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recession can be good for us.
Mr. Cameron: The difference between my hon. Friend and the Prime Minister is that my hon. Friend has apologised, but the Prime Minister has never apologisedfor saying he would end boom and bust, for example. The Prime Minister just quoted a very interesting figure. He said that the ratio of debt to gross domestic product is going to reach 58 per cent. Will he confirm that that is exactly the same percentage that was reached when Denis Healey went to the International Monetary Fund because the country was bust?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand that, around the world [Interruption.] I am sorry that I have to give him an economic lecture every week, but he does not understand that this is a problem all around the world: in France and Germany, the percentage for GDP:debt ratio is in the late 50s, in Japan it is 95 per cent., in Italy it is 100 per cent., and Americas is rising very fast. This is what has to be done in a period of downturn. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman even asks this question now suggests that he wants to do absolutely nothing. I have talked to every major country in the last few weeks and no leader is telling me that the recession should take its course. Only the Conservative party is saying that.
Mr. Cameron: The fact is that this Prime Minister has given us the debt levels of Italy and the accounting practices of Enron. He talks about wandering around the world, but I bet he cannot find a single major country that is planning to raise taxes year after year after year because he has made such a mess of the public finances. Is not the truth about the PBR that it is not a response to the economic crisis but the consequence of a decade of his economic mismanagement? It is not about helping the countrys economic situation, but about trying to help his political situation; it is not about being straight with people, but about concealing a tax bombshell that will hit every family in the country. Is not the real lesson from the PBR this: the country is going bankrupt, the Prime Minister has been found out and new Labour is dead?
The Prime Minister:
The real lesson of this PBR is that we are giving real help to families and businesses now. The Conservatives would refuse to give real help to families and businesses. We are cutting VAT; we are increasing the cash flow to small businesses; and we are
raising the pension and child benefit from January. We are doing everything that the Conservative party opposed and everything that they would have done if they were in charge in a recession. They offer no help to hard-pressed families; they have abandoned compassion in Conservatism; they are no longer a credible Opposition; and the right hon. Gentleman is the do nothing leader of a do nothing party.
John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): At the Treasury Select Committee hearing yesterday, the Governor of the Bank of England made it crystal clear that the single most pressing economic issue today is for banks to resume lending to the real economy. While welcoming financial stability, he and his colleagues said it would come to nothing if this lending did not resume. Given the competitive environment in which banks operate, not one of them is willing individually to strike out on its own. May I impress on the Prime Minister the need to get them into a room and ensure that they collectively and simultaneously resume lending, as they were given £37 billion for that precise purpose, and their social obligation is an economic imperative for the country?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who will have noticed that the Royal Bank of Scotland issued a statement on Sunday saying that it was going to refuse to raise the rates for overdrafts. That is something that must happen right across the banking system. We are talking to the banks now and hope that we can make progress with them. The flow of cash to small businesses in particular will be helped by the expansion of the small firms loan guarantee scheme in the Budget, the £1 billion for export credits and the deferment of payments of tax and national insurance that we have agreed that HMRC is prepared to offer. I also agree with the Governor of the Bank of England that the action we took to balance monetary policy with fiscal action in the economy was the right thing to do. Only the Conservative party stands out against it.
As a Sheffield Member, I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House and everyone in Sheffield when I say how horrified we all were to hear of the terrible abuse suffered by two daughters at the hands of their own father. We hope that the victims will now have the time, the space and the privacy to rebuild their lives.
In his pre-Budget report the Chancellor mentioned fairness eight times, but, as always with this Government, it pays to read the small print. The Chancellors VAT cut will benefit big spenders much more than it will benefit hard-pressed families. His national insurance hike will hit millions of low earners. That is not fairness; it is a betrayal. The Chancellor had the chance to make our tax system fairer. Why did he blow it?
The Prime Minister:
I join the right hon. Gentleman in saying that the whole House, and indeed the whole country, will be outraged by the unspeakable events that have been reported as having happened in Sheffield and other parts of the country, and utterly appalled by the news of the systematic abuse of two sisters by their father over such a long period. A serious case review is under way. It must involve all the authorities: social
services, police and health. They have been in contact with the sisters, who are rightly protected from the media for the sake of their privacy and confidentiality. People will rightly want to know how such abuse could go on for so long without the authorities and the wider public services discovering it and taking action. If there is a change to be made in the system and if the system has failed, we will change the system as a result of the inquiries.
As for fairness, we have raised the pension by £4.55, and we have raised it from January. We have raised child benefit to £20, and we have raised it from January. We have raised child credit and pension credit, and we are continuing to raise them to take pensioners and children out of poverty. The best that we can do is continue the policies that have taken children and pensioners out of poverty, and not follow the right hon. Gentlemans policy of cutting £20 billion out of the public services.
On the issue of fairness, once again we have been given a list rather than an answer, and misleading bluster rather than a real response. The Prime Minister could give permanent big, fair tax cuts to millions of ordinary British taxpayers, if only he would close huge loopholes such as the £8 billion pension tax bonus for top earners, or the way in which millionaires can still receive their capital gains while paying much lower tax rates than their cleaners pay on their wages. He could have done that. Instead, he has toyed with the hopes of the British people. Why has he let them down?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that we are giving real help to families, and that we are giving that real help now. He may think that the pension is only £30, but I can tell him that we are raising the pension by a higher rate than in many years, that we are bringing that forward to January through a £60 payment, and that we are also helping children and families through this difficult time. The cut in VAT will benefit low-income families, and the right hon. Gentleman should understand that that is the case.
As for the loopholes in allowances, every year we take action on loopholes, and every year we take action when it comes to looking at where there are abuses of the system. The right hon. Gentleman should look at the proposals that have been put forward by the Chancellor, which will be debated in a few minutes. We are the party of fairness. A party proposing £20 billion of cuts is not a party of fairness.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that it is high time the utility companies passed on the reduction in gas prices to people at home who are looking forward to the coming winter?
Q2.  Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con):
Last week, the Childrens Secretary said that we could not read the serious case review on the death of baby P because of a ruling by the Information Commissioner. That came as a surprise to the Information Commissioner,
who then issued a statement saying that the Childrens Secretary had not been in touch with his office on the matter. Will the Prime Minister now approach the Information Commissioner, so that we can all read the truth that his Minister has sought to suppress?
Q3.  Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Prime Minister agree that the spoiled rich kids just do not get it? Does he agree that it is easy for those who have been born with a silver spoon in their mouth not to want to do anything, but that real people want some action taken, and will he tell us what he is doing internationally with other countries to get us out of this crisis?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the key is action nationally and internationally, and I can tell the House today that we have agreed with our international partnersand particularly Japan, which currently has the presidency of the G8, and Premier Asothat the next meeting of the G20 will be held in London on 2 April. It will deal with the major questions of the economic actions that are necessary. I have talked to the incoming US Administration, and President-elect Obama expects to come to Britain at that time.
Q4.  Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): This evening, councillors in the London borough of Merton will be considering Labour proposals to cut the council tax by £100, to help local families and stimulate the local economy. Would my right hon. Friend advise councillors to vote in favour of Labours low-tax proposals?
The Prime Minister: The important thing at the moment is that Labour councillors and the Government want to give real help to families and businesses now. The Conservatives have left people in a position where they have no prospect of help now. I believe they will live to regret that, because people need real help at Christmas and beyond, and we are going to give that.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Will the Prime Minister reassure the House that all the millions of people who are suffering financial hardship because of his mismanagement of the economy [Interruption.]
There are millions of people who are suffering financial hardship because of the Prime Ministers mismanagement of the economy. Will he assure the House that, in the inevitable cuts to the Budget that are
to follow his profligacy, he will leave the defence budget alone so that British troops may continue to fight as they are?
Q5.  Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): May I congratulate the Government on supporting the United Nations decision to add 3,000 troops to those serving in the Congo, where many people are dying? In view of the need for quality troops on the ground in weeks rather than months, is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a position to tell the House what the deployment time frame will be, and what future contingency plans are in the minds of the UN in the meantime? Will he accept that whatever other international
The Prime Minister: I have written to all potential contributors to a UN mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo asking them to contribute the extra troops. We have been prepared to put up extra money for that to happen, but I think my right hon. Friend, who takes a great interest in these matters, will agree that the solution will eventually be a political solution, not a military one. That is why we have supported the UN envoy ex-President Obasanjo, and that is why Lord Malloch-Brown is in the DRC today, and in the region, to urge all parties to respect the ceasefire. I will reinforce that message by talking to President Kagame very soon.
Q6.  Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): Next Friday, I shall visit my local hospital to thank some 800 volunteers who give their services free to the people of Harrogate. They, like the army of people around the country who volunteer their services, see their costs increasing, but next year the whole charitable sector will have its income drastically reduced. This weeks statement contained almost no additional support for charities. How can the Prime Minister accept giving irresponsible bankers billions of pounds while the charities are on the streets with begging bowls?
The Prime Minister: In the last Budget, we announced additional support for charities, because we knew the difficulties that they were going to face. That additional support was given in April last year, and we will look again at this in time for the Budget.
Q7.  Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): May I welcome this Governments investment in public transport? Does my right hon. Friend agree that in return for that investment, the public have every right to expect the highest levels of customer service, and that this is a matter of value for money for the British taxpayer? Does he further agree that train companies, such as First Capital Connect, that are planning to cut customer service levels at stations such as Enfield Chase should think again?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased to join my right hon. Friend in saying that public investment is essential. What happens at Enfield Chase station is a matter that I shall examine with her, but she is aware that the provision of ticketing facilities is governed by the rail industry processes. We continue to increase transport investment through the downtown. We will not make the mistakes that were made in the past.
Q8.  Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): The Prime Minister often claims that the source of the current economic crisis emanated from the United States. If he believes that, why does he continue to use Alan Greenspan as an adviser?
The Prime Minister: Dr. Greenspan spoke to the committee in the Senate only a few weeks ago, and said that two mistakes that had been made had to be sorted out. The first was that the executives of companies had not taken the public interest into consideration in the way that they should have donewe are taking action on that, although not with the support of the Conservative party, as I understand it. The second was that people were passing on risk without responsibility. These are two proposals for changes that he has made and that we are trying to introduce into the international financial system. That is why we have taken note of what he said in recommending these things.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): May I welcome the credit card summit that my right hon. Friend mentioned? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to examine the issue of credit card cheques, which are one of the most pernicious ways of trapping vulnerable people in debt? In previous years, they have been marketed particularly heavily at Christmas, and we do not want that to happen this year.
The Prime Minister: As we know, a number of problems have arisen with organisations that pursue Christmas schemes for savings and for credit cards. I will look at exactly what my hon. Friend says. If he can provide me with the information about the companies involved, the Business Secretary will examine it.
The Prime Minister: As I said before, the figures are set out in the Budget document. I also said that the reason why Conservatives are asking this question is that they do not want us to invest now to prevent hardship for families and businessesthey want us either to cut spending or not to be in a position to help families and businesses. They are simply confirming that they are the do nothing party with a do nothing leader and a do nothing policy.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should welcome the statement made by the shadow Health Secretary, because he has exposed the real position of the Tories? They do not understand recessions and they do not accept what happens, and we should refuse to listen to them because they are the do nothing party.
Interestingly, on many counts, recession can be good for us.
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