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Mr. Steen: If the Prime Minister had come to St. Kilda's, he would have seen the importance of respite care for the 750,000 people who suffer from Alzheimer's and their carers. Is he aware that mental health trusts are closing down purpose-built respite and residential care facilities and forcing carers to find the money to pay for care that was formerly provided free under the NHS? Will such a facility no longer be provided by the national health service, and will such mental health patients have to find the money to be looked after by carers?
The Prime Minister: I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all those carers who work in nursing homes and look after people suffering from Alzheimer's and related diseases. Ultimately, however, as he will know, it must be for local services to decide how to configure such services within their budget. I understand that a proposal has been put forward for change in the area, and I know that that will be fiercely fought over, as such matters are. I hope that he will understand that, in this instance, it could not be right for central Government to intervene in how local services are provided.
Q5.  Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Prime Minister reject any advice on the subject of the Dunfermline by-election proffered by the elderly toff opposite? Does he accept that the result was not a positive vote in favour of what remains a party of unprincipled opportunism but a vote from loyal Labour supporters indicating that they no longer wish to be taken for granted?
Mr. Hague: We were hoping for an up-to-date translation, but what the Deputy Prime Minister seemed to be saying, in his own wayif I can help the Prime Minister on his own Government's policieswas that before any county or district council was abolished, all residents would be able to register their preference in a referendum. That would allow them to keep both the counties and the districts if they wished. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that wherever people vote to keep both counties and districts, they will indeed be retained?
The Prime Minister: As one who represents a seat in County Durham, where we have a county and districts and where this debate has been going on certainly for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament, I obviously consider it important for us to proceed by consulting people and ensuring that we take their wishes into account. I understand that we will publish proposals on exactly how that will be done in the coming weeks. There is of course a strong case for unitary authorities, which I happen to support in respect of my own county, but I am sure that many different views will be expressed in my constituency and that of the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Hague: I know it is a long time since I have asked the Prime Minister questions, but it seems even longer since we had an answer. Can he not now experience a deathbed conversion to democracy, as the Chancellor asked me to call it, and ensure that the people are listened to, that if they wish to retain their existing local government structures, they are allowed to do so, and that they are given an opportunity to end the drift to regional government that is unelected, unaccountable and utterly unwanted?
Q6.  Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of transport problems in rural communities such as my constituency. Will he join me in calling on Lancashire county council and private bus providers not to leave my constituents isolated and excluded from vital public services, including their hospital?
The Prime Minister:
I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point, and her reason for raising it. We have provided substantial fundsabout £1.4 billion a year in England over the past few yearsand will provide further sums over the next few years, but I agree with my hon. Friend that buses are often the backbone of the public transport system. They are essential to tackling congestion, meeting environmental targets and indeed reducing social exclusion. I entirely understand why it is important for us to achieve the right balance between regulation and giving bus services the freedom that they need to operate effectively.
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Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Prime Minister has been to Shrewsbury a number of times, so he will know that Royal Shrewsbury hospital is more than £29 million in debt. Will he give me a public assurance that that debt will not affect services and that there will be no cuts in staff and services at my beloved Royal Shrewsbury hospital?
The Prime Minister: Despite my connection with Shrewsbury, of which I know the hon. Gentleman is aware, I believe that it is important for all hospitals to live within their budgetary limits. He will know that health care services in Shrewsbury and elsewhere have received a massive budget increase for the years to come. They will receive further such rises, but, in the end, they must live within their means. As we are making very generous provision for hospitals, I do not think it unreasonable of us to say that there must be proper financial accountability.
Q7.  Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): The shooting of a police officer in Nottingham is further evidence that the culture of the gun in our society is still in the ascendant. Can the Prime Minister promise the House and the country that he will galvanise everyone, from the police to the courts, into conveying the message that those who own, carry and use guns will be detected and dealt with, and that penalties will accord with what the public believe to be the gravity of the crimes?
The Prime Minister: I totally accept the point that my hon. Friend makes and I know that he has campaigned long and hard on this issue over the years. We will all want to give our very best wishes to Miss Bown who was so wrongly and tragically shot in Nottingham yesterday, and to all her family. Let me also say, however, that since we introduced the law establishing a mandatory five-year sentence for the possession of firearms, I think that there has been an impact, but we need to do far more, particularly in relation to organised crime. Over the next few months, we will publish proposals on organised crime that will coincide with the introduction of the new Serious Organised Crime Agency. We need to introduce tougher laws, in the way that we have with antisocial behaviour legislation and, indeed, with terrorist legislation, that make it harder for these people to operate. Much gun crime is associated with drugs, illegal people trafficking and organised crime.
Q8.  Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Given that since Labour came to power, the average cost of a first home has risen from two and a half times income to more than four times income, and given that the number of people waiting to be housed has risen from 800,000 to 1,400,000, why is the Blair legacy on housing British people at a cost that they can afford so dreadful?
The Prime Minister:
Great question. Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman that, of course, one reason why house prices have gone up is that we have had an immensely strong economy. One fortunate aspect of
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that is that the running of it has had nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats. Secondly, in London and elsewhere we have put a lot of money into trying to support first-time home buyers, and we are about to do a lot more. Over the next few years, we are going to help a lot of young people, particularly through shared equity schemes, to own a home for the first time. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the problem, but as ever, his solution is somewhat lacking.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and many Members that the role played by the Bevin boys in the world war two was fundamental to ensuring the defeat of Nazi tyranny? Does he also agree that their role should be officially recognised in a way similar to that in which the role of our world war two combat veterans is recognised?
The Prime Minister: I am happy to consider what my hon. Friend has said, and there is no doubt that the Bevin boys played a huge part in defeating Nazi tyranny during the second world war. Our debt to them is one of the reasons why this Government decided that we had to take forward the miners' compensation scheme, which I know has brought help and relief to many thousands of families up and down the United Kingdom.
Q9.  Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): The Prime Minister is aware that two of the world's largest liquefied natural gas terminals are being built in my constituency immediately alongside two major oil refineries and the UK's largest fuel storage depot, which is three times the size of Buncefield. Cuts to my local fire service will soon leave Pembrokeshire without a single 24-hour fire station. Will the Prime Minister please urgently review this matter and ensure that the people of Pembrokeshire have adequate fire and rescue cover in future?
The Prime Minister: I am happy to look into the hon. Gentleman's point, but I have to say that it is obviously important that the fire services, like everyone else, live within their means and configure their services in the most effective way possible. Whatever amount of money we put in, there is always going to be a limit to it; decisions, however, have to be taken locally. I do not know enough about the individual circumstances of the hon. Gentleman's fire service, but I shall certainly look into them and write to him.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Yesterday, people throughout the country celebrated Valentine's day, but for many, that day had a peculiar poignancy, given the launch in Wales and other parts of the UK of the campaign against domestic violence. During nine months of last year, more than 12,750 domestic violence cases were reported to the South Wales police alone, and they estimate that only 35 per cent. of such cases are actually reported. What more can we as a Government do to tackle domestic violence, and will my right hon. Friend support the role being played by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) in bringing a domestic violence court to Bridgend?
The Prime Minister:
I cannot tell my hon. Friend exactly what we can do in relation to Bridgend, although
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I shall be happy to look into it. However, he is right about domestic violence. To date, we have invested somewhere in the region of £70 million, and we will invest even more. We are also providing support for refuges, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is very important that victims of domestic violence come forward and report it in ever larger numbers. I am pleased to say that the police service is handling such complaints a lot more sensitively. The incidence of domestic violence has not risen, but one reason for the increase in recorded violent crime statistics is that people are coming forward and reporting it to the police, who are recording it. That is beneficial. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to support the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence, which was launched about a year ago. It is a very important signal that this Government and our country take domestic violence seriously.
Q10.  Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)
(Con): Since I last raised the matter of my local national health service trust with the Prime Minister, matters have gone from bad to worse. Is he aware that there are proposals
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to close the maternity unit, the special care baby unit and the children's ward? No doubt other features of our local hospital are threatened. Bed blocking in the trust has soared to 100 beds.
The Prime Minister:
It is also true, of course, that all the waiting times and waiting list targets have been met, but I agree that there are real problems in the health care organisation in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, where there is a very large deficit. However, it is important to recognise that we have to make sure that the vast additional investment that has gone in is subject to proper systems of financial accountability. We will work with the people organising health care in his constituency, but we cannot say, "Whatever your deficit, the Government will come and bail it out." The hon. Gentleman knows that health care in his area has received huge real-terms increases under this Government, far greater than anything put in by the previous Conservative Government, but the money has to be accounted for. If services in an area are not run properly and there is therefore a deficit, I am afraid that we have to tackle that problem. I do not think that it is responsible to suggest otherwise.
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