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.
My constituents keep telling me that their No. 1 concern is what is happening to our national health service. In Nottingham and across the country, essential services are at breaking point. Given that our NHS did not even make the Prime Minister’s top six priorities for the election, should not everybody who cares about our NHS vote Labour on
What people need to know about our NHS is that it is this Government who decided to invest in the NHS, ignoring Labour’s advice to cut it. In Nottingham, compared with 2010, there are 158 more doctors, 646 more nurses and the NHS is doing well. What a contrast with Wales, where Labour is in charge—[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not like to hear it, but they have cut the NHS by 8% in Wales. Because of Labour, the NHS is doing worse in Wales than in England.
Yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s acceptance of all the recommendations from the Holocaust
Commission, which was set up by this Government. Will he in particular make sure that the lasting monument to that terrible tragedy is accessible throughout the United Kingdom and will he safeguard the funding for the Lessons from Auschwitz project, so ably put together by the Holocaust Education Trust?
I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks on behalf of the whole House and indeed the whole country in wanting to commemorate properly the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and to ensure that here in Britain we properly commemorate the horrors of Auschwitz for years to come. The Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister and I were privileged to meet so many survivors yesterday with the extraordinary stories that they have to tell, but they cannot go on telling those stories for ever, so it is vital that we record their testimony; that we make sure that education about the holocaust is maintained; that we establish this national monument, for which three places have been identified; and that this work goes head, starting now with all-party support.
Let me first associate myself with the remarks of Bob Blackman and the Prime Minister. Yesterday was an incredibly moving and emotional day for anyone who was part of the commemoration. I thank the Prime Minister for the work that has been done as part of the Holocaust Commission and I can confirm absolutely that it will be taken forward on a cross-party basis so we do indeed keep the memory alive.
Before the last election, the Prime Minister said that he would have a “bare-knuckle fight” to save 29 accident and emergency and maternity units, and he published a list. Can he assure the House that in line with his promise all those services have been protected?
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned the NHS, because before we go any further he needs to clear something up. He has now been asked nine times whether he made the disgraceful remarks about weaponising the NHS. Everyone in the House and, I suspect, everyone in the country knows that he made those remarks, so he should get up to the Dispatch Box and apologise for that appalling remark, and then we can take this debate forward.
The only person who should be apologising is the Prime Minister who has broken all his promises on the national health service. He did not give us an answer: he toured the country, standing outside hospitals and promising that services would remain open. Let me tell him about a few of those services. The A and E at Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup is now closed. The maternity unit in Ilford is closed. The A and E unit in Welwyn is closed. Why did he break his promises?
It is very simple: one of the most respected political journalists in Britain, Nick Robinson, the political editor of the BBC, said—and I shall quote it however long it takes—
“A phrase the Labour leader uses in private is that he wants to—and I quote—‘weaponise’ the NHS for politics.”
That is one of the most respected journalists in our country. Will the right hon. Gentleman now get to the Dispatch Box and apologise for that appalling remark?
This is a ridiculous smokescreen from a Prime Minister running from his record on the NHS. The answer—because this is Prime Minister’s questions—is that all those units have closed. Let me give him another one. He stood outside the A and E unit at Chase Farm, with the local MP, saying, “Hands off our hospital. No to cuts, no to closure.” Is the A and E at Chase Farm open or closed?
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman my record on the NHS—9,000 more doctors, 6,000 more nurses, hospital-acquired infections right down, investment in our health service up. People rightly want to know what his motives are when it comes to the NHS. If his motives are that he cares about this great national institution, that is fine, but he told the political editor of the BBC that he wanted to weaponise the NHS. I ask him again: get up there and withdraw.
We know the Prime Minister is in a hole on the NHS and this is all he can offer the British people. It is time we had some answers from him. He has broken his promises on waiting times in A and E. He could not defend what he said about maternity and emergency services. Can he explain why this morning new guidance has been issued to some hospitals making it harder for them to declare a major incident?
Let me answer that very directly. The NHS in the west midlands, without any instruction from the Department of Health and without any instruction from Ministers, issued a statement about major incidents. The head of NHS England was asked about it this morning and she said this:
“I haven’t been under any political pressure. This document was issued…in the west midlands.”
What a contrast between the operational managers of the NHS and the man who wants to weaponise the NHS.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Wales. He criticised me a moment ago for mentioning Wales. He seems to have forgotten that yesterday he said this to the BBC: “It is right to look at problems in Wales and to compare”. That is what he said yesterday. Now, let us look at what happened today in Wales. The Welsh ambulance service statistics have come out and they are the worst ever on record: just 42% of emergency calls are answered in time, compared with 70% in England. Will he now admit that Labour’s catastrophic cuts and mismanagement in Wales have cost the NHS dear?
The last time the right hon. Gentleman was in charge in Wales, people were waiting two years for an operation. That is the comparison—with what was happening. Everyone will have heard that he did not answer the question about what is happening in the NHS in England. This is what the head of operations at one NHS hospital says:
“This is the enhanced criteria that have been introduced by NHS England to…stop trusts from calling a major incident.”
The whistleblower says the hospital’s hands are being tied. The Prime Minister says they are not. Who does he think people will believe?
People will believe the head of NHS England, who said this very clearly this morning:
“Local hospitals continue to have responsibility for deciding whether to declare major incidents”.
It is perfectly clear what is happening: the right hon. Gentleman is clasping at straws because he is in a desperate mess on the NHS. He talks about Wales. Here is the record: per head of the population, 10 times more people in Wales on a waiting list for an operation; nearly twice as many ambulances failing to meet those urgent calls; almost twice as many people waiting for more than four hours for A and E. That is what is happening in the NHS in Wales because Labour Ministers cut its budget. But the reason he is in such a mess on the NHS is this: a week ago the shadow Chancellor said that every penny from their new homes tax would go into the NHS. Yesterday, the leader of the Labour party said he had a plan to pay down the deficit with tax changes such as the mansion tax they have announced. There we have it: 99 days to go before the election and they cannot even have a sensible policy on the NHS. What a completely useless Opposition.
We have 99 days to kick out a Prime Minister who has broken all his promises on the NHS. Today’s revelation shows once again that, under him, the NHS is in crisis and under strain. It is a crisis of his making and on his watch, which is why nobody will trust him with the NHS ever again.
What a contrast—the Government dealing with the unions to stop the action in the NHS, and a Labour party weaponising the NHS. That is what everyone can see. The right hon. Gentleman talks about what has happened this week. We have seen Labour casting around for a coalition with the SNP and a coalition with Sinn Fein—the first time Britain would have people who want to break up Britain and bankrupt Britain. What a useless shower.
Watching that, I am reminded of that famous Stealers Wheel line:
“Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right”.
Eight months ago, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government assured people in Cornwall that the delay over resolving the EU funding programme would be settled. Eight months later, hundreds of millions of pounds of investment and hundreds of jobs are at risk. Will the Prime Minister please sort out this pickle?
I have done my best to run a coalition Government, but I occasionally feel stuck in the middle with the Liberal Democrats.
The Government are delivering for the west country: we are sorting out the transport links and the local growth deals; putting money into road and rail connections; and helping with the vital airport and the routes back to London—and we will go on, because we want to close the income gap between the south-west and the rest of our country.
Care workers deliver the most basic support needed to provide a life of dignity to so many—bathing, cleaning, dressing, feeding—yet 300,000 fewer older people are enjoying that dignity now than four years ago. Is that because they do not need it, or because the Prime Minister has cut care budgets by £3.5 billion, while cutting taxes for millionaires?
The Government have put £3.2 billion of health money into social services, and the Better Care fund will start on
“there will be no additional funding for local government”, which includes social services,
“unless we can find money from somewhere else…but we have not been able to do that in the case of local government.”
This is what Labour does. It goes round the country, promising more money for this, more money for that, and in its few moments of honesty, it reveals that it has not got any more money.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that, not long after the liberation of Auschwitz, the British Army liberated another camp, Bergen-Belsen, freeing 60,000 starving inmates, many of whom were saved by British medical services? Does he also recall that our allies at the time, the Russians and the countries of the former Soviet Union, in their struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, lost 40 million civilians and soldiers? Should we not pay them some tribute too?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should pay tribute to all those who helped to defeat the evil of Nazi Germany. It is a good day to pay tribute to the British soldiers who liberated Bergen-Belsen. At the Holocaust memorial event yesterday, a tape of Richard Dimbleby’s incredibly moving testimony of what he and those soldiers found at Belsen was played for everyone to hear, and we should be very proud of the role that British soldiers played in liberating these appalling death camps.
The IFS report found that the richest had paid the most to reduce the deficit, so we should be clear about the figures: the richest 20% have paid more to reduce the deficit than the remaining 80%. If the hon. Lady wants to quote the IFS, she might want to remember that it said:
“We’ve had a great big recession. We had the biggest recession we’ve had in 100 years…it will be astonishing if household incomes haven’t fallen and earnings haven’t fallen”.
That is the view of the IFS, and it is right. It also says that the shadow Chancellor’s plans are for an extra £170 billion of borrowing, so if Labour is going to quote the IFS, it should accept its figures for more spending, more borrowing and more debt—all the things that got our country into this mess in the first place.
The Prime Minister will be aware that Watford GPs were among the first in the country whose practices received money under the Prime Minister’s challenge fund, so that GPs’ surgeries can be open seven days a week from 8 o’clock in the morning till 8 o’clock at night. I would like to commend Dr Mark Semler, who is the mastermind behind this. I hope the Prime Minister agrees that it should be continued and would be absolutely excellent for all GPs’ surgeries in the country.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The challenge fund we have set up has already allowed 4 million people access to a GP surgery seven days a week, from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening. I am delighted that people are benefiting from this in Watford; I want to see it spread right across the country. It would be an important part of the answer to relieving pressure on our A and E units as well.
If the Prime Minister will not apologise for the A and E closures, maybe he will have a go at the following subjects. Why is it that we have a record number of people queuing up at food banks? Will he apologise to them? Will he apologise to those who are on payday loans, struggling to pay them back? Will he apologise to those on zero-hours contracts, another record number? The truth is that this Prime Minister has got a longer record than his mate Andy Coulson.
The hon. Gentleman mentions zero-hours contracts. The Government he supported did nothing about them; we have legislated. He mentions payday lending—an industry that boomed under Labour; regulated properly under this Government. He talks about queues. What about the queue of people who have been getting jobs under this Government—over 1,000 a day?
I have to say, I thought the hon. Gentleman might have taken a different tack today, because if you read the newspapers, you can get quite nostalgic. You’ve got Blairites fighting Brownites; you’ve got Peter Mandelson taking out a great big loan. I thought the hon. Gentleman might get all nostalgic on us; it is just like the old days.
Britain’s economic success is making it possible for the northern powerhouse to transform the fortunes of an important part of our country. Does my right hon.
Friend agree that investment in science, such as in the new institute for advanced materials—the Henry Royce institute—supports our top universities and will promote innovation, which will bring back high quality manufacturing jobs to the north of England?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. One of the most important decisions we took while making difficult spending decisions was to maintain the investment into science. We have also improved our universities by making sure they are properly funded. This combination of science and universities is going to be an absolute key to Britain’s future economic success. I am delighted that we have got the £235 million investment into the new Sir Henry Royce Institute for Materials Research and Innovation in Manchester. This is a key part of the northern powerhouse project, which is going to properly rebalance our economy and make sure we see growth and prosperity in every region.
I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s statistics are simply wrong. I know Labour does not like to hear this, but the fact is that there are 600,000 fewer people in relative poverty than there were at the election and 300,000 fewer children in relative poverty. Inequality is lower than it was at the election and we can now see 1.75 million more of our fellow countrymen and women in work. Behind all those statistics are people who are able to go out, earn a wage, have a pay packet and support their families. I would have thought the Labour party of all parties would want to support that.
My constituent, Kelly Thomas, has been waiting nearly 15 months for urgent bowel surgery, which, if she lived in England, she could have had in six weeks. NHS Wales refused her treatment on the basis that it is technically available in Wales, although ironically there are no surgeons available to do it. Someone somewhere needs to make a common-sense and humane decision. I hope the Prime Minister can help that happen.
I will look at this case. It sounds as if it is a very sad case but, I am afraid, not an isolated case. As the Welsh National Audit Office found, overall, Welsh patients face shorter waits for treatment in England than they do in Wales. That is a fact. What we need is a change of direction in Wales from the Labour Administration: instead of cutting the NHS, they should be investing in the NHS; instead of leaving the bureaucracy in place, they should be taking it out of the NHS. In short, they should be taking a different track, so that we give people a better NHS.
Yesterday, Mr Speaker graciously allowed the all-party parliamentary group on motor neurone disease to use his state apartments for the launch of its report, which demonstrates that people with motor neurone disease are having grave problems accessing the funding available for communication support in England. Some 30% of people with motor neurone disease will die within a year, and 95% will lose their voice. Will the Prime Minister meet the Motor Neurone Disease Association to sort out why these delays are happening in NHS England? Will he agree to fund communication support so that the association can provide it quickly and effectively while the NHS gets its act in order, so that no one dies without being able to communicate their last thoughts to their loved ones?
First, let me commend the hon. Lady and others across the House for the work they do on motor neurone disease. Anyone who has known someone who has suffered from that disease—as I have—realises that it is a most appalling, debilitating condition, which is very difficult for families to cope with. I will certainly look at the report the hon. Lady has produced and make sure that the proper meetings are held with the Department of Health, so we do everything we can to support these people and allow them, as she says, to communicate with their families up until the last moment.
It is now clear that the decision by the last Government to put Hinchingbrooke hospital out to tender, with the last three bids under that Government all being led by the private sector, was deeply flawed and has been a massive failure. Does the Prime Minister accept that this experiment in privatisation has failed and that the future of Hinchingbrooke hospital should be fully within a public NHS?
It is important that we make decisions based on what will be best for patients. My view is that there is a role for the independent sector within the NHS, but it has only gone from something like 5% of the total to 6% of the total. [Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members shouting about privatisation: it was their decision to allow this hospital to be run by the private sector. Frankly, on a day when they are in complete confusion about their health policy, we have the shadow Health Secretary saying he opposes all of this but cannot say what percentage should be in the private sector; we have his deputy saying that they want to see more of the NHS in the private sector; we have the Leader of the Opposition refusing to confirm that his shadow Secretary of State has his full confidence—yet this is meant to be Labour’s great big election-winning idea. What a complete shambles!
The Prime Minister, his Chancellor and the entire Conservative party like to talk about their “economic plan”. An independent report published yesterday by a group of academics—[Interruption.] I can wait. The report shows that welfare cuts contributed merely to cutting tax for higher earners and contributed nothing to reducing the deficit. It also shows that families with children under the age of five have been the hardest hit. What future is there for the country with an economic plan that steals from the poor and gives it to the rich?
It is the “long-term economic plan”, by the way.
Let me tell the hon. Gentleman how things are going in his own constituency. Never mind the academics; let us see what is happening for working people in his constituency. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit is down by 31%, the youth claimant count is down by 34%, and the long-term youth claimant count is down by 57% in the last year alone. If we look across London, we can see 470,000 more people in work, and more than half a million private sector jobs have been created.
What I want to know is this: when did the Labour party become the welfare party? When did that happen? It is Members on this side of the House who are standing up for hard-working people, and who are on the side of work and on the side of enterprise, reforming work and, yes, reforming welfare to make that happen.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of investing in our coastal communities, and that is what we have done through our coastal communities fund. So far more than 200 projects have benefited, creating or safeguarding more than 16,000 jobs. I know that Fleetwood received a boost from the fund last year, when Wyre council was given a grant to develop new tourist attractions, but I want to see more happen to help my hon. Friend’s constituents and to help our coastal communities, of which Fleetwood is such an important part.
The Prime Minister will be aware of the remarkable work that is being done on the Clyde and at Rosyth dockyard to build the country’s new aircraft carriers, but, just as our country needs a new generation of aircraft carriers, Scotland needs a new generation of young skilled workers. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that he will use the procurement power of the Ministry of Defence to deliver real apprenticeship opportunities to young Scots?
Of course we will do that. Those who visit the aircraft carriers being built on the Clyde will see that an enormous amount is being invested in apprenticeship numbers, and that that investment is of huge benefit. Moreover, the carriers have not just benefited Scottish apprenticeships, because they have been built, in part, all over the United Kingdom. Let me also make this point: we can only afford to make these decisions because we have a long-term economic plan and a strong economy.
I know that I do not need to remind the House that 453 members of our armed forces lost their lives in Afghanistan, and that many more were wounded, some seriously. Although we have brought home most of our troops, the 400 men and women of 2nd Battalion The Rifles are still serving in Kabul with great distinction in support of Government forces. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that we recognised the efforts of all who served in that war with a commemorative event?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend.
All British combat troops had left Afghanistan by the end of last year, fulfilling the commitment that I made nearly five years ago. On Monday my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary welcomed to Parliament the final homecoming parade of our combat troops who had been deployed in Afghanistan, and I am pleased to announce today that on
I believe that this is a fitting moment at which to pay tribute to the extraordinary contribution made by our armed forces in Afghanistan over 13 years. During that time, 453 lost their lives, and many more were injured. Their mission has helped to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base from which to launch attacks on us here at home, and they have enabled Afghanistan to begin the task of looking after its own security in the years ahead. The whole House—indeed, the whole country—is right to be incredibly proud of our armed forces, and of all those who served in Afghanistan.
Has the Prime Minister had a chance to place a call to Alexis Tsipras, the new Prime Minister of Greece, in order to congratulate him on winning the election, and also to learn from him why the people of Greece have finally said no to the imposition of the most appalling austerity, the destruction of their public services, high levels of unemployment, and deepening poverty? Will the Prime Minister use his good offices in the European Union to ensure that they are given the debt write-off they are so desperately seeking, so that Greece can be restored to the prosperity it deserves to enjoy?
I have had the privilege of speaking to the new Greek Prime Minister; indeed, I asked him what his long-term economic plan was. What I think is absolutely key to recognise is that over the last four years we have seen the British deficit come down, and we have seen jobs created and the economy bigger than it was before the crash, whereas in Greece they have had repeated economic failures, and we can hardly blame them for wanting to take a different approach. I hope good sense will prevail on all sides, and, as I said to the Greek Prime Minister, there are other areas where we can work together, not least because Britain has led the world on tax transparency and making sure companies pay the taxes that they should—something that needs to happen in Greece as well as the rest of the European Union.
General practitioner recruitment is a problem nationally but particularly for rural practices. Many GP practices on both sides of the England-Wales border serve patients from both nations. What can the Government in Westminster do, through working constructively with the Welsh Government, to promote training and recruitment of GPs so these practices remain viable and sustainable?
One of the things we can do is share ideas with the Welsh Assembly Government. One thing we are pioneering here is making sure newly qualified doctors are offered special payments if they become GPs, and this is part of a £10 million plan we have to recruit even more. In England we have 1,000 more GPs working than we did back in 2010, and I hope the
The hon. Lady’s constituents are benefiting from the fact that the economy is growing, our deficit is coming down and we are creating jobs, but we are dealing with the debt crisis which her Government put in place in our country. That is what is happening, but every day, the British economy and the British country is getting stronger; every day, the Labour party is getting weaker.
New figures show that, as a result of the focus on earlier diagnosis, increased access to treatments and the latest medicines, 12,000 more patients every year are now predicted to survive their cancer than just five years ago. Does the Prime Minister agree that while this is very encouraging, there is a long way to go and we have to maintain our focus on fighting cancer?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we see in our country is a 50% increase in cancer referrals, which means we are identifying cancers earlier and treating them better, and we also have the Cancer Drugs Fund, which has helped 60,000 patients. We need to go on with these improvements, but we will only be able to do that if we have a strong economy backing our strong NHS.