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24 Oct 2007 : Column 283

Dr. Cable: If the Government are fully committed to the 20 per cent. target for Britain, why did the Prime Minister’s own energy Minister go on television yesterday and say that he wanted it to be cut to 10 per cent., under pressure from the nuclear lobby? Does the Prime Minister not realise that if he rats on renewable power, not only will that damage the environment, but he will drag his own environmental reputation down to the level of that of his friend George Bush?

The Prime Minister: Perhaps I can explain to the hon. Gentleman what has happened. Europe has agreed on a 20 per cent. renewables target, and each member state will be given a target that it is supposed to agree to and meet in order for the 20 per cent. target to be reached. That has not yet happened; when it happens, we will report back to the House.

I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that what makes it possible for us to achieve our energy targets is the renewables obligation, which the Conservative party voted against when it came to the House, the climate change levy, which the Conservative party also voted against, and wind power. I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in supporting wind power and its development for the future through wind farms and turbines.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): Given the increasingly belligerent noises from the White House, will my right hon. Friend give a clear commitment that if there were a United States or Israeli military attack on Iran he would not support it militarily, logistically or politically?

The Prime Minister: We pursue a diplomatic course of action. I believe that we will have to step up our sanctions over the next few weeks. I have already told other countries that we are prepared to lead the way to a third resolution of sanctions, and at the same time support tougher European Union sanctions. I will rule nothing out, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that both the diplomatic route and the sanctions are having an effect and, if stepped up, can have an even bigger effect in the future.

Q2. [160145] Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): Why should my constituents pay more tax so that the Prime Minister’s constituents pay no prescription charges?

The Prime Minister: The Welsh Assembly made a decision on prescription charges, and the Scottish Parliament made a decision. They make decisions within their own budgets, and their budgets are allocated under a formula agreed by both parties in this House over the past 30 years. No more money goes to Scotland or Wales as a result of their decisions on prescriptions. That is the Barnett formula that has been agreed by all parties over the years. [Interruption.] If the Conservative party wishes to change its policy it should tell us now, but its policy throughout has been to support this funding formula.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend reconfirm the Government’s commitment to the eradication of child poverty? Does he agree that for many people the best
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path out of poverty is through work, and that if the welfare to work green paper proposals are to be implemented there is an urgent need to expand the supply of affordable, reliable out-of-school provision, particularly for children aged between 11 and 14? There is currently less than one place for every 10 children in that age group. Will my right hon. Friend talk to his colleagues on an urgent basis to ensure that the service is expanded?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has been a campaigner for child care over the years. I visited a Sure Start centre in her constituency only a few months ago.

The children’s plan will outline what is necessary to expand both child care and education in future years. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the expansion of opportunities for work is the best means by which we can relieve people of poverty. That is why, in providing British jobs for British workers— [Interruption.] Oh yes. That is why, in providing British jobs for British workers, we have been determined to sign agreements with 110 companies, and will sign agreements with 300 in future. Those agreements are designed to provide 300,000 new jobs, and that is one way in which we can get unemployed workers in Britain into the 600,000 vacancies that exist in the economy.

We have created jobs, we will create more jobs in the future, and we will honour our promises to the unemployed.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The independent report on the Scottish elections was published yesterday. It found that the Labour Government put party interest before voters’ interests in conducting those elections. Will the Prime Minister now offer his own personal apology for the unacceptable conduct of Ministers?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that at all. What the Gould report said was that some decisions about the elections could have been better made. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister answer.

The Prime Minister: These decisions were supported by the Conservative party. The Conservative spokesman on Scottish affairs, the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), said:

That was the first decision that was made. The Gould report does not put the blame on any individual or any institution. What it says is that all political parties must take their share of responsibility for what happened.

Mr. Cameron: How can the right hon. Gentleman possibly deny that that report says that Ministers put political interests ahead of voters’ interests? I thought that politics was going to be different under this Prime Minister. [Interruption.] The report says that Ministers in the Scotland Office— [Interruption.]

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Mr. Speaker: Order. I asked for quietness on the Opposition Benches, and I also want quietness on the Government Benches. Once again, Mr. Austin, the best place— [Interruption.] Order. Let me deal with this. You said a lot, and the best thing for you to do is stay away from my Chair, because my hearing is bang-on.

Mr. Cameron: That is another one of the Prime Minister’s cronies who will not behave properly. Let us just listen to what the report said. It said that Ministers in the Scotland Office

voter interests. In a democracy, that is a complete scandal.

The right hon. Member who was responsible for this fiasco as Secretary of State for Scotland is now the International Development Secretary and the Government’s election co-ordinator. How can he possibly go around the world lecturing other countries about probity in their elections?

The Prime Minister: Because the right hon. Gentleman is misleading people about the conclusions of the report. Let me actually— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me consult. [Hon. Members: “Withdraw!”] Order. I call for temperate language.

The Prime Minister: I will be temperate by quoting from the report itself:

The Gould report conclusion refers to the good intentions of those involved in assembling and conducting the elections. He then says in the interviews he has done that

He does not assign blame to one party or one institution. What he is saying is that the political system must change, and that is why we have accepted his recommendations.

Mr. Cameron: I do not know how the Prime Minister has the gall to accuse me of misleading anybody. He should take a look at page 17 of the report, which says that there

Is not the least we deserve that the Minister who took the decisions explains himself to the House of Commons and is stripped of his responsibility for elections? The Prime Minister promised us a new type of politics. He said that he would be more open and honest. He said that he would be frank about problems. He said that he would be candid about the dilemmas. That is what he said in his leadership speech of 100 days ago. After his performance today, does that not feel like 100 years ago?

The Prime Minister: All the decisions were agreed by— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

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The Prime Minister: They were agreed after a long process of consultation involving all the parties. I have just quoted the Scottish Conservative leader saying that he supported the single ballot paper, and let me quote Mr. Gould again. He says:

This was not a failure of one party or one institution; it was to do with decisions that we should have made together and with decisions that we have now made to change the system.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Whilst not wanting to be a killjoy on the question of fireworks, I do however think that further restrictions on their sale are necessary and that the existing self-regulation is not meaningful, given their wanton use or misuse by certain elements in our society. Does not my right hon. Friend believe that it is time to revisit that legislation and to ban the sale of fireworks to the public?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue at this time of the year. The first thing to be said is that we have already made changes in the legislation governing fireworks; secondly, we will continue to keep it under review; thirdly, all Members of this House should send a message out that we expect people to exercise the use of fireworks with care and caution.

Q3. [160146] Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Last night, BBC1 featured an extraordinarily talented 16-year-old constituent of mine, Henry Perkins, who is one of only two British boys in the 230-year history of Moscow’s Bolshoi ballet school to have secured a place there. Is the Prime Minister aware that Henry’s mother, Sue, has been denied regular child benefit? Is this not a shameful way to treat a real-life Billy Elliot, at a time when migrant workers in this country are able to claim, in thousands of cases, child benefit for children who have never set foot on these shores?

The Prime Minister: Let me first applaud Henry’s achievement, and let us all wish him well in his future career in ballet. I cannot know the direct information about the individual case relating to child benefit. I shall look into it and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): The Government’s target is that carbon dioxide emissions from this country should be reduced by at least 60 per cent. by 2050. Does my right hon. Friend accept that a growing body of informed scientific opinion suggests that this target is perhaps insufficiently ambitious, and will he agree to review this matter in the context of the climate change Bill?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a huge interest in environmental matters. I have already said that I believe that this target may not itself be ambitious enough for our future energy needs in relation to achieving our climate change goals. I can assure him that, as part of the work that we will do, the climate change Committee will have the power to review that target.

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Q4. [160147] Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): This afternoon, I am meeting Mrs. Phyllis Webb and a delegation from the Braintree pensioners action group to discuss the Government’s failure to deliver on a promise to build a community hospital in Braintree. Would the Prime Minister care to join us at that meeting?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making me aware of his programme of events for the rest of the day. I understand the frustrations of people in local areas when they want facilities. I shall certainly look at what he says to me on this matter, but I think that he will agree that if we are to spend more on community hospitals and more on hospitals generally, we will need to fund the health service properly. He should agree with us on the funding of the NHS.

Q5. [160148] Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): May I bring to my right hon. Friend’s attention the case of Gemma, a 19-year-old student nurse in Northampton who was referred by her GP for breast cancer screening last year, but who was put on a non-urgent list and so had to wait for a routine appointment—it was an agonising wait—to be given the all-clear? In this breast cancer awareness month, can my right hon. Friend assure Gemma and the many other women referred for breast cancer screening that they will all be seen—whether or not their case is judged urgent—within two weeks?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a long-standing interest in the development of better health care in this area. We are determined to go further on meeting better cancer waiting times, improving early detection rates and, therefore, on increasing the amount of screening done. It is important in this breast cancer awareness month to be able to say that we can do more in the future. I know that women who visit their GPs are not always referred urgently for investigation of suspected cancer, and that is why we are prepared to say now that all women with breast problems will have a guaranteed appointment with a specialist within two weeks of referral, not just those with suspected cancer. I hope that that goes some way to allay the fears that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Q6. [160149] Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in condemning the brutal murder of Paul Quinn at the weekend in County Monaghan. His predecessor gave a commitment that if any political party failed to uphold the rule of law and the democratic process in Northern Ireland, that party alone would be sanctioned, rather than all of the parties in the Assembly. In the light of the killing of Paul Quinn, will the Prime Minister now reiterate that commitment from the Government that only parties in default of their commitments will be sanctioned, and not everyone else in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister: And that is the position of the Government. This was a brutal and horrific crime. I have already talked to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland about this. I am sure that the sympathies of the whole House will go to the family. I echo the widespread condemnation of this
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atrocious event and the desire that those who carried it out should be brought to justice as quickly as possible. The Chief Constable has stated that there is an ongoing investigation. It obviously would be inappropriate to speculate on responsibility at this time, but I believe that the police on both sides of the border are doing everything in their power to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Q7. [160150] Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that some two years ago, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence restricted the use of Aricept and other drugs used in the treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. That decision has been subject to a judicial review and has been upheld. However, NICE has never released the data modelling on which it based its decisions and still refuses to release that model for further scrutiny. Will my right hon. Friend use his influence to persuade the institute to release that data model, so that that decision can be checked?

The Prime Minister: I know that my hon. Friend has taken up this issue and has raised it in this House before. We established NICE so that it could make its decisions transparently, independently and free from political interference. I think that in the light of the current legal action relating to this, it would be inappropriate to comment further on the specifics of what he has said. However, I can say that the Department of Health is investing £20 million in a new national research network on neurological disease, which will expand the number and range of clinical trials on treatment. Alzheimer’s disease is one of those areas that will benefit, and I hope that he will join me in welcoming this new addition to the research.

Q8. [160151] Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): More than 140,000 Scottish voters lost their franchise in the Scottish parliamentary elections in May because of the monumental bungling and clumsy attempts at gerrymandering of the Scotland Office. Is it not therefore time that a Scottish Parliament takes responsibility for Scottish elections? Will the Prime Minister do what the Scottish Secretary failed to do yesterday: offer an unconditional and unreserved apology to those who lost their vote?

The Prime Minister: We do regret the fact that people were not able to vote, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman that his party also supported the system that was adopted. There was a consensus on what the system would be, so it is no good coming and saying now that somehow that party knows better that the system was wrong. His party supported the system at the time. As Mr. Gould has reported, all parties must take their share of the responsibility.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend consider adopting the feed-in tariff system for renewable energy generation, which has been so much more successful in stimulating investment in renewable energy in other European countries, such as Germany? Given this country’s vast resources of renewable energy, does he agree that it should be taking the lead in meeting the European 20 per cent. target, rather than leaving it to other countries to do more?

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