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7 May 2008 : Column 697

The Prime Minister: Once again, the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to spend money that he does not have. He knows perfectly well that we are putting £1.7 billion into post offices to keep as many post offices open as possible. The London results of the review have just been published, and it has saved some of the post offices in London. But the fact of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman has no money to be able to keep further post offices open, and he should stop misleading the electorate about what he can and cannot do.

Mr. Cameron: So that is another no, then—he is not listening to people about post offices. When it comes to post offices, when it comes to releasing criminals and when it comes to taxing the low paid, people will just conclude that this whole listening exercise is just empty words.

Seven months ago, the Prime Minister called off the general election and said that he wanted more time to set out his vision. Since then, we have had nearly 130 White and Green Papers, 34 Government Bills and 7,457 Government press releases. If he had a coherent vision, would not people have heard it by now? Should not everyone conclude that we have a Government who just lurch from one relaunch to another? Should they not conclude that what is missing is what is really needed—that is, a clear vision and some strong leadership for Britain?

The Prime Minister: The choice in this country is between a Government who have created jobs, stability, growth and public services and a Conservative party that has absolutely nothing to offer the people of this country. When I look at what the Conservative promises are, I see £10 billion of tax cuts, a black hole in public spending, risk to the economy and going back to the situation that we had in the early ’90s. No amount of slick salesmanship can obscure the fact that there is no substance in anything the Conservatives are saying.

Mr. Cameron: People expressed their view on the choice last week. The Prime Minister talks about salesmanship. We all know his brilliant salesmanship—this is the man who sold gold at the bottom of the market. That is the problem with the Prime Minister—he has got nothing to sell and he is useless at selling it. While we are at it, I have got a bit more advice for him. This is the Prime Minister who went on “American Idol” with more make-up on than Barbara Cartland; this is the Prime Minister who sits in No. 10 Downing street wondering— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Cameron: He sits in No. 10 Downing street waiting for Shakira to call and waiting for George Clooney to come to tea. I have got a bit of advice for him: why does he not give up the PR and start being a PM?

The Prime Minister: This is a man who tries to lecture us on presentation, this is a man who tries to lecture us on style, because there is no substance in any of his questions. The choice is between a Government who have raised the minimum wage and a Conservative party that opposed the minimum wage. The choice is
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between a Government who have taken a million children out of poverty and the Conservative party that trebled poverty. No amount of presentation from the Conservative party can obscure the vital question that the choice in this country is between a Labour Government who deliver and a Conservative party that just talks.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): During the ’80s and early ’90s, many families in Portsmouth had to cope with sky-high interest rates, rampant inflation and little likelihood of finding work. Since then, sustained investment in jobs and training has led to the highest employment levels ever. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a prime example of fixing the roof while the sun shines?

The Prime Minister: There are more people in employment in this country than at any time in our history, there are more vacancies for jobs, and we have cut unemployment to its lowest level since 1975. That could not have happened if we had followed the policies of the Conservative party. More than that, there are 1.8 million more home owners in this country, and that could not have happened if we had the 15 per cent. interest rates that we had under the Conservatives.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): May I add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Trooper Ratu Babakobau? Also, I am sure that I speak on behalf of all Members of the House when I extend our expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Ray Michie, the former Member for Argyll and Bute, who sadly passed away just last night.

Does the Prime Minister understand the threat from the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) when he said that the doubling of the 10p tax rate will

When will we get concrete proposals to compensate all those who have been hit?

The Prime Minister: I add to the condolences that the right hon. Gentleman has sent to the family of Ray Michie, who was a very distinguished Member of this House.

The right hon. Gentleman’s party is not proposing the restoration of the 10p rate—not at all. Let me also say that the Chancellor has put his letter to the Treasury Committee and outlined the steps that he is taking to deal with the two groups that were missed out—the 60 to 64-year-olds and those people on low incomes who cannot claim the working tax credit—and he will put forward his proposals in due course. I would have thought that the Liberal party would be prepared to wait until he puts his proposals.

Mr. Clegg: That is not good enough. This is a matter of principles—remember those? I think that everybody now knows that when it comes to helping the most needy, the Prime Minister has got no principles and the Tories have got no policies. Will he now provide an absolute guarantee that those who have lost out will be compensated in full, backdated to the beginning of April, and will not have to jump through hoops to claim what is rightfully theirs?

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The Prime Minister: The Chancellor will put his proposals. The Liberal party opposed the new deal, which has helped 2 million people get into work. The Liberal party wanted a local minimum wage, not a national minimum wage, and the Liberal party opposed our child tax credit and our child trust fund. That is not a record that it should be proud of.

Q3. [203741] Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): May I add my condolences to the family of the serviceman killed in Afghanistan on Friday?My right hon. Friend is aware that the fight against crime is ongoing, and when the police introduce proposals to improve the way in which we tackle violent crime and terrorism, they should have confidence that policy makers will give those proposals serious consideration. What does my right hon. Friend have to say to those Members of this House who claim to be on the side of the police, but do not back that up when it comes to votes on measures such as the national database on DNA or the imposition of mandatory sentences for rapists and those who carry guns and knives?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We proposed tougher sentences for murder, for sexual and violent offences, and for persistent offenders; indeterminate sentences for anyone who committed serious sexual or violent crime; and five-year minimal custodial sentences for unauthorised possession of firearms. All those proposals were opposed by the Conservative party.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): Does the Prime Minister recall agreeing with me when I suggested to him a month or two ago that the House was going to need a much better and fuller explanation of why an increase in time is being sought by the Government for holding people in detention without charge? When is he going to give us that explanation? Would it not be a good time to do so now?

The Prime Minister: That is what the debate at the moment is about. I have appealed to Members of this House to look at the matter so that we can find a consensus. I have said that using the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which some people wish to use for this purpose, would mean going beyond 28 days, but we would have to declare a state of emergency to do so. Many people in this House would be prepared to have a period lasting longer than 28 days, but to do so we would have to declare a state of emergency.

I and the Government are proposing that we give a power to the House. The Home Secretary, with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the head of the Metropolitan police, would have to come to this House with an order and the House would have to vote a second time on whether it approved the action to allow someone to be detained for more than 28 days before they were charged. I believe that the safeguards that we have put in place protect the citizen against arbitrary treatment. They include a judge reviewing the detention every seven days, a report by an independent reviewer, the Home Secretary being required to come to the House and a final report on how the procedure had been adopted. Those are the protections for civil liberties that people have asked for. But I have to take the advice
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of other people who tell me that it is important for us to have a precautionary power in place so that, if there were a multiple incident, we could go beyond 28 days with the approval of the House.

I have looked at terrorist incidents over the past few years, and I have looked at the sophistication of terrorists who are using multiple passports, multiple telephone numbers and multiple e-mailing facilities. If there was a plot involving a number of people, we would need more than 28 days to review all the evidence. I believe that most sensible people in this House, as well as most members of the general public, support that position, and I hope that the House votes for it.

Q4. [203742] Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In my constituency of Bury, North today—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] In Bury, we now have the only Tory leader in the country who has been subject to a police investigation into fiddling pensioners’ postal votes. In my constituency of Bury, North there is a job for almost everyone able and willing to work, but the Prime Minister will know that there is severe economic pressure on many working families, particularly those on low incomes. What can he do to assist in the short term, through relieving the pressure on taxes and prices, and in the long term, by investing in the skills of our young people to maintain full employment in Bury, North?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We wish the strength of our economy to withstand the economic downturn that is happening worldwide. We will do everything in our power, working with other countries and through action we take on our own, to withstand these problems. In the next few weeks, we will look at what more we can do to help the housing market and the construction industry as a result, and we will look at what we can do to help first-time buyers, who are in a difficult position because of the rise in mortgage rates being charged by building societies. We will look at how we help those people who are subject to high utility bills. On employment, we will work with small and medium-sized businesses to ensure that they have the funds to invest for the future. In every area, we will look at what we can do to help Britain to withstand a problem that is hitting America and the rest of Europe, and I believe that the strength of the British economy will withstand the problems that we face.

Sustainable Communities Plan (Kettering)

Q5. [203743] Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If he will meet the hon. Member for Kettering and local authority representatives to discuss co-ordination between the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency, East Midlands Trains and the Department for Communities and Local Government on the implementation of the Government’s sustainable communities plan in the borough of Kettering.

The Prime Minister: It is vital that all Departments and their agencies work closely together to deliver the homes needed in Kettering and elsewhere. It is precisely because we need to ensure that new housing is not built in isolation and that it is delivered with transport
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infrastructure, utilities and public services that we have allocated over the next three years £1.7 billion for infrastructure in growth areas and new growth points. Northamptonshire has received £59 million. Since 2003, the Government have allocated in total over £250 million to Northamptonshire, made up of various growth area, community infrastructure and transport funds. This has been possible because we have been able to expand public spending.

Mr. Hollobone: Local residents would like a meeting with the Prime Minister so that he can explain to my constituents why the Government’s plans to increase the number of houses locally by one third by 2021 is being matched on the one hand by cuts in the train service and on the other by restrictions on the use of the local road network. Will the Prime Minister please agree to a meeting?

The Prime Minister: I can say to the hon. Gentleman that £1.7 billion is being allocated for infrastructure. Northamptonshire alone has received £250 million. I will of course look at what he says, but he has to agree with me that no Government have spent more on public services and public infrastructure than we have, and that his county has benefited as a result.

Q6. [203744] Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Lancashire police on their excellent work over the past 18 months in closing down cannabis factories across Preston? Will he continue to campaign against the use of cannabis, particularly given its effects on health—there are new forms of cannabis, such as skunk, that are much stronger and far more dangerous than previous forms—and the social problems and problems with crime that it causes?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the work that is done by the police authority and the police in my hon. Friend’s area. The Home Secretary will be making a statement on this matter just after Question Time. It is generally agreed that the quantity and the type of cannabis being sold on the streets of our cities, and the threat that it poses to the mental health of many of the people using it, make it necessary that we look at this matter again. I believe that the recommendations that the Home Secretary will put forward will be in line not only with what the public want to see, but with what the police want to see. I believe that the House will be pleased that she is also taking new measures for enforcement that will be welcome in all parts of the country.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Ken Livingstone, the outgoing Mayor of London—[Hon. Members: “He’s gone.”] Yes, of course. Ken Livingstone, the sadly gone Mayor of London—sorry Boris—has said that he is looking forward to doing a spot of gardening and taking his children to school. What is the Prime Minister looking forward to when he leaves office?

The Prime Minister: I am looking forward to building a stronger economy in Britain; I am looking forward to creating more jobs in our country; I am looking forward to building a better health service. I
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know that we will get no help from the Welsh nationalist party, but we will go ahead and do that for Wales as well.

Q7.[203745] Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): May I tell the Prime Minister that last week the Wolverhampton trades council organised a May day celebration that attracted more than 1,000 trade unionists, who paid tribute to their fellow workers—dock workers—in South Africa who, in a very principled stand, refused to handle arms to Zimbabwe? May I ask the Prime Minister to give support to that action and to recognise that where trade unionists act to intervene on international business for humanitarian aims, they are to be supported, even though their Governments sometimes look a little tardy?

The Prime Minister: I have given support to those South African workers who stopped an arms shipment coming from China that would have gone to Zimbabwe. At the same time, we have been calling at the United Nations for an arms embargo, to prevent other arms and armaments from getting into Zimbabwe at this time. This is a critical time for Zimbabwe. It is important that we recognise that the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and all those who have an interest in the future of Zimbabwe should apply pressure, so that any elections that take place in Zimbabwe are free and fair, monitored by the whole international community to be seen as free and fair, so that justice is done in securing for the Zimbabwean people their democratic rights.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): Does the Prime Minister understand that unless his Government tackle the scourge of bovine TB soon, there will be little or no livestock industry left in the south-west of England?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we have to deal with the disease, but that must be based on the scientific evidence that is available to us, and that is exactly what the Environment Secretary is looking at.

Q8. [203746] Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Do people want the right to see their doctors in the evenings and at weekends, or are the Tories right to scrap that right to choose and turn the clock back?

The Prime Minister: The vast majority of British people want more access to their GPs in the evenings and at weekends, and the vast majority of British people welcome the vote by the British Medical Association to give an extra three hours of medical services either on an evening or at the weekend in half the areas of the United Kingdom. I am pleased that that service is now starting. That is why it is surprising that the Conservative health spokesman said in Pulse magazine on 29 April that he wants to restore to GPs the power to make that decision, and presumably also the power to block the extension of primary care to new providers. I do not believe that the Conservative party is acting in the interests of the national health service, and that is the tradition of the Conservative party.

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Q9. [203747] Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Last weekend, the Prime Minister claimed to share people’s pain at the rising cost of living, so can he tell the House how much it costs to fill up a family car in his constituency and when exactly he last had to do it himself?

The Prime Minister: The cost of petrol has gone up as a result of what is happening around the world. A barrel of oil is now $110. A litre of petrol— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Allow the Prime Minister to speak.

The Prime Minister: A litre of petrol is now £1.10 in many places, and it is rising in some other places. The important thing is that we have postponed the fuel duty increase, and we are doing what we can to work with OPEC to get the price of oil down. I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me that in every part of the world, when oil prices rise, it hits households and motorists. We are doing everything in our power to get the price of oil down.

Q10. [203748] Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Tomorrow, Israel will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its independence. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Israeli people on this important anniversary of their vibrant democracy and economic achievement, particularly in the high-tech industries? Will he assure Israel of the UK’s continued support and friendship into the future?

The Prime Minister: I wish to add my congratulations to the state of Israel on its 60th anniversary. Israel has come a long way in those 60 years. I look forward to being present at the Finchley united synagogue with the Chief Rabbi this evening to celebrate 60 years. Israel’s future is as part of a secure middle east, and it must remain optimistic that that can be achieved. We will work with people on both sides to secure a settlement—a two-state solution—with a viable Palestine alongside a secure Israel. I believe that that is the best guarantee of the future of Israel in the next 60 years to come.

Q11. [203749] Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): A Populus poll of Labour supporters, out today, has said that the Prime Minister should step aside for a younger, fresher and more charismatic leader. I suspect that a few of his colleagues were on the receiving end of those calls. Does he not understand people’s anger about his crippling tax increases, which have hit the poorest in this country? He has two proposed tax increases for motorists: a £400 vehicle excise duty for those with family cars and a 2p increase on fuel in the autumn. Will he ditch those proposed tax increases before his colleagues ditch him?

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