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There wasnt any pressure put on us.
I accept that mans statement and that is exactly what happened. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in casino policy. I understand that his constituency party in Rochford and Southend, East receives funding from a company that wants to build a £15 million casino and hotel complex in Southend.
Mr. Speaker: Order. It is difficult for me to be fair if I cannot hear what is going on. I shall take advice on what has just been said and make a ruling [ Interruption. ] Order. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Steve McCabe) should be quiet. I understand that he is a Whip and I do not want Whips shouting from the Back Benches. The Deputy Prime Minister has made an allegation, but allegations have come from both sides of the House. The best thing to do is to ask questions and hear the answers without any allegations being made. That includes replies, which should not incorporate any allegations.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Whether there will be a casino at the dome or not, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that he is doing to bring about the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula. I take the same view as the former Conservative mayoral candidate for London who, when asked on Radio 5 whether my right hon. Friend should have met with Anschutz, said that if he had not he would not have been doing his job properly. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that he has done to bring about the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula and the job opportunities for my constituents.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is the overwhelming view in London, where people want more jobs and investment. To be fair to the Opposition, the development of the site was begun by Lord Heseltine. He wanted regeneration to take place, and we have carried on the process. To a certain extent, I am surprised that people attack the idea that houses, development, jobs and investment should not follow naturally. If that is not what the Opposition intended, it is certainly what the Government intended, and we have carried it out.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con):
Given the latest questions about the Deputy Prime Ministers compliance with the ministerial code and his actions in respect of casinos, and all the acknowledged breaches
by a succession of Ministers who have now departed the Government, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government have lived up to their commitment to be purer than pure?
The Deputy Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has the direct responsibility to implement the ministerial code. In his considerations, he has made it clear when he thinks that the code has been breached, and when it has not. He made it clear at the weekend that I had not done so.
Mr. Hague: I think that that means nothat the right hon. Gentleman does not think that the Government have been purer than pure. However, although he has been stripped of his Department, he still costs £2 million a year. Is it not time for him to recognise that that is neither comfortable for him nor acceptable to the country? Does not the idea that he cannot have a Department but can be left in charge of the country defy credibility? He mentioned that he has been in the House for 35 years, and I respect that, but I am someone who once resigned from office and I know that sometimes we all have to judge whether we are doing any favours for our party, our country or our own reputations. Is it not time for him to exercise that judgment?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I like the right hon. Gentlemans suggestion that he resigned from Government. Did that not happen after a general election, when there was going to be a fresh startwith policies that the present Leader of the Opposition is rejecting every day? The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) says that he believes in consistent policies, but the countrys rejection of the policies of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) was shown by the fact that he won only one extra seat in that election. He did not resign: the electorate rejected Tory party policy and accepted what Labour believed in.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): The Government are taking forward a range of measures to reduce regulatory burdens on the third sector, including through the Charities Bill, which has completed its Committee stage in this House, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is being considered in another place.
John Robertson: The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill offers an approach to the repeal of unnecessary regulation, but does my hon. Friend agree that it would be much better to go forward with an all-party consensus on the matter? If so, what is he doing to achieve that?
Edward Miliband: I agree very much that the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is an extremely important measure. It introduces risk-based regulation, including for the Charity Commission, which has a lot of dealings with the voluntary sector, and it also allows us to repeal unnecessary regulations. The Opposition talk a lot about the need for reform and getting rid of unnecessary regulation. It is time for them to vote accordingly and support the Bill when it comes back to this House.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The citizens advice bureau in Rushden, the second town in the Wellingborough constituency, was forced to close recently, which meant that people in desperate need of advice were left without an advice centre. It appears that the Government make no contribution to local citizens advice bureaux, but will they look at that again?
Edward Miliband: I understand the hon. Gentlemans concern, and I am happy to look into that specific case. On the basis of my local experience, I think that I am right in saying that citizens advice bureaux are generally funded by local authorities. However, I shall be happy to look into the matter that he raises.
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): My hon. Friend will be aware that I chair the Cabinet Committee looking at these important issues. The next meeting is scheduled to take place very shortly. The Committees terms of reference are
to develop and monitor the delivery of policy affecting older people.
We have already made excellent progress over the past nine years, with 2 million pensioners lifted out of poverty, free eye tests for the over 60s and free TV licences. However, there remains more to do, and I am working to ensure that action is taken coherently across Departments to tackle the key issues facing the older generation.
Harry Cohen: That is an excellent record. As one of the big beasts of the Government and, in this instance, as the Minister with responsibility for the Governments policies on ageing, will the Deputy Prime Minister have a word with another big beast, the Chancellor, to facilitate the 1 million-plus additional jobs that are neededincluding with flexible working arrangementsfor the over-55s? Will he also say whether more legislation is being considered to remove the barriers to people working longer, if they wish to?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I certainly will take up with the Chancellor, as another big beast, the point that my hon. Friend makes, but the House will be very happy at the fact that the Chancellors wife has given birth to a baby boy.
The Government are clearly committed to doing a lot more on this issue. Our measures will prohibit the unjustified direct age discrimination that many in this House have complained about, and all harassment and victimisation on the ground of age, of people young and old. It is important to keep more people in work, because doing so makes an important contribution to maintaining increases in what are record levels of employment. That aim has a major part to play, and I am attempting to co-ordinate across government in order to achieve it.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the House will join me in mourning the loss of our late colleague, Kevin Hughes, who died on Sunday from motor neurone disease. We will remember Kevin as a thoroughly decent human being: loyal, immensely likeablea man who showed the same high courage as he approached the end as he had shown throughout his life in politics. We send our deepest sympathy to Lynda and her family.
I am also sure that the House will join me in offering our condolences to the family of Corporal John Cosby, who died in Iraq at the weekend. Our sympathy and prayers are with them at this difficult time. In the last 24 hours, we have once again had reason to be grateful for the professionalism of our forces, as we have seen HMS Gloucester evacuate British citizens from Beirut.
Mr. Waterson: I thank the Prime Minister for that answer and I join in his condolences, particularly in respect of Kevin Hughes, who was a very decent man. Will the Prime Minister find time in his busy schedule to meet a broadly based cross-party delegation from Eastbourne, made up of people who are desperately concerned about financial pressures, job cuts and the loss of core services such as maternity from our local district general hospital?
The Prime Minister:
I am perfectly happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and any delegation. However, I have to say to him that it is important to recognise that the deficit in his trust area must be dealt with, and that, at the same time as they deal with that trust, hospitals in his area will still be cutting their waiting times and waiting lists. In that area they have had, for example,
some 4,500 more nurses since 1997, so we have put a substantial amount of investment into Eastbourne. I entirely understand the concerns that arise as the trust makes sure that it comes into financial balance, but it does have to come into financial balance.
Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that the 135th open golf championship is due to start in my constituency tomorrow. This is the first time in nearly 40 years that the championship has taken place at Hoylake. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the partners who brought that aboutthe Royal and Ancient and Royal Liverpool golf clubs, and the Labour-led Wirral borough council? Will he also
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in what he said about Kevin Hughes? He was a man who believed in plain speaking and hard working, and many colleagues will have fond memories of him in this House. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. I also join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal John Cosby, who was killed in Iraq at the weekend. He died serving his country, and our thoughts should be with his family, too.
The Prime Minister: As a result of representations made by the Council of Mortgage Lenders, it will not be possible to proceed with the mandatory home condition report. However, we will of course have to proceed with the energy performance certificate, as that is now required by European Union legislation. We will obviously wait until the pilots have reported to see what more we can do to make sure that we do not end up in a situationthis is the reason for the home improvement packsof spending round about £1 million a day, as ordinary consumers are at the moment, on abortive house sales. It was entirely sensible, because of the energy performance certificate, to go down this route, but as a result of the representations of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, we are going to have to change that.
The fact is that the Minister for Housing and Planning said that introducing home condition reports would have significant risks and potential disadvantages. For months we were told about the benefits of the reports, and now we are being told about the disadvantages. Why did Ministers get it so wrong?
The Prime Minister: There would be tremendous benefits from the home condition reports [Laughter.] Of course there would: people waste a lot of money acquiring reports, then losing that money if the sale does not go through. That is the very reason for doing this. Alongside that is the fact that, irrespective of what happens, we will have to have the energy performance certificate. If the Council of Mortgage Lenders, having consulted its members, says that that will not be enough for people to get a mortgage, because lenders will ask for an additional report, it is of course sensible to make it voluntary rather than mandatory.
Let us look at another tax: will the Prime Minister confirm that the planning gain supplement tax, which the Chancellor announced in his Budget as a key reform to pay for local infrastructure, is also being ditched?
The Prime Minister: I will not confirm that at all. It is extremely important to make sure that we extract the maximum gain we can when planning goes through because it is important that we be able to invest the maximum amount of money in housing.
As we are talking about housing, the most important thing for home owners in this country is that interest rates are half what they were in the Tory years. As he is someone who worked at the Treasury when mortgage repossession was going on, I do not think we will take lessons on housing from the right hon. Gentleman.
Let us take another example of a simple reform that is being dropped: the Government promised at the election tougher sentences for those who assault public servants. Why have the Government neutered the Bill that would bring that about in law?
The Prime Minister: We do not neuter any proposals [Interruption.] We do not. There should be the strongest possible penalties for people who assault public servants. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that when we introduced tougher penalties in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, he voted against.
Mr. Cameron: We need a tougher penalty in law, and the Prime Minister neutered the Bill. There is a clear pattern: police mergers, dropped; ID cards, dropped; home information packs, dropped; planning reforms, dropped; laws to protect public servants, dropped. Given the Governments complete inability to implement their programme, how can he possibly believe that the right thing to do is to put the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the country?
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