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PMQ’s Weds. 14 October, 2009

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment

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.

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House of Commons
Wednesday 14 October 2009
PRIME MINISTER
The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

1. [292263] 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. [292264] 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. [292265] 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. [292266] 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. [292267] 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. [292268] 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. [292269] 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. [292270] 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. [292271] 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. [292272] 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.

PMQs Weds. 15 July 2009

July 15, 2009 Leave a comment

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

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FROM HANSARD:

PRIME MINISTER
The Prime Minister was asked

Engagements

Q1. [286657] 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. [286658] 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. [286659] 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. [286660] 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. [286661] 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. [286662] 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.
Armed Forces

Q7. [286663] 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.

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PMQs. Weds. 8 July, 2009.

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.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

FROM HANSARD

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Elderly People (Long-term Care)

Q1. [284662] 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. [284663] 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. [284664] 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. [284665] 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. [284666] 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. [284675] 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. [284667] 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. [284668] 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. [284669] 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. [284676] 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. [284671] 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.

PMQs Weds. 1 July 2009

The main focus of questions/statements from Tory leader David Cameron was once again cuts in public spending. Cameron demeans himself by mocking the prime minister and needs to be more adult in his manner. Frankly, the only reason Cameron brings this subject of cuts up is simply because it’s a smokescreen for his own reluctance to tell the general public of Tory plans for massive public spending cuts. Nick Clegg really has to do better, it’s no good wasting words on the behaviour of Gordon Brown and David Cameron but he didi raise a valid point on the potential cost of Trident. The prime minister was wrong to talk of a 0% rise in the years 2013/14 when obviously you can’t have a 0% rise – was it a slip of the tongue?

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FROM HANSARD:

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [283119] Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 1 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, the whole House will wish to join me in welcoming today Her Majesty the Queen’s approval for a new form of recognition for the families of those members of the armed forces killed on operations and as a result of terrorism. Her Majesty will be making an announcement today, directly to the families of armed forces personnel, in which she will make clear her personal attachment to the new recognition. I am confident that that will be a very special and fitting tribute indeed to the great debt that we owe to all those who die on operations, and to the enduring loss shouldered by their families.

This morning I met ministerial colleagues and others. I shall have further such meetings later today.

Bob Spink: Our armed forces are the bravest and the best in the world, and in the armed forces day celebrations on Saturday the people showed how much they love and respect them.

May I ask the Prime Minister about swine flu? A number of people in Castle Point—adults and children—have tested positive, and the local campaigning newspaper, the Echo, is keen to reassure people that progress is being made. What will he do next to tackle the problem?

The Prime Minister: I share with the hon. Gentleman the respect that he has stated for our armed forces, and for the armed forces day on Saturday, when thousands of people in all parts of the country wanted to give recognition—deserved recognition—to the work that our armed forces do every day.

The hon. Gentleman raises the question of swine flu. He may know that we have had an emergency meeting of the Cobra group—the civil contingencies secretariat—today to look at the incidence of the disease. I have to report to the House that the total number of confirmed cases for the UK now stands at 6,538. That compares with just 2,236 last week. That large rise in numbers of confirmed cases means that a more flexible and local approach will be used in areas where there are higher numbers of cases reported. The Health Protection Agency, in conjunction with the NHS, is doing excellent work to limit the spread of the virus. We continue to monitor the situation closely, making sure that arrangements are in place so that the UK remains well placed to deal with the pandemic. We will adapt those arrangements as the situation changes, and my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will make a statement to this House tomorrow on the outcome of our deliberations.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): I welcome what the Prime Minister said about the armed forces. My grandfather, Hugh MacDonald, served in the Black Watch during the second world war. He is buried in the Black Watch section of the military cemetery in Gibraltar. The House will excuse me for using Scottish vernacular, but I fear that he might be birling in his grave at the thought that the famous red hackle of the Black Watch may be no more. What assurances can the Prime Minister give, not only to me but to serving personnel and veterans, whom I met on Saturday, that the Black Watch red hackle will remain the symbol of the Black Watch?

The Prime Minister: I, too, met Black Watch servicemen on Saturday and people who have contributed greatly to our armed forces. I can assure my hon. Friend that the tradition that he talks about will be maintained as long as the Army exists.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I welcome what the Prime Minister said, and I agree with him about the Queen’s new recognition for our armed forces—we should all be incredibly proud of what they do on our behalf.

Last week, it was demonstrated for everyone to see that capital spending under Labour will be cut. Now I want to turn to total spending. Does the Prime Minister accept that his own figures show that once the Treasury’s forecast for inflation is taken into account, total spending will be cut after 2011?

The Prime Minister: No, total spending will continue to rise, and it will be a zero per cent. rise in 2013–14. In 2011–12 and 2012–13, it will continue to rise—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister’s answer must be heard.

Mr. Cameron: I think that that answer gets zero per cent. The Prime Minister said very clearly no, it will rise, so can he explain a copy of a Treasury presentation that was given to us? On page 7, there are headings for current spending and capital spending, and the headline says very clearly: “Reduction in medium-term spending”. May I ask the Prime Minister, if even the Treasury is giving presentations around the country saying that public spending as a total is being cut, why cannot he admit to the truth?

The Prime Minister: I have told the right hon. Gentleman previously that current spending is going to rise, and that capital spending, as I explained last week, will fall after 2011. These are the public spending projections for the future, but I have to tell him that the debate about public spending is about how we return to growth and jobs in the economy. The reason we have advanced spending to 2009–10 is so that we can spend to get out of recession. We put forward proposals for homes and jobs, and for more money in 2009–10. The Opposition have rejected this expenditure. We have put forward proposals for expenditure in 2010–11—increasing expenditure, and the Opposition have rejected that.

The capital spending that we have advanced to 2009–10 and 2010–11 is therefore not available after 2011. This is precisely the way in which a Government will act to take the country out of recession, and I must therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman why—[Interruption.] Oh yes. His shadow Chancellor should explain why he was going into television studios yesterday saying that he was going to cut schools now, cut Sure Start now, cut the September guarantee for school leavers now, and do nothing about unemployment. That is surely the issue: we cannot get out of recession unless we spend now on the services that we need.

Mr. Cameron: Today we see a Prime Minister in full retreat. In the first answer, he says that we are going to get a zero per cent. increase in public spending—that is a new one. In the second answer, he finally admits that he is going to cut, and cut deeply, capital spending. He talks about the debate about public spending: the debate is about whether the Prime Minister can be straight with the British public. Let me ask him again. He stood at the Dispatch Box, and talked about total spending year after year—that is the figure that people are interested in. As the Treasury itself says, when it comes to total spending, there is a reduction, not a freeze, in medium-term spending—I am glad that the Prime Minister is talking to the Chancellor for the first time in weeks—and given that it is talking about a cut, will the Prime Minister stand there, give a straight answer and say that once we allow for inflation, total spending is being cut?

The Prime Minister: I have already said that current expenditure will rise, and continue to rise. Capital spending will rise until 2011, then it will fall. I have already made it clear that for health, education and for all these public services, current spending will continue to rise. The issue is surely this: in 2009–10, we are raising spending substantially. We are doing so in 2010–11, and we are doing it to take us out of recession. There is only one serious party in the world that is trying to tell us that we should cut spending now—the Conservative party. The right hon. Gentleman must therefore admit that under his proposals, schools would lose money now, teachers would be made unemployed, Sure Start services would go, child care services would be at risk, and no teenager would get a guarantee for jobs. That is the future if the Conservatives were ever to implement it.

Mr. Cameron: Complete nonsense. Nobody—[Interruption.] It is interesting that not even the Prime Minister’s own Cabinet now backs the ludicrous line that he is taking about public spending. He keeps talking about this 10 per cent. I do not know whether he realises how much damage it is doing to him. It is not doing any damage to us. Let us explain where the deceit about the 10 per cent. comes from. Let me explain to the House—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition must be heard.

Mr. Cameron: If we take the Government’s own spending plans, take off debt interest and take off the increase for unemployment, which, sadly, will go up, we are left with a 7 per cent. cut in every Department—the Government’s own figures. If we exempt the NHS, we get a 10 per cent. cut—the Government’s own figures. If we take out—[Interruption.] Thank you, Schools Secretary. If we listen to the Schools Secretary and take out health and schools, we get a 13½ per cent. cut. That is the Prime Minister: Mr. 13½ per cent.—his own figures. Let us see if he can answer the simplest of questions. Is he going to have a full departmental spending review before the election—yes or no?

The Prime Minister: The first thing that the right hon. Gentleman said was that unemployment is going to continue to go up. That is the Conservative policy. It is a prediction. That is when they say that unemployment is a price worth paying. Is he basing his assumptions on unemployment rising to 2014? No wonder he wants to cut public services. He is basing his assumptions on unemployment continuing to rise, because he will do absolutely nothing about it. We have taken action that is preserving 500,000 jobs. A quarter of a million people are leaving the unemployment register every month. We put in extra money on Monday so that there is more for young people who are unemployed and for summer school leavers. We will not forecast our spending plans on unemployment being higher in 2014 and rising every year, but if that is what the right hon. Gentleman wants to do, he cannot afford public services. Therefore the truth is that he will be cutting public services by 10 per cent.

Mr. Cameron: I have to say that this is one of the most feeble performances that I have ever seen from the Prime Minister. If Peter Mandelson had not been so busy wandering round the television studios this morning, he could have given him a bit of tuition. There is only one person who we want to add to the unemployment register, and that is this Prime Minister. I asked a simple and straightforward question. Perhaps he could now answer it. Peter Mandelson has said that there will not be a spending review before the election. Can the Prime Minister tell us—will there be one or not?

The Prime Minister: It would be wrong to have a spending review now, at this stage—[HON. MEMBERS: “Why?”] Because we are in the midst of a recession and it is not possible to say what unemployment, growth and all the characteristics that the right hon. Gentleman has been referring to are likely to be in 2012, 2013 and 2014. We have got to the heart of the Conservative position today. They are the party of unemployment. They are premising all their spending plans on unemployment continuing to rise. He said himself that unemployment will keep on rising. If that is the basis of their spending plans, people can look forward, under a Conservative Government, not just to 10 per cent. cuts, but to rising unemployment. Why do they want these public spending cuts? To pay for inheritance tax cuts for the very rich. We see once again that they are the party of the few, and we are the party of the many.

Mr. Cameron: I know the walls of the bunker are thick, but the Prime Minister seems completely unaware that unemployment is rising across the country because of the policies of his Government. We have seen hundreds of people lose their jobs at Diageo in Scotland—another tragic case—yet the Prime Minister seems blissfully unaware of what is going on in the country that he is meant to be governing. Everyone will conclude that the Government will not have a spending review because they do not want to own up to the cuts that they are planning in Department after Department. The truth is that this Government are planning to cut capital spending: fact. They are planning to cut total spending: fact. The most important fact of all is that they are incapable of being straight with the British people.

The Prime Minister: This Opposition would cut public spending this year and deprive people of help with unemployment and housing. This Opposition party would cut public spending next year, and cut it savagely in schools, in education and even in the Sure Start programme. We now know the truth about the Conservatives’ assumptions about the future: they assume that unemployment will continue to rise, as the right hon. Gentleman said, until 2014. That is not the policy of this Government; we want to get people back into work.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Does the second franchise fiasco on the east coast main line in two years not tell us that the Tory rail privatisation experiment has finally hit the buffers? Now that we are taking the east coast main line back into public ownership, can we keep it that way?

The Prime Minister: Our first and overriding obligation is to ensure continuity of service to the passengers, and that there is no disruption of services, so the Secretary of State for Transport is establishing a publicly owned company, the East Coast Main Line company. It will take over all franchised rail services at the point that National Express East Coast ceases to operate, and existing staff and assets will transfer to the new company. We are making sure that the service continues to run, that passengers continue to be served and that jobs continue to exist.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I first join in welcoming the announcement from Her Majesty today for such a fitting tribute to recognise the bravery and sacrifices of our armed forces.

This afternoon we have seen the bogus debate about public spending hit new lows. I am almost tempted to suggest that Lord Mandelson and the Conservative economic spokesman go on another cruise together to make up. The real failing is that the Conservative party leader wants to cut spending when the economy is still on its knees, which is economic madness, and he will not tell us how; and the Prime Minister is still living in complete denial about the long-term savings that will be needed when the economy starts to recover. Are they not both deliberately choosing to trade insults so that they can both avoid telling the truth?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman does not tell us what his policy is at all. The fact of the matter is that if spending were cut this year, jobs would be lost and services would be put at risk; and if spending were cut next year, jobs would be lost and services would be at risk. We are determined to ensure that spending remains in order to increase job opportunities and to protect home owners, and to make sure that our public services are in place. I hope that he will join our side of the debate in protecting public services for the future.

Mr. Clegg: What the Prime Minister is avoiding once again is the fact that difficult choices on long-term spending need to be made now if we are going to get any grip on the country’s finances. That is why we should admit that we neither need nor can afford to replace Trident. He is planning to sign the first contracts for the new Trident submarines this summer, during the recess when we are all away. Is it not obvious that he should not do that?

The Prime Minister: We have already announced a deficit-reduction plan for the next five years. We have taken difficult decisions about efficiency savings and asset sales, and about raising the top rate of tax: about measures that ensure that people who are in a position to pay more do pay more in the tax system—that is, at the top rate of tax. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support those measures, which are designed both to reduce the deficit and to ensure that there are sufficient resources for public services. I have already made my position on Trident clear—in the debate on Monday.

Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Last week Corus announced 379 job losses in the steelworking town of Stocksbridge in my constituency—job losses that will have a devastating impact on the economy of a town with a population of only 13,500. Will my right hon. Friend make a commitment to do whatever he can to ensure that Corus can secure a long-term future for steelworking in places such as Stocksbridge?

The Prime Minister: Corus employs more than 20,000 people in this country, and wherever there are redundancies it is a matter of sadness and regret. We are dealing with a fall in demand in the steel industry throughout the world, and it is affecting Britain and every other country. We are in talks with Corus, we have provided extra money in the past week for help to secure jobs and we will continue to talk with it about what more we can do. We are also in negotiations with Corus about its relationship with a conglomerate of steel producers. That contract has broken down; it puts jobs in Britain at risk; and we are trying to do what we can to ensure the agreement of a new arrangement that can protect more jobs in Britain.

Q2. [283120] Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): The Prime Minister has twice told the House today that capital spending will continue to rise until 2011. The Red Book shows that capital spending is at £44 billion this year and will be at £36 billion next year. I am sure that the Prime Minister understands that that means a cut, starting next year. Will he correct the record now?

The Prime Minister: As I have already explained to the House, we are bringing forward investment, previously allocated for later years, to 2009–10 and 2010–11. The reason why we are doing so is that we can help get the economy out of the recession. The capital investment would not be supported by the Conservative party. As a result, projects such as housing, in which we are investing from this Monday, as we have announced, could not go ahead. I have already explained to the House that while the previous Budget announced that there was a rise in capital expenditure over a period of time, more money has been reallocated to the first years so that we can help ourselves out of recession.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): There has been a great deal of talk about the modernisation of the House, but I would like to ask the Prime Minister whether we could go back in time—to when we had Prime Minister’s Question Time twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There would be much more accountability to Back Benchers, the questions would be more topical and the Chamber would be much better attended on Thursdays.

The Prime Minister: That is an idea on which Mr. Speaker may wish to consult.

Q3. [283121] Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): As more than 1 million of our young people leave education this summer, the Government’s rediscovered commitment to training and apprenticeships is very welcome. However, it appears that many of the training schemes on offer cannot be completed in the time that the Government have announced. Will the Prime Minister meet a group of us to make sure that we do not consign our young people to unemployment or to a failure to gain the qualifications that they need?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman should know, in 1997 there were 70,000 apprenticeships in Britain; this year, there are 225,000—three times as many. To say that we have reduced the number of apprenticeships, or that we are not taking the issue seriously, is wrong. As far as training programmes are concerned, on Monday we announced how we would do more for summer school leavers and for young people under 25. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the new investment that we have made into those measures. They cost money; I hope that his party is prepared to support them, even if the Conservative party is not.

Q4. [283122] Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): This Labour Government have made a lot of progress in tackling disadvantaged communities, such as Pemberton, Scholes and Beech Hill in my constituency, through the neighbourhood renewal fund. However, local authorities and primary care trusts are hampered from building on that success because they do not get the money that the Government formula tells them they are entitled to. Will my right hon. Friend meet me, and other colleagues with similar constituencies, to see whether we can find ways to tackle the problem?

The Prime Minister: I understand that Wigan will receive more than £21 million between 2008–09 and 2010–11 as an additional resource to help tackle problems faced by local people. Of course I am happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about both the neighbourhood renewal fund and some other aspects of central funding to local authorities, but I do say that in the past few years we have increased those resources substantially. Where there is unemployment, we will be increasing resources to help people get back to work.

Q5. [283123] Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): In the light of recent cuts of £3.9 billion in Department of Health funding, as announced in the Budget, will the Prime Minister confirm what further reductions in health expenditure his Government are planning for between 2011 and 2014?

The Prime Minister: We are raising expenditure on the health service this year and next year. The hon. Gentleman should know perfectly well that we have done so against the advice of the Conservative party, which would prefer to see—[Interruption.] If we had not taken the decision to raise national insurance to put investment in the national health service, we could not have had the 90,000 extra nurses, the 20,000 extra doctors and the new hospitals. That decision was opposed by the Conservative party.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): In a few days’ time, the newly elected European Parliament sits for the first time. Can the Prime Minister assure me that Labour MEPs will not sit with Polish MEPs who are homophobic and of an anti-Semitic orientation, with Czech MEPs who believe that global warming is a myth, or with Dutch MEPs who think that abortion should be abolished and that Sunday shopping should stop? Which party does support those loonies and weirdos?

The Prime Minister: It took the Leader of the Opposition almost a year to admit that there was a recession all over Europe. Now that he has had to admit it, perhaps he should also admit that there is a need for co-operation all over Europe to deal with these issues. What I think people will find very sad is a Conservative party now on the fringes of Europe with some of the extreme parties on the right wing of the European political family.

Q6. [283124] Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): News of tomorrow’s statement is welcome, but if the swine flu pandemic were sufficiently to trigger changes in the Government’s approach during the 82-day summer recess, would the Prime Minister recall Parliament so that there could be proper scrutiny of the Government’s actions?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady will know that the Health Secretary will make a statement tomorrow on the issue of swine flu. We will make sure that at all points we are vigilant in ensuring that the treatment of that disease in every part of the country is right and proper.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend may have seen today’s announcement by Diageo on the restructuring of jobs in Scotland, to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. It was mixed news, with 500 job losses over two years but also £100 million of investment, including in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend do everything he can to negate the loss of these jobs, and will he agree to meet the company to discuss its continued plans for investment in Scotland?

The Prime Minister: Where there is unemployment, we are ready to help. The measures that we announced on Monday will move in to help young people, but also adults who are losing their jobs. It is possible for firms making capital investment to get new capital allowances which were introduced in the Budget to stimulate new investment. We are seeking an investment-led recovery. The capital spending that we have reallocated to 2008–09 and 2009–10, while it falls in 2010–11, is vital to doing that. We will continue to back private investment in our country, and these are the figures that I want to make clear to the House.

Q7. [283125] Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): As chair of the all-party Baha’i group, I have become deeply concerned about the seven Baha’i leaders in Iran facing trial by the revolutionary court on 11 July on serious but unsubstantiated charges, with no evidence being offered against them. Will the Prime Minister be willing to meet me and representatives of the Baha’i faith in Britain to underline his and, I hope, our collective support for the fundamental principles of fairness and tolerance in the treatment of these and all Baha’i in Iran?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises very difficult issues. I am sure that the whole House will share my deep disappointment at the recent behaviour of the Iranian regime: disappointment at the manner in which legitimate demonstrations have been suppressed; disappointment at the restrictions that he has mentioned on the freedoms of the Iranian people, with people due to stand before a closed court on 11 July; and disappointment that the Iranian Government have expelled two of our diplomats and detained several of our embassy staff. This action is unjustified and unacceptable. Some people in Iran are seeking to use Britain as an explanation for the legitimate Iranian voices calling for greater openness and democracy. However, we will continue, with our international partners, to raise our concerns with Iran, including on the issue that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): Following job cuts announced by Lloyds, will the Prime Minister assure banking staff in my constituency that he will do all he can to protect their jobs? Will he join me in sending a clear message to Lloyds Banking Group that further job losses would be totally unacceptable?

The Prime Minister: I have visited the area and talked to staff, and I understand their frustrations at what is happening. They have served the bank well, and they are the victims of what has happened to HBOS in its worldwide activities, particularly its failures in other countries. We will do what we can to help the staff of HBOS and Lloyds TSB. We are also making it possible for people to have new facilities to find jobs in the area. We will do what we can to reduce unemployment in these difficult circumstances; that is why we have set aside £5 billion to help the unemployed, which is only possible because we have made these additional allocations.

Q8. [283126] Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Another opportunity for the Prime Minister to be straight with the British people: in which Departments does he expect to see spending fall between 2011 and 2014?

The Prime Minister: Being straight with the British people means talking about how we get out of recession and how we build for growth. It is not much good the Opposition’s talking about 2011 when they are cutting spending in 2009–10 and 2010–11. Throughout this debate, they have refused to support the action we are taking on jobs. They have no plan to come out of recession, they have no plan for jobs, and they have no plan for growth in the economy: they have nothing to offer the British electorate but cheap gibes and no policy.

Q10. [283128] Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend believe that to build Britain’s future we need to invest now in helping people through the downturn, and especially in young people’s training and skills? [Interruption.] Will he reaffirm his September guarantee of a place in education and training for all 16 and 17-year-olds?

The Prime Minister: I do not know why the Opposition mock this. Giving a guarantee for school leavers to get a school place, a college place, an apprenticeship or work experience—some form of activity that prevents them from being unemployed—has never been done before. That costs money, and we are prepared to spend that money. The Opposition party would refuse that money. In other words, thousands would be unemployed as a result of the Opposition’s policy.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that some of the finest residential training for severely disabled people has been put in jeopardy by the decision this week of the Learning and Skills Council not to fund the expansion of the National Star college in my constituency? Would he agree to meet a delegation of some of the disabled students, some of the principals of the college and myself, to discuss the unique situation of that college and see whether there is a solution to this problem?

The Prime Minister: We have set aside £2.3 billion for investment in further education colleges over this spending review period. We put an additional £300 million into that in the Budget. I will ask—[Interruption.] This comes under expenditure on colleges, and it needs money that would have to be provided by the Government. I am saying to the hon. Gentleman that I shall get the further education colleges Minister to meet him about this, but we have put £300 million extra into the investment in capital buildings as a result of the Budget.

PMQs Weds. 24 June 2009

June 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Today Speaker Bercow did very well; it was his first opportunity to restore some clarity and a sense of less noise during prime minister’s questions, he clearly has a goal for more brevity by ministers and members, though not as yet for the prime minister. I think today Gordon Brown scored something of an own goal and David Cameron had a good point in showing capital expenditure will fall in the coming years – hence cuts. The prime minister outlined the figures: £44bn this year, £36bn next year, £29bn in 2011 and £26bn in 2012: he claimed some expenditure had been brought forward. despite Cameron challenging the prime minister he was implementing cuts, the prime minister, of course, would not rise to the bait and hammered the Tories in regard to their proposed 10% cuts.

It is clear any government, in the light of the effects of the recession, will promote cuts in capital investment but it’s an issue of who will cut the most. So it looks as if David Cameron had the edge in this session of PMQs. Nick Clegg however seemed to focus on reverse gear, in that the prime minister had reversed several major decisions recently and if he would admit he would cut public expenditure. Nick Clegg’s supplementary question was more sensible

The problem with PMQs is that opposition leaders merely make long statements before asking their questions; in David Cameron’s case in tends to promote a flippancy which is not acceptable. Nick Clegg also now seems to make statements before asking his question. The prime minister keeps to the old habit of not giving straight answers so perhaps the new Speaker will get round to applying his concern on the opposition leaders and the prime minister in these matters.

1: BBC TV NEWS VIDEO OF PMQs:

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2: HANSARD RECORD OF PMQs:

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [281805] Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 June. May I also welcome you, Mr. Speaker, to your first Prime Minister’s questions as Speaker of this House?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Major Sean Birchall, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. He died serving our country and the people of Afghanistan. His death reminds us how difficult it is for men serving in Afghanistan at the moment. He, and others who have lost their lives, will never be forgotten.

I am sure that the House will wish to send our sincerest condolences also to the families and friends of Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell following the tragic news of their death in captivity in Iraq. The taking of hostages is a cruel and barbaric act and can never be justified. I can assure the House that the Government are doing all that we can, and our thoughts and those of everyone in this House will be with the families and friends who wait for news.

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.

Patrick Hall: I wish to associate myself with the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend regarding our troops, the hostages and their families.

One of the key issues raised with me by my constituents is that of housing, and specifically access to affordable housing and the need for mortgage finance. My constituents are aware that despite the urgent need for more house building, Conservatives generally campaign against it, as well as oppose the measures needed to fix the financial system—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: I think that the Prime Minister has got the gist.

The Prime Minister: We are investing billions of pounds more in new affordable housing. We are helping more households into home ownership through shared ownership. We have secured commitments from the major banks that they will invest a large amount of the £70 billion extra that they are investing over the course of the next year in housing. Of course, that would not be possible if we were to implement a programme of 10 per cent. cuts in our spending.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The Prime Minister had a bit more than the gist of the question: he had a prepared answer to it as well.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Major Sean Birchall from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan, and I very much agree with the Prime Minister about expressing our heartfelt sympathy to the families of Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell at their loss. The Prime Minister knows that he has our full support in all the efforts being made to free the remaining hostages in Iraq.

Last week, the Prime Minister told the House:

“Capital expenditure will grow until the year of the Olympics.”

The Government’s own figures show that that is just not the case. Will he take this opportunity to correct what he told the House last week?

The Prime Minister: Well obviously yes, in the building of the Olympics capital investment will rise very substantially. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that capital investment is rising from £29 billion to £37.7 billion, and then to £44 billion in 2009–10, and that is to help complete the building of the Olympics. Thereafter it will fall as a result of decisions that we have made, but the comparison is between £44 billion of investment now and—even in real terms—the figure for 1999–2002, when he was in charge of advising at the Treasury. We are investing £44 billion: he was investing only £16 billion.

Mr. Cameron: I am afraid that that is just not good enough. Last week the Prime Minister made a very clear statement to the House of Commons. He said:

“Capital expenditure will grow until the year of the Olympics.”—[Official Report, 17 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 295.]

Here are the figures: capital expenditure this year, 2009, is £44 billion; next year, 2010, it is £36 billion; in 2011 it is £29 billion; and in the year of the Olympics, 2012, it is £26 billion. That is a cut of almost half from £44 billion to £26 billion. Will the Prime Minister now apologise, correct his statement and admit that he is cutting capital expenditure?

The Prime Minister: I was just explaining how we had brought forward capital investment to last year and this year. The figure for capital investment in 2006–07 was £36 billion. That has risen to £38 billion in 2008–09 and to £44 billion in 2009–10. That is so that we can advance capital expenditure to deal with the downturn. The problem for the right hon. Gentleman is that he wants to cut capital investment now. He wants to cut it whereas we are increasing it. We are increasing it to complete the building of the Olympics and other projects, whereas his party would be cutting capital investment now. He has got to face up to the fact that he is going to spend less than us in every year.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister has been caught absolutely red-handed. He made a statement to the House about capital expenditure growing every year and the fact is that it is being cut. If he believed in transparency, honesty and truth in public life, he would get up at that Dispatch Box and say, “I’m sorry, I got it wrong. I gave the wrong figures; here are the right ones.” Now do it.

The Prime Minister: I have explained to the House that money has been brought forward to 2008–09 and 2009–10. Instead of having expenditure of just £30 billion in 2008–09, it is £38 billion. Instead of expenditure of less in 2009–10, it will be £44 billion. We took the decision to advance public expenditure to deal with the recession. Let him come clean: he would cut public expenditure this year, next year and every year after. He is trying to evade his responsibility for wanting 10 per cent. cuts.

Mr. Cameron: In the answer before last, the Prime Minister talked about the year 2007–08. In the last answer, he talked about the year 2008–09. Those years have already happened. He said at the Dispatch Box last week that capital expenditure would grow between now and the Olympics. The figures are in the Red Book, on page 226. Capital expenditure will be £44 billion in 2009, falling to £36 billion, then to £29 billion and then, in the year of the Olympics, to £26 billion. There is no other way to cut it. There is nowhere else he can hide. He must stand up, explain that he got it wrong and say that what he told the House last week was wrong. Why not do it for once?

The Prime Minister: We brought forward spending to deal with the recession. I know that he is against our bringing forward the spending, but we brought forward current and capital spending to deal with the recession. Let me tell him that spending is £44 billion in the year 2009–10. That is the highest capital expenditure ever in our country. It compares with the recession years under the Tories, when capital spending was only £12 billion or £16 billion. We are taking the action to invest in our public services—they would cut our public services now. Why does he not admit that there would be 10 per cent. cuts in public services under the Conservatives?

Mr. Cameron: Let us first of all be clear about the Prime Minister’s claims about Conservative policy. Even his own colleagues do not believe him. This is the report that we had from last week’s Cabinet:

“Darling pointed out that Brown’s Tory cut figures did not represent the”—

Conservative— “party’s policy but were merely extrapolations”—

[HON. MEMBERS: “Ah!”] It gets more interesting:

“Cooper, previously the Treasury minister responsible for public spending, echoed his concerns”,

and:

“According to one source who was present, Brown was visibly irritated at the way he had been undermined, and brought the meeting to an early close”.

He says that he wants to be a teacher, but it sounds like he has lost control of the classroom. Last week, at that Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister did not talk about bringing forward capital expenditure. He said, very clearly:

“Capital expenditure will grow until the year of the Olympics.”— [Official Report, 17 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 295.]

Let me give him one more chance to show that the talk of transparency, truth and honesty means something. He should find that moral compass, stand up there and tell us that he got it wrong.

The Prime Minister: I read out the figures to the House. We are spending £38 billion in that year 2008–09—more than the Tories would ever do. We are spending £44 billion in the coming year—more than the Tories would ever do. We are spending more money on capital investment than at any time in our history—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister, but there is simply far too much noise. The public do not like it, and neither do I.

The Prime Minister: We have to face up to the fact that a sensible debate in this country means that the Conservatives are going to cut spending on housing, education, policing and all the vital public services. The right hon. Gentleman cannot evade the fact that his figures are lower than any of ours in any year. That is the truth about public spending in our country.

Mr. Cameron: The entire country will have heard one very important thing—that this Prime Minister cannot give a straight answer, and that he is not a big enough man to say that he got it wrong.

The Prime Minister: His is the party of 10 per cent. cuts in public expenditure, and the party that would cut the vital public services at a time of recession. We have brought forward public expenditure to help people stay in their homes and get into jobs and to help build schools and hospitals. Those are exactly the public services that the Conservatives would cut savagely, by 10 per cent. That is not going to be allowed to happen. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Fabricant, you must calm yourself. It is not good for your health. I call Paul Farrelly.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and may I also welcome you to your new role? Many of us here will welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has rowed back from holding an inquiry into Iraq in private. It would have been a misjudgment to do so. That said, the Opposition motion and the amendment before us this afternoon contain two points of difference—whether the terms of reference are discussed and published, and whether the committee should have a wider composition. What can the Prime Minister say to the House to address those two points of difference?

The Prime Minister: I can say that Sir John Chilcot, the chair of the inquiry—and it is an independent inquiry—has written to me to make it absolutely clear that the inquiry will need expert assessors at the highest level including in military, legal, international development and reconstruction matters. He has already begun to identify people who may be willing to serve in that capacity. As for the terms of reference, I cannot think of an inquiry with wider terms of reference. It covers nearly eight years, from 2001 to 2009. It covers all issues that refer to the conflict itself, the causes of the conflict, and the reconstruction after the conflict. The inquiry will be set up on the basis that it will be allowed to have all the evidence and materials, whether classified or not, that it needs to look into the matter. The terms of reference of this inquiry are very wide indeed.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Major Sean Birchall, who tragically lost his life in Helmand this week. I of course also join in the expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell. We all hope that the remaining hostages will be released safely as soon as possible.

On the Gurkhas, the Prime Minister was wrong and was forced to back down. On MPs’ expenses, he was wrong and forced to back down. On the Iraq inquiry, he was wrong and is now being forced to back down. The only gear left for this Government seems to be reverse, so when will hear from him that he is wrong too on public spending?

The Prime Minister: I am not wrong on public spending. We want to increase public spending. I am not wrong on wanting to help people in difficulty in the recession by helping the unemployed and home owners. It is the Liberal party that wants to cut public expenditure, not the Cons—not the Labour party. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I know it is the third time, but perhaps third time will be lucky. We must have some order in this House.

Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister cannot keep avoiding the questions. Today, new figures from the EU have been published that show that we have the largest underlying deficit anywhere in Europe. Why does he not admit that balancing the nation’s books will take big, difficult, long-term decisions? Nobody is fooled by his trick of dressing up cuts as investment. We are setting out what needs to happen—unlike him, and unlike the Leader of the Opposition—on Trident, on baby bonds, and on tax credits for high-income families. There are some ideas, now where are his?

The Prime Minister: Given that there is no problem of inflation at the moment in our country, and given that interest rates are low, it is right for us to take action to help people get into work. It is right for us to take action to help 150,000 businesses, as we are doing. It is right for us to move forward the housing programme and our programme of capital investment. These are the right things to do. I do not think that the Liberals, with their proposals to cut public spending, are doing the right thing at the moment at all.

Q2. [281806] Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and congratulations on your election. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spell out the implications for the public services, pensioners and the less well off of the 10 per cent. cut proposed by the Opposition?

The Prime Minister: Increasingly, the choice within our country will become one between us wanting to preserve our public services and wanting to expand them and a Conservative party that is determined to cut them by 10 per cent. Once the public knows that that is the choice, Conservative Members will have to explain in every constituency how many police, nurses and teachers are going to be cut as a result of their restrictions on spending.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Can the Prime Minister confirm whether he has had any correspondence, e-mail, telephone calls or texts from Damian McBride since the day he resigned, and just to clear up the confusion that there seems to be around this issue, will he write to the Parliamentary Standards Authority confirming the answer to this question?

The Prime Minister: The answer is no, but is it not amazing when we are discussing Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other major issues that a Back Bencher can reduce himself to re-asking a question that was asked last week?

Q3. [281808] Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1552 regarding steel making on Teesside? What help and support is he willing to give so that we can keep the Redcar steel complex open and protect 22,000 direct and indirect jobs as well as a strong manufacturing base?

The Prime Minister: I have talked to the company and also met the trades unions, as has the Business Secretary. The future of steel making in this region is absolutely crucial, so we are trying to do everything we can to make that happen. Clearly, there is a dispute between Tata and the partners involved in the consortium that has now withdrawn its order for steel making in the area. We want to support a reconciliation between the two groups, which is what we are trying to do. In the meantime, One North East is trying to help people in search of jobs.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Prime Minister’s insult to the Law and Justice party of Poland in his European statement yesterday is a great insult to the President of Poland, who is a member of that party and to the Polish people who elected that party into office. No matter what he may think of the Law and Justice party, he must understand that as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom he has a duty to implement basic diplomatic procedures.

The Prime Minister: I have very good relationships with the person the hon. Gentleman is talking about. As for the Polish Law and Justice party, the Conservatives should look at the policies of the parties they are having dealings with.

Q4. [281809] Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Can the Prime Minister tell the House of his reaction to recent events in Burma? Does he agree that the imprisonment, illegal as it is, of pro-democracy campaigners and the shameful, farcical and sham trial of Aung San Suu Kyi does nothing for Burma’s standing in the international community?

The Prime Minister: First, let me congratulate my right hon. Friend on the 27th anniversary of his election to the House of Commons; he has given great service, particularly in terms of our relations with other countries. In Burma a sham trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is taking place, and it is completely unacceptable not just to us, but to all members of the international community. At the last meeting of the European Council, we sent out a powerful message that unless action is taken in Burma to free Aung San Suu Kyi, we will be prepared to take further sanctions against the regime. I have also talked to the UN Secretary-General and encouraged him to visit Burma—Mr. Gambari, his representative, is there at the moment. I hope that the Secretary-General will visit Burma to send a message to the regime as soon as possible.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): In May 1997, there were 1,826 people unemployed in Wellingborough; at the end of last month, that figure had risen to 3,366—an increase of 84 per cent. Whose fault is that: is it (a) the last Conservative Government; (b) the previous US President; or (c) the Prime Minister who claimed he had ended boom and bust?

The Prime Minister: The figures are all the more reason to support our policies to get people back to work. Were it not for the policies we are adopting, 500,000 more people would be out of work—that is what official estimates say. The hon. Gentleman should be supporting the public expenditure we are engaged in to help people get back into work.

Q5. [281810] Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, it gives me particular pleasure to welcome you to the Chair as our new reforming Speaker. May I say how much I endorse the wise words of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who called for the whole House now to get behind you? That should be the whole House.

The Prime Minister deserves great credit for bringing forward proposals to establish the Parliamentary Standards Bill and to set up a Select Committee on reform of the House of Commons, but may I draw his attention to the unnecessarily tight terms of reference on today’s Order Paper, and to the cross-party amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright)? Surely, it cannot be right for the Committee to be constrained to discuss only non-governmental business.

The Prime Minister: We have proposed measures to modernise the House of Commons, in particular the election of Select Committee Chairs, the scheduling of non-Government business and the raising of public issues for debate. All those other matters can be considered in due course, and the Leader of the House will lead a debate on them.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Mr. Speaker, the university of Essex is proud of you.

Earlier this month, the Conservatives were humiliated in the local elections in Colchester. Will the Prime Minister discuss with his Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families why Essex county council is ignoring what the Secretary of State promised in the House in May last year, and is proceeding to close two secondary schools, against the democratic wish of the people of my constituency?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, investment in schools is rising, as is investment in new school buildings generally. The hon. Gentleman has specific questions he wishes to address to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and I hope that he will be able to meet my right hon. Friend soon.

Q6. [281811] Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): This morning, Superintendent Simon Corkill from Wembley police station telephoned me—[Interruption.] —to say that there had been a drop in gun crime of 45 per cent., a drop in knife crime of 19 per cent. and a drop in youth offending of 19 per cent. in the past year. I know the Prime Minister will want to congratulate Wembley police force on those statistics, but will he join me in asking for a 10 per cent. cut next year? I mean, of course, a further cut in the statistics.

The Prime Minister: Since 1997, the investment we have made in neighbourhood policing and in policing generally has led to a reduction in crime. As a result of that investment, people can feel safer in their homes, but it is equally important that we maintain investment in policing—a 10 per cent. cut in policing budgets would be totally disastrous for police forces and communities.

Q7. [281812] Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): One in four people will suffer at some point in their life from a mental health problem, and there is a great deal of stigma about that. Will the Prime Minister take some advice from Alastair Campbell, whose advice seemed to work very well for his predecessor? When giving evidence to the Speaker’s Conference on improving diversity, Mr. Campbell suggested that we get rid of the provision in the Mental Health Act 1983 that Members of Parliament who are sectioned for a mental health problem lose their seat. Will the Prime Minister take steps on that measure and end stigma against people with mental health problems?

The Prime Minister: Mental health is a serious problem and we should look at it with great care before we make any decisions, but of course I will look at what the hon. Gentleman says. I think he will understand that it needs the greatest of care.

Q8. [281813] Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): Hopwood Hall college in my constituency delivers vocational programmes to learners throughout Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale—all areas of high deprivation. The college capital programme has had to be put on the back burner because of the funding crisis at the Learning and Skills Council. Will the Prime Minister have a look at the specific problem for me, and perhaps designate the appropriate Minister to meet the college principal, the local authority and me to see if we can get ourselves out of this mess?

The Prime Minister: The Learning and Skills Council has written to the principals of all colleges about capital investment for the future. It hopes to announce projects to go through to the next stage of the process as soon as possible. As my hon. Friend will know, we made available an extra £300 million in the Budget for further education colleges. I am sure that the Minister will be happy to meet him.

Q9. [281814] Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): May I say to the Prime Minister that this year’s 10 per cent. increase in applications to higher education is a massive cause for celebration? The fact that the major increases are particularly among young black males, students over 40 and people in lower socio-economic groups is a double cause for celebration. Will the Prime Minister therefore say why the planned 15,000 extra higher education places were cut to 10,000 last year and are now being cut to 3,000? Is it not better to invest in people in higher education than to invest in them on the dole queues?

The Prime Minister: We want more people to be able to go to university. If there are more applications this year, we must look at that very carefully. I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman says about the numbers, and I know that the Business Secretary is looking at what can be done. We want to give this year’s school leavers a guarantee that they will also have opportunities, and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is taking action to ensure that opportunities are available to every school leaver this summer.

Q10. [281815] Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister will be aware of the pain caused by very high water bills to my constituents in the far south-west, especially those on low and modest incomes. We eagerly look forward to the publication of the interim findings of the Walker review on water metering and charging. Will the Prime Minister meet me and a group of colleagues who have been working on finding solutions for many years to see how far the review will be able to help to address the problems?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has campaigned on water charges in her region for many years. I believe that the interim report is scheduled for publication next week, with a final report expected in the autumn. We will provide a full response following the publication of the final report and I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about it.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): A considerable number of my constituents are Equitable Life victims and the quality of the retirement that they paid for has been crippled. The Government’s response to the two ombudsman’s reports added insult to that injury. Will the Prime Minister look again at the delays in paying compensation and the partiality of the Government’s compensation scheme?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the ombudsman made certain recommendations, which we are looking at. We have set up a separate inquiry to look at the implication of what was said and we will report in due course.

Q11. [281816] Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Despite all the point scoring on cuts in public expenditure, will my right hon. Friend assure me that no money will be cut from protecting our armed forces on active service? Will he say that, in any circumstances, the priority will be to spend whatever money is available on the front line, unlike the situation under the Tories, who made redundancies while—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister does not have to concern himself with Opposition policy.

The Prime Minister: We have shown our commitment to our armed forces by increasing expenditure on them every year. We have made extra money available for all the additional responsibilities that they have had to discharge in Iraq and Afghanistan. We want a spending path for the armed forces that is completely consistent with their responsibilities. It would not make sense—regardless of need and what has happened to the economy—to announce 10 per cent. cuts in the defence budget now.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he has received advice from the Chief of the Defence Staff calling for sustained and substantial reinforcement for our hard-pressed armed forces in Afghanistan?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman was here yesterday, he would know that I answered exactly that question. I said that we had raised the number of forces in Afghanistan for the period of the election campaign from 8,100 to 9,000. For that period, which takes us right through to the autumn, we are meeting additional responsibilities to ensure that the democracy of Afghanistan is maintained and that elections can happen with greater security and safety. Of course, we maintain our ongoing campaign against the Afghanistan Taliban.

Q12. [281817] Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend believe that it is the role of mainstream UK political parties to associate with Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom party, which honours veterans of the Waffen-SS, or does he believe that that should be left to the British National party?

The Prime Minister: Is it not remarkable that the Conservatives have formed an alliance in Europe that excludes the German Christian Democrats, excludes the French party of President Sarkozy, excludes the Italian party of Prime Minister Berlusconi—[Interruption.] —excludes all reputable political parties in Europe—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: The Conservatives are now isolated on the fringes of Europe.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): Would the Prime Minister agree with me that both the Tamil and Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka deserve an investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the civil war in Sri Lanka? Given the cowardly decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council to resist any such inquiry, what steps can he take to make sure that the issue is not abandoned and forgotten?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Lady may know, I have spoken to the President of Sri Lanka, and I have urged him to ensure reconciliation with the Tamil community. It is very important, after the events that we have seen happen, that those people who have been displaced are given urgent humanitarian help, that the regime itself recognises that it has to make peace with the Tamil members of the community, and that action is taken as quickly as possible for that purpose. What we need is not violence in Sri Lanka but reconciliation.

Hansard

PMQs. Weds. 17 June 2009.

June 17, 2009 Leave a comment

The clash between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and David Cameron focussed on the hot topic of future cuts. David Cameron appears as the weeks go by to become more childish, churlish and insulting. There is no attempt to discuss policy. If people really think that Cameron should be the next prime minister they should be more discerning. Many of us know the Tories will very likely introduce savage budget cuts, we already know that 10% all round is likely. I do feel though that Gordon Brown should be more open about the prospect of cuts that may be scheduled in the future. Nick Clegg on the other hand does indeed raise issues of policy and does deserve more detailed responses. The clash between Gordon Brown and David Cameron is in the full BBC TV News clip and the full text from Hansard follows:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [280103] Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 17 June.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, this is your last Prime Minister’s questions, Mr. Speaker. The whole House will have a chance to acknowledge your great contribution to public life in a few minutes’ time.

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

Dr. Whitehead: Mr. Speaker, may I add my appreciation of your kindness and generosity towards me and many other hon. Members in your time as Speaker?

In view of recent speculation, can the Prime Minister assure me that budgets relating to the support of green energy development and combating climate change will be maintained and enhanced over the next three years? Would he reflect on what the United Kingdom’s ability to meet its carbon budget commitments would be if such funding were cut by, say, 10 per cent.?

The Prime Minister: In the Budget we committed an additional £1.4 billion of support for the low-carbon economy. That would not have been possible if we had followed the advice of the Opposition to make cuts of 5 per cent. this year. It would be impossible in the future if we went for the plans that have been suggested by the shadow Health Secretary to cut departmental expenditure by 10 per cent. We are for investing in the environment, not for using the money for inheritance tax cuts for the very few.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Welcome to Prime Minister’s planted questions! [Interruption.] Some Labour MPs were a bit confused: when they were told about Mr. Ten Percent, they thought it meant his opinion poll ratings.

In our exchanges last week, the Prime Minister read out figures for total Government spending after 2011. Will he agree that, using the Treasury’s own forecasts for inflation, those figures mean that spending is going to be cut in real terms?

The Prime Minister: I welcome this debate about public spending. I relish the chance to debate policy for once with the Opposition. The first thing that the right hon. Gentleman has to confirm is that he is cutting spending this year.

Hon. Members: Answer!

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister speak. That is the best way—we hear what the Prime Minister has to say. [Interruption.] I am not responsible for his answers.

The Prime Minister: The first thing that the right hon. Gentleman has to confirm is that he would cut spending by 5 per cent. this year. That means that vital services would be losing money. I welcome the debate that we are having in this country. We are investing to get ourselves out of the recession; the Opposition would cut, and they would make the recession last longer. That would lead to higher debts and higher deficits that would have to be spent for. As for spending beyond 2011, the right hon. Gentleman knows the truth: he wants to spend less—10 per cent. less in most Departments—whereas we want to spend more.

Mr. Cameron: Absolutely no answer to the question. For the time that Peter Mandelson allows the Prime Minister to go on doing the job, he should at least answer the question. Every year, at every Budget, the Prime Minister stood there and read out figure after figure for total spending and told us it was an increase in real terms. Now he stands there, reading out figures for total spending, without admitting that they represent a real-terms cut. The country will conclude that he is taking them for fools. Everyone knows that what matters is spending over and above inflation. Let me ask him again: will he now accept that his spending plans from 2011 mean a real-terms cut? The Chancellor says that they are a cut. Are they?

The Prime Minister: The first thing we are absolutely sure of is that, regardless of economic circumstances, employment, investment and inflation, the Conservatives will cut expenditure by 10 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman said it himself last week—Tory cuts versus Labour investment. Now let me read out the figures for current expenditure. Current expenditure will grow every year to 2013–14, not just in cash terms but in real terms. Capital expenditure will grow until the year of the Olympics. After that, it will be less but asset sales will make up much of the difference. So we are increasing current expenditure, and increasing capital expenditure up to the Olympics. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal is to cut expenditure by 10 per cent. He had better admit the truth: he is cutting expenditure by 10 per cent.

Mr. Cameron: It sounds more and more desperate. Whichever way we look at the figures, the Government plan to cut spending. Let us consider capital and current spending. Capital spending will go from £44 billion in 2009–10 to £22 billion in 2013. That is a massive cut. Now let us look at current spending. We must exclude debt interest and paying for unemployment—what the Prime Minister used to call the bills of social failure. When we do that, we see that current spending is also being cut. Capital spending—cut; current spending—cut. Those are Labour cuts. Let me ask the Prime Minister again—the question will not go away until he answers it. Will he admit—I would not listen to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward); he was pretty useless when he worked for us and he is still pretty useless. The question will not go away. Will the Prime Minister accept that his spending plans from 2011 mean a real-terms cut?

The Prime Minister: What the right hon. Gentleman is saying to us—he had better listen to the debate because it will go on for many months—is that, regardless of growth, employment, interest rates or inflation, he is dogmatically set on a 10 per cent. cut in most departmental expenditures. Let me read out the real-terms current expenditure: 603 to 629 to 633 to 638 to 642. What is that but a rise in real-terms current expenditure? I have already explained about capital expenditure and what is happening after the Olympics, but gross investment, real terms—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has not produced one figure yet and I have just given him the figures in the Red Book—63, 55, 49—and we will make that up by the asset sales that we have already announced in the pre-Budget report. I have to tell him that current expenditure will continue to rise in cash and real terms. The issue is that the Conservatives will cut current expenditure in real and cash terms. It is exactly what I said—Tory cuts, Labour investment. What is worse is that they would cut expenditure so that they can help the few with inheritance tax cuts, while we are the party of the many. Let him say that he is abandoning inheritance tax cuts.

Mr. Cameron: Every commentator and every economist has concluded that the Prime Minister is wrong and looks increasingly ridiculous. Let us take just one. Last week, Robert Chote, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said that

“judging from his performance at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday—Gordon Brown needs some help to interpret his own Chancellor’s Budget.”

Let us take one of the Prime Minister’s former Treasury Ministers, whom he appointed to work with him in Treasury. The right hon. Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) said that

“as the Budget made clear, the only way to clear a huge debt overhang in the medium term will be to cut billions of pounds from public spending.”

Why does the Prime Minister find it so impossible to give a straight answer and be straight with the British people?”

The Prime Minister: I am the person who is giving the House the figures. The right hon. Gentleman has given not one figure to back up his proposition. The only figure that we have had is the admission by the shadow Health Secretary that he would cut public expenditure in vital Departments by 10 per cent. What we will not be doing is cutting expenditure by 10 per cent.

Let me tell the Leader of the Opposition what the real-terms rise in current expenditure is, and perhaps at some point he will listen: 603 to 629 to 633 to 638 to 642. These are rises in expenditure after inflation has been taken into account. Once again, he is trying to hide the fact that he has got 10 per cent. cuts. His is the party of cuts; we are the party of investment. Because he wants to use the cuts to pay for inheritance tax, let us remember once again: the Conservatives are the party of the few and we are the party of the many.

Mr. Cameron: The right hon. Gentleman is just sinking and sinking. He thinks that everyone is so stupid that they will not notice that once we take out debt interest and unemployment benefit, the Departments of all those Ministers on the Treasury Bench will be cut, cut, cut. That is the truth. Why does the Prime Minister not just stand back for a moment and ask why he is so distrusted? It is not actually the recession: there is a recession all over Europe; and yet no other European leader—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Cameron: The reason the right hon. Gentleman is in the hole that he is in is because he is not straight with people. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must allow the Leader of the Opposition to be heard. [Interruption.] Order. Allow the right hon. Gentleman to speak. [Interruption.] Order. I do not want a Minister pushing his luck, so I ask the right hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) to behave himself.

Mr. Cameron: Labour Members shout for half an hour on a Wednesday and spend the rest of the week trying to get rid of the Prime Minister. His problem is that he is not straight with people. He was not straight over the cancelled election; he was not straight over the 10p tax; he was not straight over flying to Iraq during the Tory conference; he was not straight over Damian McBride; he was not straight about who he wanted as his Chancellor; and now he will not be straight with people about the level of Government spending. Will everyone not conclude that if you cannot be straight with people, you are simply not worthy to be our Prime Minister?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Even though it is my last day, the Leader of the Opposition knows that the term “you” is not something that I approve of, and I think that the candidates at all these hustings will be saying that they do not approve of it either.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is learning all the time. At last he has a European policy, and he now admits that there is a European recession. As far as his last comments are concerned, is it not remarkable that he descends back into personalities? He cannot deal with a policy debate. I have said that we are taking action to deal with the recession, and that means that more people will be in work, that more businesses will be saved and that more help will be given to mortgage holders. We are spending money to take people out of recession; he would cut the money now. There would be more unemployment, more debt and more deficit. The Conservative party has to face up to its responsibility. The Conservatives are calling for public spending cuts at a time when every country in Europe and the rest of the world knows that we have to inject more money into the economy.

As for the future, everybody also knows—this is where the serious debate lies—that what can happen depends on growth and what happens to inflation, employment and interest rates. There is good evidence that the proposals that we have put forward are working, whereas the proposals that the Conservatives have put forward would not work. As for the future of public expenditure, let us just be clear: I have read out figures showing that there are not only cash rises in all our current expenditure in each year, but also real-terms rises. The Leader of the Opposition has given us no figure, except the figure of his Health Secretary, which is a 10 per cent. cut in public expenditure. The public will remember one thing about the last week: 10 per cent. cuts in public expenditure under the Tories; investment under Labour. They are the party of the few; we are the party of the many.

Mr. Cameron: Why does the Prime Minister not understand that character and policy come together in the vital question of telling the truth that public spending will be cut, according to his own plans? Everyone will have seen today that the Prime Minister has drawn one of his precious dividing lines between himself and reality. That is what we have seen. People know that they have a Prime Minister whom they never elected, a Prime Minister who cannot be straight with people and a Prime Minister who will not even give 10 per cent. of the truth.

The Prime Minister: The leader of the Conservative party said:

“We’ve made it clear that a Conservative government would spend less than Labour.”

So it is absolutely clear that the Conservatives would be spending less every time. They would be cutting spending on vital services, and people should not forget that. He wants to read out quotes from this person or that person, but why does he not face up to the policy issue? We are spending 5.5 per cent. more on the health service this year, and 4 per cent. more on education. We are building more schools, employing more nurses, building up the health service and making the policing in our community work. At every point, the Conservatives would be cutting these vital services. They should go back to their constituencies and explain how many police, nurses, doctors and teachers they would cut under policies that are in the interest not of the many but, in their case, only of the few.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am going to call you, Mr. McGrady, but you will be brief, won’t you?

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) (SDLP): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will be brief, but I want to thank you for your personal kindness to me and my party over your many years in the Chair and outside this Chamber.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be aware that devolution to Northern Ireland has not been completed owing to the absence of the devolution of policing and justice. This issue has now become a political football between the two parties in power, and the situation has been exacerbated by the recent European elections. Will he take a personal new initiative to complete that all-important stage of devolution, which is the prerogative of the whole community in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister: I think that the benefits to Northern Ireland of the devolution of policing and justice will be very considerable indeed. I realise that there are very delicate issues that have to be dealt with, and that there are conversations to be had, but I recognise that progress has been made with the commitment of the major parties to devolution in principle. Talks are now taking place that I hope will yield results, and I hope it will not be long before we complete the process of the devolution of policing and justice under terms that will give security to every community in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Does the Prime Minister agree with the comments made by his Chancellor this morning when he blamed the banks’ boardrooms for the recession but refused fundamentally to change the way we regulate them?

The Prime Minister: We are fundamentally changing the way we regulate our banks. We are banning them from giving bonuses at the moment where we have taken over the banks. We are changing the structure of the boards by the way we are dealing with the problems that have been created in this recession, and we are introducing new financial services legislation in the next year to change the structure of regulation. In every area in which abuse has been found, we are taking action to deal with it. I hope that, when the legislation comes before the House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman will support it, because that is the right thing to do. When people make mistakes, that has to be dealt with, and we are dealing with the mistakes that have been made in the City.

Mr. Clegg: I still think that the Prime Minister is trying to have it both ways. He cannot just blame the bankers but not change the basic way we control them. He is just passing the buck. I will tell him who is to blame for this recession: a Government who did not listen to warnings, who let the bankers get away with blue murder and who, even now, refuse to separate ordinary high street banking from casino investment banking. Can he not see that if he just keeps passing the buck, the only certainty is that this kind of crisis will happen all over again?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is speaking as though high street banks and investment banks did not fail. The truth is that both failed, and we have to deal with that. The solution is to have better regulation and better supervision. It is actually about cross-border supervision at a global level as well. It is about bringing in those countries that have been outside the scope of supervision and regulation. That is what the G20 was about: to bring them all into the regulatory and supervisory net. To be honest, I think the right hon. Gentleman actually supports what we are doing but cannot bear to say so.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite all the promises, the Lloyds group of banks is planning to decimate jobs in Yorkshire and take them down south to Peterborough? Will he urgently talk to the management of the Lloyds group and point out that we are major shareholders in that bank and expect better standards?

The Prime Minister: I am very happy to talk to Lloyds, which made promises at the time it took over HBOS about what it would do to safeguard the jobs of its employees. We will look at the issue in that context; any jobs lost are to be regretted and we will do everything we can.

Q2. [280104] Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Prime Minister will have satisfied virtually nobody with his private inquiry into the war in Iraq. He does, however, have the opportunity to satisfy one family—the Al-Sarraj family. Mr. Al-Sarraj, who is detained in Camp Cropper in Baghdad, is the husband of my constituent, Shereen Nasser. Will the right hon. Gentleman talk to the US authorities to try to secure a release date for Mr. Al-Sarraj?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has raised the case with me; I shall look further at what he says and write to him.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to condemn the appalling racist attacks on Romanian families in Belfast?

The Prime Minister: Yes indeed, and I hope that the authorities will be able to take all the necessary action to protect those families.

Q3. [280105] Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Department for Transport has been compiling dossiers on opponents of the third runway at Heathrow and handing them over to the police? Will he find out whether there is one on me and one on his hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell)?

The Prime Minister: I know nothing about this—[Interruption.] Any allegation that the hon. Gentleman makes will of course be investigated, but it is not something that has been drawn to my attention. As far as the Heathrow expansion is concerned, it is a contentious issue but the House has voted on the matter.

Q4. [280106] Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will know that the Lancashire police constabulary is the top-performing police force in the country. Burglary is at a 27-year low and vehicle crime at a 20-year low. The number of police officers, police community support officers, special constables and other staff has increased by 1,400—30 per cent. since 1997. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what impact a 10 per cent. cut in policing will have on staff and crime in Lancashire?

The Prime Minister: It could involve the loss of about 15,000 police. Those who advocate 10 per cent. cuts in the Home Office have to face up to the consequences, as it will mean fewer policemen on the beat, less neighbourhood policing and less protection against crime. [Interruption.] I notice that Conservative Members are not worried about a 10 per cent. cut in the police; I think they would hear from their constituents if such a cut were ever to happen.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Has the Prime Minister any concern about the expressed intention of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to axe the full-time police reserve in Northern Ireland? Does he recognise that there is a heightened level of dissident activity and that the Chief Constable is leaving his job, so is this not a decision that should be left to the new Chief Constable?

The Prime Minister: I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that we have committed additional resources to deal with the problems posed by the dissident groups in Northern Ireland. I spoke to the former chief of police in Northern Ireland at exactly the time of the incidents and we promised him that the resources would be there to deal with the problems arising from the actions of those dissident groups. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the security of the people of Northern Ireland will not be put at risk in any way.

Q5. [280107] Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, may I thank you for your kindness over the years and wish you well?

Knives, age-related games and alcohol were all bought online recently by a 16-year-old acting for Greenwich trading standards without any checks being made. They were bought from Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Argos and other stores, even though his card was registered with his real date of birth and address. Will my right hon. Friend look to extend the provisions in the Gambling Act 2005 to restrict and have simple checks on age so that our young people cannot get easy access to knives and other age-restricted goods, in accordance with the recommendations of the children’s charities digital manifesto on internet safety?

The Prime Minister: I know about the document to which my hon. Friend refers. She may be aware that yesterday we published the “Digital Britain” document describing the steps that the Government are taking to ensure the online safety of children, and the ways in which the Government will continue to support further action by the industry against such practices. We have also set up the UK Council on Child Internet Safety, which, as she probably knows, is examining these issues.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The Calman commission reported this week that the Scottish Parliament should have additional limited powers. The First Minister has offered to test that proposal, together with the proposal for independence, in a referendum. Does the Prime Minister agree that the people should have their say?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the Scottish National party is not supporting the Calman recommendations. They give a new basis on which the Union can move forward, providing a measure of devolution that will allow the Union to be safeguarded for the future. The difference between us and the Scottish National party lies in the fact that the SNP wants complete independence, although all the evidence suggests that the people of Scotland do not.

Q6. [280108] Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): May I thank you personally for your kindness, Mr. Speaker?

On policy, let me say to my right hon. Friend that my constituents are nervously awaiting the outcome of the Learning and Skills Council’s review of the Building Colleges for the Future programme? We need that money. Will he give some reassurance that when the review takes place our Government will make an immediate decision, and that he will take account of our commitment to urban regeneration in Burslem and to the university quarter so that the full amounts can be provided for the campuses in Cauldon and on the Burslem site?

The Prime Minister: In the Budget, we announced an extra £300 million of capital spending on further education colleges to meet some of the demand that has arisen as a result of the number of colleges that wish to expand and build new facilities on their campuses. We are looking at all the projects. The LSC has talked to the principals of all colleges this month, and we hope to announce the projects that will proceed to their next stages as soon as possible.

Q7. [280109] Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether the Government have received any informal briefings from Damian McBride?

The Prime Minister: I have not.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I should like to ask the Prime Minister about a modest constitutional innovation. Will he invite the House of Commons to amend its Standing Orders to allow senior Ministers in the House of Lords to come to this Dispatch Box to defend their stewardship of their Departments, and to pilot legislation of which they are the principal architects? Even the most senior junior Minister will on occasion be nothing more than a superior parrot unless that change is made.

The Prime Minister: We have a strong team of Ministers in the House of Commons, who are perfectly able to answer questions and conduct debates in the House of Commons. If my hon. Friend has proposals for constitutional innovation, perhaps he could put them to the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright).

Q8. [280110] Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): This is national elder abuse week. According to the Government’s own figures, 5,980 older people are victims of abuse every week in this country. Will the Prime Minister consider the need for legislation? The overwhelming majority of organisations responding to a Government consultation said that it was necessary, not least at a time when 5,900 people every week are unprotected from assaults and those who commit the assaults go unpunished. Is it not time for legislation, and will the Prime Minister meet me to discuss the matter?

The Prime Minister: Any abuse of the elderly is completely unacceptable. I hope that the criminal law will protect them, and that the regulatory framework will be such that we can give the protection that is necessary. We will continue to keep that regulatory framework under review. In a week when the amount of abuse of the elderly is being noted, I think it right to say that no citizen should be engaged in anything that puts the dignity and security of elderly people in our country at risk.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could explain a phrase that I heard recently: “Play the ball and not the man.” Perhaps as an ex-rugby player he could explain both its meaning and its application to Prime Minister’s questions.

The Prime Minister: It means that on only a few occasions in the past year has the Leader of the Opposition managed to raise questions about policy. We welcome the debate about policy which will be held in the country over the next few months, when we will show that we will safeguard the health, education and public services of this country against 10 per cent. cuts by the Conservative party.

Q9. [280111] Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Will the Prime Minister join me in commending the work of the Chernobyl children’s charities, which bring thousands of children over from Belarus every year for recuperative holidays? Will he also explain why the Home Office has decided not to give free visas to the Chernobyl children from the north of Ukraine, who are suffering worse conditions than those from Belarus, and will he meet me and a delegation of the charities to discuss this important issue?

The Prime Minister: I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter on many occasions and has taken a deep interest in it. I also know that he has held an Adjournment debate on it. He is asking about the Home Office and what it can do to help. I suggest that he ask for a meeting with the Home Secretary, and I am sure the Home Secretary will be happy to meet his delegation.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend may know, I have in my constituency three of the five biggest energy users, and they are very concerned about increasing energy costs. What steps are my right hon. Friend’s Government taking to protect them against excessive profits, which has happened before in respect of the energy companies?

The Prime Minister: Everybody is concerned about the 50 per cent. rise in oil prices that we have seen over the last few weeks. The oil price was $150, then it went down to $30, and it has now gone up to $70. That means that it is very difficult for energy companies in this country, but also very difficult for consumers, and very difficult when we consider future gas and electricity bills. I believe that the world has got to look at what it can do to make sure that supply of and demand for oil is far more in balance, so that we can keep oil prices under control.

Hansard

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PMQs Weds. 3 June 2009.

The British Parliament and Big Ben
Image by ** Maurice ** via Flickr

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.

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Q1. [277568] 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. [277569] 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. [277570] 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. [277571] 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. [277572] 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. [277573] 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. [277574] 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. [277575] 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. [277576] 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. [277577] 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. [277579] 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. [277580] 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. [277581] 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?

Text: Hansard.

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