Ms Clark: My hon. Friend will be aware that problems remain with television reception in parts of Ayrshire. Will he outline what steps are being taken to ensure good television reception in as many households as possible, both before and after digital switchover?
David Cairns: My hon. Friend is right. The whole point of digital switchover is to give people better television: better reception, more choice and more interactivity. I know her constituency well, because it borders mine, and I know that many people in north Ayrshire have difficulty accessing a decent signal. It is difficult to say with any degree of exactness what will happen before switchover, but I sincerely hope that they will see an improvement in the quality of their television reception and in the range and number of channels that they receive once we reach digital switchover.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): As the Minister knows, the other advantage of digital television is that audio description will enable those with poor sight to enjoy the experience of television far more effectively. The Government have set a very low threshold for what broadcasters have to provide. What are the Government doing to encourage greater take-up of audio description and to improve ease of access to the handsets for those with disabilities?
David Cairns: The hon. Gentleman is right. I mentioned the interactivity that comes with digital TV, and things such as audio description are a key part of that. I have had discussions with the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland, which has been campaigning on this for some while. Just as there is now complete acceptance of subtitles for the hard of hearing, audio description for people with visual impairment must become standard. That will happen, to any meaningful degree, only when we switch off the analogue signal and boost the digital signal. The hon. Gentleman is right to keep campaigning on the issue, and I shall ensure that Ofcom is aware of his concerns.
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, timrous beastie.
David Cairns: In a week when we celebrate the great Ayrshire poet, Robert Burns, I am sure that the people of Tarbolton will be enjoying those celebrations. Of course, the first ever Burns supper was in Greenock, in my constituency, so we lay claim to having set the tradition. The people of Tarbolton, along with those throughout Ayrshire and the rest of Scotland and the UK, will benefit when digital switchover happens. It will provide more channels, more services, more interactivity and more choice.
Daniel Kawczynski: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. It is important that those of us who are not members of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, if we have an interest in Scotland, be kept abreast of the Secretary of States important meetings with the important First Minister. Will he ensure that we receive those regular reports?
Des Browne: Perhaps the business managers and others in the hon. Gentlemans party will consider that to be a bid to join the Scottish Affairs Committee. I know that his party has had difficulty recruiting people to that Committee in the past, so he may well shortly find himself on an elite list. He is right to say that Ministers should be accountable. I believe in thatand I know that he knows that. I have given an undertaking to the House that I will ensure that it is aware of such discussions when they take place, and I will do so.
Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity, when he meets the First Minister, to explain that the Government have doubled the budget of the Scottish Executive since devolutionwith a real-terms increase this yearand to remind him that it is time to start delivering for the people of Scotland?
I agree wholeheartedly. I noticed a headline in the Scottish media this morning on the subject of Budget considerations in the Scottish Parliament. It stated that the Scottish Parliament would decide how to spend a £30 billion budget. I recollect that that is exactly double the amount that Donald Dewar had to
spend as First Minister when devolution first started in Scotland. That is a measure of the scale of the investment that the Government have made in Scotland and of the opportunities to build Scotlands infrastructure. The people of Scotland will not forgive the minority Administration if they do not spend that money wisely on the priorities of the people of Scotland, rather than on what the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) called a petty bit of political posturing. [ Interruption. ]
David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): When the Secretary of State next has a discussion with the First Minister, will he convey to him in the strongest terms the anger and disappointment felt in constituencies such as mine because of the SNP Governments petty political posturing on nuclear power and their ill-thought-out approach to waste, which have already led to Scotland being written off by prospective investors in next-generation power stations? Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the First Minister that his policies will lead not only to questions about whether Scotland can be self-sufficient in meeting its fuel requirements, but to economic consequences through the loss of the skills and expertise that have been built up by the nuclear industry in Scotland over many years?
Des Browne: I am sure that the First Minister reads Hansardhe will certainly read Scottish questions. I shall refer him to the hon. Gentlemans question, among other things, when I meet him on Friday. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. We know that 40 per cent. of the electricity generated must come from nuclear. We know that the future of our energy and climate change policies depends on energy conservation, but it also depends on the sustainable production of energy. Those who have thought the matter through and understand that a balance is needed know that nuclear energy will have to contribute to that. We have to ensure that the people of Scotland do not rue the day that the nationalists tried to deny them the opportunity of that sustainable future.
Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend meets the First Minister, will he remind him that full employment is this Labour Governments priority, and refer him to the report produced at the weekend, which was endorsed by Dr. Ewan Macdonald of Glasgow university? The report states that the impact of unemployment on a persons health is the equivalent of smoking 200 cigarettes a day.
Des Browne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Decades ago, the Black report said that there was a correlation between ill health and poverty, and there is an obvious link between poverty and employment opportunities. That is why we are so proud that the Governments economic policies and the stability that they have generated across the UK have made such a significant difference to employment, and consequently to unemployment.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Corporal Darryl Gardiner of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday. His death reaffirms our deep gratitude to those who have lost their lives in the service of our country. Our thoughts are also with Corporal Gardiners five colleagues who were injured in the attack.
The Prime Minister: I want everyone in Britain to be, and feel, safe on our streets. Crime is down 32 per cent. since 1997, and violent crime is down 31 per cent. There are more police than ever in our country, and we will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of our citizens.
Q2.  Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): My question is about flood defences. When a community has been flooded, the people there feel great fear and anxiety the next time there is heavy rainfall. That happened in Carlisle on Monday. Parts of the city have good flood defences, and extra defences will be put in place where they are needed, but what is happening nationally? The Government have massively increased funding for flood defences since last years tremendous downpours, but that will not be enough. [ Interruption. ] Will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will look to the insurance companies and local authorities for other funding sources? Will he review [ Interruption. ]
The Prime Minister:
I sympathise with those of my hon. Friends constituents who are facing floods, and with everyone around the country who has been hit by them. Sir Michael Pitt has undertaken a review of our policies since last summers floods, and we will implement all his recommendations. However, expenditure on flood defences was £300 million in 1997: this year, it is £600 million, and it will rise to £800 million in 2011. That means that more than £2 billion will be spent on flood
defences in the next three years, and of course we will consult with local authorities to ensure that the money is spent in the best way.
Taxpayers have the right to know what their total exposure is under the Prime Ministers latest plan for Northern Rock. Let us be clear: the rescue package is as much for his reputation as it is for the business. If the bonds are not paid back, and if Northern Rock fails to meet its obligations, what is the total exposure? How much?
The Prime Minister: The loans and bonds are secured against the assets of Northern Rock, which, as everyone understands, has a high-quality loan book. It is our intention to get the best deal for taxpayers: they will get their money back, and make a profit.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister will not tell us how much the taxpayer is in for, but the figure is £55 billion. Effectively, he has lumped every household in the country with a second mortgage. Taxpayers want to know how long it will be before they are off the hook, so will he say how many years it will be before the bonds are repaid?
The Prime Minister: We would be the first to be repaid under the scheme. The loans and the bonds are secured against the assets of Northern Rock. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should think very carefully about what he has been saying about Northern Rock. In September, he said that he was wholeheartedly behind our proposals to save the company. Then, in the last few weeks, he and his shadow Chancellor have toyed with nationalisation, administration and a private sale. Is it not about time that the Opposition were consistent in their thinking about Northern Rock?
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister talks about changing positions, but last week he was all in favour of nationalisation. Then, he gets a tough time at Prime Ministers questions, he gets on an aeroplane with Richard Branson and he drops the whole plan. The Prime Minister will not tell us how much taxpayers are in for or how long they will have to wait to get their money back. It is like a used car salesman who will not tell someone the price, will not tell them the mileage, and will not give them a warranty. He has gone from Prudence to Del Boy without even touching the ground. This deal depends on a massive effective subsidy from the British taxpayer to Northern Rock shareholders through either lower borrowing or a guarantee. So can the Prime Minister tell us how much that taxpayer subsidy is?
The Prime Minister:
The loans and the bonds are secured against the assets of Northern Rock. It is as clear as that. If I may say so, the reason why we intervened is the reason why we still are intervening: to secure the stability of the economy. I believe that all parties in the House should be in favour of ensuring that what happened at Northern Rock does not spread to the rest of the economy. I believe that all parties in the House would want to ensure that the depositors of
Northern Rock and other building societies are protected, but what we are now seeing is the height of opportunism on the part of the Conservative party. One day it favours nationalisation; another day it favours a private sale; then the shadow Chancellor says that his favoured option is now administration. Let me just tell the House what administration means. It means a fire sale of the assets, it means closing down the company and it means the Government losing billions of pounds. It is the worst possible solution and the Conservatives are not only guilty of inconsistency, but guilty of putting the stability of the economy at risk.
Mr. Cameron: The fact that the Prime Minister will not answer a single question just shows what a dodgy deal this is. He asks about administration. Does he not understand that administration and liquidation are different things? Let me put it this way. Administration is what the Government are in at the moment; liquidation is what is going to happen by the British people at the next election.
The more people hear about this deal, the more they realise that it is a complete con. The Prime Minister is taking a lot of debt, packaging it up and selling it off as bonds. This is a sub-prime deal from a sub-Prime Minister. Let us see whether he can just answer this one simple question. Can he at least tell us what fee is being paid to Goldman Sachs?
Let us look at the Oppositions policy of administration. Administration means a fire sale of the assets; it means selling off the assets at the bottom of the market and losing billions of pounds of money. The shadow Chancellor rejected administration in November but is now proposing it in January. The Oppositions policy is the worst possible policy for dealing with the problem and they have flip-flopped between nationalisation, private sales and administration. They have no credibility on the economy and the reason why we intervened is the reason why we think that the economic record of this Government is a good one. For 10 years we have preserved the stability of the economy. The figures out today show that growth in Britain was 3.1 per cent. last year, and it is the highest growth of the G7. We have more people in employment than ever before and we have lower inflation than our major competitors. That is the recipe for moving forward, not the flip-flop policies of the Opposition.
The Prime Minister will not tell us how much the taxpayer is liable for, he will not tell us for how long the taxpayer has got to prop up this business, he will not tell us what the subsidy is and he will not say how much he will pay to Goldman Sachs. Will he at least say this: in retrospect, does he recognise that it was a complete error of judgment to get on an aeroplane with one of the principal bidders, Richard Branson, and fly round the world?
The Prime Minister: Not at all, and just remember that the Opposition supported our policy in September and October, but for opportunistic reasons, they have moved against it. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman about inflation in the economy. Inflation in Britain is 2 per cent. In the Euro area it is 3 per cent., and in America it is 4 per cent. We have kept inflation low because we have made the difficult decisions that the Opposition would never face up to. As for the economy, his own adviserthe arts spokesman for the Conservative partysaid only yesterday:
in the 90s...what killed people were paying 15 per cent. interest rates on their mortgages.