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The Prime Minister: I have said that the Chancellor is doing a very good job, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with me. The Conservatives are the only party to want an election when they have no policy to deal with the recession. They want an election, but they have no policy to help home owners. They want an election, but they have no policy to help the unemployed. That is a party that talks, talks and talks but has nothing to do with action.
Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister is not happy with our policies, why does he not call an election and test them out? The Prime Minister needs to realise how important this is. Why should the British public believe the Chancellor if the Prime Minister does not have confidence in him? Why should international markets have confidence in the Chancellor if the Prime Minister does not have confidence in him? That is why this is so serious. The Prime Minister told us that he had the right team to take the country forward. That team is now deserting him. The Government are collapsing before our eyes. Why does he not take the one act of authority left to himget down to the palace, ask for a dissolution and call that election?
The Prime Minister: Once again, the right hon. Gentleman proves to the whole country that there is absolutely no substance in anything that he says. We have to clean up the electoral system, and we are doing that. We are cleaning up the expenses system. The second thing that we are doing is cleaning up the economy and ensuring that it comes out of recession. The party opposite has no policies to deal with that. It is words, words and words. We will get on with the action.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has worked hard, along with the Business Secretary, to bring about a positive solution to the future of Vauxhall. Many of my constituents, of course, are not aware of what has happened behind the scenes. Will my right hon. Friend give them the assurance that the Government will continue with the high level of support that is being offered and will the Government distance themselves from the statements that it is not desirable to rescue the motor industry that have been made by the Liberal Democrats?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been a great supporter of Ellesmere Port and the car industry there. This is what people in the country are concerned about: the jobs of workers in car factories and in the car supply industry. That is why we have been working with General Motors and the two potential buyers. We are now working with the preferred buyer for General Motors and our determination is to save Vauxhall jobs in this country and to make sure that people have a secure future. We have also, as hon. Members know, introduced a scheme that allows people to sell cars that are more than 10 years old, and now 35,000 people have bought cars as a result of that, so we are doing whatever we can to move the car industry forward. I just have to say to this House that that would not be possible unless we were prepared to put public funds into making that happen; I am afraid that that is rejected by the Opposition.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families of Fusilier Petero Suesue, Sapper Jordan Rossi, Lance Corporal Robert Richards, Lance Corporal Kieron Hill, Lance Corporal Nigel Moffett, Corporal Stephen Bolger, and the soldier from 2nd Battalion the Rifles who died yesterday. As has been said, they all served with great distinction and courage in Afghanistan. Of course, I would like to support the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence extended to the family and friends of Edwin Dyer.
We can now see that the Government are in total meltdown. The Prime Minister is thrashing around, fighting for his own political survival, but does he not understand the extreme danger to our democracy when people start feeling that there is simply no one in charge?
The Prime Minister: The dangers are when one does not deal with the problems that are before us. One of the problems is to deal with the expenses system in the House of Commons, and the second is to deal with the problems and challenges of the economy. I thought that the Liberal party would support us in the action that we are taking to help the unemployed, to help home owners, and to help small businesses, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not join the other party in talking only about things other than policy. The country wants us to talk about what we are doing to help it.
Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister just does not get it. His Government are paralysed by indecision, crippled by in-fighting, and exhausted after 12 long years. It is a tragedy that exactly at a time when people need help and action, the country does not have a Government; it has a void. Labour is finished. Is it not obvious that the only choice now is between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats?
The Prime Minister: I seem to remember the Liberals saying that at every election that I have ever fought. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the country needs action, and the action is coming from this Government. If he will listen to what we are doing, I think that he will find it very difficult to oppose the measures that we are taking to help the car industry, to help the banks, to help the unemployed, and to help those people who are home owners. We are the party with the ideas about how to take this country out of recession; neither of the main Opposition parties has anything to offer us.
Q3.  Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherds Bush) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Governments commitment to decent, affordable homes for all? In the past month in west London, the decent homes programme has been described as upgrading the deckchairs on the Titanic, and social housing as an incentive not to improve ones lot through ones own efforts. Will he condemn the Tory politicians who made those comments?
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When a Conservative council has cut the decent homes programme, and cut back on the investment in it, one does not need to look into a crystal ball to see what the Conservatives will do; one can see it in the
action that they are taking to cut decent homes in a constituency. I support my hon. Friend in taking up the case of the many people in his constituency who are looking for decent homes, and who look to their council to provide them.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): May I put it to the Prime Minister that the problem of Members allowances falls within the remit of Sir Christopher Kellys committee, and should be left there until it reports? The right hon. Gentleman has hinted that he wishes to gain a reputation as a constitutionalist over the issue, so may I suggest to him that as he is almost uniquely unsuited to play the role of a latter-day Thomas Jefferson, he should in fact look to the existing constitution and do as almost everyone in the country would ask him to douse that traditional constitution to ask Her Majesty to dissolve this Parliament, so that the country can elect a new one?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the hon. Gentlemans 300-year perspective on these issues. It is right that Sir Christopher Kellys committee report. It is also right that we take further action to end the system of self-regulation in the House. It is not right that there emerges a conflict of interest between the public interest and MPs interest. That is in none of our interests. Everybody wants it to stop. That is why an external regulator is of greater benefit to us, as well as being supported, I believe, in the whole country.
Q4.  Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the valiant campaign led by the Royal British Legion to have council tax benefit rebranded as a rebate, which would increase take-up and lift thousands of pensioners out of poverty, including up to 20,000 veterans. This Saturday marks the 65th anniversary of D-day. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this would be an appropriate time to announce such a change so that all pensioners, especially our veterans, who have served our country with courage and dignity, can live in dignity?
The Prime Minister: The whole House will want to honour today the sacrifice and service of all those people who were involved in the D-day landings, and all those who were involved in the sacrifice and service that made possible victory in the second world war and the peace that we now enjoy as a result. I want to pay tribute to the individual veterans who are still part of the Royal British Legion. I talked to the treasurer of my branch of the Royal British Legion only a few days ago. We have a delegation of the Royal British Legion coming in to see the Pensions Minister this afternoon. She is proposing that pension credit could be put in a new form, where it could be seen as a rebate. That will be discussed this afternoon. We want it to be as automatic as possible for pensioners to get their right, so we are prepared to discuss how we can move matters forward. I hope all sides of the House will support such a move.
Q5.  Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): With up to 50,000 home owners facing repossession this year, if the Government are doing so much to help them, why is it that only two people have been helped so far?
The Prime Minister: That is not correct. Thousands of people are being helped with the various schemes. The first is the mortgage income support scheme for people who are unemployed, which is now available for those with houses worth under £200,000, and large numbers of people are claiming that. The second is the moratorium that is available on peoples building society and bank payments, which we negotiated with building societies. The third is the shared equity scheme, where we are prepared to buy a share of the house to help people move forward. Discussions on that are moving forward for large numbers of people. The fourth is the measures that we are taking to deal with the way in which the banks approach mortgages in the first place.
The recent report of the Council of Mortgage Lenders said that it expected repossessions to be far less than it had predicted, as a result of the action that we are taking. Any repossession is to be regretted. There are many circumstances in which repossessions happenfor example, if there is a family break-up which is nothing to do with the financial situation of an employeebut there are other situations where repossessions are caused by the lack of money. We are trying to help those people to maintain their mortgages and renegotiate them. I think the hon. Gentleman will find that no Government have done more to help mortgage payers to prevent repossessions. That is what a Labour Government are about. We will not walk by on the other side.
Q6.  Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Can the Prime Minister say when a decision will be taken about granting a pardon to Michael Shields, following the High Courts decision last December? Michael has now been in prison for four years, following what I firmly believe to be a gross miscarriage of justice.
The Prime Minister: Mr. Shields, as everybody knows, has applied for a free pardon within the terms of the High Court judgment that was handed down on 17 December. I understand the Shields familys concerns about delay. They have waited a long time. He has a large number of supporters. The Justice Secretary is determined to make the best and fairest decision he can, but he can do so only after, in the public interest, assessing all the material that is available. He expects to write to Mr. Shields lawyers later this month.
Q7.  John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): Is the Prime Minister embarrassed that Britain is now a more unequal country than at any time since the 1960s, and specifically that the poorest 20 per cent. in society have lost real income since 2005, and the richest 20 per cent. have gained?
The Prime Minister: We have taken millions of people out of poverty. We have taken children out of poverty and we have taken pensioners out of poverty, and we have set new targets for child poverty and for pensioner poverty. As a result of this Labour Government, child benefit has been raised, working families tax credit has been introduced, and child tax credit has also been introduced, taking 1.5 million people out of poverty in itself. If we had followed the policies of the Scottish National party, we would be in a far worse position.
Q8.  Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I welcome the Prime Ministers attack on the abuse of expenses that has so revolted members of the public, but will he also take action to curb the dependence of many Members on second incomes? I have calculated that the Conservative Front-Bench team alone has 57 other sources of income up to £250,000. Would it not be better if, instead of an alternative Government with 57 varieties of special interest, we all concentrated on the job that we were elected to do?
The Prime Minister: All Members want to show that they are undertaking public service, and that they are in it not for what they can get but for what they can give. But one of the issues that repeatedly comes up is Members second jobs, and it is right that Sir Christopher Kelly looks at the matter. [ Interruption. ] I hear some murmuring on the Opposition Benches. Methinks that they protest too much.
Q9.  Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Prime Minister find time today to meet the Pensions Action Group, which is outside lobbying Parliament on occupational pensions? Is he aware that although many of my constituents were offered 90 per cent., the reality is that they will probably get less than 70 per cent? Why is that? Does he feel in any way guilty that the changes that he made when he was Chancellor have destroyed what was once the best private pensions sector in the world?
The Prime Minister: We have already had a long debate in the House, some time ago, when I showed that the funds of pension funds doubled in the 10-year period that I was Chancellor. Despite what the hon. Gentleman says, all our changes made it possible for the pension funds to have large sums of money. The issue, however, as he knows perfectly well, is that pension funds income depends on what happens on the stock exchange as much as on anything else, and he must know that that is what has affected most pension funds recently.
Q10.  Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have seen the latest scientific report showing that by the end of the century, global warming will be even more severe than was previously thought. We have gone beyond the stage at which we can stop irreversible damage to our planet, and now the question is whether we can stop environmental catastrophe. What will my right hon. Friend do to ensure that the G8 summit, which is coming up shortly, recognises that point, so that we have the chance in Copenhagen to get the type of agreement that the planet so desperately needs?
The Prime Minister:
We will lead the way at the G8 summit in proposing how we can solve the two problems that prevent a Copenhagen agreement. First, we need agreement on intermediate targets for carbon emissions reduction, and that requires us to persuade China and India, as well as America and Japan, to join the group of people who are prepared to commit to those targets. Secondly, finance must be provided to enable developing countries and emerging markets to make the investments that are necessary to reduce carbon emissions in those areas. We will come up with financing proposals, which
we hope other countries will be prepared to support, but I must repeat todayI think it is relevant, because tomorrow people are voting on issues of Europethat that cannot happen without co-operation across the European Union. Those parties that want to break from the European Union will have neither an economic policy that works for Britain nor an environmental policy. That is what we need, and we are going to push forward.
Q12.  Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): Does the Prime Minister agree that it is wrong to build on grade 2 agricultural land? If so, will he change planning policy to prevent the waste of that precious resource and prevent also Conservative-controlled Test Valley borough councils disgraceful plan to build on fertile green fields?
Q13.  Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): Did my right hon. Friend note the International Monetary Fund report, suggesting that when we entered the global slowdown, public debt in this country was lower than in all our competitor countries, that it is lower now as we leave the recession and that it will be lower in this country over each of the next five years? Is it not the case that the actions of this Government prepared us to deal with the economic slowdown in a way that the Oppositions policies never would have?
The Prime Minister: Once again, my hon. Friend is proving that the problem that we have to deal with is a global financial recession. Britain is coming through that by taking the right policies. The Opposition party is the first party to go into an election tomorrow with no policy to deal with the economy.
Q14.  Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that his departing Home Secretary leaves a legacy of 342,000 cases of domestic violence in this country every year? May I ask him to ensure that he re-examines the effectiveness of policies in that area, because of the cost in human misery on the victims and the cost to our caring services?
The Prime Minister: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be fair and acknowledge that the Home Secretary has also led the way on tougher sentences on domestic violence, including in domestic violence courts. This Government, led by the Leader of the House as well as the Home Secretary, have a record in taking on domestic violence by also funding centres for women throughout the rest of the country. That is vital public expenditure, and we believe that it is important for the health of this country. We will continue to support that measure to help women in our country.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab):
The Prime Minister talked about policies as we go into the European elections tomorrow. Can he confirm that, under the Labour Government, 700,000 companies
work with the European Union, that 3 million jobs relate to the European Union and that 60 per cent. of our trade is with the European Union? Which party goes into the elections tomorrow with the better record?
is bound to reduce our influence in Europe.
When the Conservative leader cannot talk to the German Chancellor, the French President or people in Spain and Portugal [Interruption.] The German Chancellor said that she would not offer the hand of friendship to those who opposed the Lisbon treaty. When the right hon. Gentleman can talk politics about his European group only with a Czech forum, which also supports the Lisbon treaty, he is in real trouble.
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