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Let us have a debate about the choice that really does exist in the country: between a Conservative party that now wants to cut, even at a time of recession, into our basic public services, and a Labour party that wants to invest in them. Let him also be honest with the country that when it comes to calling for an election, he has absolutely no plan for dealing with the recession. He has no policies for dealing with unemployment, no policies for dealing with small businesses and no policies
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for dealing with the problems of this country. He is an Opposition leader who has no plans for government, and he does not deserve to be in government.

Mr. Cameron: One of my plans for dealing with the recession was the same as the Prime Minister’s last week—to sack the Chancellor. The Prime Minister might be talking about a second-preference voting system, but the fact is that he is left with a second-preference Chancellor.

On the issue of public spending, let us be clear about the answers that the Prime Minister has given. He said last week:

His Chancellor said:

The figures that the Prime Minister is hawking around are his own figures. He is planning to cut public spending by 7 per cent. in every Department over the next three years. The next election—when he has the guts to call it—will not be about Labour investment versus Tory cuts, but about the mismanagement— [Interruption.] It will be about the mismanagement of the public finances, the appalling deficit that he has left and his plan for cuts.

Let me just ask the Prime Minister this question. On the issue of electoral reform, why not admit that the current system gives the country the chance to throw out a Government who are weak, divided and incompetent? That election is what we should be having now.

The Prime Minister: Let me read the figures for public spending, so that there is absolutely no doubt about the truth of what I am saying and that the right hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. Public spending this year is £621 billion; it rises next year to £672 billion—that is this financial year. It then rises to £702 billion, then to £717 billion, then to £738 billion and then to £758 billion. Those are public spending rises. The only party proposing a cut in public spending is the Conservative party.

The right hon. Gentleman is right. At the next election, there will be a choice: a choice between a Government who helped people and actively intervened to take us through a downturn and a Conservative party that would do nothing. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Robathan, you cannot behave like that. You run the risk of being put out of the House. [Interruption.] Order. Everyone has to be quiet.

The Prime Minister: There will now be a choice between a Government who have actually intervened to deal with the recession and a Conservative party that said “do nothing”. It will be a choice between a Government who are increasing public spending by the figures that I gave and a Conservative leader who, for the first time in the House of Commons during this Parliament, has now admitted that the policy of his party is spending cuts. That is what he has told us today; that is going to be the choice before the country.

Mr. Speaker: Eric Illsley.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I know you are very anxious to hear this question.

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The Prime Minister is aware that Barnsley college has been caught up in the incredible bungling of the Learning and Skills Council over the Building Colleges for the Future programme, to the extent that we have a half-demolished college. Incredibly, the LSC has, yet again, delayed the decision from 3 June on which colleges will be funded. My college is now technically insolvent and has announced 53 redundancies. When will the Prime Minister intervene to sort this mess out?

The Prime Minister: In the Budget, an extra £300 million was put into further education colleges. We are now looking at how we can help the individual colleges that have spending proposals for new investment. Let me remind the House that no investment was taking place in further education colleges when we came into power. We are now investing more in further education colleges than ever before. I believe that my hon. Friend’s college in Barnsley is one of the priorities for getting that new investment.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Everyone who has been out on the campaign trail in the past few weeks knows how angry and frustrated people have become about the way in which this Government always raise people’s hopes only for people to see them disappointed again and again. Nowhere is that truer than in housing, where we have had more announcements than new homes. Since January, when the Prime Minister announced the biggest council house building programme in decades, only 20 new homes have been started. Will he, just for once, make a promise and actually deliver?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s figures. What has happened since January is that we have put in place measures, first, to protect people in their own homes, so the expected rate of mortgage repossessions has not happened and mortgage repossessions are roughly as they were a few months ago. Equally, at the same time, we are bringing in a programme to invest more in social housing over the next few months and, indeed, over the next few years. I have to tell him that we are prepared to take even more decisions to make available more social housing over the next few months. That is only possible because we have taken the decisions about the increased investment that is necessary at the time of a recession that his party and the Conservative party have opposed. I hope that if he is going to ask us for more social housing, he will support the necessary investment for it.

Mr. Clegg: If that is all true, why are a staggering 1.8 million families in this country waiting for a home—70 per cent. more than when this Government came into power? If the Prime Minister wants to do something now, why does he not stop the Treasury from grabbing all the money that councils raise in rents and sales and allow them instead to use that money to build desperately needed homes? Will he at least do that?

The Prime Minister: I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that there are 1 million more people in homes than when we came into government in 1997. We have also improved houses for more than 1 million extra people. At the same time, we are putting aside extra money for social housing. By 2010, more than £40 billion in total will have been invested in housing since 1997,
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and we will have made house improvements for 8 million people. We are reducing the number of non-decent social homes by more than 1 million. Since 1997, more than £29 billion has been invested in social housing. We are not complacent, and that is why we are planning to invest more this year.

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): Since the stated objective of bailing out the banks was to maintain lending to businesses and home owners at 2007 levels, and since the latest official figures just published show that that lending is now absolutely flat—indeed, 20 per cent. down on 2007 levels—when will my right hon. Friend use the power that he already has from majority ownership of several major banks to force the banks to give priority to rescuing the real economy rather than simply looking after their own interests and letting the real economy go hang?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is right that the banks have a duty now to lend to small businesses and for housing. Since 1 March they have been under an obligation, as a result of quantitative agreements that we have reached. In other words, RBS has agreed to increase its lending this year by £25 billion. Lloyds TSB has agreed to increase its lending by £14 billion and Northern Rock by £5 billion. Voluntarily, HSBC and Barclays have agreed to increase their lending. The total increase in lending that has been agreed, to come from 1 March, is £70 billion extra over what was available last year. We will begin to see the companies that will benefit from that being able to say that whereas rejections were issued before when they put in applications, they are now having their applications accepted. We will continue to monitor the situation, but I assure him that £70 billion of extra money is going into lending to small businesses and for homes.

Q2. [278779] Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Pensioners and others who rely on their savings are suffering greatly from the low interest rates needed to tackle the recession. Will the Prime Minister explain to them why the savings limit for council tax benefit has stuck at £16,000, when, if it had gone up in line with the retail prices index, it would now be £27,000?

The Prime Minister: In all areas, we have to look at what we can afford at different times. Obviously we have done a great deal for those who are on pension credit, to raise the amount of money that they receive. We have done a great deal for people who are on working tax credit and on child tax credit, to raise the amount of money that they receive. Obviously reform of housing benefit is something that we are looking at, but I think the hon. Gentleman has to accept that 1.5 million children have come out of poverty as a result of what we have done, as have 1 million pensioners. If we had not had the pension credit, the winter allowance and the free TV licence, pensioners would not be as well off as they are. There are many people in other parties who did not support those things when we did them.

Q3. [278780] Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): Last week, Able UK announced a multi-million pound investment in my constituency, which is going to create 5,000 much-needed jobs. It is on the largest development
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site in the north of England, on a deep-water estuary. I would appreciate it if my right hon. Friend and his Ministers could tell me what further he can do to secure more economic development in my area and across the country. To that end, will he meet me and my colleagues to look at some of the barriers we still have to economic growth in my constituency, such as—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think the Prime Minister will manage an answer to that.

The Prime Minister: Just for Opposition Members, the latest estimate shows that there would be 500,000 more people unemployed if we had followed the policies of the Conservative party.

At all times, we will seek foreign direct investment into this country. We have given people new allowances so that they can invest now, through the recession, in our future. The only way of making a better future is to invest in the future. That is what we are doing. Unfortunately, our opponents want to cut.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Parliament stands accused of being ever more distant from the country. Away from the political arena, what does the Prime Minister feel he has ever achieved in the real world that qualifies him to lead the nation?

The Prime Minister: I think every MP should return with a bit of humility after listening to their constituents over the past few weeks. Every MP has learned from their constituents that they want us to clean up their politics and get them through the recession, and they want us to build for the future. That is what I am going to do, and I believe I have the experience to do that.

Q4. [278781] Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): In the next two years, Ealing’s health services will see an increase in funding of more than £55 million, thanks to the Labour Government. However, is my right hon. Friend aware of concerns in the NHS about a zero-basis review of its budget? Will he reassure me that he will not implement those Tory plans?

The Prime Minister: I can also give the House the figures for current expenditure over the next few years. Including the health service, it will rise from £565 billion to £608 billion, then to £645 billion, £666 billion, £689 billion and £712 billion. That is not a cut, that is a rise in expenditure. The only way that the cash figures will be cut is if there is a Conservative Government cutting 10 per cent. out of the major Departments. This is the day when the shadow Health Secretary admitted that the Conservatives plan 10 per cent. cuts in our vital public services. This is the day when the Conservatives revealed their true manifesto for this country. This is the day when they showed that the choice is between investment under Labour and massive cuts under the Conservative party.

Q5. [278782] Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): In 2007, there were 8,324 deaths in which C. difficile was mentioned as a cause on the death certificate—an increase of 28 per cent. on the previous year. Yesterday, the British Medical Association produced a report, which said that infection control procedures were being damaged through overcrowding and understaffing at NHS facilities. Does the Prime Minister agree that any
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avoidable death is unacceptable? In the light of the report, what fresh actions will the Government take to eliminate all superbugs from our hospitals?

The Prime Minister: I am determined to do that. We have introduced new rules for nurses, for people being checked as they come into hospitals and for cleanliness. We have given matrons more powers and doubled their number so that cleanliness is at the centre of everything that happens in the national health service. We are determined to root out C. difficile and to deal with MRSA. I assure the hon. Gentleman and anyone who has had personal experience of that happening to any member of their family that we will continue our work to remove C. difficile and MRSA and we have the utmost sympathy for those who have been affected.

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): Does—[Hon. Members: “It is Mr. Speaker.”] Steady. Does my right hon. Friend understand the anger among people who work in financial services, who have witnessed millions of pounds being rightly invested in our banks to shore them up, but now see thousands of jobs jettisoned by, for example, Cheltenham & Gloucester in the middle of a recession? Does he agree that the banks need to work with the unions to keep people in work during a recession rather than shedding jobs to pay money back to the Government?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is a great advocate for his constituents. I know that Cheltenham & Gloucester has made several redundancies, and that is a big issue not only for him but for the rest of the country. I am happy to meet him to discuss those issues, but let me say that we are determined to keep as many jobs as possible in this country and to prevent unemployment where possible, and, when it happens, to give people new jobs. A hundred and fifty thousand new jobs have been created as a result of new investment that we are making in the flexible new deal to enable young people and others to get jobs. Even in the current difficult situation, more than 200,000 people are finding new jobs every month. We will continue to provide that support, but I have to say again that the issue is clear: we are prepared to provide the investment that is necessary; the Conservatives are revealed again as the party of cuts.

Q6. [278783] Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Last month before the local elections, the Prime Minister, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) about his regional development agency, said that Conservative Members wanted to abolish regional development agencies. We do—we want to give the powers and the budgets to local authorities. He said:

This week, after those elections, the South West of England Regional Development Agency has made £56 million of cuts, cutting projects in my constituency in Newent and Cinderford and halving the budget for regeneration in Gloucester. Why should anybody believe a word the Prime Minister says again?

The Prime Minister: Thousands of companies in the hon. Gentleman’s area are getting help under the Inland Revenue scheme and others that we are introducing.
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Thousands of companies are getting special help to take them through the recession. If his argument is that we must avoid cuts, he had better talk to the shadow Chancellor because he proposes massive cuts in services today and in future. The Conservative party has been revealed today as the party that will fight for the next few months on cuts in services. At some point, Conservative Members will have to tell us how many nurses, doctors, teachers, carers and public servants will lose their jobs as a result of the new policy announced this morning.

Q7. [278784] Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): Would the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to Lawrence Daly, the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers from 1968 to 1984? He was the man who led the Wilberforce inquiry on behalf of the union and changed conditions in the mining industry more than any other individual. He was also a man
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who loved to sing and loved poetry. The NUM in Scotland—the Prime Minister is an honorary member of the Scottish miners union—is looking to pay a tribute to Lawrence Daly in his homeland of Fife. Would the Prime Minister consider coming to Fife and also paying tribute to him?

The Prime Minister: I would indeed. Lawrence Daly was a friend of mine, as well as of many people. There are few people who did more to advance miners’ conditions in this country than Lawrence Daly. He fought for miners’ safety in a way that brought about big changes in safety in the mining industry. He fought for miners to get the right to compensation for pneumoconiosis and other diseases. I believe that he and so many other miners’ leaders who fought for good conditions in what is a very dangerous industry deserve the wholesale gratitude of everybody, in all parts of the House.

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