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Social Housing

5. Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the
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Exchequer on measures which could be taken by the UK Government to increase funding available for social housing in Wales. [140338]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I have regular discussions on a range of issues, including housing. I welcome the extra £1 billion for Wales that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor provided in his Budget, which covers, of course, every public service.

Mr. Caton: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that council housing must be part of the social housing mix? Will he assure me that he and the Government will respond positively to the message coming from council house tenants such as those in Swansea who say that they wish to stick with the local authority as their landlord and want proper investment in council housing?

Mr. Hain: I am strongly sympathetic to the point of view that my hon. Friend argues. Indeed, the Welsh Labour manifesto pledged to invest £450 million in new social and affordable housing, thus bringing about 6,500 additional homes. It is important that we make housing a real priority, including that of councils and housing associations, because there is a real need for more affordable homes to rent in Wales and right throughout Britain.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): If there is a fourth option for social housing, does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to make it realistic, rather than the vague possibility that it is at present?

Mr. Hain: Yes. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has recently signalled exciting new initiatives to take forward extra house building because that is one of the priorities for our next term in government.

Ambulance Services

6. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with Welsh Assembly Ministers on the interaction between the ambulance service in Wales and neighbouring services in England. [140339]

9. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with Welsh Assembly Ministers on cross-border issues affecting the ambulance service in Wales. [140342]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular meetings with the Assembly Minister for Health and Social Services on a range of issues, including the provision of ambulance services.

Mr. Harper: I thank the Minister for that answer. Ambulance services are a particular challenge in Gloucestershire, especially in Forest of Dean, given the nature of its geography. In some cases, it would make sense for the Welsh ambulance service to deal with patients in the southern part of my constituency. Will the Minister use whatever good offices he has to encourage Welsh Assembly Ministers to urge the Welsh
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ambulance service to work seamlessly with its colleagues in Gloucestershire, because we do not want the Welsh border to become a barrier to effective health care? [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House should come to order; it is unfair to those who are here for Welsh business.

Nick Ainger: The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) makes a very good point. I understand that the Great Western ambulance service, which covers his constituency, has joint working arrangements with the Welsh ambulance service to deal with specific sites such as bridges and tunnels. Those working arrangements are regularly reviewed. I understand that there are closer working arrangements and co-operation elsewhere on the border. I will shortly be meeting Edwina Hart, the Assembly Minister with responsibility for health, and I will take up the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Amess: Whatever the Minister says, the present arrangements do not seem to be working terribly well, with response times deteriorating from the present eight minutes. Is that the fault of the Minister, or the Welsh Assembly?

Nick Ainger: In fact, response times have improved dramatically in the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust. It was formed in 1998, and for the past two months, it has exceeded its target of responding to 60 per cent. of life-threatening emergencies inside eight minutes. That is a result of substantial investment in staff and, especially, equipment. The service is meeting its targets and continues to improve. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would appreciate some assistance from the Welsh ambulance trust.

Barnett Formula

7. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the operation of the Barnett formula as it affects Wales. [140340]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The Barnett formula has worked well in delivering funding for Wales, and I have been taking every opportunity to discuss the forthcoming spending review with the Chancellor and with the Chief Secretary to ensure that it continues to do so.

Mr. Bone: Public expenditure per head of population in Wales is £1,000 more than in England, yet patients in Wales have to wait significantly longer for NHS treatment. Five thousand patients in Wales are waiting more than six months for an NHS operation—what has gone wrong?

Mr. Hain: Waiting times in Wales are coming down progressively, and they are well down compared with the appalling scandal of long waiting times under the Tories.

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Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [140249] Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 6 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before listing my engagements, as the House will know there has been fierce fighting in the south of Afghanistan in which UK troops are being deployed with considerable courage and commitment on their part. I know that the whole House will want to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of those who have fallen: Guardsman Daniel Probyn of 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards, Corporal Darren Bonner of 1st Battalion the Royal Anglican Regiment and Corporal Mike Gilyeat of the Royal Military Police. This country should be very proud of the sacrifice they have made.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Ms Keeble: I associate myself and my constituents with the expressions of condolence for the families of the service personnel lost in action.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Northampton climate change forum, which has its first meeting tomorrow evening under the excellent chairmanship of Terry Smithson of our local wildlife trust? As my right hon. Friend heads off to the G8, what message does he have for climate change campaigners in Northampton and elsewhere on what he hopes will be achieved in Germany?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate the Northampton climate change forum on the work that it does, which shows the interest that is taken in this issue in constituencies and communities up and down the country. What will be important at the G8 is first, that for the first time we manage to get agreement on the science of climate change and the fact that it is human activity that is causing it; secondly, that we manage to get agreement that there should be a new global deal that involves all the main players, including America and China, when the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012; and thirdly, that at the heart of that has to be a global target for a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That should be followed through via the United Nations process. Those are the key things that we need out of the G8 agenda. I hope that my hon. Friend does not mind my saying, however, that we should not forget the necessity of also keeping to our commitments on Africa.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Mike Gilyeat, Corporal Darren Bonner and Guardsman Daniel Probyn, who were all killed in Afghanistan. They died serving their country.

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Tonight, the House of Lords will vote on proposals to help the 125,000 people who are suffering because their pension schemes went bust. The Government fund set up to support those people has so far helped only just over 1,000, and yet it has cost £10 million to administer. Will the Prime Minister confirm those figures?

The Prime Minister: The total amount of the fund over the years to come will be some £8 billion. There used to be no help available to people in this situation; there is help available now. The difficulty with the House of Lords amendment—we have had this exchange several times—is that unless we can be sure that we can keep to those commitments within the £8 billion that has been set aside by the Government, it is irresponsible to hold out the promise that we can go up to 100 per cent. if we are not able to do so.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister will not confirm the figures, but I have to say that they are unacceptable. Yes, we have had this exchange before. When I raised this with the Prime Minister two months ago, he promised a review of the unclaimed assets and said that he would try to get the maximum compensation level. What are the results of that review? Does he recognise that tonight’s vote is probably the last chance that he has as Prime Minister, without any long-term spending commitment, to right the wrong that has been done to those people?

The Prime Minister: First, let me make one thing clear to the right hon. Gentleman—more than 100,000 people will benefit from the scheme. There used to be absolutely nothing for those people. Secondly, let me point out to him that the reason why we have not gone beyond 80 per cent. is that it is wrong to promise that we can go further than that unless we can say how it will be paid for. We simply cannot, on the basis of the Treasury loan scheme or the idea of unclaimed assets, make future spending commitments outside the £8 billion. That is not sensible and it is not responsible. As for suggesting that we are not helping people, it is true that more than 1,000 people have already been helped, but in the years to come there will be tens of thousands more.

Mr. Cameron: The reason the Government scheme was set up was because so many pension schemes went bust under the Prime Minister’s Government. That is the problem. What the pensioners involved need is help now as thousands of them have reached retirement age. I have to say to him that when the Maxwell crisis was sorted out— [Interruption.] Yes, when the Maxwell crisis was sorted out, the Government of the day used a Treasury loan to advance money to those affected without putting long-term costs on the Exchequer. Why does the Prime Minister not do the same thing now?

The Prime Minister: It is not possible to do what we propose unless we set aside the money now, because what we cannot do is promise people that we will pay them more for their pensions, over and above the £8 billion commitment, which has been given to people for the first time and which will allow us to compensate them for 80 per cent. To end up promising more without saying where the money will come from is an idea that I might describe as completely “delusional”.

Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming any decision by
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Edinburgh university to strip Robert Mugabe of his honorary degree, and will he ensure that neither Mugabe nor any of his henchmen are permitted to come to Britain with visas until democracy is fully restored to Zimbabwe?

The Prime Minister: I confirm that that is indeed our position on visas. It is, of course, a decision for Edinburgh university, but I entirely endorse the sentiments that my hon. Friend has expressed.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of condolence and support for the relatives of those who have lost their lives in the service of our country.

With 200,000 people killed and 2 million displaced from their homes, what can the people of Darfur expect from the G8?

The Prime Minister: I hope that they can expect a recommitment to sanctions if the Sudanese Government do not abide by the peace accord that has been set out and do not stop bombing their citizens. The Sudanese Government should also welcome the hybrid African Union-United Nations force as that is the only way that we will keep the combatants apart. In addition to that, it is important that rebel groups abide by the peace accord. I am sure that Darfur will be raised in the course of the G8.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Is it not time not only for tougher sanctions against the Sudanese Government, but for a much more effective arms embargo and for much better logistical support for the African Union mission in Sudan? Will the Prime Minister tell the other members of the G8 that we cannot afford another Rwanda?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely for that reason that, in part as a result of pressure from this Government, we have an African Union force in Sudan. We are giving it logistic support, but it is true that we need to do more, as I have already said. I am afraid that the arms embargo will not, in this instance, meet the issue. What will do so is building up the African Union’s peacekeeping capability. One of the things that we will discuss at the G8 is the progress that we have made since Gleneagles—for example, the UK has been involved in training some 11,000 peacekeepers in Africa. However, the only solution is a strong African Union peacekeeping force that can be deployed in such situations. Darfur has not slipped into being a Rwanda yet, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right—it is a parlous situation and it is essential that we take action, and we will be pressing for that action.

Q2. [140250] Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war. What does my right hon. Friend think can be done now to try to resurrect the peace process, and does he agree that the University and College Union’s boycott of Israeli universities is misguided, undermines academic freedom and contributes absolutely nothing to the attempt to bring peace to the middle east?

The Prime Minister: I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the boycott and I very much hope that that
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decision is overturned because it does absolutely no good for the peace process or, indeed, for relations in that part of the world. He is right to emphasise that the only solution ultimately is to relaunch the framework for a negotiated peace with a two-state solution at its heart, and we will work on that.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The G8 agreed at Gleneagles that by 2010 everyone suffering from HIV/AIDS would have access to the medicines that they need. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, sadly, almost three quarters of sufferers still do not have access to that treatment?

The Prime Minister: There are 1 million more people who receive treatment, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need to go further. The commitment is to do that by 2010, and I hope that we will recommit to that at the G8 summit at Heiligendamm. In addition, the announcement by the Americans to double their HIV/AIDS spending from $15 billion to $30 billion is extremely important. The Germans have now committed an extra €3 billion of aid to Africa over the next four years, which is also important, and this country is making a huge contribution to fighting HIV/AIDS. Yes, we need to go further, but it is important to realise that, as a result of what was done at Gleneagles, 1 million more people are now receiving treatment.

Mr. Cameron: Charities such as ActionAid believe that the specific proposals set out in the draft communiqué do not go nearly far enough, and they believe that the goal agreed at Gleneagles is on the verge of collapse, which would result in millions of preventable deaths. We have long argued for interim targets, as the Prime Minister knows. Does he agree that it would be a disaster if the current wording of the communiqué is allowed to stand?

The Prime Minister: We are trying to strengthen that language and put in some specifics, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS treatment. For obvious and natural reasons, pressure groups always say that not enough is being done or that the situation is in danger of collapse. Since Gleneagles, however, there has been almost $40 billion of debt relief; there have been substantial increases in aid, including to Africa; millions more children are in primary education; and, as I said, 1 million extra people are receiving HIV/AIDS treatment. As I saw for myself last week in South Africa, the possibility, if we expand the use of drugs for those people, is that we can save millions of lives, so we have to do so. It is precisely to achieve those types of commitments that we will go to the G8 and negotiate.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on engaging in dialogue with some of the most distinguished Muslim leaders and scholars around the world at a recent conference at Lancaster House. He rightly wants the authentic and true voice of Islam to be heard in Britain. How does he believe that he can achieve that?

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