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North-West Leicestershire

Q6. [7771] David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): When he next plans to visit North-West Leicestershire on official business.

The Prime Minister: I have no current plans to do so, but may well in the future.

David Taylor: Residents of the council estates in North-West Leicestershire, such as the one on which I grew up, are very pleased with the progress made since 1997 in such areas as education, employment, health
 
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and pensions, but they are baffled by the direction of housing policy. Will the Prime Minister come with me to talk to those tenants and explain why they are facing a coerced stock transfer away from a good and successful local authority to a landlord that is likely to be less responsive, less affordable and much less accountable? Will he ask his deputy to come to the parliamentary council housing group in this place on a similar mission?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about our achievements since 1997, but no one is coerced—[Interruption.] That is the case because there is a ballot for these transfers. Tenants benefit because housing associations are able to secure more investment than is usually available from the local council or Government grant. Actually, £6.5 billion has been levered in from the private sector through the stock transfer and the 61 schemes announced last week should deliver a further £3 billion of investment. We should celebrate the fact that by 2010, 2 million homes will have been brought up to the decent homes standard. However, that cannot be done simply through the old local authority route. There must be a mix of provision and, as I say, stock transfers occur only when tenants have actually voted for them—they take the final decision.

HIV/AIDS Treatment

Q7. [7772] Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What progress he has made on his commitment regarding universal access for HIV/AIDS treatment in the developing world.

The Prime Minister: As was made clear in our manifesto, we are pressing for universal access to AIDS treatment—in fact, by 2010. However, to make progress we need the international community to work together to help to ensure that there are enough health clinics, doctors, nurses and drugs to reach all people with AIDS in the poorest countries.

Dr. Harris: The Prime Minister is of course right, but does he realise that the UK is poaching thousands of doctors and nurses from sub-Saharan Africa without any form of restitution, such as specific funding or sending our own manpower back? Indeed, the Government are telling British doctors not to treat the very small number of African patients with HIV who have no status in this country and are forcing them to go back to countries in which they have very little chance of treatment, and thus, most likely, to their death. How can the Prime Minister claim moral leadership on the matter with G8 leaders when our current policy and practice appears to be to steal the doctors and reject the patients? Will he change his policy—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: There is no policy to steal doctors and nurses from developing countries. There is a code of practice to which we adhere that ensures that we do not do such a thing. If many of the people who come to this country were not coming here, I am afraid that they would not be staying in their own countries—that is the problem—because they would simply be going
 
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elsewhere. On the hon. Gentleman's point about turning away some people with HIV/AIDS from the national health service here, he will know that there has been a lot of concern about people coming here to be treated, so we have to be careful about that as well.

It would be grossly unfair to imply, as the hon. Gentleman did, that this country has not been taking a lead on HIV/AIDS. We have made huge investment in the global health fund. Nearly 1 million people now receive AIDS treatment, in part as a result of the work done by this country, and we are leading the international commitment to get action on both drugs and health clinics and the staffing that the poorest countries need. However, that will not be helped, frankly, by refusing to take anyone from the continent of Africa in circumstances in which those people have already made the decision to leave their own countries.

Engagements

Q8. [7773] Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is well aware of
 
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the many challenges facing the British fishing industry, having set up the No. 10 strategy unit review to which there was an encouraging reply yesterday from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but is he also aware that, despite those problems, British fishing communities have been raising funds to support fishing villages in Sri Lanka that were destroyed by the tsunami? Will he congratulate the people of Fleetwood, who have raised sufficient funds to build seven new fishing vessels for one such village?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on raising the funds for seven fishing vessels for a Sri Lankan village, in particular those of her constituents who themselves face many problems because of changes in the fishing industry. It is an extraordinary example of how incredibly generous people in this country have been. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to work with others in the EU and elsewhere to achieve a sustainable fishing industry for our own country, but her constituents deserve the congratulations of us all for the magnificent charity that they have undertaken.


 
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Point of Order

12.31 pm

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We all accept that the difficult circumstances of terrorism that we now face lead to the Prime Minister requiring increased security: the happy days when Prime Ministers such as Sir John Major could occasionally walk from Downing street to the House of Commons have gone. However, the level of security now surrounding the Prime Minister's entourage making the journey here is now causing real inconvenience to the general public, as all access roads to Parliament square are closed for many minutes. Perhaps more relevant to you, Mr. Speaker, that means that Members of Parliament are also inhibited from making the journey to the House of Commons. Today, it was clear that the police officer who tried to stop me accessing the House had no idea of the Sessional Order that we passed on 23 November, as we do at the start of every Parliament, and he did not intend to allow me to pass. Can you examine this problem as a matter of some urgency, Mr. Speaker? I believe that other hon. Members were detained in their cars and were unable to reach the House.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman knows that I will not discuss security on the Floor of the House, but I shall consider the complaint that he has put on the record and get back to him privately.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether you are aware that Parliament square is now sealed off for 15 or 20 minutes before the Prime Minister is due to arrive here and that no traffic can get in or out of the square during that time. I was in a car in the square and was prevented from reaching Parliament. Although one is sympathetic in view of the security problems, the present arrangements are reminiscent of those that were enjoyed by members of the Politburo in the former Soviet Union.

Mr. Speaker: I cannot comment on the latter point, but if Parliament square is sealed off for 20 minutes, that seems excessive. I shall look into the matter and I thank the hon. Gentlemen for raising it.
 
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Opposition Day


[3rd Allotted Day]

NHS Dentistry and Primary Health Care

Mr. Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

12.33 pm

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): I beg to move,



That this House notes with concern the crisis in NHS dentistry, together with problems in accessing other primary care services; recognises that many dentists chose to undertake more private practice as a consequence of the new contract introduced under the Conservatives in 1990 and the subsequent reduction in dentists' fees in 1992; notes that the Conservative government closed two dental schools; further notes that the number of adults registered with an NHS dentist fell by five million between 1994 and 1998; recalls the Prime Minister's pledge in 1999 that 'everyone within the next two years will be able once again to see an NHS dentist just by phoning NHS Direct', but notes that less than half the adult population is now registered with an NHS dentist; and calls on the Government to work with the dentistry profession to ensure that the new contract delivers more dentists spending more time working in the NHS.

As one who is relatively new to shadowing the Department of Health, it strikes me that NHS dentistry is a subject that I can get my teeth into—[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I should add that it is good to have a Minister of the Crown responding to the debate. The Minister will know that all is not well in the world of dentistry. At oral questions—appropriately enough—a couple of weeks ago, the first question was about dentistry in south-west Devon, the seventh was about dentistry in Hertfordshire, the eighth about dentistry in the Isle of Wight, the 10th about dentistry in Milton Keynes and the 17th about dentistry in Leicestershire.


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