The reading of the names of the 37 soldiers and miliatary personnel who have given their lives was too much for me ; may God bless them all. I can’t make further comments on today’s PMQs.
House of Commons
Wednesday 14 October 2009
The Prime Minister was asked—
1.  Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 14 October.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, and on behalf of all parts of this House and the leaders of all political parties, it is right that we should pause to pay our full respects to the members of our armed forces who have given their lives on behalf of our country in Afghanistan.
This is a solemn moment for this House and our country. It is the day on which we put on record in the House of Commons our gratitude and our commemoration of the sacrifice made by 37 of our armed forces serving our country in Afghanistan: from the Royal Marines, Sergeant Lee Houltram; from the Light Dragoons, Trooper Phillip Lawrence; from 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, Trooper Brett Hall; from 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, Warrant Officer Sean Upton; from 40th Regiment Royal Artillery, Lance Bombardier Matt Hatton and Bombardier Craig Hopson; from 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, Guardsman Jamie Janes; from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, Guardsman Chris King and Lance Corporal James Hill; from 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, Private Kevin Elliot and Sergeant Gus Millar; from 2nd Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, Kingsman Jason Dunne-Bridgeman; from 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Fusilier Simon Annis, Fusilier Shaun Bush, Fusilier Louis Carter, Lance Corporal James Fullarton, Corporal Joseph Etchells and Sergeant Simon Valentine; from 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, Private John Young; from 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, Private Gavin Elliot, Private Jason Williams and Acting Sergeant Mike Lockett MC; from 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh, Private Richard Hunt and Private James Prosser; from the Parachute Regiment, Private Kyle Adams, Lance Corporal Dale Hopkins, Corporal John Harrison and Corporal Kevin Mulligan; from 2nd Battalion the Rifles, Rifleman Aminiasi Toge, Rifleman Daniel Wild, Acting Sergeant Stuart McGrath, Sergeant Paul McAleese and Captain Mark Hale; from 11th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, Captain Daniel Shepherd; from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Craftsman Anthony Lombardi and Lance Corporal Richie Brandon; and from 34 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment Acting Corporal Marcin Wojtek.
Nothing can erase the pain for their families. Nothing can be greater than the pride that we take in their contribution to our country, and our sadness at their loss. I know that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with the families and friends of all these brave men. Their lives live on in the influence that they will have left behind on other people, and they will not be forgotten.
We should also pay tribute to all those who have been wounded and who face rehabilitation, and assure them that they will have our full support at all times.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and I shall have further such meetings later today.
Ann Winterton: All Members will wish to associate themselves with the Prime Minister’s expression of sympathy for the families and friends of those who have fallen in Afghanistan since the House last met for Prime Minister’s questions.
When the Lisbon treaty comes into force, the Council of the European Union will become a formal institution of the European Union, and the United Kingdom will be a member of that institution. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he is bound by its rules, and is thus obliged to further the objectives of the European Union in preference to those of the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Lady for her tribute to those brave men who died in Afghanistan, and I hope that the message will go out today that all political parties—every Member of this House—want to send their sympathy and condolences to every family concerned.
We joined the European Union in the 1970s, and we hold by our obligations to the European Union, but that does not prevent us from representing the national sovereignty of this country.
2.  Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): May I ask my right hon. Friend what he thinks is more dangerous: politicians becoming generals, or generals becoming politicians?
The Prime Minister: I think that I know what my hon. Friend is thinking about. Let me put on record my thanks to the Chief of the General Staff, Richard Dannatt, for the work that he did for our country.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The list that the Prime Minister has read out of those who gave their lives over this summer in the service of this country is a very sombre reminder of the incredible sacrifices that the armed forces make on our behalf. Those 37 men have left parents, wives, partners, children, brothers and sisters. Those loved ones feel the loss not just today, or on the day when their loved one fell; they will feel it for the rest of their lives, as they think about the lives that could have been lived.
We must be clear about what has happened in our country. Two wars over eight years have seen thousands of people serve, hundreds killed and many more wounded, and whole communities affected, as they have celebrated the success of our armed forces but also mourned the losses. I know that the Prime Minister has looked at these issues before, but is it not now time for a more fundamental re-examination of every aspect of the military covenant, and everything that we do for those brave men and women and for their families, who wait for them at home?
The Prime Minister: Again, I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman associates himself, as I knew he would, with the commemoration of those people who have died during the course of the summer. It has been a particularly difficult summer for our armed forces, and also for the families of those members of our armed forces, with their worries about their loved ones who are serving in Afghanistan.
What we have tried to do over the past few months is make sure, first of all, that all military men and women on service in Afghanistan, and in any place around the world, are fully and properly equipped for the tasks that they have got to undertake. I am happy to share with the House, in a statement in a few minutes from now, the extra measures that we are taking to protect our troops in Afghanistan, particularly against electronic devices, which have been the cause of 80 per cent. of the deaths over the past few months.
I also want to assure the House—again, I am very happy to go into this in more detail in the statement on Afghanistan—that we stand by the military covenant with all military families in this country and all serving members and former members of our armed forces. That is why we published a White Paper only a few months ago looking at the range of services, from education and health to the possibility of jobs after members leave the armed forces and help that is given when people are on location in the different countries in which they serve. I believe that that White Paper is an indication—I think that it had all-party support—of the determination of all of us to stand by our military.
If there are further suggestions about what we could do, I am very happy to look at them. We have an in-service allowance. We have increased the facilities available to members’ families for phone calls. We have done what we can to make sure that the pay of the armed forces rises faster than the pay of the rest of the community. We have done what we can at Selly Oak and Headley Court to make sure that we give the succour that we can to those people who have been injured. I believe that if we build on that record, we will be doing the right thing, but obviously I am happy to listen both to members of the other parties and to the Select Committees on what more we can do.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister mentioned Selly Oak and Headley Court. What we do there is remarkable. There is no doubt about that, and because of the advances in battlefield medicine, many people who previously would have died of their wounds are surviving. That is obviously fortunate, though they have to live with those injuries for the rest of their lives. Soon the issue will become how we help them as they grow older. So-called recovery centres proposed by organisations such as Help for Heroes are excellent proposals. There are some concerns that the Government are a slightly slow-moving partner in this endeavour. Can the Prime Minister update us on what is being done to help more recovery centres get going?
The Prime Minister: Let me pay tribute to the medical facilities that are available both at Camp Bastion and in Britain. I have visited them myself, as I know other Members have. These are the most advanced medical facilities available to our troops and it is right that they are the best in the world. At Selly Oak, which I also visited recently, I saw the care that goes into helping those who are injured, many with very severe injuries indeed. When I visited Afghanistan a few weeks ago and then went to Selly Oak only a day or two afterwards, I saw how quickly treatment was given, as people had been moved with speed from Afghanistan back to Birmingham. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the work at Headley Court. We are anxious to continue to support that and are investing more in it.
With reference to members of the forces who retire or are not able to serve longer in the armed forces, I am concerned that compensation arrangements are satisfactory. That is why, after the recent court cases, the Secretary of State for Defence has set up a review headed by a former Chief of the Defence Staff to look at those issues of compensation. On future employment and some of the projects that have come forward to help armed forces—men and women—who are looking for alternative opportunities after they recover from their injuries, we are determined to do everything we can. I believe, and it is right to say, that there is all-party support for this extra work.
Mr. Cameron: As well as the physical injuries, there are of course the mental scars. It is estimated that after the Falklands war, more service personnel committed suicide than died in that conflict. We must not make the mistake that has been made in the past of brushing this under the carpet. In the United States veterans are contacted regularly, even decades after they have served. Does the Prime Minister agree that that should happen here as well?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a Minister nominated as the Veterans Minister. We try to keep in touch with all the veterans organisations. I met the Royal British Legion recently. In the White Paper, where we itemised the services available to soldiers, armed forces members and former armed forces members, we talked about the mental health services that are available for the future. We wanted to ensure that those people who are members of the armed forces and former members of the armed forces had priority in health service treatment. That was the purpose of the White Paper and the recommendations in it. Again, I believe there is all-party support for that.
Mr. Cameron: I hope the Prime Minister will look at that specific proposal as well.
We will discuss Afghanistan in a moment, but I want to ask the Prime Minister a specific question about the Territorial Army, an organisation that plays a vital role in our armed forces and has lost many people in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have had a specific case of a serving officer who is due to go to Afghanistan in October 2010. He has been told that of the training days that he should have between now and then, he will be paid for only half of them. Let us be clear about what is happening. Volunteers—they are volunteers, being asked possibly to lay down their life in the service of their country—are not getting the basic training that they need. Does the Prime Minister agree that this is totally unacceptable?
The Prime Minister: I shall look at everything the right hon. Gentleman says about the matter and I shall write to him about the individual case that he has raised. I can tell him also about what we have done in the Territorial Army, which has been celebrating its 100th anniversary. We have tried to make sure that the effort of the Territorial Army can be linked to the work that we are doing in Afghanistan, so we have given priority in the work of the Territorial Army to what it can do to help the effort in Afghanistan. I will write to the right hon. Gentleman with the details of what we are doing in that respect.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister told us in an answer that he gave at the beginning of Prime Minister’s questions that in his statement he will say that we must not send armed forces personnel into battle without the proper training. Two things appear to be happening. One is that basic training for all TA members is being cut. Also, I have the specific case of someone who knows that he is going to Afghanistan in October 2010 having his training cut. A conversation is going on between the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister. I think they need to have a conversation after Prime Minister’s questions in which he says that that is unacceptable and must stop.
The Prime Minister: The reason why the Defence Secretary was talking to me was to assure me that the Territorial Army work that is directed towards Afghanistan is properly resourced and will continue to be properly resourced. If the right hon. Gentleman has an individual case that he wishes to raise with me, or if any Member has, I shall look at it in detail, but our determination is that every member of our armed forces who is in or going to Afghanistan is both trained and equipped for the work that they undertake. The right hon. Gentleman will see from the statement that I make later this afternoon that we are doing everything in our power to make that happen. I hope that he will then look at the statements that are made by the Chief of the General Staff and the Chief of the Defence Staff, which will support exactly what I am saying.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Last Saturday, I was joined by the Porthcawl Guides to celebrate 100 years of Guiding. A year’s celebration is taking place throughout the world to celebrate that wonderful movement. Will the Prime Minister join me in sending congratulations to the Porthcawl Guides, to all Guides who have taken part in the movement over the past 100 years and to those men and women who have supported Guiding throughout that period?
The Prime Minister: I think that all parts of the House will want to congratulate the Guides on 100 years of service to our country, and congratulate those officers and leaders of the Guides who have done so much to encourage young people and young women, in particular, to make sure that they can make a very big contribution to the community. Our best wishes go to the Guides on their 100th anniversary.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of the 37 British servicemen who tragically lost their lives serving in Afghanistan over the past three months. We all owe them an immeasurable debt of gratitude for their bravery, their professionalism and their sacrifice. We also owe it to every single one of them to ask the difficult questions about what we are doing in Afghanistan. Are we doing the right things to succeed, as I strongly believe that we must?
Many people in the country today will be simply asking themselves why British soldiers are fighting and dying for a Government in Kabul who are deeply corrupt and have presided over widespread electoral fraud. I know that the Prime Minister is giving a statement later about troop numbers, but does he not owe it to those troops to say clearly where he stands on an Afghan Government whom he is asking British soldiers to defend?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for supporting the message of condolence and sympathy that we are sending to all the families of those who have been bereaved as a result of what has happened this summer, and I appreciate his direct comments on that.
On our presence in Afghanistan, let me say first—I shall talk about this in more detail later—that no one can be satisfied with what happened during the elections in Afghanistan. Every one of us has questions that have to be answered, not so much about the security that was attached to the election, because a huge amount of work by our troops and forces went into that, but about the amount of ballot rigging that appears to have taken place. Everybody knows that 1 million votes are being examined out of the 6 million or 7 million votes that happened, but they are the subject of the international commission’s examination of the issues. So I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will wait until we have the final conclusion from the electoral commission and then accept that we will have to follow its verdict. I believe that the commission, which is half Afghan and half international, has looked at the issues in a great deal of detail, and I believe that it will report very soon.
But I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that, facing an insurgency, it is remarkable that elections took place at all; and it is remarkable that 6,000 polling stations were open at all. That is a tribute to our forces and other forces making it possible for this infant Afghan democracy to hold an election, organised by itself, in the first place. We are there, and I tell him why we are there: we are there to protect the streets of Britain; we are there because al-Qaeda poses a threat to us as well as to other countries; and we are there because, if al-Qaeda took control again or had an influence in Afghanistan under a Taliban Government, the people of this country would not be safe.
Mr. Clegg: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his reply, but we cannot live in denial about the total lack of legitimacy of the present Afghan Government. General McChrystal himself has said that the job of our troops is becoming more difficult because of corruption in Government. Hundreds of thousands of votes were given to President Karzai by block votes from a warlord accused of war crimes. So if President Karzai is declared the winner of this flawed election—can I be precise?—will the Prime Minister urge Karzai immediately to form a Government of national unity bringing in opponents from other political groups and other ethnic groups, because otherwise he will risk losing the support of the international community?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, but the whole purpose of the commission that is looking at the conduct of elections is to eliminate those votes where there has been ballot-rigging or fraud. That is why it has taken so much time to examine these issues. I hope that he will wait until he sees the report of what the commission has done, what it recommends and what it proposes, whether it is for a second round or whether it has come to a conclusion about who is the winner.
As for President Karzai, and the future, I will also talk about this in a few minutes, but I talked to President Karzai yesterday. I also talked to Dr. Abdullah, who is the second candidate in the elections. I asked them for an assurance that they will sign a contract with us and the other allied powers about the elimination of corruption, the proper conduct of Government, the appointment of governors who can actually manage in the provinces, and the appointment of junior officials who can do that as well. I also asked him, as I will report later, to support our forces with a proper number of Afghan forces working with them.
3.  Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Two years ago, we lost blue light accident and emergency services in Burnley and everything went to Blackburn, 25 miles away from where I live, at the furthest edge of the patch. People in Burnley and Pendle, members of all political parties and none, want accident and emergency back in Burnley. As a first step, will my friend commission an independent review by clinicians from outside the area with no axe to grind, which is what people want?
The Prime Minister: Of course I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns and those of his constituents, and I will ask the Health Secretary to meet him to talk about these issues—but as he knows, the reconfiguration of national health services is a matter for the NHS locally. I understand that the review concluded in July and that it has been accepted by both primary care trusts and by East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. I understand that a programme implementation board is in place, and that the board is confident that this will not undermine services locally. However, he will want to have that meeting with the Health Secretary and he can come back to me afterwards.
4.  Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The Prime Minister will appreciate that falling mortgage rates are of no value to most pensioners, while falling savings rates are leaving them out of pocket. At the same time, the costs of the things that pensioners spend their money on, such as council tax, food and fuel, are rising rapidly. Does he accept, therefore, that a 2.5 per cent. pension rise in April will leave many pensioners out of pocket, and what is he planning to do about it?
The Prime Minister: First of all, in the light of what we knew was happening to interest rates—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is important that interest rates are low, not high, at this stage—the Chancellor made proposals in the Budget to improve the individual savings account, and proposals for people to be able to invest more in that individual savings account tax free. At the same time, the hon. Gentleman knows that we have taken measures to ensure that the pension credit is available to 2 million pensioners and that the winter fuel allowance will be paid to pensioners in the next few weeks, with a higher rate for those who are over 80; and we are determined to do our best to ensure that, even in a low-inflation environment, the pension will rise by at least 2.5 per cent. So we are taking the measures that are necessary to ensure that pensioners are protected against a recession that is hitting every country, but in our country we have taken special measures to help the unemployed, home owners, and pensioners as well.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that the best way to resolve the Royal Mail dispute would be to get the parties around the negotiating table? If he does, will he tell Lords Young and Mandelson to start to concentrate on that and stop attacking the Communication Workers Union?
The Prime Minister: We want a settlement of this dispute, and we want to say that this dispute is not in the interests of anybody. I have to say that if Royal Mail starts to lose major contracts such as those of some of the major firms in this country, it will be difficult for it to regain those contracts over a short period of time. I know that Ministers are working actively to ensure that the parties—the management and the work force—are negotiating. I hope that they will do so, and I hope that this unnecessary strike can be prevented.
5.  Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Carter-Ruck, experts in reputation management, are reported as saying that their original injunction gave them the power to prevent what was said in Parliament from being reported. No court should grant such an order and I intend to report the solicitors to the Law Society for asking for the injunction.
Will the Prime Minister see whether it is possible that any court that grants a secret injunction or emergency injunction should have a copy placed in the Library of the House of Commons and the Press Gallery, if necessary hiding the name of a child or details of grave national security?
Will the Prime Minister also ask whether any such emergency order can be reviewed the next working day at the Court of Appeal?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue, because I think it is important that I and the Justice Secretary can say something to him about the concerns that he has raised. This is an issue where an injunction has been awarded, but it has been awarded in the context that it has to remain secret and people are not told what the outcome is generally. The Justice Secretary has talked to the parties concerned and is looking into this issue. He will discuss the matter personally with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that on the basis of what he suggests progress can be made not just in this case but more generally, to clear up what is an unfortunate area of the law.
Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that the Scottish National party Government have put a proposal for a coal power station at Hunterston in the planning framework in Scotland. Can he confirm that no such coal power station will be allowed to go ahead without carbon capture being in place?
The Prime Minister: I think my hon. Friend would agree that any new coal power station has got to be carbon capture-compliant. That is what we wish to ensure happens in every area of the country in the future. We are planning major investments in carbon capture and storage. I have talked to people throughout the country who wish to make those investments, and it is important that we go ahead on that basis in the future.
6.  Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the extent of the affordable housing crisis across rural Britain and many of the innovative ways in which local authorities are trying to address the problem through section 106 agreements. Does he share the sense of bewilderment and anger of many of my constituents that despite the bail-out of the banks, many mortgage providers are still operating a very belligerent attitude, not giving sufficient mortgage offers to mortgagees and offering them incredibly high and unaffordable deposits, and would he—
Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister: I do agree with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman said. Building societies and banks have an obligation under the agreements that they have signed with the Government to make available mortgage finance as well as small business finance, at affordable rates, to members of our community. However, I think he will also agree that we have put aside £1.5 billion to build another 20,000 extra affordable homes over the next period of time, for rent and for low-cost home ownership.
We are doing what we can as a Government to give local authorities more powers to build and to ensure that the private sector responds with offers such as shared purchases and shared equity, as well as the new public investment that we are making. We are doing what we can and will continue to pursue a policy that we hope over time will give everybody an affordable home in this country.
7.  Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): The Prime Minister will recall that some months ago I raised serious concerns with him about banks now fleecing small businesses to recover the monies that they lost through foolish and reckless deals. Is he aware that things are getting worse in many cases? Indeed, the Halifax, which is part of the Lloyds group and was effectively nationalised, is one of the worst offenders. Credit has been withdrawn and refused, but worse still I have a note here that says that currently, small overdraft facilities are costing £13 a month, even for £2,000, and that is going to go up on 6 December—
Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Prime Minister has got the gist of it. The Prime Minister.
Dr. McDonnell: Can the Prime Minister—
Mr. Speaker: Order. I think the Prime Minister knows what the question is.
The Prime Minister: We have signed agreements about lending with these banks, and we are determined to impose them. Our evidence is that large companies are able to get money at the moment and that medium-sized companies are generally able to get money, but there are specific sectors in which it is very difficult. Small businesses need additional help, and that is what we are trying to make available through the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.
I can also say that 200,000 companies have been able to get help with their cash flow through the measures that we introduced to help small businesses, and £4 billion has been deferred by the Treasury. That is a measure that we have taken, as we have helped home owners and the unemployed, but it depends on our being willing to spend money to take us out of recession. That is our decision, and that is our choice. It is unfortunate that it does not have all-party support in this House.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On behalf of my party and my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party, may I associate myself fully with the words of condolence and sympathy expressed by the Prime Minister?
On the military covenant, for some 12 months or so I have been trying to obtain information from the Government. Could the Prime Minister tell me now, please, how many ex-service personnel are currently in prison?
The Prime Minister: I do not have the exact figure and I will write to the hon. Gentleman on that specific matter, but more help is available now than ever before for people who leave the services, so that they avoid either being homeless or, alternatively, being without jobs or opportunities. If he reads the White Paper in which we put forward our proposals, he will see that more is happening than ever before to help those people. Of course, that has got to be improved over the years, and we will do so. I hesitate to say what the figure is at the moment, but I will write to him immediately after Question Time.
8.  Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): The Prime Minister has been a great champion in the fight against child poverty and under this Government child poverty has fallen, but there are still far too many children living in poverty, and in Wales, too many children living in workless households. What further measures can he propose to bring down child poverty?
The Prime Minister: We are committed to eradicating child poverty in this country. We have taken half a million children out of poverty as a result of child tax credits, child benefit and other measures that we have taken. I hope that there is an all-party consensus on removing child poverty, but I have to say to the House that we cannot cut child poverty if we cut child tax credits, we cannot cut child poverty if we cut educational maintenance allowance, we cannot cut child poverty if we cut Sure Start, and we cannot cut child poverty if we deny young people the chance to get both the best education and the best opportunity for work.
9.  Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): The RAF has identified the need for three further aircraft to replace Nimrod R1 spy planes. New Nimrods, built in my constituency in Woodford, in which the Government have already invested £3.6 billion, are ideal for the task. Will the Prime Minister therefore explain why his Government have chosen instead to buy 40-year-old American aircraft and how that ties in with his commitment to British jobs for British workers?
The Prime Minister: I know that the hon. Gentleman is interested in future work for his constituents—that is why he is raising this question. I can tell him that we have not made a final decision on the next stage of orders and I will write to him when we do so.
Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the ever-increasing exploitation in the construction industry, in which foreign workers are driving wages down and where people are not complying with certain safety regulations. The matter comes up in my surgery on a regular basis. Both foreign and indigenous workers are being exploited by the employers. Do we need stricter regulation?
The Prime Minister: That is exactly why we are bringing in the agency workers directive and giving it legislative power through the House of Commons. I can also say that there is a helpline for vulnerable workers, which we set up after we had the vulnerable workers commission. The helpline is available to anybody, on a confidential and anonymous basis, to put their complaints, and we will deal with those complaints. It is in nobody’s interest that vulnerable workers are left without the help that they need, and I hope that we can do everything possible to support them.
10.  Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will soldier on to the bitter end?
The Prime Minister: We have got a programme for Government. Unfortunately, the other side do not.
There is a kind of obscene haste at the moment with politicians from all three major parties in what seems to be a new game of boasting about future cuts in public spending. The public sector has become a whipping post a target for plans for pay freezes, pension reductions and unemployment. Let us recall this recession began with the selfish, greedy bonus seekers in the banking sector who appear to be able to continue their bad habits regardless that their jobs were saved by taxpayers money. The fact we are £805 billions in debt is the sole responsibility of the UK banks. The banks must be made to pay back every penny they have gobbled up and no one should be given a penny in bonuses.
This is difficult, Has Cameron got a point, are we bending over backwards to dance to Gaddafi’s tune? I know there is some controversy over this issue but we usually expect terrorists to claim a triumph in terrorist outrages the strange thing is if there were others they have remained remarkably silent so we could asumme that Megrahi is guilty. Nick Robinson discuses the impact of this most strange decision that an SNP government minister has apparently taken.
If we are going to begin to sup with the devil then that spoon is going have to be very, very long!
David Cameron: “I think this is wrong and it’s the product of some completely nonsensical thinking in my view. If there’s a view that the conviction is in some way unsafe, then the proper process is an appeal and the presentation of new evidence. But if this is about genuine release on compassionate grounds I think it is wrong. This man was convicted of murdering 270 people. He showed no compassion to them. They weren’t allowed to go home and die with their relatives in their own bed and I think this is a very bad decision.”..”
I agree, although Hannan is entitled to an opinion what he does not realize is he is running our country and our great institutions of which the NHS is one, down and dangerously makes him unpatriotic.
BBC NEWS: “Health Secretary Andy Burnham has accused a Tory MEP who attacked the NHS on American TV of being “unpatriotic”.Labour has stepped up its criticism of Daniel Hannan, with John Prescott recording a YouTube message to the American people defending the NHS.Tory leader David Cameron has insisted the NHS is his “number one priority” and dismissed Mr Hannan as “eccentric”. ..”
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…”
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”…”
The final Prime Minister’s Questions of this parliamentary session, the next is due mid October unless some event makes the recall of parliament necessary. The exchange this week between David Cameron and Gordon Brown was more sober and focussed on the Labour government’s failure to ensure that UK troops are provided with the equipment they need in Afghanistan. David Cameron on this occasion was right to criticize the failures of the government. There is a considerable body of opinion that believes the beancounters in the Treasury are guilty of letting our troops down. There are not enough helicopters and there is a want of armoured vehicles that can sustain IEDs. Nick Clegg seemed to get himself into a tantrum and spoilt an otherwise more civilised PMQs.
BBC TV VIDEO OF PMQs
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1.  Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 15 July.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
Mr. Maples: In 2006, we sent 3,000 troops into Afghanistan as part of a reconstruction mission. Now, our objectives are to defeat terrorism and to make Afghanistan a stable and effective state. Many of my constituents are not convinced that we have a credible strategy for achieving those objectives. Will the Prime Minister look again at those objectives in the context of what is achievable, so that I can explain to people in my constituency how we are to judge success?
The Prime Minister: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents that, since 2001, our objective has been to restrain, contain and defeat terrorism by acting in Afghanistan and working with the Pakistan Government. It was true that, in 2001, al-Qaeda was based in Afghanistan and given cover by the Taliban there. It is also true that it is now based mainly in north Pakistan. We have to make sure that terrorism cannot hit the streets of Britain, and that is why we cannot allow the Taliban or al-Qaeda-related activities to flourish in Afghanistan, and why we cannot allow the Pakistan Government to be overrun by people who are operating through al-Qaeda and the Pakistan Taliban. What I think is encouraging—and why I think that the hon. Gentleman should be able to tell his constituents that things are moving forward—is that, for the first time, the Pakistan Government are taking direct action in a systematic way, with the support of the population of Pakistan, against the Taliban and against al-Qaeda in Pakistan. That means that we have complementary action in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that is a necessary means of defeating terrorism in the world.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend asked your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, to set up a Speaker’s Conference to report on how we could increase the numbers of women, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people being elected to this House. This morning, the conference has published an interim report that makes proposals to increase the diversity of candidates standing for all the parties at the next general election as a step towards restoring people’s faith in the democratic process, and in this House in particular. Will my right hon. Friend commit the Government to giving their wholehearted support to the important recommendations in the report, and encourage the leaders of all the parties in the House to do the same?
The Prime Minister: We should thank my hon. Friend, who was vice-chairman of the group that has submitted the interim report today. This is an important opportunity further to increase the number of women and disabled, black, Asian and minority ethnic people in our Parliament. The Government are committed to ensuring greater diversity of representation in public and political life—
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): More northerners!
The Prime Minister: The Conservatives should think about this, because they opposed the Second Reading of the Equality Bill in Parliament.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Yesterday, the whole country shared in the sorrow of our armed forces’ families as they saw their loved ones come home. We support our troops and the reasons for their being in Afghanistan, but is not there a need for an even tighter definition of our mission? We are not trying to build a perfect democracy; we must focus solely on building security and stability so that the terrorists can never return. We have been in Afghanistan for eight years now. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that, if we are to maintain public support here and, vitally, in Afghanistan, we will have to show greater urgency and make more visible progress?
The Prime Minister: The whole country joins the people of Wootton Bassett in the dignified way in which they recognise the service and sacrifice of our armed forces. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people of Wootton Bassett who have to endure great tragedies and effectively see them happen as they welcome back the people who have died on behalf of our country. I hope—in fact, I know so—that everybody in the House will thank them for what they did yesterday.
The purpose of our mission in Afghanistan is very clear: it is to prevent terrorism coming to the streets of Britain. We are complementing the military action we are taking with action to build up the Afghan forces—the police and the military forces—and with economic and social development programmes that we are pursuing in Afghanistan to give people in that country a stake in the future.
As I have said, we must work on two fronts. We must ensure that we attack terrorism in Pakistan as well as defeat what is happening in Afghanistan. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that we increased the number of forces from 8,100 to 9,000 so that we could clear ground and make it safe for the population of many areas of Afghanistan to vote in the coming general election and at the same time to enjoy the schools and the hospitals that are denied to them by the activities of the Taliban.
I want to thank our forces involved in Operation Panther’s Claw for what they are doing. They have the support of the whole country, and they have the resources and equipment they need. Of course we keep under review the numbers and the equipment needed for the future. I have said that we will look again at this after we have seen the Afghan election pass, peacefully and democratically, we hope. At the same time, I have talked to President Karzai about Afghanistan’s own responsibilities—that the Afghans should provide army and police to Operation Panther’s Claw. President Karzai has promised that he will provide additional resources for that purpose, and I believe that that is now starting to happen. I have also said to President Karzai that after October—[HON. MEMBERS: “Come on”] I think it is important for the House to know this—after October, we are prepared to do more work mentoring and training the Afghan security services. We will consider that as we make our decisions on what we do after October.
Mr. Cameron: Of course, the most recent focus on building up the Afghan army and on the co-ordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan is right, but I think it would help to acknowledge that some of the early objectives were slightly lofty, slightly vague and the co-ordination was not there. I think we will take people with us for the future if we actually admit to some of the things that were got wrong in the past.
Let me ask some specific questions about helicopters and Afghanistan. Is not the basic problem this: the number of helicopters in Afghanistan is simply insufficient? Will the Prime Minister confirm that the American marines, who have approximately the same number of troops as us in Helmand, are supported by some 100 helicopters, whereas our troops are supported by fewer than 30? That is the case, isn’t it?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise issues about the equipment so that I can assure him that we are doing everything that we can. [HON. MEMBERS: “Answer.”] I must point out that Lieutenant-Colonel Nick Richardson, who is on the ground in Afghanistan, has said:
“There’s much speculation about helicopters and have we got enough. It’s a sad fact that helicopters would not have saved the lives of the individuals last week.”
The commander on the ground, he said,
“has sufficient to get on with the task with which he’s been given.”
And why? Because we have increased the number of helicopters by 60 per cent. over the last two years and we have increased the capability of helicopters by 84 per cent. I visited RAF Benson on Monday to see the Merlin helicopters that will be deployed in the field by the end of the year, and the training is being done immediately in America—[Interruption.] Look, as they move from Iraq to Afghanistan—I need to explain this—those helicopters are dealing with different terrain. They have to re-equipped for the functions in Afghanistan, where they have to deal with heights and problems connected with temperatures and the weather. The helicopters are being refitted for that purpose. The crew have to be trained in different environments to be ready for Afghanistan.
Over the next 10 years, our helicopter budget will be £6 billion, spent to improve our helicopters in the future. We are working with NATO, which is providing through contracts, helicopters for the transit of equipment, and at the same time, we have created a helicopter fund, which was our initiative, and others among our allies are now contributing, I believe, 11 helicopters to the allied effort in Afghanistan over the next period. We have done everything that we can to increase the number of helicopters and there will be more Merlin helicopters in the field.
I ask the Conservative party to look at the statements being made by those who speak for our armed forces on the ground. They have made absolutely clear that in this particular instance, while the loss of life is tragic and sad, it is not to do with helicopters.
Mr. Cameron: We must be frank about the difficulties and dangers in Afghanistan, and one of the difficulties is a shortage of helicopters.
Let me take each of the Prime Minister’s arguments in turn. He talks of a 60 per cent. increase in the number of helicopters. That is in comparison with the position three years ago, when we had half as many troops. There has not been a proportional increase in the number of helicopters. Even the 84 per cent. increase in capability relates to helicopter hours. Clearly one helicopter can be in only one place at one time. If we want to move more troops around the battlefield more quickly, we will need more helicopters.
Let us take the argument about Nick Richardson. Of course I listen with respect to the official spokesman of the Army, but I think that the Prime Minister should also listen to someone like Stuart Tootal, who commanded 3 Para and who has said, for instance,
“In Afghanistan in 2006 repeated demands for more helicopters fell on deaf ears.”
He should also listen to Lord Guthrie—[Interruption.] I do not know why Labour Members do not want to listen to what was said by the former Chief of the Defence Staff. He said this:
“of course they need more helicopters. If there had been more, it is… likely that fewer soldiers would have been killed by roadside bombs”.
Those are important points, and we should listen to them.
Let me ask the Prime Minister this. Is not the reason we do not have enough helicopters that we did not plan to have enough? When the Prime Minister looks back to 2004 and his decision to reduce the helicopter budget by £1.4 billion, does he remember that the National Audit Office said in that year:
“There is a considerable deficit in the availability of helicopter lift”?
Does he now recognise that that decision was a bad mistake?
The Prime Minister: First, the number of troops in Afghanistan has risen from just over 7,000 to 9,000 over the last two years. The number of helicopters has risen by 60 per cent. That is a higher percentage rise. Secondly, I have talked to Tim Radford—[Interruption.] That is an increase from 7,000 to 9,000, and a 60 per cent. increase in the number of helicopters.
Secondly, I have talked—[Interruption.] I do hope that we can conduct this debate properly, because our troops will be paying attention to it as well.
I have talked to Tim Radford, the brigadier on the ground, and he has assured me that his troops have the equipment that they need. What we want on the ground are additional Afghanistan national forces, and that is what I have been talking about to President Karzai.
As for the defence spending programme, we have experienced the longest sustainable increase in defence spending in any period over 20 years. The reason is that, in addition to the defence budget, £14 billion has been spent on Iraq and Afghanistan, and £4 billion of that has been spent on urgent operational requirements for the troops. Part of the spending is on helicopters, and we have now committed £6 billion over the next 10 years to helicopter spending. We have already announced that more Merlins will arrive in the field later this year, and the helicopter fund is producing helicopters from allies as well. We have an order for more helicopters for the future. So the helicopter equipment programme continues, and we work with our allies to deliver the best services on the ground.
I think that we should look at this particular operation, Operation Panther’s Claw, and be absolutely clear that it is not an absence of helicopters that has cost the loss of lives. We are dealing with improvised explosive devices on the ground, bombs that are against—[Interruption.] Since April, we have brought in more engineers to deal with that problem. Moreover, Operation Panther’s Claw is making progress—despite the implication of some of these comments—and is gaining ground. That too is an important aspect of this operation. I hope that we can have a cross-party consensus on what we are doing to help our armed forces.
Mr. Cameron rose—
Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the Leader of the Opposition asks another question, let me say that I am very conscious today that we are hearing long questions and long answers from the Front Benches. I want Back Benchers to get in on this session, and I appeal to the Front Benchers to take account of that.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is right that our armed forces and their families are watching this debate, but on this issue they expect responsible questions to hold the Government to account and proper answers from the Government. The Prime Minister mentions the international helicopter fund. Will he accept that so far—it was announced 16 months ago—it has not yet added one single helicopter? The public will find it hard to understand why as a country we have 500 helicopters, yet fewer than 30 of them are in Afghanistan. Let me take one group specifically: why is it that only one of the eight Chinooks that were delivered in 2001 at great cost is now ready? Why has there not been greater urgency to deliver? That is a legitimate question, and it requires a proper answer.
The Prime Minister: The Chinooks are in the process of being adapted for Afghanistan. On the allies’ contribution, three helicopters have either arrived or are about to arrive, 11 in total have been promised, and £30 million has been put into the helicopter fund by us and others. May I just explain to the right hon. Gentleman that helicopters have got to be adapted for the terrain in Afghanistan because they need to deal with excess heat and with height? Our helicopter crews have got to be trained for that particular operation in Afghanistan, and the reason that we have greater capability now is that we not only have more helicopters in the field, but more flying hours are being done by helicopter pilots and more staff are available, and we have readapted some of the helicopters to be able to make those flights.
It is important to recognise that, yes, our military commanders will always want more equipment—and rightly so—but Sir Jock Stirrup, the chief of the defence forces, has said that our armed forces are better equipped than ever before. I am not complacent—we will always be vigilant—but I do not believe this should be a subject of cross-party disagreement. I believe that we are making the provision that is necessary both for helicopters and for equipment on the ground.
Mr. Cameron: There is one way to help settle this important debate. The Ministry of Defence asked Bernard Gray to conduct a review of our helicopter procurement. That report is meant to be out in July, but there are rumours that it is being delayed and rewritten. Can the Prime Minister make it clear that this report will be published in full, and unredacted, before the summer?
The Prime Minister: We said last week that we are doing work related to a new defence review. We are looking first of all at the strategic aspects of that review, and then in the next Parliament there will be a full defence review. I think that is the right way to proceed, and I believe that Bernard Gray’s report will be a significant part of the review, but we will start the review with the publication of what we believe are the strategic tasks ahead.
Mr. Cameron: That was absolutely no answer to the question about this important review. What the public want to know is that the Government have a relentless commitment to getting this right, but I have to say that they look at the fact that we are on our fourth Defence Secretary in four years, that defence procurement is shared by two unpaid and basically part-time Ministers, and that the Secretary of State ranks 21st out of 23 in the Cabinet. Are not the public right to ask, is the commitment and relentless activity really there?
The Prime Minister: I hoped that this debate could have escaped party politics and partisan points. I believe that at this particular time we have a duty to our armed forces. I think it is right that I explain to the House what equipment is available, what we are doing on helicopters, what we are doing on other equipment and what we are doing on the numbers of our armed forces. These are all legitimate questions and they should be answered by the Government, but I hope that the all-party agreement on what we do in Afghanistan and what we have to do to defeat terrorism will remain in being, and I hope we will recognise that in this particular exercise, Operation Panther’s Claw, we are doing everything we can, and will continue to, to support our brave and courageous armed forces, who are both professional and determined, and who need, and will have, all our support.
Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the Ministry of Defence decision to appeal against the judgment that would allow hearings of cases of nuclear test veterans seeking compensation against the military for injury that they or their relatives may have suffered as a consequence of their exposure to nuclear explosion?
The Prime Minister: I will of course look at this, but as my hon. Friend knows, these are legal matters that have ended up in the courts and we must look very carefully at what we do.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): After everything that has happened over the last few months, people are crying out for change, yet we have the spectacle of a Prime Minister busy doing nothing. He pretends to control bankers’ bonuses; they rise. He pretends to want to have a serious discussion on the economic mess we are in, yet he fiddles the figures. He pretends to want to reform this place and to clean up politics, yet nothing has really happened. People want action. They want something different, so what has been stopping him?
The Prime Minister: What the country wants us to do is take us through this difficult world recession, and that is what we are doing. The Opposition parties have no policies for jobs, no policies to tackle the recession, no policies for a recovery, no policies to help home owners and no policies to help small businesses. We have the policies and we are taking people through this difficult time.
Mr. Clegg: Who does the Prime Minister think he is kidding? We have seen huge executive pay packages in the banks that we own, city bonuses back in fashion, still no action taken to split up the big banks, no action on electoral reform and no action on party funding, and he has recently blocked giving people the right to sack disgraced MPs. Is this not just business as usual: a deliberate betrayal of people’s demand for change?
The Prime Minister: We are bringing in the Political Parties and Elections Bill, the Constitutional Reform Bill and the Bill to reform the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition should go away for the summer and think why it is that the Opposition parties have no policies to deal with the recession, no policies for recovery, no policies to help us create jobs and no policies for the future of this country. Perhaps, having gone back to the drawing board, they will think again.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Comrade leader, in these difficult and troubled times, do you agree that what the country needs more than anything else is a third aircraft carrier? [Interruption.] I repeat, in case that was not heard, that we need a third aircraft carrier. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that it is necessary for the Royal Navy, for the shipyards and for a big chunk of British industry that we have these aircraft carriers? Can he tell me why only the Government are firmly committed to building the two aircraft carriers and why neither of the two Opposition parties are so committed?
The Prime Minister: We are committed to building aircraft carriers; that gives work to people in all parts of the country, including those in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We believe that aircraft carriers are an important part of our naval equipment for the future, and the programme will proceed, whatever the views of Opposition parties.
Q2.  Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): I think that the Prime Minister will be aware of the case of a young girl in my constituency who was taken into care two years ago, at the age of five, and is now being proposed for permanent adoption, even though there is no suggestion that her well-being was under threat at home. East Sussex has a very good reputation for its children’s services, but does he share my concern that too often these cases go through the courts in a manner that can do lasting damage to the child and that parents cannot ever hope to match the resources being allocated by the local authorities? Will he have a meeting with me and others, so that we can discuss this in order to ensure that the children’s interests will be paramount and that parents can be assured of a fair hearing?
The Prime Minister: It is of course, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, very difficult for me to enter into a discussion of an individual case, but if it is essential, either I or a Minister will meet him to discuss this. Local authorities are unable to place a child for adoption with prospective adopters without their parents’ consent unless they have a placement order issued by the court. The debate that the hon. Gentleman has about what is happening in his constituency centres on that issue. I should tell him that we have tried to streamline the family courts to make them far more responsive to the needs of all concerned, particularly the children.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will remember the strong support that we had from church organisations in this country on the Make Poverty History campaign, with which he was very much involved. Church leaders in my constituency are involved in the Get Fair campaign, which seeks to tackle child poverty in this country. Will he give the same commitment to that campaign as he did to the Make Poverty History campaign, so that I can respond to my constituents?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend was a leader in the Make Poverty History campaign in Wales, and I congratulate her on that. The campaign to abolish child poverty is so important that we are going to bring forward a Bill that commits the Government to abolish child poverty. It is very important to recognise that 1.5 million children have been taken out of absolute poverty under this Government and 800,000 children have been taken out of relative poverty. We are raising child benefit and child tax credits, and we are creating Sure Start centres in this country that the Conservative party refuses to support.
Q3.  Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Across the east of England and in Bedfordshire, the Government’s policy of moving the assessment of the need for more Gypsy and Traveller sites away from local councils to a regional body is causing intense concern and threatening to disrupt community relations, making them worse rather than better. Will the Prime Minister order an urgent review of a planning policy that is increasingly seen as no longer even-handed?
The Prime Minister: I believe that local authorities have fair powers to deal with the issue. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says—there has to be a solution found in each region for what is happening. I shall look at what he says, but we have to ensure that we balance the needs of local residents with the other responsibilities that we have as a country.
Q4.  Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): At 2 o’clock, a hanging plant basket will be handed in to No. 10 for my right hon. Friend by Perfect Pots, a social enterprise run by pupils at the Holbrook centre for autism, with the charity HOPE and local business Amberol, an example that shows how people with severe autism and learning disabilities can be assisted to make a positive contribution to the work force and their local community, rather than just being cared for. Will he ensure that that is taken on board in the current consultation on support for adults with autism and the proposed national care service?
The Prime Minister: The Autism Bill that is currently before Parliament, and which the Government are supporting, sets out our commitment to publishing an annual strategy on autism, as well as statutory guidance for local authorities and the national health service. I have met members of the different charities that are working to deal with autism, which is a major problem that has gone long unrecognised. We know that more has to be done, and the Autism Bill is one way of doing that. More widely, we want to ensure that people receive the level of care necessary, and that is why yesterday we published our Green Paper on social care. That, too, will make a difference to those who have autism.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am sure that the Prime Minister is right that it takes time to equip helicopters and to train the crews for Afghanistan, but why does he pretend that the need has only arisen today? The reality is that we have been there for eight years, troop numbers have been rising throughout that time, and the demand for an increase in the number of helicopters has gone on rising. Why are they still being equipped and why are crews still being trained when the demand is there? Will he explain to the House and to our troops—
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman’s question is simply too long.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman’s question would have some validity if there had not been a 60 per cent. increase in helicopter numbers in the last two years, if we had not increased the operational capability of helicopters and if we were not putting more helicopters in the field as soon as we can. I have to insist that the terrain in Afghanistan is different from that in Iraq, and that is why we have to re-equip the helicopters with new blades, as well as retraining our servicemen to deal with those problems. I hope that the Conservative party will come to accept that we are doing everything that we can to equip our armed forces and that what the Chief of the Defence Staff has said is right—despite all the difficulties, our armed forces are better equipped than ever before.
Q5.  Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Last year, I was pleased to table a private Member’s Bill to lower the voting age. Now that the Youth Citizenship Commission has reported, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to show a vote of confidence in young people and lower the voting age to 16?
The Prime Minister: One of the things that is happening over the summer is that the Youth Parliament will sit in this Chamber while we are away—I believe that you have made that possible, Mr. Speaker. The Youth Citizenship Commission has reported in the last few weeks and it looked at the issue of voting at 16. I think that people want to combine any change in the voting age with citizenship education working even more effectively in our schools, and we remain ready to push forward that debate, which has been started by the Youth Citizenship Commission, and get the opinions of young people, as well as adults.
Q6.  Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): In recent days, we have paid tribute to our servicemen and women in Afghanistan, and my right hon. Friend indicated that earlier. Previously we did that in Iraq and, for 30 years before that, in Northern Ireland. Surely now would be an appropriate time to consider some form of permanent recognition for these courageous service personnel, who deserve the enduring gratitude of the entire nation.
The Prime Minister: I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman says, but I think that he knows that there was an announcement in one respect by Her Majesty the Queen only two weeks ago. I shall look specifically at his recommendation.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that this morning Jaguar Land Rover announced that it was phasing out the X-type model and that 300 jobs would be lost at the Halewood plant. Obviously, my right hon. Friend will agree that that is a severe blow to the Liverpool city region. Will he give me an assurance that the Government will do everything that they can to secure the long-term future of Jaguar Land Rover at Halewood?
The Prime Minister: Any redundancies and any loss of jobs are to be regretted. I believe that we will be able to help those people who are losing their jobs back into work. We also want to secure a future for Halewood. We have offered JLR a grant of £27 million towards the development of low-carbon Land Rovers at the plant. They would be produced there. We are trying to do what we can to replace lost jobs and I will work with my right hon. Friend, because I know that he does a great deal in this area, and with others in the region to make sure that jobs come to Halewood.
Q7.  Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Whether insuring against the threat of state-versus-state warfare remains a core role of the armed forces; and if he will make a statement.
The Prime Minister: Our armed forces are fundamental to counter state-led threats. That was made clear in our national security strategy update, which we published last month.
Dr. Lewis: I am relieved to hear that. Before Iraq and Afghanistan, we were spending 2.5 per cent. of gross domestic product insuring against potential threats from other industrial countries. As we are still spending 2.5 per cent., despite the additional cost of the counter-insurgency campaign and including the contribution of the Treasury reserve, which of those two major military roles is currently underfunded? One of them must be.
The Prime Minister: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that defence spending has continued to rise in real terms, in contrast to what happened in the last years of the Conservative Government. I have to say, also, that in addition to the defence budget we have put aside £14 billion for the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. I want to tell the hon. Gentleman that our budget, in cash terms, is still the second largest in the world.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—
Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that, as he will know, points of order come after statements.