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The truth is that under this Government [Hon. Members: More!] I shall tell you what is more: under this Government, 600,000 more people are in extreme poverty than when the Government came to power. The Prime Minister talks about the central issue. The central issue is his massive loss of authority. Was there ever anything more humiliating than a Prime Minister breaking off talks with the President and
asking for an outside line in the White House in order to beg one of his Parliamentary Private Secretaries not to resign? This is what Labour MPs [ Interruption. ] They should be quiet and listen. This is what Labour MPs are saying [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Leader of the Opposition speak [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) is far too noisy. So is the Lord High Chancellorthat is his title now.
This is what Labour MPs are saying about their Prime Minister: he is losing touch; he does not know what fairness is; he needs to see the world through the eyes of voters; he is like a scared rabbit in the headlights. The Labour peer, Lord Desai, said that the Prime Ministers leadership style is like porridge. Another week like this and it will be Cheerios. Is it not the case that the Labour party has finally worked out that it has a loser, not a leader?
The Prime Minister: Why does the right hon. Gentleman never address the central issue? Child benefit increased from £11 to £20 under this Government. The poorest child in this country received £27 under the Conservatives and receives £75 under Labour. Tackling poverty so that we get nearly 1 million children and 1 million pensioners out of povertythat is what we are doing. Here is the choice: a Labour Government who support a minimum wage and tackling child and pensioner poverty and who have got 3 million people in to jobs, or a Conservative party that would go for £10 billion of tax cuts, with the priority being stamp duty on shares and not the poorest in the country. I know which side the country is on.
Mr. Cameron: The central issue is the Prime Ministers weakness and his inability to hold to a position for longer than half an hour. That is what todays humiliating climbdown is all about. Is not the real lesson today the fact that the only time that the Prime Minister listens to people is when he is faced with personal defeat? Is that not the lesson that everyone in this country, in London and beyond, should think about on 1 May, if they want to send a message to this weak and incompetent Government that enough is enough?
The Prime Minister: The Opposition used to oppose the 10p rate. Last year, they abstained on the 10p rate. This year, as a result of their opportunism, they wanted to keep it. We are for opportunity for everyone; they are for opportunism in everything.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab):
OAPs can now travel with their freedom passes before 9 am. That has been warmly welcomed in my constituency in Brent and all around London, and has even been replicated around the UK. Does my right hon. Friend agree that
the Oppositions proposal to abolish the freedom pass is more dim-witted than Dick Whittington?
The Prime Minister: I am proud of our record on free travel for pensioners. I am also proud of the fact that in London the Mayor has been able to extend free travel to many additional groups of people. However, we have to remember that the Conservative candidate for Mayor has said:
We have got to be absolutely clear where the scope for real economies is...the real big ticket...is the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London. Thats where the real savings, believe me, are to be found.
Mr. Clegg: I should like to extend sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Senior Aircraftman Graham Livingstone, Senior Aircraftman Gary Thompson and Trooper Robert Pearson. I also want to express my sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of that exceptional parliamentarian, the unforgettable and formidable Gwyneth Dunwoody. As we know, she enjoyed enormous admiration on all sides of the House.
I thought that penalising the poor to reward the rich was the job of the Conservative party. The Prime Minister is deliberately making more than 5 million of the lowest earners in this country even worse off, so will he explain why he is doing the Tories job for them?
The Prime Minister: We have done more to take children and pensioners out of poverty than any Government in the history of this country since the second world war. Contrary to the advice of the Liberal party, which wanted us to abolish the new deal, we have helped more young people and long-term unemployed into work than any Government since 1945. If we had taken the Liberal partys advice, there would have been high unemployment where there is now low unemployment.
Mr. Clegg: Labour Members are now in full cry, but where were they on Budget day? Why were they silent then? The truth is that, under the Prime Ministers Government, income inequality is rising, working age poverty is up and now he is doubling the tax rate for the lowest earners. The Prime Minister used to be a man of principle but, if he cannot deliver on poverty, what on earth is the point of this increasingly pointless Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister: The point is to have economic growth in this country that gets more people into work. That could not happen under Liberal policies. The point of this Government is to take more people, including children and pensioners, out of poverty, and that is exactly what we are doing. I repeat: if we had followed the Liberal partys policies, there would be fewer people in work, and more in poverty.
Q2.  Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Last week, the Prime Minister made a very successful visit to my constituency of Ilford. Does he agree that London is the most successful and diverse city in the world, with fantastic community relations? Investment has been made in its buses and trains, and there is still Crossrail to come. Does he think that all of that would be put at risk if someone with uncosted commitments and shadowy advisers were to be parachuted into our capital city?
The Prime Minister: People know that more people are able to use public transportbuses and the London undergroundas a result of the Mayor of Londons policies. In addition, more people are able to get affordable housing as a result of his policies. What would be completely unacceptable to the people of London would be to wake up and find that, as a result of a Conservative Mayor, housing was being cut, affordable housing was being taken away and the very transport services they relied on were being savagely cut. We will not allow that to happen.
The Prime Minister: Let me deal with the first part of the question first. I think that it is very regrettable that teachers are going on strike tomorrow, and the reason is that even the chairman of the pay review body has said that this is an independent award, independently adjudicated, and one that the teachers should be prepared to accept. I hope that, after reflection, the teachers will reconsider the action that they are going to take in future on this matter.
Q3.  Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): One of the best performing schools in this country is the Whickham sports college in my constituency. Sadly, a number of weeks ago it was badly damaged by fire. May I ask the Prime Minister to urge the Schools Minister to sit down with the local education authority and the school to try to bring forward Building Schools for the Future money to repair the school, and not let the Opposition do away with billions of pounds of the BSF programme?
The Prime Minister: I know that the school in my hon. Friends constituency to which he refers was subject to a fire but that the children are now back in the school, and I know that he wants resources for urgent repair work. The Building Schools for the Future programme is increasing the number of secondary schools that are either renewed or completely rebuilt, and he is absolutely rightwhat would put that at risk is the Conservative proposal to take £4.5 billion from that programme and to deprive people of the secondary schools that they have been promised.
Q4.  Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con):
The first stage of the renewable transport fuel scheme came into operation last week.
May I ask the Prime Minister what his priority is? Is it to put bioethanol in a Range Rovers fuel tank or to put bread in an Africans stomach?
The Prime Minister: We had a seminar on food yesterday in Downing street, with all the different organisations that are involved, and I think there is a general recognition that the policy on bioethanol has got to be reviewed. I may say that we have reviewed the tax incentives associated with it. But there is also a determination that we do more to increase the supply of food in the world. I think the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the increasing numbers of consumers in China and India are pushing up the demand for food, at the same time as the supply is not rising. That is why we discussed yesterday emergency measures that could both increase food supply in the short term and avoid famine, and increase food supply in the longer term to cut the prices of food in this country, as in every country in the world. I hope that there would be all-party agreement on the need to take action on this.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): The Prime Minister will know that the Chancellors recently implemented Budget has benefited four out of five households in this country. May I say to him that I am pleased that we are going to look at the fifth household as well? He will know that constituencies such as mine have suffered from poverty for generations now, not helped by Governments in the past who have closed coal mines and caused massive unemployment, and that this Government have no lessons to learn from the anti-poverty lobby sat on the Opposition Benches.
The Prime Minister: We have halved unemployment in the past 10 years. There are 3 million more people in jobs, and we have virtually eliminated long-term youth unemployment. We could not have done that without the new deal, which was opposed by the Opposition parties. We will continue to create jobs; the Opposition are the party that, in government, created mass unemployment.
Q5.  Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The Prime Minister claims that his is the party that looks after jobs. Will he explain why this week the chicken factory in Sutton Benger in my constituency was closed with the loss of 450 jobs, hard on the heels of Hygrade in Chippenham with 600 jobs, hard on the heels of St. Ivel in Wootton Basset with 500 jobs and hard on the heels of Dyson moving 1,000 jobs offshore? Does the Prime Minister take any personal responsibility at all for the meltdown in manufacturing in my constituency, or is it all somebody elses fault?
The Prime Minister:
Of course whenever jobs go in any particular part of the country, that is to be regretted, but the important thing is that we are creating more new jobs, and creating them more quickly, than other countries. I just have to remind the hon. Gentleman that employment, according to the last figures, was at record levels29.5 million people in work, 3 million more than in 1997and that employment is up in every region and country of the United Kingdom. Our unemployment rate contrasts with a rate twice that in Germany and France and rising in America, and I think he should give some
recognition to the fact that, even in difficult global times, we are continuing to create jobs and continuing to bring unemployment down.
John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): May I welcome the Chancellors letter to me this morning on the Treasury inquiry and the 10p tax rate, and in particular his clear commitment to help the low-paid without children and the pensioners under 65 and to make those changes backdated to this financial year? The Prime Minister will be aware that the Treasury Committee has identified four groups, and that our inquiry will report before the Report stage of the Finance Bill. May I seek the Prime Ministers co-operation in seriously considering our recommendations and in contemplating any further measures that the Treasury Committee proposes in its inquiry?
The Prime Minister: I have to point out to the Treasury Committee that 70 per cent. of the people who were losing under the Budget have incomes above £20,000. Although many people who are low-paid and on low incomes are now being helped by the child tax credit, which we have raised, by pensioner tax allowances, which have been extended, by the pension credit, which is rising, and by the working tax credit, more can be done in the two areas I have talked about: helping pensioners aged 60 to 64we shall bring forward proposals soonand equally helping those on low pay who are part of the low-paid group in our society but not part of the working tax credit. That is what we will look at over the next period of time and we shall obviously do so in consultation with the Treasury Committee, but it is important to recognise that of those who lost in that Budget 70 per cent. earned above £20,000.
Q8.  Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Army cadet forces, which are national voluntary youth organisations, are excellent and the best youth organisations in Great Britain today? They are organised by enthusiastic staff and officers. My detachment, the Durham ACF, takes 700 youngsters away during the summer holidays, many of whom would never go away on holiday. Will my right hon. Friend announce to the House today what my Government are to do to support further the future of the Army cadet forces?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend because she works with her local Army cadets and plays a prominent role with the cadet force in her area. I have been hugely impressed by the good work of our cadet forcesthe combined cadet force, the sea cadet corps, the Army cadet force and the air training corps. They develop a sense of self-reliance and service to the community among young people and I praise all the adults involved. We will provide extra money to help the development of cadet forces, not just in some schools but across a whole range of schools. We are of course committed to providing more money for positive opportunities for young people in this country. The cadet forces play an important role and we are determined to extend them.
Q9.  Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con):
My constituents in Ilford, North arrive home late at night to find some stations unmanned. Does the Prime
Minister agree that the current moribund Mayor of London is letting them down and that next week, hopefully, we shall have a Mayor of London who will protect their safety?
Q10.  Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): People on good salaries tend to ensure that they pay the correct amount of tax and take advantage of any tax concessions or tax relief available to them. People on low incomes do not. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is a concerted and sustained effort to ensure that people take full advantage of the tax credits, concessions and benefits to which they are entitled?
The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend says, tax credits are important because they can take people out of poverty. That is why, whether it be tax credits or council tax benefit and housing benefit, we are promoting an awareness campaign targeted at pensioners so that they know of their rights and can apply for the benefits. We are determined that all the benefit due to pensioners and others gets to them as quickly as possible.
Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): The Westmorland general hospital is the major provideror rather the providerof acute coronary and other medical services to an area larger than Greater London, but those services are proposed for closure later this year. If we believe our local ambulance serviceas of course we mustthat would leave 63 per cent. of my constituents taking more than the golden hour to get to hospital in the event of a stroke or a heart attack. Will the Prime Minister take a personal interest in the matter and agree to meet me and local health professionals in South Lakeland to help to resolve it?
The Prime Minister: Obviously I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman says and the facts he brings before me, but he needs to put the matter in its proper perspective. We have doubled expenditure on the national health service, there are 30,000 more doctors and 80,000 more nurses, and 110 hospitals have either been built anew or are being refurbished. Of course I will look at what the hon. Gentleman says, but he should put it in its proper perspective: there is more investment than ever before in the health service in his area.
Q11.  Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend send a clear message to Robert Mugabe to stop brutalising legitimate opposition, to listen to the democratic will of Zimbabwe, and to go?
The Prime Minister:
I agree with my hon. Friend that a message should be sent from the whole of the United Kingdom that what is happening in Zimbabwefailing to announce an election result and trying to rig an election resultis completely unacceptable. I call on the whole world to express its view that that is completely unacceptable to the whole international community. Because of what has happened in South Africa, where there is an arms shipment trying to get to Zimbabwe, we will promote proposals for an embargo on all arms to Zimbabwe. At the same time, we ask all
African Union observers and international observers to make their views known about the unfairness of the election.
Q12.  Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con): If the Prime Minister will not say sorry for the 10p tax fiasco, will he at least apologise for voting down the restoration of the earnings link for the state pension last night, or is sorry the hardest word?
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