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27 Feb 2008 : Column 1086

Mr. Speaker: Order. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Order. I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that he should be careful where he goes with this. [Interruption.] Order. Now, let the right hon. Gentleman speak. The Speaker has given him some advice; I give hon. Members advice all day. It is all right.

Mr. Clegg: Of course I will be careful, Mr. Speaker. I was talking about procedures, not people—procedures that prevent the British people from having a say in this Chamber, which is what they want.

On the issue of mental health, has the Prime Minister forgotten what his own expert, Lord Layard said? He said that we need an additional 10,000 therapists, not the 3,000 that the Prime Minister is talking about. Why is he taking half measures when we have the scandal of some patients waiting up to three and a half years just to see a therapist?

The Prime Minister: Lord Layard has said that he supports the policy we are putting forward. That policy will receive the support of £173 million, to invest in the psychological help that people can give. We are looking at piloting some of Lord Layard’s proposals on how we can help people get into work, so we are doing exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to do.

As for the matter of the European vote, which the right hon. Gentleman also raised, I just remind him that his party put that issue to a vote only a few weeks ago, on 14 November 2007, when it said that

When they put their proposal to the vote, 464 voted against them, and only 68 for them. That is the level of support for their proposal.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware of the huge disappointment in Blackpool when we were not awarded a super-casino after years of campaigning. Will he therefore agree to meet me, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), to discuss further the regeneration package announced for Blackpool, and especially to discuss how we can lever in private sector money to match the announcement that the Government have made about their investment?

The Prime Minister: I applaud what my hon. Friend has done to put the case for Blackpool, and she and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South have argued the case for regeneration. We have looked at the proposals that she and others have put forward. We are in favour of a substantial scheme of regeneration. We cancelled the super-casino, but our view has always been that not only Manchester but Blackpool should have more measures of regeneration allocated to them by Government support. I will be happy to meet her to discuss that.

Q2. [189117] Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): According to the Office for National Statistics, 207,000 British people left the UK last year. That is the highest number on record. Just what is it about the Prime Minister’s Government that makes British people want to pack their bags and leave the country?


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The Prime Minister: I do not think the hon. Gentleman understands that every year about 180 million people are moving around the world. They are moving to study, to work and to find new lives for themselves. It is inevitable that there will be higher mobility in future years. The question for us is one that all parties will want answered. We have to have a system of managed migration for our country, which is precisely what our proposals of last week were determined to achieve.

Q3. [189118] Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): Screening for cervical cancer saves thousands of lives every year, but we know we have to do better to increase uptake among young women, particularly those in their late 20s and early 30s. Given that, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Salford primary care trust, whose initiative to improve those processes brought about a 7 per cent. increase in uptake? In fact, is it not the case that action locally and nationally to improve screening is a lifesaver, not a political gimmick?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the Opposition last week said that the cervical cancer screening times that we are introducing were a gimmick. What we are doing is introducing vaccination against cervical cancer, available to teenagers. That is a big investment that we are making because it will save lives. I hope that there will be support in all parties for the action that we are taking.

Q4. [189119] Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): As someone who has now passed his 60th birthday, I acknowledge the benefits and the resources of concessionary bus passes. However, is the Prime Minister aware that small borough councils that have a high level of tourism, such as Fylde, are already contemplating cutting local services so as to be able to fund fully the burden of concessionary bus fares? Will the Prime Minister look again at the allocation mechanism for those resources, to ensure that resources match the burden on small authorities?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may know that we have provided £650 million to local authorities over the next three years to cover the extra cost of national travel. We have done it in that way after a great deal of consultation with local authorities, which asked for the scheme to be developed in the way that it has been. As a result of that consultation, the right hon. Gentleman’s council will receive £275,000 for that national scheme, and I believe that other councils in his area are receiving similar amounts of money. By April, we will be able to say that there will be free off-peak national concessionary travel for every pensioner in the country. That is a substantial advance, and I hope that it will have the support of all people in the country.

Q5. [189122] Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): I am sure that the whole House will welcome the conviction last week of Steven Wright for the foul murder of five young women in my constituency and commend the role of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in their successful prosecution of him. Key to the early detection and successful prosecution was the identification of Wright through the national DNA
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database. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that a proportionate and effective database of DNA is sustained, not just one that records people convicted for violent and sexual offences?

The Prime Minister: I join my hon. Friend in thanking and congratulating the police and those involved in bringing a successful prosecution for the murder of these prostitutes in Ipswich. Our country is proud of the professionalism and dedication that the police and all the prosecuting authorities show. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of DNA. I can tell the House that the DNA database produced matches that enabled us to prosecute in the case of 452 homicides, 644 rapes, 222 other sex offences and 1,800 other violent crimes, all in the past year. That shows that we are in a position to make the best use of the DNA database to catch people who otherwise may go free. I hope that other parties in the House will reconsider their opposition to the 2003 Act that extended the DNA database, to the benefit of successful prosecutions.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The most recent election in Scotland took place last week in the Highland ward in Perthshire, where the Scottish National party secured 60 per cent. of the vote and Labour came in last at 3 per cent. What particular UK Government policy does the Prime Minister think motivated those 97 hardy souls to vote Labour?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the last Scottish elections, even with the success of the SNP, 68 per cent. of the population voted against parties supporting separation. On any opinion polls conducted, support for independence has not risen since last summer, but fallen. That shows the views of the Scottish people: they want to be part of the United Kingdom.

Q6. [189123] Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): People in my constituency who suffer because of drug-related crime want the offenders caught and punished, but they also want action to get them off drugs before they wreck their own lives and destroy their communities. What more can the Prime Minister do to ensure that there is effective co-ordination among Departments to tackle the misery that drug addiction causes to the addicts, their families and the people around them?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a big interest in such matters. Although the numbers of people on drugs are down and the numbers of drug-related crimes are down, we still have a major problem to deal with, in respect of the number of people dependent on drugs in our country. Dealing with it starts with proper education in primary and secondary schools, and with proper systems for treating people who are drug-dependent, and includes programmes for treating people in prison, where we want to move the number of people on drugs who are treated to an additional 1,000 a week.

I also believe that we must do more to help people who are on benefit back into work. It is right, then, to look at the system that we have for paying incapacity benefit, to see whether there is a better way of ensuring that the 300,000 people on incapacity benefit who are
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drug-dependent can receive the treatment necessary, allowing them to be in a position to get back to work and not be wholly dependent for ever on one benefit. We are going to come forward with proposals to reform the system to ensure that people who are on drugs have the best possibility of getting off drugs, with the best possible treatment.

Q7. [189124] Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Many vulnerable communities are waiting to hear about the future of their post offices. Such challenges often bring out the best in people: if they are given the opportunity, they can organise themselves and their resources to ensure that those facilities stay open. That often includes the local shop. Will the Prime Minister call a moratorium on post office closures so that people can use the full potential of the Sustainable Communities Bill and the powers of devolved Administrations to minimise those losses and protect the quality of life of the people living in those communities?

The Prime Minister: If proposals are made to give communities better means of providing postal services, and if they include a financial way forward to do so, we are very happy to look at them. On present proposals for post offices, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have set aside £1.7 billion for the next three years to implement the programme of post offices changes. Under the previous Government, no money was provided when post offices were going under, but we are providing the money to make it possible. About 10 per cent. of the proposals have already been turned down, and if the hon. Gentleman brings forward proper and financially costed proposals, we will look at them.

Q8. [189125] Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Mr. Demetris Christofias, the newly elected President of the Republic of Cyprus? His election may turn out to be the last opportunity to find a solution to the Cyprus problem. In those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend make it his first priority to find a resolution of the problems of Cyprus and do everything he can to reunite the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate the new President-elect on his victory. Cypriots have clearly demonstrated that they want a comprehensive settlement, or progress towards it, in the next few months. I have invited the new President to come to London to talk about these issues, and I believe that there is new hope that such a settlement can be achieved.

Q9. [189126] Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The Leader of the House, the Prime Minister’s own deputy leader, has described Fidel Castro as a “hero of the left”. Given Castro’s persecution of homosexuals, his imprisonment of journalists and his employment of thousands of people on phone-tapping duties, does the Prime Minister agree?

The Prime Minister: There can be no defence against the abuse of democratic rights in any country.


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Q10. [189127] Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The Home Secretary’s determination to make it easier for police officers to confiscate alcohol from teenage binge drinkers will be welcomed by almost all parents in my constituency. Sadly, however, one parent disagrees. He thinks that this idea is a gimmick—and it says so on the Tory party’s website. Does the Prime Minister know who that parent might be?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the Conservative party chose last Friday to say that something as important as controlling the supply of alcohol and stopping binge drinking in our community is simply a gimmick. It is right to confiscate alcohol from under-18s, it is right to prosecute shops and retail outlets that sell alcohol to under-18s, and it is right to step up the measures that we will be taking in the next few days against binge drinking in our country. I believe that the whole country wants us to take those measures, and that they do not see measures that make a difference as a gimmick. That idea is just playing politics, but we are getting on with the business of governing.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Does the Prime Minister share my concern about the worrying increase in tension in Serbia and, even more worryingly, in parts of the Republika Srpska, following the granting of independence to Kosovo? Does he agree with Carla del Ponte that more effort must be made to send a strong signal to bring General Mladic and Karadzic to justice in The Hague in the very near future?

The Prime Minister: Bringing these two men to justice is a very important part of reconciliation after what happened in that area of Europe. I would say to the hon. Gentleman also that what has happened in Kosovo is the right way forward. The supervised independence that is happening has happened with peace and stability. I hope, as a result of the NATO force and the European Union civilian force there, that that will continue, and I hope that Serbia, where there are tension and understandable anxieties, will see that it has a European future, and we will support it in that.

Q11. [189128] Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): In Fairtrade fortnight, we congratulate those towns and parish councils that have managed to achieve Fairtrade status. They should be supported. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating them? However, in my area, West Lancashire district council, a Tory council, is reluctant to participate and has absolutely rejected the idea, on the basis that it is more expensive or the coffee does not taste correctly. There is no measure of what fair trade means to other people throughout the world, globally—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must stop.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Fair trade is important to the poorest countries of the world. The Fairtrade fortnight that is taking place means that there are many local celebrations that we should be supporting. UK shoppers have bought nearly 500 million fair trade products this year. That is up 40 per cent., which shows the great support that there now is for fair trade. Fair trade is not a gimmick. It is an important part of building justice throughout the world.


27 Feb 2008 : Column 1091

Personal Debt (Advice and Regulation)

12.32 pm

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): I beg to move,

Debt has always been a problem for some, but we live in an increasingly materialistic society and that is fuelling a growing debt crisis. Yesterday we heard from the Children’s Society about the increasing materialism shown by children and the pressure that that can cause. Children are keen to conform, and that is a particular problem in the teenage years. A separate survey of 14 to 18-year-olds revealed that more than half of them are in some sort of debt by the age of 17 and a further 26 per cent. saw credit cards and overdrafts as a way of increasing their spending power.

Last year, 106,645 people were declared insolvent or bankrupt. That is 272 people every day. Many others are wondering whether they will be next, but the problems start building up early in life. Quite simply, many 18-year-olds today start their adult life in debt. A student loan, topped up by tempting deals on credit cards and store cards, causes the problem. Faced with the offer of 10 per cent. off if a person signs up for a store card today, many teenagers and young adults are ill equipped to consider fully the long-term cost of so much cheap credit. A survey by the Nationwide building society revealed that 75 per cent. of people in the UK do not understand the monetary value that a 1 per cent. difference in mortgage rates can make. It is probably safe to assume that that lack of knowledge can be extended to credit card repayments.

In the UK, personal debt as a proportion of income is the highest it has ever been and the highest in the developed world. We are, quite simply, the debtor of Europe. If the problem is not to deteriorate further, we need to take action at a number of levels. First, we need to get people while they are young. Currently, the teaching of personal financial management is not compulsory in schools, although there are opportunities for pupils to learn about managing their money through personal, social and health education, citizenship and maths lessons. However, the reality is that PSHE lessons are not always taken as seriously as they should be and there is no monitoring of what is taught. Some schools have found it difficult to teach financial literacy: some staff do not feel confident about teaching it, and that is combined with the difficulty of fitting the lessons into an already crowded timetable. Above all, however, education should equip people for life, so the subject deserves to be taught in its own right.

Financial education will be part of the national curriculum from 2008, but that will cover only the role of business and financial services. What children really need are lessons in budgeting and money management, as they will help them understand the implications of any simple financial decisions that they make and, hence, help them to avoid future debt.


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