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Sustainable Communities Plan (Kettering)

Volume 475: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2008

Q5. If he will meet the hon. Member for Kettering and local authority representatives to discuss co-ordination between the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency, East Midlands Trains and the Department for Communities and Local Government on the implementation of the Government’s sustainable communities plan in the borough of Kettering. (203743)

It is vital that all Departments and their agencies work closely together to deliver the homes needed in Kettering and elsewhere. It is precisely because we need to ensure that new housing is not built in isolation and that it is delivered with transport infrastructure, utilities and public services that we have allocated over the next three years £1.7 billion for infrastructure in growth areas and new growth points. Northamptonshire has received £59 million. Since 2003, the Government have allocated in total over £250 million to Northamptonshire, made up of various growth area, community infrastructure and transport funds. This has been possible because we have been able to expand public spending.

Local residents would like a meeting with the Prime Minister so that he can explain to my constituents why the Government’s plans to increase the number of houses locally by one third by 2021 is being matched on the one hand by cuts in the train service and on the other by restrictions on the use of the local road network. Will the Prime Minister please agree to a meeting?

I can say to the hon. Gentleman that £1.7 billion is being allocated for infrastructure. Northamptonshire alone has received £250 million. I will of course look at what he says, but he has to agree with me that no Government have spent more on public services and public infrastructure than we have, and that his county has benefited as a result.

Q6. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Lancashire police on their excellent work over the past 18 months in closing down cannabis factories across Preston? Will he continue to campaign against the use of cannabis, particularly given its effects on health—there are new forms of cannabis, such as skunk, that are much stronger and far more dangerous than previous forms—and the social problems and problems with crime that it causes? (203744)

I am grateful for the work that is done by the police authority and the police in my hon. Friend’s area. The Home Secretary will be making a statement on this matter just after Question Time. It is generally agreed that the quantity and the type of cannabis being sold on the streets of our cities, and the threat that it poses to the mental health of many of the people using it, make it necessary that we look at this matter again. I believe that the recommendations that the Home Secretary will put forward will be in line not only with what the public want to see, but with what the police want to see. I believe that the House will be pleased that she is also taking new measures for enforcement that will be welcome in all parts of the country.

Ken Livingstone, the outgoing Mayor of London—[Hon. Members: “He’s gone.”] Yes, of course. Ken Livingstone, the sadly gone Mayor of London—sorry Boris—has said that he is looking forward to doing a spot of gardening and taking his children to school. What is the Prime Minister looking forward to when he leaves office?

I am looking forward to building a stronger economy in Britain; I am looking forward to creating more jobs in our country; I am looking forward to building a better health service. I know that we will get no help from the Welsh nationalist party, but we will go ahead and do that for Wales as well.

Q7. May I tell the Prime Minister that last week the Wolverhampton trades council organised a May day celebration that attracted more than 1,000 trade unionists, who paid tribute to their fellow workers—dock workers—in South Africa who, in a very principled stand, refused to handle arms to Zimbabwe? May I ask the Prime Minister to give support to that action and to recognise that where trade unionists act to intervene on international business for humanitarian aims, they are to be supported, even though their Governments sometimes look a little tardy? (203745)

I have given support to those South African workers who stopped an arms shipment coming from China that would have gone to Zimbabwe. At the same time, we have been calling at the United Nations for an arms embargo, to prevent other arms and armaments from getting into Zimbabwe at this time. This is a critical time for Zimbabwe. It is important that we recognise that the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and all those who have an interest in the future of Zimbabwe should apply pressure, so that any elections that take place in Zimbabwe are free and fair, monitored by the whole international community to be seen as free and fair, so that justice is done in securing for the Zimbabwean people their democratic rights.

Does the Prime Minister understand that unless his Government tackle the scourge of bovine TB soon, there will be little or no livestock industry left in the south-west of England?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we have to deal with the disease, but that must be based on the scientific evidence that is available to us, and that is exactly what the Environment Secretary is looking at.

Q8. Do people want the right to see their doctors in the evenings and at weekends, or are the Tories right to scrap that right to choose and turn the clock back? (203746)

The vast majority of British people want more access to their GPs in the evenings and at weekends, and the vast majority of British people welcome the vote by the British Medical Association to give an extra three hours of medical services either on an evening or at the weekend in half the areas of the United Kingdom. I am pleased that that service is now starting. That is why it is surprising that the Conservative health spokesman said in Pulse magazine on 29 April that he wants to restore to GPs the power to make that decision, and presumably also the power to block the extension of primary care to new providers. I do not believe that the Conservative party is acting in the interests of the national health service, and that is the tradition of the Conservative party.

Q9. Last weekend, the Prime Minister claimed to share people’s pain at the rising cost of living, so can he tell the House how much it costs to fill up a family car in his constituency and when exactly he last had to do it himself? (203747)

The cost of petrol has gone up as a result of what is happening around the world. A barrel of oil is now $110. A litre of petrol—[Interruption.]

A litre of petrol is now £1.10 in many places, and it is rising in some other places. The important thing is that we have postponed the fuel duty increase, and we are doing what we can to work with OPEC to get the price of oil down. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me that in every part of the world, when oil prices rise, it hits households and motorists. We are doing everything in our power to get the price of oil down.

Q10. Tomorrow, Israel will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its independence. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Israeli people on this important anniversary of their vibrant democracy and economic achievement, particularly in the high-tech industries? Will he assure Israel of the UK’s continued support and friendship into the future? (203748)

I wish to add my congratulations to the state of Israel on its 60th anniversary. Israel has come a long way in those 60 years. I look forward to being present at the Finchley united synagogue with the Chief Rabbi this evening to celebrate 60 years. Israel’s future is as part of a secure middle east, and it must remain optimistic that that can be achieved. We will work with people on both sides to secure a settlement—a two-state solution—with a viable Palestine alongside a secure Israel. I believe that that is the best guarantee of the future of Israel in the next 60 years to come.

Q11. A Populus poll of Labour supporters, out today, has said that the Prime Minister should step aside for a younger, fresher and more charismatic leader. I suspect that a few of his colleagues were on the receiving end of those calls. Does he not understand people’s anger about his crippling tax increases, which have hit the poorest in this country? He has two proposed tax increases for motorists: a £400 vehicle excise duty for those with family cars and a 2p increase on fuel in the autumn. Will he ditch those proposed tax increases before his colleagues ditch him? (203749)

It is right that households are suffering as a result of what has been happening in a world downturn and it is right that fuel prices have gone up—and it is unacceptable that so many people have lost out as a result of that. That is why we have postponed the fuel duty rise, that is why we have increased the winter allowance by £50, and that is why we have negotiated with the utility companies a deal that, next year, £100 million will go to help low-income households in this country. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that none of that happened under a Conservative Government when people were suffering.

Last week, Nestlé opened a brand new £15 million chocolate factory in my constituency. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that that is a vote of confidence by a foreign multinational company in the British economy, and in the city of York? Will the Prime Minister come to York, or ask his Business Secretary to come to York, to see the fundamental strength of the British economy?

I congratulate the companies in my hon. Friend’s constituency that are expanding; long-term unemployment in his constituency is down by more than 80 per cent. The reality is that, while unemployment is rising in other countries, employment is rising in Britain. That is because of the fundamental strength of the British economy—something that I believe that all people who look at that will accept. We will continue to create more jobs in this country.

I took the job for the reason that I gave in my answer to the last question: to create jobs for people; to create better public services; to tackle poverty; and to make Britain a better place. Is it not remarkable that not one question coming from the Tory Back Benches is about the substance of policy? They cannot face up to the big policy questions facing this nation.

Q13. The Prime Minister referred earlier in his answers to colleagues to affordable housing. Can he tell us more about what he is doing to ensure that those who are struggling to pay their mortgages have the leeway to manage their budgets? (203751)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are in discussions with the Council of Mortgage Lenders to enable people to get a better deal when they are faced with difficulties in paying their mortgage bills. At the same time, we have put forward proposals for a shared equity scheme that will allow more people to buy a percentage of their house, if they are not in a position to buy all of it as a result of the changes in the rates that are being charged for mortgages. We will do everything that we can to help young homebuyers to get on to the first rung of the housing ladder.