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The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend has spoken to me about those things on several occasions. It is right that all parties work together to come through the
difficult times. We will do whatever we can to help the industries of Stoke come through the difficult times that they face.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): As we heard earlier, the Prime Minister does not seem to distinguish between good public spending and bad public spending. At a time when every penny of public money needs to be spent wisely, he wants to waste £13 billion on an NHS computer system that does not work, £12 billion on a surveillance database, which will spy on everybody in the country, and billions more on ID cards. He could redirect all that money to the things that people really need in a recession: homes for hard-pressed families; good child care, so that people can go out to look for work; and training for people who have lost their jobs. At a time when all British families have to rethink their spending plans, is it not time for him to rethink his?
The Prime Minister: I do not recognise the figures that the right hon. Gentleman gives us. The only figure that matters in this debate is that the Liberal party wants to cut £20 billion out of public spending. That would be the wrong course for this country.
Mr. Clegg: This country is in much worse shape than I feared if it has a Prime Minister who cannot tell the difference between redirecting and cutting public money. Grandiose plans for public spending might help in the long term, but low and middle-income families need more money in their pockets right now. Why does he not have the courage to close the multi-billion pound tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthy? That way, he could deliver big tax cuts for people who desperately need help. It would not require extra Government borrowing, it is fair and it would be good for the economy. Why will not the Prime Minister give people on ordinary incomes some of their money back?
The Prime Minister: We have been closing tax loopholes in every Budget for the past 11 years. We are putting an additional amount of money into the economy: 22 million people are getting a tax cut of £120, the winter allowance will be £250 for over-60s and £400 for over-80s, and we are helping low-income families with their fuel bills. The right hon. Gentleman cannot wish away the policy that he announced at his conference: to cut public spending by £20 billion. That is the wrong policy for this country at this time.
Q2.  Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): Last week in Blackpool, I sat down with my further education college to discuss its £100 million Government-funded redevelopment and its hopes for higher education expansion, which are both key to Blackpools regeneration. What can the Prime Minister now do to accelerate investment in such projects, as part of his strategy to combat the economic downturn, as opposed to the Opposition, who do not have a clue?
The Prime Minister:
We are continuing to spend huge amounts of money on regeneration and education, and that is the right thing to doto prepare and equip ourselves for the global challenge that lies ahead. It is also right that we raise the education leaving age to 18, to enable people who are in work at 16 and 17 to get skills one day a week, to enable people to access part-time
learning as well as full-time learning and to give opportunity to all, not just to some. I regret the fact that the Liberal party and the Conservative party seem to be for opportunity for some. We are for opportunity for all.
Q3.  Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): In his first statement to the House after becoming Prime Minister and in the Green Paper on the constitution that accompanied that statement, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to rebalance power between the Government and Parliament. He said that he wanted Parliament to have a greater ability to hold the Government to account. Two weeks ago, the Government announced that the House would sit for 128 days next yearthe smallest number of sittings in a non-election year since the second world war. Does he see any tension between those two propositions?
The Prime Minister: We moved power from the Executive to the legislature; for example, in decisions about peace and war, and also decisions about treaties. That is what I meant. If the House of Commons can do its business efficiently in 128 days, that is the right course of action.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is very aware of the anxiety felt by many small investors in Icesave. We all have constituents with their life savings there. Mine have told me that they are anxious about developments and they are not being told very much, particularly about the structure of the scheme. Can my right hon. Friend confirm please that progress is now being made on the compensation scheme and that investors will be kept advised?
The Prime Minister: The Financial Services Authority has made an announcement about how it will deal with the problems that are faced by UK retail investors in those Icelandic banks. That statement was made last week and I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about these issues.
Q4.  Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that it is an absolute disgrace for the Black Police Association, which has been in receipt of substantial public funds, actively to discourage black and Asian people from joining the Metropolitan police?
The Prime Minister: We want to encourage more black and Asian people to join the police and we will continue to do that. Obviously I will look into what the hon. Gentleman says about the association, but it is important that the message goes out from all parties in the House that we want as many black and Asian people as possible to apply to join the police and to be recruited.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister will know that there is currently a large deployment of men and women serving in Afghanistan from Plymouth and the south-west. What assurances can he offer them, their families and the House that the Government will continue to invest in the equipment that they need to match the professional skills and dedication that they bring to the very difficult job that they do on our behalf?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has done a great deal, visiting Afghanistan and representing many of her constituents in her area. One of the issues in Afghanistan that we have had to deal with is the provision of properly protected vehicles for our armed forces. I am pleased today to be able to announce the planned investment of more than £700 million to deliver new and improved protected vehicles to our armed forces, particularly in Afghanistan. We will be buying 700 new vehicles and upgrading more than 200 more. In the face of new and developing threats, that will mean that our armed forces have the best practical protection for the work that they do. I hope that all parts of the House will favour that.
Q5. Paul Holmes(Chesterfield)(LD): Yesterday, along with other Derbyshire MPs, I met the chief constable of Derbyshire and the police authority. By their own admission, the Government underfund Derbyshire police by £5 million a year. As a result, Derbyshire is the fourth lowest funded police authority in the country and has the 14th lowest number of police officers per head of population. Will the Prime Minister order an inquiry into this travesty and ensure that the people of Derbyshire receive the funding and the police numbers that his Government say that they need to ensure public safety?
The Prime Minister: There are more police in this decade than at any time in our history, and more community support officers. That has been possible only because we have doubled the budget on police in the past 10 years. Not only do we have more police, but crime has come down as a result of their visible presence on the streets. We would not be able to afford the police services that we want in any part of the country if we took the advice of the Liberal leader to cut £20 billion out of public spending.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that, between July and September this year, the BP oil company made a profit of £6.4 billion? When many pensioners and poor, vulnerable people in my constituency are suffering and wondering how they are going to pay to heat their homes this winter, is it not about time that the Government introduced a windfall tax on companies such as BP?
The Prime Minister: We have applied a levy to the utility companies to enable us to spend more on heating for pensioners and others in the winter months. The fact is that oil prices are coming down. Oil is now $60 a barrel, whereas it used to be $150, and it is important that those price cuts are passed on to all customers. We cannot take the advice of the shadow Chancellor on this matter. He resurfacedor tried to resurfacewith a statement that the price of petrol should go down, yet his fuel duty stabiliser would mean that the price of petrol would now automatically go up by 5p a litre [ Interruption. ] He cannot deny it. That is why people doubt the judgment of the Conservative party.
Q6.  Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): In 1976, the United Kingdom was humiliated when the last Labour Government had to approach the International Monetary Fund to be bailed out. ShouldGod forbid this Labour Government similarly have to go to the IMF for a bail-out, would the Prime Minister resign?
The Prime Minister: I think the hon. Gentleman should be remembering 1992, when the present Leader of the Opposition stood beside the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and, having tried to set interest rates at 18 per cent., they were unable to keep Britain in the European exchange rate mechanism. That led to 3 million unemployed, and that is the moment that the Conservatives should be remembering.
Q7.  Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that vulnerable workers should be free from exploitation, whatever the economic climate. Will he therefore join Labour Members in welcoming the adoption of the temporary agency workers directive by the European Parliament last week? That follows two private Members Bills in this House: my own and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), who has also pursued this issue. Will my right hon. Friend now outline to the House how and when the directive will be implemented into UK law, so that it can be of benefit to up to 1 million such workers up and down the land?
The Prime Minister: Members on both sides of the House should remember that the CBI was also supportive of this arrangement. We will bring forward legislation in the next Session of Parliament to implement it. As is the usual practice with EU directives, there will be a detailed consultation on the UK implementation. I think that, given the agreement that has been achieved across business in this country, both sides of the House should support the agency workers directive.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the decision by the Army to organise a homecoming parade in the city of Belfast? Does he recognise that the troops from Northern Ireland who have performed so well and so bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan come from both sections of our community? The decision taken by Sinn Fein to run a counter-parade and protest is therefore all the more preposterous, and has heightened tensions in Northern Ireland as a whole. Will the Prime Minister join me in urging people in Northern Ireland to ensure that we have a peaceful Sunday, and that everyone has due respect for the role that has been played by our brave troops, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan? I have seen the role that they have played in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and the work that they are doing in mentoring the Afghan army. Will he urge everyone to do nothing to drag us back to the bad old days?
The Prime Minister: I want every Sunday to be a peaceful Sunday in Northern Ireland, and I want us to work together to ensure that we can undertake the remaining stages of the devolution that will make stability for the longer term possible. I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the troops in our armed forces deserve the support of every community from which they come. Where there have been parades in the different cities and towns of this country, not only have they been peaceful but large numbers of people have turned out because they want to give support to our troops and show them that they have the confidence of the British people. I want that to be a feature of our life in every part of the United Kingdom for many years to come.
Q8.  Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): In these difficult financial times, I know that we have to extract value for money wherever we can and that difficult decisions will have to be made. We also face the threat of climate change, which puts extra demands on the economy and what the Government have to finance. May I draw my right hon. Friends attention to my early-day motion 2351Climate change and the UKs contribution to the Kopernikus satellite programme? It is a very important scientific programme to monitor, given the impact of climate change [Interruption.]so would it be possible for me and a small delegation of British scientists to meet the Prime Minister to discuss the importance of this programme to the UK economy?
The Prime Minister: I am very happy to do so, and I must say that I thought climate change was an issue that both sides of the House wanted to take action on. We recognise the importance of understanding and monitoring climate change. No decision has yet been taken on the level of UK funding, but a final decision will be taken in advance of the ministerial meeting in late November. I applaud my hon. Friend for everything he has done to raise these issuesthrough the European Space Agencys programme and the wider work that he does on the environment. I used to think that the Tories supported a green policy, but now I am not so sure.
Q9.  Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): The Prime Minister says that he wants a third runway at Heathrow, so why are his Ministers lobbying against that, yet remaining part of his Government?
The Prime Minister: We said as a Government that we supported a third runway in principle. After all, there are five runways in Amsterdam, five in Paris and four in Frankfurtand we are talking about only a third runway at Heathrow. We also said, however, that we would look into all the environmental considerations, which is what we are doing at the moment. We will come back to the House in due course.
Q10.  Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): This morning, together with other hon. Members, I attended the David Black award, which is a celebration of the British pig industry and quality standard charter marks. They support farmers who are committed to high animal welfare, quality control and traceability of their products. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that Government procurement figures show that 76 per cent. of bacon products and 39 per cent. of pork products do not come from quality pork standard mark suppliers? As my right hon. Friend helps out different sectors of industry, will he ensure that procurement supports British farmers? If the Government do not stand up for them, why should anybody else?
Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con):
The Prime Minister will be aware of the widespread public concern about foreclosures on mortgage properties, particularly by banks such as Northern Rock. Is he
aware that some other debtsunsecured debts such as those on store cardsare being purchased by debt factoring companies, which are then applying to the courts for attachment to properties, subsequently obtaining possession of them for trivial debt? Is that a correct interpretation of the law, and if it is, does not the law need to be changed?
Q11.  Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Representatives of small businesses in my constituency are still contacting me to say that new loan arrangements are either being refused by the banks or agreed on harsher terms. Will the Prime Minister assure me that he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will do what they can to ensure that the agreement with the banks feeds through to small businesses?
The Prime Minister: This is the central issue that must be dealt with in the next few days. We have given liquidity to the banks and recapitalised them, so now we must have their resumption of lending. If that can be achieved by their taking new decisions to lend, that is exactly what should be done. At the same time, we will look into other instruments through which banks or other financial institutions can give money to small businesses to increase their cash flow. We will look at everything necessary, so that further to the recapitalisation of the banks, we have the necessary resumption of lending.
Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) (Ind): I tried to phone Postwatch this morning to ask how to appeal against some of the post office closures in my area only to find that Postwatch had effectively ceased to existbefore the consultation had concluded. Is that fair?
Q12.  Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): On Monday, a family living in my constituency almost lost their home as a result of a 3 per cent. increase in their fixed mortgage rate, a bank that refused to negotiate, and a judge who told them to get it over quickly. Will my right hon. Friend, as a matter of urgency, redouble his efforts to make it clear to both banks and judges that we will intervene to safeguard homes, and that, unlike the Conservative party, we will not leave our families to sink or swim?
The Prime Minister: It is for precisely the reasons given by my hon. Friend that the judiciary have issued a new instruction that repossession must be the last resort, not the first resort, and that banks must consider alternative means of funding and other means by which mortgages can be paid over a longer period if necessary. I hope that we will also deal with some of the problems faced by people in the same position as my hon. Friends constituents.
We are changing the point at which unemployment benefit can be supported by mortgage interest repayment help. The new system will begin on 1 January, and will apply to people who have been unemployed for 13 weeks. We are taking the actions that are necessary,
including, from the beginning of January, buying up old houses that are on the market so that we can encourage the housing market to move forward. I believe that we are taking the policy initiatives [Interruption.] The Opposition may shout, but they have no policies.
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