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Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): There are currently six police investigations under way into the conduct of government in London. The most recent allegations are that the London Mayor’s director for equalities and policing has been channelling public funds into organisations run by friends and cronies. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that that is completely unacceptable?

The Prime Minister: As on any occasion when a matter referring to a police investigation is raised, I have to say this is a matter for the police. It should be fully investigated, but it is not a matter for this House until the police complete their investigations.

Mr. Cameron: The point is that while these accusations are going on and this investigation is under way, the Mayor—the Labour Mayor—has said that he

and last night he said that he is already planning to reappoint him. Does not every element of the Prime Minister’s moral compass tell him that this is wrong?

The Prime Minister: As I understand it, the person whom the right hon. Gentleman is talking about has resigned and is no longer in that employment. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to support the police in their investigation, why does his candidate for the Mayor of London say that the first target for cuts is transport and policing? That is the Conservative party—cutting transport and cutting policing.

Q3. [191539] Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend seen reports in today’s press of condemnation by the United Nations drug control agency of a celebrity cocaine culture in the United Kingdom? I have seen the devastating effect of drugs on young lives in my constituency, so will he take this opportunity to agree with me that, quite simply, there is nothing glamorous about drug abuse?

The Prime Minister: One of the good things of recent years is that the number of people using drugs appears to have fallen. It is also true that the number of people receiving drug treatment is up, and we have doubled the budget available for people receiving treatment for drugs. But I have to agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important, when there are celebrities and role models for young people, that they send out the proper messages. Some of our role models and celebrities send out the right message about the damage of drugs, but I hope that those people who take a casual attitude to drugs will think again and remember the message, as celebrities, that they are sending out to young people in our country.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Prime Minister, speaking of education, boasts of opportunity for all, but has he forgotten that under his stewardship, the number of young people not in education, employment or training has soared to 1.25 million? Does he believe that the principal reason for that failure is that nine in 10 jobs go to foreign workers, or is it that 40,000 school leavers leave at 16 functionally illiterate and/or innumerate?

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The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that about 500,000 more young people are in education after school than when we came into power in 1997, so far from there being fewer young people in education, there are more. He has also forgotten that more young people are in work now than there were in 1997, and that youth unemployment has fallen by 80 per cent. Yes, there is an issue to address about young people who fall through the net and young people who leave school without qualifications, but the only way to deal with it is through the measures that we are taking to raise to the age of 18 the opportunities for young people and not to cut them, as the Conservative party would do.

Q4. [191540] Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, East) (Lab): In view of soaring energy costs for consumers and soaring profits for energy companies, will my right hon. Friend give serious consideration to imposing a windfall levy on those profits with a view to increasing the winter fuel allowance for pensioners by £200 for next winter?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, the head of Ofgem has set up an inquiry into the market in electricity and energy in this country. It is right that he pursues an investigation to see whether competition is working effectively in the industry. It is also true that as a result of the European emissions trading scheme windfall profits have been made by the energy companies. That is a matter on which the head of Ofgem has also commented. The energy companies have made additional money available this year to help people on low incomes pay their fuel bills, but that is a small amount in relation to what the Government are doing through the winter allowance. Our winter allowance is £200 for the over-60s and £300 for the over-80s. This winter, when people are experiencing high utility bills, the winter allowance that we are giving is crucial.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Since last November, the Government have secretly trebled the bribe offered to foreign national prisoners to go home. Have the Government done that in secret because they have failed?

The Prime Minister: Two years ago, only 1,500 foreign national prisoners were leaving and being thrown out of this country. Last year, as a result of the actions that we have taken, the figure more than doubled to 4,200. I think it is right that we get as many foreign national prisoners in British prisons back to their country of origin as quickly as possible. I would have hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman would support the measures that we are taking to return people to their country of origin.

Q5. [191541] Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Question 5, Mr. Speaker.

The Prime Minister rose—

Hon. Members: Answer. [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will remember some hon. Members when they make a mistake.

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Chris McCafferty: In the week when we are celebrating both mother’s day and international women’s day, would my right hon. Friend commit to helping improve maternal and child health programmes in developing countries through improvements in reproductive health services and, in particular, through the international health partnership?

The Prime Minister: There would be no better way to mark international women’s day than by taking action to deal with infant and maternal mortality. I would have thought that both sides of the House would think it a tragedy that 500,000 mothers die unnecessarily each year in childbirth and that in a country such as Sierra Leone one in every seven mothers dies in childbirth, bringing into life a baby while dying herself. That is why it is very important that the international health partnership that we have formed takes action to deal with maternal mortality. It needs more nurses, more midwives and more help with treatment in those countries. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she has put this issue on the agenda in this country. If the Opposition would get serious about issues relating to maternal mortality, perhaps together, as a House, we would take action on this matter.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), and First Minister of Northern Ireland, on the announcement that he made yesterday that he plans to stand down from his position as Northern Ireland’s First Minister? Will he also join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend on almost 40 years in this House and on his resolve and determination not to give in to terrorism? Will he also join my right hon. Friend, my colleagues and me in reassuring all of those who want to see continuity in Northern Ireland that true democrats will have nothing to fear from the next Democratic Unionist party First Minister in the Assembly?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right: all of us want to pay tribute to the work that the First Minister did in making possible the final stages of the peace process, the work that he has done as First Minister, his resolute determination to stand up to terrorism at every point and his decision to work with other parties for reconciliation in Northern Ireland. I had the privilege of phoning him last night to thank him for the work that he has done as First Minister, and I hope that the whole House will join me in acknowledging his 40 years of service in this House and the historic role that he has played in the peace settlement in Northern Ireland.

Q6. [191542] Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South- West) (Lab): In Milton Keynes, the Open university, De Montfort university, the university of Luton, University College Northampton and Milton Keynes college are already collaborating, through Universities for Milton Keynes, to provide higher education course for 700 students locally. Would my right hon. Friend agree that that is just the type of initiative that the new university challenge has been designed for, and that Milton Keynes will be successful in its bid for one of the 20 new universities?

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The Prime Minister: The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills made an important announcement on Monday about the designation of 20 towns or cities for new universities or higher education institutes. I hope that all cities and towns will consider whether they could add to their higher education and university amenities, and I hope that many will make submissions as part of that process. Milton Keynes has done a historic job as the home of the Open university, which is known throughout the world, and given Milton Keynes’ size, its application for university status will be welcomed in every part of the country.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): To return to the European treaty, what polling or survey evidence did the Prime Minister have on what the result of a referendum would have been?

The Prime Minister: The one poll that people look at is an actual referendum. In 1975 there was a referendum that recorded a yes vote, with more than two thirds of the population voting yes. I remind Conservative Members that most of those who were here in 1992 walked through the Lobby to oppose a referendum on Maastricht, and now they want a referendum on a treaty that is far less significant. They should think again about their position.

Q7. [191543] Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I know that my right hon. Friend wants to engage and involve young people in their communities as volunteers and in the democratic process. Does he agree that lowering the voting age to 16 would help to bring that about?

The Prime Minister: In the White Paper on the constitution, the Government said that we would consider lowering the voting age to 16 and that is now part of the debate that will take place in the country. On Friday, we announced the appointment of Jonathan Tonge as chair of the Youth Citizenship Commission, which will consider a range of issues including not only the voting age, but the curriculum on citizenship and whether there is a case for a citizenship ceremony when people come of age. All those issues should be part of a public debate.

Q8. [191544] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Is it not ironic that while our armed forces are fighting so courageously and losing lives to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan, this House through the Lisbon treaty is handing powers to our masters in Brussels, thereby further destroying the democratic right of the British people to bring about change through the ballot box?

The Prime Minister: We have a Parliament, we have a democracy and we are having debates on that very treaty in this House as part of our democracy. The hon. Lady should be honest with the House, because she was a member of the campaign— [ Interruption. ] I hope that Conservatives who are putting the case for the referendum will tell the House what they really want. They want a no vote in the referendum and many of them want to renegotiate our membership of the EU. They are not simply anti the amending treaty; they are anti-Europe.

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Ministerial Visits

Q9. [191545] David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): When he next plans to visit north-west Leicestershire.

The Prime Minister: I visited Leicestershire in September, when I visited policing in the community. I look forward to returning to the area soon.

David Taylor: When he comes to north-west Leicestershire, the Prime Minister will receive a warm welcome, not least from the area’s general practitioners, who have implemented our Government’s primary care policies very successfully since 1997. Will he meet those GPs, such as the highly respected Dr. Orest Mulka, whose experience with polyclinics abroad indicates that they will be a step too far and that they might lead to a lower regard for generalist doctors, damage the GP- patient relationship and be wasteful and demoralising as a consequence?

The Prime Minister: The key priority is that we have more doctors who are serving their communities, not just during working hours but during evenings and weekends. That is why it is right that in every area of the country we are investing more in the GP service. I hope that our GPs will vote for the three extra hours that will allow half the practices in this country to offer weekend opening or evening opening so that doctors are available for people when they need them.


Q10. [191546] Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Is the Prime Minister aware that St. Ann’s hospice in Heald Green in my constituency needs to raise £16,000 a day just to keep going? Is he further aware that the respected charity Help the Hospices claims that Government fund only one third of the total requirement needed? Will the Prime Minister tell us what he will do about the problem and will he agree to meet an all-party delegation to discuss the matter in more detail?

The Prime Minister: Of course, I would be very happy to meet an all-party delegation. The work of hospices and the great contribution that they make should be commended in every part of the country. It is true to say that we are providing more finance for hospices than ever before. We will continue to look at what we can do and to value the service that is given by volunteers, as well as professionals, in this area. When we meet, we will discuss the future funding needs of hospices.

Q11. [191547] Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree, and I think that he will, that holding a referendum on the EU treaty would be tantamount to Parliament’s abrogating its responsibilities? However, does he accept that many people in Britain regard the EU as a bureaucratic monolithic monstrosity that unduly interferes with the economic, social and political issues facing our nation? What will he do to alter that perception?

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The Prime Minister: I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s second point. We are proposing major changes in the EU so that it is more outward looking, more global in its orientation, more flexible and less bureaucratic. On her first point, let us be absolutely clear that on every other amending treaty for the EU, the decision has been made by this House and not through a referendum. The Single European Act, Nice, Amsterdam and Maastricht were all decided on in this House. It is the Conservative party that has changed its mind, not the Labour party.

Q12. [191548] Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): With the prison population at record levels, Prison Service managers are understandably trying to use every available place that they can find. For Members of this House with open prisons in their constituencies, there is a concern that security vetting is being relaxed because there are spare places in open prisons. Will the Prime Minister ensure that there is an investigation and will he guarantee that security vetting will not be relaxed simply because of pressure on prison places?

The Prime Minister: I understand that security vetting does take place. The important thing for the hon. Gentleman to recognise is that we have created
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20,000 more prison places over the past 10 years. Even this year there will be a rise in prison places from 82,000 to 85,000 and we will create 15,000 more prison places in the years to come. The reason that we are doing that is that we have brought more offences to justice. Five years ago, 1 million offences were brought to justice; now the figure is 1.4 million. That is a tribute to good policing in this country, and it is because we have been prepared to invest in the police services through our public expenditure.

Q13. [191549] Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): Over the past few years, cluster munitions have killed and maimed tens of thousands of innocent civilians. Now the Oslo process, involving more than 130 nations, including the UK, offers us a way of ridding the world of those weapons for ever. Can my right hon. Friend commit to showing the same sort of resolve in dealing with cluster munitions that this Government showed when we rid the world of land mines?

The Prime Minister: I can tell my hon. Friend that weapons that cause unacceptable harm are something that we have got to negotiate about. We are engaged in a negotiation on this, and of course the Defence Secretary will report back to the House when that negotiation is completed.

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Fireworks Act 2003 (Amendment)

12.31 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I beg to move,

Fireworks used in the United Kingdom are too often too noisy. We need a lower limit on their noise, and improved labelling of fireworks to go along with it. I thank the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of which I am a long-time member, for its assistance with background information to the Bill. I pay tribute to my former colleague Bill Tynan for the work that he did to bring in the Fireworks Act 2003, which has benefited millions of people and millions of pets in the United Kingdom.

Under the 2003 Act, there is a ban on those aged under 18 buying fireworks. It introduced a curfew on the use of fireworks between 11 pm and 7 am, except on four major festivals: Diwali, Guy Fawkes night on 5 November, new year’s eve and Chinese new year. Regulations made under the Act in 2004 introduced a limit of 120 dB for fireworks.

Fireworks fall into four categories. Category 1 fireworks are suitable for use inside domestic buildings; category 2 fireworks are suitable for outdoor use in relatively confined areas; category 3 fireworks are suitable for outdoor use in large open spaces, and category 4 fireworks are incomplete or not intended for sale to the general public. Most fireworks with which the Bill is concerned, and which concern our constituents, fit into category 3.

The 2003 Act also introduced criminal sanctions for contravention of fireworks regulations—an offence punishable on summary conviction by up to six months’ imprisonment or a fine up to level 5, which is currently £5,000. Unfortunately, a recent poll suggested that 60 per cent. of people in this country think that the Act and the regulations made under it are not effective.

Like many Members, I love fireworks—I love the visuals of fireworks. I am not against fireworks or against their use in domestic situations, but I am against the antisocial use of fireworks, which is generally connected to their noise.

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