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I would look at a...temporary reduction in VAT which is the best way of stimulating spending, consumer spending which helps businesses.
That is exactly what he said, and so did Lord Lamont. My point is that we have spent £1 billion on this. It is a tax cut for the whole year which adds up to £12 billion. It is £275 in peoples pockets, as a result of the effect on the typical family. The right hon. Gentleman may think that it is irrelevant, but people in my constituency and others think that it is important. He opposes, let us remember, the £60 increase in the pension, the rise in child benefit that we brought about and a fiscal stimulus, because he wants to cut public spending. He is totally on the wrong side of the argument. Even the monetarists in America are now supporting the need for the stimulus. If he wants to be outside the consensus about what needs to be done, let it be; but people will remember that at a time of difficulty for the British people, the Conservatives wanted to cut the very services on which the British people depend.
Mr. Cameron: It is not that I think that the VAT cut is irrelevant; it is that the leaders of the biggest retail chains in Britain all think that it is not working and that it is irrelevant. The truth is that the Governments policies are achieving nothing. They announced a stamp duty holiday and the housing market got worse; they announced a bank bail-out, yet the banks are not lending; they announced a jobs summit on the day when thousands of jobs were lost. It is not just that the Prime Minister is running round like a headless chicken, making one bogus announcement after another, doing nothing for confidence. Is not the worst thing of all this: by spending £12.5 billion by cutting VAT, is he not just building up debts for Britains children in a vain attempt to save his own skin?
The Prime Minister: The only party that can help Britains children is the party that is increasing child benefit, investing in the child trust fund, investing in Sure Start and investing in nursery educationall the programmes that the Conservative party will cut. I hope that the Conservative party will wake up to an economic reality: that it cannot promise £50 billion to business and then say that it is to be funded by absolutely nothing. That is a do nothing policy. The Conservatives are the do nothing party. They would leave people defenceless in the face of a global financial crisis. Other countries will not do that. We will not walk by on the other side. The Conservatives would; we will not.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians are under siege in Sri Lanka because of the aerial bombardment by the Sri Lankan Government. Last Sunday, the editor of the leading newspaper there was assassinated. He said, in an obituary written before he was killed, that this was due to the forces of the Government. Will the Prime Minister please use his good offices, either unilaterally or through the European Union, to call for a ceasefire so that all those involved in this conflict stop their violence, so that peace can return to that beautiful island?
The Prime Minister: I know, from talking to my right hon. Friend on many occasions about this, how strongly he feels about what is happening in Sri Lanka. I agree with him about the terrible violence that is happening there. I also agree with him about the need for a ceasefire. I will be talking to President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel, and that will be one of the issues that I will raise with them.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of Corporal Robert Deering, Lance Corporal Ben Whatley, Corporal Liam Elms, Serjeant Christopher Reed and Marine Travis Mackin, all of whom tragically lost their lives serving this country and the people of Afghanistan in Helmand province.
Taxpayers have already had to sink £37 billion into our banks to get them lending again, so today they will be wondering why on earth they should risk a further £10 billion, just to get the banks to do what they promised to do in the first place. Why is the Prime Minister playing copycat with the leader of the Conservatives when he should be playing hardball with the banks?
The Prime Minister: I have just explained that the Conservative scheme is completely unfunded, and the right hon. Gentleman had better look at what he would put up to help people in this difficult situation. As far as the banks are concerned, the £10 billion is working capital that will go to firms over the course of the next year. The business guarantee scheme is to help firms that want to convert their overdrafts into loans, or that need investment capital. We will buy shares in high-technology companies that have a viable future, so that they can transfer their debt into equity. These are the things that we can do practically. Since November, 20,000 firms have already benefited from the cash-flow promises that we made in the Budget that we would give deferral of taxation to people who were facing a need for working capital or for cash flow. So far from not taking action, 20,000 firms have already benefited.
Mr. Clegg: Here is what he should do [Interruption.] He should stop telling the banks to hoard cash and to lend it out at the same time, and he should use one of the part-nationalised banks as a state bank to lend money directly to viable British businesses. I put that to him, right here, two months ago, and he did not listen. Is it not time that he did?
The Prime Minister:
I admire the right hon. Gentlemans certainty, but let me just say this: we have asked the two banks in which we have shares to maintain the lending of 2007, which was a high level of lending both to businesses and to mortgage lenders. I believe that that is what they are doing at the moment, and we are monitoring what they are doing every week. As for placing further conditions on the banks, so that we can get more lending into the economy, we are making available the money that we have announced today, which will go to small businesses themselves. That is an important element of helping small businesses through these difficulties, but we will not hesitate to look at other measures that are necessary to get the financial system moving. All around the world, people have recapitalised the banks. All around the world, getting the funding moving is the
important question. I believe that the measures we have taken today will make a difference, but we will not hesitate to take further measures when they are necessary.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister bear it in mind that, in the past three weeks, the Israeli forces have killed 1,000 people in Gaza, 300 of whom were children, and denied medical aid, food and energy and blockaded the people during the past year? These are war crimes. They have committed acts against the people of Gaza that ought to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Will the Prime Minister join the calls to ensure that that takes place?
The Prime Minister: We took action in drafting the resolution that went through the United Nations last week. Words cannot describe the feeling that families will have as a child dies, or at the level of civilian deaths and casualties and the displacement of 90,000 people in Gaza, but our resolution sought to call for an immediate ceasefire, to recognise the damage that had been done and was being done, and to call for humanitarian actiona call that I repeated when I talked to Prime Minister Olmert last night and asked him to increase the humanitarian action and to take the necessary action to achieve a ceasefire.
The reason why we supported the UN measure was that the Arab countries were also prepared to sign up to two things that are very important to any sustainable ceasefire. The first is an end to arms trafficking and particularly the destruction of the tunnels in Gaza. I talked to President Mubarak yesterday about what we can do and how we can help to achieve that. Secondly, of course [Interruption.] I think this is important, as we will also need international support to execute the opening of the crossings. It is important that we have the support of the Arab League countries as well as the other countries that signed that motion. In other words, we are doing everything that we can to make possible an immediate ceasefire.
Q2.  Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): In July 2007, the Prime Minister promised to lay before Parliament an annual report detailing Ministers interests. Why, 18 months later, are we still waiting for one?
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the publication of the New Opportunities White Paper. Does he agreeI have an instinct on this onethat although social mobility is of course a matter of social justice, it is also a matter of simple economic common sense?
The Prime Minister:
I would have thought that there would be all-party support for the New Opportunities White Paper. It is, after all, about helping children and particularly infants get the best possible chance in life by extending play groups, Sure Start and nursery education. It is about giving people the best teachers at their schools and giving people the chance to get the benefit of the best education that is possible. It is about giving more people the chance to go to university and college or into apprenticeshipsand there were precise announcements yesterday about what can happen. It is
also about giving people a second chance if they missed out at the beginning. I am sorry that the Conservative party could not support the New Opportunities White Paper. Again, it would cut spending in the very areas that we need to expand for the sake of both the society we live in and the countrys economy.
The message should go out today clearly that decisions in this country should be made in the Chamber of this House and not on the roof of this House.[ Official Report, 27 February 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1082.]
The Prime Minister: The hon. GentlemanI thinkknows the procedure that we are following on this. First, there was a decision in principlesubject to air noise, subject to pollution and subject to access. The Secretary of State is examining this matter and he will report to Parliament. There will be a debate about what he says in the questions that follow. Then, if the matter were accepted and a proposal were put by the Secretary of State, it would go to a planning inquiry.
Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister send best wishes to President-elect Obama for his inauguration next Tuesday, and will he work with him to secure lasting peace in the middle east?
The Prime Minister: I have had the advantage of talking to President Obama about some of these issues. The whole House will want to welcome the new President. We hope to work very closely with him. There are major international issues, but the first and most immediate is the middle east. I believe that the relationships between Britain and America will strengthen over the years.
Q4.  Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): Seventy per cent. of imported pork is produced to animal welfare standards that would be unlawful in this country. [Interruption.] Given the Environment Secretarys recent comments that we need clearer food labelling, which my Food Labelling Bill with all-party support would have provided, does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time for compulsory country-of-origin labelling to give a fair deal to British consumers, British farmers and British meat?
The Prime Minister: If I may say so, that was an appropriate question from the aptly named Member. The Department is in active discussions with all parties on this issue, and we are also in discussion with the supermarkets. We want an agreed set of voluntary criteria that will allow consumers to make informed choices and support our farmers. I believe that UK producers set the standard for compassionate pigmeat production when we introduced new welfare standards, but all EU member states must be compliant with the new EU legislation. We will insist that standards be met.
Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab):
For too many of my constituents, the worst consequence of the last recession in the early 90s was losing their
home as a result of repossession. Can my right hon. Friend reassure us that in this downturn, either the loss of a job or a dramatic reduction in family income, will not necessarily result in the loss of the family home?
The Prime Minister: That is why on 1 January we introduced a new measure so that at a point of 13 weeks from when someone becomes unemployed, they will get support directly for their mortgage. It is a far more generous scheme than we had a few years ago. Our determination is that nobody who is attempting to pay their mortgage will lose their house as a result of being jobless.
At the same time, we recognise that people in work, where one in the family is not working, may suffer a loss of income as well. We are looking to the building societies for a moratorium on repossessions. We are looking for a very precise code that can deal with this problem, and we are prepared to back financially measures that will allow people to extend their mortgages at a time of difficulty.
I accept that this costs money and that it is necessary to fund it. We are prepared to make available the funding necessary in the interests of working people. Not all parties, unfortunately, agree with us.
Q5.  Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Will the Prime Minister confirm that as we face the deepest recession in a quarter of a century, the project to rebuild St. Helier hospitala snip at £150 million, just 100th of the amount spent on the VAT reductionwill receive his support and will receive the signature of his Chancellor on the £150 million cheque at the appropriate moment, thereby providing real jobs for local people and new hospital beds for local patients?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right: this is a major investment that the trust board has approvedI believe that it is £140 million for St. Helier hospital. It means a brand new state-of-the-art building that will house the majority of the hospitals wards and clinics. I believe that the business case has been approved by the primary care trust and the acute trust board. It has now been submitted for consideration, and then it will come to the Department of Health for approval. I gather that he met the Secretary of State for Health last night to discuss it, and we will ensure that no barriers are put in the way of the discussion that needs to take place.
Q6.  Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I join those who have paid tribute to those service personnel who have lost their lives and been injured, and I speak particularly for Plymouth MPs when I say that our thoughts are with the close friends and family of Marine Mackin. The Prime Minister referred to the measures being taken now, including the VAT reduction, to give real help to my constituents, but can he assure the House that he will continue with the high levels of investment in schools, hospitals and infrastructure?
The Prime Minister:
We are investing £10 billion more in the coming year than last year in public services. There will be more investment in our schools and our
education provision than at any time in our historythis year and then next year. [Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition says that there will be a lot less next year. Yes, there would be a lot less if he were in power, but the fact of the matter is that there will be a lot more as a result of the decisions that we have made.
There is clearly a philosophical difference here. We believe, at a time of difficulty, that it is our duty to help people and to help people get through a downturn. We believe that we have learned from the mistakes that the Conservatives made in the 1990s and 1980s about what it is right to do. We will not desert people at a time of need; we will invest. It is unfortunate that there is not an all-party consensus on that.
Q7.  Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Several thousand people in Swindon are directly or indirectly employed by the motor industry. Much help has already been given by the regional development agency and the Government office, but what further plans does my right hon. Friend have to help this important industry during the global economic downturn?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friendwho is the Member of Parliament for South Swindonis absolutely right. Two issues face the car industry at the moment. One is a shortage [Interruption.] Opposition Members laugh when we talk about the car industry. The first issue is a shortage of demand for cars; the second is the availability of credit for people buying cars. We have been talking to the various car companies and we will make announcements in due course, but those two problems must be dealt with. In terms of the car credit problem, which relates to loans for car purchase, this is basically a market that is outside the traditional banking industry, and we must look at what we can do to prevent it from freezing in the way other markets have. This is a detailed and technical question about how we can get help into the car loan industry, but we are looking at it very carefully.
Some firms in the car industry have already asked us about help with training skilled workers so that they can rebuild, and build, their skills during the period of downturn, and we are also prepared to provide that. In other words, we will do what we can to help.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Next week the new President of the United States of America will take office. What differences are there between him and the Prime Minister, apart from the Prime Ministers having inadvertently said that he had already saved the world and the Presidents having said that he needs to do so?
The Prime Minister:
I am looking forward to working with President Obama. I also pay tribute to what President Bush has donehe was the first to recognise the importance of dealing with international terrorism after 11 September 2001but a new Administration have policies for a
fiscal stimulus, and that will help Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the United Kingdom. If all the economies can work together in co-ordination, the benefit of what we do individually can be magnified a great deal.
I believe that the work that the Obama Administration are about to do to build a stronger economy will be complemented by what we can do in Europe, and by what China and other countries can do. I believe that the consensus throughout the world will be not only that we needed to recapitalise the banks, but that we need the very fiscal stimulus that, unfortunately, not all Members can support.
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