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Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD):
Yesterday, the Prime Minister gave a speech on education and young people. It was his big chance to show that he still has some big ideas for the country: to explain why one
in three 11-year-olds still cannot read or write properly; to explain why we have more young people than ever before in prison, in debt or on anti-depressants; and to explain why under his Government we have the unhappiest children in the developed world and a care system in crisis. How is a bit of tinkering with the schools complaints procedure going to fix any of that?
The Prime Minister: Let us deal with the right hon. Gentlemans first point, about children and reading. Far more, and a far higher percentage of, children are able to read and write at 11 as a result of the decisions that we have taken as a Government. There are 30,000 children who now get personal tuition to be able to read, and another 30,000 who get personal tuition to be able to write. No Government have invested more in reading, literacy and counting for children, and we have doubled our expenditure on the education of every child over the past 10 years. Of course, there is a great deal more to do and, of course, we are worried about instances of children in care, where there has to be reform. But, we have doubled investment in education over 10 years. It could not have happened under a Liberal or Conservative Government.
Mr. Clegg: There comes a point when stubbornness is not leadership; it is stupidity. [ Interruption. ] At least I say it to the Prime Ministers face; Labour Members say it behind his back. For the past 12 years, this Government have vilified and criminalised young people and abandoned a whole generation, and all the Prime Minister can do is spin a vacuous speech to keep his own party off his back. Is it not now obvious that he does not really care about what is right for the country? All he really cares about is saving his own skin.
The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman prepared his answer to the second question before he got the answer from me. The truth is that we are doing more than ever before to help children realise their potential. Sure Start did not exist until there was a Labour Government; nursery education until age three did not exist until there was a Labour Government; and all the programmes that have doubled expenditure and raised standards in primary schools did not exist until there was a Labour Government. Of course, we have more to do, but it would be better if he supported us in doing the right things, rather than attacking us when we are doing the right things.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): May I say to my right hon. Friend that, despite the current state of the economy, Rother Valley still has 3,000 fewer people unemployed than it had in 1997? May I encourage him to keep up that help and assistance for areas that need it and to forget about the blustering from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen?
The Prime Minister:
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are doing everything that we can to protect jobs and help people into jobs. Some 350,000 people, who did not receive tax credits before, now receive them to make up for the short-time working that they have to undergo, and we are trying to help people who are unemployed to get back into work as quickly as possible, given that there are almost 500,000 vacancies in the economy. What will not work is doing absolutely nothing
and failing to help the unemployed. I must tell my right hon. Friend that, in the Budget, the Chancellor was given an estimate that if we had refused to take action, 500,000 more people would either face unemployment or be unemployed. That is the difference between Conservative policies and Labour.
Q2.  Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): My constituents who have worked hard and saved hard now feel betrayed, because the value of their savings has slumped and interest rates have plunged close to zero. Indeed, the banks that those constituents taxes have helped to bail out are the very ones offering them virtually nothing for their savings. What message does the Prime Minister have for my constituents who now wonder why they bothered to save?
The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the worst thing that could happen to savers would be rampant inflation wiping out the value of their savings. We have kept inflation low during the past 11 and 12 years. The second thing that we have tried to do in the Budgetparticularly for elderly saversis to increase the amount of money that can be invested in individual savings accounts. Soon that will be £10,000 a year. We are aware that low interest rates put additional pressures on savers. We have taken action in the Budget to help them, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support that.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): In my constituency today, we have the biggest town centre redevelopment in the north-west of England. It includes a new shopping centre, a hotel, a new office block, two primary care centres and a new police station. The Oppositions spending plans would cut 200 officers from Greater Manchester police. What would be the point of a new police station with that level of spending cuts?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a point. When people are looking, in every area, at the numbers of police who are going to be on the beat, or the number of teachers or classroom assistants who are going to be in schools, they have to compare the spending policies of our party with the spending policies of other parties. It is absolutely clear that thousands of police would lose their jobs as a result of the policies of the Conservative party. It is also clear that spending on regeneration would be brought to a halt by the policies of the Conservative party. People face a choice. We have to invest our way out of recession, as America and other European countries are doing, and not cut our way out of recession. That is the 1930s route; we are taking the modern way out of recession.
Q3.  Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): What does the Prime Minister intend to do about the important issue of bullying in the workplace, given the reliable reports of a senior Whitehall boss throwing around mobile phones and printers and swearing at switchboard operators?
The Prime Minister will recall meeting me and my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) and for East Lothian (Anne Moffat) to hear our arguments against the use of service charges and tips to pay the minimum wage. What are the Government going to do to end that scandalous practice, which is harming millions of people in this country?
The Prime Minister: Last month marked 10 years of the national minimum wage, which I am proud to say was introduced by this Government. It has helped millions of workers over these years. There has been an issue about tipping; consumerspeople who are buying goodsleave their tips in good faith, expecting them to go to the workers themselves. Our public consultation, which we promised, has shown that consumers, workers and businesses support a change that would mean that tips would be in addition to the national minimum wage. I believe that that is the right policy, and that is why we will implement a change in the current policy.
Q4.  Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that twice as many people have signed the online petition at No. 10 calling for his resignation than voted for him at the last general election. What is his response to them?
The Prime Minister: I have listened to Tory Back Benchers for the past 20 minutes, and not one of them has asked a serious question about policy. They should be ashamed of the way they are treating the House of Commons.
Q5.  Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): This weekend, I witnessed the great escape of Brighton and Hove Albion in securing its place in the first division. Its next goal of championship football is boosted by construction under way at Falmer Community stadium, which will eventually provide 66 apprenticeships, not to mention those involved in building it. That is a stark contrast to Brighton and Hove city council
The Prime Minister: Let me, too, congratulate the Brighton team on its success; I think that the whole House will want to do so. I saw some of the photographs of the celebrations. I understand that Brighton has delivered nearly 4,000 Skills for Life achievements, and that is helping young people. I believe that the Learning and Skills Council has provided Brighton and Hove Albions football in the community scheme with funding, and we will continue to support that. Football clubs that are at the centre of their communities are good for every community, and Brighton has proved exactly that. It brings not only community support but football success.
Q6.  Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): Two years ago, the Prime Minister ruled out holding an immediate general election on the grounds that he needed time to set out his vision. Will he tell us how that epic project is proceeding before the British people and he are put out of their collective misery?
The Prime Minister: Has any Question Time exposed the hollowness of the Conservative party more than what we have seen today? We are dealing with an international financial recession, a health epidemic, which we must deal with in the most sensitive way, and problems that arise from mortgages, unemployment and businesses. I am ashamed that not one Conservative can even raise a question about these issues.
Q7.  Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that it is absolutely vital to retain what we have left of British manufacturing. In recent days, there has been speculation about the future of the General Motors plants in Britainin Ellesmere Port and in Luton. Will he undertake to do everything possible and necessary to ensure that those plants stay open and that we keep those jobs in Britain?
The Prime Minister: We are in regular touch with every one of the major car companies in Britain. As my hon. Friend knows, proposals arising from Fiat in relation to Chrysler and General Motors are being discussed. There is another Canadian bidder looking at trying to move into Europe. A number of issues have to be discussed in relation to these offers. We are determined to protect our Ellesmere Port and Luton operations of General Motors. We are also determined to help Jaguar Land Rover and all the other companies that exist in our countryHonda, Toyota, Nissanand we are determined, as he knows, to help LDV, as we have done, to give the company a loan that enables it to complete due diligence on a new bid that is being made for it. Where we have had requests, we have been prepared to consider them and, in many cases, to take the action that is necessary.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On another serious policy issue, given the Prime Ministers commitment to greater parliamentary scrutiny, will he confirm today that there will be a full parliamentary debate and vote before the next stage of the Trident programme?
The Prime Minister: There are regular parliamentary debates on these issues. There is the defence debate that takes place every year. The House of Commons came to a view on this issue, and people are perfectly free to raise it on the Floor of the House. Defence debates happen regularly and will continue to do so.
Q8.  Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be well aware of the difficulties facing employers and employees in the construction industryproblems that have been further compounded by the activities of illegal gangmasters. Will he therefore agree to meet me and other like-minded colleagues to talk through the issues involving illegal gangmasters in the construction industry?
The Prime Minister: I am happy to do so. This issue concerns me and anybody who looks at the performance of the construction industry. We are also, as I said last week, looking at the operation of illegal blacklists in the construction industry, which is an unacceptable practice.
The Prime Minister: If the hon. and learned Gentleman were asking about how we are regenerating the area that he represents, the housing policy that the Communities Secretary is responsible for or the funding of local government, it would be a serious question. But unfortunately, even before the local council elections, the Conservatives cannot ask anything about local government. Of course, they are prohibited by their policy from asking anything before the European elections about Europe.
Q10.  Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): When the Government are looking at allocating the very welcome additional £300 million to be made available to further education colleges, will the Prime Minister look especially at those schemes that are directly linked to regeneration projects, such as the one in Blackpool, where a site has already been cleared in the town centre for our excellent college to move into and spearhead the regeneration of the town?
The Prime Minister: I know very well about the issues in Blackpool, about the importance of learning, education and training and about the big plans that exist in Blackpool to extend further education. We have put aside an extra £300 million of capital funding for further education colleges. We are now working with the Learning and Skills Council to deliver a swift resolution to these issues. Since 2001, 700 projects at 300 colleges have been funded. I have to say that in 1997 not a penny was going to investment in further education colleges. Over this spending period, as a result of the announcements in the Budget, we will be spending £2.6 billion, and I hope that my hon. Friends colleges will benefit.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): We in this House owe a debt of gratitude to the Gurkhas, who have served this country through wars going back a number of hundred years. Did the Prime Minister notice that last week, the whole House united to reject the present Governments position, including 100 of his colleagues? It looks like the Government are beginning to say that they do not feel bound by that vote. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether his Government will be bound by the terms of that vote last week?
The Prime Minister:
We are the first Government who have given justice to the Gurkhas; we are the first Government who have allowed Gurkhas right of settlement in the United Kingdom; we are the first Government who have given Gurkhas equal pensions and equal pay; and we are the first Government to double the pension of Gurkhas who stay in Nepal. We will listen to the voice of the House, as it was expressed last Wednesday. We are speeding up the 1,500 applications and hope to
have them completed by the end of May. We are looking at the five judicial reviews as a matter of urgency and will complete that work very soon, and we will come back to the House with a statement. I have always said that we want to do this stage by stage, and we will come back to the House with a statement.
Q11.  Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that, based on what I heard again last night at a packed meeting about the serious experiences of failings that people have had at Stafford hospital, which they allege are continuing, there is an urgent need for a change of culture, stronger public and patient involvement and a way of resolving and closing the issues for grieving relatives, including an inquiry that answers all their questions?
The Prime Minister: It pains us all to have to look at the appalling failures that happened at Stafford hospital, but I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that since they were exposed, swift and decisive action has been taken locally. That includes the opportunity for anyone concerned about care that they or a loved one received at Stafford hospital to seek an independent clinical review.
A report was done last week that showed that there have been significant improvements at Stafford. Recommendations in such reports will support the staff at Stafford hospital. Extra nurses have been employed and an experienced assistant director of nursing has been brought in. We are boosting the front-line staff, and we are further improving patient care as part of a package of measures. The Healthcare Commission has already conducted a full investigation and produced a detailed report laying bare the failures, but I can say that anyone concerned about care of any loved one will have an independent clinical review.
Q12.  Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con):
One million people across the north-west of England worked to raise the £6 million that the
Christie hospital stands to lose in the Icelandic bank Kaupthing. Why is the Prime Minister now the one person standing in the way of compensation?
The Prime Minister: I met the nurses at the Christie hospital when I was in the north. I have also heard and answered questions in this House about it and written many letters to people, because I am worried about the situation, too. The fact is that we are not the regulatory authority and that many, many more people had finances in institutions regulated by the Icelandic authorities. The first responsibility is for the Icelandic authorities to pay up, which is why we are in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and other organisations about the rate at which Iceland can repay the losses that they are responsible for. However, we have also agreed that we will look at the particular case of the Christie and see what we can do to understand how we can meet its need.
We and the hon. Gentleman have to accept the fact that many more people who were affected by the Icelandic regulatory authority lost money as a result, which means that certain precedents would be set. We have to look at the matter in the round, and we will do so.
Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Local people are very concerned about Swindon borough councils cuts in park-and-ride services and about cuts of up to four branch libraries, despite more than £400,000 of extra funding from the Government. Is that not a warning of Tory public service cuts instead of Labour investment?
The Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, you do not have to look in a crystal ball; you look at every Tory authority round the country. They are cutting back on public services, obeying the orders of the Conservative leadership that cuts in public services come before the investment that they need. That is one of the issues that people will be talking about in the next few weeks, because it affects real lives.
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