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Engagements

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

Q5. Will the Prime Minister agree to put an end to the scandal that allows Post Office Ltd to privatise profitable Crown post offices, such as Chorlton post office, without any consultation with local residents or stakeholders? (96559)

It is important that the Post Office is able to take the decisions that it considers necessary for running a proper business.

Yesterday I was lobbied by my constituent Janine Mcdonald who had paid for her own Herceptin treatment for early stage breast cancer until our primary care trust agreed to pay. Is my right hon. Friend aware that despite the very great improvements that we have made in breast cancer treatment, there is still a postcode lottery in respect of the repayment of those funds paid by patients for Herceptin, as indeed there is for wigs and prostheses and, even more importantly, for genetic screening? Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and endeavour to ensure that all breast cancer patients receive equal access to all treatment?

I certainly will look into the point that my hon. Friend makes. She is right to say that it is our intention to get rid of the postcode lottery in the prescription of drugs. Enormous changes have been made over the past few years in the treatment of breast cancer, which is why so many more people are able to survive it. It is important, too, that there is huge investment going into drugs and treatment throughout the national health service, but the point that my hon. Friend raises is a valid one. I am happy to look into it and contact her.

Q6. Regardless whether the original decision to invade Iraq was right or wrong, given the significant comments by General Sir Richard Dannatt and the fact that everyone except the House seems to be discussing the current situation in Iraq and possible policy options going forward, will the Prime Minister lead a full and proper debate in the House in Government time on Iraq? (96560)

The Leader of the House said the other day what time would be available for debating Iraq, but I am happy to debate Iraq at any time. We do so regularly in the exchanges in the House and elsewhere, and the Queen’s Speech will give us an opportunity to do so again. Let me make one thing absolutely and abundantly clear. There will be no change in the strategy of withdrawal from Iraq happening only when the Iraqi forces are confident that they can handle security. To do anything else would be a betrayal not just of the Iraqi people, but of all the sacrifices that have been made by our armed forces over the years. I know that the subject arouses huge controversy still, but it is important just occasionally to remember the utter barbarity of the regime that we got rid of, and the fact that, for once, today in Iraq people at least have the chance to have a proper functioning democratic society, and we should stand by them—stick by them—in achieving it.

The more a country trades, the more prosperous it becomes. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that we should celebrate European enlargement?

I do. For all its difficulties, some of which we saw in the discussions about Bulgaria and Romania yesterday, European enlargement has been a chief British foreign policy priority. It is right for Britain and right for Europe. Those countries are making enormous strides forward—incredible strides in their economy, their democracy and their politics—which would have been impossible unless they had been allowed into the European Union. So we championed enlargement then, we champion it now and we will continue to champion it in the future.

Q7. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that his attempts to reform and improve the Child Support Agency are failing? If I wrote to him, would he look into the case of one of my constituents who, because of a computer error, will have to wait a full 12 months before she can receive money that her ex-partner has already paid? (96561)

It is precisely because of the difficulties in the CSA that we have taken steps to set up the Henshaw inquiry. That report has been received and we are considering it and will act upon it. I am happy to look into the individual case of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, but the CSA is subject to all the difficulties to which it has been subject right from its outset, which is why a proper and fundamental reconsideration is sensible.

Last week, the Companies Bill received its Third Reading in this House. Thanks largely to the efforts of the corporate responsibility coalition and its millions of supporters, a good Bill was made a bit better. However, I read in Tuesday’s Financial Times that the CBI and the Institute of Directors are going to nobble the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to drop the provisions that they do not like. Will the Prime Minister assure me—I am sure that he will—that when push comes to shove on that important Bill, the primacy of this elected Parliament will not be undermined by the lobbying of unelected business leaders?

It looks as if I will get nobbled either way. We have said that we will honour the commitments that we set out in the Warwick agreement, which form the core of the Bill, and we will honour them.

Q8. When he is interviewed by the Metropolitan police, what innocent explanation will the Prime Minister offer for the fact that 80p in every pound donated to the Labour party came from people who were subsequently honoured? (96562)

I have absolutely no intention of debating those issues with the hon. Gentleman. It is, however, significant that in advance of the Scottish elections next year, he does not dare ask a question about Scotland or the result of that election. That is because he knows that his policy of ripping Scotland out of the UK would be a disaster for Scotland and the UK.

Hundreds of miners and their families in constituencies such as mine and my right hon. Friend’s have benefited from the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease scheme, which was introduced by this Labour Government. Unfortunately, unscrupulous solicitors, including Watson Burton in Newcastle, in collusion with claims handling firms, are deducting thousands of pounds from victims’ compensation. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the guiding principle should be that victims and their families should receive 100 per cent. of their compensation and not have it plundered by unscrupulous solicitors or middlemen?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, it is important that people get the full benefit of the compensation. I know that any issues—there have been issues in different parts of the country—are being raised with the Law Society. The main point is that hundreds of millions of pounds have been paid out to former miners.

I thank my hon. Friend for that prompt—a helpful intervention is always welcome. That £4 billion is the difference between a decent life for people who worked down in the pits and who suffered injury and often debilitating illness as a result. That indicates the priority that this Government attach to social justice.

Q9. Does the Prime Minister recall the helpful answer that he gave me in May this year concerning the Broomfield hospital private finance initiative scheme? Is he aware that almost six months have passed and that approval has still not been given for that project? I am sure he is as anxious as me, and my constituents, that this important scheme should be approved and go ahead. Will he please look at the scheme again and try to expedite approval for it? (96563)

I am very happy to do so. As I understand it, there have been problems with the scheme in the past few months. The scheme will cost in the region of £170 million or £180 million, and I know that it will be worth while for the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. However, there have been issues about the financing of the scheme, which I know that people are trying to sort out. I am happy to look at the scheme again to see what can be done to expedite it. Since the last time that the hon. Gentleman asked me about it, a new dimension has arisen, and it needs to be sorted out.

I ask my right hon. Friend to celebrate with me the fact that a team from Stockton has designed earthquake-proof houses, which are being built today in Panyatta, Kashmir. The team—Dr. Riaz, Dr. Bloom and Dr. Kitchen from Teesside university—are concerned that while significant moneys and investment appear to be available, it is nearly impossible to access them through the chain of bureaucratic restraints.

Again, I do not know the particular circumstances, but I congratulate the team on the work that they have done. I am happy to look into whether bureaucratic constraints are preventing the money from going forward or whether there is some other reason. Of course, it is worth pointing out that this Government, through the Department for International Development, have done an immense amount for the relief of the victims of the Pakistani earthquake, and it is extremely important that we do everything we can to make progress. I am happy to look into the point that my hon. Friend raises.

Q10. The United Nations instructed Iran to cease nuclear enrichment by the end of August, since when nothing has happened. Is the Prime Minister confident that he will be able to get this matter back before the Security Council so that we can have a binding resolution, at the very minimum preventing any further nuclear or military equipment from being exported to Iran, and is he confident that he will get the support of Russia and China in doing so? (96564)

I thought there was a late leadership bid there.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) raises an extremely serious point. I had an opportunity to discuss this with a very senior official in the Chinese Government yesterday. We are working very closely with all the permanent members of the Security Council to ensure that we get this back in front of the Security Council and get a proper, binding resolution. I should like to take the opportunity to say that when Iran says that the purpose of this is to prevent it from getting access to civil nuclear power, that is simply not the case. We have made it clear that we will not merely allow that, but help Iran with a civil nuclear power programme. However, we will not allow it to acquire material that goes to the development of nuclear weapons capability—that would be in breach of all its international obligations. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—it is important that we take whatever action is necessary to stop that happening.