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Volume 470: debated on Wednesday 16 January 2008

Q7. 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? (179213)

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 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. 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— (179214)

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.

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?

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.

Q9. 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. (179215)

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.

The Plain English Campaign today described the consultation on Heathrow expansion as atrocious and said:

“This document effectively takes away human rights…No ordinary person could be expected to read and understand this”.

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 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. 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— (179216)

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 period. I hope that we will be able to see an expansion of the work done at Daresbury, which will benefit the whole country.

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?

Q12. 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? (179218)

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. 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? (179221)

Violence in Basra has gone down by 90 per cent. over the past few months. Our troops there are doing a great job in training the Iraqi army’s security forces and the Iraqi police. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to diminish the effect of building economic prosperity in the Basra area. As for invading Iraq in the first place, Saddam Hussein had offended UN resolutions and the international community for more than a decade.

Q13. Although I do not foresee any great demand for my kidneys or liver, may I welcome the Prime Minister’s proposals on human transplants? On a much more serious note, will he act on the matter urgently, as people are dying every day for lack of donors? (179219)

As my hon. Friend knows, a report on organ donations is to be published today. It will recommend ways to increase the number of people prepared, under the present system, to give their organs when they die to save other people’s lives. More than 1,000 people lose their lives each year because no organs are available for transplant. Another report on this matter will be prepared later this year, and one proposal that may be worth discussing then is that, while people may opt out of organ donation, there could be a family veto on whether organ donation can go ahead. I believe that that would satisfy many religious objections, while at the same time ensuring that thousands of people are saved as a result of organ donations being available. I hope that there will be all-party support for taking action.

Following the Government’s recent naval base review, there was widespread concern at Plymouth’s Devonport naval base that ships currently based there could be moved to Portsmouth in the next few years. Will the Prime Minister reassure the base’s work force that their reward for generations of dedicated service to this nation’s security will not be simply death by a thousand cuts?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Plymouth will refit the Trident submarine, and it has a huge amount of work in the years ahead. A massive amount of investment has gone into Plymouth, and I can assure him of our commitment to the dock yard there. At the same time, he will acknowledge that that commitment is possible only because we are spending more on defence every year. We will continue to do so, and that depends on there being a healthy economy.