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Volume 583: debated on Wednesday 2 July 2014

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

A key driver of our welcome economic growth has been investment in new commercial enterprises. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the speedy completion of the Sainsbury’s and Bristol Rovers deal is a key part of Britain’s fight back to prosperity not only in achieving a new stadium for the south-west, but in unleashing hundreds of jobs, affordable housing, business growth and rail infrastructure plans? Will he do all he can to hasten the completion of this Sainsbury’s deal, which is so vital for our economy?

Having visited my hon. Friend’s constituency recently, I know how passionately she feels about this important development. I know that she will be delighted that the judge in question has dismissed the judicial review. We can now hope that this paves the way for the supermarket and the stadium to be built, and I hope that Sainsbury’s will press ahead with that. Not only will this mean a new home for Bristol Rovers, but it will mean more jobs, more growth and better infrastructure for Bristol.

It is four years since the Prime Minister announced his top-down NHS reorganisation. Can he tell us whether, since then, the number of people having to wait more than the guaranteed two months for cancer treatment has got better or worse?

The number of people being treated for cancer has gone up by 15%, and we are meeting the key waiting time targets, particularly the waiting time target for accident and emergency, which we met for April, even though the right hon. Gentleman had once again predicted a crisis.

That was a very specific question about cancer treatment: I asked whether things had got better or worse. After all, the Prime Minister did this big reorganisation and said things would get better. Macmillan Cancer Support warns that more lives are being put at risk. Cancer Research UK says,

“This isn’t just a missed target—some patients are being failed”.

The NHS has missed the target on access to cancer treatment for the first time ever. Is he really telling two of the most respected cancer charities that they are wrong about the target and that things are getting better, not worse?

What I am saying is that we introduced for the first time ever a cancer drugs fund, which is treating 50,000 people. That is what is happening. The number of people being treated for cancer is up 15%. This is all in stark contrast to Wales, where Labour is in charge—[Interruption.] Labour Members all shake their heads, but the fact is that Labour is in charge of the NHS in Wales, and it has not met a cancer target there since 2009.

Actually, the Prime Minister is wrong about that. In Wales, more patients start cancer treatment within 62 days than in England. We know why he wants to talk about Wales—because he cannot defend his record in England. Was it not interesting that, on the cancer treatment target, he could not pretend things were getting better, but he could not admit things are getting worse? Let us try him on another one: in the four years since his reorganisation, has the number of people waiting more than the guaranteed four hours in A and E got better or worse?

We have met our waiting time target for accident and emergency. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly how long people are waiting. When the shadow Secretary of State was Secretary of State for Health, the average waiting time was 77 minutes; under this Government, it is 30 minutes. That is what is happening under this Government.

Let me admit to a mistake, Mr Speaker. I have just said that Labour has not met a cancer treatment target in Wales since 2009. I am afraid I was wrong: it has not met a cancer treatment target in Wales since 2008. Of course, in Wales there is no cancer drugs fund; there has been an 8% cut to the budget; people are dying on waiting lists—and Labour is responsible.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me to defend my record over the past four years; I will. There are 7,000 more doctors, 4,000 more nurses, over 1,000 more midwives, and we are treating over 1 million more patients a year. Whereas the NHS under Labour had the disgrace of Mid Staffs, we can now see the NHS being properly invested in and properly improving.

I will tell the Prime Minister about our record on the NHS: the shortest waiting times ever, more doctors and nurses than ever before and the highest patient satisfaction ever. That is Labour’s record on the NHS. Now, it was a long time ago, but he did not answer the question. It was on a target that he set, on four-hour waits in A and E. Let me give him the figures for his target: before his reorganisation, the number of people waiting more than four hours was 353,000. After his reorganisation, that has risen to 939,000, an increase of 300%. Is that better or worse?

The average waiting time is down by more than half. That is better. But the right hon. Gentleman does not have to listen to me—he can listen to the shadow Health Secretary, who said that this is

“the best health service in the world.”

That is what he said. He was quoting the report from the Commonwealth Fund, which is an independent organisation. It ranked the United Kingdom—for the first time, and under this Government—as having the best health service anywhere in the world. It is better than in America, better than in Germany, better than in France, better than in Australia. [Interruption.] He says that is his record, but it has happened only under this Government, and I can tell him why. Mixed-sex wards have been virtually abolished. Infection rates have been halved. A million more patients have been treated. There is a cancer drugs fund for the first time ever. There are more doctors, more nurses, more midwives, more people being treated, and it is official: the best NHS in the world.

It is this party that created the NHS, and every time we have to save it from that lot opposite. Once again, the Prime Minister did not answer the question. More people are waiting more than four hours in A and E. What about those people whose condition is so serious that they need a bed in hospital? Can he tell us, since his reorganisation has the number of people waiting more than four hours on trolleys—something he said he would get rid of—got better or worse?

People are waiting less time to get into accident and emergency than they were under the last Labour Government. We remember what that Government gave us: the disgrace of Mid Staffordshire, for which they have never properly apologised. As for what they said about our plans, we have put £12.7 billion extra into the NHS and their view was that that was irresponsible. They oppose reform of the NHS, and we can see the effect in Wales: no reform, no money, longer waiting lists, no targets met and people dying on waiting lists. That is under a Labour Government.

The Prime Minister cannot answer any of the basic questions about his own targets in the NHS. I can tell him that the number of people waiting on trolleys for more than four hours has gone up from 61,000 to 167,000 on his watch. He promised that the reorganisation of the NHS would make things better, but it has made them worse: worse on access to cancer treatment, worse on A and E waits, worse on GP access. The NHS is getting worse on his watch, and there is only one person to blame: him.

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do better than that, even on the NHS, he really is in trouble. Under this Government, millions more patients have been treated. There is a cancer drugs fund for the first time ever. Our health service is ranked officially the best in the world. We know what he would do, because we have heard from the director of policy, who said that no interesting ideas will emerge from Labour’s policy review—that is official—and his guru, Lord Glasman, has come out and said that he has “no vision.” Yesterday he misquoted statistics and got them completely wrong, and the managing director of the factory he was speaking in said that Labour’s policy would be a “bureaucratic nightmare”. I say to the people looking glum behind him, cheer up, folks—it’s only Wednesday.

It is good to be back, Mr Speaker.

Cherylee Shennan, a 40-year-old mother, was murdered in Rossendale on 17 March by Paul O’Hara, who was out on licence after having murdered his former partner in 1998. The introduction of Clare’s law or the right to know whether one’s partner has a history of violence—Cherylee did know of her partner’s history of violence—must be backed up by support from the police and the probation service, so that people in such situations know of the dangers that they face and so that we do not see another tragedy like the death of Cherylee.

It is good to see my hon. Friend back in his place. He makes an important point. The introduction of Clare’s law has made a difference because it gives people the right to any information about the potential dangers from a partner. I am pleased that that has been rolled out across the country. He is absolutely right that we need to do more with the police, the probation service and the Prison Service to ensure that more warnings are given in more cases.

Q2. The Prime Minister will be aware of the housing crisis in London, but is he aware of the distinctive contribution of his colleague, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon)? Through his £110 million family firm, he has bought up the New Era estate in Hackney. The firm intends to drive up—[Interruption.] (904589)

Order. The question will be heard. What people think of it is neither here nor there. This is supposed to be a bastion of free speech and the hon. Lady will be heard, however long it takes.

Families in Hackney face seeing their rents driven up, eviction and being put on the street. Are the activities of the firm of the hon. Member for Newbury the Prime Minister’s idea of compassionate conservatism?

What I would say to the hon. Lady is that we all know that we need to see more houses being built. We have seen 41,000 affordable starts over the last year and more than a fifth of those have been in London. We need more house building and more houses being provided. We will then see more affordable rents in the social sector and in the private sector.

Q3. One in three of our nuclear test veterans’ descendants has been born with a serious medical condition. Given that our cross-party campaign seeks recognition and not compensation, including an ex gratia payment by the Government into a charitable fund to help those in need, will the Prime Minister, following our last meeting in April, clear the logjam, recognise the veterans and finally resolve this shameful chapter in our nuclear history? (904590)

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned consistently on this issue in the House and outside it. He and I have discussed the matter. I am happy to tell the House that the Government recognise and are extremely grateful to all the service personnel who participated in the nuclear testing programme. We should be in no doubt that their selfless contribution helped to equip the UK with the deterrent that it needs. Following our meeting, I asked my officials to look again at the specific points and arguments that he made. I will come back to him as soon as possible.

Last Saturday, I spoke to my 93-year-old constituent, Keith Ludrecius, who served as a merchant seaman throughout the second world war. He told me that he never thought he would live to see the day in this country when people who are in work still do not have enough money to live on. What does the Prime Minister have to say to Keith? Is it simply that this Tory Government make the rich richer and everyone else poorer, or is it just the inevitable consequence of his long-term economic con?

First, I am very proud to lead a Government who have increased the basic state pension by £15 a week, which will have helped his constituent. On how we help people in work, what we need to do is to create more jobs. We have seen 2 million more private sector jobs under this Government. The second thing that we need to do is to cut people’s taxes. Under this Government, people can earn more than £10,000 before they pay any income tax. That is at the heart of our long-term economic plan and it is working for Britain.

Q4. The world has seen the tragic and brutal murders of three Israeli youngsters, most probably by Hamas. Will my right hon. Friend give the Israeli Government every possible support at this time? Does he agree that, far from showing restraint, Israel must do everything possible to take out Hamas terrorist networks, and will he give the Israeli Government support in that? (904591)

What I say to my hon. Friend, who I know is passionate about these issues, and to everyone in the House, is that this was an absolutely appalling and inexcusable act of terror, and one can only imagine the effect on the families and friends of those poor teenagers, and what happened to them. It is very important that Britain will stand with Israel as it seeks to bring to justice those who are responsible. We also welcome the fact that President Abbas has firmly condemned the abduction and tried to help find those people. As my hon. Friend said, it is important that all security operations are conducted with care so that further escalation is avoided. The people responsible for this should be found and brought to justice.

Q5. In 2011, the Prime Minister said that waiting lists “really matter”. Why, then, are nearly 3 million people on ever-lengthening waiting lists—the highest number for six years? What does he have to say to Katherine Sinclair, a constituent of mine, who has been waiting in pain for 33 weeks for a hip operation? Does not she “really matter”? (904592)

I say to the hon. Gentleman that he needs to look at the figures. The figures show that the numbers of people waiting longer than 18 weeks, 26 weeks and 52 weeks to start treatment—[Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor says they are getting worse, but they are lower today than they ever were when he was sitting in government—lower than at any time. We have the record from yesterday of the Leader of the Opposition using dodgy statistics. Yesterday he claimed that three quarters of the jobs in our country were created in London. That is totally wrong. Have we heard an apology? Have we heard a correction? Does he want to correct the record? He will do anything to talk down the British economy.

The Prime Minister is aware—I have raised this issue with him before—of my long-standing campaign for serious investment in rail services from Penzance, of the independent and Liberal Democrat Cornwall council proposal for a train upgrade and train care centre at Long Rock, and of my 3,000-name petition, which I recently delivered to this House in support of that campaign. Will he visit my constituency with his cheque book and a favourable announcement?

I intend to spend a lot of time in my hon. Friend’s constituency between now and the next election, and I believe I will be bringing all sorts of good news for the people of St Ives.

Q6. Germany has three times as many apprentices as the UK, and the number of young apprentices has fallen. Long-term youth unemployment in Dudley is twice the national average, and we will attract secure and better-paid jobs only if we make education and skills our No. 1 priority. Will the Prime Minister make a start by ensuring that every public sector procurement contract provides apprenticeship places? (904593)

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for Dudley North, he will find that the claimant count is down by 20% in the last year. He will find that the youth claimant count is down by 21%, and the long-term youth claimant count down by 28% in the last year. The fact is that in the west midlands things are getting better, with more people in work and more jobs being created. He should be celebrating Dudley rather than running it down.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the tragic death of my three-year-old constituent Sam Morrish from sepsis while under NHS care. Sam was failed by his GPs, out-of-hours services, the hospital, the primary care trust and the ombudsman. This must not happen again. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the ombudsman’s recommendations are implemented in full and that the systems of review within the NHS, and by the ombudsman, are radically overhauled to deliver proper transparency and accountability in a timely way? That family waited two years for justice.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that tragic case, and all our thoughts should be with Sam’s parents, who I know have had a meeting with the Health Secretary. It is shocking and saddening, as she says, to see how a whole succession of health services failed that family, and anyone who has lost a child, and lost a child that young, knows how harrowing and how dreadful that experience is. She is absolutely right: we must learn the lessons from that case, and make sure they are acted on and that they cannot happen again. Last week we launched a major safety campaign to prevent those sorts of tragic and—sadly—avoidable deaths.

Q7. At the Tory billionaires’ summer ball, the Defence Secretary was sat with the lobbyist for the Government of Bahrain. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether they discussed the fact that Bahrain is still not regarded by the Foreign Office as a human rights country of concern? (904594)

What I think will be discussed is the fact that the Labour party just has to get one trade union to write one cheque for £14 million. When you look at the Labour party candidates and take out of the mix the fact that they have got son of Blair, son of Straw, son of Prescott, son of Dromey—when you take out the red princes—you will find that 80% of the candidates are union-sponsored. They have bought the candidates, they have bought the policy, they have bought the leader. We must never let them near the country.

The number of NEETs in Northamptonshire has fallen from 4,580 in March 2012 to 2,645 now thanks to a joint project set up by the local enterprise partnership and the Northampton Alive organisation. Will the Prime Minister congratulate those responsible for that success, and urge more MPs to get involved with their local LEPs, thus recognising their great value if constituted correctly, led imaginatively and targeted wisely?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is interest in this right across the House. All parties are now committed to making local enterprise partnerships work and to not going back to the old regional development agencies. It is important that LEPs are business-led and it is important they are strong in every part of the country. Members of Parliament can play a real role in encouraging prominent businessmen and businesswomen to get involved with LEPs and in making sure they deliver for local areas.

Q8. May I take the Prime Minister back to the question of the private rented sector in Britain? Across London, there are thousands and thousands of families—people in work and on benefits—who are frightened of rent increases, frightened of short-term tenancies and frightened of the consequences, for themselves and their children, of being evicted or forced to move out of the area in which they live. What is happening in central London is social cleansing, and it is coming to the rest of the country. Will he give me an assurance that, in addition to any regulation of the agencies, serious consideration will be given to the need to bring back rent control to protect people and ensure they have somewhere secure and decent to live? (904595)

Where I would agree with the hon. Gentleman is on the need for greater transparency in the work of letting agents in terms of fees. There is a need for alternative options, which we have put forward, for longer-term tenancies, but in the end we must allow customers to choose what they want. Where I part company with him is on the idea of introducing full-on rent controls. Every time they have been tried, wherever they have been tried in the world, they have failed. That is not just my view; it is also the view of Labour’s own shadow housing Minister, who is on the record as saying that she does not think rent controls will work in practice. Perhaps he might want to have a word with her before coming to me.

Q9. In the ’83 general election, a 13-year-old boy delivered leaflets around my constituency pledging that Michael Foot would take Labour out of the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend find it strange that that same boy, now leader of the Labour party, is not willing either to support the renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership of the European Union or to pledge to trust the people of Britain in a referendum on our membership of the European Union? (904596)

I have always thought it terribly unfair to hold against people things they might have done in their youth. If that was the right hon. Gentleman’s idea of fun as a 14-year-old, then, obviously, we have to make room for everybody. The point is this: it is in the interests of the British people to have a renegotiation. [Interruption.] What is my idea of fun? It is not hanging out with the shadow Chancellor—that is no idea of fun. I feel sorry for the Leader of the Opposition, because he has to hang out with him all the time. What a miserable existence it must be to have sitting next to you the person who wrecked the British economy, and to have to listen to him, day after day, as he says to the British people, “We’re the people who crashed the car, give us the keys back.”

The uncertainty surrounding the future of Scotland and indeed the UK has resulted in many among the business community in Scotland withholding significant investments in that country. Does the Prime Minister therefore agree with me that there is a moral responsibility on employers to inform their employees about the consequences, if any, of the separation of Scotland from the UK so that they can make an informed choice prior to the referendum?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point—that a huge amount of pressure is being put on businesses by the Scottish Government with all sorts of threats and warnings against speaking out and saying what they believe is the truth. I come across business leader after business leader—large and small in Scotland—who wants to keep our United Kingdom together and thinks it would be crazy to have border controls, different currencies and split up our successful United Kingdom. Together with the hon. Gentleman, I urge them to speak out, talk with their work forces about the strength of our United Kingdom and then vote to keep it together.

Q10. This weekend, the cities, towns and villages of Yorkshire will be alive to cries of “Allez, allez” as the world’s greatest annual sporting event passes through our county. Will the Prime Minister join in people’s enthusiasm for le grand départ this weekend, and does he agree that this is a wonderful way to build a legacy for cycling and encourage more people to “get on their bikes”? (904597)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is brilliant that the Tour de France is starting in Yorkshire, and I think it will be a fantastic event for our country while also providing a great advertisement for Yorkshire and all that the county has to offer. I am greatly looking forward to going and seeing some of the race and some of the preparations. It is going to be a magnificent event, and I will do everything I can to promote it—apart from wearing lycra.

Q11. Will the Prime Minister make it illegal for recruitment agencies to advertise overseas for jobs in this country, unless they advertise them locally, too—yes or no? (904598)

The short answer is yes. That is exactly what we are doing—saying that employment agencies cannot do that; they cannot purely advertise jobs abroad, and we are doing everything we can to stop that.

We have a £12 billion tourism deficit in this country—the deficit generated between people going overseas and people coming here. One reason for that is believed to be our high VAT rates on accommodation and attractions. Will the Prime Minister look at that and ensure that that is not what is driving up that deficit?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to promote the south-west as a holiday destination. We should do everything we can to help. Obviously, the restoration of the transport links has been vital. It is difficult to have differential rates of VAT on some of these things, but everything we can do to promote the UK as a holiday destination—including, for instance, the brilliant fact that the Tour de France is coming here this weekend—we should do.

Q12. Cancer Research UK has just launched its new strategy—a focus on tailoring treatment to individuals, which should prove more effective in combating cancer. How will the Prime Minister ensure that the NHS is in a position to enable access to radiotherapy and ensure that cancer drugs are available for all regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (904599)

The cancer drugs fund has been a huge breakthrough not just in making available drugs but some important treatments, too. I hope that other parts of the United Kingdom will take up what we are doing with the cancer drugs fund. Another thing we can do is to make sure, by working with Genomics England, that we are sequencing genomes as fast as we can so that we can carry out the research necessary to see which cancer drugs will be effective on which patients in accordance with their DNA. This will be the modern way to do tailored medicine, and I am very pleased to say that Britain is well ahead of the pack when it comes to investing in our universities and science base as well as in our NHS.

Q13. Jack Gayton and Hannah Fountaine are two young constituents who now own one of the 108 properties in Rugby bought as a result of this Government’s Help to Buy scheme. Does the Prime Minister agree that the fact that Jack and Hannah now enjoy their own home and have made a start on the housing ladder demonstrates this Government’s support for those who want to work hard and get on? (904600)

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating his constituents. The Help to Buy scheme is working to get people on to the housing ladder. It is enabling people who do not have rich parents, and who cannot afford a big deposit but can afford a mortgage, to go out and buy the flat or house that they want. We have seen 30,000 people taking advantage of the scheme already, and it has also helped to kick-start investment in housing and raise the level of housing starts in our country.

Q15. Is the Prime Minister aware that, as an out-patient, I have to visit a hospital on a regular basis, and hear from the front line about the problems in the health service? The nurses have lost a considerable amount of their real pay, and A and E services are bursting at the seams. Then there is the fact that nearly every hospital in Britain is running into financial difficulties. As a member of the Bullingdon club, is the Prime Minister proud to be surrounded by this wreckage? Remember, it is his legacy, not ours. Stop blaming the Opposition. Get it done, or get out. (904602)

I think the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints is completely wrong. Of course more people are going to A and E departments in our country—over a million more people—but we are meeting our targets, and waiting times are down by a half. The hon. Gentleman talks about nurses. There are 4,000 more nurses in our NHS than there were when I first stood at this Dispatch Box, and there are 7,000 more doctors.

What the hon. Gentleman ought to know is that we have cut the number of administrative staff, the bureaucrats with whom we were left by the Labour party. There are 19,000 fewer of those, which is why we are able to treat more patients with more clinical staff. That is a record of which we can all be proud.

Q14. It is thanks to our long-term economic plan that £200 million has been allocated to fighting potholes, including £3.3 million for Northamptonshire, much of which will be used in my constituency. Does not that infrastructure investment show that it is only the Conservatives who have a plan that puts Britain on the road to recovery, whereas the Labour party would drive the country’s economy off a cliff? (904601)

I think my hon. Friend is fully justified in taking a lot of credit for the work that has been done on potholes. He has raised the issue in every forum, including the House, over and over again, which is partly why Northamptonshire received £3.3 million specifically to spend on repairing roads. He will be pleased to know that that is enough to fill in a staggering 62,000 potholes. This is important, because potholes damage people’s cars, motorbikes and cycles when they are on their way to work, and mending them is good for hard-working families.

Arthur Jones, a 73-year-old Army veteran from Denbigh in my constituency, went hill-walking in Crete. He has not been seen since 19 June, and his family are frantic with worry. Will the Prime Minister ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues its excellent work, and co-operates with the Greek Government to ensure that Arthur is found?

I will certainly do everything I can to help the hon. Gentleman with his constituent. I will have discussions with the Foreign Office about all the consular assistance that is being given, and about anything else that it can do.