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Why would someone at the heart of Downing street say that?

The Prime Minister: People say many things, particularly after they leave. What I can say is this: fortunately, thanks to the Chancellor’s 10-year stewardship of the economy—which I am afraid is the weakness of the right hon. Gentleman’s position—he has delivered us the strongest economy, with 2.5 million more jobs, lower interest rates, the lowest unemployment and rising living standards. Actually, I am delighted to have had that record in government.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is very good at praising the Chancellor, but the Chancellor is not so good at praising the Prime Minister.

It is not just his senior foreign policy adviser who says this—it is also the Cabinet Secretary, who sat next to him for five years in the Cabinet. Lord Wilson said this about the Chancellor:

he—“might listen to” other “departments”. Does the Prime Minister think that there is any prospect of a return to Cabinet government when the Chancellor takes over?

The Prime Minister: As a matter of fact, the best thing about having a strong economy is that it enables one, when one is taking one’s Cabinet decisions, to make the investments in health and education, for example, that we want to have. The good thing is that we have had a consistent economic policy.

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Can I give the House an update on the Conservatives’ policy on the married couples allowance? A few days ago, the chairman of the Conservative party was asked whether it would apply— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister get some leeway in these matters.

The Prime Minister: Talking about policy making, the chairman of the Conservative party says that married couples allowance applies to couples without children. The Tory leader’s office then says:

Then a couple of days ago the shadow Chancellor says that he is not sure whether it will apply to married couples without children, but for it to apply to gay couples in a civil partnership, they have to have children. We have this Chancellor with 10 years of a strong economy, and we have that shadow Chancellor with his policy making; perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to explain the difference.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister might have noticed that we are ahead on the economy.

I asked the Prime Minister a question about Cabinet government, but he will not answer, so let us ask the Cabinet. Who thinks that they will have more of a say round the Cabinet table when the Chancellor takes over? Come on—hands up! Is not that the problem—they all know it is going to be dreadful, but none of them has the guts to do anything about it?

The Prime Minister: First of all, I should remind the right hon. Gentleman of some experience that we had in the 1980s. Opposition parties can often be ahead in opinion polls in mid-term, but that does not mean that they win an election. In the end, let me tell him what will win an election—strength of policy.

I just gave an example about the shadow Chancellor, so let me give one about the right hon. Gentleman from his great speech on Europe yesterday in which he said how he was going lead Europe in the battle on climate change. Who is his ally? The ODS party in the Czech Republic, whose founder says that global warming “is a false myth”. This is serious politics. The right hon. Gentleman wants to form an alliance with a party that thinks global warming is a false myth and he will not go into the same political room as the Chancellor of Germany, who is the leader of the Conservative party, the President of the European Union and believes that global warming should be tackled. So when it comes to serious policy making, the right hon. Gentleman is simply in the kindergarten. We have got the answers: that is the difference between a serious political party and an Opposition party.

Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): Staying with Europe, did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to watch the outstanding display of football at Anfield stadium last night? Is it not about time that we marked the memory of the late and great Bob Paisley with an honour? Will my right hon. Friend
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read early-day motion 1038 signed by Members of the House—both red and blue?

The Prime Minister: I look forward to reading that. I did watch the match last night. Congratulations to Liverpool, who did absolutely brilliantly. Congratulations also to Chelsea—we should congratulate the blues as well as the reds on this occasion. Let us hope that we have two other teams going through as well— [Interruption.] As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminds me, there is also Celtic, and we wish it good luck, too.

Q3. [125431] Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): My constituent, Mrs. Morello, has an 11-year-old son with recognised special educational needs. All the professionals suggest that the right education for her son is an out-of-borough specialised small school. However, reflecting the cost concerns of so many local authorities, they are trying to put him in a mainstream local school. After 10 years in power, when will the Prime Minister make the necessary changes to ensure that Mrs. Morello’s son and thousands like him get the education that they need and deserve?

The Prime Minister: Surely, in the end, it has to be a decision for the local authority. The hon. Gentleman talks about funding, but there is an extra £1,350—I stress, extra—per pupil for the funding of education in his area. Surely it has to be a local authority decision. That has been the case under the previous Government and under this Government. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that if a child is best placed in specialist provision, that is where they should go. They should go into mainstream provision only if that is suitable for them. I do say again, however, that it has got to be a decision for the local education authority.

Q4. [125432] Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): Last week saw declines in all the Wirral stock markets following falls in Shanghai—demonstrating again the global challenge and opportunity that is China today. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the UK is appropriately resourced and institutionally structured to deal with the fact that the world’s centre of gravity is moving eastwards, both politically and economically?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises an immensely important point. I think that we are well placed, actually, because of our bilateral relationship with China today. I also think that the work done through the G8 and the G8 plus 5, which includes China, is also important. The China taskforce is, of course, an important part of our bilateral relationship. However, as well as that bilateral relationship, the key thing is to recognise that both our alliance with America and our membership of the European Union are important parts of building a strong relationship with a country that will soon comprise 1.3 billion or 1.4 billion people and be the largest economy in the world—a country of immense importance as a superpower in the world. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should make sure that we are well positioned with China. In part, however, for a country such as ours in the early 21st century, that will happen through our alliances as well as on our own merits.

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Q5. [125433] Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that voting in a £10,000 communication allowance for incumbent MPs out of taxpayers’ money, without the support of the Opposition, while at the same time lobbying Sir Hayden Phillips to limit the private funding of candidates in those incumbent seats, is nothing short of an abuse of power bordering on corruption?

The Prime Minister: As I understand it from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the matter is discussed in the House of Commons Commission and it will come before the House at the end of the month. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will put forward proposals that are just and fair.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know of the serious concerns about Quiz Call television and shows that have premium lines for interactive viewer participation. Does he agree that ITV has done the right thing in pulling from our screens all its premium line shows for an independent health check? Will he urge all other broadcasters to do the same to ensure that their customers—our constituents—are not being ripped off?

The Prime Minister: The point that my hon. Friend raises causes a great deal of concern to many members of the public. I welcome ITV’s temporary suspension of all premium rate interactive services on all ITV channels. My hon. Friend will wish to know that the regulatory body for the premium rate telecommunications industry is currently investigating complaints about several television shows, and I understand that the broadcasters are meeting later this week. It is obviously important that they come together with the relevant telecommunications companies and make sure that the service is provided in a reliable and trustworthy way. I understand and share my hon. Friend’s concerns.

Q6. [125434] Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): The Prime Minister has fought hard in his party to ensure that parents have a wider choice of schools to which to send their children. Would he have accepted his children being allocated a school place on the basis of a lottery system?

The Prime Minister: Whatever system is involved—a catchment area or a lottery—there will always be parents who do not manage to get their first preference, although the vast majority do. For once, I agree with the shadow spokesman on education who said that the most important thing, whatever system is chosen, is to increase the number of good schools. Whereas in 1997 I believe that only 80 secondary schools in the country got more than 70 per cent. good GCSEs—five good GCSEs—today the figure is more than 600. That is a huge improvement in the past 10 years, not least in the area that the hon. Gentleman represents. Of course, there will always be parents who are disappointed but the most important thing is to improve the quality and standards in our schools. That is precisely what the Government are doing.

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Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): The White Paper on House of Lords reform lists several countries that have wholly or partly elected second Chambers. In the Prime Minister’s view, which of them is governed better than the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister: For obvious reasons, I do not think that I would accept that any could be better governed than the United Kingdom, though that might be open to some dispute. However, I said at the time of the election, and our manifesto stated, that we would try to seek a consensus on House of Lords reform. The purpose of the vote later today is to ascertain whether we can do that. We said that we would facilitate that; that is precisely what we shall try to do.

Q7. [125435] Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Lord Levy has accepted that he may have offered his opinion about who should be nominated for peerages. In what capacity was that advice offered—as the Prime Minister’s middle eastern envoy, his personal friend and tennis partner, or because he is, just coincidentally, the Prime Minister’s chief fundraiser?

The Prime Minister: For obvious reasons, I can say nothing at all about the issue.

Let me simply say to the hon. Gentleman that it is extraordinary that the Scottish National party is aiming to be the Government of Scotland after the election on 3 May—that Government will handle the economy, health, education and law and order—yet the SNP has nothing to say about the economy because it knows that independence would wreck the Scottish economy, nothing to offer on health and education, and its law and order policy is a disaster. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are campaigning on a police inquiry conducted by the London Metropolitan police. I think that that says everything about the SNP and its fitness to govern.

Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): Along with hon. Friends, I applaud Monday’s announcement of an extra £2 million to tackle domestic violence. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Government will remain focused on that important policy area, especially on supporting victims through the legal process to bring their attackers to justice?

The Prime Minister: I assure my hon. Friend that our strong and co-ordinated set of policies on domestic violence will continue. According to the most recent British crime survey, domestic violence has fallen by about 60 per cent. in the past 10 years. Although more domestic violence offences are being recorded, their prevalence has fallen significantly, partly as a result of our additional investment, and partly, as she says, because we are treating the issue more seriously and offering more protection to people within the courts system. We should maintain our focus on the issue, which continues to be a serious one, as we approach international women’s day.

Q8. [125436] Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs faces a £300 million fine from Brussels, 25,000 single farm payment claims remain unresolved, the policy on bovine TB is, as yet, unresolved, and the Department’s
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budget has been cut by £200 million. May I therefore ask the Prime Minister why the House has not been given the opportunity to debate those matters, bearing in mind that the last agriculture debate was in December 2002?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that there will be opportunities for people to raise and debate those issues. We are well aware of the problems that have arisen over payments to farmers, however, and we have said on many occasions that we are doing all that we can to speed up that system. We are not in a position of difficulty with the European Commission. It is also correct that there will be enormous budget pressures on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other Departments. The Conservative party, however, has committed itself to putting half the money that goes on public spending into tax cuts— [Interruption.] Yes, the extra money from growth— [Interruption.] The extraordinary thing is that I seem to know more about Conservative policy than Conservative Members. Their policy is to share the proceeds of growth between tax cuts and spending. Therefore, whatever figure we have for investment, the Conservative party would have less.

Q9. [125437] Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the people of the Congo on their determined involvement in their first
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democratic elections for 40 years, which have been strongly supported by our Government. In view of the strategic importance of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, and the fragile state in which it has emerged from conflict in which 4 million died, will he confirm the commitment given in this morning’s Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall by the Secretary of State for International Development to continued support and assistance to the DRC’s Government, civil society and politicians for the difficult tasks that are ahead of them?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend on her work on this issue. We have increased our investment in the DRC from, I think, just under £6 million to almost £70 million. We are doing that precisely to support the democratic process there and to give humanitarian assistance. I hope that people in the country understand that when I refer to that extra investment in Africa, I deliberately use the word “investment”. If those countries are riven by civil war and large numbers of people are displaced and become refugees, all the evidence of the modern world is that, sooner or later, that becomes a problem for countries such as ours in Europe. Therefore, when we bring peace and stability to parts of Africa, as with the DRC, that is an investment not only in those countries but in our own future.

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Points of Order

12.33 pm

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 21 February, in reply to a question about antenatal services, the Prime Minister said:

In January 2006, however, we were told by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that the number of students who entered midwifery training during 2004-05 was 2,374. But in October 2006 it was reported that there were 2,220 midwifery training places for 2005-06, which is a fall of 154 training places, and the Council of Deans estimates a further 10 per cent. fall on top of that. What can we do to ensure that the Prime Minister returns to the House to correct the misleading statement that he made in answer to my question?

Mr. Speaker: It would have been unintentional.

Anne Main: Unintentional.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady has had a good go at putting the matter on the record as a point of order; it was not really a point of order or a matter for the Chair. I urge her to table more questions to the Prime Minister: she is able to table written questions as well as seeking oral answers.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Health announced that there would be a review of the unfolding disaster that is “Modernising Medical Careers”. What indication have you had that the Secretary of State will come to the House to explain her plans, and to tell us why she has supervised so much of the chaos that has been inflicted on junior doctors and our national health service?

Mr. Speaker: I think that the Secretary of State for Health will somehow or other hear of the hon. Gentleman’s concern.

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