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Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

Q6. Is the Prime Minister aware that the British Sugar factory in York will close in January or February next year, leading to a large number of job losses in the city? More particularly, it will cause a loss of earnings for farmers in North Yorkshire. Will he agree to meet some of the sugar beet growers in North Yorkshire to see whether there is a way forward, perhaps by developing sugar beet into bioethanol? He will appreciate that sugar beet has had a great influence as a rotation crop and on the environment, so it would be a body blow to local farmers to lose it. (86179)

I am happy to meet the hon. Lady. I am aware of the fact that there is an important potential for sugar beet and biofuel, but I cannot offer any assurances. I obviously sympathise with her constituents’ plight, but I would have to see whether there is anything that Government can do, and there may not be.

What advice would my right hon. Friend give a Member of Parliament who voted against the introduction of two weeks paid paternity leave, who voted against extending maternity leave to 26 weeks, and who voted against the request for flexible working? Would that advice include the words, “On your bike, Dave”?

I think that, if that was not just one offence but a serial offence of changing one’s mind, I would advise them not to open their leadership campaign by saying that consistency is a vital thing in politics.

Q7. May I urge the Prime Minister to find time in his busy day to rethink his holiday plans? I do not know which Italian palazzo he has lined up this year, but may I commend to him the benefits of a holiday in the United Kingdom? One of the benefits for the rest of us, of course, is the fact that he would not have to leave the Deputy Prime Minister in charge. If the Italian palazzo has a croquet lawn and a diary secretary, however, perhaps they could cut a deal. (86180)

My right hon. Friend will be aware of our policy on the renewable transport fuels obligation, which will ensure that 5 per cent. of fuels are biofuels. A million tonnes of carbon will be prevented from entering the atmosphere every year, which is the equivalent of a million cars coming off the road. Is it not true that the Government have done a tremendous amount on climate change, and will continue to do so in future?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we have done a great deal to tackle the issue. Unfortunately, we need to do a lot more, which was the purpose of the energy review. One vital part of reducing carbon output is the climate change levy, which has been and will be responsible for carbon emissions into our atmosphere being reduced by millions of tonnes. The energy review gives us a sound way forward—a proper policy basis for planning for the future of this country. The interesting thing about the G8 summit is that what we had in the British energy review is four-square behind the thinking of the leading countries of the world.

Q8. I know that the Prime Minister is a big supporter of the tourist industry. Has he considered taking his holiday this year in Scarborough? I am sure that he will be interested to know that many people who visit Scarborough as tourists subsequently decide to make it their permanent retirement home. (86181)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful suggestion. One of the advantages would be bumping into him in the course of my holiday. I intend to have a good holiday, and I wish him one too.

Q9. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Blyth Valley council’s excellent antisocial behaviour team, which is led by Ian Johnson and supported by the local police? Although the people responsible for antisocial behaviour are only a small minority in Blyth Valley, we do not hug them. We deal with them. (86182)

I thought for a moment that my hon. Friend was about to add to the holiday suggestions. He is right. Although there is a great deal more to do on antisocial behaviour, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will say, none the less antisocial behaviour legislation, where used by local authorities and the police, has had a major impact in local communities and we will strengthen the law still further. There are those who used to describe it as a gimmick, but it is not a gimmick. It is a vital part of making our communities safer.

The Prime Minister will know of the widespread disappointment at the failure of the United Nations review conference in New York a fortnight ago to agree principles on the transfer of light weapons and arms, even though 150 countries supported that. Can we rely on the UK Government to adhere to their manifesto commitment to challenge the few Governments who continue to block the process?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We have pushed the matter very hard for a considerable time, but as his question implies, it is not simply us—it is the whole of the international community that must agree the process. We fully support it and will continue to encourage others to support it.

Q10. My two Sure Start schemes and my two children’s centres are transforming the lives of the most vulnerable children in my constituency, but can my right hon. Friend give me assurances about their future funding? (86184)

I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to fund Sure Start and children’s centres. She is right to say that they perform a vital task in many communities. I know that the Sure Starts in my own community have been immensely popular. About 800,000 people are benefiting from the programmes, and the great thing about Sure Start is not merely the help that it gives to the children, but the help that it gives to the parents. It has had a very great benefit in many constituencies, and we will certainly continue to support it.

Q11. Local people in my area want to know what they have done to deserve Government-appointed trust members and managers who are slashing services, sacking staff, closing wards and compromising clinical safety. As the Prime Minister is in a meeting mood, will he agree to meet a delegation of patients and clinicians from my constituency to explore the serious challenges behind an extremely serious situation? (86185)

I know the hon. Gentleman will continue to make representations on the matter, but I point out to him that it is not a question of management and people being appointed to the board; it is a question of ensuring that however much money we put into the national health service—we have put in vast additional sums that have reduced waiting times, reduced waiting lists, reduced waits for treatment such as cardiac care, and made sure that we are cutting the number of people dying from diseases such as cancer and heart disease—and although it has had a huge impact, every single trust has to live within its means. Sometimes trusts have to reconfigure services, but I do not believe that they will do so to the detriment of clinical management, clinical care or patient care in communities.

Q12. My right hon. Friend has often said that it is essential to be at the centre of decision making in Europe. Will he tell me his assessment of the effectiveness of the current political groupings in representing Britain’s interests in Europe? (86186)

We will, of course, remain as part of the grouping of the centre left parties, and it is extremely important that the Conservative party also remains part of its grouping. I have a feeling that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has changed the Conservative party’s position, on which I congratulate him.