Ive never understood the recent convention that Prime Ministers stay away from by-elections. I am joining the campaign trail... because this by-election matters...I believe in leading from the front.
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman never addresses the questions of importance. He wants us to believe that the Conservative party is the party that helps the poor, but he opposes tax credits. He wants us to believe that his party would help the low paid, but it opposed the minimum wage. He wants us to believe that the Conservatives are the party of the family, but they voted against maternity leave. He wants us to believe that they are the party of £10 billion of tax cuts, but they will not tell us the consequences in public spending cuts. He can get by without substance for some of the time, but he will never get by without substance all of the time.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): May I advise the House that this morning I withdrew my Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, following yesterdays ground-breaking agreement between the Government and the social partners? That is surely the best way to address unfairness in the workplace. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to continue in this vein and demonstrate the differences between us and the official Opposition, who said in Committee that they were opposed to equal treatment in the workplace?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue of agency workers in the House of Commons through his Bill. He will be pleased that it will now be possible for us to legislate in the next Queens Speech for an agency workers Bill. I am pleased that the CBI and the TUC could reach agreement about a way forward to deal with what was an unfairness practised against agency workers that allowed British and other workers to be undercut as a result. I hope that all parties in the House will welcome that agreement between the CBI and TUC, and I hope that the Conservatives will change their minds on the agency workers Bill. But of course their stance is very much in keeping with a Conservative party that still wants to get rid of the social chapter.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD):
I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the British serviceman who tragically lost his life in Afghanistan. I am sure that the whole House agrees that a failure of our mission in Afghanistan would be catastrophic and would lead to an increase in terrorism, more hard drugs on the streets of our towns and cities, instability in the region and more suffering for the Afghans. Will the
Prime Minister accept that perhaps more could be done to explain to the British people why success in Afghanistan is so vital and that we perhaps need to be more candid about how long we will have to stay there? Does the Prime Minister agree that stabilising and rebuilding Afghanistan could take 30 years and that Britain must be ready to make that commitment?
The Prime Minister: It will certainly take time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that what we are doing in Afghanistan is the front line against the Taliban and their ever returning to power. It is a battle against al-Qaeda and those people who want to use Pakistan and Afghanistan to bring al-Qaeda back into power. It is also a fight to re-establish government in Afghanistan under President Karzai. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with our strategy, which is to use military force, while also building up national and local government in Afghanistan and giving people a stake in the future by promoting the economic development of the country. The strategy that we announced for Afghanistan, backed up by 7,800 very brave troops there, is to move not only through military means but through civilian and local government reform and economic development that will bring hope to people in the country.
Mr. Clegg: I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that reply. That being the case, does he share my concern that much of our defence expenditure continues to be misallocated on cold war priorities? For example, we are committed to spending £6 billion on the Eurofighter but are failing to deliver enough of the right kinds of armoured vehicles to our troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Will the Prime Minister commit to undertaking the first strategic defence review in 10 years to ensure that our troops are properly equipped for the new kinds of conflict that they now face?
The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Gentleman will know that we have spent £6 billion on urgent operational requirements in addition to the ordinary defence budget for the work that is being done by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will also know that when it comes to giving our fighting troops the equipment that they need, we have made major investments now and for the future including in tanks and helicopters for Afghanistan. Eurofighters are strike aircraft, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that they are of use in the theatres of war in which we are operating. He will also welcome the announcement yesterday that the aircraft carrier order will go ahead, benefiting almost every shipyard in the UK.
Q2.  Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)(Lab): Does the Prime Minister recall that 30 years ago, the then Labour Government introduced what is known as Short money, which enables the Opposition parties to have £4.7 million in the Conservatives case and £1.7 million in the case of the Liberal Democrats? Does he know, too, that a top Committee of the House recently uncovered large donations to the Tory shadow Cabinet? Is it not like the old familiar storyclaiming benefits from the state while making money on the side?
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): The 10p tax con has been an unmitigated fiasco, not least for hard-working low-income families. Will the Prime Minister accept personal responsibility for the whole sorry episode?
The Prime Minister: Perhaps, if the hon. Gentleman holds those views, he will support our measures. Some 22 million people will get £120 as a result of the tax change announced by the Chancellor. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will break with those on the Opposition Front Bench and give us full support for the measures that we are bringing forward.
Q3.  Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): Thales is a global company that produces aerospace technology and engineering for all our constituents. It has 9,000 staff in the UK, and 2,500 in Crawley, and a thriving apprenticeship scheme and graduate programme. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is a true reflection of what is going on in our constituencies up and down the country as training opportunities are provided for our young people so that they can get into decent jobs?
The Prime Minister: I welcome the work that Thales does, both in my hon. Friends constituency and around the country. Incidentally, it is part of the aircraft carrier order as well. I welcome most of all two things that are happening in the British economy: first, we have more jobs in Britain than ever before in our history29.5 millionand, secondly, we have restored the apprenticeships that were dying out when we came to power in 1997. Now there are 180,000 apprentices in the country, and that number will continue to rise, in my hon. Friends constituency and in other constituencies. It is unfortunate that the Conservatives cannot support the increase in apprenticeships that is taking place.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The decisions that we made on the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill on Monday make it possible for researchers into motor neurone disease to explore new options for a cure to what is a dreadful and invariably terminal illness. The Prime Minister will be pleased to know that the international symposium to consider options for cures is coming to the UK later this year. If I make representations to him on behalf of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, will he consider addressing that symposium?
The Prime Minister:
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have met him and members of the association to which he refers, and we have talked about how we can work together to increase research in the future. The benefits that come from Mondays decisions on the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill will not go just to research into that disease. We can now look forward to achieving potential cures for many other life-threatening conditions in the future, and I look forward to talking to him about addressing the association.
Q4.  Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): There is a growing disparity between the doom and gloom in the national media and the independent economic forecasters who are still forecasting that there will be growth in the economy this year. Who are we to believe?
The Prime Minister: The British economy was one of the fastest growing economies last year [Hon. Members: Was!] This year, the estimate is that it is still going to be one of the fastest growing economies in the G7. The reasons are that we have lower inflation than other countries and that we have more jobs than at any time in our history. We will continue to take the right decisions to keep inflation and interest rates low in this economy, and to keep employment up. While unemployment is at 8 per cent. in France and Germany, and rising very fast in America, employment in Britain is at 29.5 million, the biggest number in our history. I would have thought that Opposition Members would welcome the fact that the British economy is creating jobs, not criticise us.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree that many Commonwealth nationsand especially the old onesare our stoutest allies, for longstanding, kith-and-kin reasons. However, a number of those nations, especially Australia and New Zealand, are extremely upset at the Governments proposals to cut visitor visa times by half, and to remove patrial entry into this country. Will he heed those protests, remove those proposals and revert to the present arrangements?
The Prime Minister: Obviously, we will look at these issues carefully. We have had representations from the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are introducing an Australian-style points system for migration into this country. A lot of the changes that we are making flow from that.
Q5.  Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Thousands of workers every year contract pleural plaques. They are an early sign of asbestosis, which leads to a long and horrible death. Can the Prime Minister give the men involved any hope of compensation in the future?
The Prime Minister: I met a delegation of hon. Members concerned about pleural plaques. It is a serious issue that has arisen as a result of a High Court judgment, and the Government are proposing to bring forward a consultation document on it in the next few weeks. We are looking very carefully at the representations that my hon. Friend and others have made. We are very sensitive to the fact that people with pleural plaques may suffer from asbestosis and other diseases as a result of their exposure to asbestos, and we are determined to do what we can to help them. I think that he will look forward to the document that we will bring forward in the next few days.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP):
There is to be a presidential election run-off next month in Zimbabwe. Given the result of the last electoral contest there, what plans does the Prime
Minister have to hold discussions with leaders in southern Africa to make sure that on this occasion corruption, bribery and the brutality of the regime are brought to an end, through the freely expressed views of the people of Zimbabwe?
The Prime Minister: In the last elections, the main observers were those from the Southern African Development Communityfrom the south African countries themselves. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that people expressed a huge amount of disquiet, not just about some of the practices in the election, but about the huge delay in publishing the election results. I think that he will find that the international community, including the Secretary-General of the United Nations, is pressing the Zimbabwean electoral commission and the Zimbabwean Government to ensure that there are international observers from a far wider range of countries than previously. I believe that there are now discussions about observers coming from the Caribbean countries, and perhaps from Canada and other parts of the world, to add to the international observers from the south African countries.
I think that it is very important that if there are to be elections, given the violence that has happened in Zimbabwe and given the fears that people have about the role of the military in the elections, that there be sufficient observers, so that the process is seen to be free and fair. We are determined to back up all countries that are pushing for the process to be free and fair.
The Prime Minister: The best help for small businesses is to keep interest rates low, so that they are able to invest for the future in an expanding economy. The best thing that we can do to help small businesses is make sure that our economy continues to grow as a result of all the decisions that we make. As far as bureaucracy and red tape are concerned, my hon. Friend will know that we are moving towards what is called risk-based regulation, in which instead of 100 per cent. of forms being filled in, 100 per cent. of information requirements having to be met, and 100 per cent. of firms having to be inspected over a period of time, we proceed on a risk basis, so that only a fraction of firms need submit information, be inspected or meet the information requirements. I think that risk-based regulation for small businesses is the way forward. We are in discussions with the CBI and other organisations about implementing that.
Q7.  Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Does the Prime Minister share my concern about the fact that, according to Home Office figures, domestic violence has almost trebled from 241,000 to 658,000 instances in the past year alone, yet the conviction rate has fallen from 11 per cent. to a paltry 5 per cent.?
The Prime Minister:
One of the reasons why more people are coming forward to report domestic violence is that we are making available far bigger advice
services and far more support for the victims of domestic violence. When it comes to taking action and the expenditure that is necessary for those advice services, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will renounce his membership of the No Turning Back group and support the additional public spending that is necessary.
Q8.  Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Millions of people, both in this country and around the world, are concerned about, or suffering from, rising food prices. What can the Prime Minister tell us about the prospects for an early agreement in the world trade talks?
The Prime Minister: The World Trade Organisation yesterday published its papers, so that we can move forward in getting a world trade deal. If we could get a world trade deal, we could resist the protectionism that is now about in America and in Europe, and we could move towards a greater degree of free trade, which would benefit the poorer countries of the world. Indeed, if agricultural subsidies were reduced, it would help us to deal with some of the problems of food shortages. I hope that we will now get support from the Governments of the world in order to conclude a world trade deal. I will be working very hard with our G8 partners and others at this, the eleventh hourwe need a trade deal now or it will be delayed for a great deal of timein the hope that we can make urgent progress in the next few days.
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): As a Scottish Member of Parliament, the Prime Minister will know that the Scottish Executive have postponed much-needed capital investment in order to work up their own alternative Scottish Futures Trust. Yesterday they published details of outline proposals for £150 milliona fraction of what is required. Will he confirm whether that requires Treasury approval, if that approval will be forthcoming, and how much-needed projects such as the Aberdeen bypass, which have been delayed by the Scottish National party Executive, are to go ahead?
The Prime Minister:
It is true that the priorities that I believe many people in Scotland want to see followedthat is, new investment in health, transport and educationare now the victims of SNP policies that are being adopted in the Scottish Parliament. I believe that public opinion, whether that of the local authorities or of the public round the country, will press, as the right hon. Gentleman is doing, for the
education programme of expansion to go ahead, for the transport programme to go ahead, and for the health programme to go ahead. Unfortunately, the rate of increase in education and health expenditure has been cut to below that in the United Kingdom as a result of decisions of the SNP Administration.
Q9.  Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): According to an answer in Mondays Hansard, employment numbers in my constituency, Vale of Clwyd, went from 23,000 in 1997 to 29,000 in 2007. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that Labour is working?
The Prime Minister: One hundred and forty thousand more people are employed in Wales now than in 1997; 3 million more people are employed in the United Kingdom now than in 1997. The reason why the Conservatives do not like hearing that is that there were 3 million unemployed under a Conservative Government.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister was kind enough to agree to look into his Governments attack on disabled and elderly anglers. He said that he would look into it, but I still have not had a reply from him. Please will he see what he can do for those people, who have seen the cost of their licences go up by 37 per cent.?
Q10.  Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to examine the surveys, by Mencap and others, that highlight the huge variation among different local authorities in the levels of social care for elderly and vulnerable people that they provide? Does he share my concern that it is mainly Conservative authorities, including Wokingham and West Berkshire, that are refusing to support vulnerable people at substantial or moderate risk? Does that not speak volumes about the callous face of Camerons Conservatives?
The Prime Minister: We have set aside a 45 per cent. increase in resources for social care up to 2011. Many of these decisions have to be made by local authorities, to implement the spending allocated by the Government. We will be looking week in, week out, at what Conservative councils are doing. We will be looking at what they are doing in practice and in action and at whether they are serving the needs of elderly people in their areas.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the past few days, there has been press speculation that a man has been arrested in connection with the missing body of Captain Robert Nairac, who was taken by the IRA in Northern Ireland. Captain Robert Nairac was my captain.
Should a Minister not come before the House in respect of this issue? This gentleman was on operational duties serving his country, and if there is new news about where his body is, surely a Minister from the Ministry of Defence should be here telling us exactly what happened.