The Prime Minister:
Let me explain: we most certainly are not dropping proposals for identity cards, or tougher penalties regarding public servants, or planning reforms. If we want to talk about policy making, I have calculated that the right hon. Gentleman has had four since becoming
Leader of the Opposition. The first was a new British Bill of Rights, which was denounced by the chairman of his democracy commission as nonsense. The second was English votes for English MPs, described as a constitutional abortion by a senior Back-Bench Tory MP. Then came his law and order policyhug a hoodie. We have not heard much about that. Finally, his flagship European policy was to leave the European Peoples party, which was first to be done immediately, then within months and now not until 2009. Before he criticises our policy-making skills, he should acquire some of his own.
Mr. Cameron: These sessions are about the Prime Minister answering questions on behalf of the Government. I know that he does not like being interrogated, but with the way things are going at Scotland Yard, he had better get used to it. For the purposes of the tape, Mr. Speaker, I am interviewing the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, you are absolutely right; it is best not to talk about Opposition policies because they are better for an Opposition than a Government. But let me just tell the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) that we will continue with policies for a strong economy, not the boom and bust of the Tory years, and for investment in our health service and education, and with family-friendly policies, and investment in Sure Start, the new deal and lifting pensioners out of poverty. We will continue with the policies that have made this country stronger, fairer and betternot those that brought us 18 years of Conservative misrule.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are still clearing up the mess of the Tory years? Although they have acknowledged that privatisation of the railways was a mistake, that does not help to make stations safer, so will my right hon. Friend assure me that the new franchises will be awarded only to companies that put safety first and people before profit?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank her for drawing my attention to what is actually another Tory policy[ Laughter.] Sorry. My hon. Friend is right: the Tory policy under the previous Government was disastrous, but fortunately it has been turned around under this Government.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I begin by associating my right hon. and hon. Friends with the expressions of condolence and sympathy that we heard from the Prime Minister a moment or two ago.
Yesterday, the House joined the Prime Minister in condemning Hezbollahs bombardment of Israel, but how can we be even-handed if we are not willing to condemn Israels disproportionate response, which the Prime Minister of Lebanon has described as cutting his country to pieces?
The Prime Minister: Let me repeat what I said yesterday. It is important that Israels response is proportionate and does its best to minimise civilian casualties, but it would stop now if the soldiers who were kidnappedwrongly, when Hezbollah crossed the United Nations blue linewere released. It would stop if the rockets stopped coming into Haifa, deliberately to kill innocent civilians. If those two things happened, I promise the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I would be the first to say that Israel should halt its operations.
Sir Menzies Campbell: I am not sure that that squares with the Prime Ministers conversations with President Bush. In the course of those conversations, did he understand that it was Americas policy to allow Israel a further period for military action? Is that why the UK is not calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire?
The Prime Minister: If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is seriously saying that I should call for an unconditional ceasefire by Israel now[Hon. Members: Both sides.] I should call for both sides to do it? May I just point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that our influence with Hezbollah has been somewhat limited? It would not be possible. Does he not understand that Hezbollah fired somewhere in the region of 1,600 rockets into northern Israel? I agree that what is happening in Lebanon is tragic and terrible, not least for the Lebanese people and the Lebanese Governmenta Government who have brought their country out of the dark days into democracy [ Interruption. ] Yes, but if this is to stop, it has to stop by undoing how it started, and it started with the kidnap of Israeli soldiers and the bombardment of northern Israel. If we want this to stop, that has to stop.
Q2.  Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that Members on the Labour Benches are thirsty to discuss the equal rights of Scottish and Welsh MPs, the priority of parliamentary sovereignty over a Bill of Rights and exactly what it means to hug a hoodie? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to secure a debate on those issues in the House, as the Leader of the Opposition is clearly frit about doing so?
The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to put forward policies that allow us to have one class of Member of Parliament in this House. Anything else would do deep damage to the British constitution.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Prime Minister explain why it is that since the Labour Government took over, Ireland has grown four times as quickly as Scotland? Does that not mean that there is not only a problem of disloyalty in No. 11, but a problem of incompetence?
The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman compares the Scottish economy today with the Scottish economy 10 years ago, he will find it much stronger. There are more people in work and fewer people are unemployed. That is a good record under this Government.
Q3.  Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend has a space in his diary tomorrow lunchtime, may I invite him to join me at Charlton Athletics training ground in Eltham to celebrate the opening of their community centre for skills, supported by Charltons charitable trust, Barclays Spaces for Sports and the Football Foundation? From my constituency, Charlton run one of the biggest community action programmes in Europe, possibly even in the world. They engage with young people and provide educational opportunities and employment opportunities for them. If he cannot join us tomorrow, will he send a message of congratulations to Charlton for the work that they do?
The Prime Minister: I am very happy to send a message of congratulations to Charlton on their wonderful new sporting facility, which will do so much for young people. I congratulate the Football Foundation and Barclays bank, which I think are the other partners, and I also congratulate Charlton on the wise re-signing of Darren Bent.
The Prime Minister: First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of that question, so that I could learn the details of the matter, which is helpful. All major PFI schemes are being taken forward, and the Department of Health asked Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust in January to reappraise its proposals for the Maidstone and Pembury hospital sites to make sure that they could demonstrate long-term affordability. I am glad to inform the hon. Gentleman that the reappraisal report for that scheme has been completed and we are aiming to announce decisions from the reappraisal exercise, including that for the trust, shortly. Therefore, we will be in touch with him shortly. As he knows, the capital value of the scheme is almost £300 million.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): Whatever the proximate causes of the current middle east crisis, is it not clear that there will be no solution while Muslims believe that the political route to a viable and sustainable Palestinian state is blocked and at the same time Israel believes that it can get more by the use of military force and annexation of large tracts of Palestinian land than by seriously negotiating the Quartet road map? In those circumstances, should we not only be calling on the EU to demand a very clear and unambiguous statement of a ceasefire but, more important, more vigorously confronting the United States that, if it does not put considerably more pressure on Israel for a
The Prime Minister: There is a problem with the negotiated solution to this. After all, it is now clear that everyone wants a two-state solution, and the road map is there and agreed by the whole of the Quartet, including the European Union, the UN, Russia and America, obviously. This problem is not being held back by America or by anyone's intransigence and refusal to negotiate; it is being held back by the fact that we cannot even begin the essential preconditions for the road map to exist properly. Those essential preconditions are about security and about ensuring that, for example, the thing that sparked everything on Gaza, which was to do with the kidnap of an Israeli soldier, and other such things stop.
I share my right hon. Friends concern. I pushed for the adoption of the road map. I pushed for a two-state solution. But in the end the only negotiated way through this is by everyone committing themselves to exclusively peaceful, democratic means, and that has to hold on both sides of the bordernot just on the Israeli side, but on the Palestinian side.
The Prime Minister: The UK Government are currently considering the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking agreed last year. At present only one country, Moldova, has ratified that convention, but let me be clear that we are determined to tackle human trafficking. The police have set up the UK human trafficking centre to continue the fight against that crime, and Operation Pentameter resulted in over 150 arrests and the rescue of 75 trafficking victims.
Dr. Harris: I am grateful to the Prime Minister. Thirty of the 45 Council of Europe countries have signed the convention, but we have not done so. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), and his officials said in the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the fear of a pull factor was preventing the UK Government from signing the convention. But is the Prime Minister aware that in Italy there is no evidence of a pull factor, and a hundred times as many women have been saved and there have been a hundred times as many prosecutions? Will he reflect again for the sake of the victims of trafficking, and allow the UK to sign the convention?
The Prime Minister: I will reflect again. The hon. Gentleman rightly puts his finger on the reason for our refusal to sign and ratify the convention so far. An absolute 30-day reflection period is required for victims who are here without leave, to enable them to recover from the experience that they have been through. Our worry is that, unless we are very careful about the way in which that is implemented, it will cause a major problem with people who come here under the auspices of organised crime and are not proper asylum seekers, as we would be obliged to keep them for a fixed period. I am afraid we have to examine what that means in practice for our system before we can agree the convention.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Last week, the Prime Minister agreed to meet a delegation led by myself on the issue. There is widespread support in the House for the signingnot ratification, which is differentof the convention, as well as widespread support among the police, Anti-Slavery International and Amnesty International. I would rather not meet him, because I do not want to discuss a problem. I would rather that the Home Office provided a solution without too much time passing.
The Prime Minister: I entirely understand what my right hon. Friend is saying, and he made his point in a very reasonable way. I will look at the issue again, but we need an answer on that point. It is not only Britain that has not signed the conventioncountries such as Spain have not done so because they, too, are worried about the same problem. However, if we can find a way around itand we may be able to do sothat would obviously allow us to sign.
Q6.  Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that the British Sugar factory in York will close in January or February next year, leading to a large number of job losses in the city? More particularly, it will cause a loss of earnings for farmers in North Yorkshire. Will he agree to meet some of the sugar beet growers in North Yorkshire to see whether there is a way forward, perhaps by developing sugar beet into bioethanol? He will appreciate that sugar beet has had a great influence as a rotation crop and on the environment, so it would be a body blow to local farmers to lose it.
The Prime Minister: I am happy to meet the hon. Lady. I am aware of the fact that there is an important potential for sugar beet and biofuel, but I cannot offer any assurances. I obviously sympathise with her constituents plight, but I would have to see whether there is anything that Government can do, and there may not be.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): What advice would my right hon. Friend give a Member of Parliament who voted against the introduction of two weeks paid paternity leave, who voted against extending maternity leave to 26 weeks, and who voted against the request for flexible working? Would that advice include the words, On your bike, Dave?
The Prime Minister: I think that, if that was not just one offence but a serial offence of changing ones mind, I would advise them not to open their leadership campaign by saying that consistency is a vital thing in politics.
Q7.  Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): May I urge the Prime Minister to find time in his busy day to rethink his holiday plans? I do not know which Italian palazzo he has lined up this year, but may I commend to him the benefits of a holiday in the United Kingdom? One of the benefits for the rest of us, of course, is the fact that he would not have to leave the Deputy Prime Minister in charge. If the Italian palazzo has a croquet lawn and a diary secretary, however, perhaps they could cut a deal.
Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware of our policy on the renewable transport fuels obligation, which will ensure that 5 per cent. of fuels are biofuels. A million tonnes of carbon will be prevented from entering the atmosphere every year, which is the equivalent of a million cars coming off the road. Is it not true that the Government have done a tremendous amount on climate change, and will continue to do so in future?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to say that we have done a great deal to tackle the issue. Unfortunately, we need to do a lot more, which was the purpose of the energy review. One vital part of reducing carbon output is the climate change levy, which has been and will be responsible for carbon emissions into our atmosphere being reduced by millions of tonnes. The energy review gives us a sound way forwarda proper policy basis for planning for the future of this country. The interesting thing about the G8 summit is that what we had in the British energy review is four-square behind the thinking of the leading countries of the world.
Q8.  Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I know that the Prime Minister is a big supporter of the tourist industry. Has he considered taking his holiday this year in Scarborough? I am sure that he will be interested to know that many people who visit Scarborough as tourists subsequently decide to make it their permanent retirement home.
The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful suggestion. One of the advantages would be bumping into him in the course of my holiday. I intend to have a good holiday, and I wish him one too.
Q9.  Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Blyth Valley councils excellent antisocial behaviour team, which is led by Ian Johnson and supported by the local police? Although the people responsible for antisocial behaviour are only a small minority in Blyth Valley, we do not hug them. We deal with them.
The Prime Minister: I thought for a moment that my hon. Friend was about to add to the holiday suggestions. He is right. Although there is a great deal more to do on antisocial behaviour, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will say, none the less antisocial behaviour legislation, where used by local authorities and the police, has had a major impact in local communities and we will strengthen the law still further. There are those who used to describe it as a gimmick, but it is not a gimmick. It is a vital part of making our communities safer.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Prime Minister will know of the widespread disappointment at the failure of the United Nations review conference in New York a fortnight ago to agree principles on the transfer of light weapons and arms, even though 150 countries supported that. Can we rely on the UK Government to adhere to their manifesto commitment to challenge the few Governments who continue to block the process?
The Prime Minister: Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We have pushed the matter very hard for a considerable time, but as his question implies, it is not simply usit is the whole of the international community that must agree the process. We fully support it and will continue to encourage others to support it.
Q10.  Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): My two Sure Start schemes and my two childrens centres are transforming the lives of the most vulnerable children in my constituency, but can my right hon. Friend give me assurances about their future funding?
The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to fund Sure Start and childrens centres. She is right to say that they perform a vital task in many communities. I know that the Sure Starts in my own community have been immensely popular. About 800,000 people are benefiting from the programmes, and the great thing about Sure Start is not merely the help that it gives to the children, but the help that it gives to the parents. It has had a very great benefit in many constituencies, and we will certainly continue to support it.