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The Prime Minister:
I am explaining how the Bill arose. It arose from a Select Committee, which made recommendations that formed the basis of the Bill. The
Bill then went through the House of Lords. We will make our decisions on the issue in the normal way, but let me be absolutely clear that we respect the conscience of every Member of the House in this matter.
Mr. Cameron: This just is not good enough. The Prime Ministers official spokesman said that the Bill would be treated in a normal way: there would not be free votes. If that is to change, why cannot the Prime Minister tell us? Why does he not listen to Lord Alton, who said in the House of Lords:
Sometimes I despair that even after such an extraordinary debate as we have had here, there are Whipped votes. I am sorry that the precedent of 1990, when the original legislation was introduced and free votes were allowed throughout on these matters, has not been followed today?[ Official Report, House of Lords, 15 January 2008; Vol. 697, c. 1232.]
The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to call a free vote for his party, that is a matter for him, but let me say this: he is not understanding the way in which the Bill arose. It arose from recommendations made by a Joint Select Committee of the House. As I have said before, we will respect the conscience of every Member of this House.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): Thanks to the magnificent work of Kirklees primary care trust, health services have been transformed in my area. The shadow Health Minister predicted that accident and emergency would be closed by now. Instead, millions of pounds are being spent in community health and mental health services. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that success will continue to be rewarded and that sound financial management will be continued by the Government?
The Prime Minister: It is possible to spend more on the national health service in every area of the country because of our commitment to a 4 per cent. real-terms rise in health service expenditure over the next few years. That would not be possible if we accepted proposals for £10 billion of tax cuts, which would have to be paid for by £10 billion of cuts in public expenditure. That would inevitably mean cuts in the national health service. That we will not do. It is for others in the House to decide what they do on health.
Q3.  Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): For months the Government have been warned that continued unfair treatment of staff in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency would lead to strike action, and last week, for the first time ever, it happened. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, but next time we might not be so lucky. Will the Prime Minister intervene to impress upon senior management in the coastguard agency the need to engage with their own staff and end this dangerous and damaging dispute?
The Prime Minister: I am very saddened by the strike. I understand that the management remain keen to talk to the unions on the issue to ensure that the situation is resolved as soon as possible. Safety at sea is a priority, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing will be done to allow industrial action to affect the safety of people at sea.
Q4.  Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Many of my constituents rely on Londons buses in order to get about and they would be greatly alarmed if they thought that the service was under threat. With pensioners across the country about to enjoy free off-peak travel, does my right hon. Friend agree that this a timely moment to remember how important it is that London has a well run and properly funded bus service?
The Prime Minister: Bus usage in London is at its highest level since 1965. In other words, there are more people using buses in London than at any time for 40 years. I understand that that would be put at risk by proposals that would cost £100 million if applied by the Conservative party. That would mean that bus fares rose. It would discourage ordinary people from using the bus service. We are determined to maintain bus services in London.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): If the Prime Minister were to set about the rather daunting task of trying to persuade trade unionists back into the Labour fold, would he refer to the 40,000 job cuts under Gershon, the below-inflation pay rises in the public sector, or perhaps his Governments support for the evil regime in Colombia? Which would be his sales pitch?
The Prime Minister: I would refer to the minimum wage that we implemented in the teeth of opposition from other parties. I would refer to the right to be a member of a trade union, which we restored after what happened at GCHQ Cheltenham, and I would refer to the 3 million jobs created by the Government.
Q5.  Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Given the 40 per cent. increase in funding to Brent council under the Government, can the Prime Minister explain why a disabled person in my constituency is faced with a 214 per cent. rise in their cost of care, or a grieving family a 143 per cent. rise in the cost of burying a loved one? Does that not show that where there are Liberal and Tory coalitions, they always target the vulnerable and the disadvantaged?
The Prime Minister: Brent council has received extra money from central Government to enable it to undertake the public services that it should be performing. Therefore it is unfortunate that a Tory-Liberal coalition is cutting vital public services in the area. We have provided the money. They have cut the services.
Q6.  Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for his words of support for military personnel wearing their uniform in public. In addition, I hope for his support for an armed forces day. Will he see whether the Public Order Act 1986 can be amended to make it a specific offence for somebody to insult a member of Her Majestys armed forces who is wearing uniform in public?
The Prime Minister:
We are proud of our armed forces. Not only do they have the right to wear their uniforms in public when they are in the United Kingdom,
but we welcome the fact that they do. I know that the hon. Gentleman is proud of what happens in his own constituency as well.
I believe that the police do have powers to deal with those people who abuse or intimidate our armed forces; if they need them, they can use those powers already. The public are on the polices side if they take action to ensure that our armed forces achieve both the recognition and the acclaim that they rightly deserve.
Q7.  Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give us a bit more information on what he is doing about humanitarian aid for Darfur? At the same time, we appreciate that the Government are trying to initiate peace talks.
The Prime Minister: The UK is the second largest donor to Sudan; we have a programme of £114 million. At the same time, we have spent to date £290 million on humanitarian aid in Darfur throughout the last few years. We stand ready to provide additional assistance if the peace talks are happening and working and if we can get a proper settlement, backed by a United Nations force in the area.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Given that the Prime Minister has once again misrepresented my policy and given that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said herself last week that there was scarcely a child in her constituency who had not been mugged, will the Prime Minister now join me in agreeing to reallocate some of the Mayors publicity budget increment for next year to put another 440 uniformed police community support officers on some of the rowdier bus routes, to give Londoners on buses the security that they want?
We have got to be absolutely clear where the scope for real economies is and the real big ticket for spending is the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London. Thats where the real savings, believe me, are to be found.
Q8. Chris Mole(Ipswich) (Lab): Unemployment in Ipswich has fallen by 1,500 or nearly one half since 1997. That is a success both for the Governments economic policies and for each and every one of the individuals who have returned to work. In the face of global competition, regional cities such as Ipswich need every bit of home-grown business talent that they can acquire. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what his new national enterprise academy will achieve in constituencies such as mine?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills has announced proposals for more universities and higher education institutes in cities and towns of this country. On Monday, we announced the creation of a new national enterprise academy, to be led by Peter Jones; we will choose a site in a part of the country that needs that enterprise academy. There will be more apprenticeships over the next few years in every area of the country. There were 70,000 apprenticeships when we came into power. There are now 250,000 apprentices. That will double over the next 10 years; that is what we mean by equipping Britain for the future.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Sutton does not get decent homes funding and its properties are in greater need of investment than those of almost any other London borough, yet from April this year £10 million of the rent from Suttons tenants will be used to improve housing in other boroughs. Would the Prime Minister be willing to meet a delegation of Sutton tenants to explain why this is going to happen?
The Prime Minister: We have doubled expenditure on housing, particularly social housing, over the last few years. We have made it easier for people to buy their own homes by raising the stamp duty threshold as well, and we have introduced equity sharing to make it possible for more people to buy their homes, even if they do not have that amount of money when they start to become an owner-occupier. Those are all measures that we are taking to improve home ownership. I hope that councils around the country will support us in our aim to build 3 million more houses by 2020.
Q9.  Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): Ignoring the lesser ambitions of other countries, the German Government have set themselves a carbon reduction target of 40 per cent. by 2020. Can we join Germany in a new arms racea carbon reduction arms racewhereby we will win the new jobs, new technologies and new exports, and a clean environment?
The Prime Minister: I have to say that we are the country that is meeting our Kyoto obligations. We will continue to do so, and we will also press the international community to move to a higher level of ambition for 2050. At the moment the ambition is to reduce emissions by 60 per cent. We are asking our committee on climate change to look at 80 per cent. That is the sort of ambition that we all need, and I hope that every country in the European Union will support us.
Q10.  Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): I am holding up a can of beef from a ration pack issued to the Yorkshire Regiment in Afghanistan, where I recently had the privilege of meeting many of those there. On the base of the tin it reads, Produce of Argentina. Does the Prime Minister agree that our troops deserve the best, which in this case means British, or even Scottish, beef?
The Prime Minister: We continue to look at how we can improve procurement. I will take what the hon. Gentleman says and look at it with the Chief of the Defence Staff and others. It is very important that we do the best by our forces, and we will do so.
Q11.  Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): A strong economy has meant fewer unemployed young people in Slough, but many of them do not have the skills to compete for the work that is available. I am glad about the Prime Ministers announcement of extra apprenticeships, but can he do more to ensure that employers commit to high-quality work-based training for young people so that they can compete for well-paid work?
The Prime Minister: I had the privilege of visiting my hon. Friends constituency when we launched the new deal to give young people and adults new opportunities for employment. I still hope that there would be all-party support for the maintenance of the new deal. As far as adult learners are concerned, she is absolutely right. We need to do more to persuade employers, particularly small businesses, to train their work forces. That is why we have introduced train to gain; why we are giving every adult under 25 the right to train up to A-levels even if they have missed the first chance at school; and why all adults, of whatever age, are given the chance to train to basic level 2. We are doing more than ever to train people for what is a new economy where we are going to need the skills for the future.
Q12.  Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be entirely wrong to devolve policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly while the IRA army council remains in place?
The Prime Minister: I understand that the hon. Gentleman has chaired the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee on these matters. The Committee debated these issues, and I gather that it reported yesterday. It agreed to forward its report to the Secretary of State. I know that decisions are being recommended by that Committee and that there are controversial issues. I think that the best thing is that discussions take place on those issues and we see how we can resolve them.
Q13.  Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has seen for himself the devastation that flooding causes in homes, communities and families. The Government set aside millions of pounds to assist the areas suffering from flooding. However, this is a matter not just of natural weather events, but of failing infrastructure in many parts of the country. How can people in my constituency, whether in local authorities or businesses, access those moneys set aside by Government?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a very big interest in these matters. Expenditure on this issue has risen; in fact, it has doubled in the past 10 years. We will raise expenditure further, because it is absolutely vital that we have the investment against flooding and coastal erosion risk. We will spend £800 million on that by 2011.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The official inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak at Pirbright has found direct ministerial responsibility. Can the Prime Minister tell the House how Ministers are to be held to account and when a full and proper animal tracing process will be put in place?
The Prime Minister: I do not accept the hon. Gentlemans interpretation of that report at all. What the report actually says is that the action taken by the Government was immediate and instant and was the right thing to do. It also says that we were far better prepared than for any previous foot and mouth outbreak. It makes recommendations for the future, and we will look at all those recommendations. We are already investing and changing the management at Pirbright to avoid these things happening in the future. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would give the House a fair reflection of Mr. Andersons report.
Q14.  Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend will be aware of reports this week that up to 4,000 forced marriages take place every year, and that hundreds of ethnic minority children are
disappearing from school rolls, who may have been forced into marriage against their will. Will he look into the role of education welfare officers and those tasked with responsibility for childrens absenteeism from school, and perhaps look to
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises the important issue of the 3,000 young womenand perhaps many morewho are victims of forced marriages. The Home Office and the Foreign Office set up a joint unit in 2005, which is handling 5,000 inquiries a year. All the matters that she raised will be looked at carefully; this is not tolerable and we must do everything we can to support victims of forced marriages.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it may be for the convenience of hon. Members if I remind them that at the end of the Chancellors speech copies of the Budget resolutions will be available to them in the Vote Office.
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