Previous Section Index Home Page

10 Oct 2007 : Column 290

Sir Menzies Campbell: Let us remember that the Prime Minister’s cut in the basic rate is at the expense of some of the poorest people in the country. Was not the most glaring omission in yesterday’s pre-Budget report statement the absence of any proposals for reform of the unfair council tax? Council tax is set to rise by twice the rate of inflation. How fair is that for low and middle-income families?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Gentleman should look at his own proposals. First, he faces an £18 billion black hole in his proposals. Secondly, he is not offering people a free gift on council tax, as he wants to replace it by local income tax, which would mean people paying 3p in the pound more. Thirdly, at every point where I have costed the Liberal party proposals, nothing adds up. The Liberals would be better going back to the drawing board.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): The Government are giving considerable assistance to London in preparation for the 2012 Olympic games. I wonder whether the Prime Minister has considered any increase in the assistance going to Liverpool, which next year celebrates being the European city of culture. I am thinking in particular of increased funds for the Merseyside police and the local authorities.

The Prime Minister: I congratulate Liverpool on becoming the city of culture. Having visited the city and seen what has been done to prepare for that, I know that there is more urban regeneration place in Liverpool than at any time in the last 20 to 25 years. I would also say to my hon. Friend that the local government settlement and the public expenditure plans announced yesterday will help Liverpool and the north-west, ensuring that jobs can be created in the area and that urban regeneration continues. We will keep our promises to the people of Liverpool.

Q2. [156089] Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): The Prime Minister might be aware of proposals in West Sussex to downgrade the accident and emergency units at either St. Richard’s hospital in Chichester or at Worthing hospital. Will he therefore clarify Lord Darzi’s comment on the “Today” programme last week that his statement that the days of the district general hospital are gone applies only

Given that neither Chichester nor Worthing is a big metropolitan capital city, will the Prime Minister assure my constituents that both these excellent hospitals are now safe?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, I am happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about what is happening in his constituency. I have to say, however, that he should be applauding yesterday’s announcement that health service expenditure will go up from £90 billion to £110 billion. In the interests of accuracy, given that Conservative Members raised the issue throughout the summer, and listed 29 hospitals that they said were at risk or subject to reconfiguration, I should explain that it was immediately pointed out that 10 of those hospitals had no such plans. As far as the Leader of the
10 Oct 2007 : Column 291
Opposition is concerned, on the Horton hospital in Banbury, the shadow Health Secretary said,

The chairman of the local heath trust then said,

Once again, the Conservatives cannot be trusted with the national health service.

Q3. [156090] Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): In the past two weeks, we have heard alternative approaches to the taxation of foreign non-domiciles. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he is confident that the Government’s approach will target people who can realistically be expected to be able to pay the tax?

The Prime Minister: It is right that people pay their fair share, and we have taken action against avoidance every year for the past 10 years. This will be a debate held over the next period of time, but I have to say that the proposal that we can find 150,000 non-domiciles to tax is completely wrong: only 115,000 are registered in this country, and only 15,000 have earnings and income that would allow them to consider that paying £25,000 in taxation was in their interests; others are nurses and teachers who earn little more than £25,000. When we asked where the calculations came from, first we were told that they came from Accountancy Age, then we were referred back to The Observer, and then we were referred back to a so-called tax expert, who was unnamed. Those who put forward proposals to tax non-domiciles, and say that they can raise £3.5 billion, will have to do better in future.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Could the Prime Minister give us a cheerful answer, and tell me whether he believes that imitation is the surest way to salvation or merely the sincerest form of flattery?

The Prime Minister: When we made the Bank of England independent, the Conservatives opposed it; now they support it. When we created a minimum wage, they opposed it; now they support it. When we invested in the health service, they opposed it; now they support it. I know who has been leading the argument in this country: it is the Labour party.

Q4. [156091] Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister think that people who want to return to work but have become trapped in the incapacity benefit system should be supported and encouraged to seek and obtain work, or forced to do so by the removal of their benefit?

The Prime Minister: There is an interesting debate to be heard on the future of incapacity benefit in this country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: under our proposals, 1 million people will come off incapacity benefit by 2015. Under an alternative proposal, it is said that that figure could be 1.6 million: two thirds of those currently on incapacity benefit would come off it and lose £5,000 per person. It is said that that proposal, put forward by the Opposition, would raise £3 billion. Given the number of constituents we know who are
10 Oct 2007 : Column 292
disabled and who are in wheelchairs, and the many who are mentally as well as physically handicapped, the idea that 1.6 million of 2.7 million people could come off incapacity benefit by the beginning of the next Parliament is faintly ridiculous. Given that we already expect 1 million to come off incapacity benefit, those who say that they can raise £3 billion from that proposal are, again, completely wrong.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): May I remind the Prime Minister that some time ago an announcement was made about Northern Ireland losing many of its Army installations, and a promise was made in a joint statement that the people of Northern Ireland would benefit from what was done with those areas of Government ownership? Will the Prime Minister give me an assurance today that that will be done, and will he announce the time when it will be done?

The Prime Minister: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who is the First Minister in Northern Ireland, will accept that the public expenditure settlement reached yesterday was very much in line with what we talked about previously; indeed, it was higher than the figures that I gave him before. I will certainly look at what he says about land in Northern Ireland, just as I am looking, as I promised to do, at the corporate tax regime in Northern Ireland. Perhaps we can talk about these issues at a later date.

Q5. [156092] Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): May I welcome the recent uplift in the minimum wage which is helping 90,000 people in the south-west? May I ask the Prime Minister to guarantee that the future of the minimum wage will be assured as long as he is Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: The rise in the minimum wage, which came in on 1 October, is an increase from its initial £3.60, and it is now £5.35. It will continue to rise—obviously, subject to economic conditions. What we have achieved in addition to that in the last few years is a minimum wage for teenagers. We were also able to introduce on 1 October the first number of days of paid holiday entitlement for workers in this country—again, a sign that if we can keep the economy moving forward and have stable economic growth, the rewards will flow to the whole of the population, and not just to some of the population.

Q6. [156093] Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Prime Minister recently described Burma as one of the world’s darkest corners and said that human rights were universal, but his Government are still trying to deport Burmese dissidents into the hands of that dreadful regime. Will he tell the House why his moral compass has failed to identify this transparent hypocrisy?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look at any individual cases that the hon. Gentleman brings to me, and look at them sympathetically, but there is an appeals system and that will be dealt with.

May I say that I hope that there will be all-party support on Burma? This is a repressive and illegitimate regime. Aung San Suu Kyi was the elected democratic leader of Burma. The sanctions that we will step up in
10 Oct 2007 : Column 293
the European Union are necessary to tell that Burmese regime that what it is doing is completely unacceptable. I hope that the Secretary-General of the United Nations will be able to lead a United Nations team that will bring reconciliation to the people of Burma.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reported statement from the Association of British Insurers on future cover for flood damage is deeply unhelpful, and will lead people to conclude that the industry wishes to remove any commercial risk to its own profits and place that risk instead on current and future policyholders, including families and businesses in my own Sheffield constituency?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I think that what the Association of British Insurers announced today is a review of its practices for the future. I hope that it will not take the step that he suggests, which might be considered, of denying people insurance. I also have to say, again in the interests of accuracy, that over the summer and very recently, the Association of British Insurers has asked that by 2011 we spend £750 million a year on flood defences. The figures that we announced yesterday are that we have raised spending on flood defences from £600 million this year to £800 million in 2011. I hope that whatever difference there is between the Association of British Insurers and us—a very small difference, on the figures involved—we can show, as a result of the Pitt report, which will come soon, that we are doing everything we can to improve flood defences in this country.

Q7. [156094] Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): On 20 September the governor of the Bank of England said that the market abuse directive had undermined his ability to carry out an operation that would have been in the interests of everyone connected with Northern Rock. Does the Prime Minister agree?

The Prime Minister: The Chancellor will make a statement on that very matter in the House tomorrow. There is an issue about the requirement to make dealings that take place to try to rescue companies transparent, and there is an issue that must be dealt with in the European Union as part of that, but other issues arise from Northern Rock which I think are probably more important for the longer term. There is, for instance, the question of how the international community can come together to arrange an early warning system when events happen in America, affect Europe and then affect the United Kingdom. On all those issues, the Chancellor will make a statement tomorrow.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): The brutal murder of my constituent Mr. Garry Newlove has highlighted continuing concerns about the effects of under-age drinking. I welcome what the Government have done so far to tackle the problem, but can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will consider what needs to be done now? In particular, will he assure me that he will try to persuade the industry to end the immoral practice of targeting alcoholic drinks directly
10 Oct 2007 : Column 294
at young people, and enforce severe penalties for those who sell alcohol to under-age youngsters?

The Prime Minister: I share my hon. Friend’s sadness, and send my condolences to the family of her constituent.

We are committed to doing everything in our power to tackle antisocial behaviour, and specifically under-age drinking. I have appealed in the past to alcohol and drinks companies to advertise the dangers of teenage drinking far more widely. We have said repeatedly that we will fine, and impose heavy penalties in closing down, shops that sell illegally to young people. I urge councils to use their new powers to ban alcohol in trouble spots. Police already have powers to disperse young people who are involved in alcohol-fuelled disorder, and I hope that they will use their powers as well. Local authorities can designate areas in their towns, including town centres, and make it an offence to drink alcohol there. The combination of all those measures—as well as, I believe, a review of the 24-hour drinking laws—is an essential element of making it absolutely clear that teenage drinking is unacceptable at the level at which it is being carried out in our towns and inner cities, and that action must be taken.

Q8. [156095] Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Does the Prime Minister think it right that a pupil in my constituency receives, on average, £736 less than a pupil in an inner-London borough, although the cost of employing a teacher is the same? Will he put an end to that huge injustice, so that schools in Hornsey and Wood Green can finally be given a fair funding deal?

The Prime Minister: I should have thought the hon. Lady would accept that expenditure per pupil in every part of the country is rising. I hope she will accept that although in 1997 we inherited a situation in which average expenditure was only £2,500 per pupil, it is now £5,500 per pupil and rising. Of course we will continue to look at what happens in particular areas—in this case, the outer London area—but it is only because of this Government’s policies in securing economic growth that every school pupil in the country is enjoying additional investment in the future.

Q9. [156096] Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Given the still extremely serious situation in Darfur, will my right hon. Friend explain what steps his Government took during the recess to support Security Council resolution 1769, as well as the wider peace agreement in Sudan, in order to ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered in desperate circumstances, and that this carnage is discontinued?

The Prime Minister: I know that my right hon. Friend has taken a huge interest in these matters, and in the future of the whole of Africa. I think the United Nations resolution that was achieved at the beginning of the summer is now being complemented by the United Nations-African Union forces, who are ready to come to Darfur and to be there on the ground. At the same time, we want an end to hostilities, and there is a sense that all the parties in Darfur may be prepared to bring an end to them as the peace talks begin. The combination of peace talks beginning in the next few
10 Oct 2007 : Column 295
days, and the possibility of an end to hostilities, gives us hope that this outrage—which has meant that 2 million people have been displaced, 4 million are in famine and a quarter of a million have died—can soon be brought to an end.

Q10. [156097] Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): When will Worcestershire get insurance-proof flood defences?

The Prime Minister: I hope that as a result of the announcements we made yesterday to increase the money for flood defences from £300 million in 1997 to £600 million now, £650 million next year, £700 million the year after and £800 million the year after that, the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and every other constituency where there are flood defence issues, will benefit. He might have heard the head of the Environment Agency saying this morning that it would be able to continue to spend more money on flood defences not only in his region, but all over the country.

Q11. [156098] Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister consider
10 Oct 2007 : Column 296
visiting Milton Keynes to see the large number of new houses being built as a result of this Government’s policies, together with new schools and GP surgeries, and does he agree that building more houses is the most effective way of increasing the supply of affordable housing, and that a cut in stamp duty would simply be taken up in increased prices if demand continues to outstrip supply?

The Prime Minister: If we are to have a housing strategy that ensures that there is affordable housing for young couples, we need to build more houses, and the demand and supply equation must be improved. In the last 10 years there have been almost 2 million more owner-occupiers. For the next few years, we hope to build 3 million new houses by 2020. I must say, however, that Conservative councils that are resisting plans to build more houses will not help the country meet its objectives. There must be a common effort by all parties if we are to achieve the number of houses that people need.

10 Oct 2007 : Column 297

Health and Social Care

12.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Alan Johnson): After a decade of unprecedented investment in the NHS, we see the results in more staff, 1 million more operations each year, 100 new hospitals, reduced waiting times and lower mortality rates, particularly for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Having expanded capacity in the service, we can now focus even more closely on raising quality. Last week, Lord Darzi published his interim report setting out a vision for world-class health and health care in England, developed and owned by patients, staff and the public. Yesterday’s comprehensive spending review settlement enables us to take the measures necessary to begin to implement that vision.

It is a good settlement for the NHS: locking in current record levels of spending and adding real-terms increases—year on year—so that total health spending will rise from just over £90 billion in 2007-08 to £110 billion in 2010-11. That represents a real-terms increase of 4 per cent. a year on planned spend, compared with an historic average of 3.1 per cent. In 18 years under the Tories, real-terms growth was 3 per cent. In the five years up to 1997, it was 2.6 per cent. In 14 years under Labour up to 2010-11, real-terms growth will average 5.6 per cent. That extra funding is essential if we are to meet the challenges of an ageing society, the opportunities of new technology and the demands of rising public expectations of what a health service in the 21st century should deliver. I am proud that it is a Labour Government that have delivered, and will continue to deliver, these necessary increases in funding.

Lord Darzi’s interim report drew out four overarching themes for the NHS over the next 10 years: fairness, personalisation, innovation and safety. First, an NHS which is fair: no single institution has made a greater contribution to social equity in this country than the NHS, yet 60 years on, whilst the health of all income groups has improved dramatically, stubborn health inequalities remain. We will begin to address one important element of this problem with a new £250 million access fund that will deliver at least 100 new GP practices in the 25 per cent. of primary care trusts with the poorest provision. These practices will bring the most modern health care models direct to the nation’s most deprived areas. They will offer an innovative range of services, will be open for longer, and will have a specific remit to prevent ill health rather than simply treat it. That is crucial when lifestyle choices are responsible for as much as half of the gap in health outcomes.

Secondly, we want an NHS that is personalised. That means that GP practices should fit around people’s lifestyles, not the other way around. We have set a clear aim that, working with new and existing GP practices, we will ensure that at least a half of all surgeries are open either at weekends or after work. We will also explore all the options for making it easier to see a GP nearer to the workplace for those who commute.

Next Section Index Home Page