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Tsunami (Fish Imports)

5. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will make representations to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the EU to
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change the tariff regime on fish imports from Sri Lanka and the Maldives to assist the rebuilding of the fishing industry following the tsunami. [212232]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): We recognise the importance of helping fishing industries to recover following the tsunami in Sri Lanka and the Maldives and we are working with the European Commission to accelerate the new generalised system of preferences that is the key means through which the EU grants preferential market access to imports from developing countries. The move to bring forward the GSP from July to April 2005 will benefit several countries affected by the tsunami.

Mr. Allen: Most of the tuna that we eat in this country comes from Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Does my hon. Friend accept that, even before the tsunami, the general tariffs levied on the fishing industries in those countries were having a detrimental effect? In the wake of the tsunami, will he discuss with his colleagues how we can ensure a more equitable means of taxation of tuna imports, so that fishing villages in those countries can be helped to recover?

Mr. Thomas: As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear earlier—and as I said in my answer to my hon. Friend's original question—the fact that the new GSP is being accelerated is a sign of the European Commission's concern about the tsunami's impact on the fishing industry in those two countries, and of its desire to help. To complement that measure, the Commission is considering relaxing the rules governing origin requirements under the GSP. I understand that it will discuss with EU member states this Friday whether additional trade policy measures are required to help the tsunami-affected countries. We will, of course, look sympathetically at such measures.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): Is it not verging on the obscene that poor countries that benefit enormously from trade with us and other nations face obstacles to the sale of their products? May I invite the Minister to reaffirm his support for the contents of last year's Treasury document about the global economy? Is it not a fair reflection of that document to say that it asserts a presumption in favour of free trade, but calls—as do the Opposition—for a measure of transitional protection for less-developed poor countries, which need time and support to build their capacity to trade on fair terms?

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we need freer and fairer trading rules. The new GSP arrangements are a step in that direction, as I have made clear. We are looking at what special and differential treatments we need to offer developing countries to help them as part of the Doha development round process. As I said, the European Commission is also willing to discuss with member states affected by the tsunami what other trade-related measures it can introduce to help get fishing industries on the road to recovery.

Mr. Duncan : If that is the case, will the Minister take issue with the undue simplification of the matter
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contained in charity advertisements, which even liken free trade to the blight of AIDS, droughts and tsunamis? Is not it absurd to appear to condemn free trade as such when it has the greatest potential to be a motor for wealth creation in poor countries? The enemy is not free trade, but economic weakness. Will the Minister reassert his belief in free trade in principle and join us in saying so—and in saying that we want free trade to be fairer and fair trade to be freer?

Mr. Thomas: As I have made clear to the hon. Gentleman, we want freer and fairer trade. I welcome his conversion to that cause. It is a pity that he and his party did not seek to do anything about it when they were in government.


The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [212243] Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 2 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the brave service personnel, both Royal Air Force and Army, who were on board the RAF Hercules that tragically crashed on Sunday. At this sad time, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those on board. As the Chief of the Air Staff made clear on Monday, it will be for the board of inquiry to establish the cause of the crash and it would be wrong for anyone to speculate at this point. The investigation will be complex and it may take some time to establish the exact cause of the crash.

It is doubly tragic that the crash happened on a day of such hope in Iraq. The Iraqi people showed great courage in exercising their democratic rights and I know that all of us welcome the birth of Iraqi democracy.

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

Mr. Brazier: The world rightly admires the courage of the Iraqi people in the recent election. However, I wish to press the Prime Minister on his attitude to our armed forces, whose courage helped to make that result possible. What reply did he give to my constituent, the sister of a severely wounded soldier, when she wrote and asked him how he had found time in his busy week to drop a personal line to Ozzy Osbourne when he fell off his quad bike, when not one member of the Cabinet has written to or visited her brother or any of the other 600 British soldiers wounded under the Prime Minister's direction in Iraq?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman makes his point in that way. Everybody in the House believes that our armed forces are courageous people who have done an immensely worthwhile job in
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Iraq. We should be and are proud of them. We grieve for the families who have lost their loved ones and we will give every support that we possibly can to those who have been wounded in action. That is the case for me and I believe that it is true for the Government, but it is also true for every Member of this House.

Q2. [212244] Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab):Will the Prime Minister think back to all those Jeremiahs who have tried to talk down the success of the British economy, despite the fact that we have just had our 50th quarter of progressive growth? Will he comment on why he thinks those Jeremiahs keep getting it wrong?

The Prime Minister: Not merely have we had the longest period of consecutive economic growth, but 2 million more people are now in work. Low unemployment has saved us some £21 billion since we came to office. Most of all, the new deal has helped 1 million people off benefit and into work. That is a remarkable achievement for that programme and that is why this Government, unlike the Conservative party, will keep that programme in being, to help people off benefit and into worthwhile work.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): May I, on behalf of the Opposition, express my deepest sympathy with the families of the brave men who lost their lives when the Hercules went down on Sunday? It is an acutely painful reminder of the sacrifices made at our behest and on our behalf. We mourn their loss and pay tribute to their courage.

Last week, the Government announced their plans for detention without trial on the order of the Home Secretary. This morning, we have put forward an alternative approach based on the proposals of the Newton committee, set up by the Government to consider these issues. It would involve giving those decisions to a court, not to a politician, allowing intercept evidence to be used and detaining those found guilty in prison, not at home. Will the Prime Minister undertake to look carefully at those proposals before taking any further steps along what I believe is a dangerous path for the Government to follow?

The Prime Minister: Yes, of course we will. It is important that we look at proposals from any quarter. I have not had an opportunity to study those proposals in detail, but I should say that it is our intention to have a judicial process. The difficulty will arise over the use of intercept evidence in court, and the question, if the security services are obliged to produce that evidence in court, will be whether they feel that they cannot do that without compromising intelligence sources. That is the problem that we have tried to wrestle with for the past few years.

I think that everyone who takes a responsible attitude to these matters realises that any such powers should be used only with the greatest hesitation and only in circumstances that really demand them. My concern is that if we have people in this country whom the security services believe to be a threat to the security of the country, nothing must stand in the way of protecting the security of our people.

Mr. Howard: There are difficulties with intercept evidence, although they have been overcome in almost
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every other country. There are even greater difficulties with detention without trial. Of course we must fight terrorism, but we must also be vigilant in defence of our freedom. It is of the utmost importance that in doing what is necessary to protect life we do not lose sight of the need to protect our way of life. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me to see whether we can agree on a way forward that will command wide public confidence on these vital issues?

The Prime Minister: I am perfectly happy to meet the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and indeed any of his colleagues, to talk about these issues. Of course it is true that there is a balance to be struck between protecting our way of life and protecting our citizens. The legislation that we introduced, which was ruled unlawful by the House of Lords, is legislation under which 17 people have been detained. I do not minimise the importance of that; I simply set it against the 700 people who have been arrested for various offences connected with the possibility of terrorism since September 11.

We are desperate to avoid a situation in which, later, people turn round and say, "If only you'd been as vigilant as you should have been we could have averted a terrorist attack." I think it is right to call this a new form of global terrorism—it is different. Let us be clear: 200 people died in another European capital city, Madrid, but if the terrorists' plan had succeeded, they might have killed more than 1,000 people. That is the difficult balance that we are trying to strike. I entirely agree that we have to strike it so that there is respect for civil liberties as well as our security. We have tried to do that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that other countries had easily overcome the issue of intercept evidence, but I have to say that that is not my understanding. It has been difficult for them and it has not always worked. I am happy to have discussions with him and his colleagues about the issues, to see whether we can find a common way through the problems. Obviously, it would be of assistance to the country if we could do that. I ask him to understand, however, that we propose these measures only after the deepest thought.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Yesterday, I met a constituent of mine who came from Iraq. He proudly showed me his ink-stained finger and told me how he and his family had voted and how it was one of the proudest and happiest days of their life. Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that we will continue to support the Iraqi people for however long it takes, so that they can establish a democratic and peaceful Iraq?

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for that. She is right. It was heart-warming to see millions of Iraqis, whatever the intimidation and the threats against them, disprove everybody who put forward the theory that there are some people who are in favour of democracy and others who are not. The truth is that given the chance, human beings everywhere want to live in a democracy, not a tyranny. What the Iraqis have done is magnificent, but my hon. Friend is right. We must stay there—not quit the course, but stay the course—and make sure that we see them establish democracy, with their own security forces, their
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economy under their own control, in charge of their destiny, as a democratic country. If they do that, the impact will be felt not just in Iraq, but across that region and even on the security of this country.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West) (LD): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I extend our sincere sympathies to the families of the RAF and Army personnel who so tragically lost their lives in the course of their brave duty in Iraq last weekend.

In the exchanges a few moments ago, the Prime Minister mentioned his desire to build a judicial process. Can we take that to mean that he recognises that it can never be acceptable for a Government Minister acting alone, at his sole discretion, to be able to imprison an individual, and that that decision must always be for a judge, not a politician?

The Prime Minister: It is right to point out, though, that under the existing procedure such a decision is subject to a review by a court headed by a judge. The issue is the one raised by the Leader of the Opposition, which is to do with the nature of the evidence that can be put before the court. The problem, as I have tried to explain, is whether by putting the evidence before the court, we compromise the sources upon which it is based.

Mr. Kennedy: I recognise that there are differences of view. We opposed the original legislation that led to the current position, whereas the Conservatives did not. We would all accept that it is the fundamental duty of Government to protect their citizens. The issue is that in so protecting their citizens, the Government must also uphold their fundamental civil rights. Would not it be a better way forward for the Government to create a new offence of acting towards planning acts of terrorism? If prosecution was still impossible, any control orders should be issued by judges, not by politicians, should be time-limited and should, of course, require the highest possible burden of proof.

The Prime Minister: The very issue whether it was possible to do that by creating a new offence was one thing that we considered and found that it did not work. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must protect the civil liberties of British citizens, as well as take action in respect of our security. The question is, when those two things come into conflict, how we navigate our way through in order to give our citizens the maximum security. The problem that we had with the previous legislation is that people said it applies to foreign nationals but not to British nationals. That is why we decided to take that on board and apply it both to British nationals and to foreign nationals in respect of the different type of solution that we have now put forward.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman and to the whole House that the one thing I will not do as Prime Minister is engage in anything that I think puts the security of our country at risk. That is paramount for me. Since September 11 we have had hundreds of arrests in respect of that new type of terrorism. We must take seriously, therefore, the threat that it poses. I agree that only in the most extreme circumstances should we curtail the
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normal rights of our citizens, but in this limited way this is an extreme set of circumstances. We must be sure, therefore, we are protecting our citizens' security.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm his commitment to building schools for the future, to decent homes for tenants and providing state of the art facilities for sports in our communities? In my borough over the next 10 years my local authority will transform every secondary school by investing £325 million, which was opposed by the local Tories. It is spending more than £200 million providing decent homes for tenants, which was opposed by the Tories, and building a £20 million leisure centre in my town centre, which was opposed by the Tories. Apart from    admiring their kamikaze-style manifesto—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister can try to reply to that.

The Prime Minister: I think that I catch the drift of my hon. Friend's question. The Tories in his area are not a very good lot, I think, and that is pretty typical because, overall in the country, they are now committed, through their plans, to cutting £1 billion from the sustainable communities programme, and that means cuts in housing support, in social housing and in regeneration, which, as I saw for myself the other day in east Manchester, are programmes that have done an immense amount of good. It is truly tragic that the Conservative party has learned nothing from seven years of opposition.

Q3. [212245] Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I was in Iraq for Sunday's elections and I was hugely encouraged by the determination of the Iraqi people to vote for their future. I met many British servicemen and women doing an excellent job on our behalf in the service of this country under difficult and dangerous circumstances, so I asked them if they were registered to vote, and eight out of 10 said no. Is the Prime Minister aware that his policies have disfranchised the armed forces and that his Defence Ministers know full well the situation and are deliberately dragging their feet, doing nothing about it? Will he personally ensure that every serviceman and woman and their spouses receive a service voter registration form by the end of this month in time for the pending general election?

The Prime Minister: I will personally look into that and ensure that service people are given the right to vote. I was not aware of the situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers. On a better and more consensual note, let me say that I am pleased that he and other Members of the House went to Iraq and saw the free elections there, and I entirely agree with him, both about the spirit in which the Iraqis voted, but also about the tremendous work done by our troops in the south of Iraq.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Paul Stephenson on becoming the new deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan police? My right hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent work that he has done as chief
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constable of Lancashire in turning it into the top police force of the 43 in England and Wales, reducing crime significantly, and, due to his expertise and skill and the investment of this Labour Government, turning Lancashire into one of the safest counties in the country.

The Prime Minister: Paul Stephenson has done a superb job there and I am delighted at the appointment that he has now achieved. I am sure that crime will continue to fall in Lancashire, as it is falling elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Two years ago, the Government very sensibly changed the law to stop burglars suing householders unless the force used was "grossly disproportionate". Why was that test used?

The Prime Minister: Because we believed that in those circumstances it was necessary to do it because the actual law was unclear. The law, however, in relation to the right of defence against burglary has now been made crystal clear by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. [Interruption.] Yes, it has. It is now absolutely clear that the only circumstances in which anyone will ever be prosecuted for attacking a burglar in their home are the most extreme circumstances. The police have said that and the CPS has said that, and the only people trying to raise doubt in the public mind are the Tories.

Mr. Howard: But what on earth is the need for two tests? Why should not the same test be used to decide whether householders should be prosecuted? Does not the Prime Minister realise that that is exactly what is proposed in the Bill that will be before the House on Friday?

The Prime Minister: The question is: are there householders who are being prosecuted for—[Hon. Members: "Yes!"] The answer to that from the police and the CPS, who I think know rather better than the Conservatives, is no, they are not being prosecuted in those circumstances. When they went back over the last 15 years they could find only a handful of cases in which such prosecutions had been mounted, which is no doubt why back in November the right hon. Gentleman said:

He then went on to say:

Unfortunately, no longer.

Mr. Howard: Why does the Prime Minister persist in saying that there have been only a few prosecutions? The CPS itself has said that the number that it is has given, 11, was only the result of an informal trawl, and The Sunday Telegraph found seven more examples in a search lasting less than an hour. The Government leaflet only adds to the confusion. It introduces a wholly new phrase, "very excessive and gratuitous force", to make the muddle even worse. Let me read him another extract:

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That sounds like guidance for the Whips Office. Does he not understand that the answer is not to issue confusing guidance, but to change the law? Is it not time to think again on this issue, for common sense to prevail and for him and his colleagues to join us here on Friday in backing the private Member's Bill?

The Prime Minister: It is correct that the CPS found 11 cases and that The Sunday Telegraph found seven. That is over 15 years, and only a handful of them ever resulted in prosecution. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman has gone through the list, as I have, he will have seen that each of those cases was wholly exceptional, as one would expect. The real point, surely, is this: the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and to be fair, large parts of the media today, have made it clear that a person is entitled to attack a burglar who is in their own home. Therefore, the person who is actually trying to sow confusion for his own usual reasons of opportunism is the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The reason why he wants to focus on this issue is very simple. I have done a comparison between the number of burglaries when he left office as Home Secretary and now. Perhaps he can confirm it when he gets up. There were 200,000 more burglaries a year when he was Home Secretary than there are today—right or wrong?

Hon. Members: Answer.

Mr. Howard rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have told the House before that the Leader of the Opposition does not have to answer any questions. [Interruption.] Order. There is no point in any hon. Members shouting "Answer"; he does not have to do it.

Mr. Howard: I will answer it, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. King, you had better behave yourself, because if I suspend the House, the Prime Minister of the day will have to wait until I come back to the Chair. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Howard: All anyone needs to know about my record as Home Secretary is that crime fell 18 per cent. in those four years—more than ever happened before, and more than has happened since.

The question that I pose to the Prime Minister—I have already put it to him twice, and he has twice failed to answer it—is a very simple one: why do we need two different tests in the same area of law? The Government introduced the "grossly disproportionate" test to stop burglars suing householders. Why will they not use the same test to stop householders being prosecuted?

The Prime Minister: For the reason I have just given. The law is clear, and it has been made clear again by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Surely, the responsible thing for the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues to do, given that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are both saying that it is only in the most extreme circumstances that people will ever be prosecuted, and given that it is
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now absolutely plain that everyone understands that they can of course protect themselves against a burglar in their house, is clear. Would it not be more sensible, if he actually wanted to help people in this country, if he joined the police and the Crown Prosecution Service instead of pursuing his own usual petty opportunism?

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend visit the Share Association, a voluntary organisation in my constituency that has had spectacular success in training and finding jobs for people with disabilities, because it works on the principle of what people can do and not what they cannot do? Is not that the principle that should guide us in any reform of the benefits system?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions outlined the proposals earlier. It is important to realise that, under this Government, about 1 million people have moved off benefit and into work. The flow on to incapacity benefit is already 300,000 down from the time when we came to office, but it is also true, as my hon. Friend rightly implies, that we now need to do more, because there are large numbers of people who are on incapacity benefit or will come on to it in future who could be helped back into work. We need to ensure that those who can work are helped back into work, and that those who genuinely cannot do so are given real support. That is what the proposals will do.

Q4. [212246] Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): Since 1998, total grant to the Prime Minister's local council of Sedgefield has gone up by 68 per cent. Over the same period, the total grant to Runnymede borough council in my constituency has gone up by 0.4 per cent. How does he expect Runnymede borough council and other councils in a similar position to maintain high-quality public services and keep council tax low under such a grossly unfair grant distribution system?

The Prime Minister: It is not unfair. For example, if we take education, there has been an increase in funding of 26 per cent., or an extra £760 per pupil. Even on the figures that the hon. Gentleman cites, there has been an increase in the funding given to his local authority. I might point out that when the Government whom he supported were in office, they cut the funds available for local authorities. I agree that we can always do more, but we certainly bear comparison with his party.

Q5. [212247] Anne Picking (East Lothian) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the first time ever in the United Kingdom, women have smashed through the glass ceiling and are earning more than men in one area, which happens to be my constituency of East Lothian? However, does he agree that there is still a long way to go? Will he consider introducing compulsory pay audits to ensure, especially in the private sector, that women receive the same rate of pay as men for doing the same job?

The Prime Minister: First, let me congratulate the women in my hon. Friend's constituency. She is right
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that nationally the gender pay gap is at an all-time low, but it is still about 14 or 15 per cent. We established the Women and Work Commission to bring together the people who can help to advise us on how to close that pay gap. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that the minimum wage and the working families tax credit have benefited many women on medium and low incomes, so it is important that we keep those things going. I hope that we can act on the recommendations of the commission after it reports.

Q6. [212248] Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Should not potentially dangerous terrorists be imprisoned on the orders of a judge, rather than being in their living rooms and wearing a tag on the order of the Secretary of State for the Home Department?

The Prime Minister: I have answered that question. The simple answer is that there is a judicial process in the existing legislation that would be used in any future legislation. The question that I put back to the hon. Gentleman is that if the security services tell us that they have reasonable grounds—that is later checked by a judge—for suspecting that people are involved in plotting terrorist acts in this country, should we allow them to remain at large? Yes, we can put surveillance on them, but that cannot always be guaranteed to work. I pointed out that we have literally had to arrest a large number of people since September 11 for terrorist offences. We know from September 11, Madrid and Bali that these people are prepared to kill without limit. That is the dilemma and, with respect, it will not be solved by questions posed in a somewhat glib way.

Q7. [212249] Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): In the Tees valley, largely thanks to the new deal, unemployment is right down to less than 4 per cent., but there are still low-skilled people who could achieve more. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate more than 100 employers who have already signed up to our wonderful support for skills programme so that their employees in the workplace, free of charge, can learn basic skills? Can this training programme continue so that the people of Redcar, who were long neglected by the Tories, can achieve the tools to get a better life?

The Prime Minister: I certainly congratulate the employers in my hon. and learned Friend's constituency. I think that the overall number of apprenticeships has trebled over the past few years, so we must keep that going along with skills support and the new deal for the unemployed. We must ensure that the Jobcentre Plus programme, which is helping many people off benefit and into work, is not cut savagely. The Conservative party's programme, which we will obviously not endorse, would lead to massive cuts in the very front-line services that help to get unemployed people off benefit and into work. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) might yawn about that, but people who are unemployed need that help to get back into work.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Does the Prime Minister recognise how great is the anger of miners at Ellington colliery in my constituency at the
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sudden decision by UK Coal to close the pit just when the men were getting on top of its flooding problem? Is he prepared to discuss whether there can be Government involvement in helping to save the pit, particularly in view of the amount of public money that has already been invested in it and the very severe blow that it will be to the economy of Northumberland if the closure goes ahead?

The Prime Minister: I entirely understand the problem to which the right hon. Gentleman draws attention, and I will be happy to talk to him about it. When he says "Government involvement", though, I suspect that that is a euphemism for Government money. We obviously have to be careful about additional sums of money that we commit. However, I am perfectly happy, in the interests of his constituency and the people who work at Ellington colliery, to meet him to talk about it, although I cannot give him any specific guarantees that we will be able to help.

Q8. [212250] Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Prime Minister aware that we may
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be approaching a general election? [Interruption.] I say that because I read it in the papers. Is he further aware that many voters are wondering whether to vote Labour next time? Does he agree that voters should reward all of us on the Labour Benches for all the good work that we have done by retaining a Labour Government, and then turn and punish the Government for any mistakes, errors or misjudgments they have made by voting no in the European referendum?

The Prime Minister: Well, if it were true that we were approaching a general election, may I respectfully suggest to my hon. Friend that it might be a good idea to support the Government policy of support for a positive role in Europe rather than the Conservative policy of Euroscepticism? However, he is absolutely right about the work that is being done in constituencies such as his to deliver lower unemployment, higher employment and investment in public services, and the work that we can carry on doing in making those investments in public services, as opposed to the savage cuts in services proposed by the Conservatives. Perhaps at least on that point we can both agree.

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