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partys policy but were merely extrapolations
Cooper, previously the Treasury minister responsible for public spending, echoed his concerns,
According to one source who was present, Brown was visibly irritated at the way he had been undermined, and brought the meeting to an early close.
He says that he wants to be a teacher, but it sounds like he has lost control of the classroom. Last week, at that Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister did not talk about bringing forward capital expenditure. He said, very clearly:
Capital expenditure will grow until the year of the Olympics. [ Official Report, 17 June 2009; Vol. 494, c. 295.]
The Prime Minister: I read out the figures to the House. We are spending £38 billion in that year 2008-09more than the Tories would ever do. We are spending £44 billion in the coming yearmore than the Tories would ever do. We are spending more money on capital investment than at any time in our history [ Interruption. ]
The Prime Minister: We have to face up to the fact that a sensible debate in this country means that the Conservatives are going to cut spending on housing, education, policing and all the vital public services. The right hon. Gentleman cannot evade the fact that his figures are lower than any of ours in any year. That is the truth about public spending in our country.
The Prime Minister: His is the party of 10 per cent. cuts in public expenditure, and the party that would cut the vital public services at a time of recession. We have brought forward public expenditure to help people stay in their homes and get into jobs and to help build schools and hospitals. Those are exactly the public services that the Conservatives would cut savagely, by 10 per cent. That is not going to be allowed to happen. [ Interruption. ]
Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and may I also welcome you to your new role? Many of us here will welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has rowed back from holding an inquiry into Iraq in private. It would have been a misjudgment to do so. That said, the Opposition motion and the amendment before us this afternoon contain two points of differencewhether the terms of reference are discussed and published, and whether the committee should have a wider composition. What can the Prime Minister say to the House to address those two points of difference?
The Prime Minister:
I can say that Sir John Chilcot, the chair of the inquiryand it is an independent inquiryhas written to me to make it absolutely clear that the inquiry will need expert assessors at the highest level including in military, legal, international development and reconstruction matters. He has already begun to identify people who may be willing to serve in that
capacity. As for the terms of reference, I cannot think of an inquiry with wider terms of reference. It covers nearly eight years, from 2001 to 2009. It covers all issues that refer to the conflict itself, the causes of the conflict, and the reconstruction after the conflict. The inquiry will be set up on the basis that it will be allowed to have all the evidence and materials, whether classified or not, that it needs to look into the matter. The terms of reference of this inquiry are very wide indeed.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I should like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Major Sean Birchall, who tragically lost his life in Helmand this week. I of course also join in the expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell. We all hope that the remaining hostages will be released safely as soon as possible.
On the Gurkhas, the Prime Minister was wrong and was forced to back down. On MPs expenses, he was wrong and forced to back down. On the Iraq inquiry, he was wrong and is now being forced to back down. The only gear left for this Government seems to be reverse, so when will we hear from him that he is wrong too on public spending?
The Prime Minister: I am not wrong on public spending. We want to increase public spending. I am not wrong on wanting to help people in difficulty in the recession by helping the unemployed and home owners. It is the Liberal party that wants to cut public expenditure, not the Consnot the Labour party. [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister cannot keep avoiding the questions. Today, new figures from the EU have been published that show that we have the largest underlying deficit anywhere in Europe. Why does he not admit that balancing the nations books will take big, difficult, long-term decisions? Nobody is fooled by his trick of dressing up cuts as investment. We are setting out what needs to happenunlike him, and unlike the Leader of the Oppositionon Trident, on baby bonds, and on tax credits for high-income families. There are some ideas, now where are his?
The Prime Minister: Given that there is no problem of inflation at the moment in our country, and given that interest rates are low, it is right for us to take action to help people get into work. It is right for us to take action to help 150,000 businesses, as we are doing. It is right for us to move forward the housing programme and our programme of capital investment. These are the right things to do. I do not think that the Liberals, with their proposals to cut public spending, are doing the right thing at the moment at all.
Q2.  Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and congratulations on your election. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spell out the implications for the public services, pensioners and the less well off of the 10 per cent. cut proposed by the Opposition?
The Prime Minister: Increasingly, the choice within our country will become one between us wanting to preserve our public services and wanting to expand them and a Conservative party that is determined to cut them by 10 per cent. Once the public knows that that is the choice, Conservative Members will have to explain in every constituency how many police, nurses and teachers are going to be cut as a result of their restrictions on spending.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Can the Prime Minister confirm whether he has had any correspondence, e-mail, telephone calls or texts from Damian McBride since the day he resigned, and just to clear up the confusion that there seems to be around this issue, will he write to the Parliamentary Standards Authority confirming the answer to this question?
The Prime Minister: The answer is no, but is it not amazing when we are discussing Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other major issues that a Back Bencher can reduce himself to re-asking a question that was asked last week?
Q3.  Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1552 regarding steel making on Teesside? What help and support is he willing to give so that we can keep the Redcar steel complex open and protect 22,000 direct and indirect jobs as well as a strong manufacturing base?
The Prime Minister: I have talked to the company and also met the trades unions, as has the Business Secretary. The future of steel making in this region is absolutely crucial, so we are trying to do everything we can to make that happen. Clearly, there is a dispute between Tata and the partners involved in the consortium that has now withdrawn its order for steel making in the area. We want to support a reconciliation between the two groups, which is what we are trying to do. In the meantime, One North East is trying to help people in search of jobs.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The Prime Ministers insult to the Law and Justice party of Poland in his European statement yesterday is a great insult to the President of Poland, who is a member of that party and to the Polish people who elected that party into office. No matter what he may think of the Law and Justice party, he must understand that as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom he has a duty to implement basic diplomatic procedures.
The Prime Minister: I have very good relationships with the person the hon. Gentleman is talking about. As for the Polish Law and Justice party, the Conservatives should look at the policies of the parties they are having dealings with.
Q4.  Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Can the Prime Minister tell the House of his reaction to recent events in Burma? Does he agree that the imprisonment, illegal as it is, of pro-democracy campaigners and the shameful, farcical and sham trial of Aung San Suu Kyi does nothing for Burmas standing in the international community?
The Prime Minister: First, let me congratulate my right hon. Friend on the 27th anniversary of his election to the House of Commons; he has given great service, particularly in terms of our relations with other countries. In Burma a sham trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is taking place, and it is completely unacceptable not just to us, but to all members of the international community. At the last meeting of the European Council, we sent out a powerful message that unless action is taken in Burma to free Aung San Suu Kyi, we will be prepared to take further sanctions against the regime. I have also talked to the UN Secretary-General and encouraged him to visit BurmaMr. Gambari, his representative, is there at the moment. I hope that the Secretary-General will visit Burma to send a message to the regime as soon as possible.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): In May 1997, there were 1,826 people unemployed in Wellingborough; at the end of last month, that figure had risen to 3,366an increase of 84 per cent. Whose fault is that: is it (a) the last Conservative Government; (b) the previous US President; or (c) the Prime Minister who claimed he had ended boom and bust?
The Prime Minister: The figures are all the more reason to support our policies to get people back to work. Were it not for the policies we are adopting, 500,000 more people would be out of workthat is what official estimates say. The hon. Gentleman should be supporting the public expenditure we are engaged in to help people get back into work.
Q5.  Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Mr. Speaker, it gives me particular pleasure to welcome you to the Chair as our new reforming Speaker. May I say how much I endorse the wise words of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who called for the whole House now to get behind you? That should be the whole House.The Prime Minister deserves great credit for bringing forward proposals to establish the Parliamentary Standards Bill and to set up a Select Committee on reform of the House of Commons, but may I draw his attention to the unnecessarily tight terms of reference on todays Order Paper, and to the cross-party amendment in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright)? Surely, it cannot be right for the Committee to be constrained to discuss only non-governmental business.
The Prime Minister: We have proposed measures to modernise the House of Commons, in particular the election of Select Committee Chairs, the scheduling of non-Government business and the raising of public issues for debate. All those other matters can be considered in due course, and the Leader of the House will lead a debate on them.
Earlier this month, the Conservatives were humiliated in the local elections in Colchester. Will the Prime Minister discuss with his Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families why Essex county council is ignoring what the Secretary of State promised in the House in
May last year, and is proceeding to close two secondary schools, against the democratic wish of the people of my constituency?
The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, investment in schools is rising, as is investment in new school buildings generally. The hon. Gentleman has specific questions he wishes to address to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and I hope that he will be able to meet my right hon. Friend soon.
Q6.  Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): This morning, Superintendent Simon Corkill from Wembley police station telephoned me [ Interruption. ]to say that there had been a drop in gun crime of 45 per cent., a drop in knife crime of 19 per cent. and a drop in youth offending of 19 per cent. in the past year. I know the Prime Minister will want to congratulate Wembley police force on those statistics, but will he join me in asking for a 10 per cent. cut next year? I mean, of course, a further cut in the statistics.
The Prime Minister: Since 1997, the investment we have made in neighbourhood policing and in policing generally has led to a reduction in crime. As a result of that investment, people can feel safer in their homes, but it is equally important that we maintain investment in policinga 10 per cent. cut in policing budgets would be totally disastrous for police forces and communities.
Q7.  Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): One in four people will suffer at some point in their life from a mental health problem, and there is a great deal of stigma about that. Will the Prime Minister take some advice from Alastair Campbell, whose advice seemed to work very well for his predecessor? When giving evidence to the Speakers Conference on improving diversity, Mr. Campbell suggested that we get rid of the provision in the Mental Health Act 1983 that Members of Parliament who are sectioned for a mental health problem lose their seat. Will the Prime Minister take steps on that measure and end stigma against people with mental health problems?
The Prime Minister: Mental health is a serious problem and we should look at it with great care before we make any decisions, but of course I will look at what the hon. Gentleman says. I think he will understand that it needs the greatest of care.
Q8.  Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op): Hopwood Hall college in my constituency delivers vocational programmes to learners throughout Heywood, Middleton and Rochdaleall areas of high deprivation. The college capital programme has had to be put on the back burner because of the funding crisis at the Learning and Skills Council. Will the Prime Minister have a look at the specific problem for me, and perhaps designate the appropriate Minister to meet the college principal, the local authority and me to see if we can get ourselves out of this mess?
The Prime Minister:
The Learning and Skills Council has written to the principals of all colleges about capital investment for the future. It hopes to announce projects to go through to the next stage of the process as soon as possible. As my hon. Friend will know, we made available
an extra £300 million in the Budget for further education colleges. I am sure that the Minister will be happy to meet him.
Q9.  Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): May I say to the Prime Minister that this years 10 per cent. increase in applications to higher education is a massive cause for celebration? The fact that the major increases are particularly among young black males, students over 40 and people in lower socio-economic groups is a double cause for celebration. Will the Prime Minister therefore say why the planned 15,000 extra higher education places were cut to 10,000 last year and are now being cut to 3,000? Is it not better to invest in people in higher education than to invest in them on the dole queues?
The Prime Minister: We want more people to be able to go to university. If there are more applications this year, we must look at that very carefully. I shall look at what the hon. Gentleman says about the numbers, and I know that the Business Secretary is looking at what can be done. We want to give this years school leavers a guarantee that they will also have opportunities, and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families is taking action to ensure that opportunities are available to every school leaver this summer.
Q10.  Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister will be aware of the pain caused by very high water bills to my constituents in the far south-west, especially those on low and modest incomes. We eagerly look forward to the publication of the interim findings of the Walker review on water metering and charging. Will the Prime Minister meet me and a group of colleagues who have been working on finding solutions for many years to see how far the review will be able to help to address the problems?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has campaigned on water charges in her region for many years. I believe that the interim report is scheduled for publication next week, with a final report expected in the autumn. We will provide a full response following the publication of the final report and I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to talk about it.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): A considerable number of my constituents are Equitable Life victims and the quality of the retirement that they paid for has been crippled. The Governments response to the two ombudsmans reports added insult to that injury. Will the Prime Minister look again at the delays in paying compensation and the partiality of the Governments compensation scheme?
The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the ombudsman made certain recommendations, which we are looking at. We have set up a separate inquiry to look at the implication of what was said and we will report in due course.
Q11.  Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East) (Lab): Despite all the point scoring on cuts in public expenditure, will my right hon. Friend assure me that no money will be cut from protecting our armed forces on active service? Will he say that, in any circumstances, the priority will be to spend whatever money is available on the front line, unlike the situation under the Tories, who made redundancies while
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