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The Government have improved the way in which we are treating the Gurkhas. Serving Gurkhas, and some who are recently retired, for the first time have membership
of the armed forces pension scheme. They have a genuinely improved deal, and 2,232 retired Gurkhas who were serving on 1 July 1997 or later have also been offered those arrangements.
There are other things that we are doing, including equality of take-home pay with the British Army, the creation of national insurance records, changing the immigration rules to help retired Gurkhas, married accompanied service after three years in the brigade and the opportunity to transfer to one of the two armed forces pension schemes. All those things we have done. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that we have been inactive; we are trying to honour our obligations to people who have served the country well.
Mr. Clegg: Once again, we have a long list from the Prime Minister that misses the important issue. On Friday, it is Veterans day, a day when we celebrate the courage of those who risk their lives for our country. The Prime Minister says that he values courage above all else, so why will he not do the thing that would really help some of the most courageous veterans of all? Veterans of the Gurkhas who have to rely on charity and who face deportation because his Government will not grant them British citizenship are protesting outside right now. When will he act to correct that gross injustice and give those brave veterans the recognition and citizenship that they deserve?
The Prime Minister: I have just told the right hon. Gentleman that the immigration rules were changed in 2004 to include post-1997 retired Gurkhas. The opportunity is now there to transfer to the wider Army after five years; there are increased opportunities for Gurkhas after leaving the Army; there are opportunities to obtain settlement and naturalisationthat is citizenshipwhile serving in the wider Army; and we have given the pensions that I have just identified. He cannot say that we have done nothing to help the Gurkhas. We have shown how we value the Gurkhas in this country.
Q2.  Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Child poverty was a matter of national shame when the Conservative Government were in power. My right hon. Friend deserves enormous credit for the 600,000 children whose families have been taken out of poverty, but now that we face difficult economic times, will he give a recommitment to the eradication of child poverty by 2020? Frankly, if this Government and this Prime Minister will not give that commitment, no other party in this House will make the same offer.
The Prime Minister: We are the only party that has made, and is making, this commitment, and I ask other parties to join us in making the commitment even now. When we came to power, 3.5 million children were in poverty. Absolute poverty in this country has fallen so that the figure is 1.7 million, and we have a long way to go. Relative poverty has fallen by 600,000. Even in difficult economic circumstances, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the pre-Budget report and the Budget that 300,000 more children will be taken out of poverty. We have doubled child benefit. The child tax credit was £27 for the poorest child when we came to power; it is now more than £70. We have done what the previous Conservative Government failed to do: we are tackling child poverty.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Britain is facing a wave of potential strikes that are threatened by, among others, housing benefit staff, social workers, teaching assistants and refuse collectors. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister rule out categorically any further changes that would weaken in any way the trade union laws introduced by past Conservative Governments?
The Prime Minister: We have no plans to change employment laws further. Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be better if he would support us when we are trying to negotiate three-year pay deals with the public sector. We have negotiated them for teachers, nurses, health service workers and civil servants, and they are now in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Inland Revenue. Two million people are covered by public sector pay deals. The shadow Chancellor said on Newsnight last week:
Im not against opening negotiated pay deals.
I am against reopening public sector pay deals.
Mr. Cameron: The whole House will have heard the Prime Minister say that he has no plans to change trade union laws. This is the same man who, as Chancellor, said that he had no plans to introduce taxes, and then introduced extra taxes. If he genuinely has no plans to introduce new trade union laws, will he explain why he is going ahead with the Warwick Two process, in which the trade unions and Ministers will sit down and discuss policies, including the laws governing industrial action?
The Prime Minister: Of course we are going to discuss policies with every section of the communitysurely that is what politics is about. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was quite anxious to talk to the TUC as well.
I come back to this point: is the Conservative party supporting our three-year public sector pay deals? They are unique. They are a barrier against inflation and they give us stability for the future. They are a signal to the rest of the public sector and to the private sector. However, the Conservatives are silent on that, just as they were on the 22 million people benefiting from a low tax rate with the personal allowances coming down. They should tell us whether they support economic stability, low inflation and low interest rates, which is what this will help to achieve.
Mr. Cameron: Do you know what? If the Prime Minister wants to ask us questions and he has had a year in office, why not call an election? He said that he needed more time to set out his vision. I think that we have had a year; why not bring on the election?
Is the Prime Minister really telling us that his Ministers are going to sit down with the people who provide 92 per cent. of the governing partys income and that there will be no mention of trade union laws? Is it not the case that trade union leaders look at this Prime Minister and see just weakness? Tony Blairremember him?said:
I have not created New Labour to see a Labour government give away power to the unions.
you cant go back to the situation where 90 per cent. of the funding is provided by trade unions.
Is not that exactly what has happened? We have a bankrupt Labour party. It is in hock to the unions and a wave of strikes is threatened. As the Prime Minister lurches to the left, should not we all conclude that new Labour is dead and buried?
The Prime Minister: The same old Tory partyit cannot even talk to the trade unions. In the past year, we have made the big decisions about the future of the country. Nuclear power: we decided; the Conservatives ducked it. Airport expansion: we are deciding; they have ducked it. Three million houses: we are deciding; they have ducked it. Today, on planning, we are deciding, and once again they are ducking it.
The right hon. Gentlemans year started with the indecision over grammar schools and has ended with him losing his shadow Home Secretary. For him, politics is just show business; it is devoid of substance and is opposition for oppositions sake. You can get by without substance some of the time, but you cannot get by without substance all of the time.
Q3.  Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): This Saturday, more than 100 representatives of voluntary organisations and other organisations in my constituency will get together with the police, the city council, the fire service and other statutory agencies to examine how we can best work together to combat crime. All hon. Members know that one of the things that often inhibits people from reporting crimes or standing up to antisocial behaviour is the fear of reprisal or intimidation. My right hon. Friend said a few moments ago that there were plans in relation to witness anonymity. Will he say a little more about that, and about how we can best reassure people that we will back them when they stand up for their local community?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The policies that we are proposing will mean punishment and prevention of crime. It is quite wrong to deprive witnesses of their anonymity when it is needed, especially when we are dealing with organised crime, witness intimidation and gang and gun-related crime. That is why the Secretary of State for Justice will announce tomorrow that we will bring forward legislation to clarify the situation arising from the courts judgment. We want to make sure that there is a right for the courts to offer anonymity, as the police and so many other people have asked for in the last few days. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell his seminar on Saturday that we will continue with our policies to ensure that the public are properly protected against crime. I also hope that the Conservatives will reconsider their former shadow Home Secretarys opposition to DNA and CCTV, and to what we are doing to make this country safe from terrorism.
Q4.  Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP):
On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, may I also send our sympathies to the family and friends of the two very brave servicemen who have lost their lives? Did the Prime Minister see reports this week suggesting that the Government were going to legalise the IRA?
Will he confirm that the Governments intention is not to make the IRA legal but to make it completely redundant by removing its army council?
The Prime Minister: I hear what the hon. Lady is saying, and I think that she is referring to the report that was done by Lord Carlile. We have no plans to do that at all. We believe that the provisional army council should be brought to an end as soon as possible, and we will work with all parties in Northern Ireland to maintain the stability of the settlement. I praise her party and the other parties that have been involved in making the settlement work.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): May I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for setting up a border police service that will protect our borders? Will he add to that an important segment? Some of our troops who have been seriously injured and might therefore no longer be suitable for front-line service want to continue to wear a uniform. They ought to be added to the border police force to protect our borders from terrorism, drug-running and illegal immigration.
The Prime Minister: We have already set up the Border and Immigration Agency, which is 25,000 strong. My hon. Friend is referring to a proposal from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which the Government are happy to consider. The Home Secretary said that at the beginning of this week. The policing Green Paper to be published shortly will look at a number of proposals for policing at the border, including that from ACPO. It will also include other proposals that may not involve structural change. I believe that we must have the strongest possible protection at our borders, and we will provide that. Again, I hope that the Conservative party will reconsider its opposition to identity cards for people coming into this country, because that is one way in which we can protect against illegal immigration.
Q5.  Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Both our parties voted to support the extension of education to the age of 18. In East Devon, that will mean having to find approximately 450 extra places by 2015. The only obvious site available for those students in Exmouth is the recently vacated Owen building on the Rolle college campus site. While the Minister for the South West is broadly supportive of the idea that the building should continue to be used for education, the Minister for Higher Education is of the belief that it should be sold to the highest bidder. In the interests of joined-up government, and if the Prime Minister is genuinely in listening mode, will he meet a cross-party delegation from East Devon to try to break this logjam?
The Prime Minister: I will certainly look at the proposals that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. In his local authority area, there are two new schools; 19 schools have been rebuilt; 390 additional classrooms have been provided; and funding per pupil has risen substantially. There are also 600 more teachers and 1,800 more teaching assistants. That is a Labour Government working, and it would not have happened if we had accepted the Conservative partys advice not to spend more on education.
Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab):
When the Labour Mayor introduced free bus travel for children and young Londoners, it was warmly
welcomed, especially by low-income families. Although it makes sense to require young people to carry identification to tackle bad behaviour, does my right hon. Friend know that, due to delays in processing identity cards, increasing numbers of young people are being turned away from buses, and low-income families are being fined for being on buses without identification? Will he use his good offices with the Mayor of London to ensure that that mess is sorted out and that a good policy does not turn sour because of bad administration?
The Prime Minister: I want every child to benefit from the three-year bus pass set up by the previous Mayor, for which the whole of London is grateful. I have been denied the chance to raise the matter with the Mayor since he vacated his seat in this House, but the Transport Secretary will be in touch with him very soon.
Q6.  Norman Baker (Lewes)(LD): As a Scottish MP, the Prime Minister will have noticed the strong success of the recently reopened railway between Stirling and Alloa, where passenger numbers are currently three times greater than the projected figure for 2011, and the reopened line to Ebbw Vale in Wales is similarly a success story. If reopening lines in Scotland and Wales makes such good economic sense, why has the Department for Transport ruled out, despite the strong social and environmental case, reopening lines in England, such as the line from Lewes to Uckfield?
The Prime Minister: Last year, we said that we want to double the capacity of the existing network, which includes the whole of the United Kingdom. We have invited Network Rail to examine options for supporting further growth, which might include new lines and electrification. The hon. Gentleman will find that Network Rail and the Government are looking at those issues. I also hope that he acknowledges that we have committed £10 billion to increasing capacity over the next five years, which will result in the single biggest increase in capacity for a generation, 1,300 new carriages and funding for major projects in all parts of the country. We are honouring our commitment to the railways of this country, which is why more people are using the railways than at any time since the 1940s.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Next week, the nation will celebrate the 60th birthday of a much-loved national institution. May I, as an eminent sexagenarian, ask my young friend the Prime Minister what action he is taking to ensure that we have not only a better national health service, but the best national health service?
The Prime Minister: We are very proud of our national health service, and we want to make it better in the years to come. That is why we want more access to GP services; that is why have agreed a new contract with GPs; that is why we have been building more hospitals; that is why we are determined to deal with the problems of cleanliness in hospitals; that is why we are employing more doctors and nurses; and that is why we are investing £15 billion over the next 10 years in cures for cancer and other diseases, so Britain can and will remain a world leader. We introduced the national health service in 1948, and I hope that the parties that did not support us then will support us in the future.
Q7.  Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): The Prime Ministers script included references to ducking, so perhaps he would like to support the Birdman competition off Worthing pier in the first weekend in July. If the Prime Minister cannot do that, will he consider meeting the operators of seaside arcades, who will not benefit from todays decision to give help to bingo halls? Many of those gentle gaming machine operators are suffering greatly, while the Government appear to have increased serious gambling by deliberate decision.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman may know that I met a delegation of Members of Parliament from seaside towns last weekI am happy to meet representatives from seaside towns. We are determined to bring greater economic prosperity to the seaside towns and resorts of our country, of which we are very proud.
On the specific question, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the Minister for Sport is announcing today that the Government intend to consult on whether bingo halls should be permitted to offer additional gaming machines. We will also bring forward to this year the review of stakes and prizes on lower categories of gaming machines. We are determined to do everything that we can to maintain a healthy industry and to make our seaside resorts even more successful in the years to come.
Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Twenty-four hours ago, a young constituent of mine who suffers from cystic fibrosis had a life-saving double lung transplant. In a year celebrating the 60th anniversary of the NHS, I can think of no better tribute to the NHS or the donor family than saving a life. When will my right hon. Friend be able to come back to the House to report on the work being done by the organ donation taskforce that is looking forward towards an opt-out system?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Any life saved as a result of the willingness of a family, or of someone who is himself losing his life, is something that we should both welcome and celebrate in respect of what has been achieved for a young life. As my hon. Friend knows, cystic fibrosis is one of the most difficult diseases and work is now being done on a cure for it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have proposals to change the system for organ donors. I believe that there is a general welcome in the country for taking further action. At the moment, only about 25 per cent. of the country are carrying donor cards, but according to surveys 90 per cent. believe that they would be prepared to make their organs available. We want to find a way to a better system. There are legal implications in all the proposals. We will come back to the House soon, but all of us will want to do more to save lives in this country.
The Prime Minister: I have learned in the first year that every day difficult decisions have to be madeeducation to 18, the lowest waiting lists in history, neighbourhood policing, more people in work than ever before. I am proud of our achievements.
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