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"It's a classic Gordon Brown dividing line":
The Prime Minister: Why does the right hon. Gentleman not address the policy issue? We have provided £420 million from the NHS for social care for urgent needs. We are providing £250 million from local authorities for efficiency savings. If he agrees with the local authorities and thinks that that is impossible, why is it his policy to freeze the poll tax by demanding hundreds of millions more savings from local authorities? Nothing he says adds up; nothing is consistent. He changes his policy almost every hour.
Mr. Cameron: The fact is that it is Labour councils that are telling the Prime Minister that his policy does not add up. It is perfectly clear what the Prime Minister is doing: he wants to tell us about the benefits of the policy before the election, and the costs of the policy after the election. This is not about the benefit of the elderly; it is about the benefit of the Labour party. He wants to concentrate on the detail, so let me ask about the details of his social care plans. Will he say whether he is ruling out all forms of a compulsory levy, means-tested or not, that elderly people would have to pay? Is he ruling that out?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman should read the White Paper that we put forward, which sets out all the various options before us- [ Interruption. ] The Conservatives can make all the noise they want, and they can put up all the posters, but they have absolutely no policy to deal with the problems. They have no substance, they have no judgment-but they can hurl insults. They are not the new politics; they are the same old Tories.
Mr. Cameron: I have the paper right here, and one of the options is a £20,000 levy on every elderly person in this country, except the very poorest. That is what it says. Let me ask the Prime Minister again: will he rule out any form of compulsory levy on the elderly? Yes or no?
The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper, he will see that he has not reported it correctly. He should read the whole chapter, so that he sees what it means. Once again, what positive policy has come from the Conservative party? He has been the leader of the Conservative party for four years. He has put up lots of posters, he has lots of soundbites, but there is no policy coming from him. When we are dealing with social policy- [ Interruption. ]
The Prime Minister: When we are dealing with social policy, we seek consensus in this country. Where we can find consensus, we find it. The Conservatives have deliberately broken the consensus that existed, even after they voted for the Bill in the House of Commons.
"people might need to pay around £17,000 to £20,000 to be protected under a scheme of this sort".
Let me ask him one final time: are such levies ruled in or ruled out? He says that he wants consensus, and the fact is that there is consensus. Labour advisers, Labour Ministers and Labour councils all think that he is doing this to set up cheap dividing lines before an election. One last go: are you going to do a levy? Rule it in or rule it out.
The Prime Minister: The wall of noise will not disguise the fact that the Conservative party has absolutely no policy on an issue that is vital to the needs of the elderly for the future. This is a big challenge that this country faces because of the demographic changes that are taking place and the needs and ambitions of old people. I have to conclude that, when it comes to dealing with big areas of policy, this is no time for a novice.
Q2.  Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister congratulate the organisers of Showzam, Blackpool's new festival of circus, magic and variety in our winter gardens and tower? Does not this Government's funding for Blackpool's regeneration and for our new sea front, trams and headlands, alongside the Sea Change initiative, demonstrate his support for and strength in the regeneration of all our seaside towns?
The Prime Minister: I applaud the way in which my hon. Friend has promoted the development of Blackpool and all the seaside towns. The Sea Change programme has benefited 32 seaside resorts, and there has been £38 million in extra funding-money that would not be available if there were ever a Conservative Government. Regional development agencies are helping coastal towns to fulfil their economic potential-again, RDAs that would be abolished under a Conservative Government. We will do more to help the coastal towns, and employment in those towns, but that cannot be said of the Conservative party.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD):
I add my expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Warrant Officer Class 2 David Markland from 36 Engineer Regiment, and Corporal John Moore and Private Sean McDonald from the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, all of whom tragically lost their lives serving so bravely in Afghanistan this week. Reports that wounded soldiers will receive better compensation is a glimmer of good
news on the day that we hear that injured veterans are having to pay for their own treatment abroad. Let me ask the Prime Minister about another hidden scandal that faces our troops. Why are our soldiers who are serving on the front line in Afghanistan receiving thousands of pounds less in basic pay than a new recruit to the police or fire service?
The Prime Minister: First of all, I have to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the new recommendations on the compensation scheme that are being prepared by Lord Boyce-and, I believe, welcomed as a review by the Royal British Legion-will extend compensation in a number of areas where there has been controversy in the past. We want to do the best we can by soldiers who are wounded. The Secretary of State for Defence will announce, later this afternoon, how the armed forces compensation scheme will be improved and in what areas, and how it will do more, particularly for award levels below the current high of £570,000. We will also introduce a faster interim payment. As for the pay of the troops, we have been determined to raise the pay of our forces at a higher rate than that of the other public services. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that for the lowest-paid troops, there was a 9 per cent. rise a year ago. I can also tell him that there is a theatre allowance, and that there is a withdrawal of any requirement to pay council tax while they are in Afghanistan. We are doing everything we can to ensure that our troops are not only well paid, but properly equipped for the challenges ahead.
Mr. Clegg: Thousands of servicemen and women are about to put their lives on the line in the biggest offensive yet in Afghanistan. They have been stretched to the limit by a Government who have got their priorities wrong-employing 800 people to do media and communications for the Ministry of Defence but not giving our brave young soldiers a decent living wage. Is it not time for the Government to get their priorities right? They should cut the bureaucrats and pay our soldiers what they deserve.
The Prime Minister: We have always accepted the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which is set up on an independent basis to take information and evidence and then to make recommendations to the Government. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree, when he looks into this, that we have accepted recommendations that, in the past few years, have been for higher pay rises than elsewhere. I also remind him that 70,000 civilian staff have gone from the Ministry of Defence as we have made the focus of our efforts our front-line services. There will be more civilian redundancies as we use new technology to make available the back-office services that enable the front line to have the best equipment. The right hon. Gentleman cannot deny the fact that £14 billion in urgent operational requirements and additional money, on top of the defence budget, has gone to our troops, particularly for Iraq and Afghanistan. It really is not fair to tell our troops that they do not have the equipment that is needed when we have done everything in our power. I asked the Chief of the Defence Staff yesterday if the proper equipment was available for any exercises that we had to undertake, and he said that he had checked with those people on the ground, and that was exactly the case.
Q3.  Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): Specialist nurses are going to be vital if we are to meet the Prime Minister's commitment to one-to-one care for cancer patients, as well as helping people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease to stay in their own home. However, we know from the early 1990s that when Governments decide to squeeze NHS budgets, specialist nurses often do not get a look in. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that under his Government, specialist nursing will get the resources that it needs to deliver the standard of health care at home that we Labour Members want to see?
The Prime Minister: We are trying to transform cancer care in our country. Over the next 10 years, £15 billion is being invested in research, much of it in cancer. The cancer guarantee is that people can see a specialist within two weeks. We hope that this will happen within one week, so that people can sometimes have their diagnostic test and results on the same day. We want to introduce a service in which there is personalised care available for those suffering from cancer, so that they can also be visited at home. This is how the modern health service is going to develop-personalised services available to people and tailored to their needs. With the reforms that we have made, that is now possible. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Conservative party is rejecting the cancer guarantee that would allow people to see a specialist within two weeks. I believe that that challenges its very commitment to the health service.
Q4.  Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): Britain wisely stayed out of the euro. There is now a strong possibility that Greece will default on her debts-something that is not our immediate problem. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, at a time when our national debt is rising fast, there is no question of UK taxpayers' money being used to bail out Greece, in any circumstances or in any way?
The Prime Minister: Greece should stick by the commitments that it has made to the European Union and the world. As the House knows, at the G20 conference in London in April we put in place arrangements that could help countries if they were in difficulty. These arrangements are still in place and have been used by some countries. It is up to the euro area to decide what it wants to do in relation to euro area countries, but there is international support available if Greece wishes it.
Q5.  Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): High-visibility police patrols are the public's No. 1 priority for reassurance and crime prevention. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that the rise of 6,500 police in London in recent years now appears to be going into reverse, with the Mayor of London's draft budgets implying a cut of 455 police officers over his term in office? Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to protect, in particular, our much valued safer neighbourhood police teams?
The Prime Minister: Under a Labour Government there has been an increase of 6,000 police in the Metropolitan Police Service since 1997. We are also proud that there are 4,500 police community support officers available. However, I have to say that for the Conservative party to publish a document on law and order that does not mention police numbers, prison places, CCTV or DNA shows that it is the first Opposition party to run out of ideas even before facing an election.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Does the Prime Minister regret the inability of his predecessor Mr. Blair to express to the Chilcot inquiry any sympathy or regret for the awful loss of life in Iraq?
The Prime Minister: I know that the former Prime Minister wrote to people at the time and expressed his condolences and sympathies to every family. I also know that on many occasions he has expressed his sadness at the losses that have taken place in Iraq. I say to the whole House that I think that we have been united at every point in mourning the losses of our troops, and also the loss of civilian life in Iraq.
Q6.  Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Has my friend visited gordonprenticemp.com today to see how the next election in my constituency is being bought by a tax exile? Does he agree that he needs me here, and that Pendle is not for sale?
The Prime Minister: The Conservative party cannot talk about new politics or transparency unless it answers the central question about the tax status of its chief fundraiser, Lord Ashcroft. The Information Commissioner has already said that the party has been "evasive and obfuscatory" about the Ashcroft scandal. The Opposition have questions that they have to answer.
Q7.  Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The Prime Minister and his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills are right to believe that a central plank of building a sustainable and prosperous economy is investing in science and research, yet cuts in research budgets are being reported across the country. I am thinking in particular of the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences in Aberystwyth, which is facing cuts of £2.5 million and 70 job losses. If the Prime Minister has any influence with his noble Friend, will he intervene to maintain investment in science?
The Prime Minister: I hope the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we have doubled the science budget over the past few years and done more for British science than at any time since the second world war. An innovation fund has been set up to benefit scientists as they develop their innovations and put them into the marketplace. I know that Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, announced today the thousands of jobs that can be created in new scientific industries as a result of our investment, and I believe that universities and science researchers recognise that we have doubled research activity in universities over the past few years.
Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that the arrest of General Fonseka in Sri Lanka is yet another indication that the regime of President Rajapakse is sliding into dictatorship?
The Prime Minister:
As my hon. Friend knows, a decision was made at the Commonwealth summit that Sri Lanka would not host the next Commonwealth summit. We are aware of the human rights issues that have arisen in Sri Lanka since the fighting that took place with the Tamils. We urge the Government to recognise the human rights of all those who are Tamil citizens in Sri Lanka, and we also urge them to move
forward with the reconstruction of the country so that those who have been excluded both from power and from the chances of a livelihood can benefit now.
Q8.  Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): The Prime Minister knows that every five minutes in the UK somebody has a stroke, which will have a devastating effect on those people's lives and on the lives of their families. In Harrogate the Stroke Association has set up a carers resource to support families in their own homes, yet Conservative-controlled North Yorkshire county council has slashed the £35,000 budget, preferring to spend £140,000 on self-congratulatory newsletters. What is the Prime Minister- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: I think, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Conservatives have nothing to congratulate themselves about. It is the Government who have published a stroke strategy. It is also the Government who want to introduce a health test so that people can get a health check-up. We believe that that would remove the possibility of hundreds of deaths as a result of strokes or heart disease, and we will introduce that during the next Parliament. [L aughter.] The Opposition laugh every time we talk about measures that try to improve people's health in this country. If they were really interested in the health service they would support the new health service guarantees, but because they are not, they cannot bring themselves to support a guarantee that every citizen of this country could get a health check-up, whereas previously they would have had to pay.
Q9.  Gwyn Prosser (Dover) (Lab): The port of Dover is the busiest ferry port in the world. I have sailed out of it for 12 years and represented it for the past 13 years. What can the Prime Minister say today to dispel the fabrications and fables being spun by the carpetbagging Conservative candidate, who says that the Government are hell-bent on selling the port of Dover to the highest bidder, and that the highest bidder might be French? [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. May I gently say-I was trying to hear, but there was a lot of noise-that as far as I am aware, the Prime Minister has no responsibility for the stance taken by Conservative candidates?
The Prime Minister: Thank goodness, Mr. Speaker. It is my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Gwyn Prosser) who has been a great champion of Dover and its people, and I know that he wants the best for the people of Dover, including a flourishing port. I share that aspiration. There will be no forced privatisation under Labour-[Hon. Members: "Reading!"] We will look for new ways of getting new investment into the port- [Interruption.]
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