I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Senior Aircraftman Ryan Tomlin from 2 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment. It is clear from the tributes paid by his RAF colleagues that he was a determined young man with immense potential. His service and his sacrifice to our nation will never be forgotten.
Members of the House will also have seen the reports that the talented and respected foreign correspondent of The Sunday Times, Marie Colvin, has been killed in the bombing in Syria. It is a desperately sad reminder of the risks that journalists take to inform the world of what is happening, and of the dreadful events in Syria. Our thoughts should be with her family and friends.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about our brave troops and the brave journalists who report their activities?
The Prime Minister has said that one of his main priorities is to fight crime. Will he explain, therefore, why since the election there has been a cut of more than 4,000 in the number of front-line police officers? The South Yorkshire police helicopter, which last year was responsible for apprehending more than 700 criminals, will be scrapped by the Policing Minister against the advice of the chief constable. How can the Prime Minister explain these matters? They clearly indicate to the public that crime will rise. This is simply another broken promise from this Prime Minister.
On the issue of the helicopter, talks are under way between South Yorkshire police and the Association of Chief Police Officers. I am confident that helicopter coverage will be maintained. On the wider issue, I would make the point that recorded crime is down under this Government. The figures from
Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary show that it believes that there will be more police in visible policing roles this March than there were a year ago.
This Monday was meant to be a happy reunion for pupils at Alvechurch Church of England middle school following the half-term break. Instead, it has turned out to be a day of mourning for the school and the entire community because of the news of a coach crash in France, which claimed the life of a much-loved local teacher, Mr Peter Rippington, and left many school children seriously injured. Will the Prime Minister join me in expressing sympathy for all those who have been affected and in wishing all those who are still being treated in France a swift recovery and a speedy return home?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this desperately sad case. I know that Peter Rippington was much respected in the local community and at the school. He will be hugely missed. I am sure that the thoughts and sincere condolences of everyone in the House will be with my hon. Friend’s constituents and everyone who has been affected. Our consular staff in France continue to provide support to all those who are still in France. Our ambassador, Sir Peter Ricketts, has visited passengers in hospital and is liaising with the local authorities. We will do everything we can, with the French authorities, to get people home safely.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Senior Aircraftman Ryan Tomlin from 2 Squadron, RAF Regiment. He died bravely and courageously serving our country, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.
We are also thinking today about the tragic death of Marie Colvin. She was a brave and tireless reporter across many continents and in many difficult situations. She was also an inspiration to women in her profession. Her reports in the hours before her death showed her work at its finest, and our thoughts today are with her family and friends.
On Monday, the Prime Minister held his emergency NHS summit and managed to exclude the main organisations representing the following professions: the GPs, the nurses, the midwives, the pathologists, the psychiatrists, the physiotherapists and, just for good measure, the radiologists. How can he possibly think it is a good idea to hold a health summit that excludes the vast majority of people who work in the NHS?
What I want to do is safeguard our NHS. We are putting more money into the NHS—money that Labour is specifically committed to taking out. But let us be frank: money alone will not be enough. We have to meet the challenge of an ageing population, more expensive treatments and more people with long-term conditions, and that is why we have to reform the NHS. My summit was about those organisations, including clinical commissioning groups up and down the country—8,200 GP practices—that want to put the reforms in place.
So he has got no answer about his ridiculous summit that excluded the vast majority of people who work in the medical professions. Let us
remind ourselves of what he said just a few short months ago during his so-called listening exercise. He said that
“change—if it is to…really work—should have the support of people who work in our NHS. We have to take our nurses and doctors with us.”
Now he cannot even be in the same room as the doctors and nurses. Does that not tell him that he has lost the confidence of those who work in our national health service?
What I want to know is, when is the right hon. Gentleman going to ask a question about the substance of the reforms? He does not want to ask about choice, because the Opposition used to be in favour of choice but will not back it in the Bill. He does not want to ask a question about competition, because they used to favour competition but now will not support it in the Bill. They used to support GPs being put in charge of health budgets. They backed that, but they will not support it now it is in the Bill. Why not ask a serious question? Incidentally, as we are being kept here to vote at 7 o’clock on the publication of the risk register, why does he not ask a question about that?
We will come to the substance of the Prime Minister’s Bill, but let me ask him this very important question. There were people who attended the summit and expressed deep concerns about his Bill. Even those who were invited to his summit did so. Following his health summit, can he tell us what changes, if any, he is planning to make to his Bill?
Why does the right hon. Gentleman not stop worrying about my diary and start worrying about his complete lack of substance? We are going ahead with these reforms because we think it is good for patients to have choice, good to have the involvement of the independent and voluntary sectors in the NHS and good to have more emphasis on public health. That is why we are doing these reforms.
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of one thing that he used to believe. He used to believe—this was what his Health Secretary said—that
“the private sector puts its capacity into the NHS for the benefit of NHS patients, which I think most people in this country would celebrate.”—[Hansard, 15 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 250WH.]
The Opposition are now committed to a 5% cap on the private sector, which would mean hospitals such as the Marsden hospital sacking doctors, sacking nurses and closing wards. Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman again: we are here at 7 o’clock to vote on the risk register. Are you going to ask a question about it, or are you frightened of your own motion?
Nobody believes the Prime Minister and nobody trusts him on the health service. At the Homerton hospital on Monday, I met senior staff working in HIV services, who explained to me how the Bill will fragment and disrupt services—[ Interruption. ] The Health Secretary should be quiet and listen to the people who work in the health service. If he had done some listening before—[ Interruption. ] He should calm down.
The senior staff working in HIV services explained that HIV treatment is currently commissioned by one organisation: the primary care trust. Under the Prime Minister’s plans, treatment will be commissioned by three organisations: the national commissioning board, the clinical commissioning group and the health and wellbeing board. The staff said that that will damage the world-class service they provide for patients. Why will he not listen to the people who actually know what they are talking about in the NHS?
If the right hon. Gentleman is opposing other organisations that have expertise in AIDS and AIDS treatment taking part in the NHS, he is opposing the Terence Higgins Trust, which does an enormous amount to support HIV. The fact is that we are seeing complete opportunism from the Labour party, which used to back choice, the independent sector and reform. I say to you, Mr Speaker, you don’t save the NHS by opposing reform; you save the NHS by delivering reform.
The Prime Minister does not even understand his own Bill. Let me explain to him. The question was about the fragmentation of commissioning. The experts at the Homerton—[ Interruption. ]
The reason why the Prime Minister has lost the—[ Interruption. ]
If the right hon. Gentleman took any longer, we would have to put him on a waiting list for care, his question took so long. He asks about integration. Let me explain to him, because I do not suppose he has read the Bill, that clauses 22 and 25 place a specific duty on key organisations to integrate health and social care. The Bill is all about integration, but here we are, on his fifth question, and he still will not mention his vote on the risk register. I think I know why. I have here Labour’s brief for this afternoon’s debate. There is an excellent section explaining why we do not publish risk registers. The second argument is particularly strong. It goes like this:
There we are. The Opposition are absolutely revealed as a bunch of rank opportunists, not fit to run opposition, not fit for government.
I will tell the Prime Minister what happened under the previous Labour Government: the lowest waiting times in history; more doctors and nurses than ever before; and the highest patient satisfaction with the NHS. I will match our record on the NHS with his any day of the week. The problem with this Prime Minister is that he asks people to trust him but he has betrayed that trust. The problem with this Prime Minister is that on the NHS he thinks that he is right and everyone else is wrong. It has become a symbol not of how his party has changed but of his arrogance. I tell him this: this will become his poll tax. He should listen to the public and drop the Bill.
Six questions and not one mention of the motion that the Opposition are putting before the House tonight! To put it forward and then not back it up shows an absence of leadership. [Interruption.]
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is actually happening in the health service under this Government: waiting times for outpatients, down; waiting times for inpatients, down; the number of people waiting in total, down; the number of people waiting for more than a year, halved; hospital infections, down to their lowest level; and mixed-sex wards, down by 94%. That is our record. There are 4,000 more doctors, almost 1,000 more midwives and fewer managers. He talks about what people think about this Government, so let me remind him what his two-time candidate said about him this week:
“You are not articulating a vision or a destination, you’re not clearly identifying a course and no-one’s following you…My problem is that you are not a leader.”
I could not have put it better myself.
In 2009, when the Conservatives took control of Lancashire county council, fostering services were rated unsatisfactory. Since then, its budget has reduced by £120,000 and it is now rated outstanding. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating county councillor Tony Winder and his Conservative colleagues not only for doing more for less but for doing it better as well?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in that, and he makes an important point: across the country we have different councils coping with the issues of fostering and adoption, and producing very different results. We need to publish all these figures so that we can see which councils are doing well and getting value for money, as they clearly are in Lancashire, and, above all, which councils are doing the best to get children out of care and into a warm and loving home.
We support the minimum wage, we have supported its uprating and we have already uprated it. It has an important role to play.
The children of Somalia should be able to expect a life before death. Does not tomorrow’s London conference provide an opportunity to signal to the terrorists, pirates and corrupt of Somalia that we are all determined to do whatever we can to ensure stability and good governance in Somalia? Will the Prime Minister welcome the participation in the conference of the President of Somaliland, given its experience of peace-building in the region?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We will be welcoming the President of Somaliland to the conference. Somaliland has taken an important step forward in showing that better governance and better economic progress are possible. In many ways, it is an example that others can follow. But the conference is not about recognising Somaliland; it is about trying to put in place the building blocks, among the international community but above all among the Somalis themselves, for a stronger and safer Somalia. That means taking action on piracy and hostages, supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia and increasing its funding and role in Mogadishu, and working with all the parts of Somalia to try to give that country, which has been more blighted by famine, disease, terrorism and violence than almost any other in the world, a second chance.
Given what the Prime Minister said last week in Scotland, will he devote as much time to facing up to the grievances that the English feel from the current proposals of devolution as he will to considering new proposals of devolution to Scotland? Will he open a major debate here in the House on the English question, so that
Members from all parts of the House can advise him on what measures of devolution England needs if we are to gain equity with other countries of the United Kingdom?
We have, obviously, set up the West Lothian group to look at this issue, and obviously we want to make sure that devolution works for everyone in the United Kingdom, but I would part company slightly with the right hon. Gentleman for this reason: I believe the United Kingdom has been an incredibly successful partnership between all its members. Far from wanting to appeal to English people in any way to nurture a grievance they feel, I want to appeal to my fellow Englishmen and say, “This has been a great partnership”—a great partnership for Scotland, but a great partnership for England too. Of course Scotland must make its choice, but we hope that Scotland will choose to remain in this partnership that has done so well for the last 300 years.
Does the Prime Minister agree that an elected mayor and more power for cities, including over local railway infrastructure, present a great opportunity for those of us in Bristol who have long campaigned for the resurrection of local rail, including the Henbury loop line around the north of the city?
I support having elected mayors in our great cities. Obviously it will be for those cities themselves to choose. I am hugely encouraged by what has happened in Liverpool recently. We will be having referendums, and people in Bristol will have their chance to make that choice. At the same time, what people have not entirely noticed is that the Government are going through a huge act of devolution to cities, in terms of the powers and the money that we are prepared to offer them, so that they can build their own futures. If we think of how Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham—these great cities—built themselves up in the first place, we see that it was not on order and instruction from London; it was the great city figures who did that for them. We want that to happen again.
The point I would make is this. It was right to set up the Leveson inquiry, and that is a decision fully supported by the entire Government, but I think my right hon. Friend is making an important point, which is this: even as this inquiry goes on, we want to have a vibrant press that feels it can call the powerful to account, and we do not want to see it chilled—and although sometimes one may feel some advantage in having it chilled, that is not what we want.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and it was not just Britain that took this stand; it was also the Dutch and the Swedes. For too long the accounts have not been properly dealt with, and corruption and fraud have not been properly dealt with, and it is entirely right to make this stand.
Last week in Edinburgh the Prime Minister said there were more powers on the table for Scotland, but could not name any. A few months ago he mocked the idea of Scotland controlling its own oil wealth, and in the Scotland Bill even the Crown Estate was too big. Can the Prime Minister now name one power that he has in his mind from this latest U-turn?
I did not think that the Scottish National party favoured devolution; I thought it favoured separation. Yet as soon as you are offered a referendum that gives you the chance to put that in front of the Scottish people, you start running away.
Tomorrow, Members of this House will have the chance to debate the importance of cycling, following The Times’ cities fit for cycling campaign. The Minister for cycling, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Norman Baker, has made some welcome announcements and investment, but there is still much more to do. Will the Prime Minister commit the Government to support The Times’ campaign, increase investment in cycling and take much greater steps to promote cycling across the country?
The Times’ campaign is an excellent campaign, and I strongly support what it is trying to do. Anyone who has got on a bicycle, particularly in one of our busier cities, knows that they are taking their life into their hands every time they do so, so we need to do more to try to make cycling safer. The Government are making it easier for councils to install mirrors at junctions. We are putting £11 million into training for children and £15 million into better cycle routes and facilities across the country. If we want to encourage the growth in cycling that we have seen in recent years, we need to get behind campaigns such as this.
Since he has been Prime Minister, the company A4e has won contracts worth £224 million from the Department for Work and Pensions alone. In view of the fact that there are record numbers of unemployed people and that employees of this company have been arrested, what action is he taking to make sure that neither vulnerable unemployed people nor the taxpayer are victims of fraud by A4e?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue, which I understand dates back two years to schemes run by the previous Government. As I understand it, it was the company itself that raised the issue with the relevant authorities. There is an ongoing police investigation, so it would be inappropriate for me to
comment much further. All I would say is that the investigation needs to be thorough and needs to get to the truth, and then we can take its findings into account.
Generations of young people have benefited from work experience schemes through getting experience of the working world. Will the Prime Minister praise those companies that are doing everything they possibly can to encourage work experience schemes—unlike the militant hard left, who have not only shut down these schemes, but would rather see people get a handout as opposed to a hand-up in life?
I think my hon. Friend speaks for many in this House and the overwhelming majority in this country who think that companies offering work experience schemes to those on unemployment benefit is a thoroughly good thing. Let us be clear: this is not a compulsory scheme, but one that young people ask to go on. The findings are that around half of them are actually getting work at the end of these schemes. That is a far better outcome than the future jobs fund had—and at about a 20th of the cost. I think we should encourage companies and young people to expand work experience because it gives people the chance to see work and all it involves, and gives them a better chance to get a job.
Prime Minister, thousands of BAE workers in every constituency right across Lancashire are concerned and angry about the Eurofighter Indian contract. Earlier this week, you held a meeting with Lancashire’s Tory MPs. When will you be arranging a meeting at 10 Downing street for all Lancashire MPs—or do you have something to hide?
I have met a number of Members of Parliament for whom BAE is in their constituencies—including Alan Johnson,who came to see me with my right hon. Friend Mr Davis. I have had many MPs coming to see me. This Government are absolutely committed to helping with Eurofighter and Typhoon in every way we can. That is why I have undertaken trips right across the middle east. Let me say that when I do, I often get criticised by Labour MPs for taking BAE or Rolls-Royce on the aeroplane. I think it is right to fly the flag for great British businesses, and I will continue to do so.
Order. I want to hear about the views of Mrs Bone.
There is only so much detail I can take from the Bone household. In believing that I am very keen that Abu Qatada be deported, Mrs Bone is indeed psychic, as that is exactly what I believe. That is why the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers are working so hard with the Jordanians to get the assurances that we need so that this can indeed take place. The Deputy Prime Minister thoroughly backs that approach.
Both the Prime Minister and the Housing Minister have told the House that rents are falling in the private rented sector, when the evidence—including from the most recent survey by Inside Housing —is that rents are rising. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to put the record straight, or will he continue to blame the tenant when the real responsibility lies with landlords charging ever-higher rents and the failure of his Government’s house building programme?
Given that that question has come from a member of a party that saw house building fall to its lowest level since the 1920s, I think I will take it with a lorryload of salt.
We have put great effort into stamping out and kicking out racism in football in this country. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when he brings together representatives of the sport later today, he will do everything he can to ensure that prejudice does not creep back into the game and that racism stays out of football?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right to raise this issue. It was a huge achievement when Britain, and its football authorities and clubs, led the world in kicking racism out of football, something that has not happened in all other countries. However, we have seen some worrying signs recently.
The reason I think that this matters so much, not just to football but to Government and to everyone in our country, is that football and footballers are role models for young people. What people see on the football pitch they copy when they go and learn to play football themselves. That is why I think it important to bring people together and ensure that we kick racism out of football for good.
Let me first associate myself with the Prime Minister’s condolences to the family and friends of the member of the armed forces who lost his life last week. I am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in thanking the thousands of people who serve in the reserve armed forces. My constituents who serve in the Royal Marine reserve forces in Dundee have expressed concern about the possible closure of the Royal Marine reserve detachment, but when I write to Ministers at the Ministry of Defence about it, they refuse to give me a definitive answer. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is inappropriate, unsatisfactory, and perhaps even arrogant?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising again the case of the brave man from the RAF regiment who gave his life, and all those who serve in Afghanistan. He is absolutely right: the reserve forces in our country are a huge national asset. We want to expand them, and we are putting in more than £1 billion between now and 2015 to ensure that we can do that.
No decision has been made about the future of the Dundee Royal Marine reserve headquarters, but there is no intention to cut the number of Royal Marine reservists in Scotland. Indeed, those who look at the whole issue of our armed forces and reservists throughout Scotland will see that we actually need more people to join the reserves. I hope that everyone in the House who likes our Territorial Army and the other reserve forces will back the recruitment campaigns, because if we are to have an Army with 80,000 regulars and 40,000 reservists, we need a cultural step change in our country so that we really respect what our TA and other reserve forces are doing.
On Friday, United States marshals will escort my 65-year-old constituent Chris Tappin from Heathrow to a jail in Texas, where he will face pressure to plea bargain in order to avoid lengthy incarceration pending a financially ruinous trial for a crime that he insists he did not commit. What steps is the Prime Minister considering to reform the US-UK extradition treaty, which has been so unfair to the likes of Gary McKinnon and, now, my constituent Mr Tappin?
I quite understand why my hon. Friend has raised the case of his constituent. Obviously Chris Tappin has been through a number of processes, including those of the magistrates court and the High Court, and the Home Secretary has thoroughly considered his case.
My hon. Friend has also raised the more general issue of Sir Scott Baker’s report on the extradition arrangements, which he has completed and which we are now considering. He did not call for fundamental reform, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will examine his findings carefully, and will also take into account the views of Parliament that have been expressed in recent debates. Of course, balancing the arguments is vital, but I think it important for us to remember at the same time why we enter into these extradition treaties: to show respect for each other’s judicial processes, and to make sure that people who are accused of crimes can be tried for those crimes—and Britain can benefit from that as well. A proper, sober, thoughtful review needs to take place, and this case shows why.
So far, the Government’s response to the unfair relationship between pub companies and their licensees has been self-regulation, not statutory regulation. On
I am a keen supporter of Britain’s pubs, so I will write to the hon. Gentleman and get him a good answer.
In his speech in Edinburgh last week, the Prime Minister rightly described Scotland as
“a pioneering country all its life”
“the turbine hall of the Industrial Revolution”.
The next pioneering revolution in this country will be in green technology, and the green investment bank will be key in its promotion. As he has now visited Edinburgh, does he agree with me that it is the perfect location for that institution?
It is certainly one of the locations that are being considered, but the hon. Gentleman will know that a number of bids have been made by different towns, cities and, indeed, regions of the country, which all want to host this excellent innovation, the green investment bank.
What we are doing is abolishing the bureaucracy that has been holding the NHS back. We are going to cut, in this Parliament, £4.5 billion of bureaucracy—by getting rid of the primary care trusts and the strategic health authorities—all of which will be invested in patient care. The policy of the hon. Gentleman’s party is to say that real increases in NHS spending are “irresponsible”. That is his party’s view. We do not think that it is irresponsible—we think that it is responsible—which is why we are putting the money in, and he would take the money out.
There have been lots of interruptions today, but I am concerned about the interests of Back Benchers.
Last week in Ethiopia with Save the Children, I saw at first hand how malnutrition is stunting the growth of the world’s poorest children. Does the Prime Minister agree that the UK has a real opportunity to lead the international debate in tackling malnutrition, which will help the growth of the world’s children, and economic growth as well?
My hon. Friend is entirely right about this, not only because we work with excellent organisations and non-governmental organisations such as Save the Children that are doing excellent work, but because the UK is the second largest bilateral donor in the horn of Africa, where we have seen that appalling famine with many people starving and dying. Not only are we doing our bit in money, investment and time, but that gives us an opportunity to lead the debate on where we need to take the development and aid agenda next.