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Volume 471: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2008

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Why do the people of Wales have a full-time Secretary of State, while our armed forces and the Scots must make do with a part-timer?

The new Secretary of State for Wales has responsibilities in addition to his responsibilities for Wales. He is overseeing the British-Irish Council, he is responsible for the joint ministerial committees on devolution, he is the Minister responsible for digital inclusion, and he is responsible for data security and information assurance. Those responsibilities are in addition to his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Wales.

Q2. Yesterday I met senior managers from Rosyth and Clyde shipbuilding firms, who were delighted about the MOD’s investment in their yards. As a result of that investment some 10,000 people are in jobs in Scotland, but the most pleasing aspect of our discussions was the substantial number of apprentices who are now being employed in the shipyards. Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in training, education and apprenticeships is the way forward for Britain? (182955)

We want 90 per cent. of our young people to be in apprenticeships, at college or at university by the end of the next decade, and we are doubling the number of apprenticeships so that we can give young people those opportunities. I want to see every young person who has the skill to do so acquire an apprenticeship, whether it is in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

I believe that our policy of expanding investment in education and training is the right one for the future of the country. It is unfortunate that the Opposition are not supporting us, and do not even support education up to the age of 18. We want opportunity for all, not just for some.

For more than three years the Conservative party has argued that we should scrap the form—[Interruption.]

—that we should scrap the form that the police must fill in every time they stop someone. It is a foot long, and takes seven minutes to complete. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will now scrap the “stop” form?

It is true that for the last three years members of the Conservative party have been arguing among themselves, about Europe and about many other issues. The Flanagan report, published in November, recommended that we reduce and remove the bureaucracy associated with the filling in of forms. Flanagan will publish his final report next Monday. We are taking the action that is necessary, and the right hon. Gentleman should be supporting us.

I know that the Prime Minister is physically incapable of answering a straight question, but this is such a straightforward question. In just one police area in one year the police had to fill in 79,000 forms, using 9,216 hours of valuable police time. Does the Prime Minister accept that the form, introduced five years ago, has been a colossal waste of police time?

Let me ask the Prime Minister the question again. This is the form; will he scrap it?

I can only refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Flanagan report, which we accepted in November. It states that the form can be better administered, and that bureaucracy can be significantly reduced. We will publish the conclusion next week.

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is happening. We are taking action.

Why does the Prime Minister not stop flannelling about the Flanagan report and answer the question? This is the form; we think it should go. What does he think? Will it stay—yes or no?

Once again, the right hon. Gentleman has prepared his questions yesterday and cannot react to the situation today. The issue is this: our Government are taking action to reduce bureaucracy in the police. There are more police officers than ever before in the history of the country. We have more police officers and more community support officers. That is why, last week, crime was down. Crime is now down 30 per cent. We are the first Government since 1945 to see crime down. He should be congratulating us, not condemning us. [Interruption.]

Mr. Ruffley, I cannot always see you because you are behind me, but I recognise your voice. You have got to be quiet.

What people will have heard is that the Prime Minister cannot answer a straight question.

Let us try another one. Keeping our streets safe also means tackling terrorism. Two months ago, I identified and named in this House a number of specific preachers of hate who should not be allowed into this country. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government have accepted that as well, and that he will not allow Yusuf al-Qaradawi into Britain—yes or no?

An announcement will be made on that very soon. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that we do not expel people from this country other than through proper judicial process. In the last two years, 200 people have been expelled from the country: 70 per cent. for unacceptable behaviour, 130 on grounds of national security. We are not slow to expel people who should not be in this country. The fact of the matter is that we have got to go through the proper judicial processes, and he, for one, should appreciate that.

This is not about expelling someone. This guy wants to come to our country, and we do not think that he should be allowed in. He was banned by a former Conservative Home Secretary, so why will the Government not ban him? Let me explain what this man, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, believes. He thinks that gay people should be executed, and encourages people to turn their bodies into bombs. Why can the Prime Minister not tell us his decision now? Does he think that Yusuf al-Qaradawi should be allowed in or not? A simple one—yes or no?

Order. Let the Prime Minister answer the question—[Interruption.]—in his way, without jeering him down.

In 2006, a decision was made not to exclude al-Qaradawi. We are looking at that again. He has applied to come into this country, and a decision will be made in due course. I have to say that it has to go through the proper judicial processes, but he has not been allowed into this country at this stage.

I think that people watching this will just conclude that this Prime Minister cannot answer a question and cannot make a decision. People are starting to say about this Government, “Never mind the complete lack of vision, never mind the relaunches; just focus on keeping us safe.” In a week when the prisons adviser says that they have got no prisons strategy, when President Musharraf says that they have no terrorism strategy and when the only good idea that they have about police reform has come from the Conservative party, should he not just accept that people are not safe under Labour?

I want everybody to be safe and feel safe. Crime is down 32 per cent. under Labour. Violent crime is down 31 per cent. under Labour. It is precisely because we want people to feel safe that we are introducing neighbourhood policing. In every area of the country, neighbourhood policing will be introduced over the next few months. The Conservative party should be supporting that. More police than ever before, more community support officers than ever before, more people brought to justice than ever before—that is a record that they could never boast of, but we can say is working.

The most recent figures on teenage pregnancy show that Britain has the highest rate of any country in western Europe. It also shows that the map for teenage pregnancy is the same as that for poverty and deprivation. Do not we need to do more to tackle those high rates of teenage pregnancy—I see that the Leader of the Opposition is sniggering; he should not do that because the people of Britain will not take him seriously if he does not take such issues seriously. Do not we need to ensure that every youngster has a chance?

As my hon. Friend says, rates of teenage pregnancy are too high in too many areas of the country and we need to take action to deal with that. He has presented proposals this week and we shall look at each one. I believe that the whole country will benefit from a better strategy on teenage pregnancy.

Does the Prime Minister think it acceptable that, at a time when British soldiers’ lives are at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan, half their single living accommodation is still of the lowest standard, half our Apache helicopters remain unfit for service, and more than 60 per cent. of Army officers cite military overstretch as a reason for leaving the Army? Is he surprised at the widespread view that he simply does not care about our armed forces?

It is precisely because of the backlog in accommodation over many decades that we are spending £5 billion to improve service accommodation. The hon. Gentleman should welcome the fact that, as a result of the spending review, an announcement was made to do that. He should also know that we have ordered additional helicopters for both Afghanistan and Iraq and that there will be more helicopters in the field in the next few months. We are therefore taking action on each of the matters that he mentioned.

I should also remind the hon. Gentleman that defence spending has risen every year under this Government and it will increase in the next few years as a result of the spending review. Defence spending was cut by 20 per cent. between 1992 and 1997 and it is rising under us, but under no Liberal policy could that party ever afford to spend what is necessary on defence.

Why should any British soldier’s family take the Prime Minister’s word seriously when they feel so let down? Only this week, the Defence Committee produced a report that highlighted drastic shortages in Army medical services. There is a 46 per cent. shortfall in anaesthetists, a 62 per cent. shortfall in orthopaedic surgeons and an 80 per cent. shortfall in radiologists. If the Prime Minister cannot be bothered to provide decent medical care for our servicemen and women, how can he ask them to put their lives on the line for our country?

We have been spending substantially more on medical services. I have visited some of them and seen the improvements that have been made. Many people say that Britain has some of the best medical services for members of the armed forces in the world.

I repeat that we are spending more on defence, and we will continue to do that, and that every urgent operational requirement of the armed forces is being met. The hon. Gentleman would not be able to provide the necessary money for the defence forces; because of our economic success, we have been able to do so.