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The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman was obviously not listening to a word that I said in my initial reply. The fact is that the results are hugely up since 1997; those are the facts. What is more, as I have just indicated, half of those kids who attain the right grades aged 11 are now getting to level 5, and that is a huge improvement since 1997. In addition to that, the number of computers in the classroom has doubled. In addition to that, for those aged 14 the results are up, as they are for those aged 16 and 18. As for what the right hon. Gentleman said about the chairman of Ofsted, she actually said that things had considerably improved over the last few years. I agree entirely that there is a long way to go—of course there is. It is not acceptable that any child aged 11 does not achieve the requisite literacy and numeracy, but the situation is a darned sight better than what we had under his party.

Mr. Cameron: What she said was that it was a national disaster. Why not look at the five core subjects, and how children are doing in those? If we look at who is gaining five decent GCSEs in English, maths, science and modern languages, we see that the figures have fallen since 1997. Let us look at school leavers. In spite of the new deal, all the money and all the pre-Budget reports, the number of 16 to 18-year-olds who are not in employment, training or education has gone up by 40 per cent. since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister. Why?

The Prime Minister: Because the proportion of children going through the system has risen at the same rate. It is not acceptable or right that any young person should leave school without going on to education or training, but that is the very reason why we have the new deal, which helps young people into a job—and which the right hon. Gentleman opposes. That is the very reason why we want to increase investment—but he has pledged to cut that investment. He talked about five good GCSEs, but whether we take that as five good GCSEs overall or including English and maths, again, the results are hugely up since 1997. We are very happy to debate education policy in this country. Yes, there is still a lot more to do, but it we look back over the last 10 years, results are up, investment is up, schools are getting better, and anyone who goes into any school in any constituency can see the changes and improvements. We are committed to increasing that investment still further—but the right hon. Gentleman now has a fiscal rule that would chop that investment by sharing the proceeds with tax cuts. Let us not forget what the system was in 1997, how much improvement there has been in10 years, and what a disaster it would be if the Opposition ever got their hands on it again.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that last week, the former employees of Chiltons of Girvan in my constituency were the first to receive payments from the Pension Protection Fund, signifying that thanks to the Labour Government, never again will people be left with next to no pension when their company goes bust? Will he look again at the financial assistance scheme for people who lost their pensions before the fund was introduced, to see whether they can receive the same benefits?

The Prime Minister: We certainly keep the provisions under close review, but as my hon. Friend will know, the difficulty is that there is a limit to the amount of money
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that we can put through the scheme. By pledging hundreds of millions of pounds to help people who have lost their pensions through no fault of their own, the Government have, for the first time in this country, provided at least some support, particularly for older people of working age who are approaching retirement, as they sometimes find that all the money that they have put in over 30 years of service is suddenly lost. I agree that it is important to keep the terms of the scheme under review, but my hon. Friend is right to say that for the first time people receive protection under the Government.

Q2. [107801] Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): Can the Prime Minister explain why, under the Chancellor, economic growth has been three times higher in the Republic of Ireland than in our own country?

The Prime Minister: I do not know about the comparison with the Republic of Ireland, but let me give the hon. Gentleman a comparison between this Government and the previous Government. [ Interruption. ] I know that Tories do not want to hear this, but it is more relevant to compare rates of economic growth in this country. Under the Chancellor, we have the strongest economic growth of any comparable country. Interest rates are not 10 per cent., as they were when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in power, but average half that figure. We have the lowest inflation and unemployment for decades. Once again, I should like to thank the Conservative party for pointing out our record.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Last week we celebrated the fifth anniversary of free museum admissions, including at the Royal Air Force museum in my constituency, where there has been a 50 per cent. increase in visitors, including people who would never have visited it before. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to encourage even more people to visit the RAF museum? Perhaps he would like to visit it himself—and the invitation includes you, too, Mr. Speaker.

The Prime Minister rose—

Mr. Dismore: Will he ensure—[Hon. Members: “Wait!”]—that they receive the resources that they need to continue that highly successful policy?

The Prime Minister: I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend in mid-flow. I think I am right in saying that there have been around 5 million extra visits to museums since we introduced the policy. Opposition Members may try to disparage it, but it has been a major change which has allowed low income families, particularly youngsters, to gain access to our museums. The fact that millions of people are visiting and using museums is a wonderful thing for our country, and we should be very proud of it.

Q3. [107802] Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): When the Prime Minister visited the biofuel company Regenatec in my constituency last month, he received a pretty convincing presentation showing that the high level of duty on biofuels is discouraging their use. Given the huge impact that the increased use of biofuels could have on CO2 emissions, has the Prime Minister reflected on that presentation, and has he any proposals or ideas to increase their use?

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The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the Budget for that. However, the presentation was excellent. In order to encourage biofuels, it is important that we continue, as the Chancellor has been doing over the past few years, to make sure that the system incentivises the use of clean energy. It is important that we recognise that biofuels, particularly engineered as the company suggests, give us the opportunity of reducing CO2 emissions considerably.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are in the middle of the16 days of action against domestic violence? Women who are repeatedly beaten and repeatedly asked to go to court to achieve an injunction say thank you—thank you for the extra £8 million that the Government have given to increase their safety. Will my right hon. Friend do more to increase the safety of survivors of domestic violence by ensuring that Supporting People funds are sufficient to end the refuge postcode lottery, so that survivors have adequate protection when they need it?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right in describing the progress that has been made and the challenge that lies ahead. The remaining provisions of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 will be implemented in the middle of next year. We have invested an extra £70 million to tackle domestic violence, and on the latest figures that we have, domestic homicides are down, the number of guilty pleas is up significantly, and convictions at court have quadrupled. One of the reasons why that is happening is that there is far greater co-operation across the agencies, and a far greater willingness in our court system and among the police to take domestic violence far more seriously.

Q4. [107803] Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Sixteen years ago the son of my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Smith of Carrickfergus was murdered by a car bomb at Newry checkpoint as he rescued a man who had been strapped into that van by the IRA. The families of those victims were told that the mastermind behind the bomb was a very senior Sinn Fein politician who was also an intelligence source for MI5. The historic inquiries team has now reopened the case. Will the Prime Minister first ascertain whether any intelligence exists as to the mastermind behind that bomb, and secondly, give the House the assurance that no intelligence will be held back to protect a senior politician or an intelligence source?

The Prime Minister: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no information whatever, whether intelligence or otherwise, will be held back from the proper authorities. I obviously cannot comment on the particular case of his constituent, however.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister warmly welcome, as I do, the significant report by Lord Leitch yesterday on the skills challenge facing the country? One of the aspects that Lord Leitch highlights is a focus on adult skills, which is significant in constituencies such as mine. Will that be given adequate representation in funding for education over the next five years?

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The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. There has been a massive investment in our school system, with the results that I pointed out earlier. He is right to say that skills are an important part of the challenge that we face. Already we have given hundreds of thousands more people—over a million more people—access to skills and qualifications, but we need to do far more. About7 million adults in this country still have not attained the right literacy or numeracy grade, so it is important that we go further. Further education colleges will be an important part of that. My hon. Friend may hear something to that effect later.

Q5. [107804] Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): The Prime Minister is the only Briton apart from Winston Churchill to have been awarded the US congressional gold medal—but he seems strangely reluctant to go and pick it up. Why does not he do so tomorrow when he is over there meeting members of Congress, before the new Congress changes its mind?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that even at the risk of such an event, I have other things to do in my time in Washington.

Q6. [107805] Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will remember the meeting that we had with him in connection with the high cost of energy as regards firms in my constituency. Will he congratulate Caledonian Paper on its announcement yesterday on changing its energy needs? Will he join me in condemning Scottish Power, npower and Powergen on the use of backdating and back-paying customers who use tokens to fulfil their energy needs?

The Prime Minister: I know that my hon. Friend has tabled an early-day motion on this subject. Ofgem is engaged in extensive discussions with suppliers as part of the supplier licence review on how to tackle the problem while replacement of meters takes place. I understand that from 1 December British Gas has stopped backdating prices for token users. My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I am sure that a way round this can be found, and I hope that the discussions between Ofgem and suppliers will yield the results that he indicates.

Q7. [107806] James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Does the Prime Minister expect to be interviewed under caution by the police this weekend?

The Prime Minister: For very obvious reasons, I have absolutely nothing to say on that subject.

Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): At last night’s meeting of the all-party group on AIDS, Martin Narey of Barnardo’s explained that 250 children in this country are kept alive by NHS AIDS drugs, and that those children are due to be sent back to their country of origin. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet a small delegation to find a way of ensuring that the life of every child matters?

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The Prime Minister: I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend and any delegation of his on that subject. In the meantime, I will look into the case and correspond with him.

Q8. [107807] Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to my constituents that there will be no cuts at King George or Whipps Cross hospitals?

The Prime Minister: First, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I know that there is a consultation on health provision in his area. I would point out that funding for his primary care trust has increased by some 30 per cent. over the past three years. In his health authority, whereas when we came to power there were 50,000 people waiting for more than 26 weeks, there are now only two. Health care in his constituency has improved in every single aspect. The Conservatives opposed the investment that we put in; they are now opposed to the reform too. His party, above all other parties, has no credibility on this issue at all.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister discuss with his Cabinet colleagues how we can help elderly people to pay their heating bills this year, given the unprecedented rise in energy bills? Will he consider having a windfall tax on the companies that have made these profits?

The Prime Minister: Of course my hon. Friend will know of the £200 winter fuel allowance—£300 for those over 80. We will continue to do everything that we can to support the poorest pensioners. I very much hope that the companies that are supplying those pensioners take account of the fact that the elderly, particularly those who are living in poverty, have special and particular needs.

Q9. [107808] John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): The Prime Minister will know that the Department of Trade and Industry will make a major announcement next week on the future of the Post Office network, including the potential closure of many offices. Why does he prefer to invest millions of pounds in reducing the size of the best retail network in the country to investing in new products and Government services, which would ensure that the post offices would be open next Christmas?

The Prime Minister: May I just point out to thehon. Gentleman that we have invested approximately£2 billion in post offices in the past few years? For obvious reasons—the way patterns of behaviour change, especially in respect of pensioners and bank accounts—post offices face a challenge. We are sitting down with them and trying to work out the right way forward, but it is unreasonable to say that we have been cutting support for post offices. On the contrary, we have been increasing the investment dramatically, precisely to protect post offices.

James Duddridge: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: After the statement.

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Pre-Budget Report

12.30 pm

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): This is my 10th and latest pre-Budget report and, under this Government, the 10th consecutive year of economic growth.

I can report not only the longest period of sustained growth in our history, but that, of all the major economies—America, France, Germany and Japan—Britain has enjoyed the longest post-war period of continuous and sustained growth.

The Treasury forecast is that growth—sustained under this Government for a record 38 quarters—will continue into its 39th and 40th quarters and beyond. Ten years ago, Britain was seventh out of seven in the G7, bottom of the G7 league for national income per head. In the last two years, Britain has been second only to the United States. In no other decade has Britain’s personal wealth—up 60 per cent. since 1997—grown so fast. The pre-Budget report drives forward the great economic mission of our time—to meet the global challenge and unleash the potential of all British people, so that the British economy out-performs our competitors and delivers security, prosperity and fairness to all.

Let me report: growth in quarter one of 0.7 per cent.; in quarter two of 0.7 per cent., and in quarter three of 0.7 per cent. The forecast for 2006 was annual growth of between 2 and 21/2 per cent. I can report that growth this year will surpass that figure and is expected to be 23/4 per cent., and will rise to between 23/4 and 31/4 per cent. next year. Business investment is up 53/4 per cent., exportsare up 6 per cent. and investment overall is up6 per cent. Despite contending with global imbalances, exchange rate uncertainties, stalled trade talks and high commodity prices, Britain’s investment-led and export-led growth is forecast to continue in 2007, and investment and exports are forecast to rise by 5 per cent. or more.

By mid-2007, we expect inflation to be at its 2 per cent. target and to remain at target in 2008. Britain uniquely continues to combine recession-free growth with the longest period—a decade—of simultaneous employment growth and productivity growth. Productivity, which, in the last economic cycle up to 1997 grew by1.9 per cent., is averaging since 1997 2.4 per cent. From 1997 to—and including—this year, our productivity per worker has moved 3 per cent. ahead of Germany and11 per cent. ahead of Japan. We have halved the gap with France and we are the only G7 country to narrow the gap with the United States.

As productivity continues to rise, this year alone there are 200,000 more men and women in employment— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is the done thing to let a Minister make a statement to the House and not to interrupt.

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