Danniel Hannan is known for making outrageous comments, in the US he has become the favourite TV boy for Fox News in its quest to folloow an anti-Obama agenda. Hannan has a right to an opinion but he is wrong, totally wrong to peddle inaccurate and uniformed statements about our National Health Service. US health care is more costly than our NHS and some 50 million have no access in the US for health care. US rightwingnuts live in fear and that fear is totally irrational what Obama wants to do is extend health care to the population as a whole but retaining private medicine and adding extra state insurance. US healthcare is poorer than the quality provided here and even Cuba has better health care than the US.
James Kirkup in THE TELEGRAPH: “David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said Mr Hannan was wrong in his criticism of the NHS. Andrew Lansley, the Conservative shadow health secretary, accused the MEP of presenting a “negative and partial” view of the NHS in his contribution to the US debate about health care. Cameron should remove the Tory whip from Hannan.
Conservative US Republicans opposed to President Barack Obama’s health care plans have used the NHS as an example of “socialised” medicine…”
In a most extaordinary outburst George Osborne;
“Addressing the think-tank Demos, George Osborne argued that the Conservative Party is now the most powerful vehicle for change in this country – and the best hope for radicals and progressives…”
I am unaccustomed to even think of Tories being anything but churlish, reactionary and base. The only change Conservatives want is to roll forward cutting taxes for the wealthy and protecting and extending private enterprise spivs and eliminate as much of the public sector that they can. Antyone who believes this cheap rhetoric from George Osborne needs to examine their own sanity!
So now we learn more about the sneaky Tory policy of brutal public service cuts. Phillip Hammond is even now boasting about his proposed actions. This country cannot afford such an extremist Tory government;
“I’ll be nation’s hate figure, says top Tory Philip Hammond. Prepare for rapid post-election budget and deep spending cuts” – Hammond
Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt in THE GUARDIAN: “David Cameron may be forced to stage a rapid post-election budget to calm the markets and prevent a drop in Britain’s credit rating in the first days of a Tory government, Philip Hammond, the shadow Treasury chief secretary, warns in a Guardian interview today.
Anticipating an era of deep short-term cuts in public spending, Hammond urges voters to give the Conservatives a big majority so a new government can act boldly to cut the public debt, warning that the public finances are in such a state “the worst outcome for Britain would be an unclear political result at the election”…”
We have become used to ridiculous and silly antics from Tory party leaders over the years but the latest outburst from Mark Simmonds: ” Mr Simmonds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We should have had the flu line and the website up earlier. We should have gone live when the WHO [World Health Organisation] said we had pandemic levels.” makes one wonder about the sanity of some Tory leaders. The National Flu Service has been set up to take the strain from NHS Direct which has and still does provide appropriate advice for enquirers. Mark Simmonds is really flying a kite, a pointless moan when he should be acting to calm peoples’ concerns and be constructive. What is needed is an end to panic:
BBC NEWS: “The Conservatives have criticised the National Flu Service, claiming the system is “too little, too late”.
The flu advice website, covering England, crashed on Thursday after it was overwhelmed with 9.3m hits an hour.
Tory health spokesman Mark Simmonds said the web and telephone service should have been set up earlier when a global pandemic was declared..”
This was one of those more interesting PMQs when the deputies took charge. Overal I quite like the three deputies, I think Harriet Harman, William Hague and Vince Cable were all equally far better at their jobs than their bosses.
I think the occasion started on a firm solemn note as members recalled the sad deaths of those who perished in the tragic fire in Camberwell last weekend.
The names of seven servicemen in Afghanistan who had been killed in action were announced. Our military service personnel are doing a magnificent job in Afghanistan and we need to support them in getting the job done. The shame is that there are a few NATO allies who are not committing their troops to the full. Some of our allies station their troops in nice safe areas and one has to ask what is the point of some our allies wearing a military uniform! We the Americans and Canadians appear to be bearing the full force of this war against the Taleban.
I was surprised that William Hague got deeply into the public spending issue when there were plenty of other issues that could be aired, in that sense he seemed merely to be mimicking Cameron’s fixation on public spending. But I think Harriet Harman handled the issue more sensibly than the prime minister. Vince Cable asked more sensible questions than his boss focussing on public service pay.
BBC TV VIDEO.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Elderly People (Long-term Care)
Q1.  Malcolm Wicks (Croydon, North) (Lab): What the Government’s policy is on the funding of the long-term care costs of elderly people.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I have been asked to reply.
Before I take my right hon. Friend’s question, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan in the past week. They were Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, commanding officer of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards; Trooper Joshua Hammond of 2nd Battalion the Royal Tank Regiment; Lance-Corporal David Dennis of the Light Dragoons; Private Robert Laws of 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment; Lance-Corporal Dane Elson of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards; Captain Benjamin Babington-Browne of 22nd Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers; and the soldier from the Light Dragoons who was killed in Helmand province yesterday. We owe these men, and all those who have lost their lives in service, our deepest gratitude. They served our country and the people of Afghanistan with distinction in desperately difficult conditions ahead of the very important August presidential elections in that country. They will never be forgotten.
I hope that the House will understand if I take a moment also to offer my condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the fire in Camberwell on Friday.
In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), the Government plan to publish a Green Paper on care and support shortly.
Malcolm Wicks: I know that all Members offer their condolences to the families who have suffered such terrible losses in Afghanistan—those brave men—and also closer to home in my right hon. and learned Friend’s own constituency.
Given that the cost of care associated with the ageing of our already elderly population is in many respects an unfinished chapter in the history of the modern welfare state, and that it affects many families in Croydon and in all our constituencies, does the Leader of the House agree that we now need quickly to develop a robust social policy that will allow the spreading of risks and costs?
Ms Harman: I very much agree with my right hon. Friend who, ever since he was at the Family Policy Studies Centre, has drawn the House’s attention to these issues. With an ageing population, the number of those over 85 is set to double over the next two decades. This is a major challenge for families and for the Government. We will bring forward a Green Paper that will have the objective of ensuring that there is independence and choice in the provision of services, that the highest quality of services is available to everybody, and that those services are affordable for the individual, for the families and for the public purse.
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): May I associate myself with the remarks that the right hon. and learned Lady made about those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and in Camberwell?
Is not the Government’s policy on the funding of long-term care accurately summarised as being to procrastinate and to delay? Can the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that Tony Blair promised action on this subject to the Labour party conference in October 1997? Since then, we have had the Wanless review, we have had a zero-based review, we have had several comprehensive spending reviews, and we have had a royal commission—but we have had no action. When will the Government deliver the action that the then Prime Minister promised 11 and a half years ago?
Ms Harman: This Green Paper will be a very important next step, but it is not true that we have taken no action. Since we have been in government, we have recognised the importance of family care and those who go out to work as well as care for older relatives. That is why we brought in the right to request flexible working for those who care for older relatives—that is action. That is why we have increased resources for the health services for the many older people who need health care support. That is why we have increased resources for social services, so that there is domiciliary care available to people who remain independent in their own home as well as social services residential care. Yes, we will take further steps and we will consult on the challenges ahead, but it is absolutely not true to say that we have made no progress over the past 10 years. We have.
Q2.  Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I join in offering condolences to those who have lost their lives at home and abroad, particularly Trooper Joshua Hammond, who has a very large family in Plymouth mourning his loss.
My constituency is home to a large number of hard-working public sector workers—cleaners, cooks, health care workers and administrators. Public sector workers have an average pension of £7,000 a year. Does my right hon. and learned Friend understand their anger and concern when those rather modest pensions, and indeed their modest pay, come under attack as being somehow unfair or unreasonable?
Ms Harman: I agree with my hon. Friend. We are strongly committed to public services and to the work that public servants do, particularly those who work hard, often for very modest incomes, and we make no apology at all for public service pensions remaining an important part of the remuneration package of public sector workers.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): On behalf of the Opposition, may I also send our condolences to the families of the six people, including a three-week-old baby and two other children, who died in such tragic circumstances in Camberwell, in the right hon. and learned Lady’s constituency, on Friday evening? That event was deeply distressing to her constituents and the whole country.
I join the right hon. and learned Lady, of course, in paying tribute to the seven servicemen who have been killed in Afghanistan in the past week: the soldier from the Light Dragoons killed on Tuesday; the soldier from the Royal Engineers killed on Monday; Lance-Corporal Dane Elson; Lance-Corporal David Dennis; Private Robert Laws and Trooper Joshua Hammond, who were both aged just 18; and Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, who was the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards.
Given those casualties, should we not particularly remember this week that our forces deserve our gratitude and admiration? Are the Government satisfied that everything possible is being done to provide the best possible protection and mobility for our forces there, including the earliest possible increase in the number of helicopters and armoured vehicles?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we must do everything possible to ensure the greatest protection for our troops in the field, and there is no complacency about that. We have increased the number of armoured vehicles that have been procured for and made available to our troops, but we are not going to be complacent and there must be more. We have increased the number of helicopters by 60 per cent. over the past two years, but we recognise that we should do more. We want to do more not only for their personal protection but in recognition of the importance of their mission in Afghanistan, not only to that country but to the region and to the security of this country.
Mr. Hague: We all recognise that it is important to do more, and we will hold the Government to the commitments that the right hon. and learned Lady has made.
Moving on to Government policy more broadly, will she put into plain English for everyone the Prime Minister’s assertion last week that
“total spending will continue to rise, and it will be a zero per cent. rise in 2013”?—[Official Report, 1 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 294.]
Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman will know that all the figures are set out in the Budget book. Our commitment is clear: we are making public investment now to help to back up the economy, get through the recession and ensure that it is shorter and shallower than it would otherwise be. That means backing businesses, protecting people’s jobs, helping the unemployed and ensuring that people do not face repossession. We are taking action. The right hon. Gentleman wants to concentrate on numbers to avoid facing up to the fact that the Opposition have proposals to cut public investment now—[Interruption.] They have proposals to cut public investment this year, just when the economy needs investment most. I understand that the shadow Chancellor revealed last week that he spends 40 per cent. of his time thinking about economics. It is amazing that he spends 40 per cent. of his time thinking about doing absolutely nothing.
Mr. Hague: Perhaps the Leader of the House could spend 100 per cent. of the next minute trying to answer the question she was asked about what the Prime Minister meant by a “zero per cent. rise”. Is it not now clear that every single word of the assertion that he made last week is wrong—that total spending will not rise, and there will not even be a “zero per cent. rise”, as he bizarrely called it, in 2013, but that the figures in the Government’s books, which the Leader of House mentioned, show that there would be a fall? As so many supporters of the Government are now calling for honesty about spending, should she not find it in herself to do what the Prime Minister refuses to do: admit the facts of the Government’s figures? Will she come down on the side of reality and say that, on the Government’s figures, total spending is set to fall?
Ms Harman: Our honest and committed view is that we need to invest now to back up the economy, not only to protect individuals, who have worked hard to build up their businesses, but to ensure that the situation is not worse in the longer term. How telling it is that the Opposition want only to talk about figures in five years’ time to distract attention from the action, which they do not support, that we are taking now.
Mr. Hague: There is no need to talk about the figures in five years’ time as the Government’s figures show that capital spending will fall from £44 billion this year—and fall every year—to £22 billion in four years. Is it not an indisputable fact that capital spending is being halved?
Ms Harman: I think the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the reason for the figures is our bringing forward capital spending. We are not cutting capital spending—we have increased it and we are bringing it forward because, given that, for example, the private sector construction industry is facing dire times, we think it right to bring forward capital investment in public construction, not only for the sake of the children’s centres, schools, hospitals and homes that will be built, but for the jobs that that will create. The truth is that there is a big distinction: while we are investing in bringing forward that capital investment, the Opposition would pull the plug on the public sector just when the private sector is struggling.
Mr. Hague: The Leader of the House’s statement “We are not cutting capital spending”, when the Government’s figures show it declining from £44 billion to £22 billion, is exactly the sort of statement that damages the credibility of politics and the Government. It is no wonder that they are abandoning their numeracy strategy when Ministers will not admit that 22 is half of 44. Is the right hon. and learned Lady aware that figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that capital spending from 2013 as a proportion of national income would be below the average for the whole 18 years of Conservative Government? That is the capital spending that the Government intend to deliver. Is it not also true that, on the Government’s figures, the huge increase in debt interest and the rise in unemployment mean it is an indisputable fact that their projections lead to departmental spending falling heavily in the next few years? Why can she not admit the facts?
Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman mentioned capital spending, and I have made it clear that we are bringing it forward. He also mentioned unemployment, and we are taking action to protect people’s jobs. Unemployment would be growing if we had made the cuts that he is suggesting. When it comes to the estimates on unemployment, our estimate is that if we had not taken the action that we have taken to back up business and protect people’s jobs, 500,000 more people would have lost their jobs. Once again, he talks about figures in 2013 and 2014, but the action that we are taking now will ensure that the public finances are in a better position, because we will prevent the recession from being deeper and longer.
Mr. Hague: If the right hon. and learned Lady believes that capital spending is not being cut and that unemployment is not growing, it is no wonder the Government are so deeply out of touch with the people of this country and with the condition of the economy. Is it not the case that any Government elected at the next election will inherit public finances that are in an unbelievable mess, after 12 years of a Prime Minister who spent everything in the boom, who thought that the bust would never occur and who believed that he had abolished the economic cycle? Now capital spending is being cut, total spending is being cut and departmental spending is set to be cut. Those are the Government’s own plans. Are those not Labour cuts being brought in by a Labour Chancellor that have been made necessary by the actions of a discredited Labour Government over the past 12 years?
Ms Harman: We have rebuilt hospitals over the past 10 years. We have rebuilt schools. We have paid down debt and we are now facing the challenge—[Interruption.] Yes—
Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Leader of the House, but there is simply far too much noise. Right hon. and hon. Members need to calm down.
Ms Harman: And yes, we have paid down debt, so that we have the second lowest debt in the G7. We are responding to the challenge of this recession. The truth is that it is the Opposition who are embarrassed about their past, who are failing to face up to the challenge of the present and who have nothing to offer the future.
Des Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab): May I associate myself with the words of condolence for the brave and professional soldiers who have given their lives in Afghanistan over the past week, as well as those who so tragically lost their lives in that dreadful incident in my right hon. and learned Friend’s constituency?
Thousands of people in Scotland, along with civic society, the Churches, East Ayrshire council, the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise, have joined in supporting the work force in my constituency at the Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock—700 of them—and those who work in the distribution plant owned by Diageo nearby. We have also been joined by Members from all parties in Scotland. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join us in seeking to persuade Diageo not to discard two centuries of loyal, hard-working and profit-making contributions to its business in the name of improved shareholder value and will she pledge Government support for that campaign?
Ms Harman: I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is meeting the chief executive of Diageo today, and he will be urging him to think again about the proposed closure of its Kilmarnock plant, as my right hon. Friend has requested. The announcement is very bad news for the workers and their families and will be a body blow to Kilmarnock. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be seeking an assurance from Diageo that it will commit to looking seriously at alternative options that the workers and Scottish Enterprise come up with.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): May I add my condolences to the families of the seven brave servicemen who died in Afghanistan and to those of the victims of the Camberwell fire?
In welcoming the Minister back to her temporary job running the country, may I express the hope that when she was briefing the Prime Minister for talks with his friend Signor Berlusconi, she remembered to enclose an Italian translation of her progressive views on gender equality?
My question is about public sector pay. How do the Government expect low-paid public sector workers, whom the right hon. and learned Lady has rightly just defended, to accept restraint in an environment where the Government are allocating to senior management—senior civil servants—large salaries, generous pensions and very large bonuses, averaging £10,000 a head?
Ms Harman: We have made it clear that we expect to see restraint at the top of the public sector. It is important in difficult times that those in a leadership position in the public sector take their responsibilities seriously and set a good example.
Dr. Cable: But that does not address the basic principle. Why is it that two thirds of all senior civil servants expect to receive bonuses in order to get out of bed in the morning, on principle? May I also address the issue of the most highly paid public servants—namely, those who work in the publicly owned and guaranteed banks? Why do the Government simply not stop bonuses being paid within those banks? They are publicly owned banks, owned by the taxpayer. Why do the Government not simply say no?
Ms Harman: The Government have made it very clear indeed that we want to see an end to recklessness whereby people have enriched themselves while gambling with other people’s money and given themselves big bonuses as a reward for failure. We have made it clear that we expect action from the Financial Services Authority, and the Chancellor will be making a statement about that shortly.
Q3.  Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Until very recently, I had the great honour of being a trustee of the much-respected UK Youth Parliament, which has been working hard on bringing together proposals for a consultation that will reach about 1 million young people aged between 11 and 18. The consultation will seek their views on politics and democracy. Will my right hon. and learned Friend help me to support the UK Youth Parliament in getting this important consultation out, to ensure that the project is as successful as all of us here need it to be?
Ms Harman: I agree that we need to do everything we can to increase the involvement of young people in politics, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on her consistent work on this issue. It is very important that, at last, the House has decided that, when the House is not sitting, the UK Youth Parliament can use this Chamber. You never know—when we see how it conducts its proceedings, we might even learn something from it!
Q4.  Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Cornwall has been satisfying the Government’s house building strategy by growing faster than almost anywhere else. In fact, it has more than doubled its housing stock in the past 40 years, yet the housing problems of local people have got dramatically worse over that time. Rather than grinding on with another 20 years of a failed strategy that has turned Cornwall into a developers’ paradise through building unaffordable housing, will the Government give Cornwall the power to concentrate on meeting the now desperate need of local families?
Ms Harman: We want to ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s county of Cornwall has not only the power but the resources to ensure that there is more affordable housing for rent and for people to buy. That is why, in the Budget this year, we announced nationally a further £400 million to provide 9,000 more homes to rent or to buy. In “Building Britain’s Future”, which we announced last week, we put forward a further £1.5 billion over the next two years so that we can have 20,000 energy-efficient affordable homes for young families—some of which, I am sure, will come to Cornwall.
Mr. Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): On Monday, while some Conservatives were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ending of the dock labour scheme—with Lord Fowler, the architect of that legislation, as their guest speaker—11 of my dock workers were being told that their jobs were ending owing to the casualisation of the port. This is happening despite the fact that Lord Fowler, when he was a Minister in this House, gave an assurance that the legislation would not result in a return to casualisation. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in encouraging the employers to return to the negotiating table to secure the future of the port dock labour scheme in Great Yarmouth so that we can ensure continued employment for the future?
Ms Harman: I know that my hon. Friend fights hard for the dock workers and for the industries that are dependent on the docks in his constituency. I will raise this matter with Ministers in the relevant Departments and ask them to meet him to discuss taking the matter forward.
Q5.  Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The seven soldiers killed in Afghanistan, whose names the right hon. and learned Lady gave us at the start of Prime Minister’s Question Time, bring to exactly 170 the tragic total of those killed in Afghanistan since 2006. Many people in my constituency are starting to doubt the wisdom of this war and I wonder whether she could remind the House of precisely what our military objective in Afghanistan is.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We do not want anyone to be in any doubt about the importance of this mission in Afghanistan. It is important to ensure that in the mountainous regions surrounding Afghanistan and Pakistan, we do not have a crucible for the development of terrorism, which threatens people not only in those countries but in the wider region and, indeed, the whole world. This mission is also important for the education of people in Afghanistan. There are now 6 million children in school in that country, compared with only 1 million in early 2001. Our troops have paved the way, working with other international forces, to make that possible. They are paving the way for economic development and a more secure democracy as well as security in the region and the world. We want to make it clear to our soldiers, their families and the people of this country that we have no doubt about the importance of the mission in Afghanistan.
Q11.  Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that hard-pressed families and businesses alike are struggling to pay the price of fuel at the pump, which has gone up substantially. Will she look to have a conversation with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to see if she can scrap, or at least defer, the 2p duty increase that is due in September?
Ms Harman: There is real concern about the increase in fuel prices—not only the cost of petrol at the pumps, but its effect on people in their homes and on businesses. We want to make sure that there is fairness, that people are protected from the price rises, that there is proper transparency and that help is available for those who struggle to make ends meet.
Q6.  Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): More than 300 Members of Parliament have signed an early-day motion on Equitable Life, which seeks justice for Equitable Life policyholders. The vast majority of those MPs have joined the all-party group for justice for Equitable Life policyholders, which I chair. Unfortunately, Sir John Chadwick, who has been appointed by the Government to review the compensation scheme, refuses to come before us to interact with us, so will the right hon. and learned Lady use her good offices to ask him to reconsider in order for him to be accountable to us and through us to the British people?
Ms Harman: We all strongly believe that there should be justice for the Equitable Life policyholders who have fallen victim to mismanagement stretching back to the ’80s and to a failure in the regulatory system for which the Government have apologised and recognised the need to set up ex gratia compensation. In order to establish how we should do that, following the ombudsman’s report, we have asked Sir John Chadwick to report on making progress on setting up a framework for compensation. The then Chief Secretary to the Treasury gave a statement to the House and there have been debates on the matter in Westminster Hall. We will ensure that the House is updated. This is a very important issue and we will make sure that Equitable Life policyholders get justice.
Q7.  Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): May I welcome the plans and funding set out last week to enable local authorities to build 150,000 new council houses over the next 10 years? Does my right hon. and learned Friend have plans to ensure that those houses will be built to the highest sustainability standard and the highest possible level of the code for sustainable homes? Will she ensure that new local authority house building becomes an exemplar for sustainable and low-energy housing in this country?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right: the new affordable home building taking place under “Building Britain’s Future” is important not only because of the homes that it will provide and the jobs that will thereby be created, but because those homes will help to reduce carbon emissions and help the people who live in them to cut their fuel bills. The issues that my hon. Friend raises will be addressed in “Building Britain’s Future”
Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): In March, the Prime Minister told us to expect a statement on compensation for pleural plaque sufferers after Easter. After Easter, the Justice Secretary told us to expect a statement before the summer recess, which is two weeks away. May we be assured that there will be a statement in the next two weeks, rather than an announcement of further delay?
Ms Harman: We want to ensure that there is a statement about compensation for those who have developed pleural plaques. It is one of the many vicious respiratory diseases—which can be terminal—that come on people purely because of the work that they have undertaken. We want to ensure that those people receive proper compensation, and following the House of Lords judgment we must review the compensation system to make sure that it is fair to all.
Q8.  Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Like the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy), I am very disappointed—as are many of my colleagues—that there is no compensation scheme for pleural plaque victims. The Scottish Parliament is on the verge of introducing such a scheme. Will my right hon. and learned Friend drag the Justice Secretary to the Dispatch Box so that he can make a statement about the English and Welsh victims of pleural plaques?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend and other Labour Members have made their position absolutely clear. They think this is a question of fundamental justice, they want the Government to get on with it, and we must heed what has been said.
Q12.  Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): At Prime Minister’s Question Time about a year ago, I reminded the Prime Minister that no Labour Government had left office with unemployment lower than when they had entered it. His response was that it would not happen on his watch. Do the Government still hold that view?
Ms Harman: I think that no Labour Government have faced the global economic crisis from which this Government are ensuring that the country will emerge, and I think that no Labour Government have done more to protect people from unemployment. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about unemployment, why does he not back the public sector investment that would create jobs, and why does he not back the investment in jobcentres on which we are taking action and which his party would cut?
Q9.  Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): York has such a severe shortage of affordable housing that many young people are being priced out of their own city. I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement last week of an extra £1.5 billion for affordable and energy-efficient homes, but will my right hon. and learned Friend ask representatives of the Homes and Communities Agency to meet me, along with councillors from York, to discuss how the additional money could benefit our city?
Ms Harman: I will ask the head of the Homes and Communities Agency to meet York councillors and my hon. Friend.
Is it not telling that whereas both Liberal Democrat and Labour Members have called for more affordable house building, there has been total silence from the Conservatives? That is because not only would they not put in the extra investment, but they would cut the existing investment that is so sorely needed. I assure all Members that we will take the necessary action to ensure that there is more affordable housing.
So the Tories now are keen supporters of envy. The politics of envy is a core value to modern Conservatism. It’s rather a puzzle though as we all know, without doubt that public sector workers are made up of people on low pay Would Bullingdon boy, George Osborne want to give up his well paid jobs in order to become a care assistant or road sweeper? Public sector pay by and large has been held down over the years. Alistair Darling’s call for a public sector pay freeze, his leap into popularism and Tory feeling’s of envy and jealousy should not be supported by Labour politicians. George Osborne should not deceive the general public; there has been no “age of excess” in public sector pay, some Tory friends in the City have made fortunes in this recession and continue to do so. I am all in favour of focussing pay increases for low paid public sector workers but perhaps senior well paid executives who probably vote Tory anyway could face a freeze.
BBC NEWS: “A Tory government would end the “age of excess” in public sector pay, shadow chancellor George Osborne has said.
He told the BBC pay should reflect economic conditions and the Conservatives would change the “culture of Whitehall” to save money.
Meanwhile, a pressure group's report suggests more than 1,000 council bosses earn six-figure salaries.
The government said this justified its plans to make councils publish the pay packages of 2,500 top earners.
A report by the Taxpayers' Alliance suggests those earning £100,000 or more rose by 27% in a year – with at least 16 people being paid more than Prime Minister Gordon Brown…”more
So who is alleged to have been a naughty boy, none other than smartypants George Osborne who may have to do some explaining!
The move came after a complaint by a constituent who is a Labour supporter. The watchdog’s probe relates to Mr Osborne’s second home designation between 2001 and 2003 and mortgage clams he made after 2003.
Mr Osborne, who has so far paid back £1,195.49 in expenses, is said to be “relaxed” about the probe…”
Today’s PMQs. Gordon Brown had actually been quite combative in this PMQs session. David Cameron the Tory Punch and Judy star, raised the impact of the resignation from the Cabinet of Hazel Blears (Lab. Salford) and listed other recent Cabinet members who have said they are standing down from the Cabinet as a sign that he is in denial.
Gordon Brown today his best fighting mood responded by outlining achievements in communities, crime etc and contrasting them with how former Tory governments cut police numbers and allowed crime to increase. Gordon Brown does have a point which clearly emerged in this session that Cameron never challenges the government on economic policy. Cameron always makes personal attacks and snipes at individuals and seems afraid of talking economics policy. Cameron may well indeed be the popular choice to head the next government but the voting public should really examine his economic policy.
Brown’s own jibes at Cameron as to:
What the Tories would have done to rescue the banks – nothing!
What would the Tories have done to help mortgage holders -nothing!
What would the Tories have done to help the unemployed – nothing!
All rings true as indeed in the 1980s and in the 1992 crisis they, the Tories did nothing to help those who suffered from their policies.
Cameron still squeals for a general election but this would kill any electoral and parliamentary reform stone dead! Let alone the probable backward step in public spending cuts etc.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1.  Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 3 June.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House will join me in expressing our condolences to the families and friends of the seven servicemen who have lost their lives since we last met: Corporal Stephen Bolger of 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment; Lance Corporal Robert Richards of the Armoured Support Group, the Royal Marines; Lance Corporal Kieron Hill of 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment; Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett of the Light Dragoons; Fusilier Petero Suesue of 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; Sapper Jordan Rossi of 38 Engineer Regiment, the Royal Engineers; and the soldier from the 2nd Battalion, the Rifles, who was killed yesterday. These are exceptionally brave men, whose service should not, and will not, ever be forgotten. Recent operations have shown that we will not allow the Taliban to jeopardise the future of a free and democratic Afghanistan, and the whole country should be rightly proud of the sacrifice these men have made.
I have also to report that we have strong reason to believe that a British citizen, Edwin Dyer, has been murdered by an al-Qaeda cell in Mali. I, as will the whole House, utterly condemn this appalling and barbaric act of terrorism. Our thoughts and condolences are with the family. I have talked to the President of Mali. He knows he will have every support in rooting out al-Qaeda from his country. I want those who use terror against this country and against British citizens to know beyond doubt that they will be hunted down and brought to justice. There will be no hiding place for them, and there will be no safe haven for terrorists who attack our country.
This morning, I had ministerial meetings with colleagues, and in addition to my duties in the House I shall have further such meetings later today.
Mr. Weir: I represent 45 Commando, which has recently returned from a deployment in Afghanistan where, unfortunately, it lost nine men. My colleagues and I would like to associate ourselves with the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister for these brave men who lost their lives in Afghanistan recently, and also for the family of Mr. Dyer.
Just now, we are seeing the pathetic sight of the Cabinet attempting to reshuffle itself. When will the Prime Minister accept that he has lost all authority and call an election?
The Prime Minister: There is work to be done every day to deal with the recession. If we had taken the advice of the other parties, we would not have taken action to nationalise the banks, and we would not have taken action to deal with the problems that small businesses face and that people face with unemployment. These are the actions that are needed, and this Government are taking such action every day.
Q2.  Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): At last year’s Union for the Mediterranean summit, my right hon. Friend gave his backing to concentrated solar power as a means of providing almost limitless clean energy for Europe. Given that more than 170 Members of this House have signed an early-day motion supporting concentrated solar power and the development of a high-voltage, direct-current supergrid, what active steps is my right hon. Friend taking to work with our international partners to make this a reality?
The Prime Minister: This is a serious issue that needs European co-operation for it to happen. Our target is for 15 per cent. of energy consumption to come from renewable sources. We have spent more than £11 million over the last few years to support solar installations, and we will publish the renewable energy strategy, setting out our strategy to meet these renewable targets. We will work with all countries in Europe to develop a renewables strategy.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the soldier from 2nd Battalion The Rifles who was killed in Helmand province yesterday. We will also remember Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett, Corporal Stephen Bolger, Lance Corporal Kieron Hill, Lance Corporal Robert Richards, Sapper Jordan Rossi and Fusilier Suesue. All of them have been killed in the past fortnight serving their country—we will not forget their sacrifice and we must care for their families.
I also join the Prime Minister in sending condolences to the family and friends of Edwin Dyer, who, it is believed, has been brutally murdered by terrorists in Mali. This must be a simply horrific time for his family, and I am sure that everyone in the country is thinking about them. In spite of all the difficulties though, the Prime Minister is right to say that we must never give in to terrorists.
This morning, the Communities Secretary resigned from the Cabinet. That follows yesterday’s announcement that the Children’s Minister is standing down, the Minister from the Cabinet Office is leaving and the Home Secretary is resigning. Why does not the Prime Minister accept that his ability to command his Cabinet has simply disappeared?
The Prime Minister: I think the first thing that the whole House would want to do is acknowledge the great work that has been done by both the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary in the Cabinet. At a time like this, the House should come together to acknowledge contributions that have been made in the public interest. May I also say that under the Home Secretary what we have seen is crime come down, neighbourhood policing introduced, the fight on terrorism stepped up and better relationships between the police and the community? I have to remind the Conservative party that crime doubled under a Conservative Government and policing numbers were cut.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is in denial. If these people have done such good work, why are they walking away from their jobs? The Communities Secretary’s statement does not pay tribute to him or a single one of his policies. Let us be clear about what is happening: the Minister in charge of local government is resigning the day before the local elections. Is not the fact that she has chosen today of all days to go a direct challenge to his authority?
The Prime Minister: I think some people should take a step back and understand what has been happening. The past few weeks have been difficult for every Member in every part of this House. People have to recognise, in the politicking that goes on, that there have been enormous pressures on people and that while the public are angry, there have also been family pressures on Members of this House. That is true of those in all parts of the House, and I think that we have a responsibility to all Members of the House in this. Yes, there are elements of party politics that the right hon. Gentleman would want to raise, but he has to acknowledge that in all parts of the House there are issues that people want to sort out.
Mr. Cameron: I have to say to the Prime Minister that if this was about expenses, the Communities Secretary would have resigned weeks ago. The fact is that she has chosen to resign today. [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. Do not shout down the Leader of the Opposition.
Mr. Cameron: Yes—[Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. Remember that there is a danger of the House being suspended if people continue to shout. That is the danger, and there will be no Prime Minister’s Question Time. [Interruption.] That goes for both sides of the House.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks about pressures. I have to say that those pressures on the Communities Secretary and on others in his Cabinet include No. 10 directly briefing against them. The fact is that what we see is a dysfunctional Cabinet and a dysfunctional Government led by a Prime Minister who cannot give a lead. Can he perhaps at least guarantee that there will be no further resignations ahead of his reshuffle?
The Prime Minister: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that for those on both sides of the House the events of the past few weeks have been difficult. It would be unfair for us to pass this Question Time without acknowledging that in each part of the House people have found it difficult with the pressures upon them. I want also to pay tribute to the Communities Secretary for the work that she has done, because she has brought new relationships between local government and central Government with the local government concordat, she has sponsored urban regeneration in shopping centres in our country and she has been active in building better relationships with the Muslim communities. At a time like this, it is the duty of all of us, in all parts of the House, to recognise the contributions that people have made.
As for what he says about the Government, we have two jobs of work to do. One is to clean up the expenses system. I think that everybody else in the House except him agrees that we have to take action now to clean up that system. The second thing is that we have got to take this country through the recession. The remarkable thing about the Leader of the Opposition is that this is yet another week when there has been not one question on policy.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister must understand that the issue here is his leadership. The failure of the Government on appearance is not as bad as their failure on substance. Let me turn to the issue of the economy and let us take just one key individual, the person responsible for steering us through this recession: the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Prime Minister refuses to talk about him in anything other than the past tense. We know that the Home Secretary is going, we know that the Communities Secretary is going, so can the Prime Minister tell us whether the Chancellor, sitting there in front of us, will still be in his post in a week’s time?
The Prime Minister: Once again, that is nothing to do with policy. The right hon. Gentleman is incapable of dealing with the big issues that face this country. Let me say what this Chancellor is achieving. This Chancellor is leading the rest of the world in taking us out of recession. This Chancellor has taken action that the Conservative party has refused to support. What happened when we had to deal with the banks? What would the Conservatives have done? Nothing. What would they have done when we were helping mortgage holders? [HON. MEMBERS: “Nothing.”] Nothing. What would they have done when we were helping the unemployed? [HON. MEMBERS: “Nothing.”] Nothing. What is their policy? To do nothing. That is not the basis on which to ask for an election.
Mr. Cameron: If the Chancellor is doing such a good job, will the Prime Minister tell us whether he will be there in a week’s time?
The Prime Minister: I have said that the Chancellor is doing a very good job, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with me. The Conservatives are the only party to want an election when they have no policy to deal with the recession. They want an election, but they have no policy to help home owners. They want an election, but they have no policy to help the unemployed. That is a party that talks, talks and talks but has nothing to do with action.
Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister is not happy with our policies, why does he not call an election and test them out? The Prime Minister needs to realise how important this is. Why should the British public believe the Chancellor if the Prime Minister does not have confidence in him? Why should international markets have confidence in the Chancellor if the Prime Minister does not have confidence in him? That is why this is so serious. The Prime Minister told us that he had the right team to take the country forward. That team is now deserting him. The Government are collapsing before our eyes. Why does he not take the one act of authority left to him—get down to the palace, ask for a dissolution and call that election?
The Prime Minister: Once again, he proves to the whole country that there is absolutely no substance in anything that he says. We have to clean up the electoral system, and we are doing that. We are cleaning up the expenses system. The second thing that we are doing is cleaning up the economy and ensuring that it comes out of recession. The party opposite has no policies to deal with that. It is words, words and words. We will get on with the action.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has worked hard, along with the Business Secretary, to bring about a positive solution to the future of Vauxhall. Many of my constituents, of course, are not aware of what has happened behind the scenes. Will my right hon. Friend give them the assurance that the Government will continue with the high level of support that is being offered and will the Government distance themselves from the statements that it is not desirable to rescue the motor industry that have been made by the Liberal Democrats?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been a great supporter of Ellesmere Port and the car industry there. This is what people in the country are concerned about: the jobs of workers in car factories and in the car supply industry. That is why we have been working with General Motors and the two potential buyers. We are now working with the preferred buyer for General Motors and our determination is to save Vauxhall jobs in this country and to make sure that people have a secure future. We have also, as hon. Members know, introduced a scheme that allows people to sell cars that are more than 10 years old, and now 35,000 people have bought cars as a result of that, so we are doing whatever we can to move the car industry forward. I just have to say to this House that that would not be possible unless we were prepared to put public funds into making that happen; I am afraid that that is rejected by the Opposition.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families of Fusilier Petero Suesue, Sapper Jordan Rossi, Lance Corporal Robert Richards, Lance Corporal Kieron Hill, Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett, Corporal Stephen Bolger, and the soldier from 2nd Battalion the Rifles who died yesterday. As has been said, they all served with great distinction and courage in Afghanistan. Of course, I would like to support the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence extended to the family and friends of Edwin Dyer.
We can now see that the Government are in total meltdown. The Prime Minister is thrashing around, fighting for his own political survival, but does he not understand the extreme danger to our democracy when people start feeling that there is simply no one in charge?
The Prime Minister: The dangers are when one does not deal with the problems that are before us. One of the problems is to deal with the expenses system in the House of Commons, and the second is to deal with the problems and challenges of the economy. I thought that the Liberal party would support us in the action that we are taking to help the unemployed, to help home owners, and to help small businesses, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not join the other party in talking only about things other than policy. The country wants us to talk about what we are doing to help it.
Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister just does not get it. His Government are paralysed by indecision, crippled by in-fighting, and exhausted after 12 long years. It is a tragedy that exactly at a time when people need help and action, the country does not have a Government; it has a void. Labour is finished. Is it not obvious that the only choice now is between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats?
The Prime Minister: I seem to remember the Liberals saying that at every election that I have ever fought. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the country needs action, and the action is coming from this Government. If he will listen to what we are doing, I think that he will find it very difficult to oppose the measures that we are taking to help the car industry, to help the banks, to help the unemployed, and to help those people who are home owners. We are the party with the ideas about how to take this country out of recession; neither of the main Opposition parties has anything to offer us.
Q3.  Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government’s commitment to decent, affordable homes for all? In the past month in west London, the decent homes programme has been described as upgrading the deckchairs on the Titanic, and social housing as an incentive not to improve one’s lot through one’s own efforts. Will he condemn the Tory politicians who made those comments?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When a Conservative council has cut the decent homes programme, and cut back on the investment in it, one does not need to look into a crystal ball to see what the Conservatives will do; one can see it in the action that they are taking to cut decent homes in a constituency. I support my hon. Friend in taking up the case of the many people in his constituency who are looking for decent homes, and who look to their council to provide them.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I put it to the Prime Minister that the problem of Members’ allowances falls within the remit of Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee, and should be left there until it reports? The right hon. Gentleman has hinted that he wishes to gain a reputation as a constitutionalist over the issue, so may I suggest to him that as he is almost uniquely unsuited to play the role of a latter-day Thomas Jefferson, he should in fact look to the existing constitution and do as almost everyone in the country would ask him to do—use that traditional constitution to ask Her Majesty to dissolve this Parliament, so that the country can elect a new one?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s 300-year perspective on these issues. It is right that Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee report. It is also right that we take further action to end the system of self-regulation in the House. It is not right that there emerges a conflict of interest between the public interest and MPs’ interest. That is in none of our interests. Everybody wants it to stop. That is why an external regulator is of greater benefit to us, as well as being supported, I believe, in the whole country.
Q4.  Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the valiant campaign led by the Royal British Legion to have council tax benefit rebranded as a rebate, which would increase take-up and lift thousands of pensioners out of poverty, including up to 20,000 veterans. This Saturday marks the 65th anniversary of D-day. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this would be an appropriate time to announce such a change so that all pensioners, especially our veterans, who have served our country with courage and dignity, can live in dignity?
The Prime Minister: The whole House will want to honour today the sacrifice and service of all those people who were involved in the D-day landings, and all those who were involved in the sacrifice and service that made possible victory in the second world war and the peace that we now enjoy as a result. I want to pay tribute to the individual veterans who are still part of the Royal British Legion. I talked to the treasurer of my branch of the Royal British Legion only a few days ago. We have a delegation of the Royal British Legion coming in to see the Pensions Minister this afternoon. She is proposing that pension credit could be put in a new form, where it could be seen as a rebate. That will be discussed this afternoon. We want it to be as automatic as possible for pensioners to get their right, so we are prepared to discuss how we can move matters forward. I hope all sides of the House will support such a move.
Q5.  Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): With up to 50,000 home owners facing repossession this year, if the Government are doing so much to help them, why is it that only two people have been helped so far?
The Prime Minister: That is not correct. Thousands of people are being helped with the various schemes. The first is the mortgage income support scheme for people who are unemployed, which is now available for those with houses worth under £200,000, and large numbers of people are claiming that. The second is the moratorium that is available on people’s building society and bank payments, which we negotiated with building societies. The third is the shared equity scheme, where we are prepared to buy a share of the house to help people move forward. Discussions on that are moving forward for large numbers of people. The fourth is the measures that we are taking to deal with the way in which the banks approach mortgages in the first place.
The recent report of the Council of Mortgage Lenders said that they expected repossessions to be far less than they had predicted, as a result of the action that we are taking. Any repossession is to be regretted. There are many circumstances in which repossessions happen—for example, if there is a family break-up which is nothing to do with the financial situation of an employee—but there are other situations where repossessions are caused by the lack of money. We are trying to help those people to maintain their mortgages and renegotiate them. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that no Government have done more to help mortgage payers to prevent repossessions. That is what a Labour Government are about. We will not walk by on the other side.
Q6.  Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Can the Prime Minister say when a decision will be taken about granting a pardon to Michael Shields, following the High Court’s decision last December? Michael has now been in prison for four years, following what I firmly believe to be a gross miscarriage of justice.
The Prime Minister: Mr. Shields, as everybody knows, has applied for a free pardon within the terms of the High Court judgment that was handed down on 17 December. I understand the Shields family’s concerns about delay. They have waited a long time. He has a large number of supporters. The Justice Secretary is determined to make the best and fairest decision he can, but he can do so only after, in the public interest, assessing all the material that is available. He expects to write to Mr. Shields’ lawyers later this month.
Q7.  John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Is the Prime Minister embarrassed that Britain is now a more unequal country than at any time since the 1960s, and specifically that the poorest 20 per cent. in society have lost real income since 2005, and the richest 20 per cent. have gained?
The Prime Minister: We have taken millions of people out of poverty. We have taken children out of poverty and we have taken pensioners out of poverty, and we have set new targets for child poverty and for pensioner poverty. As a result of this Labour Government, child benefit has been raised, working families tax credit has been introduced, and child tax credit has also been introduced, taking 1.5 million people out of poverty in itself. If we had followed the policies of the Scottish National party, we would be in a far worse position.
Q8.  Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Minister’s attack on the abuse of expenses that has so revolted members of the public, but will he also take action to curb the dependence of many Members on second incomes? I have calculated that the Conservative Front-Bench team alone has 57 other sources of income up to £250,000. Would it not be better if, instead of an alternative Government with 57 varieties of special interest, we all concentrated on the job that we were elected to do?
The Prime Minister: All Members want to show that they are undertaking public service, and that they are in it not for what they can get but for what they can give. But one of the issues that repeatedly comes up is Members’ second jobs, and it is right that Sir Christopher Kelly looks at the matter. [Interruption.] I hear some murmuring on the Opposition Benches. Methinks that they protest too much.
Q9.  Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Prime Minister find time today to meet the Pensions Action Group, which is outside lobbying Parliament on occupational pensions? Is he aware that although many of my constituents were offered 90 per cent., the reality is that they will probably get less than 70 per cent? Why is that? Does he feel in any way guilty that the changes that he made when he was Chancellor have destroyed what was once the best private pensions sector in the world?
The Prime Minister: We have already had a long debate in the House, some time ago, when I showed that the funds of pension funds doubled in the 10-year period that I was Chancellor. Despite what the hon. Gentleman says, all our changes made it possible for the pension funds to have large sums of money. The issue, however, as he knows perfectly well, is that pension funds’ income depends on what happens on the stock exchange as much as on anything else, and he must know that that is what has affected most pension funds recently.
Q10.  Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have seen the latest scientific report showing that by the end of the century, global warming will be even more severe than previously thought. We have gone beyond the stage at which we can stop irreversible damage to our planet, and now the question is whether we can stop environmental catastrophe. What will my right hon. Friend do to ensure that the G8 summit, which is coming up shortly, recognises that point, so that we have the chance in Copenhagen to get the type of agreement that the planet so desperately needs?
The Prime Minister: We will lead the way at the G8 summit in proposing how we can solve the two problems that prevent a Copenhagen agreement. First, we need agreement on intermediate targets for carbon emissions reduction, and that requires us to persuade China and India, as well as America and Japan, to join the group of people who are prepared to commit to those targets. Secondly, finance must be provided to enable developing countries and emerging markets to make the investments that are necessary to reduce carbon emissions in those areas. We will come up with financing proposals, which we hope other countries will be prepared to support, but I must repeat today—I think it is relevant, because tomorrow people are voting on issues of Europe—that that cannot happen without co-operation across the European Union. Those parties that want to break from the European Union will have neither an economic policy that works for Britain nor an environmental policy. That is what we need, and we are going to push forward.
Q12.  Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): Does the Prime Minister agree that it is wrong to build on grade 2 agricultural land? If so, will he change planning policy to prevent the waste of that precious resource and prevent also Conservative-controlled Test Valley borough council’s disgraceful plan to build on fertile green fields?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady will have to write me about the individual instance of that council, but this Government’s record is that we wish to build on brownfield not greenfield land.
Q13.  Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): Did my right hon. Friend note the International Monetary Fund report, suggesting that when we entered the global slowdown, public debt in this country was lower than in all our competitor countries, that it is lower now as we leave the recession and that it will be lower in this country over each of the next five years? Is it not the case that the actions of this Government prepared us to deal with the economic slowdown in a way that the Opposition’s policies never would have?
The Prime Minister: Once again, my hon. Friend is proving that the problem that we have to deal with is a global financial recession. Britain is coming through that by taking the right policies. The Opposition party is the first party to go into an election tomorrow with no policy to deal with the economy.
Q14.  Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that his departing Home Secretary leaves a legacy of 342,000 cases of domestic violence in this country every year? May I ask him to ensure that he re-examines the effectiveness of policies in that area, because of the cost in human misery on the victims and the cost to our caring services?
The Prime Minister: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be fair and acknowledge that the Home Secretary has also led the way on tougher sentences on domestic violence, including in domestic violence courts. This Government, led by the Leader of the House as well as the Home Secretary, have a record in taking on domestic violence by also funding centres for women throughout the rest of the country. That is vital public expenditure, and we believe that it is important for the health of this country. We will continue to support that measure to help women in our country.
The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Sir Stuart Bell): The Prime Minister talked about policies as we go into the European elections tomorrow. Can he confirm that, under the Labour Government, 700,000 companies work with the European Union, that 3 million jobs relate to the European Union and that 60 per cent. of our trade is with the European Union? Which party goes into the elections tomorrow with the better record?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend will also know that EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, has said that the Conservative European policy
“is bound to reduce our influence in Europe”.
When the Conservative leader cannot talk to the German Chancellor, the French President or people in Spain and Portugal—[Interruption.] The German Chancellor said that she would not offer the hand of friendship to those who opposed the Lisbon treaty. When the right hon. Gentleman can talk politics about his European group only with a Czech forum, which also supports the Lisbon treaty, he is in real trouble.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Will hon. Members leave the Chamber quietly?
It is difficult to know if this current excitement will lead to meaningful change. How far is each political leader really concerned to adopt a reform agenda which otherwise might just be spin to attract votes in the forthcoming elections. Is there really a genuine mood for change. The party which has been consistent in promoting change are the Lib. Dems. We can only wait and see:
Philip Webster and Francis Elliott in THE TIMES: “An intense race to shake up the political system has begun as Gordon Brown and David Cameron compete to look more radical than each other in the wake of the expenses scandal.
Mr Brown opened the door to electoral reform and letting voters kick out MPs while Mr Cameron tried to grab the reformer’s mantle by promising to shift power from ministers to voters, councils and the Commons.
The Conservative leader tabled proposals to slash the number of MPs, fix parliamentary terms at four years, allow more free votes for Members, give town halls more leeway and create means by which voters can get policies debated in the Commons.
However, he rejected the Health Secretary Alan Johnson’s proposal in The Times to hold a referendum on electoral reform. Mr Cameron said that this would lead to governments formed in back rooms. “Proportional representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites,” he said…”