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14 Mar 2007 : Column 282

Q3. [127216] Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that millions of tenants will benefit over time from this week’s introduction of the first national tenancy deposit scheme? Will he join me in congratulating all those who campaigned long and hard for this important consumer protection measure, including Citizens Advice, Shelter and the National Union of Students? Will he remember to chalk that up as yet another Labour achievement?

The Prime Minister: First, I can tell my hon. Friend that I am very happy to welcome the commencement of the tenancy deposit scheme on 6 April. It represents an end to the scandal of the small minority of unscrupulous landlords who refuse to return rent deposits left with them by short-term tenants. I would also say that the work done by Shelter, Citizens Advice and the NUS has been very important. It is good news for vulnerable tenants and students everywhere.

Q4. [127217] Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Tarceva has been deemed cost-effective for certain lung cancers in many European countries and North America, but only for British taxpayers with Scottish addresses. My constituent, Richard Burman, has paid his taxes to the British Treasury all his life, but faces a premature death unless he moves to Scotland. Will the Prime Minister please agree to meet him with his specialists to discuss the problem?

The Prime Minister: What I would say is that decisions on whether or not drugs should be available are taken by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. I am afraid that I cannot make a commitment for a meeting, but I am happy to look into the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions and to correspond with him about it.

Q5. [127218] Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/ Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to stop the environmental degradation of our planet, it would be better to give ownership of the question and the campaign to the ordinary citizen? Would it not be the greatest mistake if we thought that we could do everything by Government diktat, top down?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. What is important is to have action that is available to the individual citizen. The energy White Paper will detail some of the proposals for that shortly. Secondly, it is important to get international agreement within Europe and then at the G8 plus 5. Finally, it is obviously important—my hon. Friend is absolutely right—that we have practical policy making in this area. That is why I believe that the proposals that we have put forward this week will give us a realistic chance of meeting very ambitious targets. They are certainly preferable to the proposals put forward by the Conservative party.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Is the Prime Minister aware of the extent of the funding crisis faced by Greater Manchester police, which has already seen the loss of some 216 officers? According to the Labour-run policy authority, it faces a financial shortfall of up to £27 million over the next two years. If he is aware of it, could he explain what he is doing to help?

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The Prime Minister: My understanding is that the police in Greater Manchester and elsewhere are getting increases—significant increases—in the amount of funding available. However, the hon. Gentleman will know that the chief police officers came to us and asked for greater flexibility in how the money is used. I think that I am right in saying that there have been almost 1,000 extra police officers in Greater Manchester since we came to office and there are, of course, in addition, the community support officers. It was in response to the request from the chief police officers that we now give them greater flexibility in how they use their funding.

Q6. [127219] Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): The Prime Minister must be aware of the tragic situation that is unfolding in Sri Lanka, where Government and Tamil forces have been fighting, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and claiming 4,000 lives in the last 15 months. Because of our very close historical links with Sri Lanka, can the Prime Minister use his good offices to persuade all the parties and factions to recommit to the agreement made in 2002, which was brokered by the Norwegian Government, so that the escalation in violence can be curtailed and peace and tranquillity can return to this beautiful island?

The Prime Minister: The issue that my right hon. Friend raises is a very serious and important one and I can assure him that we are in touch at the present time with the International Red Cross and other UN agencies. He is right in saying that the Norwegian authorities have played a significant part in trying to put together a peace process in Sri Lanka. I totally understand the difficulties that the Government there face at present; it is a very challenging situation. We have said to them that we will do all we can to help, but my right hon. Friend is right to say that the only realistic way to get a solution is to come back to the 2002 agreement and make sure that it is implemented. I know that he will also agree that terrorism and violence can never be the way to achieve a negotiated solution.

Q7. [127220] Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that my constituents have been waiting two years for the approval of a new community hospital in Braintree? Progress has been stalled as the buck has been passed back and forth between the primary care trust and the strategic health authority. Will he agree to meet me to discuss how we can make progress on this project?

The Prime Minister: I am perfectly prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman, because it is obviously a serious issue for mid-Essex and his constituency. However, he will be aware that, at the same time as the proposals on the community hospital are being discussed, there is also discussion on what will be a huge multi-million pound investment by the Government in Broomfield hospital. Over the past few years, he will know that there has been huge investment in the local NHS infrastructure, so I am very happy to meet him to talk about how we can get the benefits of this investment in his constituency and elsewhere in Essex. However, I know that he will be the first to say that the NHS has improved considerably in the last few years.

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Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend understand that today’s motion on Trident effectively commits this country to the possession of an independent nuclear weapons system for the best part of the next 45 years without the House being guaranteed any future opportunity to consider whether it remains the best strategy? Does he understand that many of us accept the need to ensure our ability to replace the Trident system, but none the less believe that in a fast-changing world this House should be guaranteed the chance to revisit that decision at an appropriate point in the future?

The Prime Minister: I entirely understand my right hon. Friend’s point. If I may put it like this, it is at what I would describe as the reasonable end of the opposition to what the Government are doing. However, let me try to explain why I think we have still got to take this decision today. It is absolutely right that this Parliament cannot bind the decisions of a future Parliament and it is always open to us to come back and look at these issues. He is right to suggest that when we get to the gateway stage—between 2012 and 2014—when we let the main contracts for design and construction, it will always be open to Parliament to take a decision. However, I believe that the reason why we have to take the decision today is that if we do not start the process now, we will not be in the position in 2012 or 2014 to continue with the nuclear deterrent should we wish to do so.

The real dilemma is that we decided rightly or wrongly—but I think rightly—that we should seek parliamentary approval even for the design and concept stage. When we came to the previous Trident nuclear submarine, it was only at a later stage that parliamentary approval was sought. That was much criticised at the time, so we decided that we should seek parliamentary approval at the very beginning of this process. Of course, it is a statement of fact that the gateway takes place at a later stage and in a later Parliament but if we want to spend at least the more limited sum of money now on the concept and design stage, we have to take a decision now.

Q8. [127221] Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Cash for peerages is probably not the biggest disaster of the right hon. Gentleman’s tenure— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House will understand that it is important that I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say.

Mr. MacNeil: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, cash for peerages is probably not the biggest disaster of the right hon. Gentleman’s tenure; Iraq is. We have heard concerns already about poor medical treatment for soldiers, lack of body armour and delays in coroners inquests. Indeed, some of my constituents from Stornoway have to pay council tax when they are in Iraq. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that families are having to send food parcels to some soldiers in Iraq because of the lack of 24-hour canteen facilities? Why is this Prime Minister, who was so cavalier in taking this country into Iraq, failing in his duty of care to these soldiers?

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The Prime Minister: I simply dispute that we are failing in our duty of care towards our soldiers. Our soldiers are doing a magnificent job in Iraq. They are doing a necessary job for our security and the security of the wider world. I have to say, even though the hon. Gentleman and I may disagree strongly over the issue of Iraq, it is completely wrong for people to undermine the morale of our armed forces by suggesting that we are deliberately not giving them the equipment they need or the care they need when injured. It simply is not true and it is not right to say it.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): The only talk in Crawley for years was the closure of Crawley hospital. Now, under new management, under the primary care trust, there is over £20 million of investment, a new urgent treatment centre opening, and new services every day. Will my right hon. Friend come to see for himself?

The Prime Minister: I would be delighted to do that. I remember that, before the last election, the Conservative party said that this would never happen and that it would not be done. It has been done. Later today, we will launch the results of the Government’s coronary disease programme over the past few years, which indicate that, since we came to office, over 100,000 lives have been saved as a result of investment and reform. The point is that every bit of that investment and reform, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, has been opposed by the Opposition.

Q9. [127222] Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Will the Prime Minister tell the House what message he can give to the 7,000 families on Stockport council’s waiting list? When does he intend them to have a decent home?

The Prime Minister: It is important, of course, that we invest more in social housing. We are doing that and, as a result of the investment, we are not merely helping people with the refurbishment of their homes, we are building new homes as well. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that there will always be a limit on the resources that we are able to spend, but the Government have put £2 billion into council and social housing over the past few years and we intend to put in hundreds of millions more in the next few.

Q10. [127223] Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): I am glad that my right hon. Friend shares my joy in the beginning of the new national tenancy deposit scheme, which will help thousands of my constituents. I am sure that he is also aware that withholding deposits is not the only way that letting agents have of fleecing vulnerable tenants. Will he therefore consider legislation to regulate letting agents?

The Prime Minister: We, of course, always keep these issues under review and I am happy to look at the issues that my hon. Friend has raised. I would agree with him, certainly, that the tenancy deposit scheme is a good first step in giving protection to tenants.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): The Prime Minister will probably know that the police estimate that the largest ever mass lobby of Parliament
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took place a few weeks ago, when 1,200 blind people came here to call for a higher rate of mobility allowance. He may also have noticed that more than half the Back Benchers in the House have now signed my early-day motion to that effect. Will he perhaps have a word with the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown) to suggest that, at a cost of £50 million, it might be something that he could include in his forthcoming Budget and thereby enhance his reputation as a humane and caring Chancellor?

The Prime Minister: We have obviously increased the payments for mobility allowance over the past few years. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said and I will study carefully the early-day motion. I can give no commitments at this stage, but we will take into account what he says.

Q11. [127224] Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great success that our overseas drugs liaison officers have had with seizures of cocaine in Latin America, working with the authorities in those countries? We could prevent much more cocaine—and all the misery that it brings—from ending up on the streets of this country if we invested in more of those drugs officers. Will he look into this matter personally? Tackling the source is the most effective way of combating drug trafficking.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the liaison officers do a fantastic job. This is an example of liaison co-operation between the different services. The number of drugs seizures is now way above what used to be the case. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I am happy to look into what more we can do. Obviously, the other measures that we are taking to protect our borders will play a part as well.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): What progress is the Prime Minister making on delivering the outstanding issues—many have been supplied by my party to him and his officials—that are essential for the delivery of devolution at some point in the very near future?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are in receipt of the proposals that have been put forward by his party. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is meeting representatives of his party and I will do the same. We will honour the commitments that we have given, and we entirely understand why those proposals are an important part of the overall package to get devolution back up and running in Northern Ireland.

Q12. [127225] Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that over the past decade, the number of people killed in road accidents in the United Kingdom has declined. However, is he aware that over the past five years, there has been a very alarming increase in the number of young drivers killed, very often with young passengers as well? Will he have discussions with the Secretary of
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State for Transport to find out why that is happening, and will he bring forward proposals to stem this tragic loss of life?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right on both points. There has been a dramatic drop in the number of deaths as a result of various measures that have been taken over the past few years. It is sometimes worth pointing out that the number of lives saved, especially
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young children’s, as a result of some of the road measures that have been taken runs into many hundreds. However, my hon. Friend is also right that a very specific problem has arisen. Discussions are under way in government about what we can do about that and, especially, about what can be done to ensure that we are able to deal with young drivers in either stolen or uninsured vehicles far more quickly than we do at present.

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Point of Order

12.31 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A Delegated Legislation Committee has been scheduled for 8.55 am tomorrow to consider the sexual orientation regulations. Unfortunately, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not yet considered the regulations. More importantly, the regulations have been revised three times in the past week, so it will be impossible for hon. Members to have considered them by tomorrow morning. Could you, Mr. Speaker, give me any advice on how that Committee could be delayed?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman gave me notice of his point of order. The date and time at which a Delegated Legislation Committee meets is a matter for the Chairman. The hon. Gentleman might wish to seek further advice about the options open to him and other Members from the Public Bill Office.

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Contraception and Abortion (Parental Information)

12.32 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I beg to move,

The rates of unplanned pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted infections among under-age children in this country are shamefully high. They are higher than those in most other countries in the developed world, and certainly higher than those in any of our western European neighbours. There is an obvious reason for that: all the indications are that many children are becoming sexually active well before they are emotionally or physically mature. In children under the age of 15, the estimated figure is more than 40 per cent.

The Government have expressed concern about the situation, but their policy direction to try to tackle the problems has been misguided. Sex education in schools focuses heavily on the assumption that under-age children will be sexually active come what may and on providing all the contraception information that they need to avoid pregnancy and infection. However, statistics show that that approach is not working. It has done little to deter pupils from engaging in precocious sexual behaviour. Indeed, the plethora of information on contraception has given encouragement to children through false assurances that there will be no unwanted outcome. That is hardly surprising, as immature young people cannot be expected to make wise adult decisions. Interestingly, most schoolgirls who become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection claim to have used contraception.

The aim of the Government’s teenage pregnancy strategy, launched in 1999, was to halve teenage pregnancies in 10 years. That was a laudable aim, but by 2005 the rate had dropped by only five per 1,000—from the 1998 figure of 46.6 to 41.1 per 1,000. The figure for teenage pregnancies in 2005 reached 7,464 and some new mothers were as young as 13. Even the provision of the morning-after pill free of charge and without parental knowledge has had virtually no effect on numbers. Indeed, it could have been said to have encouraged some girls to increase their risky behaviour. On a visit to one of my local health centres recently I learned that far from using the morning-after pill as an emergency treatment, the same young girls are presenting regularly. Such small progress offers no hope of the strategy achieving its goal by 2009. It is time to try a different approach.

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