecture is of the standard that we have come to expect?

Hon. Members: Yes.

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The Deputy Prime Minister: Thank you. Anybody else want to give the answer?

We have had a huge investment in our education system which nobody doubts. There are arguments sometimes about value for money, but an announcement was made in the last two days about the new schools that have been built in every one of our constituencies. No hon. Member can say that they have not had a new school. We have built more new schools in the last five years than were built in the previous 25 years. That is another example. I will be delighted to see extra investment going to the Grange, as I used to know it, for adult education in Ellesmere Port. It was a secondary modern school when I went to it—some hon. Members may think that that is evident. At the time, many people were dependent on free school meals. Given the recent announcement about grammar schools and the concern about free school meals, I wonder whether having a low proportion of school meals will be a threat to the Eton establishment.

Q2. [137248] Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): On the topic of rhetoric versus reality, the Chancellor recently reannounced plans to build up to 200,000 zero carbon homes in Britain by 2016. But in yesterday’s Committee on the Finance Bill, his great guru the Economic Secretary, when pressed on exactly how many such homes had been built under Labour to date, replied, “None.” Is that admission correct or was it a load of old, well—Ed?

The Deputy Prime Minister: A number of houses have been built to a low carbon specification and we changed the rules governing building regulations. There were nine millennium sites, starting with Greenwich and the dome, where we built houses to low carbon standards and new environmental standards. We have built a number of thousands of them already. The Chancellor was referring to the importance of building many more to meet the need for affordable homes, and I fully support that.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): This morning UNICEF ambassador Jemima Khan joins me in Westminster Hall to launch the breastfeeding manifesto. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that breastfeeding brings tremendous health benefits for mothers and babies, helps tackle health inequalities and can even save the NHS money? However, breastfeeding rates in the UK are lower than in many other countries. Will he give his personal support to the manifesto, which seeks to make our society more tolerant and supportive of breastfeeding?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Absolutely.

Q3. [137249] Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Given that official figures show that between 1997 and 2006 completions of council homes across the UK dropped from over 1,500 to under 250, and completions of other social housing dropped from over 28,000 to under 25,000, will the Deputy Prime Minister apologise for the appalling record of 10 years of lack of provision of social housing and promise that under his successors things can only get better?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I must tell the hon. Gentleman, as I have done from time to time, that in 1997 we made a decision that, as there had been £20 billion disinvestment in our public housing because the Tories had sold houses but done nothing about those lived in by millions of tenants, we would have a programme of £40 billion to bring 2 million homes up to standard in kitchens and central heating. A little old lady in central London told me that she was delighted with her central heating because, she said, “I can now invite my kids without worrying that they will be cold.” That is the difference that has been made for millions of people.

The hon. Gentleman is not taking full account of the social housing provision in the Housing Association programme—[Hon. Members: “We are.”] Well, the difficulty is that at the same time more and more demands have come from single parents. There is no doubt that there is a need to give the matter greater priority, as Ministers have said. That is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been saying in his speeches, and I have no doubt that he will carry it out.

Q4. [137250] Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Schools without books, let alone computers—that is the reality for children in Lesotho in southern Africa. Those schools are linking with schools in Wrexham in north Wales so that children in Wales can get a real perspective on how lucky they are. Will my right hon. Friend commend the Global Schools Partnership, in which the Government invested heavily last year, and say how many schools are involved in that excellent project? Will he encourage all hon. Members to advance the cause of the partnership in their constituencies?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I very much agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. I am sorry that I cannot tell him how many schools are involved in the programme, but I shall write to him with the information. The British Council has been conducting a similar programme called “Connecting Classrooms”. I was in Ghana and Sierra Leone only a few weeks ago, and I saw the importance of twinning schools there with schools in the UK and the benefit that it brings to the children. It is our intention to use the programme—and I know that you, Mr. Speaker, are aware of this—to bring children from Ghana, Sierra Leone and the West Indies here to join children from UK schools for a debate in the Westminster Hall Chamber on slavery and modern-day trafficking. That is an example of the beneficial connection between schools that the programmes makes possible. I am delighted to say that I have been involved in a programme that unites schools from various countries with schools in my constituency, and I am sure that other hon. Members have been similarly involved.

Q6. [137252] Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Two weeks ago, the Minister for Europe explained in an article in The Guardian that one of the failures of the Government in 2003, when he was Defence Secretary, was that it did not influence the American Administration sufficiently, especially with regard to the disbandment of the Iraqi army and Administration. He said that the Government had failed to notice the influence of Vice-President Dick Cheney. Since the Deputy Prime Minister marks Dick Cheney in the
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American Administration, what explanation does he have for that failure, and its catastrophic consequences?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I did not mark Dick Cheney particularly, although I met him once or twice. I recall that we met for the first time via video screen because, after the terrible 9/11 business, he was in a cave somewhere under security control. [ Interruption.] I
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remarked that I did not think that bin Laden would be living under the same conditions, but perhaps we should leave that aside. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Europe is entitled to his point of view. I do not know how correct it is, and I shall not make any comment as to whether I heard similar thoughts expressed in Cabinet but, as I have already made clear to the House, I am not joining that brigade.

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Medical Training Application Service

12.33 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement about the medical training application scheme. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before I call the Secretary of State, hon. Members must leave the Chamber quietly.

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): Following the recommendations of the review group chaired by Professor Neil Douglas, the extended round one of recruitment to postgraduate medical training is now taking place. As the House knows, every eligible applicant for postgraduate medical training has now been guaranteed at least one interview for their first-preference post, regardless of the outcome of the earlier shortlisting process, although many, of course, will have more than one interview.

An additional 15,500 interviews have therefore been arranged for the extended round one, and they are now taking place. I am extremely grateful to the consultants who have made themselves available for those additional interviews, and to their hospitals for making the time available.

The review group agreed that offers of training places for the current round will be managed locally by individual postgraduate deaneries on the basis of published Modernising Medical Careers guidance. Subject to the outcome of the current judicial review, the first offers for hospital specialties in England will be made on or after next Monday, 21 May, with all initial offers made by early June and round one completed by late June.

Given the continuing concerns of junior doctors about MTAS, the system will not be used for matching candidates to training posts, but will continue to be used by the deaneries. As we have stressed before, not all training posts will be filled in round one, so there will be further substantial opportunities for those who are not successful initially, including the new training posts that are being agreed by the NHS, the Department of Health and the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board.

The review group has recommended, and we have of course accepted, that the further recruitment will be locally planned and managed by the postgraduate deaneries. Because most trainee doctors’ contracts are due to end before the further recruitment has been completed, we will be agreeing with the review group, deaneries and hospitals the necessary measures to ensure that all those trainees are properly supported and patients continue to be properly cared for.

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