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The fact is that we have had months of dithering and billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is at risk. Does the Prime Minister accept that, if nationalisation goes ahead, it will be a massive failure of Government policy and a fresh chapter in the incompetence of this Government?

The Prime Minister: The Bank of England supports our action, the Financial Services Authority supports our action, and the right hon. Gentleman used to support our action— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister speak.

The Prime Minister: The Bank of England supports our action, the Financial Services Authority supports our action, and the Opposition used to support our action. I have looked at the policy of the Opposition between Sunday and Wednesday: on Sunday, the right hon. Gentleman said he was against nationalisation; on Monday at his press conference he said, perhaps by mistake, that we should look at nationalisation; and on Tuesday night’s “Newsnight” the shadow Chancellor said that we should look at administration, which is a route to a fire sale of the asset. They change their position every day; the only change they represent is that they change their positions all the time. We are for stability; they would bring instability.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Were the Prime Minister and his Government aware of his predecessor’s plan to attend the conference of the main party of the French right to announce his candidacy for the presidency of the European Union, as a prelude to his candidacy for the presidency of the world, the universe and everything? Did the Prime Minister know of that intended candidacy when his predecessor was negotiating the European constitution, and did that not represent a conflict of interests?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister is doing a wonderful job because he is speaking up for peace in the middle east; I approve of his taking up any opportunity he gets to put his advocacy of a peaceful settlement for the middle east, and he was right to do so.

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Q3. [179209] Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con): On new year’s day, little Hermione Bateman was born, 11 weeks prematurely. She is alive today only because of the prompt expert help she received from my local hospital. Is the Prime Minister aware that in 15 months’ time a baby such as Hermione will have to be taken 21 miles to Hastings to access such emergency care? Why are babies’ lives being put at risk in this way?

The Prime Minister: I am aware of the issues the hon. Gentleman raises, but the recommendations on the reconfiguration of maternity services were made by consultants and clinicians on the ground, and they are in the interests of the safety of all patients, all mothers, and all daughters and sons who are born. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will look at the massive investment we are making in the national health service, both in his area and in other areas. There are six new hospital developments in the whole of the region that he represents, and there have been 7,000 new staff, and waiting times of six months or more, of which there were 30,000 in 1997, are down to 57. That is what the health service is achieving.

Q2. [179208] Mr. Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that the security of supply of electricity generation is a priority for any country’s well-being and true independence? Can the Prime Minister assure me that the Energy Bill, which gets its Second Reading next Tuesday, will protect the Scottish economy from any political gerrymandering of the planning laws envisaged by the Scottish National party Administration in Edinburgh?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend takes a great interest in energy matters. The availability of secure energy is one of the big issues affecting this country, and it is what led to the energy White Paper last week, to our decision on nuclear power, and to our decisions to extend renewable sources of energy, to make ourselves less dependent on foreign sources of energy and to cut the carbon that is used in energy. I hope that every part of the United Kingdom will feel able to support all those decisions.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors says that home repossessions will rocket this year by 50 per cent., with one repossession every 12 minutes. What comfort can the Prime Minister offer the 45,000 British families who now face the prospect of losing their homes this year?

The Prime Minister: What I can say to them is that we are determined to have low interest rates; to have low interest rates we have to have low inflation; and to have low inflation we have to have a decent economic policy, which I am afraid the hon. Gentleman’s party does not have.

Mr. Clegg: The reality is that the Prime Minister allowed, on his watch, grossly irresponsible lending practices by banks to destabilise the housing market. Will he act now to ensure that mortgage lenders take their responsibilities seriously and do more to stop evictions, or will he just sit there wringing his hands while British families lose their homes?

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The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman forgets that there are 1.5 million more home owners under a Labour Government than there were before our Government started. We have extended home ownership to all regions of the country and to people who previously could not afford it.

I have been given a copy of the dossier on the hon. Gentleman that, unfortunately, was prepared by the person sitting next to him, who suggests that on every major economic and social issue the leader of the Liberal party has flip-flopped, and keeps flip-flopping.

Q4. [179210] Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Following on from the point raised by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the very positive impact that this Government’s housing market renewal programme is having in former mining areas, such as Grimethorpe and Thurnscoe in the Barnsley area of my constituency and Mexborough in the Doncaster area of my constituency, in terms of future housing provision? Does he agree that such a programme has to be built around a principle of community sustainability and against a backdrop of a sound and stable economy, which this Government have provided for the past 11 years?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend because, as he says, massive housing investment has been made in his constituency—this is the answer to the Liberal party’s point—and that housing investment will continue with £1 billion more provided in the next three years. We are determined to remove substandard housing, to have more affordable housing and to extend home ownership, but that is possible only if we run a strong economy. I say to all Members of this House that ours is the country that has managed to have low inflation at the start of this year, half that of America, and at the same time has seen jobs expanding when unemployment is rising in America and in other countries, and that gives me hope that our economy can withstand what is clearly global financial turbulence.

Q5. [179211] Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is a dead man walking, so what arrangements is he making for a competency transplant?

The Prime Minister: When it comes to the work of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, unemployment is down; employment is up; more single parents are in jobs; fewer people are claiming incapacity benefit; more long-term unemployed people are getting back to work; and, since my right hon. Friend became Secretary of State, hundreds of contracts have been signed with local employers to get thousands of people back to work. That is why I have confidence in what he is doing.


Q6. [179212] David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Darfur.

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The Prime Minister: We continue to monitor the humanitarian situation in Darfur. Some 4 million people are dependent on food aid, 2 million people have been displaced and 280,000 people have had to leave the country. We continue to work with the United Nations and the African Union to bring peace to that troubled region.

David Taylor: The fact that the Darfur genocide is now entering its sixth year is largely down to the UN Security Council, especially China, which has blocked or diluted efforts to stop the violence, leading the Khartoum regime to treat the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur protection force with contempt. Will my right hon. Friend say how he will tackle the continued failure of the UN to secure compliance with its own edicts and decisions, so that the looming threat of the withdrawal of humanitarian organisations such as Médecins sans Frontières can be avoided?

The Prime Minister: I praise my hon. Friend for his long-standing commitment to, and interest in, the area of Darfur and the problems that people are facing. As I said a minute ago, the problems are appalling and run to hundreds of thousands of people having been displaced or being on aid.

My hon. Friend mentions China. I talked to the Premier of China this morning about this very issue, because I believe that China and the United Kingdom can work with other countries to make sure that the Government of Sudan ensure that a ceasefire is properly administered, to bring in the African Union peacekeeping force, which is supported by the United Nations—20,000 more peacekeepers—and to move towards political talks that can bring a political settlement, where all parties, including those that did not attend the previous talks, are brought to the table. On my visit to China, I intend to continue the talks with Premier Wen so that all of us, including the Chinese Government, add to the pressure for a peaceful settlement in Darfur.


Q7. [179213] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)(Con): The Prime Minister talks about low inflation, but the cost of living index is rising hugely. Food prices have gone up 7 per cent., energy prices have gone up 15 per cent. and petrol product prices have risen by more than 20 per cent. Why is the rate of inflation running at a higher rate now than the one his Government inherited?

The Prime Minister: But it is not. Inflation is 2.1 per cent. The hon. Lady makes an important point: energy prices have been rising—coal, oil and gas—by 60 to 80 per cent. in every part of the world. Food prices have been rising as a result of what has happened to the harvest. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that our inflation is 2.1 per cent., when it is 3 per cent. in the euro area and 4 per cent. in America, on the same comparable index. That is why we have been able to bring down interest rates in the past few months, but they have not been able to do so in the euro area. We approach the global financial turbulence with low inflation, low interest rates and high employment, and
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if we can make the right long-term decisions on the economy, we can withstand the global financial turbulence. To say that oil and other commodity prices are going up and that we still have low inflation shows the achievement in getting inflation down.

Q8. [179214] Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): On Monday, the Prime Minister said that he was very worried about the content of video and computer games. Some of those games, such as Manhunt 2, depict scenes of torture and murder using hammers, knives and guns. They seem to make a virtue of gratuitous and graphic violence. Will he meet a delegation of Members, including the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who has a private Member’s Bill on the subject, to see what further steps the industry can take to show better responsibility? Does my right hon. Friend, as a parent, agree that—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Other hon. Members want to be called.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is right, and this is an issue that concerns all parties in the House and every parent. It is right that we look again at the classification system for those games and at what is happening on the internet in influencing young children. That is why the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families has set up the Byron review, in which Dr. Tanya Byron is looking at these very issues. We want children to be able to enjoy the benefits of the internet and video games, without being influenced by the pornography or violence of them. Dr. Byron will report in March 2008 and while it would be premature for me to say what she is likely to recommend, the classification system is one of the things that she is looking at. I hope that when we get the report we can have a debate in this House. I would be happy to meet my right hon. Friend’s delegation and move forward whatever changes in the law are necessary.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Last Saturday, three children in my constituency had their grandmother murdered by their father, Gary Weddell, who then committed suicide, after he had been granted bail after being charged with the murder of his wife, the mother of the children concerned. Will the Prime Minister please ensure that the case is looked into, so that lessons are learnt and so that no other family has to endure a similar tragedy?

The Prime Minister: This is indeed a set of tragic circumstances that are almost difficult even to contemplate—that someone was let out on bail and then apparently is alleged to have murdered his mother-in-law and then to have taken his own life. The question is why bail was given. It is not in the power of the Government to give bail, although of course it is up to us to look at any laws affecting that. It was a decision by the judge, who set down an amount of money and probably took into account the fact that the man was a policeman. Those are the things that we have to look at, and if any changes in the law are necessary, we will make them.

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Q9. [179215] Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we can invest £8.4 billion in the supply of social housing over the next three years because of this Government’s sound stewardship of the economy, which is very different from the Tory record? It is because of their neglect that there was a £19 billion housing repair bill when they left office.

The Prime Minister: I hope that all parties will welcome the 50 per cent. increase in social housing that we are about to bring about through the measures that we are taking in the public spending review. I hope particularly that young couples will benefit from the supply both of affordable rented housing and of affordable housing to buy. I hope that the Opposition will reconsider their policy of opposing many of the housing measures that are intended to deliver more housing space for more people in this country.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): The Plain English Campaign today described the consultation on Heathrow expansion as atrocious and said:

Will the Prime Minister please instruct the Department for Transport to withdraw the consultation until it can be written in comprehensible language, and will he tell Ministers and officials that it is a disgrace that none of them will attend a single public meeting on that crucial point?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady gives the impression that because of the wording of the document she does not understand the issue at stake, which is whether there will be a new runway at Heathrow. The consultation is there for the public to involve themselves in. I hope that people will join it vigorously, and then a decision can be made.

Q10. [179216] Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): Daresbury laboratory in my constituency has been carrying out world-leading scientific research for 46 years. The science and innovation campus at Daresbury is a huge success, attracting science and high-tech businesses and creating high-quality jobs. Two reviews are about to take place—the McKillop review and the light source review—both of which will have an impact on the future of Daresbury laboratory. The knee-jerk reaction of the Science and Technology Facilities Council to cut research grants by 25 per cent. and staff by 25 per cent. to meet an £80 million shortfall in its £1.9 billion budget is a cause for concern—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must stop the hon. Gentleman. His question was too long; he must be briefer.

The Prime Minister: Daresbury is a world-class facility. I am proud that we have such a facility in our country and in the north-west region, as well as an innovation centre that is world beating and path breaking in its research. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are two reviews. The McKillop review will consider how best we can meet the future needs of Daresbury. We have increased the amount of money to be spent on the Science and Technology Facilities Council by 13 per cent. during the spending review
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period. I hope that we will be able to see an expansion of the work done at Daresbury, which will benefit the whole country.

Q11. [179217] Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): Question 11, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman must go straight on to the question.

Mr. Binley: I apologise, Mr. Speaker. There are times when I am on another planet; that was one of them.

Will the Prime Minister assure us that Mr. Stephen Carter, his chosen nominee for Northern Rock, has no residual interest whatsoever in Brunswick Group?

The Prime Minister: Mr. Carter is not responsible for Northern Rock.

Q12. [179218] Barbara Keeley (Worsley) (Lab): In my constituency, people living in the most deprived areas have a life expectancy seven years shorter than those in the most affluent areas a couple of miles away, yet national reports have indicated that they could have many years added to their lifespan if they made some lifestyle changes. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that in years to come the NHS will reach out to my constituents and advise them on how to change their lifestyles so that they can lead healthier and longer lives?

The Prime Minister: I praise the work that my hon. Friend does in the health service, in particular among carers. We attended a seminar on that issue in Leeds on Friday, where carers asked us to do more to make their lives better, particularly with respite care. As far as inequalities and life chances are concerned, we are putting forward measures for check-ups, screening and preventive vaccines so that people can identify their risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. That will save lives, particularly in the communities that my hon. Friend is talking about.

Q15. [179221] Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What was the point of invading Iraq, which led to the deaths of 150,000 Iraqis, just to hand over Basra to militant Shi’a militias while the army is holed up in the airport?

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