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The Prime Minister:
I thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in that area. What is interesting, and what came out very strongly from the two-day conference, is the fact that the moderate, reasonable
voice of Islam is the majority voice of Islam. It is not heard enough, but it was interesting that people around the world, including some of the most distinguished Islamic scholars, made it quite clear that they wanted no truck with extremism.
Q3.  Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Fifteen per cent. of school-age children are obese, and under-age drinking has doubled. Yesterday, the Childrens Society said that 43 per cent. of parents are scared to let their children go out with their friends. Schools have become exam factories, contributing to the one in 10 children suffering mental health problems, to which the Prime Ministers solution is to force four-year-olds to take exams in mental health. Is he proud of his legacy on the state of our children, or is he just not bovvered?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating the situation a trifle. Of course, there are pressures on children today: pressures through exams and through the type of things to which they have access a lot earlier than generations past. The majority of young people whom I meet are working hard and are extremely responsible, decent members of society who behave very well. There is a minority who either misbehave or are socially excluded and we need specific measures to help them. However, I do not think that the debate is helped by that type of hyperbole, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind my saying so.
Q4.  Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that among the important reforms and changes that have occurred on his watch over the past 10 years is freedom of information? Why should Parliament alone, of all the public bodies in this country, be able to contract out of a law? Can my right hon. Friend explain why the two Front Benches are supporting the private Members Bill, when it should be thrown in the dustbin?
The Prime Minister: Because I have enormous respect for my hon. Friend and because this may be the last time that he asks me a question at Prime Ministers questions, I do not want to disagree with himbut if I were pushed, I might. It is importantand this has been made clearthat on matters such as expenses, MPs continue to be very open. There is a consensus on that. A huge amount of scrutiny is given by the House about Members of Parliament and I do not think we should apologise for what we do in the House.
Q5.  Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that if communities such as Milton Keynes are to be truly sustainable, final decisions on their expansion should be made by democratically elected local authorities, not by unelected, unaccountable quangos?
The Prime Minister: Of course, local decision making is important, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that if we are to deal with housing issues, we have to expand the availability of housing because of the expansion in the number of households. I agree that a balance needs to be struck, but that must include proposals that allow us to make sure that our people, particularly our younger people, have houses to buy.
Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): The 25p per week age addition to state pensions for the over-80s has remained at the same level since 1971. Does the Prime Minister agree that the time is right to review that derisory amount? Should the Government give consideration to, say, adding a £25 lump sum to the winter fuel allowance as an alternative?
The Prime Minister: Those are obviously decisions that have to be taken at the time of the Budget. Although I entirely understand the point that my hon. Friend makes, we are now spending, on an annual basis, about £11 billion a year extra for our pensioners. They have the winter fuel allowance, the free TV licences for the over-75s, and a substantial uplift in many of the payments that are made through the pension credit. There is one other thing that is worth pointing out: over the next few years we will move to a situation where the basic state pension is relinked to earning. That will benefit many of our pensioners to a far greater degree than even an extra £25.
Q6.  Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Can the Prime Minister tell the House what evidence there is for his assertion that closing or downgrading accident and emergency departments such as Rochdales saves lives?
The Prime Minister: Each of those decisions must be taken on the basis of local conditions, but they are driven by clinicians, not cost. In emergencies involving some of the most serious illnesses such as stroke or heart disease, it is better for people to be treated by paramedics in an ambulance and then taken to a specialised unit. The idea of changing accident and emergency, like maternity services or paediatrics, is therefore driven by the fact that there is increasing specialised provision that does the best for patients. I ask the hon. Gentleman to take account of that.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be talking with Mr. Putin at the G8 and discussing the Litvinenko case. We have other problems with Russiathe threat to target missiles at European cities, the fact that Shell and BP have effectively been renationalised there, and the boycott of trade with Poland. All those are grave and troubling signs of a different approach from Russia. Will the Prime Minister talk frankly to Mr. Putin about those problems? We want partnership with Russia on Iran, Kosovo and other issues. Will he also talk frankly with his European partners, because it is European unity and sticking together that will achieve that?
The Prime Minister: There will be an opportunity to talk to President Putin at the summit. I have always had good relations with President Putin. We want good relations with Russia, but that can be achieved only on the basis that there are certain shared principles and shared values. If there are not, there is no point in making hollow threats against Russia. The consequence is that people in Europe will want to minimise the business that they do with Russia if that happens. A closer relationship between Europe and Russia is important, but it will be a sustainable relationship only if it is based on those shared values.
Q7.  Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): The Prime Minister will know that Sinn Fein members have taken their places on the Northern Ireland Policing Board. Does he agree that it is totally unacceptable that a party that has members on the Policing Board also has leading members on the Provisional IRA terrorist army council? Will he therefore agree to take urgent steps to have that matter dealt with effectively?
The Prime Minister: The most important thing is that whoever is on the Policing Board and whoever is taking part in the politics of Northern Ireland does so on the basis of complete commitment to democracy and exclusively peaceful means. That applies to everybody. That is the central test, and it is a test monitored, as the hon. Gentleman knows, by the Independent Monitoring Commission.
Q8.  Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): Although I am sorely tempted to ask my right hon. Friend about grammar schools, I have decided to ask him whether he has read the Communities and Local Government Select Committee report on coastal towns and the problems that many of them facefor example, isolation, the outward migration of talented young people and high numbers of incapacity benefit claimants. Will he continue to liaise with his Ministers about coming forward with a coherent national strategy to tackle those problems in coastal towns?
The Prime Minister: The point that my hon. Friend has raised about coastal towns is very important. Because the focus is sometimes on inner-city regeneration, people forget that some coastal towns have large numbers of people who are either socially excluded or unemployed and that such local economies can be difficult. It is precisely for that reason that we are looking at what more we can do to support our coastal towns and to make sure that a fair proportion of the £20 billion that we are spending on regeneration gets to them to allow them to develop local economies that are sustainable in the future.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Why did carbon dioxide emissions in both the UK and the EU rise last year while falling in the United States of America, and what are the Government going to do about it?
The Prime Minister: It is correct that there was a small rise here and, indeed, elsewhere in Europe. It is precisely for that reason that we have agreed a new framework for the European emissions trading system. I know that the right hon. Gentleman may find it hard to support anything with the word European in it, but it is none the less important to recognise that it is only through that trading scheme that we will make a difference. The fact that the European Council has now set very ambitious targets for CO2 emissions and greenhouse gas emissions is extremely important. Incidentally, this country will meet our targets under the Kyoto treaty.
Q9.  Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op):
In my local authority, Sandwell, there has been enormous demand for places at the new
Sandwell academy, and that interest has been reflected in demand for places at other proposed academies. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a developing consensus that excellence in education can be delivered without academic selection? Will he seek to build on that consensus, which I believe is both public and political?
The Prime Minister: I thought that there was a developing consensus, although it has faltered a little in the past few days. The academy programme is proving to be a real success story with parents, and it is providing excellent education for some of the poorest communities in the country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is part of a change throughout schools in our country, where there has been massive capital investment and better results. As a result of investment and reform, we now have a situation totally different from that a few years back. The vast majority of our children are getting educated well. We need to go furtherwe know that we dobut the fact is that education in this country has been transformed in the past decade.
Q10.  Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): It is Government policy that in the next 15 years a substantial part of the green space in the borough of Kettering will be concreted over with the number of dwellings to increase by a massive one third. Given the Governments alleged new-found commitment to localism, does the Prime Minister think it fair that local residents effectively have no say on whether that development proceeds?
The Prime Minister: As I said to the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) earlier, the green belt is being protectedwe now have far more development on brownfield sitesand that is absolutely right, but we need to build more homes. If the Conservative party says that, in general, we need to give help to first-time buyers and those who need to get into the housing market, and help to ensure that we have proper housing, it cannot then, in particular, oppose every housing development in different parts of the country. That simply shows me that the Conservative party, in that area of policy as in many others, has still not worked it out.
Q11.  Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I do not suppose that my right hon. Friend will have time between now and 27 June to visit Bristol, but if he did, he could see for himself the stunning new schools that are being built under the building schools for the future programme, especially the first BSF school in the country, which is due to open this summer at Speedwell. Will he join me in urging the 27 per cent. of parents who currently take their children out of the state sector at the age of 11 to visit the fantastic new school buildings, see what they have to offer and give Bristol schools a second chance?
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the opportunities now exist because many hundreds of schools throughout the country have GCSE results that are well over 70 per cent. In addition, there have been thousands of refurbishments, some 2,500 extra sports facilities and we have the biggest school building programme under way that the
country has ever seen. Consequently, standards are also improving. The great thing about many of the new schoolsI have recently visited severalis that they are designed differently, their whole look is different, and the children feel that, for the first time, they are in an environment that will encourage them to do better and learn. That is all about our programme and our commitment to providing excellence not just for a few, but for all.
Q12.  Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The whole House will want to join me in warmly congratulating the Prime Minister on his appointment last week as the supreme chief for peace by the people of Sierra Leone. Does he expect to pick up a similar plaudit from the people of Iraq?
The Prime Minister: Sometimes, the best people to speak about Iraq are the elected politicians there. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the press conferencewhich, unsurprisingly, was not coveredthat the President of Iraq gave here a few weeks ago. He said that however difficult the situation because of the terrorists, we should never forget what it was like under Saddam and that, if terrorists try to stop the country getting democracy, we should stand up and fight them, not give in to them.
Q13.  Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Ask older residents in Stafford their top concern, and most would say the fear of losing their post offices. Will the Government and Post Office Ltd hurry up and announce which post offices are being considered for closure so that, conversely, reassurance can be given about the majority that are staying open? For those at risk, will the Government accept responsibility to do all they can to preserve postal services for older people through co-location of services, outreach and innovative ways of providing services, such as social enterprise and community shops?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friends point is absolutely right and reasonable. We are putting a huge investmentsome £2 billioninto supporting our post office network. However, as he rightly implies, changes are happening that mean that the way in which post offices operate must change if they are to be viable in future. We will try to identify as quickly as possible the post offices that are at risk and those that are not. However, my hon. Friend is right that there is no point in kidding ourselveswe must find new ways of making the network viable and ensuring that people can use it to carry out a further range of transactions, but not close our eyes to the inevitable fact that many more people now take their money through their bank account and not the post office. There is a viable future, but it has to be on the basis of the suggested changes.
Q15.  Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The Prime Minister has brought great style and flair to the high office that he has held for 10 years. Will he leave office with honour by giving an assurance in the House today that he will hand over no further powers or competences to the European Union without the referendum that I believe that he promised the people of the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. As he knows, my belief is that we do not need a constitutional treaty and that we should have a simplified and amending treaty. I can assure him that all the red lines that we have set out will be protected for this country, but it is also in the interests of this country that we find a way for Europe to operate more effectively with 27 members than it can under rules designed for 15 or fewer members.
Q14.  Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab):
Two days ago, General Motors brought its most advanced hydrogen-powered car into the Palace of Westminster for colleagues to see. Over the past few months, the Government have done a tremendous amount of work, led by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, to ensure that General Motors succeeds in delivering investment into Ellesmere Port.
Can we have an assurance that the Government will continue that work to help promote those new modern technologies? Does the Prime Minister agree that there is no incompatibility between the development of vehicle building and climate change issues when it is delivered by those sorts of hydrogen technologies?
The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friends constituents on their work in the car industry and also on finding environmentally beneficial ways of ensuring that the car fleet is modernised to take account of the pressures of climate change. We are investing several million pounds in research into hydrogen fuel cell technology. I have no doubt that, partly as a result of agreeing that we will have a global target this week at the G8, there will be a big impetus behind those types of technologies for the future. I certainly hope that we can do so.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know you take very seriously the convention that Members should notify other Members when they go to their constituencies, so I wanted to ask for your advice about this matter. When the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) was conducting her deputy leadership tour on Friday 25 May, she not only appeared in my constituency, but featured in the local newspaper. My office has been in touch with hers to ask for an explanation of that oversight and still awaits a reply. Could you, Mr. Speaker, perhaps give me some advice about what I can do about it?
Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could contact the right hon. and learned Lady and find out why she was [Interruption.] Let me finish. If it was on a Labour party matter, it is nothing to do with me or the House. It is only when an hon. Member makes an official visit [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is showing me some papers, but if it is a Labour party matter, it is not a matter for the Chair. These matters should be sorted out between [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Gentleman is listening, because he might learn something. These matters should be sorted out between hon. Members and not drawn to the attention of the Chair.
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