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The Prime Minister: I am in correspondence with the Police Federation about police pay. I have explained to the federation that, as a result of staging public sector pay awards, it was not possible to pay in full the police pay award over the past year. However, I look forward to discussing with the Police Federation a long-term pay deal, which is based on the arbitration award.
Keith Vaz: The Prime Minister knows that, this time last week, almost a sixth of the entire police force of England and Wales marched through the streets of Westminster. May I take what he has just said as an assurance that future awards will be made not on an annual but a longer-term basis, and that they will recognise that, every day, police officers put their lives at risk to protect him, us and the rest of the country in the fight against organised crime and terrorism?
The Prime Minister: I not only have great admiration for the police, but, as I said before, we wanted to pay them more. A national policy to cut inflation meant that every national public sector pay award in which the Government had a role to play was staged over the past year. That is one of the reasons that inflation was brought down. However, I said to the Police Federation in my letter to Jan Berry that I hope that the police will enter into a long-term agreement on pay, based on implementing future years arbitration awards. The Home Secretary has asked the police negotiating board to consider a multi-year deal. Teachers have already agreed a three-year deal, and the process of agreement will start when the police negotiating board meets on 6 February. I hope that we can make progress.
Q4.  Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD) roseHon. Members: Hooray!Dr. Cable: After yesterdays warning from the financial regulator that 1 million homes are at risk of repossession and that negative equity has returned, will the Prime Minister now admit that he was wrong and complacent in dismissing as scaremongering the warning from our Benches and others that his reckless boom, based on lending, was going to lead to bust?
The Prime Minister:
It is nice to welcome the hon. Gentleman back. Even his own party may be pleased to see him back in the position of asking me questions. However, he has misunderstood yesterdays Financial Services Authority report. The fact of the matter is that mortgage repossessions over the past four years are a fifth of what they were in the early 1990s, that mortgage rates have averaged 5 per cent. where they averaged 11 per cent. in the period before 1997, and
that there were half a million people in negative equity under the Conservative Government. There are more home owners in Britain now than ever before. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see on reflection that it is because we have a policy for low inflation, have maintained low interest rates, have rising employment and have avoided any quarter of recession in the past 10 years that we can tell people that we will steer them through the difficult times. That could not be said of any other party in the House.
Q5.  Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): Many of my constituents are concerned about hospital-acquired infections, but today the Health Protection Agency published figures showing a dramatic improvement in the rates of MRSA and C. difficile following the deep clean of our hospitals. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating our health workers on their hard work, despite the cynicism of the Opposition?
The Prime Minister: Since June last year, we have put in an extra £50 million, so that we could inspect wards and improve infection control. We doubled the improvement teams in our hospitals and we have now introduced a new dress code. There will be screening in the future, while deep cleans, which the Opposition described as a gimmick, are already under way. We will always be vigilant. Matron numbers are to be doubled to 5,000. For those reasons, we can now report that MRSA infections are down 18 per cent. on the last quarter and that C. difficile infections are down 21 per cent. We are making progress and we will continue to make progress in the next year.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that when the Defence Committee visited Afghanistan last summer, President Karzai made it clear to us that he wanted a high-profile international envoy to help co-ordinate the international effort there? Will he convey to President Karzai our disappointment that Paddy Ashdown has been refused? Will he also explain to the House what action will now be taken to co-ordinate the international effort in Afghanistan, for which so much sacrifice has been made?
The Prime Minister: I met President Karzai last Friday and talked to him about those very issues. The fact of the matter is that the decision is for the UN Secretary-General, after consulting all the coalition forces. That consultation is still taking place. I believe that Lord Ashdown would have been a great candidate for the job, but there has to be agreement among all those people involved, and that includes the decision by the UN Secretary-General. I hope that we will have a strong development co-ordinator, as the hon. Gentleman wants.
Q6.  Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab):
Will my right hon. Friend personally congratulate Chief Superintendent Steve Kavanagh, his officers and police community support officers, and especially the safer neighbourhoods teams on their achievement in cutting crime in Barnet by 8.6 per cent. so far this year, on top of 16 per cent. last year, with 24.6 per cent. in total? That is one of the best records in the Met. With
5,600 extra officers and 3,700 PCSOs in London provided by the Mayor, what does my right hon. Friend think the result will be of the cuts in the budget proposed by the Tory candidate for London Mayor?
The Prime Minister: In the London area alone, there are 6,000 more police than there were in 1997. As my hon. Friend rightly said, in graphic detail, crime is down in his constituency. The choice in London will be between an administration that wants to employ more police and wants to get crime down, and what the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) has said, which is that he wishes to cut spending on the Metropolitan police. That would be disastrous for the police, disastrous for London and bad for the whole country.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Before Christmas, the Justice Secretary said that his Department would be building three so-called titan prisons. This morning, he said that those prisons may now be built. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether this is a titanic failure or a titanic U-turn?
Q7.  Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, which has recently been named as one of the top health trusts in the country by the Health Service Journal? Will he reassure me that this Governmentour Governmentwill provide all the financial support necessary for the trust to flourish and maintain its excellence in serving my constituents?
The Prime Minister: It is because there are 80,000 more nurses and 20,000 more doctors that we are making progress on waiting times and waiting lists. It is because of that that the rates of cancer are down and we are making progress on stroke and heart disease. My hon. Friend is right to refer to the award that has been won by the trust in his area. I congratulate the trust, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on pushing for more resources for the health service.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): In light of the Governments decision to ignore the findings of the independent arbitration tribunal on police pay, will the Prime Minister please explain to the House what would be the point of any future pay disputes being taken to independent arbitration?
The Prime Minister:
We made it clear throughout the whole year that we were staging public sector pay awards in the interest of getting inflation down. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Bank of England, in its recent report, said that this was one of the reasons why inflation now stands at 2 per cent. in Britain while it is 4 per cent. in America and 3 per cent. in the rest of Europe. While we wanted to pay the police more, it was necessary in the interests of national policy to get inflation down so that we could reduce interest rates, as we have done over the last few months of the year. The Home Secretary has, however, written
to the Police Federation, and I have followed that up with a letter in the past few days in which we say that we look forward to a long-term pay deal based on the full implementation of the arbitration award.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): We are building Sure Start centres in my hon. Friends constituency, and we will continue to invest in under-fives provision. I congratulate him on pushing for that in his constituency.
Mr. Allen: The Prime Minister is aware of the massive financial costs of failing to raise our young people properly. These include the cost of prisons, policing, drug rehabilitation and a lifetime on benefits. Does he agree that a better way is to intervene early and invest to save, by providing effective prenatal services and intensive health visiting and by comprehensive parenting skills being taught to all teenagers? Will he consider making such an early intervention strategy the centrepiece of the next comprehensive spending review, so that we can tackle once and for all the intergenerational nature of these problems that afflict our young people?
The Prime Minister: Let me say also that I look forward to visiting my hon. Friends constituency. I pay tribute to the work that he has done on making an issue of greater provision for the under-fives. This is part of the work that we are doing as a result of the comprehensive spending review. Our aim is to ensure that, for those children under five, any disadvantages that were previously built into their upbringing and prospects are removed as a result of Sure Start and other measures. I gather that there are 11 Sure Start centres in Nottingham already, and we are going to improve the numbers over the next few months. I also believe that Nottingham will be one of the first local authorities to benefit from the Every Child a Reader programme. We will do everything that we can to give more chances to every child under five in the country.
Q9.  Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): In view of the disturbing events that continue in Kenya, including the massacre of women and children, tribal conflict and the assassination of an Opposition Member of Parliament, will my right hon. Friend continue to support the efforts of the international community and Kofi Annan to reintroduce peace and democracy to that country?
The Prime Minister:
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has taken a long-term interest in Kenya and in what happens in Africa. I talked to Kofi Annan and to Graça Machel, the mediators, last evening. I wanted them to send three clear messages to the Kenyan regime. The first is that democracy is not defended by killing people, and that those who are
behind the violence will be held to account in the future. Secondly, dialogue and negotiation are the only way forward in resolving this crisis, and Kenyas politicians must now show the leadership that the Kenyan people want. European Foreign Ministers have made that clear, as did European leaders in a statement last night. Thirdly, the international community will not let the people of Kenya down. We have given £2 million to the Red Cross to help to relieve urgent humanitarian needs, and we will do everything we can through the Department for International Development to provide help to those who have been displaced and harmed. We also stand ready to provide financial support to a genuinely representative Government who are prepared to put the interests of the people of Kenya first.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): How does the Prime Minister reconcile his assertion that Parliament should be at the centre of our national life and his promise that the European Union (Amendment) Bill would have full consideration in this House with the draconian timetable motion that we have had thrust upon us this week?
The Prime Minister: The Bill is being discussed in very great detail. It was discussed last week, it is being discussed this week and it will be discussed next week and the week after that. I think that the country will know that there has been full and detailed discussion of every aspect of this legislation.
Q10.  Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): With the energy supply companies, including Scottish Gas, putting up domestic fuel charges by at least 15 per cent. at the same time as Scottish Gas declares an obscene 636 per cent. rise in profits to £700 millionproving, as Energywatch said, that the market is rigged against the publicsurely it is time for Ofgem to return to its original role of restricting the price rises of these rip-off suppliers. What is the role of the regulator if not that?
The Prime Minister: The regulator has been asked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look into all those matters. The fact is that there has been a 60 to 80 per cent. increase in coal, gas and oil. We cannot deny that those increases are taking place in every country in the world, causing inflationary pressures, including on ordinary consumers. We have the winter allowance in place, which provides £300 for pensioners over 80 and £200 for those over 70. The energy companies have been asked to provide additional money, which is being raised from £40 million to £56 million, to support consumers and we will also do more to help fuel-efficient provision of energy services for households under the Warm Front programme. That will help people to insulate and draught-proof their homes. More money will be going into that in the next few years. We continue to look into all those aspects of the problems people face as a result of energy bills and we will make further announcements to the House.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con):
The Prime Minister may be aware that the Post Office earmarked four post offices for closure in the Mid-Sussex constituency. It invited a detailed consultation for six weeks, to which
there were more than 6,500 repliesall unreservedly in favour of retaining those post offices. On Tuesday, however, the Post Office announced that they are all to be closed. Why does the Prime Minister allow his Government to be party to such a rotten deceit of the public in respect of that consultation?
The Prime Minister: We have made available £1.7 billion to help post offices in this country and we will continue to make money available for Post Office services. There is a process of consultation and an appeals system, although I do not know whether it was taken up. I urge the hon. Gentleman to meet the Minister in charge of the Post Office. We are listening to what people say, but the fact of the matter is that many post offices are not used in any great detail. We will continue to put the money in to help the Post Office service.
Q11.  Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister find time to examine the evidence heard yesterday by the Home Affairs Committee on how the Governments own forced marriage unit cannot get even its own posters advertising advice and support for young people into local schools for fear of upsetting local opinion? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to investigate this problem and introduce new guidelines to ensure that support services are available to young people at risk of being forced into marriages against their will?
The Prime Minister: I am extremely concerned by what was said there and by what my hon. Friend now says. I believe that Ministers with responsibility for schools will want to look further into this. Indeed, we will do so and report back to the House.
Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): The Prime Minister will understand the importance for his constituency and mine of the construction of the two new aircraft carriers. Will he therefore explain why, although the Defence Secretary agreed the go-ahead for those aircraft carriers last July, the contracts for their construction have not yet been signed?
The Prime Minister:
We were able to announce the two new aircraft carriers. They will benefit not only
Rosyth, but many shipyards around the country. We are in the process of agreeing contracts to go ahead with them, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is our intention to go ahead with those contracts.
Q12.  Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh is renowned for the quality of the medical treatment and care it gives to its young patients, but as a result of a review being carried out by the Scottish National party Administration in Edinburgh it is currently facing downgrading, and in particular the loss of its childrens cancer services. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of the hospital staff over many years, and in congratulating the Edinburgh Evening News on its hands off the sick kids campaign, to reflect the public concern over this threat?
The Prime Minister: I gather that the Scottish National party does not want this issue to be raised in the House of Commons. I have some knowledge of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. It has given service to the community over many decades, and it is valued in the community. Unfortunately, the rate of increase of expenditure on health care in Scotland is not now the same as the rate of increase in England. That is the unfortunate result of policy decisions made by the SNP.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I must tell the Prime Minister that Shropshires local education authority is ranked 145th out of 149 LEAs for funding, and that all Shropshire MPs have to fight tooth and nail to save our primary schools in small rural villages. When will the Prime Minister give fairer funding to rural shire counties such as mine to sustain rural village schools, and not pour money into Telford? Why should Telford have £200 more than Shrewsbury?
The Prime Minister: We have doubled expenditure on schooling. We continue to increase the amount of money that is spent on education. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to increase expenditure on education, he had better change the policy of his Front Bench, who have opposed our increases in money for schools.
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