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The Prime Minister: There is a transformation taking place in care for the under-fives. There are 1,500 childrens centres now, and there will be 3,500 in 2010. That means that for most constituencies, there will be five or six Sure Start childrens centres available for use by both parents and children. What would be a terrible mistake is the Conservative policy to take £200 million out of the budget of Sure Start centres. The Conservatives must explain how many areas will have their Sure Start centres closed as a result. They are proposing doing the worst by young children by cutting back on vital provision in early years learning.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Before the House breaks for Easter, I should like to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to answer some of the questions that he has completely failed to answer in recent weeks. [Interruption.] I thought he would welcome the opportunity. Last week I asked him whether we could have free votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in this House, whereas in the House of Lords he whipped his peers on conscience issues. Can he tell us today: will we have free votes on that Bill on his side of the House when it comes here?
The Prime Minister: I made the position clear last week about this Bill. This is an important Bill that improves the facilities for research and is vital for dealing with life-threatening diseases. It is a Bill that has gone through the House of Lords. I said very clearly that everybody in this House should have the right to exercise their consciences. We will come back to the House with our proposals to take it through in later times.
Mr. Cameron: Why can he not just tell us whether we can have free votes or not? What is so difficult about making a decision about this issue? If he cannot make a decision about this, no wonder the country is in such a mess.
Let me try an issue that I asked the Prime Minister about two months agoidentity cards. I asked him whether he was personally in favour of compulsory identity cards. I am opposed to that; he says that it is a matter for Parliament. Well, the last time I looked he was a Member of Parliament. Will he be voting for themyes or no?
The Prime Minister: I was in favour of them then, and I repeat that now. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the question that he never answered: is he in favour of compulsory ID cards for foreign nationalsyes or no? We are in favour. Is he against?
Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister wants to ask me questions, he should call an election, so he can ask six a week. In the meantime, my responsibility is to ask him questions on behalf of the country, and his responsibility is to answer on behalf of the Government. ID cards for foreigners are just a way of spinning biometric visas, and there is not a person in the House of Commons who is opposed to them.
Let me try another question. [Interruption.] It is good to see the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families sitting there so quietly this week. [Interruption.] Very, very good. He had a choice: he had to learn either to shout more clearly or to be quiet. He has made the right choice.
When I asked the Prime Minister about A-levels six weeks ago, he could give absolutely no guarantee that they would remain after the review in 2013. That means that children starting secondary school do not know whether they will be doing A-levels or not. I want A-levels to remain as the gold standard. Does he?
The Prime Minister: I also answered this question a few weeks ago. The review will take place in 2013. Nobody is going to take away A-levels when they are successful. What we are going to do is look at how the diplomas are working, review the issue in 2013 and then make a decision. That is a guarantee that A-levels are in business for the next five years.
Mr. Cameron: So the Prime Minister can give us absolutely no answer for after 2013. That means that children at secondary school and their parents have no idea about what sort of examination system is going to be in place.
The Prime Minister cannot make a decision about free votes and he cannot make a decision about A-levels. No wonder his new spin doctor Stephen Carter says that living in Downing street is like living in a surreal cartoon. There are now so many spin doctors in Downing street that they have started spinning against each other and leaving in floods of tears. There is a new strategist, a man called David Muir. Yes, I have done a bit of researchhe is the chief strategist and on the internet he has listed his favourite book. It is called [Interruption.] Is his favourite book not the following? It is called The unstoppable power of leaderless organisations. If the Prime Minister cannot make a decision, and if he cannot run his office, why does anyone wonder why he cannot run the country?
The Prime Minister: We are dealing with the substance of issues. The Opposition are playing at politics; we are dealing with the substance of governing. It is interesting that there was not one question about the global economy. Why? Because the Conservatives do not have a policy on the global economy. There was not one question about the health service, because they have no proper policy on the national health service. There was not one question about local government services because they are cutting local government services. They have no answer to the problems of this country.
Q3.  Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): With current market conditions deteriorating, will my right hon. Friend reassure this House that now is not the time to abandon the target that we have setthat 50 per cent. of all new housing in London should be affordable?
The Prime Minister: Fifteen thousand houses are being built in London in the course of a year. The Mayor has raised the target to 30,000, but he also wants 50 per cent. of those houses to be affordable housing. It is very sad that the Conservative mayoral candidate for London has abandoned pursuing that target, in the event that he were ever elected. Surely in London, of all places, we need more affordable housing. We will deliver it; the Conservatives would not.
Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con):
Can the Prime Minister explain how a London Underground public-private partnership contract that charges out a
technician at the rate of £140,000 a year meets the Governments targets for best value? Who shall we blame for this state of affairs?
The Prime Minister: We are increasing usage of the underground in London from 1 billion passengers a year to 1.5 billion passengers a year. Public transport in London has never been better as a result of the decisions that we are taking. Unfortunately, it would be cut by the Conservatives.
Q4.  John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): It seems certain that coal miners beat knee is about to be made a prescribed industrial disease. In order that we can avoid another feeding frenzy for solicitors, will the Prime Minister get his Ministers to meet interested MPs to see whether a scheme can be established that gives value for money to the taxpayer, fair compensation to the coal miner and nothing to the solicitor?
The Prime Minister: I understand that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council is currently looking at this very issue and at whether the disease should be prescribed and therefore liable to compensation and help. It will make recommendations to Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions in due course, and we will take action on that. I can say to my hon. Friend that it is only because we have taken action on industrial diseases over these past 10 years that miners are now receiving the compensation that they never received under the previous Government.
Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): 2008 is the year of reading. Is the Prime Minister aware that many visually impaired and dyslexic children cannot obtain vital textbooks in accessible formats? Last year, the Government made a welcome commitment to improve the provision of such materials. Will he ensure that that commitment is delivered?
The Prime Minister: I had the privilege of being at the launch of the national year of reading. It is very important to encourage all children to get the benefits of reading. The hon. Lady rightly raises the problem of dyslexic children and others who are in need of special help. I will look at everything that she says on that matter and write to her.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has been very active in protecting children, particularly children who are away from their homes, from abuse and exploitation. As she may know, we have set up the review under Dr. Tanya Byron, which is to look into the evidence of harm and measures to protect children from inappropriate content online. I have talked to Dr. Tanya Byron about her review. She will report soon. I believe that she will make recommendations that will take into account the need to see the internet as a means by which people get access to learning materials and to new technology but also as a danger and a harm on which we have to take action where necessary. I hope that my hon. Friend will look forward to Dr. Byrons report.
Q6.  Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Is it right that a person who has been given a driving ban for a serious offence such as causing death by dangerous driving and is subsequently given a prison sentence for an unrelated criminal offence can continue to use up their driving ban while in prison? Should it not be deferred until they are released?
Q7.  Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Last Saturdays grand slam victory shows the sporting skills and passion of the Welsh nation. In looking forward to the Olympic games in 2012 and the opportunities that they will provide to Welsh communities such as my own, Ynys Môn, which has been chosen for potential training facilities for athletes from across the world, does the Prime Minister agree that the legacy from the Olympics must be spread across the United Kingdom, and will he urge his Ministers to work with the devolved Administrations and the Olympics committee to ensure that that legacy crosses the United Kingdom and peripheral areas such as north-west Wales?
The Prime Minister: I hear that my hon. Friend has a sore throat, no doubt from cheering all over the weekend. I, too, send my congratulations to the captain and the manager of the Welsh team on their great success in the international championship.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The benefits of the Olympics must be spread across the whole country. That is the intention behind persuading the different teams to do training in particular areas of the country before they arrive in London. I understand that the Australian Paralympics team are going to base themselves in Wales for the pre-games camp. I hope that in other areas of the country, regions, cities and towns will see the benefit of such activity as we move forwards to 2012. The Olympic games are for the whole United Kingdom, and I believe that that is how the public see them.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Can the Prime Minister tell the House how many post offices are due for closure in his constituency? Is he fighting to keep them open, as his Cabinet colleagues are doing in their constituencies? Does he not find it rather bizarre that they are fighting against a policy of his and of his Government that is doing so much damage to the post office network in this country?
The Prime Minister: The post offices are losing half a million pounds a day. I, too, want to see good services for post offices in every part of the country, but the fact of the matter is that there are 800 post offices where, on average, 16 people attend every week. We have got to take action. I take it from the motion that the Conservatives have tabled for debate today that they are not proposing extra money to save the post offices. Unfunded promises are empty and hollow promises to the people of this country. We have put aside £1.7 billion to make such money available to the post office network. I can only repeat what the chairman of the National Federation of SubPostmasters said this morning:
Post Offices do not have the customer base they used to have many years ago. Many Post Offices are far quieter than they used to be and...although this is unpopular closing two and a half
thousand Post Offices, it is necessary to make sure that the remaining eleven and a half thousand have a future.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Before going any further, Mr. Evennett, it is not your purpose to come into this Chamber to shout down the Prime Minister, or any other hon. Member who is addressing the Houseand that goes for a few others. I will not tolerate this situation.
Q8.  Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley) (Lab): A constituent of mine will have approximately £1,500 less spent on him for public services than the exact equivalent in Glasgow. There is increasing anger in the English regions about the Barnett formula, which is a threat to the Union. Will my right hon. Friend agree to review this formula?
The Prime Minister: We are due to publish a paper on the Barnett formula soon, but I say to my hon. Friend that the allocation of funds in the United Kingdom is based on a needs assessment that started more than 30 years ago, has been agreed by all parties subsequently, and has been followed by every Government since. It is based on the idea that we should allocate resources in the UK on the basis of need. That is the basis on which the Barnett formula exists.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Lincolnshire police authority has increased its precept by 78.9 per cent. That is the result of continuous underfunding due to a grants system that does not properly address the needs of rural areas. Would he please ensure that in the coming year there is a special one-off payment to help, and that in future the grants system is adjusted so that forces such as Lincolnshire get proper resources?
The Prime Minister: We have promised police authorities a minimum of 2.5 per cent. extra per year for the next three years. I have not seen similar promises to fund policing made by the Conservative party. As a result of doubling expenditure on police since 1997, we have more police than ever before in our history, and we are better served by police and community support officers. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that is one of the reasons why crime has fallen in this country.
Q9.  Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Figures revealed to me show that 10,500 households in Brighton and Hove are currently waiting for council homes fit to live in. Some are rehoused 20 miles away in temporary accommodation, while others are in private rented accommodation that is substandard to say the least. What additional powers will the Prime Minister make available to Members of Parliament to force Tory-led local authorities such as mine to build more affordable homes?
The Prime Minister:
There is a desperate need for more houses in this country, and it is important that all the agencies that can make possible the building of housing do so. Therefore, it is sad to see that some
Conservative and Liberal authorities are unprepared to build the houses needed. We are prepared to make additional funding available, as we have shown. I hope that local authorities in every area of the country will respond to the urgent need.
Q10.  Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): My constituent, Adela Mahoro Mugabo, who is HIV positive after being raped and tortured in Rwanda, is threatened with being sent back to that country, where she will not be able to access the treatment that she requires to stay alive. Will the Prime Minister intervene to stop that travesty of justice?
The Prime Minister: I am very happy to look at the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Obviously, there is no reason to believe that people being returned to Rwanda, which is now a peaceful country, will be tortured or in difficulties as a result of that. If there is an issue about the treatment of this particular patient, we will obviously consider it.
Q11.  Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): Can it be right that a tax exile is allowed to spend unlimited amounts of funding on political campaigning outside an election period? Is it not time that that issue was tackled, and is not that best done by getting all the political parties back around the table to agree a settlement that is acceptable to all?
The Prime Minister: We have made proposals to reform party funding and we will introduce a White Paper on the matter soon. It is important to acknowledge that most of the public want a ceiling on election expenditure and on individual contributions. We are considering that; it is unfortunate that it does not have all-party support.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): Yesterday, I was pleased to present a petition to the Prime Minister on behalf of my constituent, Mr. Ali Pourkaberian, an Iranian Christian who was supposed to be deported. We were delighted to get the news on the same day that his deportation has been put on hold. However, when will the Government accept that deporting Christians, homosexuals or anyone else whom the objectionable regime in Iran does not like is simply not facing up to our human rights responsibilities?
The Prime Minister: I think that we do face up to our human rights responsibilities, and when there is a proven case on which we can act, we will take action. I do not know about the individual case, but it is important to ensure that the system is used fairly and that decisions are made in the right way at all times.
Q12.  Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab): It is clear that the international drive for biofuels is doing more harm than good for food security and biodiversity, and even in combating climate change. Will my right hon. Friend take a lead in Europe by calling for the current targets to be abandoned until we have a truly sustainable generation of biofuels?
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