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People want to hear about the future, and people want some answers from the Prime Minister. Yesterday, we all paid £2.7 billion to keep the Prime Minister in his job; the least he can do is earn it
by answering some questions. Does he not understand that he is never going to get out of the hole he has dug for himself unless he starts being straight with people? In all other walks of life, if someone said something like that, the boss would say they should not have done and they got it wrong. So let me try another question: did the timing of the tax announcement yesterday have anything to do with the by-election?
The Prime Minister: As the Chancellor said yesterday, he had to bring forward his proposals if they were to go into the Finance Bill to be legislated now. I thought that the Conservatives would welcome our announcement that 22 million people will benefit, but they have not even told us yet whether they support our plan. The reason for that is that their tax priorities are further cuts in inheritance tax and stamp duty on sharesgiving money to those people who are already rich. They have never at any time said that their priority is the low paid and the poorest members of our society. That is the Conservative party that caused 15 per cent. interest rates and 3 million unemployed, and we will never forget the record repossessions that happened when the right hon. Gentleman was adviser to the Chancellor.
Mr. Cameron: There we have itthe cancelled election had nothing to do with the polls, and yesterdays announcement had nothing to do with the by-election; another day, another complete failure to be straight with people.
Let us try another one. Last week, the Prime Minister claimed that Wendy Alexander was not calling for an early referendum on Scottish independence. Will he now admit that she was calling for an early referendum and that on this issue they simply do not agree? Can he take this one chance to be straight with people?
The Prime Minister: I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman last week immediately after Question Time to point out, when he challenged me, that there is no plan for legislation for a referendum in Scotland; there is no plan at Westminster, otherwise we would have heard it; and there is no plan to put legislation through the Scottish Parliament, now or in the immediate future.
I thought that the Conservative party would want to join the Labour party in supporting the Union. I thought that it would want to support the integrity of the United Kingdom against the nationalist parties, but all we have is petty point scoring when what we actually want is a defence of the Union. It is about time the leader of the Conservative party made one.
The party that is putting the Union at risk is the Labour party, by playing games for an early referendum at a time when Wendy Alexander and the Prime Minister are the two most unpopular politicians on the planet. What could do more to put the Union at risk? Is not a big part of the disastrous premiership his failure to be straight with people? He will not be straight about the election; he will not be straight about
the European treaty; he will not be straight about the 10p tax losers; and even on the one thing that people thought he would care aboutthe Unionhe will not be straight. Is that not what we are seeing: a Prime Minister putting short-term decisions before the national interest?
The Prime Minister: It is the right hon. Gentleman who is playing politics. He never told us whether he supported our tax package and he does not tell us now whether he is supporting us on the Union. It is about time that instead of being the salesman, he started showing some substance about policy. We are the party helping 22 million people; we are the party with record employment figures in this country; we are the party taking more people out of poverty; and we are the party expanding the national health service. His policies would put all that at risk.
Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): May I tell the Prime Minister that foreign investment in Yorkshire and Humber has increased by a staggering 80 per cent. in the past 12 months? That is mainly thanks to the sound economic policies of this Labour Government and the good offices of Yorkshire Forward. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Barnsley-based company Lubrizol on winning Yorkshire Forwards best exporter of the year award?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been a champion of new industry for Yorkshire, and I want to congratulate Yorkshire Forward on the work that it does. The fact is that even in a difficult world situation, when unemployment has been rising in other countries, the level of employment in Britain is rising today to 29.5 million people, and half a million more people are in employment than there were a year ago. That is partly because of the new deal and the regional intervention that we are taking. We do not shirk from the necessity of intervening to protect, safeguard and advance jobs in the economy. I hope that other parties will join us in supporting the new deal in the future.
Q3.  Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): As the Leader of the Opposition has fessed up to breaking his promise to end Punch and Judy politics, does the Prime Minister still think that this weekly knockabout is the best way for MPs to hold his Government to account?
The Prime Minister: Yes, and I hope that there will be a vigorous debate on our legislative programme when we put it forward in the next few minutes. I hope that there will be a debate in this House, and in all regions and nations of the country, about what we are proposing. That is the proper way to make decisions about the future of the country.
Q4.  Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Temporary workers have been exploited for years and years, through low wages, long days and atrocious conditions. Will the Prime Minister think about introducing legislation to give those workers some real rights?
The Prime Minister: There is a general worry in all parts of the country about vulnerable workers and temporary workers who are not given proper protection. That is why I hope that my hon. Friend will look forward to the draft legislative statement, when I will have something to say about the future of the agency workers directive.
Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Listening to the Prime Minister, one could be forgiven for thinking that we are living in some sort of utopia. Without giving us another boring history lesson, will he tell us whether he has made any mistakes recently?
The Prime Minister: I did say about the 10p that we should have done things better. I made that clear at the time, but what I am not going to do is make the mistakes that the Conservative party made: 15 per cent. interest rates, inflation at 10 per cent., 3 million unemployed and record repossessions. We will not go back to that.
Q5.  Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): The east midlands regional spatial strategy, which will be published next month, will contain proposals for more that 60,000 houses in Greater Nottinghamshire. Will the Prime Minister ensure that development takes place on brownfield sites before greenfield sites and that a high proportion of the new homes go to hard-working families through social housing?
The Prime Minister: The vast majority of housing built in the past few years has been built on brownfield land, and that is how we intend to continue. At the same time, we want to see affordable housingthat is, housing that will help people to reach the first rung of the housing ladder. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that the proposals that we have put forward in the public spending review are to build substantial numbers of affordable houses in his area and elsewhere, including housing to rent, over the next few years. I hope that he will welcome the announcements that will be made later today about more funds for housing.
Q6.  Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The UK motorist is the most highly taxed in the world. Will the Prime Minister listen to the motorists of this country? In many areas, particularly rural areas including those in my constituency, Macclesfield there is little, if any, public transport and a motor vehicle is essential. Will he review the proposals contained in the Budget dramatically to increase vehicle excise duty, which is unfair and penalises rural areas?
The Prime Minister: I take seriously the needs of motorists in this country. When the hon. Gentleman looks at the Budget proposals, he will see that the majority of motorists benefit or pay no more in vehicle excise duty as a result. He should look at what the chairman of the Conservative transport group, Steve Norris, said. He said that under the Tories
you will pay more in green taxes. You will, for example, see the reintroduction of a fuel duty escalator.
Q7.  Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): First, may I welcome the Governments announcement this week of a review of the services for social care for the elderly and disabled? The all-party local government group is conducting its own inquiry into services for the elderly. Two things are emerging from that. First, there should be a basic citizens entitlement for the elderly to receive social care. Secondly, when the elderly receive social care they should be treated as individuals with their own personal budgets so that they can make their own choices about their lives. Will my right hon. Friend take account of those two principles when coming to the conclusions on his own review?
The Prime Minister: That is precisely what the debate is about. When I launched the debate on social care on Monday, I was able to say that we will face rising demands from a rising population of elderly and rising aspirations, too, on the part of elderly people who want better choices and better opportunities in old age to make the right choices for themselves. We expect more than 1.7 million more people to have a need for care and support over the next 20 years and that is why the review should take place. I hope that it will be possible to get consensus on future funding and my hon. Friend should also note that we will publish a programme for carers in the next few weeks to back up everything that we are doing on social care.
Q8.  Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister assure us that he will not take any lessons from the people who created two recessions, with 3 million people unemployed, and who gave us 15 per cent. mortgage rates, slashed public services, doubled national debt and trebled the number of children in poverty? Stick to prudence, not empty promises.
The Prime Minister: That is what the debate in this country is now about. When we debated Northern Rock, we were prepared to intervene; the Conservatives backed away from it. When we debate how we can help people who are hard-pressed with their fuel bills, we are prepared to give more money to people, with 22 million people benefiting yesterday; we still do not have an answer from the Conservative party. That is what people will remember about the Conservatives: they are the 3 million unemployed party, they are the 15 per cent. interest rate party, and they are the party of record mortgage repossessions. The country is not going to forget.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD):
When the Prime Ministers predecessor, Tony Blair, met the Dalai Lama, he met him in Downing street. When his predecessor, John Major, met the Dalai Lama, he met
him in Downing street. Will the Prime Minister confirm that when he meets the Dalai Lama, he will do so in Downing street?
The Prime Minister: What matters is not in what part of Westminster we meet, but what issues to do with the future of Tibet are discussed. I am meeting the Dalai Lama with the Archbishop of Canterbury. I am also attending, at Lambeth palace, a conference of faith groups involving the Dalai Lama, and I can tell the House that all issues of substance relating to our views on what is happening in Tibet will be discussed and on the table. We will be pressing the Dalai Lama to join us in facilitating negotiations between the Chinese Government and the Tibetans. That is the important way forward, and it is issues of substance that matter in this.
Q9.  Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): What message does the Prime Minister have for the thousands of young people who are sitting GCSEs this week? Will he join me in congratulating teachers in my constituency, where the percentage of students achieving five A* to C grades has risen from 44 to 74 per cent. under this Government?
The Prime Minister: This is another exampleI applaud my hon. Friend for pushing the issueof the progress that is being made in education in this country. Let me just say that the proposals that take us forward for the next year are: education until 18, opposed by the Conservatives; educational maintenance allowances expanded, opposed by the Conservative party; and expansion of the school building programme, from which the Conservatives want to take money. If we want investment in education, it can happen only under a Labour Government.
Q10.  Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Our new London Mayor is off to a courageous start. After only nine days in office, he is already taking on the scourge of youth crime, he is scrapping The Londoner newspaper and planting 10,000 trees, and getting alcohol off our buses and tubes. The Prime Minister talks about couragehe has even written a book about itbut when will he pluck up the courage to call Boris in person and congratulate him on taking office?
The Prime Minister: When the Mayor of London came to the House of Commons last week, I did congratulate him, but I also said that he would be judged by his record. He has got to show that he can expand transport, expand the service of policing, and do something about affordable housing in London. That is what he will be judged on.
Q11.  Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Free national bus travel for older people was greatly appreciated by my constituents. However, they were less delighted when they were told by West Lancashire district council that if they used that free bus service, they would no longer be able to have free local rail travel, unlike people in the nearby local authorities of Merseyside and Manchester. What can the Prime Minister do to ensure that when the Government give, Tory local authorities do not take away?
The Prime Minister: I applaud my hon. Friends campaign on behalf of the elderly people of her constituency, on that issue and in so many other areas. I can confirm that West Lancashire was allocated a grant of almost £250,000 to pay for the new all-England concession for transport. That represents an increase of more than 20 per cent. on what was previously available and spent on concessionary travel. I am confident that that is sufficient to meet its needs, and that is why the local authority should give pensioners the travel that they want.
The Prime Minister:
We are applying a great deal of pressure, and I think it would be in our interest to apply that pressure rather than to name names at present. If I may say so, the pressure on those countries continues. That is why I have called on the Secretary-General of the UN to hold an emergency summit. The way forward is an emergency summit, hopefully held almost
immediately. That will get the international community organised so that we can get supplies to Burma. We will not rest in our determination to get a concerted international response, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will support that.
Q12.  Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): My constituency, Brent, South, has been described as many things, but one of the most offensive is being described as broken. My community and families in Brent are not broken. In 2003 the Government introduced double maternity pay and pioneering paternity leave. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now time to review these measures?
The Prime Minister: I hope that over the course of the Parliament we can move forward with our plans on maternity pay and maternity rights, and I hope that all parties in the House will come to the view that paternity leave was also a good thing. It is unfortunate that although the Conservatives present themselves as a family-friendly party, they voted against the extension of maternity leave, they opposed paternity leave, and they even opposed the right to flexible working. That is not a family-friendly party.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Building a more prosperous Britain and a fairer Britain is the purpose of the draft legislative programme that is published today for debate in the House and in the country. In this statement I will focus both on immediate action that the Government are taking to help steer the economy safely through the current global economic problems, and on the changes, including a new welfare reform Bill and a new education and skills Bill, that are needed to make Britain a fairer, more prosperous society and to meet the challenges of the future.
Our immediate priority for the coming Session, at a time when food and fuel prices are rising and mortgages are more difficult to obtain, is to help family finances. In the next few weeks we will set out the elements of our economic plan as we steer our economy safely through the global downturn, the credit crunch and international oil and food price rises. Legislation on the economy in the Queens Speech will include a banking Bill so that Britain underpins its banking system with the best protection for depositors.
In addition to action that we will take on fuel bills, to help small firm finance, and internationally on oil prices and food pricesand the benefit that we gain in stability from three-year public sector pay deals that now cover 1.5 million workersmy right hon. Friend the Housing Minister is today announcing a £200 million fund, re-allocating money to purchase unsold new homes and then rent them to social tenants or make them available on a shared ownership basis; £100 million pounds for shared equity schemes to allow more first-time buyers to purchase newly built homes on the open market; and for the first time an offer of shared equity housing open to applications from all first-time buyers, subject to a household income limit.
The Queens Speech will also introduce a savings Bill to help not only home ownership but wealth ownership generally, giving 8 million people on low incomes access to a national savings scheme, with each pound saved matched by a contribution from the Government. We will look at whether further action on housing is required in light of the study by the Office of Fair Trading into the sale and leaseback market and the rise in second charge mortgages to ensure that, as should happen, customers are treated fairly.
With a second public sector efficiency review under way, we are setting the objective of value for money and greater efficiency in public administration, as we move to achieve the lowest civil service numbers since 1945.
Advancing our enterprise agenda, the Government will also consult on the idea of regulatory budgets, for the first time giving Departments that seek new regulation a strict annual limit on what they can impose.
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