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The Prime Minister: If the Conservative party is not prepared to accept that this is a global recession that requires global action, it will get nowhere. Our public debt is lower than that of America, France, Germany and Japan. He should not be going around the country saying the opposite of what is true. At the same time, the measures that we are taking to deal with this global recession are measures that other countries are now taking, following us. The one thing that other countries are not doing is following the Conservative policy of doing nothing, which is not only the wrong thing, but a disastrous course for this country.
Mr. Cameron: I do not know where the Prime Minister gets his figures from. This year he is going to borrow 8 per cent. of GDP. That is the same amount as a Labour Chancellor borrowed and ended up back at the International Monetary Fund. Those are the figures; that is the truth. In the past three months alone, 4,000 businesses went bust, more than 11,000 homes were repossessed and almost a quarter of a million people lost their jobs, but the message from the Prime Minister seems to be, Dont worry, youre just the birth pangs of a new global economic era. Today we are told that the debt that he is building up will take a generation to pay off. What we have had from the Prime Minister is denial about the pastcontinuing todayfailure in the present and debt for the future. Should those not be the death throes of a failed premiership?
The Prime Minister: This is a global recession, not just a UK recession, and the answer, as the IFS said todaythe right hon. Gentleman quotes the IFSis not to do nothing, but to take all the action that is necessary. I see no one else around the world supporting his proposal to do nothing. Indeed, the shadow shadow Chancellor has been giving interviews explaining what should be done. Does he support the VAT measure? Yes, he did. Does he support the fiscal stimulus? Yes, he did. Does he support our policy of helping children without the married couples allowance? Yes, he did. Does he support European co-operation to deal with the downturn? Yes, he does. He, at least, has the semblance of a policy. The Leader of the Opposition would do absolutely nothing.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that Jaguar Land Rover welcomed the measures that he announced yesterday, particularly on green technology? Is he also aware that there will still be some anxiety in Coventry and the west midlands until people see the final outcome of yesterdays package?
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend has been a great supporter of the car industry and its development in his own city and round the country. I believe that the car industry is a sector with a strong future. That is why we want to unlock loans of up to £1.3 billion, guaranteed for low-carbon initiatives in cars. That is also why we
are giving loans and guarantees of up to £1 billion for lower carbon initiatives for non-European Investment Bank projects. That is why we are discussing training grants, which would be in addition to short-time working, so that we can help people in jobs to keep their jobs. We will do everything we can to help the car industry. This is the difference. We know that in times like these we must act to helpbut I am not sure that the Conservatives support us in this.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Does the Prime Minister think it is right that some Members of the upper House can use their status as non-domicile non-residents to get out of paying their full taxes here in this country?
Mr. Clegg: In that case, will he [Interruption.] Hang on. Millions of ordinary British taxpayers are filing their tax returns this week. They are the ones who deserve a tax break, not the super-rich. So will the Prime Minister support our private Members Bill to force peers, who make the laws of this country, to pay their full taxes in this country?
The Prime Minister: Where I would disagree with the right hon. Gentleman is to say that we are helping ordinary taxpayers in this country. We are raising personal allowances so that people will pay less tax; they will rise again in April as a result of the decisions in the pre-Budget report. We have cut VATand, if I may say so, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says today that that is a far more effective stimulus than critics are saying. Of course, we are also raising pensions and child benefit. Yes, we should take action against tax havens, but, yes also, we are helping ordinary taxpayers in this country.
Q2.  Helen Southworth (Warrington, South) (Lab): In the current global economic instability, will the Prime Minister intervene rapidly to ensure that women workers who fear job losses get help to keep their jobs, learn new skills and keep the family income coming in?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The success of recent years has been that a large number of women who previously never had the chance of getting into work, partly because there was no child care and partly because there was no training, have had the chance to get into work. As people have to look at new job opportunitiesand there are half a million vacancieswe want to help them, particularly those who have training needs and those who need child care help, into the jobs that are available. That was very much part of the package that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions introduced a few weeks ago. We will keep the new deal, we will make it more flexible and we will spend the £500 million that my right hon. Friend allocated so that we can help women and men to get the jobs that they need.
Q3.  Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): Why, according to the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the European Union, is Britain heading for a longer and deeper recession than any of its competitors?
The Prime Minister: I have just cited the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said [Interruption.] They do not like hearing a statement [Interruption.] First of all, our Institute for Fiscal Studies said that we would avoid a longer and deeper recession by means of the fiscal stimulus that we are taking. That is exactly the same view as has been expressed by the International Monetary Fund. I am afraid that the Conservatives are living in a dream world if they believe, one, that this is purely a British problem, and two, that the answer to it is doing nothing. They have to go back to the drawing board and think again.
Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is aware of the tragic humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Does he share the anger of thousands of my constituents and millions of people across Britain at the BBC decision to refuse to air the Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza appeal? Does he agree with me that the corporations decision has damaged the reputation of the BBC both at home and abroad?
The Prime Minister: It is not for us to interfere with the independence of the BBC and Sky, which made the decisions about whether they would broadcast the appeal on Gaza. But what I can say is this: we are making the appeal as widely known as we can through our own information services. At the same time, we have put £28 million into helping with humanitarian aid in Gaza. The situation that has been found is one where children have to be flown to hospital, where unexploded bombs have to be dealt with and where humanitarian aid and food has to be provided immediately. I think it would be the wish of all people in this House for this to be done as speedily as possible.
The Prime Minister: Baroness Royall, the Leader of the House of Lords, has taken immediate action to deal with the problem. All of us are deeply concerned. These are serious allegations, which have to be dealt with. That is why we immediately set up the committee on privileges to look at how a proper code of conduct could be introduced; that is why we investigated the interests, which is happening under Baroness Prashar; and that is why Lady Royall said this morning:
If the current allegations are proven, we may need as well to consider emergency sanctions.
Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): Given the announcement this week of devastating job losses at Corus, over 500 of which are in my constituency in Llanwern, will the Prime Minister meet, as a matter of urgency, a group of MPs from the all-party steel and metal related industries group to consider what support can be given to this crucial part of our manufacturing baseand, crucially, to the steelworkers who have stuck with Corus through thick and thin and who now need our help?
The Prime Minister: We have talked to Corus, and we have said that whether it is through the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the regional development agencies in Wales and in other parts of the country, or Jobcentre Plus, we will do everything we can. Steel is absolutely crucial to the manufacturing future of this country. We know from Tata, the owners of Corus, that it wishes to keep the steel plants moving forwards. Following the jobs summit, we are already working with Corus to look at what could be done to help with training costs for the future. I assure my hon. Friend that I will be very happy to meet her all-party group of MPs.
Q5.  Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Does the Prime Minister agree that there can never be an equivalence between terrorists, on the one hand, and the innocent victims of terror, on the other? Does he therefore acknowledge the deep hurt and offence that has been caused by the obnoxious proposal in the Eames-Bradley report published today on the past in Northern Ireland, which suggests a £12,000 payment to all relatives of everyone killed, regardless of their statuswhich effectively does away with the distinction between murderers and those whom they went out to murder and kill? Will he reject any definition of victimhood which elevates terrorists to the same status as those whom they targeted for murder and violence?
The Prime Minister: There can be no justification for terrorist violence, and there will be no justification ever given for it. The issues raised in the report published today by Bishop Eames and Mr. Bradley are very serious indeed, and I understand why one of their recommendations has evoked such controversy in Northern Ireland. The Government will consider the report with great care, and we will reply in due course. I believe that some of the recommendations will be acceptable to all parties, such as settling outstanding cases, pushing forward with reconciliation, and having a reconciliation fund that will help different groups to come together so that we can get away from the incidents of the past. I will never forget the thousands of innocent victims in Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks for the whole community in Northern Ireland when he says that we must respect the fact that innocent people lost their lives, and that that should never be forgotten.
Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab):
Does the Prime Minister recall that in the 1980s this country was the world leader in the development of clean coal technology via the fluidised bed plant at Grimethorpe colliery in my constituency? That was until the Thatcher Government pulled the plug on the funding. We now have another opportunity to lead the world, but this time in the development of carbon
capture and storage. Will the Prime Minister reassure the House that, in contrast to what the Tories did with clean coal technology, this Government will not let the country down on that important issue?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. History will show that we did need coal, and we did need the new coal technologies. I am sorry that in the 80s the clean coal technology projects were abandoned in that way. However, we are now looking at carbon capture and storage. He is absolutely right that this is a transformational technique for dealing with carbon emissions. We will make an announcement in due course and try to persuade our European colleagues, who have set up a fund for the purposes of sponsoring carbon capture and storage, that Britain deserves to have one of the first demonstration plants.
Q6.  Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Which of these should concern the Prime Minister the most: powerful criticism of the south-west regional spatial strategy by hon. Members of all parties; the fantasy economic growth rate of 3.2 per cent. per annum that it is using; the green light that it has given developers to neglect the social urban and village housing that we actually need and head straight for treasured local countryside and green belt, damaging everything [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: May I say that in the hon. Gentlemans constituency, even after the recent rises in unemployment, long-term unemployment is still 75 per cent. down on what it was in 1997? We will of course look at what he says about the strategy and all the facts that he brings to bear on it, but no Government have done more to support industry and public investment in the region, and we will continue to do so.
Q7.  Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): The Corus job losses are a bitter blow, and all our efforts must now be dedicated to helping the steelworkers and their families. But even in this difficult time, should not our message be that Britain is the right place to invest and the right place to grow a business, and that the British people are worth backing? Despite the doom-mongers opposite, our society is not broken and we are determined to come through this economic downturn successfully.
The Prime Minister: Yes. Those who talk Britain down will regret doing so, because we are a resilient and determined society. We know that we can come through these difficulties, and we know also that we have the industries that are the basis for future growth. I believe that the British people will come together around the plan that will take us through this downturn.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): In 1997 the Prime Minister said that he relished the prospect of abolishing the unaccountable and unelectable Members of the House of Lords. Why is it that after 12 years of a Labour Government we still have an unelected Chamber, double standards on financial disclosure and no way of removing peers who break the law?
The Prime Minister: We have put forward our proposals for the reform of the House of Lords. They were in a paper that was issued a few months ago. In that paper there is also the proposal on sanctions for Members of the House of Lords who commit criminal offences. Baroness Royall has today put forward proposals for new codes of conduct and for new rules that include the ability to expel Members of the House of Lords from their duties if they are guilty of an offence, and she has said that in the cases that we now know about, she is prepared to bring forward emergency sanctions to deal with those issues. I believe that when a problem is identified, we are taking the action necessary.
Q8.  Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): What assurances can the Prime Minister give my constituents that Government-funded construction projects such as the Biddulph health centre in my constituency will go ahead as soon as possible? These projects will give a much-needed boost to the construction industry and, in the case of Biddulph, ensure that my constituents have a really important health centre for their health needs.
The Prime Minister: I believe that that is a £10 million project that will help my hon. Friends constituents and bring better health care in her constituency. The important thing that the Health Secretary is making absolutely clear is that these health projects are moving forward. We are not cutting investment in them, they are moving ahead, and all the health service investment that we want to see happen has been budgeted for and will go forward. It cannot be said that a party that wants to cut public expenditure and public investment has any answers to the problems of our country.
Q9.  John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): One way to stimulate the economy in the north and south, tackle pollution and reduce the demand for increased airport capacity would be to invest in a national high-speed rail link. Why, after 12 years of this Labour Government, are we still waiting?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will know that when the Secretary of State for Transport announced the proposals on Heathrow, he also announced our proposals to set up a company to pursue a high-speed rail link, and that is exactly what we intend to do. We are prepared to make a commitment to that project, and all the work that is now starting is designed around getting high-speed rail links moving forward.
Q11.  Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): What are the implications of the economic downturn for the private finance initiative, and will my right hon. Friend consider investigating the PFI contract with the Norfolk and Norwich hospital to see whether it might be a good deal to buy it out at this stage?
The Prime Minister: The Treasury is looking at PFI issues that arise from the loss of lending capacity in the economy, but the Health Secretary assures me that the project that my hon. Friend mentioned will go ahead.
The Prime Minister: If I could just say[Hon. Members: Answer!] The experience of targeting the pound and the exchange rate has not been particularly beneficial for this country. Targeting the Deutschmark and the exchange rate mechanism, and then membership of the ERM, did not work. So we are not targeting the pound, but inflation. That is the Bank of Englands role, and I believe that it is best way to bring about a recovery in the economy. I caution the hon. Gentleman and his party against any policies that would target sterling.
Q12.  Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill to oblige drug addicts to accept treatment and rehabilitation in order to receive their full benefits. What can he do to persuade the Scottish National party Administration in Holyrood that that policy is both popular and the right thing to do?
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