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The Prime Minister: Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what I have noticed in the past few weeks. At the self-same time as he has called for more spending on prisons, housing, schools, rehab places, the intelligence service and school leavers, he has said that he will cut tax. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has produced the strongest economy, the lowest interest
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rates, the lowest unemployment and the highest employment in our country’s history by taking a sensible view of investment and putting it before tax cuts. That is his position and my position: what is the right hon. Gentleman’s position?

Mr. Cameron: If the Chancellor is doing such a great job, bring him on. What are we waiting for? Is not the truth of British politics that the Prime Minister is too isolated to govern and the Chancellor is too indecisive to get rid of him?

The Prime Minister: I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the truth. The truth is that we have been producing the lowest waiting lists ever in the national health service, the best school results ever in the history of our school system and the strongest economy that this country has ever seen. While we have been facing up to the difficult decisions, he has been ducking them. That is the difference between a party that has leadership and a party that has none.

Q3. [119034] Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, unlike humans, who can remain fit for purpose for many decades, mechanical devices do not? Will he ensure the speedy passage through the House and the sympathetic support of the Government for the refurbishment and modernisation of the 26-year-old Tyne and Wear metro system, the business case for which was submitted last week, so that we on Tyneside may continue to pursue Government policies for reducing congestion, stimulating local economies, fighting climate change and improving social mobility?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that we will look closely at the proposals for the refurbishment of the metro, which would ensure that it continues to do its excellent work for the people of Newcastle and Gateshead. Fortunately, the proposals come in the context of the fact that we have been able to double investment in transport in the past 10 years, and further investments will come on line over the next few years. I cannot give him a definitive answer as yet, but we will look at the matter very closely.

Q4. [119035] Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): In 2005, skilled IT professional Gary Douglas signed a Home Office pledge to make Britain his permanent home. The Home Office form said:

Will the Prime Minister look into Mr. Douglas’s case, and explain why, having sold his home and business in New Zealand, he now faces deportation under retrospective changes to the highly skilled migrant worker programme, along with valued professionals from India and elsewhere? When will the Government start deporting the right people, and stop deporting the wrong ones?

The Prime Minister: For obvious reasons, I cannot give an answer on the individual case. I do not know anything about it, but I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look into it. However, my usual experience is that the facts in such matters turn out to be a little more complicated than what is presented to me.

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Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in condemning the letter bomb attack that occurred in the DVLA building in my constituency this morning? I am sure that he will want to send his best wishes to the employee who was injured, and to her colleagues. I am also sure that that contemptible act will receive the full attention of the police and all concerned.

The Prime Minister: I express my sympathy to all the people who have been caught up in the incidents that have taken place in my hon. Friend’s constituency and elsewhere. I am very sorry that they have been put through what has obviously been a very traumatic experience, and I hope that they recover from the injuries that they have sustained. There is nothing more that I can say at the moment, other than that we are investigating the incident very closely. As soon as we have some news that we can properly give her and the House, we will do so.

Q5. [119036] Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): As part of his legacy, will the Prime Minister get a grip on the unfairness of local authority funding? Is he aware that residents in Solihull receive only 42p per head from central Government for every £1 paid in next-door Birmingham, even though Solihull has four of the most deprived wards in the country? Are lonely pensioners and sick children in Solihull less worthy of funding than their counterparts in Labour’s former heartland?

The Prime Minister: I point out to the hon. Lady that all local authorities, including Solihull, have received above-inflation increases in central Government funding over the past few years, and that that has been replicated in the funding for schools, law and order and the health service. The difficulty is that we have to measure how much each area gets according to an index that measures deprivation in particular. She will be aware that there is always going to be a limit on the amount of resources available. I understand that there are pockets of real deprivation in her constituency, but there are also immense pockets of deprivation in Birmingham. It is therefore important that we achieve a balanced outcome to the funding formula.

Q6. [119037] Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Given that wholesale energy prices have been reduced by a staggering 50 per cent. since last April, does my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come for energy companies to stop offering excuses, and that they should move on to ensuring that there are real reductions for long-suffering consumers?

The Prime Minister: I entirely understand what my right hon. Friend says, and hope that we are now at a turning point. He is right to say that there has been a big fall in wholesale prices recently, and I understand that some of the biggest suppliers are planning to announce that they will cut their prices for domestic customers in the very near future. He will know too that the latest international comparison data show that domestic British customers still have the lowest gas bills in Europe, and that their electricity bills are below the European average. However, he is absolutely right to say that energy prices have risen substantially over the past couple of years and that that is putting pressure
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on people’s living standards. Therefore, I hope that companies will take the fall in wholesale prices on board and reduce prices for domestic customers.

Q7. [119038] Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): The Government tell Chesterfield borough council housing department that as it has a surplus of money from council tenants’ rent they are taking away more than £3 million a year to spend elsewhere. That surplus will rise to £5 million as the Government insist that council rents go up by more than inflation. At exactly the same time, the Government tell the housing department that it has too little money so it must privatise its council houses. Can the Prime Minister explain in which weird parallel universe it is possible to have too much money and too little money at exactly the same time?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that I would have to look at the situation in Chesterfield to know whether that is correct.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Of course it is correct.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman must forgive me but my experience of the Lib Dems is such that I would have to look into the facts before I took them up, but I will look into them and get in touch with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes). We have increased the funding available for Chesterfield, as we have for other councils, but as I said in answer to a point a moment or two ago, people have to live within their means.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Prime Minister aware that yesterday the Scottish Affairs Committee cancelled a booking with Hilton Hotels in Dundee? Does he agree with the European Union and me that American laws—for example, on the boycott of Cuba—should not be applied to American subsidiaries in Britain, Europe or worldwide, and will he agree to raise that with George Bush when next he meets him?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend on what must have been an acute emotional struggle between his views on America and his views on Europe. I am not sure that I can promise him that I will raise the matter with the President, but I am happy to look into it and, if I can be of any help, I will be.

Q8. [119039] Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): The Prime Minister said at the time of the last general election that he would serve a full term. Who or what made him change his mind?

The Prime Minister: I went through this at length last year. However, I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the most important thing for the country is that we continue with the policies that in 10 years have seen not just a strong economy but money flooding into areas such as his, which has meant, for example, that he has extra numbers of nurses and doctors, extra numbers of school buildings and that there are thousands of people—[ Interruption.] That is what a strong economy has delivered. Pensioners and families in the hon. Gentleman’s area are better off thanks to a Labour Government, and
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what everyone will remember at the next election is what it was like under the Tory Government he used to support.

Q9. [119040] Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the number of people in Scotland who work for the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury? How safe and secure are those jobs in the short, medium and long term?

The Prime Minister: I assure my hon. Friend that the 20,000 jobs linked to defence in Scotland are safe if we continue with Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, but it would be a disaster for the Scottish defence industry and for people who work in defence services in Scotland if Scotland were wrenched out of the United Kingdom. Its economy would suffer and vital industries such as defence would be left without the security of being part of the United Kingdom.

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): With the Government’s policy to close more and more maternity units throughout the country—the Prime Minister is a father and knows about such things—what guarantees can he give women in my rural constituency who have to travel further and further that they will not find themselves giving birth in some far-flung motorway services area en route to a hospital?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the hon. Lady and the Conservative party have taken the view that they are against changes to maternity services, because —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister answer.

The Prime Minister: Let me just point out that— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister should answer, not any other Minister. It is Prime Minister’s Question Time.

The Prime Minister: I point out to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) that over the past few years not merely the number of midwives has increased, but that the number of consultants operating in that area has increased by 40 per cent. and that the number of midwives in training is more than 30 per cent. up. However, the advice we receive from clinicians and from those who actually deliver babies is that it is better to have a set of specialist services within maternity and midwife units. That is the best way to make sure that we save lives. What is absurd is for the Conservative party, which has opposed all the investment in the national health service, to oppose reforms that are absolutely vital to save patients’ lives.

Q10.[119041] Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): May I ask a frank question of my right hon. Friend? [ Interruption. ] Not that one. Will he tell us when he came to the conclusion that a fully appointed House of Lords is not acceptable? Will he also tell us whether, when the voting takes place, he will vote in the Division Lobby for the Government’s recommendations?

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The Prime Minister: Yes, of course I will. I have always expressed concern about a hybrid House. However, in our manifesto, because we were not able to resolve this issue in the last Parliament, we believed that it was right to try to seek consensus. I asked the Leader of the House to try to find that consensus. He has located it in the proposals that he has put forward. I will back those proposals. It is important that we try to resolve this issue once and for all. There are going to be different views right across the House, but it is sensible, if we can, to find a consensus so that this reform can be completed.

Q11. [119042] Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): The Prime Minister will know that in 2002 Abu Hamza had his assets frozen by the Chancellor, yet the following year was allowed to transfer a flat to his son, who has himself been convicted of terrorist offences. Why, five years later, has that glaring loophole in our anti-terror defences still not been closed?

The Prime Minister: I do not agree that we have a loophole in the way in which we deal with terrorist finances. The most important thing—we have shown this in relation to the Abu Hamza case—is that we are prepared to take tough action against people who incite racism or extremism in our country. Let me just point out to the hon. Gentleman that every time we have introduced tougher measures on terrorism in the House—[ Interruption.] Oh, yes, the Conservative party, while calling for tough measures in general, has voted against them in particular.

Q12. [119043] Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Does my friend believe that there is such a thing as the public service ethos, and, if so, how would he define it?

The Prime Minister: I define it as giving the best service to the user of that service. For example, I had a meeting with foundation hospitals just a short time ago, at which they showed how their business partners were able to help improve their procurement in their hospitals so that they saved money on procurement and put it into patient care. That seems to be the public service ethos in action. Public service is a set of values. Values remain constant; times do not—they change. That is why it is important that, as well as preserving those values of public service, we find new ways of implementing them for the new times in which we live.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Prime Minister will know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made a bold and principled stand —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Hayes: He has made a bold and principled stand against multiculturalism, because, as he has argued, it too often emphasises the things that divide us, rather than those that unite us. Will the Prime Minister follow his lead by emphasising a better future based on social cohesion, social mobility and social justice, and acknowledge the damage that multiculturalism has done to people in this country of all races, religions and creeds?

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The Prime Minister: Before the Leader of the Opposition made his speech, I had already made a speech—I am sorry that it obviously did not come across his desk—calling for multiculturalism to be balanced by a duty to integrate. However, let me just tell the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) something about multiculturalism. I do not think that the problem has ever been with the sense of multiculturalism celebrating diversity in our country. What it should not be is a source of division within our country. That is why I think that it is sensible to say to people that there are different faiths, different races and different cultures and that we are happy that we live together, but that what is essential is that there are certain values about tolerance and respect for other people, and about belief in democracy and freedom, which are essential British values that unite us all. I have to say to him that probably most sensible people in the House, on both sides, agree with that.

Q13. [119044] Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend support the campaign that Women’s Aid launched at No. 11 Downing street last week to act against domestic violence? The campaign
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uses images of very famous women made to look as though they have been abused by domestic violence. That is to make it clear that anyone can be abused, but that everyone should join in acting against domestic violence. We can all be witnesses; we can all take action; and we all should. This is a crime that we should all act against—and we should act now.

The Prime Minister: I am happy to support that campaign. As my hon. Friend knows, we have made a substantial investment in tackling domestic violence over the past few years. It is interesting to point out, since we often hear bad news about aspects of the Home Office, that convictions at court have gone up from 8 per cent. to 32 per cent. since the programme was put in place; and the number of victims reporting ongoing violence has gone down from more than 30 per cent. to 10 per cent. We now have 25 specialist domestic violence courts and we are going to expand the number to more than 60 by April this year. In this particular area, the problem was too long treated as though it were peripheral to the concerns of the Home Office and law and order; it is now right at the centre of our concerns.

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House of Lords Reform

12.31 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on reform of the House of Lords. Accompanying this statement is a detailed White Paper, which is available in the Vote Office. The White Paper has been informed by the excellent report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, which the other place and this House debated and approved on 16 and 17 January respectively.

The White Paper’s publication follows nine months of intensive discussion within Government and with the other parties. I have chaired cross-party talks—the first such Government-led talks to be held, I am told, for nearly 40 years. The cross-party group has met eight times since June. I am very grateful to those on the group for their work and constructive approach to this complex issue.

The starting point for the cross-party talks was that each of the three main parties was committed by its 2005 manifesto to seeking reform of the Lords. My party, as well as pledging, without qualification, to remove “the remaining hereditary peers”, said that a

The Conservatives promised

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