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22 Apr 2009 : Column 231

Mr. Cameron: On this day of all days—on this day of judgment—let me have just one more go. When the whole country can see that we had a boom and we are now in such a deep bust, what is it about the Prime Minister that he cannot admit what everybody knows: he did not end boom and bust?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are dealing with a banking crisis that has infected the rest of the economy, and if the Conservative party does not face up to that, it will never be able to solve the problem. [Interruption.] I am not going to go back to the days of the 1990s— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is getting to the stage when every day I have to tell you, Mr. Gray, to be quiet when a Minister is replying to this House. You have got to pack it in.

The Prime Minister: We are not going to go back to the days of the 1990s of 15 per cent. interest rates, when we did little to help people with mortgages. This week we have announced a mortgage rescue scheme that will help—as will our other measures—thousands of families in the country. This week we have announced measures to help young people who are unemployed. The Chancellor will be announcing measures that will not only help jobs, but build for the future. But to do that we have to invest in the future; we cannot cut our way out of this recession. That is the difference between the two parties.

Q11. [269370] Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): Contrary to what may have been suggested at the weekend, the Labour Government have done much for the people of Halifax over the last 12 years, and the Prime Minister is responsible for many of those successes. Therefore, may I ask him to reassure me that he will continue to do all he can to protect jobs in the finance industry, in which thousands of my constituents are employed?

The Prime Minister: There are better schools, there are more hospitals, there are more Sure Start centres for young people, and there is better provision for the elderly. That is only possible as a result of—in Halifax and elsewhere—the doubling of public investment in our future. I have to remind people that that could not have happened if we had not made the decision to invest, rather than to cut our way through the economy.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Over the last few months the Prime Minister has come up with a shopping list of announcements about creating new jobs, and he was up to it again this morning: 100,000 new jobs from big capital projects; 500,000 people in work by paying employers; 400,000 new green jobs. That is 1 million new jobs he is now promising—jobs that people desperately need when unemployment is now soaring way beyond the worst predictions. Will he tell the 2.1 million people who are now jobless exactly how many of his new jobs have been created so far?

The Prime Minister: We believe that as a result of the action that we have taken, hundreds of thousands of jobs that could have been lost are not being lost. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to wait to hear from the Chancellor, who will give him a very precise figure when he gives his Budget in a few minutes from now. As for action on employment, when the right hon. Gentleman
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lists the various things that we have done he is making our point. This does not happen by accident—it does not happen by chance; it is because we have taken action to create jobs that more people have not lost their jobs, as has happened in other countries.

Mr. Clegg: The answer shows exactly what the problem is. What is the point of the Prime Minister’s mortgage support scheme for the jobless, to which he referred, when he cannot even get the banks to join in? How many jobs is he going to create from a subsidy for cars that have not even been invented yet? These are meaningless headlines that serve as a health warning for the Budget, because this is a Prime Minister who makes promises but does not deliver and who raises hopes without giving real help. He should just come clean—he promised 1 million new jobs, so do they exist today, yes or no?

The Prime Minister: On the home owners protection scheme, I just have to correct the right hon. Gentleman. Many companies have joined that scheme and many companies are now agreeing to have similar schemes to the Government’s, so the idea that we have not acted on this is wrong. First, there is protection for people who have become unemployed and it is at a far higher level than ever before. Secondly, we have agreed with the building societies and banks a moratorium on mortgage repossessions. Thirdly, we have changed the rules that govern court action so that it is a last resort. Fourthly, we have underpinned some of the major building societies so that they can keep people in their homes and people will not suffer the fate of what happened in the previous recession.

As far as jobs are concerned, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to await the Chancellor’s remarks, both on green technologies and cars and on employment generally. I believe that the Chancellor will answer many of the questions that the right hon. Gentleman has put.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Following the success at the G20 in recapitalising the International Monetary Fund, will my right hon. Friend tell me what plans our Government have for the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank in respect of protecting poor people in poor countries from the global recession?

The Prime Minister: We did agree at the meetings of the IMF and World Bank that more action would be taken to help the poorest of the world. The president of the World Bank has proposed a vulnerability fund, and we have said at the G20 meeting that £50 billion more will be available, in order to help restructure the banks in some of the developing countries and to help people with food, education and health. I have said before that this is not the time to walk away from our responsibilities to the poor of the world.

Q2. [269361] Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Prime Minister has taken a personal interest in Sri Lanka. Yesterday, the Red Cross described the position there as “catastrophic”, and tens of thousands of Tamils have died there in the past 25 years. Can he give the House an assurance that in the days ahead he will put on the agenda of the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the European Union Foreign Ministers meeting on Monday proposals that might bring a ceasefire immediately and allow not just relief, but independent monitoring of
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what is going on, so that the bereavement, the death, the injury and the homelessness of those poor people can end before there are any more victims?

The Prime Minister: Many Members of this House are very concerned and dismayed by events in Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary and I are doing what we can to impress on the Sri Lankan Government not only the need for humanitarian aid now, but the need to press forward with a political settlement, which is the only way forward to deal with the problems that we have faced. I spoke to the President of Sri Lanka earlier this week and I have followed up meetings that we have had previously. I asked him to extend the pause in respect of the ceasefire. I also asked him for humanitarian access to those refugees who have come out, are in difficulty and need help—I have said that the UN should have full access. I also asked whether he would receive a delegation from the United Kingdom, so that we could assess what humanitarian help was available and should be made available. We have had further discussions over the past few days, and I believe that the President will now be prepared to accept a humanitarian delegation, on a cross-party basis, from the United Kingdom. To prepare the way, a Department for International Development Minister will go to Sri Lanka later this week. We will impress on its Government the need not only for humanitarian help, but for a ceasefire and a political solution to these problems.

Q3. [269362] Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): The Government have persistently called for an investigation into allegations of war crimes by all combatants in the Gaza conflict. As Israel has now announced that it will not co-operate with an inquiry by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, and as no one will be satisfied with an inquiry by the Israeli defence force alone, will the Prime Minister support calls for an independent inquiry, backed by the full authority of the UN Security Council, so that we can learn the truth of what happened in Gaza?

The Prime Minister: We did press the Israeli Government to investigate fully the allegations made against Israeli forces. The previous Prime Minister, Olmert, agreed that that would be done. I have offered the UN Secretary-General full support in his call for an inquiry into the shelling of UN premises in Gaza. All allegations of war crimes must be properly investigated. In addition, I think it important to say that some £50 million in humanitarian aid is now going to Gaza as a result of decisions by the Secretary of State for International Development. People will also be heartened by the fact that the President of the US has asked the President of the Palestinian organisation and the Prime Minister of Israel to visit him in Washington to discuss matters of peace over the next few weeks.

Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Would the Prime Minister like to take this opportunity to apologise to me for what happened?

The Prime Minister: Yes, and I have said sorry that this has happened. I have also written to the hon. Lady personally. We should all say that what happened has no part to play in the politics of this country. It is wholly inappropriate and unacceptable, and that is why there will be new rules and procedures to govern the behaviour of political advisers.

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Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): What comfort can the Prime Minister give to my constituents who work for the Ford appendage called Visteon and who have been made redundant in a contrived administration? People have been thrown out of jobs and pensions have been lost. The same has happened to constituents who worked for Nortel.

The Prime Minister: The car industry, including component suppliers, is important to this country. There are meetings taking place with the companies concerned and we are doing everything we can to help the car industry through this difficult period. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those particular problems.

Q4. [269363] Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to congratulate Luton Town football club on its magnificent victory at Wembley recently? [ Interruption. ]Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must be heard.Margaret Moran: It was one in the eye for the football authorities and a great boost for Luton. Is my right hon. Friend aware of another boost for Luton and for hard-pressed families in mortgage difficulties, far fewer of whom are losing their homes as a result of our comprehensive support package? That is in sharp contrast to the Tory days when Luton became the repossession and mortgage misery capital of the country.

The Prime Minister: I applaud my hon. Friend for her representation of Luton. It is true that Luton won the final and I am pleased that that has happened. The team will be back in the league soon as a result of the efforts made by good local people.

On housing, we will invest in helping people to avoid repossessions. That is what this Government are about—helping people in times of need. But we need to make the decision to invest to be able to do so, and that is what we will do—invest, not cut.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to explain why on earth he is proposing a system of daily allowances instead of an allowance system that is based on actual receipts and need? Apart from sidelining this House again, the proposal is frankly another example of what the public would regard as snouts in the trough, with people claiming money for absolutely nothing. Is not the real reason for bringing forward these rushed and ill thought through proposals the fact that he does not have the courage to sack Ministers who have been abusing the system?

The Prime Minister: This is a decision for the House itself. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that the present system does not work. The one thing that is absolutely clear is that the present system needs to be changed, and the one thing that is clear is that action has got to be taken immediately. If other people have better proposals, let them put them forward. We are putting forward proposals that deal with the problem, and deal with it now.

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Q5. [269364] Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): The Prime Minister will be aware that the Information Commissioner recently found concrete evidence that blacklisting was widespread in the construction industry. Given that there was a consultation exercise in 2003, does he agree that it is now time to bring in the regulations to prohibit blacklisting, rather than—and before—going to a further consultation?

The Prime Minister: I am, as are the whole Government, very concerned by the evidence uncovered by the Information Commissioner about the re-emergence of blacklisting in the construction industry. In 1999, we established a power to introduce regulations to outlaw blacklisting, and we also consulted on draft regulations in 2003. Evidence at that time suggested that blacklisting had been eradicated but, given that there is new evidence that that is not the case, we are looking urgently at what we can do. We will assess whether the 2003 regulations, amended as necessary, should now be introduced to the House of Commons.

Q6. [269365] Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): At their Easter conferences, two teachers’ unions passed motions expressing concern about the presence and safety of asbestos in schools. Would the Prime Minister be prepared to meet me and a delegation from those unions to discuss how those concerns might be allayed?

The Prime Minister: Asbestos is a killer disease. It is something that we are trying to eradicate from this country. I would be very happy to meet the delegation that the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Q7. [269366] Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister aware that the main Barnsley college campus building was demolished recently, ahead of a £50 million redevelopment scheme that has been put on hold? The Learning and Skills Council sanctioned the college borrowing £10 million in advance of the project going ahead. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and my two Barnsley colleagues as well as the college principal, Colin Booth, to discuss this issue as a matter of serious urgency?

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The Prime Minister: Yes, I will, and I hope that we can deal with the legitimate concerns of him and his Barnsley college staff about how we can enhance the investments available to further education colleges. I have said before that further education colleges have got more money this year for new investment. There is a great demand for it. The Chancellor has been looking at the matter and obviously will report in due course about what he can do. However, I fully sympathise with the points that my hon. Friend has made about the position of Barnsley college.

Q8. [269367] Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The Prime Minister has said that we cannot cut our way out of a recession. Why is he foisting billions of pounds’ worth of cuts on Scotland?

The Prime Minister: We are not. Scotland has received £2 billion more as a result of the injection of money into the economy, from the rise in pensions and child benefits, and from the cut in VAT and the rise in tax allowances. All that money—£2 billion in total—has gone to Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that that is what is happening, he is living in the dream world of the Scottish National party.

Q9. [269368] Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my local authority, Greenwich council? It has frozen its council tax for the fifth time in the last 11 years; it has frozen most of its charges; it is providing free swimming for pensioners and under-16s; and it is providing funding so that pensioners and disabled people can use London transport at all times. Is that not an example of fairness and efficiency from Labour during these difficult times?

The Prime Minister: Our duty to people in these difficult times is to invest in the future, and not to cut. Our duty is to be fair to other people, and not to be unfair. [Interruption.] It is all very well the Conservatives shouting; half the time in Question Times they are doing nothing—not even standing up to ask questions. I think that they are proving that some of them are part-time Members of this House.

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Ways and Means

Financial Statement

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it may be for the convenience of hon. Members if I remind them that at the end of the Chancellor’s speech, copies of the Budget resolutions will be available to them in the Vote Office.

12.31 pm

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Alistair Darling): Today’s Budget will continue to help people through this global recession, and prepare Britain for the opportunities of the future. First, there will be help now to get people back into work quickly, and to support businesses and home owners facing problems. Secondly, there will be measures to support investment in growth and green industries of the future while the recovery takes hold, and to ensure that our public finances are sustainable. We will protect investment in schools, hospitals and other key public services, and we will work to rebuild our financial services. Taken together, the measures in this Budget will build on the strengths of the British economy and its people and speed the recovery, providing jobs and spreading prosperity. In all of these decisions, we have been guided by our core values of fairness and opportunity, and our determination to invest and grow our way out of recession.

Today’s Budget will take Britain through the most serious global economic turmoil for over 60 years. The impact is being felt in every continent, every country and every community. When the world economy was plunged into a deep crisis in the 1930s, the response, both nationally and internationally, was too little and too late. That failure to act turned a serious downturn into a prolonged depression. We will not repeat those mistakes again. This time, we and other countries have worked to avoid them. Across the globe, we have seen decisive action by national Governments, and internationally, too. This action, taken promptly and decisively, gives us good grounds for confidence.

Today’s Budget builds on the substantial help for people and businesses that I announced in the pre-Budget report last November. It builds on the steps that we have taken to recapitalise and restore confidence in our financial institutions, and it builds on the outcome of the G20 summit in London this month, when the world’s leading economies came together to agree an unprecedented co-ordinated action to speed global recovery. The action already taken here and internationally, and the measures that I will announce today, mean that I expect the economy to start growing again towards the end of this year. I am also confident that as the global economy recovers to double in size over the next 20 years, Britain can and will be a world leader. This Budget will help make sure that we seize this opportunity.

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