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The Prime Minister:
The big picture is taking action to help hard-pressed families. When the right hon. Gentleman talks about fuel poverty, he omits to mention the winter allowance paid to 11 million pensioners in this country and costing over £2 billion. When he talks about the utility companies, he is omitting to tell us that there is £100 million to help low-income families, and he fails to mention that 22 million families will receive £120 in a tax cut over the next few months. All these
things are necessary to help people through difficult times, but I think that people would prefer our solutions to the problem than his.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): Since most European Governments are now seeking to take joint action both to stop oil speculation helping to drive up petrol prices and heating costs and to stop vast City bonuses driving unregulated financial markets, is there any reason why our Government should not support both such joint actions from Europe?
The Prime Minister: We are, as I told the House last week, looking at this whole question of speculation in the oil market, but my right hon. Friend has to face up to one fundamental fact that is true: demand for oil, both now and in the medium term, exceeds supply. It is a reasonable expectation that more oil will be wanted in the years to come, and that is the main factor driving the price up. What we have got to do about this, as he would agree, is lower our dependence on oil. That is why we have made the big decision on nuclear power, opposed by the Opposition. That is why we also believe in renewables, including wind power, often opposed by the Opposition. That is why we want to make cars more efficient, and that is why we have incentives for fuel-efficient cars, opposed by the Opposition. These are the measures that we can take and will take, and we will take them with our European partnersagain, co-operation opposed by the Opposition.
Q2.  Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): This week the Government finally acknowledged major affordability gaps in the delivery of the defence training review programme. Given the worsening of public finances, would the Prime Minister give an undertaking to have a review of this undeliverable and unaffordable project, and for once admit he has got it wrong?
The Prime Minister: Our defence budget is rising every year, and it will continue to rise. We will not allow the training of our defence forces to remain inadequate. We now have the second biggest defence budget in the world [Interruption]as a percentage of national income. We want to ensure that our troops are properly staffed and equipped, and that is what we will continue to do. That is why we continue to spend money not just on defence but on all the urgent operational requirements of the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Q3.  John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I am sure the Prime Minister will wish to join me in congratulatingand perhaps will even visitthe Larwood surgery, which won a top NHS award for drug treatment last week. The system that it uses is the same GP-led model that has been introduced successfully by the Social Democrats in Sweden, the Socialists in France and Labour in New South Wales. Is it not time that we considered introducing it throughout the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: The Government have funded a number of initiatives relating to drugs, one of which is intended to support the rising number of GPs who are able to help with drug treatment. About 2,000 health care professionals have undertaken the Royal College of General Practitioners primary care certificate course, which deals with drug issues.
We will learn from what is happening in Sweden, and we will continue to increase the number of people who are receiving drug treatment. I can tell the House that, even in difficult times, the number of drug misusers being helped by treatment has doubled to nearly 200,000.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Prime Minister believe that his partys wilting membership in Wales and my partys increasing membership in Wales are due to the coalition between Plaid Cymru and Labour in the National Assembly, or to his leadership here in Westminster?
The Prime Minister: The fact that there are 100,000 more jobs in Wales is due to a Labour Government and Labour Members of the Welsh Assembly; the fact that more children have been taken out of poverty in Wales is due to a Labour Government and Labour Members of the Welsh Assembly; and the fact that there are more public services in Wales is due to the funds provided by a Labour Government from here.
Q4.  Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that people who cannot afford to buy houses should not pay the price for the current economic turmoil and the tightening of credit in the housing market? His announcement today that hard-pressed families will be helped to get on to the housing ladder is welcome, but does he agree that we must encourage local authorities and housing associations to do more to make affordable houses available for rent?
The Prime Minister: We are using £200 million of public funds to buy up unsold houses in the market. That will help people to rent their homes, particularly people who, on the existing waiting list, cannot obtain homes. We are announcing today that five local authorities throughout the country will be able to set up housing companies to build houses for the first time, and we will support those councils in their efforts to make more stock available for rent. We are also announcing today that, under a rent to home-buy scheme, people who cannot afford to buy a house initially under the shared-equity proposals will be able to start by renting. That is another move forward to help the rented housing sector in Britain.
Q5.  Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): The current focus on knife crime makes it easy to forget that there are more than 5,000 violent assaults each year involving the use of broken glass. One positive step would be to support the campaign led by my constituent Marjorie Golding, and encourage late-night clubs and bars to replace glass with polycarbonates. Will the Prime Minister be decisive, show some leadership and support the campaign, or does he need more time to ponder?
Q6.  Paul Clark (Gillingham) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the importance of volunteers and the voluntary sector in our communities, as amply demonstrated by the Sunlight
Development Trust in my constituency, which is leading on social enterprise work and campaigns locally. However, there is concern that central Government support for the third sector must continue, so what steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that third sector organisations are reassured about the commitment of this Government to their neighbourhood campaigning and the delivery of complementary services in neighbourhoods?
The Prime Minister: By increasing the grants that we are making available for grassroots community action, £130 million is being provided directly to small community groups, and we are establishing a £70 million community builders scheme to help community-led organisations become more sustainable. At the same time, we are helping youth volunteering by giving more money to the v organisation to encourage young people to get a step on the ladder to community action. I should also remind my hon. Friend that we have strengthened gift aid, which gives millions of pounds to charities by virtue of tax relief. But we will not see the charitable sector, as some Opposition Members do, as a cut-price alternative to public services. We will reinforce the work of the voluntary sector in partnership with Government.
The Prime Minister: It is too high, which is why I am trying to get the oil price down. That is why I went to Jeddahso that we can have a dialogue between producers and consumers. That is why I am meeting the Nigerian President this afternoonbecause there are 1.5 million barrels of oil that could be produced from Nigeria but that, as a result of violence, are not being produced. That is why we met the North sea oil producers a few weeks ago to talk about how they might develop fields in the North sea that are either small fields or fields that are difficult to get at. It is precisely for these reasons that we are taking the action to reduce our dependence on oil overall. It is just unfortunate that the Opposition will not support these actions.
Q8.  Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): The announcement last Friday by the Government and the Association of British Insurers that flood insurance will be widely available long term will be greatly welcomed in constituencies such as mine that border the Severn, where people naturally are concerned about the effects of climate change, but can the Prime Minister reassure my constituents that developing an adequately funded long-term flood defence strategy will remain the priority?
The Prime Minister: We will be spending £800 million on the flood defence strategy by 2011raising the amount from £400 million a few years ago to £600 million now, and then to £800 million over the next period of time. Last week, we also finalised the agreement with the insurance companies that my hon. Friend mentioned, and it is because we are investing in flood defences that they were prepared to say that insurance against floods will be widely available for homes and small businesses, so that fear that people have had has been removed. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely rightshe has campaigned on thisthat we must make the investment in flood protection for the future.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con): As the Budget continues to fall apart and the Chancellor has had to abandon yet another badly targeted tax, have the Government yet decided how the unfortunate taxpayer will eventually have to pay for the mess he has made of the public finances?
The Prime Minister: I remember when we inherited debt at 44 per cent. of national income and reduced it to 38 per cent. I remember when we inherited rising inflation and brought it down. I also remember that we inherited from the previous Government large numbers of people who were unemployed and have made them employed. When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman remember the fact that 3 million people are now in work as a result of a Labour Government? As for taxation, 22 million people will receive £120 as a result of decisions that we have made.
Q9.  Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that, following the publication of The Governance of Britain White Paper, the Modernisation Committee has heard overwhelming evidence confirming the urgent need for effective parliamentary scrutiny of regional development agencies and other key regional bodies. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the Modernisation Committees report and its recommendations both to fill the accountability gap at regional level and for us as Members to be able to question regional Ministers?
The Prime Minister: We spend about £2.3 billion through our regional offices and the regional development agencies in each of the regions of England. It is right that there should be proper accountability of that, which is why we are proposing the regional Select Committees. I believe that the Modernisation Committee supports that approach, and I hope that it will be given a welcome from both sides of the House. It will enable regional Members to examine and hold accountable the offices that exist in the regions.
Q10.  Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): The most rapidly increasing type of cancer in this country is skin cancer, of which there are more than 80,000 new cases each year. As the Prime Minister heads to Suffolk for his bucket and spade holiday, I am sure that he will be stocking up on sun cream. How can his Government justify charging VAT on that essential health protection item?
The Prime Minister: This issue is looked at from time to time, but I say to the hon. Lady that the more important thing that we are doing is investing £15 billion over the next 10 years in trying to find cures to diseases including cancer and skin cancer. The action of the national health service in making it possible for people to be seen quickly when they are diagnosed with cancer means that 99 per cent. of people suspected of having cancer are seen within two weeks. Those are the actions that we can take, and they will get rid of skin cancer in the long run.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab):
Following this weeks welcome publication by the Sentencing Guidelines Council of a report on the sentencing of
people convicted of causing death by careless driving, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the section of the Road Safety Act 2006 on causing death by careless driving is quickly enacted and that tough guidance is sent out to the courts so that people who lose their loved ones as a result of accidents caused by such driving know that justice will be done?
The Prime Minister: It is a tragedy to meet people who have lost their loved ones as a result of careless driving; they are innocent people who suffer as a result of someone elses failure. That is why we will implement these guidelines and why my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary will be going ahead immediately with these proposals.
Q11.  Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): The Prime Minister may have seen in todays press the admission by the airline BMI that it intends to fly empty planes this autumn in order to keep its slots open, and that Flybe, for the same reason, is even hiring actors to fly between Norwich and Dublin to boost passenger numbers. Given the massive carbon emissions for which aviation is responsible, is that not an environmental disgrace? Will the Prime Minister take action to prevent those ghost flights, or will he cave in to the aviation industry, as usual?
The Prime Minister: It would be clearly unacceptable if airlines flew without any passengers whatsoever, simply to maintain their slots. We shall look at the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises and talk to the airlines, and I shall write to him in due course.
Q12.  Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): It is now a year since the introduction of legislation creating smoke-free workplaces and public places. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what assessment he has made of the level of compliance with the legislation, of the public health benefits and of what measures he thinks can be taken further to reduce the level of smoking in this country?
The Prime Minister: The evidence is very interesting: nearly a quarter of a million people quit smoking with the help of their smoking services between April and December 2007that is a 22 per cent. increase in the number of people who have quit smoking, and it must be directly related to the ban on smoking in public places. We are also investing a great deal more in research into this matter. Cancer Research UK estimates that 40,000 lives will be saved over the next 10 years as a result of this smoke-free legislation, and I believe that there is increasing public support for the action that was taken.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): On Friday, staff in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will begin a 48-hour strike. During the previous 24-hour strike, the contingency cover that was put in place was barely adequate, and it would not be sufficient to cover a 48-hour strikeas a result, lives will be put at risk. Will the Prime Minister intervene to solve this dispute? Will he pay our coastguards a decent wage, or will he sit on his hands until lives are lost?
The Prime Minister:
I will certainly look at the issue of contingency cover to see what is being provided in the event of this dispute. I would, even now, call on the
people who are engaged in planning the dispute to cease this action. I think that it is very important that employers and employees get together to find a solution to these disputes. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that 1.5 million workers in the public sector have already signed, or are subject to, three-year pay agreements, including nurses, teachers, and those who work in the Department for Work and Pensions and in the Inland Revenue. Never before have we had three-year agreements during difficult times such as these, and I believe that there should be support for other groups of workers in the public sector signing up to long-term pay agreements.
Q13.  David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
During his richly deserved holiday in Southwold, will the Prime Minister reflect on present Government proposals that would evict parents from local authority accommodation when their children caused problems in the vicinity? Those of us who were brought up on local authority estates believe that there is a risk that that might demonise such areas. Our experience as MPs tells us that problems with young
people originate as often when parents live in owner-occupied accommodation. What will he do in those circumstances?
The Prime Minister: I have looked at the work of the family intervention projects that my hon. Friend is talking about. I have been to see at first hand how families have been brought round, as children who were engaged in vandalism and antisocial behaviour live decent and normal lives as a result of changing their ways. The whole point of the family intervention projects is that families sign a contract to say that they will change their ways in return for 24-hour help in doing better. That is the proper way forward in order to deal with the worst problems of antisocial behaviour. I would have thought that there would be massive support in the country for extending that project to the 20,000 families who will be helped as a result. In the end, if we are to tackle crime we need tougher punishments, better enforcement and action on prevention. Action on prevention will be stepped up over the next few years so that every child is given opportunity but expected to behave properly in our communities.
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