The Prime Minister:
The tax status of private equity is the subject of a review that the Treasury set up in March. It will report in time for the pre-Budget report.
I think that my right hon. Friend knows that inequality is an issue in every advanced industrial country, but he should also know that the numbers of children and pensioners taken out of poverty in our country have been very substantial over recent years. We will continue to press forward our programme to get more children out of poverty and to ensure that every pensioner has dignity and security in retirement.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Further to the Prime Ministers reply to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), when he confirmed that there would be a debate on the legislative programme in Government time later this month, is he aware that at last Thursdays business questions, the Leader of the House suggested that that debate should coincide with the debate on the summer Adjournment just before the House rises? Does the Prime Minister agree that his statement, and the legislative programme, deserve a better offer than that?
The Prime Minister: Yes, and when the Leader of the House makes a statement to the House tomorrow, the right hon. Gentleman will find that his points have been taken fully on board. There will be a debate in Government time, outside the Adjournment debates, so that the full text of the draft legislative programme can have a full airing in this House.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I welcome the innovative process that my right hon. Friend described in his statement and I welcome the measures listed in it, particularly the local transport Bill. May I urge him to include, as part of the integrated transport strategy that he proposes, light rail and trams?
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I welcome the statement on the draft legislative programme. The Prime Minister mentioned a Bill to deal with deregulation. I urge him to be as bold as possible in reducing the burden on business in that regardconsistent, of course, with the need for proper enforcement, where necessary. On the pensions Bill, I urge the Prime Minister finally to take the opportunity to put an end to the terrible injustice suffered by those who have lost their occupational pensions through no fault of their own. I welcome the Pension Protection Fund and the financial assistance scheme, but will he use the pensions Bill to implement the conclusions of the parliamentary ombudsman in that regard?
The Prime Minister:
I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring to people who lost their pensions when their companies went bankrupt. If so, we are talking about 120,000 workers, for whom we have guaranteed for the first time an 80 per cent. pension at a cost of something in the order of £8 billion over the next few decades. As I told the leader of the Conservative party, we are looking into further measures to enhance that pension beyond the 80 per
cent. by seeing what funds remain in the companies that went bust. We will report back to the House in due course.
As for burdens on business, the hon. Gentleman knows that the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform will be working on precisely the points that he raised. The first Bill will come forward in due course, and the new Ministers are looking carefully at what they can do to cut burdens on business.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends statement and the innovative way in which he has introduced consultation on future legislation. I would like to comment particularly on the unclaimed assets Bill. The Prime Minister will be aware of the great concern about antisocial behaviour in all our communities. Parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of facilities to divert young people from involvement in antisocial behaviour in the first place. I welcome my right hon. Friends determination to use dormant money to improve youth services, and I would ask for two particular things. First, this money should be additional to the resources that councils currently make available. Secondly, councils should be encouraged to engage with the local community before the money is freed up. It is crucial to engage the local community. I find a lot of good will out there, particularly among parents, many of whom would like to get involved in such activities if only the resources and the capacity were made available.
The Prime Minister: One of the great causes of the next decade will be to improve youth facilities and amenities in all our communities. As I go around the country, I meet people who rightly say that we must be tough on antisocial behaviour, but people also tell me very clearly that there is little for many young people to do. The law-abiding decent majority of young people need better facilities, and we have to do something about that. That is why the unclaimed assets Bill will provide additional money for youth services and facilities. At the same time, there will be improvements in the method by which the money can be dispensed. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, in a previous Budget we set up youth budgets for local areas, whereby young people themselves can take decisions about how the money is spent. We will review how that is working and take a decision on the best way forward. I look forward to hearing my hon. Friends views on how we can best achieve that.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On what specific grounds does the Prime Minister rule out legislation authorising a referendum on the fundamental constitutional changes in the European reform treaty? That, on an unprecedented mandate, would merge the treaty on economic union with the treaty on European union, collapse the pillars, impose new legal duties on this Parliament that are enforceable by the European Court of Justice, and alter the structural relationship not only between Britain and Europe, but between the Government and Parliament and this countrys electors, which is the basis of all referendums.
The Prime Minister: The text of the statement issued after the Brussels summit started by saying that the constitutional projectthe project to set up a totally new constitutionhad been abandoned. That was the term used at the Council.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): In pursuing the challenge of helping more people into work, will my right hon. Friend encourage and support his Ministers in tackling issues of occupational segregation and the difference in skill levels between men and women, so that we can enhance the skills of the whole population and tackle the gender pay gap? Will he confirm his continued support for the Governments programme of further child care facilities, childrens centres and the Sure Start programme, which is doing so much to support families and parents?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has led the way in her constituency in pushing forward the childrens centre programme, which, over time, should mean that there are half a dozen childrens centres in each constituency of England; roughly 3,000 or more centres by 2010. We will continue to support childrens centres and provide the money necessary for their expansion. I agree also that we have to do more to break down the barriers of discrimination and inequality that have been a problem for women seeking employment over many years.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): If the Prime Minister is to introduce new housing legislation, will he reform the housing revenue accounts subsidy scheme, through which Whitehall takes 29p in every pound paid in rent by Kingston council tenants to spend elsewhere in the country, preventing essential and basic repairs from being made to council homes in my constituency? How can it be fair for his Government to force council tenants on estates in places such as Kingston to pay for council house repairs elsewhere in the country?
The Prime Minister: There has been a great deal of investment, but I shall look at the very specific examples from the hon. Gentlemans constituency. Over time there will be reforms of the housing revenue accounts system and how it is dealt with.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): When he was in his previous job, I drew my right hon. Friends attention to some of the problems faced by carers, and work is still outstanding on that subject. Last Friday, I met Gateshead Alzheimers Society and we discussed these and other issues. The society raised with me the Governments proposals for the use of dormant funds under the unclaimed assets Bill. The society put it to me that as it was likely that those funds belong or belonged to elderly people, it would only be reasonable for some, if not most, to be used to support carers. Is that an argument that my right hon. Friend finds persuasive?
The Prime Minister:
Any argument that comes from my hon. Friend is a persuasive one. We have set up a review into what we can do to help carers more. We are trying to provide more respite care, more training, more help and more support. I will take on board what
he says specifically about Alzheimers and the particular problems that carers and families face in relation to that. I hope that he will find that he can feed into the review, and that the report, when it is eventually done, will be to his satisfaction.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): Will the Prime Minister give to state schools the same freedom to adopt the international GCSE exam that independent schools have? Would not that be a key way of ensuring academic rigour in our exam system and of extending educational opportunity to all children, regardless of their background?
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that many Members on both sides of the House are alarmed at the prospect of an increase in the time limit for pre-charge detention. We believe that far from making us safer, detaining people for months at a time without trial could exacerbate community tensions. He said that any change would apply to terrorism alone. Will the Bill state that the increase in pre-trial detention applies only to people prosecuted under terrorism legislation?
The Prime Minister: That is what the debate is about. I hope that in dealing with such an important national security issue as the terrorist threat, the whole House can come together to agree measures that balance the need for security with attention to a matter in which, historically, this House has been most interestedthe civil liberties of the people of this country. When we have the discussion, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel able to support our measures, along with Opposition parties.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): On 25 July, the Joint Committee that has been looking at the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill will report back to Government, as we were charged to do. There are two crucial issues: the regulator and the future of research, particularly into embryos and using animal and human elements. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that that Bill will be in the Queens Speech and that we will get it on to the statute book within his first Session as Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister: That is the planbut it is in the hands not just of the Government but of the House. The hon. Gentleman would want us to look at the report that is being written on the Bill and at these two particularly controversial measures, and that is exactly what we will do.
Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab):
May I warmly welcome the Governments renewed efforts on affordable housing? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that what is affordable in some areas is not affordable in others? In Islington, where a first-time buyers flat costs £300,000, owning a flat is not an option; even part-ownership
may not be an option. Affordable rented housing is what we need in Islington. Also, I hope that he will not take a moments time to listen to any advice from the Liberal Democrats, who in my constituency
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, a persistent campaigner who has talked to me on many occasions about the cost of housing in her constituency and the need for more affordable homes. Further to my earlier comments, of the 223,000 households created in this country, the biggest increase has been in single-person households. Of the 240,000 houses that we want to build by 2016, we want more to be family homes. I want that to be clear to the House, and if I was misunderstood, I apologise.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Clearly there is a consensus that we need more affordable housing, but will the Prime Minister expand on the implications on the new raised national target, which presumably means new raised regional targets as well? He may be aware that the current south-east regional target has been reached after a long, difficult and passionate consultation. If he is to tear up the results of that consultation and announce a new top-down central national target, I am afraid that his attempt to present himself as a new listening Prime Minister will be greeted with scepticism in that area.
The Prime Minister: The country will have this debate. We believe that to provide fairness for families and single people, the amount of housing that we have announced must be built over the next few years. Obviously we have to persuade many decision makers, including local authorities, that that is the right thing to do. But I hope that we can move to a consensus that it is essential to build more homes, and then look at how we can do that in a way that is environmentally friendly. We must also look at how we can make housing more affordable for people who are missing the chance of being on the housing ladder.
I know that the South East England regional assembly is not in favour of an expansion of house building in the region as we are, but it should reconsider the view of its Conservative chairman that there is no evidence that simply building more houses makes it more affordable to buy a home. We must build more houses if we are to make housing more affordable. I am ready to work with the assembly and local councils to do that and, as can be seen, we are ready to release a lot of public sector land to make that possible.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab):
I warmly welcome the Prime Ministers announcement of the greater priority for housing and his willingness to reconsider the planning gain supplement. Does he recognise that there is a considerable variation in the performance of individual local authorities and that if he can find the mechanisms to raise the performance of the weakest up to those of the bestwhether through section 106 or
tariff agreementswe will get a substantial increase in the planning gain yield for necessary infrastructure and social investment?
The Prime Minister: I applaud my right hon. Friends work as a Housing Minister and as a campaigner for more affordable housing for his constituents and the rest of this country. The Government are offering a deal: we would be prepared to withdraw the planning gain supplement Bill if we could find a means of extracting more planning gain for local communities as new housing and new infrastructure are built. We await the consultation and the responses of those who can help us to achieve that high level of planning gain.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): During the last 10 years of the new Labour Government, only 4,000 council houses were built. In the first 10 years of the Thatcher Government, 400,000 council houses were built. The Prime Minister was silent on the building of council houses. Why is he hostile towards council houses? How many of the 240,000 new homes a year will be council houses?
The Prime Minister:
The first thing the hon. Gentleman should recognise is that the priority after 1997 was to modernise and improve the existing stock. A huge amount of investment, worth billions of pounds, went into improving more than 1 million council housing and social housing tenancies. As a result, many children, pensioners and other people who were living in substandard accommodation are now living in decent accommodation. Therefore, it is wrong of the hon. Gentleman to portray the last 10 years as a period when we failed to renovate
stock. [Interruption.] Exactly: we have renovated stock. We now have to build more stock. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is right: he says that we have done well, and I hope that that will be included in Hansard.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Ministers statement, as well as yesterdays statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. I chaired the all-party review on the needs of disabled children, and may I remind the Prime Minister that we strongly recommended that there should be a statutory minimum entitlement to short-term breaks and respite care? On the basis of the evidence we received, if that were to be included in legislation it would have great support from disabled people and their carers and families.
The Prime Minister: No Member has done more to promote legislation in the interests of disabled persons than my right hon. Friend, and we are grateful to him for being a pioneer in this area. I will look into what he has said. The carers review will report soon, and I hope that he will be able to contribute to its work and that we will be able to make the progress that he wants.