Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 6th April 2005.

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Photo of Mrs Helen Jackson Mrs Helen Jackson Labour, Sheffield, Hillsborough 11:30 am, 6th April 2005

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I entered the House, 1,500 young people under the age of 25 were queuing up at jobcentres in my constituency for the right to work? Now, unemployment in my constituency is right down to 2 per cent., 1,000 of those young people have been helped into work through the new deal, and the major steel manufacturing unit is producing a record output of world-class aerospace steel. Will he promise to keep full employment at the top of the agenda and to maintain that fine economic record?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on women's rights and in battling unemployment throughout the long years in opposition and then again in government. She is right to emphasise that the new deal, which the Conservative party has pledged to scrap, has helped more than 1 million people—young people, unemployed people, lone parents and disabled people—into jobs, and it is extremely important that we keep it going.

On unemployment, I can do no better than quote the shadow Foreign Secretary, who said the other day:

"Quite honestly I go to Germany now, and they say to me, 'I wish we had your unemployment.'"

They did not say that during the 18 years of Conservative government, but they do now.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Conservative, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton

The Prime Minister will be aware of the Clackmannanshire research, which shows how effective synthetic phonics are in raising reading standards. Does he agree that one of the most urgent tasks for the incoming Secretary of State for Education and Skills is to order a complete review of the national literacy strategy to ensure that synthetic phonics is taught fast and first in all our primary schools?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

We keep the national literacy strategy under review. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that major gains have been made in our primary schools in literacy and numeracy over the past few years. When we came to office, something like just over half of 11-year-olds actually passed their 11-year-old tests. Now the figure is about 75 per cent. and rising. We keep all those matters under review, but we can only tackle the issue with the right policy and by keeping investment going into the state education system and not using it to subsidise private education.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Labour, Birmingham, Northfield

Amid the speculation in the press about the progress of negotiations between MG Rover and Shanghai Automotive, does my right hon. Friend agree that we must keep at the forefront of our minds the 6,000 employees at MG Rover, the employees' families, the communities that depend on MG Rover and the businesses whose futures are intertwined with MG Rover? Will he assure me that the Government will continue to do all that they can successfully to conclude those negotiations and that, come what may, this Government will continue to stand by manufacturing in the west midlands and MG Rover workers?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. All the members of the Government with an interest in the matter, including my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Chancellor, and I, keep in close touch on that issue, and we will do whatever we can to help to achieve a successful resolution. As he has rightly said, the jobs, living standards and livelihoods of those people who work at MG Rover must be foremost in our minds.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

What does the Prime Minister most regret about his time in office?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I think that although we did pretty well on this score, we could have done with even fewer Tories sitting opposite. But since the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity, I will tell him what I do not regret—[Interruption.] It is always important to balance the regrets with the plus points. What I do not regret is the strong economy, investment in public services and falling crime, and I thank him for giving me the opportunity to say so.

Photo of Mr Ivan Henderson Mr Ivan Henderson Labour, Harwich

May I tell my right hon. Friend that the district of Tendring in my constituency has been named as one of the safest districts to live in; that the local Tory district council makes that clear in the newspaper that it has just released; and that the figures put out by the chief superintendent in my area also say that crime is down? Who does my right hon. Friend think is right—those with the facts or the Leader of the Opposition with the fiction?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I am absolutely sure that the chief police officer and other officers in my hon. Friend's area know exactly what is happening, which is that crime is falling. We still have a long way to go. We must keep up the investment in the criminal justice system and in extra numbers of police and community support officers: that is why we will continue to have a rising police budget. We will not go down the path advocated by the Conservatives—of freezing the Home Office budget, which would cut police numbers.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My local primary care trust recently wrote to local doctors urging them not to send people to hospital because of a beds crisis. At one point, more than 80 people in two casualty units were unable to find beds, yet there are plans to merge my two local hospitals into one, with fewer beds than at present. Can the Prime Minister give a guarantee to my constituents that there will not be cuts in NHS beds?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I can certainly guarantee that there will not be cuts in NHS spending, because we have a proposal that would allow us to keep raising spending on the national health service year on year in the coming years. If we take the whole period of this Government, we have spent far more on our national health service than the Liberal Democrats ever asked us to. The way in which local hospital services are configured is obviously a matter for local people, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if we are re-elected the investment that has been pouring into his constituency and others will continue to do so.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan PPS (Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster), Cabinet Office

What advice can the Prime Minister give the House on how we can all inspire people to turn out and vote on 5 May so that in future they do not have to look back in anger at the unanticipated consequences of apathy, namely, a Government with "something of the Flight" about them?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right to point out that in constituencies such as his, during the 18 years of Conservative government, there were unemployed people and two recessions which hit constituencies in Wales particularly hard. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may yawn, but I think that the public know that the strong economy is the foundation of this country's success, and I can assure him that with this party in government, that economic stability will continue and the investment in public services will continue, not be put at risk.

Photo of Patrick Mercer Patrick Mercer Shadow Minister (Homeland Security), Home Affairs

It is clear from the recent inspectorate's report that the Home Office intends to reinforce Nottinghamshire constabulary merely with other inspectors and supervising officers. Nottinghamshire needs bobbies, not bureaucrats. Is not that another good reason to vote Conservative?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

That is not a very wise thing for the hon. Gentleman to raise. As far as I am aware, in Nottinghamshire there are actually more than 200 more police officers than in March 1997, and more than 100 community support officers. What is more, as a result of our proposals to invest in public services for the future, as opposed to the Conservatives' proposal to take £35 billion in cuts out of our spending programme—[Interruption.] Oh yes, that is their policy. I am afraid that the only way for them to get more police and community support officers in Nottinghamshire is to vote Labour.

Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

Although it has not always been the case, does the Prime Minister agree that on this occasion the Government have a unique two-for-one offer to make at the general election—vote Labour, and keep not only an experienced Prime Minister tested by fire but a successful Chancellor with good future prospects?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

On that happy note, I wish everyone well.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

Does the Prime Minister share my surprise at the fact that the Office of Fair Trading failed in its recent report to find any abuse by supermarkets of their dominant market position in their dealings with farmers and crofters? Does he agree that that report demonstrates the failure of the current voluntary code of practice, and—if he is in a position to do anything about the matter after the general election—will he give a commitment to considering introducing a compulsory code to protect our farmers and crofters?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

It is a serious issue and we are going to study the code of practice very carefully. It is important that it be implemented—after all, that was part of the agreement that we came to with the supermarkets. So I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if we are in a position to do so, we will certainly look at this issue.