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House of Commons Hansard
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07 January 2015
Volume 590
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Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 7 January. [906768]

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I am sure the whole House will want to join me in condemning the barbaric attack this morning on an office of a magazine in Paris, in which it is reported that 10 or more people may have been killed. While details are still unclear, I know that this House and this country stand united with the French people in our opposition to all forms of terrorism, and we stand squarely for free speech and democracy. These people will never be able to take us off those values.

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

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I saw the problems at Gloucestershire hospitals last week at first hand after an elderly relative phoned 111 and we ended up waiting more than four hours for her to see a doctor in Cheltenham A and E. Then she was promptly discharged. The local trust seems to be blaming patients for making bad choices, but will the Prime Minister find out why so many 111 calls end in A and E, why trusts such as ours route so many unplanned admissions through A and E and why emergency doctors cannot be provided at night in Cheltenham, all of which seems calculated to make normal winter pressures worse?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the last quarter, the NHS has faced some unprecedented challenges. There have been more than 5.5 million people going to accident and emergency units, which is an increase of a quarter of a million on the previous year. Gloucestershire has had £3.6 million of the £700 million of winter pressure money that we have produced, and it should use that money to make sure it provides the best possible service it can.

On the NHS 111 service, it is important to see what is actually happening. The number of people using it has almost doubled over the last year. Of those who use it, 27% say that had it not been there, they would have gone to accident and emergency, but in the event of using 111 only 7% are going. So I think it is a good service, but I am sure it can be further improved.

Recognising the pressure on the NHS, I am sure everyone in this House will want to say a thank you to our hard-working doctors and nurses and other hospital staff for all the work they do this winter.

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I join the Prime Minister in expressing horror and outrage about the unfolding events in Paris. We stand in solidarity with the people of France against this evil terrorist attack by people intent on attacking our democratic way of life and freedom of speech. We are united in our determination to defeat them.

Doctors, nurses and other NHS staff are doing a valiant job, but over 90,000 people in the last quarter waited on trolleys for more than four hours, at least 10 hospitals have declared major incident status in recent days, and one had to resort to Twitter to appeal for medical staff. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that our NHS is facing a crisis?

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Our NHS is facing huge pressure this winter, particularly on its A and E units, but the point that it is important to make is this: the NHS is facing this winter with more doctors, more nurses and more money than it has ever had in its history. What is important is that we recognise the pressures that are there and put in place plans for the short term, the medium term and the long term, and that with the massive increase in the number of people going to A and E, any health system in the world would struggle to cope with some of this pressure.

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In June 2011, this was the Prime Minister’s solemn promise:

“I refuse to go back to the days when people had to wait for hours on end to be seen in A&E…So let me be absolutely clear: we won’t.”

Will he now apologise to patients across the country for having broken that promise?

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I deeply regret it when any patient does not get a good service, but let us be absolutely clear about the numbers of people accessing A and E. Today, compared with four years ago, over 2,500 more patients are seen within four years—within four hours compared with four years ago. That is what is happening. We knew there was pressure on our NHS, and that is why, over the last year, we have seen 1,800 more doctors in our hospitals, 4,700 more nurses in our hospitals and 2,500 more beds in our hospitals. There is more that we need to do, but let us recognise that the health service in every part of our United Kingdom faces these challenges. We must go on giving it the money, the resources and the people so that it goes on providing a great service.

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As far as I can see, the Prime Minister is not apologising to patients; he is blaming the patients. The pressures on A and E are not just happening on his watch, but are a direct result of decisions he has taken. When he decided to close almost a quarter of walk-in centres, was it not blindingly obvious that if people could not go to a walk-in centre, it would have a big impact on A and E?

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We have 1,000 more doctors in A and E, and we are spending £13 billion more on the NHS, when four years ago the shadow Health Secretary said that it would be irresponsible to spend more money. What is interesting is that here we are, question No. 3 on the NHS, and the Leader of the Opposition has no solutions to put forward. That only says to me that while the Government are interested in improving the NHS, he simply wants to use it as a political football.

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This is about politics—it is the Prime Minister’s politics, and they have failed. No answer on walk-in centres, so let us try him on another decision he has made that has been a cause of the crisis. When he decided to reduce the availability of social care services, so that 300,000 fewer older people are getting the help they need, was it not blindingly obvious that if people could not get the care they needed at home, it would have a big impact on A and E?

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Again, absolutely no solutions—presumably, if the right hon. Gentleman had any solutions, he would have implemented them in Wales. He raises the importance of social care, and I agree. That is why from 1 April we are putting £5 billion more into social care via the better care fund. Up until now, the Labour party has told us not to introduce the better care fund. I assume that it now supports that important investment.

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There is one very simple solution: get rid of this useless Prime Minister. No answer on care for the elderly, so let us consider the next thing he did. When he decided to ignore the pleas of doctors, nurses and patients, and plough ahead with his damaging top-down reorganisation, was it not blindingly obvious that if £3 billion is diverted out of patient care, it will have a big impact on A and E?

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Our changes have cut bureaucracy and saved £4.9 billion. That is why there are 9,000 more doctors, 3,000 more nurses, and 6 million more people getting in-patient appointments—[Interruption.]

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Order. There is too much noise in the Chamber from both sides of the House. The Prime Minister’s answers must be heard.

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You can see this as plain as you like: the Leader of the Opposition apparently said to the political editor of the BBC, “I want to weaponise the NHS.” That is what he said, and I think that is disgraceful. The NHS is not a weapon, it is a way we care for our families, it is a way we care for the elderly, it is a way we look after the frail. Perhaps when he gets to his feet he will deny that he said he wanted to “weaponise” the NHS—a disgusting thing to say.

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I will tell the Prime Minister what is disgusting—[Interruption.]

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Order. I said a moment ago that the Prime Minister’s answers must be heard. The Leader of the Opposition’s questions must be heard as well. It is very simple.

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I will tell him what is disgusting—a Prime Minister who said that people could put their trust in him on the NHS. He has betrayed that trust. He is in denial about the crisis in the NHS. This is a crisis on his watch as a result of his decisions. That is why people know that if they want to get rid of the crisis in the NHS, they have to get rid of this Prime Minister.

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If ever we wanted proof that they want to use this issue as a political football, we have just seen it. If Labour has an answer to the NHS, can it explain why it cut the budget in Wales by 8%? That is where Labour is in charge. All parts of the United Kingdom face a health challenge, but the real risk to the NHS is the risk of unfunded spending commitments bringing chaos to our economy, which would wreck our NHS. That is the risk and that is why the choice at the election will be to stick with the people with a long-term plan, not a Labour party that would wreck our economy and wreck our NHS.

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Q2. Does the Prime Minister agree with my constituent, who contacted me at the weekend asking to join us, who said that the only people fit to run our economy are the Prime Minister and the Chancellor? The surprise was that the gentleman was the ex-chairman of Ilford North Labour party. [906769]

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I am sure that that is the first of 4 million conversations my hon. Friend will be having at the coming election. It sounds like this one is going quite well. There is an important point here: there is no strong NHS without a strong economy. With our economy, we can see the deficit cut in half, 1.75 million more people in work and the fastest growth of any major economy in the west. That is the record, and that is what will enable us to fund our NHS, to fund our schools and to provide the public services our country needs.

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Q3. With patients being told to pretend that they are camping, the symbol of the Prime Minister’s NHS is of patients being treated in tents outside accident and emergency. When he promised a bare-knuckle fight against accident and emergency service closures, did he intend to mislead the electorate? [906770]

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All our health services right across the United Kingdom face a challenge. Actually, the English NHS that I am responsible for is performing better than the Welsh NHS, the Scottish NHS and the NHS in Northern Ireland, but the facts are these: compared with four years ago there are 2,500 more people every day seeing a doctor or a nurse within four hours. Why is that happening? Because we put the money in; and when we put the money in, the shadow Health Secretary said it was irresponsible. Presumably that is why Labour cut the NHS in Wales.

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I call Sir David Amess.

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Hear, hear.

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I thank the House for that reception, which more than compensates for my having been made neither a duke nor an earl.

Later today, the second edition of the booklet, “The Party of Opportunity” will be launched. Does my right hon. Friend agree with what the former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Major, has written in the booklet, which is that national wealth eases poverty, pays for social care and creates jobs? That is exactly what this Conservative-led Government have been doing.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The first duty of a Government is to produce a stable, strong and growing economy that can fund the defence and the public services we need. On this side of the House, we understand that. On the Opposition Benches, they have learnt absolutely nothing in the past four years. They would borrow and spend and tax, and put us back exactly in the position of crisis and chaos in which we found the country in 2010.

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Q4. The one thing that was clear about the referendum in Scotland was the amount of young people getting involved, not just in voting but getting out there campaigning and being part of it. Is it not time that we got the rest of the country on board and got votes for 16 and 17-year-olds? [906771]

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The referendum campaign in Scotland did switch a whole lot of people on to politics and political issues, because the question being asked was so important. We have said that we should respect the views of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Parliament, and we will devolve powers on voting age. In this House, I am very happy for us to have a vote. Personally, I think the right age is 18, but I am very happy to listen to the debate, to listen to the arguments and to put them forward.

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For more than 50 years, thalidomiders have been campaigning for justice, particularly from the German manufacturers Grünenthal. Now that more than 150 MPs have signed an open letter to the German Chancellor, would the Prime Minister add this to his busy agenda today so that we might get a decent and fair settlement for all concerned?

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I have raised this issue on behalf of a constituent, not only through the European Parliament but with the German authorities, and I shall certainly reflect on what the right hon. Gentleman says.

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Q5. The price of oil has now fallen to $50 a barrel. While this is good news for motorists, it is bad news for Scotland’s oil industry and thousands of workers. It comes just weeks after Nicola Sturgeon said we were on the verge of a second oil boom and after the independence White Paper said the price would be $113 a barrel. This is a serious issue—jobs depend on it—so will the Prime Minister agree to meet my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), a cross-party delegation, industry leaders and workers to see what support can be provided? [906772]

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I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman on all three grounds. First, North sea oil is a vital industry for the UK and one of the biggest investors in our country, so we should do everything we can to help it. Secondly, and for that reason, we took steps in the autumn statement to improve the taxation regime for North sea oil. Thirdly, as we said during the referendum campaign, it makes the case that North sea oil is better off with the broad shoulders of the UK standing behind it, because we never know when the oil price is going to be more than $100 a barrel or, as it is today, around $50. It makes the case for the strength of the UK and the utterly misguided nature of the SNP, which thought it could base its entire budget on such a high oil price.

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Q6. The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that youth unemployment in Crawley is at its lowest level since records began, but of course we need to do a lot more. What further policies are the Government pursuing to ensure that businesses in Crawley and across the country generate even more employment as part of our long-term economic plan? [906773]

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I am delighted to agree with my hon. Friend. The youth claimant count in Crawley has fallen by 42% in the last year alone, and the long-term youth claimant count—long-term young unemployed people—is down by 71%. He asks what more we can do. We are cutting the jobs tax on small businesses and charities by £2,000; we are abolishing national insurance contributions for those who employ under-21s; we are extending the doubling of small business rate relief; we have cut corporation tax, including for small firms; and start-up loans are being offered right around the country, including to those in Crawley, who are taking them up. This Government can claim to be the most friendly to start-ups, entrepreneurs and small businesses this country has ever seen.

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Q7. Throughout the Christmas period, NHS staff worked tirelessly to see as many patients as they could, but increased waiting times at GP surgeries have forced more and more people to use A and E. Why does the Prime Minister not accept that Labour’s plan to employ 8,000 additional GPs is desperately needed and would make a real difference to the lives of my constituents? [906774]

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From what I have read over the past 24 hours, Labour’s plan is to tax people in London and spend all the money in Scotland. I look forward to hearing how he explains that to his constituents in Ealing. There is a serious point to the hon. Gentleman’s question. The health service has changed in Ealing: Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals both have GP-led urgent care centres that are open 24 hours a day and are seeing more than 400 patients a day, 99% of whom are seen within four hours; and we also have the expansion of the A and E unit at Northwick Park hospital. We need to ensure that the 111 service is helping to spread the information so that people who need care know where they can best get it.

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Q8. The Government have repeatedly highlighted the importance of northern Lincolnshire and the wider Humber area to the offshore renewables sector. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent announcement of the establishment of a national college for wind energy, a university technical college in Scunthorpe and further expansion of existing local training facilities cement the opportunities for local people to benefit from the industry, boost the local economy and highlight the importance of northern Lincolnshire to the northern powerhouse? [906775]

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My hon. Friend is a real champion for north Lincolnshire and for Humberside in general. We are determined that this recovery is going to be different from previous recoveries and that we are going to see growth in jobs and investment right across our country. That is why he and others with me have been working hard to bring investment to the Humber, including of course the vital Siemens plant, and why we have seen employment go up and unemployment come down. Because of the local growth deals agreed in July, the Humber local enterprise partnership has over £100 million for local projects, which should create up to 9,000 jobs and allow more than 5,000 homes to be built, so we are determined to see recovery embedded right across the country.

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Q9. I am proud of the NHS in the north-east, but not one hospital trust is meeting the Government’s own scaled back targets for treatment in A and E—not one—yet the Prime Minister prefers to focus on a top-down reorganisation of the NHS, breaking it up for the benefit of his buddies and putting competition before care and profit before people. Does he really imagine we will trust him with our NHS? [906776]

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Let me tell the hon. Lady what is actually happening in the NHS in Newcastle. Since 2010, there are 191 more doctors and 698 more nurses. Last week over 3,000 patients went to A and E, and all but 190 were seen within four hours. If getting rid of the bureaucracy in the NHS, which we did in England, was such a bad idea, why is the NHS in England performing better than other parts of the country that did not take those steps?

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Q10. The recent final report of the Alderley Park taskforce highlights how around 300 jobs have been brought to the site in the last 18 months, with a healthy pipeline of new businesses looking to locate there. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this helps to highlight why the Government are right to put in extra growth deal funding to help further strengthen the life sciences sector in the north-west, which is vital? [906777]

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My hon. Friend has been a real champion for life sciences in general and for life sciences investment in the north-west of England, which is an absolutely crucial part of the improvement and expansion of that part of our country’s economy, and that obviously includes Alderley Park. The local growth deal announced last July is going to establish a £40 million joint life sciences fund across Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Warrington, which will support the sector right across the north-west. That will include Alderley Park. This is the first Government to have a proper life sciences strategy, because this is a vital industry for our country’s future.

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Those of us who opposed the Iraq war, for very good reason, and many, many other people outside this place are very concerned about the inordinate delay in publishing the findings of the Chilcot report. May I please ask the Prime Minister: where did this bizarre notion that if it is not published before the end of February, we cannot see it until after the election come from? What about the month of March?

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In many ways I share the right hon. Gentleman’s frustration: I would love the report to have come out already. Indeed, he and I voted together against the last Labour Government over and over again, saying, “Please can you get on and set up the independent inquiry that’s needed?” If they had got on and set up the independent inquiry, it would have been published, debated and dealt with by now, so I find it immensely frustrating, but it is not a matter for me. I am not able to order the publication of the report. It is independent: it is up to Sir John Chilcot when he publishes his report. He will make the decision, not me.

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Q11. Youth unemployment in Skipton is down by over 70% since 2010. City growth deal funding for the Skipton flood alleviation scheme will unlock a further 500 jobs. Is there anything the Prime Minister can do to make that happen? [906778]

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I will look very carefully at this, because, as my hon. Friend says, not only the claimant count but the long-term youth claimant count has fallen—it has fallen by 50% in his constituency in the last year alone. I know how much his constituents want to see work on the Skipton flood defence project, which is a very high priority for York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding local enterprise proposal. We will make an announcement about this in the coming weeks.

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Q12. In Wigan recently, my local nurses granted a dying grandma’s fairly remarkable last wish when they wheeled her hospital bed into the car park so she could be reunited for one last time with her much loved horse, just hours before she died from cancer. Those brilliant nurses sum up everything that is great about our national health service, but in a recent poll only 4% of them said they thought the Prime Minister was doing a good job. Can he tell us why? [906779]

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I am full of praise for nurses in Wigan. I think they work extremely hard to provide a good service. I particularly applaud the nurse in Wigan who chased the Health Secretary down the corridor and told him a thing or two about how to run the health service. If we are judged on our record, however, there are 9,000 more doctors and 3,300 more nurses in our NHS because we made the decision to protect the funding of the NHS, which Labour told us was irresponsible.

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Q13. Will my right hon. Friend join me in supporting the Perpetuus tidal energy centre, a public-private partnership that will, from the Isle of Wight, give the world its first grid-connected tidal array test facility? This will put the UK at the forefront of tidal energy technology, protect existing jobs and create several hundred new ones. [906780]

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My hon. Friend makes a very good point, because the UK is now the most attractive market in the world for investment in offshore wind and marine renewables. We want to maintain that world-leading position, harness the economic and environmental benefits it brings and see local centres of expertise. From what I can see, the Perpetuus tidal energy centre sounds exactly the sort of exciting initiative we should support.

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Q14. Nearly half of all London ambulances called out to critical cases do not arrive within their target eight-minute response time. Is that what the Prime Minister had in mind when he told us that the NHS would be “safe in his hands”? [906781]

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The NHS would not have been safe if we had followed Labour’s proposal to cut the NHS. We rejected that advice and put more money into it. The London ambulance service has launched a national and international recruitment campaign and has already hired 400 new members of staff. We are providing £15 million of extra money for the NHS ambulance service in London. That is why it met its target in 2013-14, attending over 460,000 patients with life-threatening illnesses. That is what is happening in our NHS because we made the decisions to reform the NHS, cut its bureaucracy and put the money in—decisions opposed by the Labour party.

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Reverting to the subject of the Chilcot report, about which I have questioned the Prime Minister in the past, did my right hon. Friend note that our distinguished colleague Lord Hurd said in the House of Lords yesterday that it was an absolute disgrace that it had not been published—a view that I certainly hold? Since it is absolutely well known by the cognoscenti that the report was completed many months ago, who—if the Prime Minister is helpless on this subject—is blocking it? Is it the Cabinet Secretary or Sir John Chilcot, or is it the White House?

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I say to the Father of the House that I understand that the report is largely finished, but with every report such as this there is a process: we have to write to the people who are criticised and give them an opportunity to respond. This is now the process for all these reports, irrespective of which Government they are launched under. It is known as the Salmondisation process—although I am not quite sure why, as I do not think it has anything to do with the former First Minister of Scotland. It is not within my power to grant the publication of this report. It is independent and under Sir John Chilcot, and the process has to be finished—then the report will be published.

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Q15. I ask the Prime Minister once again: will he apologise to all those who have suffered and continue to suffer in A and E departments across the country, due to his mismanagement of the national health service? [906782]

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I could not have been clearer. I regret it when every single person who goes to hospital does not get the treatment they deserve, but our responsibility is to put in the money, which we are doing; to provide the extra staff, which is happening; to have a proper plan for joining up health and social care, which we are doing; and then to fund the Simon Stevens plan, which is the right long-term answer for our health service. People around the country will have been able to see that there is one part of this House of Commons working to improve our NHS for all its users, but that another part wants to “weaponise” the NHS—the most disgusting phrase I think I have heard in politics—and treat it like a political football. I know that they will reach the right conclusion.

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Home care workers do a fantastic job in caring for some of the most frail people in our society, yet more than 200,000 of them are not even paid the national minimum wage. Will the Prime Minister talk to the Chancellor about ensuring that HMRC properly pursues and prosecutes the cowboy care agencies that are exploiting those people?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is far more that we can do to prosecute and chase down organisations that do not pay their staff properly. That is why we are bringing into the Home Office organisations that can help to make that happen. Whether the organisation concerned is the Gangmasters Licensing Authority or, indeed, the National Crime Agency, all the powers are there to enable us to go after those who do not pay the minimum wage when they should.

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On Monday I listened to residents of Mendell Court, an extra care facility in Bromborough in my constituency, as they told me of their serious worries about social care. For the good of all who need care and all NHS patients, will the Prime Minister go further to integrate health and social care?

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Through the better care fund we are producing £5 billion, which is money that health authorities and local authorities can spend together. Up to now, the Labour party has opposed that fund and said that it should not be established; but I am afraid it is worse than that. The shadow Secretary of State for Health has been wandering around the television studios today, telling anyone who is prepared to listen that he would increase funding for social care. There is only one slight problem with that. The shadow Chancellor said on the news as recently as 5 January that

“there will be no additional funding for local government unless we can find money from somewhere else”—[Interruption.]

Ah—we are! If Labour Members had waited until the end of the quotation, they would have heard this:

“but we have not been able to do that in the case of local government.”

So there we are: total and utter chaos. One of them is going around saying that there will be extra money, another is saying that there will not be any extra money, and there are £20 billion of unfunded commitments that would lead to total chaos in our economy and a total breakdown in our health service.

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Will the Prime Minister update the House on the future arrangements for the upkeep of the Royal Air Force memorial chapel at Biggin Hill, the iconic former Battle of Britain airfield?

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I can absolutely confirm to the House that that chapel will be preserved for future generations, as we have always recognised its importance and its rich heritage. I think it possible that of all the great moments in British history, the Battle of Britain 1940 stands out as one of the most important times that there have been. So we will protect the chapel, and will do all that we can to protect it for future generations.

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Will the Prime Minister take action immediately to clear up the shambles at the Home Office? A constituent of mine who applied for a fast-track passport before Christmas was promised that it would be delivered to him by courier on new year’s eve, but has still not received it. As a result, he has had to cancel a trip that he was due to make yesterday, at great personal cost and great damage to his personal life. Will the Prime Minister ensure that that man is able to travel this week, and will he clear up this mess?

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I shall be happy to look at the individual case that the right hon. Gentleman raises. However, I think that we have made huge strides in dealing with potential passport backlogs, and I think that the Home Secretary is doing a fantastic job.