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Volume 471: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2008

Q4. rose— Hooray! After yesterday’s warning from the financial regulator that 1 million homes are at risk of repossession and that negative equity has returned, will the Prime Minister now admit that he was wrong and complacent in dismissing as scaremongering the warning from our Benches and others that his reckless boom, based on lending, was going to lead to bust? (182957)

It is nice to welcome the hon. Gentleman back. Even his own party may be pleased to see him back in the position of asking me questions. However, he has misunderstood yesterday’s Financial Services Authority report. The fact of the matter is that mortgage repossessions over the past four years are a fifth of what they were in the early 1990s, that mortgage rates have averaged 5 per cent. where they averaged 11 per cent. in the period before 1997, and that there were half a million people in negative equity under the Conservative Government. There are more home owners in Britain now than ever before. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see on reflection that it is because we have a policy for low inflation, have maintained low interest rates, have rising employment and have avoided any quarter of recession in the past 10 years that we can tell people that we will steer them through the difficult times. That could not be said of any other party in the House.

Q5. Many of my constituents are concerned about hospital-acquired infections, but today the Health Protection Agency published figures showing a dramatic improvement in the rates of MRSA and C. difficile following the deep clean of our hospitals. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating our health workers on their hard work, despite the cynicism of the Opposition? (182958)

Since June last year, we have put in an extra £50 million, so that we could inspect wards and improve infection control. We doubled the improvement teams in our hospitals and we have now introduced a new dress code. There will be screening in the future, while deep cleans, which the Opposition described as a gimmick, are already under way. We will always be vigilant. Matron numbers are to be doubled to 5,000. For those reasons, we can now report that MRSA infections are down 18 per cent. on the last quarter and that C. difficile infections are down 21 per cent. We are making progress and we will continue to make progress in the next year.

Is the Prime Minister aware that when the Defence Committee visited Afghanistan last summer, President Karzai made it clear to us that he wanted a high-profile international envoy to help co-ordinate the international effort there? Will he convey to President Karzai our disappointment that Paddy Ashdown has been refused? Will he also explain to the House what action will now be taken to co-ordinate the international effort in Afghanistan, for which so much sacrifice has been made?

I met President Karzai last Friday and talked to him about those very issues. The fact of the matter is that the decision is for the UN Secretary-General, after consulting all the coalition forces. That consultation is still taking place. I believe that Lord Ashdown would have been a great candidate for the job, but there has to be agreement among all those people involved, and that includes the decision by the UN Secretary-General. I hope that we will have a strong development co-ordinator, as the hon. Gentleman wants.

Q6. Will my right hon. Friend personally congratulate Chief Superintendent Steve Kavanagh, his officers and police community support officers, and especially the safer neighbourhoods teams on their achievement in cutting crime in Barnet by 8.6 per cent. so far this year, on top of 16 per cent. last year, with 24.6 per cent. in total? That is one of the best records in the Met. With 5,600 extra officers and 3,700 PCSOs in London provided by the Mayor, what does my right hon. Friend think the result will be of the cuts in the budget proposed by the Tory candidate for London Mayor? (182959)

In the London area alone, there are 6,000 more police than there were in 1997. As my hon. Friend rightly said, in graphic detail, crime is down in his constituency. The choice in London will be between an administration that wants to employ more police and wants to get crime down, and what the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) has said, which is that he wishes to cut spending on the Metropolitan police. That would be disastrous for the police, disastrous for London and bad for the whole country.

Before Christmas, the Justice Secretary said that his Department would be building three so-called titan prisons. This morning, he said that those prisons “may” now be built. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether this is a titanic failure or a titanic U-turn?

We will go ahead with these prisons following the consultation that my right hon. Friend said would take place.

Q7. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, which has recently been named as one of the top health trusts in the country by the Health Service Journal? Will he reassure me that this Government—our Government—will provide all the financial support necessary for the trust to flourish and maintain its excellence in serving my constituents? (182960)

It is because there are 80,000 more nurses and 20,000 more doctors that we are making progress on waiting times and waiting lists. It is because of that that the rates of cancer are down and we are making progress on stroke and heart disease. My hon. Friend is right to refer to the award that has been won by the trust in his area. I congratulate the trust, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on pushing for more resources for the health service.

In light of the Government’s decision to ignore the findings of the independent arbitration tribunal on police pay, will the Prime Minister please explain to the House what would be the point of any future pay disputes being taken to independent arbitration?

We made it clear throughout the whole year that we were staging public sector pay awards in the interest of getting inflation down. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Bank of England, in its recent report, said that this was one of the reasons why inflation now stands at 2 per cent. in Britain while it is 4 per cent. in America and 3 per cent. in the rest of Europe. While we wanted to pay the police more, it was necessary in the interests of national policy to get inflation down so that we could reduce interest rates, as we have done over the last few months of the year. The Home Secretary has, however, written to the Police Federation, and I have followed that up with a letter in the past few days in which we say that we look forward to a long-term pay deal based on the full implementation of the arbitration award.