The Prime Minister:
Yes, and it is right to test the new system and to make the decision in 2012. But I
have to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. We are for education until the age of 18. We want to give every child the right, free of charge, to stay in education until the age of 18. Is the right hon. Gentleman for that policy, or is he against it?
Mr. Cameron: Anyone listening to this will recognise that this Prime Minister cannot answer a question, and cannot make a decision. He cannot make a decision: I think he is incapable of it. Parents, teachers and children listening to this who want A-levels to continue just want a straight answer. Will they not look at the Prime Minister and say This is a hopeless, dithering Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister: I have given the answer: A-levels and diplomas will go side by side. What the right hon. Gentleman has failed to tell us is whether he supports education until the age of 18. We have said that we will give every child and young person the right to education until the age of 18. It is the biggest change in the educational system for 60 years, and the right hon. Gentleman is unable to tell us whether or not he supports it. This is the Leader of the Opposition who wants to look both ways on an important policy. I tell him this: we are investing in the long term, and he refuses to do so.
Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend ask his Cabinet colleagues responsible for energy and for defence to work closely together to deal with concerns raised recently about the interaction between wind farms and defence radar systems? Will he ask them to ensure that any concerns expressed about a particular application for a wind farm are proportionate to our defence needs, but do not prevent the urgent need to make progress in installing wind farms around the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: I was discussing this very matter with colleagues on Monday. It is important to recognise that offshore wind will be a very important part of the development of renewable energy for the future. We will have to invest in it in the future, but we will also have to deal with the military and security problems that will arise as a result. We are currently discussing these matters in order to reach a sensible conclusion.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): This weeks bugging controversy should not come as a surprise to the Prime Minister. After all, it is this Government who have turned the British public into the most spied upon on the planet: 1,000 surveillance requests every day; 1 million innocent people on the Governments DNA database; and 5,000 schools now fingerprinting our children at school. Is that what the Prime Minister meant when he spoke so stirringly a few months ago about the great British tradition of liberty?
The Prime Minister: I take it that the right hon. Gentleman and the Liberal authorities support CCTV. I take it that they support the intercept action that is taken when it is necessary for national security. I take it that he accepts that only 1,500 intercepts have been commissioned by Ministers as a result of urgent security needs. Does he accept these things or not?
Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister seems to see no limits. He is creating a surveillance state. Why has he consistently refused requests for more power to be given to the Information Commissioner? Why does he not do what is already done in Scotland and remove the DNA of innocent people from the database? Why will he not act immediately to stop the scandalous fingerprinting of our children at school?
The Prime Minister: People in this country are reassured by the presence of CCTV; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not proposing to remove it. That is one very important part of the investigatory and surveillance powers that we give the police to carry out their work. I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman would look at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and see the protections that have been put in place where there is surveillance and where there are intercepts. They include authorisation by a senior officer, the right to appeal to an independent tribunal, and a commissioner for surveillance who looks at matters and reports annually. We are taking the steps to protect the liberties of the citizens; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support that.
Q2.  Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Gateshead council is planning the development of a 20-acre brownfield site near the town centre for housing, 25 per cent. of which would be affordable housing. However, the completion of the acquisition of the site is being held up by the British Rail residuary board on the rather curious premise that the council has depressed the valuation of the site by planning affordable housing. Should this public body not be more au fait with Government priorities and objectives, and will my right hon. Friend look into this matter and try to break the logjam?
The Prime Minister: I will of course look into the matter. There is a need for affordable housing in every part of the country, and we will wish to do the best that we can to meet the target of 3 million new houses by 2020, a very substantial number of them affordable for first-time buyers. I will look into the issue about public sector and private sector land, and I will write to my hon. Friend.
Q3.  Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): At the last election, the Government promised a referendum on the EU treaty. Now, four Labour MPs who are campaigning for that referendum have been told by the Prime Minister that they could lose the Whip. Is it now the case that keeping ones word with the voters is incompatible with membership of the Labour party?
The Prime Minister: What was called the constitutional concept was abandoned, and no country except Ireland is proposing to hold a referendum on the European treaty. The question the Conservatives must answer for themselves is whether, after the ratification of the treaty, they are going to propose a referendum which could mean a fundamental renegotiation of our membership of the European Union. The questions now go to the Conservative party.
Q4.  Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): Next year, Dover gets its high-speed rail link, and regeneration of the town and the port will take off with the potential to create thousands of new jobs; but that will be realised only if the last few miles of the A2the route to the portis dualled and upgraded. That work is being thwarted by the South East England regional assembly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that assemblies such as SEERA are preventing places like Dover from reaching their true potential? He will not be surprised to learn that they are all controlled by Tory councillors.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend campaigns for the future of Dover with vigour and determination. I agree that urgent decisions on transport are having to be made throughout the country. The A2 is an important regional route. I gather that there has been an application for support from the growth fund, and I suggest that he asks for a meeting with the Department for Transport to discuss these issues.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree it is a real tragedy that following Israels withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 a rain of rockets has fallen on towns such as Sderot? Now, there has been this most recent suicide bombing. Does he agree that if Israel were given a greater degree of security, the lives of Palestinians would be transformed out of all recognition?
The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is important that we move forward by guaranteeing the security of Israel and then responding to the urgent needs of the Palestinian people. The talks that are taking place, which started at Annapolis and are continuing in talks between Prime Minister Olmert and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, are important if we are to get the breakthroughs that are necessary. I want to see more action dealing with the poverty that now exists in the two areas of the Palestinian Authority, but I also want to be able to safeguard the security of Israel. I shall be talking soon to Prime Minister Olmert about those very issues, and I hope to be able to attend the Palestinians investment conference to support them in their activities in the next few months.
Q5.  Mr. Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is aware that this Government have done good work in dealing with institutionalised poverty through welfare reform, the minimum wage, working tax credits and minimum income guarantees. Does he agree that there is still much to do, particularly to protect people in the workplace from rogue employers who criminally exploit agency workers by paying them less than the minimum wage and by hiring and firing in breach of the law?
The Prime Minister: That is why we are looking to see how we can progress the agency workers directive and why we created a vulnerable workers forum to examine the problems faced by people in some of the lowest paid jobs in the country. I must also remind my hon. Friend that the biggest single measure that we have taken to protect vulnerable workersthe creation of a minimum wagewas opposed by the Conservative party.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I am a Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland who believes that his home and office phones were bugged for years. What assurance can the Prime Minister give this House that if tapping occurred in the past, it will not continue in the future?
The Prime Minister: A report is made every year by the chief surveillance commissionerthe commissioner responsible for intercepts. He provides the information that is available for people to look at. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about these issues.
Q6.  Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Whoever is elected as the next President of the United States, is it not important that we maintain a strong and close relationship with such a significant ally? Is not the sign of such a relationship a willingness to discuss areas of difference, for example climate change and the middle east, so that together we can make a difference?
The Prime Minister: The relationship between a British Prime Minister and the President of the United States is one of the most important. Every Prime Minister and every President will be very keen to preserve and extend that relationship. As my hon. Friend says, there are genuine issues that we have to discuss together, not least, as he mentions, climate change, and security issues around the world. I shall be meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later today to discuss our co-operation on a range of foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): As compensation for breaking his promise on the referendum, the Prime Minister made a new promise to this House. He said that it would be able to consider the treaty incorporating the substance of the constitution line-by-line in a Committee of the whole House, yet not a single clause relating to immigration, asylum and border controls has been, or will be, considered in a Committee of the whole House, be that through line-by-line examination, amendments or a vote. What are his promises worth?
The Prime Minister: We are considering the European Union (Amendment) Bill day by day in the House of Commons in great detail. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was a member of the Cabinet that denied the British people a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the sale of counterfeit cigarettes across south Yorkshire and across the country generally has been described as a ticking health time bomb? A recent committee of Barnsley metropolitan borough council reported the warning that many of those cigarettes contain heavy metals that could screw a persons health. In addition to the activity of the Customs and the police, will he consider a national campaign to raise awareness against this danger and avert a health crisis?
The Prime Minister:
I shall look at the issue that my hon. Friend raises, because counterfeit products that are sold to children are a danger indeed. I remind him that legislation is before Parliament to strengthen
sanctions against shops that repeatedly sell cigarettes to children, and on 1 October 2007 the age for the sale of tobacco products was raised from 16 to 18. We will take what action is necessary to protect young people from that evil.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Within the last hour it has been confirmed that troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade in my constituency are to be deployed to Afghanistan. Last week, I was in Helmand province and I can report that the spirits of our brave men and women are exceptionally high. However, will the Prime Minister take action to ensure that our European allies do more to provide troops on the ground and helicopters and all other logistical support?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has visited our troops in Afghanistan. They are doing a superb job, morale is extremely high and they are making a huge difference, not only through the actions they take but in training Afghan troops for the future. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that an announcement has been made by the Secretary of State for Defence about 16 Airborne going to Afghanistan. The hon. Gentleman is also right in that what we are seeking, especially at the NATO summit in a few weeks time, is a determination on the part of all our allies to ensure that the burden sharing in Afghanistan is fair. We have 15 per cent. of the troops in Afghanistan, and other countries, including Spain and France, have made announcements that they will add to their troops. We need proper burden sharing, not only in personnel but in helicopters and other equipment.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Local developers in my constituency have put forward proposals to build on virtually the entire green belt in the area. I do not expect the Prime Minister to comment on individual proposals, but does he agree with me that Labour stands for sustained, planned development of affordable housing with good public transport available, not for rewarding speculative greed?
The Prime Minister: When we came to power, brownfield was 56 per cent. of new development. We set a target of 60 per cent. and it is now at 75 per cent. as a result of the decisions that we have taken. I shall look at the point that my hon. Friend raises about his constituency, but I can tell him that there is a proposal for an eco-town next to it, and I hope that that will gain some support.
Q9.  Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): As we have already heard, the next deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade to Afghanistan has been announced this morning. However, that does not include the 600 extra troops that senior officers in the brigade have requested. They have been told that there are simply not enough fighting men for war on two fronts. Could the Prime Minister personally ensure that there are enough bayonets on the ground to hold the territory that we have so bloodily won against the inevitable Taliban assault in the spring?
The Prime Minister:
The statement that I made in December was widely welcomed. I said that our troop numbers would be around 7,800, and we would maintain
them at around that number for the foreseeable future. I repeat that we are providing 15 per cent. of the coalition forces in Afghanistan. There are 41 countries making contributions and it is right that there is greater burden sharing. That is also the view of our armed forces, and I will strive to achieve that in both personnel and equipment.
Q10.  Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): As a parent, what guidance would my right hon. Friend offer to 15 or 16-year-old youngsters who do not see their future in the sixth form, do not wish to go on to higher education and do not see academic studies as right for them? As Prime Minister, what will he do to allow them to realise their ambitions?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We know that every young person will need skills in the future to obtain the best jobs available, and that is why those who do not choose the academic route should have the option of apprenticeships or preparation for apprenticeships. That is why we are increasing the number of apprenticeships, which were dying out when we came to power in 1997, to 250,000, and will double that number in the future. I had hoped that there would be all-party support for that, but unfortunately the Conservatives cannot support the long-term investment that we are making in education.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): The police want cannabis to be reclassified as a class B drug; so do the mental health profession and the general public, and so do I. The evidence is there; what is the Prime Minister waiting for?
Q11.  Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): In Halifax town centre, violent crime has recently fallen by 40 per cent. In congratulating the various agencies involved in achieving that result, will the Prime Minister look to increase the number of police officers in Halifax so that crime continues to fall?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who refers to excellent work by the police in her area. The reason that is possible is that we now have the highest number of police in our history and we have community support officers. We are building neighbourhood policing for the future. I assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to ensure that people in our country not only see that the streets are safe at night but feel that they are safe.
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): In answer to the two previous questions, the Prime Minister escaped from his involvement in Afghanistan by talking about jointery with other nations. When I was there last week, in Lashkar Gah and Camp Bastion, I was horrified by the shortage of helicopter availability, which means that our troops are late getting into the line and coming home from it. Will the Prime Minister reiterate what his predecessor saidnamely, that whatever our generals need on the front line, he will supply it?
The Prime Minister: We are in constant discussion about what is right for the future. Not only do we have 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, but we are putting new helicopters on the ground over the next few months and we are making available additional equipment. Under urgent operational requirements, we provided £6 billion over the past few years for new equipment, so whatever equipment has been needed, we have been prepared to provide it.
Q12.  Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): In my previous life, I was proud to have been responsible for the building known as Mouse Castle, which was the refuge for suffragettes who suffered starvation and brutality in the fight for womens right to vote. Given that today is the 90th anniversary of womens suffrage, what more does my right hon. Friend intend to do to ensure that more women are represented in this placemore than the one in five who sit mostly on the Labour Benchesin honour of those suffragettes and their suffering?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should celebrate the fact that 90 years have passed after the beginning of the suffragette movement. She is also right to say that we are all proud that as a result of our victory in 1997 and subsequently, there are more women in the House of Commons than ever before, and we want to see more after the next general election. I agree with her that there should be a permanent memorial to the campaign that was mounted for the right to vote. Perhaps a monument on Parliament square would be a good indication of the support of the whole country.
Q13.  Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Bizarrely, the Prime Minister has referred twice in these Prime Ministers questions to the popularity of eco-towns. Obviously, he is not aware of the overwhelming opposition to them in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). If he is capable of taking a decision and wants to prove that he is a true democrat, will he take this opportunity to rule out both those sites now?
The Prime Minister: Unfortunately, the Conservative party is not only against eco-towns but against building homes altogether. There have been 60 applications for eco-towns, so it does not sound as though they are unpopularit sounds as though they are popular. Once again, the Conservative party is on the wrong side of the argument.