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Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): As a result of last week’s Budget, by 2009 Scottish families will, on average, be £200 a year better off, and for poorer families the figure rises to £350. What does my right hon. Friend think will happen to the income of those same families if, by 2009, Scotland has embarked on the road to independence?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt at all that the problem is not merely that taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom will lead to a huge economic risk for Scotland and for Scottish industry, which is so closely connected with the UK economy, but the fact that the tax and spending plans of the SNP would mean that families would be £5,000 a year worse off. In addition, the SNP has a 3p local income tax, which would also deliver lower living standards for precisely the people whom my hon. Friend is talking about.

Q2. [130081] Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Yesterday, I read that Sir Alistair Graham said that the Prime Minister had “undermined trust” in politicians and had “failed on ethical standards”, and that radical changes are needed to the ministerial code. In view of that, does he feel qualified to offer his successor advice on reviewing the code, given the lamentably low standards of public probity that the Prime Minister has presided over in the past 10 years?

The Prime Minister: I am afraid that I completely and totally disagree with Sir Alistair Graham. He is entitled to his opinion, but I am entitled to mine.

Geraldine Smith (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab): The Government have done a superb job in regenerating our inner cities, but is it not now time to put the same energy, commitment and resources into regenerating British seaside resorts such as Morecambe and Blackpool?

The Prime Minister: I agree that it is indeed important that we regenerate our seaside resorts. That is precisely why the regeneration package for Blackpool, for example, is so important, but all our seaside resorts benefit from a strong economy that has seen low interest rates, low unemployment and high employment, and not the disastrous boom and bust policies of the 18 years before us.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): In his Budget, the Chancellor put up the rate of corporation tax faced by every small business in the country. Why?

The Prime Minister: Because overall it was better for business that we cut —[ Interruption. ] Yes, overall it was better for business that we cut the level of corporation tax, and we have now taken it down from 33p in the pound to 28p in the pound. We have also taken capital gains for small businesses down from 40 per cent. to 10 per cent., and that is why there has been such growth in small businesses in the past 10 years.

Mr. Cameron: Someone needs to tell the Prime Minister that there are two rates of corporation tax, and the one for small businesses is going up. It will be paid by every firm in the country. When it comes to large companies, the Chancellor followed our advice
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and cut the rate and simplified the system, but when it comes to small companies, he did the opposite—he increased the rate and he has made the system more complicated—so why is he punishing small firms?

The Prime Minister: We are not punishing small firms. As I just pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman, as a result of the tax measures that the Chancellor has announced over the years —[ Interruption. ] Actually, according to the international surveys, the United Kingdom became the biggest recipient of foreign direct investment of any country in the world. [ Interruption. ] Well, small business also benefit from that, and if we look, for example, at the rate paid on capital gains by small business, when we came to power it was 40 per cent. We took it down to 10 per cent., which is a huge boost for small business. Let me say something else to the right hon. Gentleman: small businesses, like large businesses, benefit from a strong economy. Over the past 10 years, we have delivered a strong economy. The only experience that he has had as someone running our economy —[ Interruption. ]—yes, it was being present on Black Wednesday: hardly a great recommendation.

Mr. Cameron: What business is interested in are the tax rates that it is going to have to pay now, and they are going up. The Prime Minister quotes the foreign direct investment figures, but does he not know that half of that is accounted for by one company—Shell—undergoing restructuring? Perhaps he ought to bother to read the Budget. The Forum of Private Business said that it would “further burden” them. The British Chambers of Commerce says that it is

The Federation of Small Businesses said that those businesses feel “dismay”, and two thirds of small businesses say that the Budget will have a damaging effect. I choose to believe them, rather than him. The right hon. Gentleman has only 12 weeks left as the First Lord of the Treasury. Instead of the pointless search for the Environment Secretary’s backbone, why does he not use that power and withdraw that tax hike?

The Prime Minister: The reason why we got into the economic problems that we did when the right hon. Gentleman was working at the Treasury was that the last Conservative Government promised tax cuts and spending rises at the same time. What is his proposal now? Exactly the same—tax cuts and spending rises, which will lead, as they did then, to precisely the same result. We have a very, very clear choice between a Chancellor who has delivered the strongest economy on record—

Hon. Members: Where is he?

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is a lot of shouting. Mr. Stuart, you are doing very well at the shouting, so perhaps you can be quiet and set us all a good example.

The Prime Minister: As I said, we have a choice between a Chancellor who has the strongest economic record of any Chancellor in any main country over the past 10 years and a Conservative party that was a disaster economically when it was last in power and would be a disaster again if it ever got its hands back on the economy.

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John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): May I tell the Prime Minister that businesses in my constituency have welcomed the Budget enthusiastically, with the reduction in corporation tax, and that individuals in the constituency, particularly pensioners, have welcomed the increase in the threshold for tax and savings. However, there is deep concern among a number of my constituents that that economic prosperity will not prevail. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give me that after May constituents will not be faced with extra taxes, and that we will ensure the continuation of that prosperity?

The Prime Minister: Of course, as my right hon. Friend rightly implies, the single most important thing for all businesses is a strong and stable economy. The thing that wrecked so many businesses in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the second recession under the Conservatives. It is important to keep that stability going, which is why we reject the tax and spending policies of the Conservatives. Also, what would be a disaster for local business in Scotland is a 3p on income tax local rate.

Q3. [130082] Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): Last week’s Budget cost Britain’s charities £70 million a year in Gift Aid. The Chancellor did not mention that in his Budget speech, he failed to mention it in the Red Book, and he failed to mention it in any of the Budget documentation. Was the Prime Minister informed, and does he approve?

The Prime Minister: I approve entirely of the Budget. Over the past few years, as a result of what the Chancellor has done, we have given enormous support to charities— [Interruption.] Oh yes, and what is more, we will give further support to charities in one very important way. We will allow charities to perform much more of the tasks previously done by the traditional public sector—for example, in the management of offenders. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues voted against that when the Bill came before the House.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will be aware that by next year NHS spending will have tripled since the Government came to office. We have 85,000 more nurses and 32,000 more doctors. [Interruption.] Is it not true that the NHS is safe in this Government’s hands?

The Prime Minister: Opposition Members were asking, “Where has the money gone?” Let me tell them. We now have the lowest waiting lists and lowest waiting times on record. When we first came to office, people were often dying while waiting for their operation on the national health service. Today, they get it. We have had 100,000 fewer deaths from heart disease. That is where the money has gone. We are saving tens of thousands of lives in better and faster cancer treatment. That is where the money has gone, and it has gone, yes, in better pay for nurses, doctors and consultants—proposed by us and opposed by the Conservatives.

Q4. [130083] Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): While the Prime Minister plans his lecture tour, is he aware that many servicemen and women whom he has committed to active tours overseas have returned in a traumatised state to barracks, alongside troops training
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to go on active deployment to the very same theatres? With five years until Selly Oak is fully operational, he surely still has the time to delay closure of the Royal Naval hospital Haslar next week, and to commission specialist military units in designated hospitals to provide proper treatment to our troops.

The Prime Minister: What the hon. Gentleman says is not correct. It does nothing for the morale of our armed forces for it to be said that they are not getting proper treatment— [Interruption.] Perhaps he will just listen to me for a moment. It is important for our forces that their families are not worried by completely inaccurate stories that their loved ones do not get the proper care that they should have. If the hon. Gentleman visits Selly Oak, staff there will tell him exactly what they are doing, with a military managed ward and the best specialist care. They will also explain to him why the decision taken by the last Conservative Government, though rightly, to close down Haslar is necessary and correct, because of the degree of specialist treatment that the troops need when they are severely injured. It is not correct to say that they are not getting excellent care from the Defence Medical Services, which are superb, and also from the general NHS staff, who are utterly dedicated.

Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): No one wants too much central Government control, but what can we do about Conservative county councils like Kent, which has just squandered £300,000 supporting an airline that never took off, wants to set up a television station of its own, and is paying its chief executive more money than the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: That is an interesting thought for the future. Let me say to my hon. Friend that there is a very clear remedy in those circumstances, which is to vote Labour in the local elections.

Q5. [130084] Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Prime Minister just talked about better and faster cancer treatment. The Royal College of Radiologists says that cancer victims should receive radiotherapy treatment within four weeks of having an operation. A constituent of mine who has been a nurse in the NHS for 40 years was operated on January and is now having to wait 12 weeks before she gets her radiotherapy treatment—a common waiting time in Kent. Can he explain why, in this vital life-saving area into which he has poured lots of public money, things for my constituents are getting worse, not better?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, I cannot comment on the individual case because I do not know about it, but I am happy to look into it. Given that the health service treats 1 million people every 36 hours, I am not suggesting, in any shape or form, that there are not people who do not get the care that they deserve or do not still have to wait too long. However, let me point out that within the hon. Gentleman’s strategic health authority there are over 4,000 more nurses, 600 more consultants, 400 more GPs, and 450 more dentists, if I may say. Moreover, there has been a massive investment in the health service that has meant that overall, whereas thousands of people used to wait 12 months, 18 months or more, now virtually no one waits more than six months.

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I am happy to look into the individual case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but the fact is that the whole business of waiting and access to the health service over the past 10 years has been transformed. We need to go further, and we will—by the end of next year, we will have an 18-week maximum waiting time for in-patients and out-patients, including diagnostics, and an average of seven to eight weeks, in effect ending traditional waiting in the national health service. There may still be cases, which are obviously wrong if they exist, where people are waiting too long, but it is surely important to balance that up with the overall picture, which is immensely positive.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): In a statement to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Union, the Pope said that Europe’s moral, cultural and historical values were forged by Christianity, that the EU was denying those facts, and that any detachment from its Christian roots by Europe was a form of apostasy, not only from God but from itself. As a leading Christian in this place, would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the Pope’s view?

The Prime Minister: Frankly, I would not. I do not think that the Pope needs me as his spokesman, so it is better that he makes his statement and I make mine. I would say that we should be immensely proud of the values represented by the European Union, where we now have a unified Europe, east and west. Without in any way detracting from our firm, independent sovereignty as a nation, I think that the European Union has been good for this country over the past 30 years and good for Europe over its lifetime.

Q6. [130085] Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the Prime Minister accept that a commitment to exclusively peaceful means must of necessity include the dismantling of all terrorist structures, including the IRA army council?

The Prime Minister: The Independent Monitoring Commission is the body that is charged with deciding whether that commitment to exclusively peaceful and non-violent means is being adhered to. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it has a further report coming in the next few weeks. However, it has made its statement that the IRA is indeed abiding by that principle, and I think that it has the people best placed to make the judgment.

Q7. [130086] Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recall that on 21 March 1993 the IRA exploded two bombs in Bridge street in Warrington, killing Johnathan Ball and Tim Parry. My close friends, Colin and Wendy Parry, have worked tirelessly over the past 14 years to build community relations in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, and have made a unique contribution to the peace process. May I ask my right hon. Friend to redouble his efforts and work very closely with the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) to ensure that the foundations that were laid on Monday result in a permanent peace in Northern Ireland and that Johnathan and Timothy did not die in vain?

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The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend has done on this issue over the years. Now is an appropriate moment, even as we look forward in Northern Ireland, to remember Johnathan Ball, Tim Parry and also Bronwyn Vickers, who I believe was injured in the explosion and died some time later. We extend our sympathy to the families of all the victims of the troubles. In respect of Colin and Wendy Parry, they have shown a quite extraordinary spirit of forgiveness and determination to promote reconciliation. They can be very proud of the work that they have done over the years. It is interesting that the spirit that they represent has, ultimately, triumphed over hatred, discord and conflict. Surely that should give us hope for the future.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP) rose—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. He is an hon. Member of this House and must be heard.

Mr. Salmond: May I strike a note of consensus with the Prime Minister? On Monday, he said that the election campaign in Scotland was going “brilliantly”—I agree with him. In his latest brilliant foray into Scotland, he attacked Sir George Mathewson, the former chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland as being “self-indulgent” and suggested that he was not a “real” business man. Will the Prime Minister tell me what is the more self-indulgent—someone of vast experience who speaks up for independence as being good for the Scottish economy and society, or is it someone who proffers vast loans in the hope of buying a seat in the House of Lords?

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The Prime Minister: I did not criticise Sir George as a business man at all, but I criticised his view on independence, which I am entitled to do. Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman why I believe that separation is so wrong. Scotland benefits from the Union, just as England benefits from it. We are able to have a stronger Scottish economy with 200,000 more jobs and Scottish unemployment below the UK average for the first time in a generation. The hon. Gentleman’s policies would not just tear Scotland out of the United Kingdom— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman was heard because I allowed it; he will now listen to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister: Of course, the polls indicate that this is a real fight. People in Scotland will have to make up their minds whether they want the policy that the hon. Gentleman represents, which is separation—with all the risks that it entails, with tax and spending policies that would mean a £5,000 hit for average households and a 3p local income tax—or whether they want to continue with what has happened to the Scottish economy and living standards over the last 10 years, which has meant Scotland’s unemployment being below the UK average for the first time, 200,000 extra jobs and a booming Scottish economy. That is the choice and I look forward to debating with the hon. Gentleman from now until polling day.

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