Previous Section Index Home Page

The Prime Minister: I would ask my hon. Friend’s constituent to go back to that bank and ask it to reconsider the situation, and to write to him and then to me. The banks have agreed in the last few weeks that they will sign up to quantitative agreements. That means that £70 billion of additional lending will go into the economy this year—£25 billion from the Royal Bank of Scotland, £14 billion from Lloyds bank, and money voluntary promoted by HSBC. There will be £70 billion of total additional lending. We are the only country in
20 May 2009 : Column 1498
the world that has such a programme, where the banks have signed up legally to supporting additional lending. I believe that in the next few weeks, the flow of money will be increased as a result of that.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Marine Jason Mackie, who, tragically, died in Helmand province last week serving us, our country and the people of Afghanistan.

Mr. Speaker, despite our differences in recent days, I would like to thank you for the immensely dignified way in which you made your statement yesterday —[Interruption.] We can now move forward to reform this place from top to toe. I am also pleased to hear from the Prime Minister that there will be a statement tomorrow on the Gurkhas, and I hope that they will receive the unqualified and full justice that they deserve— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to be heard; he must be heard.

Mr. Clegg: We now have a once-in-a-generation chance to change politics for good, but we will betray people’s hopes and fail to offer a really different way of doing politics if all we do is remove a medieval expenses system, without fixing everything else. The expenses are just the tip of the iceberg. Does the Prime Minister see that, from party funding through to Whitehall secrecy, the whole way in which we do politics must now be transformed?

The Prime Minister: As for Whitehall secrecy, it was this Government who brought in the Freedom of Information Bill—and as for party funding, the Justice Secretary has brought forward measures to deal with that. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, however, that, as part of the wider debate about the relationship between Parliament and the people and the accountability of Parliament to the people, we must listen to the views of people throughout the country. We must consult and hear what they have to say, and, as I said yesterday, we will put forward proposals on that in the next few weeks.

Mr. Speaker: Mr. Sharma.

Mr. Clegg rose— [Interruption .]

Mr. Speaker: Mr. Clegg.

Mr. Clegg: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I thought that there were two questions in the first one—but there we are.

Mr. Clegg: Touché, Mr. Speaker.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his reply, but is it not now time to get to the heart of the matter, which is that his Government are in power even though less than a quarter of the people voted for them? [Hon. Members: “Have an election!”] Of course we should have an election, but people do not want an election where all they will get is a few new faces but the same old rotten rules. Is it not true that any system in which so few votes give a Government so much power will always breed arrogance and secrecy?

20 May 2009 : Column 1499

The Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, I was right to say that your generosity was unfailing to all Members of the House.

The right hon. Gentleman’s point about the wider reforms and democracy is absolutely right: we must consider not only how Parliament can be more accountable to the people, but how the Executive themselves can be more accountable. We want to do that in the context of enhancing the individual and collective rights of citizens in their own communities to manage more of their own affairs. I am happy to enter that debate, and we will publish proposals in the next few weeks. We have also previously published proposals on the electoral system, which is also a matter for debate—but I must say to the Liberal Democrats that the debate about the reform of the constitution is about more than simply that one thing.

Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): In view of the recent elections in India, the victory of the Congress party under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh and his continuation as Prime Minister, and the recent developments in Sri Lanka, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to involve India in bringing peace to that region?

The Prime Minister: I have sent a message of congratulation—I believe it will be on behalf of the whole House—to Prime Minister Singh, who is very respected not only in the region but throughout the world. I believe that we can make progress in a number of areas now that the Government in India are re-established after the election. First of all, we will be talking to them about Pakistan and about security on the border between India and Pakistan. Secondly, we will be talking to them about the world trade deal, which is essential. Thirdly, we will be talking to them about the contribution that they can make to the whole of the peace and security of the region, and about helping us and working with us, particularly after the Mumbai bombings, to deal with the problems of terrorism that exist there.

Q2. [276336] Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): As a member of your panel of Chairmen, Mr. Speaker, may I say that you have been a kind and caring Speaker, and that that will never be forgotten? Does the Prime Minister accept that manufacturing industry is one of the only sources of sustainable non-inflationary economic growth? Sadly, the number employed in manufacturing has dropped from 4.5 million in 1997 to 2.73 million today. Will he and his Government ensure that they do not place any additional burdens, such as the increase in national insurance, fuel tax and regulation, on manufacturing industry? We want to be competitive. Please will he encourage, and not de-incentivise, industry and manufacturing in this country?

The Prime Minister: The future of this country will be built on modern manufacturing strength. In advanced manufacturing we are one of the great leaders of the world; we have some of the greatest companies in the world—they operate from Britain but are global players with huge strengths in new technology and in innovation. Our manufacturing strategy is to support our large companies and to encourage innovation so that we have small and medium-sized companies coming forward.
20 May 2009 : Column 1500
We gave additional investment allowances for manufacturing in the Budget, our corporation tax is the lowest that it has been for many, many years, and we continue to support small businesses with enterprise grants; 128,000 businesses have now received some help from the Government during this downturn to get through these difficult times. As 50 per cent. of our manufacturing is exported, it is so important that the European economy moves forward as well; it is very important to us that we work with Europe so that we achieve growth and jobs for the future.

Q3. [276337] Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): On his earlier comments about political reforms, does the Prime Minister not agree that it is time to redeem an undertaking in our 1997 manifesto by calling, on the day of next year’s local elections, a referendum on the establishment of a citizen’s convention, which would come back to the voters within two years with proposals to complete the reform of party funding, to elect the House of Lords and to make every vote make a difference by allowing voters to vote for the candidate, the party and the Government they choose?

The Prime Minister: We have had some experience of constitutional conventions. One was the European constitutional Convention, another was the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and talks are also taking place in Wales between all the parties. If my hon. Friend will wait, in the next few weeks we will publish our document about greater consultation between the public and Parliament, and about enhancing the rights of the people in relation to the accountability of Parliament itself.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Can the Prime Minister explain why, at a time when youth unemployment is rising, training providers in my constituency are being told by his Government’s Learning and Skills Council that their apprenticeship budgets for the next academic year will be cut?

The Prime Minister: We have invested more in apprenticeships for the coming year, and we have announced that we will fund 35,000 extra apprentices. I am happy to look at the situation in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but our determination is to support apprenticeships through this downturn—to invest in them and not to cut them.

Q4. [276338] Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend tell me which is the best way to help people through these difficult economic times? Is it to cut tax for 22 million basic rate taxpayers, increase child benefit and provide extra help for 12 million pensioners, or is it to give tax cuts of £200,000 each to 3,000 millionaires, of which there are 19 in the shadow Cabinet?

The Prime Minister: To look at a proposal that, at this time in our history, would give just 3,000 millionaires £200,000 each would be completely scandalous—and to do that for 3,000 of the top estates in this country, whether they have a moat or not, is something that the public would be unable to accept.

Q5. [276339] Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The 80 Traveller families on the unauthorised Dale Farm site in my constituency have now exhausted all their
20 May 2009 : Column 1501
planning and legal options following the Law Lords’ decision earlier this week. To avoid the misery of a forced eviction, the Travellers must now move on peacefully, but the situation could be greatly helped if the Government helped to identify transit sites outside the district—particularly as the Government have some responsibility for this issue because they stopped the council dealing with it in 2003. Will the Prime Minister have a word with his Secretary of State to try to resolve this sad situation?

The Prime Minister: This is, first, a matter for the council, but the Secretary of State will look at the matter and talk to the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Durham county council on its excellent and successful bid to be one of only two authorities to host the universal free school meals pilot for primary school children? Does he agree that such measures are necessary if we are to tackle childhood inequality effectively?

The Prime Minister: Proper nutrition for young children is absolutely crucial, and that is why the pilot project to give primary school children free school meals—something that worked when it was tried by individual councils throughout the country—is being supported by the Government. Newham, Durham and Wolverhampton will be the pilots, and they will test whether free healthy school meals improve children’s health and well-being. Some £20 million in funding will come from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and that money is being matched by the local authorities. We believe that it will show that good nutrition at an early age makes a difference not only to health but to educational performance.

Q6. [276340] Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The country has lost touch with the political system and with this Parliament. On the doorstep, it is clear that there is no confidence left in the Prime Minister’s Government. Why does he not have the courage to trust the people and go to them and let them have a say on how this country should be run?

The Prime Minister: Mr. Speaker, we have work to do. The first work we have to do is to clean up the system in the House of Commons. It is for this Parliament to face up to its responsibilities, to change and to clean up the system. I believe that we have made progress, and the way to clean up the system is to take the action to do so. Secondly, we have a recession that we are trying to manage and come through. It is in the interests of the people of this country that we help people who are unemployed, help mortgage holders and help people with small businesses. I have not heard policies from people on the other side of the House that would actually do that.

Q7. [276341] Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Twenty-five years ago, those on the other side of the House told us, “Get on your bike and find a job.” After the miners strike, I was unemployed for two and a half years. During that period of time, I could not find a job because I was being blacklisted—and blacklisting is
20 May 2009 : Column 1502
now rearing its ugly head again in the construction industry. Will this Government give us an assurance that blacklisting is not acceptable in the 21st century? It might have been for that lot, but it is not for this lot.

The Prime Minister: The blacklisting of workers or trade unionists has no place in the modern workplace. I said that only a few weeks ago, and I said that we would look at the matter. The Employment Minister has now announced that the Government will bring forward revised regulations to outlaw the practice of discrimination and blacklisting. We plan to move quickly on this. There will be a short consultation over the summer and legislation will then be brought to the House.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): The conviction rate for cases of rape has fallen from 19 per cent. to 6.5 per cent. in England and Wales, and to 2.9 per cent. in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister please explain why?

The Prime Minister: One of the reasons why convictions for rape have gone up in many places is the use of DNA. [Interruption.] I think that Members of the House have to accept that DNA is an important means by which we have found and detected persons involved in rape—but I will look at the figures that the hon. Gentleman has given me and I will write to him.

Q8. [276342] Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West) (Lab): Prime Minister, about five years ago Westfield started to develop a shopping centre in Bradford city centre. It should have been completed next year. The company now says that it does not know when it will be completed, and Bradford is left with a huge hole in the heart of its city centre. Will the Prime Minister urge Westfield to keep its commitment to the people of Bradford, and will he also let the House know what extra help he can give to regenerate cities such as Bradford?

The Prime Minister: Regeneration projects should be going ahead, and we will do what we can to help make that possible. When Government money is involved, it is usually being advanced so that the public works programmes can move forward. When it is a matter of private sector support, we are happy to bring together all the agencies to see whether there is a way forward whereby private sector money can be brought more fruitfully into the scheme. I am very happy to talk to my hon. Friend about the project.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I was privileged earlier this week to chair a seminar held by the Family Matters Institute, the Grandparents Association and Families Need Fathers on the launch of the report, “Do Grandparents Matter?” When will the Prime Minister’s Government make good the pledge made to me by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), in January 2006 that grandparents should be treated with fairness and equity in the legal system in their heroic and unsung efforts to take care of their own flesh and blood?

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the decision in the Budget whereby grandparents of working age who are helping children with childcare can get tax
20 May 2009 : Column 1503
credits as a result. That is one way in which we can help grandparents to help their families hold together and to work with other relatives who want to get to work. That was a big change that was announced in the Budget, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman can support it.

Q9. [276343] Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): May I take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to pay personal tribute to you for your great kindness, generosity and understanding, which you showed me when I entered this House four years ago?May I ask the Prime Minister what reassurance he might give those of my constituents who are struggling to keep businesses afloat? Is he aware that the banks are ruthlessly pushing many otherwise viable businesses over the edge by refusing reasonable loans to keep liquidity and cash flowing? They are also beginning to charge outrageous interest rates, far above what is reasonable or understandable. Can his Government do anything to pressurise these ruthless banks to free up lending in order to provide better liquidity until the better times come? Otherwise, good businesses are being pushed out of existence.

The Prime Minister: I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying. There is clearly concern in all sections of the House about how banks can better serve the public during this economic recession to help us through it. I shall look at what he says about the bank if he will give me the names of the companies and the bank. The important thing is that in the past few weeks there has been a change of policy, and I hope that that change of policy will have an impact in every region and every part of this country. The change of policy is that for the first time—because we have given the banks an insurance policy that they pay for—they are now willing
20 May 2009 : Column 1504
to lend extra money and are committed to doing so. The increase of £70 billion for the economy is very substantial indeed, and companies should now be getting the benefit of offers from banks. I urge the hon. Gentleman to go back to those banks and remind them of the quantitative targets that have been agreed, and of the other means by which the Government have offered to help small business, including through the Inland Revenue. I shall certainly look at the case that he has raised, but the important thing is that the banks are now under an obligation to lend.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): With unemployment at over 2 million, does the Prime Minister agree that one way to create many more jobs and stimulate the economy would be to push forward with the high-speed rail network?

The Prime Minister: That is exactly what we are looking at.

Q10. [276344] Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his comments about the Gurkhas, and we look forward to hearing the statement tomorrow. Another recommendation from the Home Affairs Committee is on human trafficking, which I know is a concern of his. Will he look at that recommendation, which asks the Government not to cut the funding for the Metropolitan police human trafficking unit? It is very important that we deal with the perpetrators of this very difficult and important crime.

The Prime Minister: I can say to the Chairman of the Select Committee that the unit will have an increased budget; it is not being cut. We are doing whatever we can to support it. We recognise the need for it in difficult times.

Next Section Index Home Page