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Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 28 June 2006

Q5. Is the Prime Minister aware that domestic burglary has gone down by 21 per cent. in my constituency? Car theft had gone down by 23 per cent. between 2003 and 2004-05. However, in spite of extra police officers in Lancashire, extra police support staff, the new police community support officers, community wardens and special constables, many people still think that crime is going up. Will the Prime Minister reassure my constituents that they are less likely to be a victim of crime now than they would have been at any time in the past 25 years? (80671)

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely true. Incidentally, I would like to pay tribute to the Lancashire police force, which is a groundbreaking force that does a superb job. She is absolutely right that there have been big falls in both car crime and burglary, and the antisocial behaviour legislation is also of enormous help here. I know that she will realise that we need to do more, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is examining various issues to do with the Home Office. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill will play a part in this as well. My hon. Friend is right that we need to keep on ensuring not only that the laws are fit for what we need, but that we get the community policing out on the street that her constituents and others want.

In 1997, when the Prime Minister was still the future, he pledged to cut early-years class sizes to below 30. In the same year, and in every year since, he has promised to tackle school truancy. However, parliamentary answers that I have received show that those early-years class sizes have doubled since 2002 and that truancy has risen by 200,000 over the same period. Has the Prime Minister changed his mind about those priorities, or just broken his promises?

As far as I am aware, the infant class pledge has been met. If the hon. Gentleman goes into virtually any primary school in the country, he will see the effect not merely of the investment in bricks and mortar, but of something like 80,000 extra classroom assistants. In so far as we have been able to cut infant class sizes, we have done so, of course, because of the extra investment in our public services that he voted against in the past.

Q6. Since my right hon. Friend became Prime Minister, hospital waiting lists and waiting times have dropped dramatically. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case for housing waiting lists. Before my right hon. Friend leaves office, will he ensure that the necessary investment is committed so that his legacy will also be one of falling housing waiting lists? (80672)

I thank my hon. Friend very much indeed for the first part of her question, which I regard as progress of a sort. However, she is absolutely right that we need to do more on housing, particularly social housing. That is why we are investing literally hundreds of millions of pounds over the coming years to ensure that we have better social housing and to increase the provision of houses as well—

Whether it is provided by councils or others, it is important that we get the maximum investment in housing. Of course we only manage to achieve investment when we have a strong economy with the money therefore to invest.

Will the Prime Minister set out a clear timetable for the removal from the statute book of the Act of Settlement, which introduces clear discrimination against millions of our fellow citizens? Would a Government set on a course of repeal not be demonstrating leadership, authority and direction?

No, I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that assurance, but as we are on the subject of legislation I can tell him what I would not agree to do, and that is to introduce the Bill that he wants—an independence Bill for Scotland. That would be an absolute and total disaster for the people of Scotland.

Q7. Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of my official engagements yesterday was the opening of the 11th children’s centre in my constituency, at a school, Dallow junior, which has received over £2 million of additional investment for new facilities? Will he join me in congratulating the staff involved in that achievement, and does he agree that it is another example of this Government tackling child poverty, which doubled under the Conservative party? (80673)

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is our intention to keep up the investment in children’s centres. Sure Start, too, is an immensely important programme that has not only allowed hundreds of thousands of people to get access to facilities that help their children, but benefited many parents enormously. In addition, we are trying to support people through the work-life balance, the children’s tax credit, and increases in maternity leave and maternity pay. All that adds up to a package that results not in simply talking about helping families but in supporting them in realistic and practical ways throughout the country.

I understand it, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said last Thursday—that remains the position.

Q8. I report with great sadness to the Prime Minister that, following the local elections and a bit of bed-hopping by the Liberal Democrats, Newcastle-under-Lyme is being temporarily led by the Conservatives. In the past 20-plus years Newcastle has been well served by Labour leaders—Mike Brereton, Eddie Boden and David Leech—and I wonder whether, in this novel situation, the Prime Minister can help me out. By which yardsticks would he judge this new, Tory/Liberal Democrat alliance in my area, however temporary it may be? (80674)

The most important thing is that the programmes of renewal and inner-city regeneration that were funded by the Government are maintained by the council, and I know that my hon. Friend will be holding it strictly to account.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in congratulating Cheltenham and Tewkesbury primary care trust on never having had a financial deficit and on living within its means. Can he therefore explain to the professionals, patients and people of Cheltenham why we are being rewarded with the closure of our 10-year-old purpose-built maternity ward, the closure of our rehabilitation hospital, cuts in health promotion, cuts in community nursing, cuts in health visiting, cuts in access to acute care and the non-implementation of new NICE-prescribed drugs such as Herceptin?

I do not know the particular circumstances of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and what has happened with the primary care trust there, although I am sure that if we were to go into it we would also find that waiting times and waiting lists for patients had fallen substantially and that there were additional numbers of people being treated far faster for cancer and cardiac care. I am afraid that it is a necessary part of the financial management in the health service that no matter how much money is put in, there will have to be proper accountability to make sure that that money is spent well. I am very happy to look into the points that the hon. Gentleman raises.

Q10. I gave notice to the Prime Minister’s office that I was going to raise the case of the late Lieutenant William Norbury MC and his widow Gillian, and the battle to win her the war disability pension to which she is entitled. Yesterday, at a veterans reception in Downing street, the Prime Minister was challenged to resolve the issue by Mrs. Norbury’s splendid champion, John Nunneley. In Mr. Nunneley’s own words, he appealed to the Prime Minister to act as Mrs. Norbury’s “court of last resort”. Is the Prime Minister now able to deliver his judgment in this case? (80676)

No, I am not able to do that right now. I met Mr. Nunneley yesterday and he gave me a letter explaining the situation. I thank the hon. Gentleman for notice of the question. It is a complex case because Lieutenant Norbury was a member of the King’s African Rifles, which is a colonial force raised in Kenya, and responsibility for his war pension was taken over by the Kenyan Government when that country gained its independence in the early 1960s. Ministers and officials have met Mrs. Norbury’s representatives on a number of occasions, and the Ministry of Defence is now examining a number of possible schemes to consider whether Mrs. Norbury will be eligible under any of them. So the MOD is looking into it, and I hope that I will be able to get back to Mr. Nunneley or Mrs. Norbury in due course.

Will the Prime Minister congratulate Plymouth city council on returning to Labour control last Thursday after a successful by-election? Will he take an interest, too, in the challenge that we face of providing enough affordable housing to rent and buy, as we need some flexibility to play our part as one of the country’s key growth areas?

I certainly congratulate the council and its Labour leadership on the superb work that they are doing, not least in relation to schools, antisocial behaviour and regeneration. The by-election last week set a very good example.