"Public finances must be sustainable...If they are not, the poor, the elderly, and those on fixed incomes who depend on public services will suffer most."-[ Official Report, 2 July 1997; Vol. 315, c. 303.]
Ms Harman: As the Prime Minister is talking about new politics and transparency, will he confirm that the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast that, under the plans that we put in place, unemployment and borrowing will be lower than we forecast in our Budget, not only this year but next year and the year after? Will he confirm that, and will he welcome it?
The Prime Minister: First, should the right hon. and learned Lady not welcome the fact that these things are now independently determined, rather than fiddled in the Treasury? What the Office for Budget Responsibility shows is that the structural deficit is going to be £12 billion higher, and that the growth forecast that the Chancellor of the Exchequer produced at the time of the Budget was a complete fiction.
Ms Harman: I can answer the Prime Minister's question, although, to be fair, he is supposed to be answering mine. Yes, I do support the OBR, but he will not say whether he welcomes the forecast that I set out earlier. It is clear what he is doing: he is talking down the economy and the public finances in order to soften up the public for the cuts that he wants to make. Does he not realise that, in doing that, he is also undermining business confidence? How can that be right?
The Prime Minister: What the right hon. and learned Lady and other Labour Members need to remember is this: never mind talking the economy down, they did the economy down. They left this country with a £155 billion deficit-the biggest deficit in our peacetime history. They are the ones who let the banks go rip. They told us that they had abolished boom and bust, yet they gave us the biggest boom and the biggest bust. They were the ones who told us we were going to lead the world out of recession; our recession was longer and deeper than others. They have not told us about one single penny of the £50 billion that they were going to cut-not one penny. Do you know where they ought to start? Why not start with an apology?
Ms Harman: If the Prime Minister thought that our spending plans were so bad, why did he back them right up until the end of 2008, praising them as "tough"? One minute he is praising them, then he is calling them reckless. This is not so much magic numbers as the magic roundabout that he has been on. We all agree that the deficit needs to come down, but will he promise that in the Budget next week he will not hit the poorest and he will not throw people out of work? Does he agree with us that unemployment is never a price worth paying?
The Prime Minister: The figures were wrong, and the jokes were not much good either. Never mind the magic roundabout, what we are all enjoying on the Government Benches is the Labour leadership election, although it is by day beginning to look more like a Star Trek convention-beam me up! What the right hon. and learned Lady has to answer is this: before the election, her Government set out £50 billion of cuts, but not a single penny was aligned to a single programme-not one pence of the £18 billion they were cutting from capital spending was aligned to one single bit of capital expenditure. Before she starts challenging us about cuts, they should first of all apologise for the mess they have left; second of all, tell us where the cuts were going to come to under their Government; and third of all, recognise that the responsible party, in coalition, is dealing with the deficit and the mess that they left behind.
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) (Con):
Despite the huge satisfaction felt in my constituency at the Government's decision not to proceed with the second runway at Stansted airport, is my right hon. Friend
aware that blight and uncertainty still overhang the communities closest to the airport? Will he look to see if other measures can be taken to provide them with longer-term assurance?
The Prime Minister: First, may I say what a pleasure it is to see my right hon. Friend being able to speak about these issues for the first time in many years. I am sure he will do so often and with great power from the Back Benches. He is right to say that we are very clear in the coalition agreement about Stansted airport. I hope that removes some of the blight and uncertainty; I will certainly bear in mind what he had to say.
Q2.  Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): During the general election, the Conservative party distanced itself from remarks made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) when he spoke about Government aid and said that it had nothing to do with Vauxhall. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to remove the uncertainty not only for Vauxhall but for Sheffield Forgemasters and all the other companies that are waiting for support in properly constructed agreements?
The Prime Minister: Everyone wants to see Vauxhall succeed; it is a very important company, employing many people in this country, not least in the hon. Gentleman's own constituency. As he knows, a £270 million Government loan guarantee to support GM Europe was announced on 12 March 2010. We are reviewing commitments made since 1 January 2010. Projects that are good value for money and consistent with the Government's priorities will go ahead. [Interruption.] Let me say to Labour Members who are shouting that we have to be clear that there were spending announcements made by the previous Government before the election that need to be reviewed. To take just one example of one scheme operated by Lord Mandelson's Department-the so-called strategic investment fund: when we looked at the money provided for specific projects, we found that over two thirds of the constituencies involved were marginal Labour seats. So it is right to examine these, but I say to the hon. Gentleman that proper grants properly made for proper reasons will go ahead; fiddled grants for political reasons should not.
Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): The 16-year-old son of my constituent, Lorraine Fraser, died after a vicious multiple knife attack incident six years ago. One of the murderers is trying to use the law to reduce his tariff after serving only five years, and another avoided conviction altogether by fleeing the country. Will the Prime Minister agree to look into this case on behalf of my constituent and meet her to hear about her plight and about the excellent work she is doing to defeat knife crime in this country?
The Prime Minister: I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I would be happy to meet him and his constituent. We need to take knife crimes in this country incredibly seriously: there has been a huge increase in the carrying of knives, and we must put a stop to that. On lenient sentences, I am not convinced that the power introduced some 20 years ago to allow the Attorney-General to appeal against lenient sentences is used enough. We need to look at that again and ensure that in cases in which people feel that a lenient sentence has been put in place, there is an opportunity to increase it.
Q3.  John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/ Co-op): The defence contracts for Astute class submarines signed in March were long negotiated and are essential for our security and for thousands of manufacturing jobs in my constituency and across the UK. Will the Prime Minister honour them?
The Prime Minister: First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman and say that I know how much his constituency depends on the work going on in the submarine yards in Barrow, which I have visited and where I have seen the building of Astute class submarines and the submarines carrying our nuclear deterrent? I know how important that is, but a defence review is under way, and it must include the Astute class submarines- [Interruption]. To those Labour Members who are calling out, let me say that the Labour party was itself committed to a defence review. We asked whether it included everything-even aircraft carriers-and the answer came back yes. It is no good Labour Members bickering now that they are in opposition; it is right to have a defence review and that we consider such matters. I know how important submarine building is to Barrow and to the defence of the nation.
Q4.  Mr David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Labour Members might revere regional development agencies, but is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable amount of money wasted by some RDAs, especially on unnecessary expenditure on entertainment? Will he confirm that, to get better value for taxpayers' money, he will take action on RDAs?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right, and I know that a lot of argument and discussion is going on about regional development agencies. The figures about how much money has been wasted, however, should be more widely shared. The East Midlands Development Agency paid more than £300,000 for offices in north America. The Northwest Development Agency shared an office in Newport Beach. One NorthEast spent money on offices in China, Japan, Korea and Australia. The chairman of the South East England Development Agency spent £51,000 on taxis and executive cars in one year alone. We need proper control of costs and spending-there has not been any for the past 13 years, and there sure is going to be under this Government.
Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab): May I tell the Prime Minister about my constituent, Nikki Blunden, who is 37, has a son aged four and is dying of cancer. Her consultant wants to prescribe the new drug Lapatinib, which could prolong her life. Last week, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence deemed the treatment not to be cost-effective. Will the Prime Minister stick to his promise not to hide behind NICE, and ensure that the primary care trust funds forthwith this NHS treatment? Nikki Blunden cannot wait; I ask the Prime Minister to act.
The Prime Minister:
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for asking that question. My heart goes out to her constituent, Nikki Blunden. We want to see these cancer drugs get to patients more quickly, without the bureaucratic wheels taking so long to turn. That is why we are establishing the cancer drugs fund, and I will discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for
Health how quickly that can be done. If possible, I want it to be done this year rather than next year. If it can be done, it will be, and if drugs can be got to people like the right hon. Lady's constituent-we all have constituents in such a position-I will do everything that I can to make that happen.
Q5.  Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): The Prime Minister knows that I am always and everywhere for referendums. However, will he tell the House why he is planning a referendum on the alternative vote, which was not in the manifesto of either coalition party, but not a referendum on European integration, which all three main parties were recently promising?
The Prime Minister: What I can promise my hon. Friend is that we will have such legislation on the referendum lock, so that it will not be possible in future for a British Government to pass powers from Westminster to Brussels without asking the British people first. That is absolutely right. The referendum on the alternative vote was part of the coalition agreement, and he will be free to campaign on whatever side of the referendum he wants. However, the referendum was part of the agreement that put together this Government, who, I believe, are rolling up their sleeves and sorting out the country's problems.
Q6.  Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/ Co-op): About 1.5 million people suffer from involuntary tranquilliser addiction as a result of medical prescribing, and it completely ruins their lives. Will the Government consider investing in cost-effective, supportive, long-term withdrawal treatment programmes to enable them to lead normal lives, come off benefits, and go back to work?
The Prime Minister: Let me praise the hon. Gentleman for his interest in the work that is being done. I know that he is chairman of the all-party group that deals with this extremely difficult issue. The last Government set up a review of addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medicines. We are waiting for the report to be published, and will study it carefully when it is.
Let me make two points. First, I think that there is a problem in our national health service more generally, in that we spend too much time treating the symptoms rather than necessarily dealing with the causes. We could probably reduce the level of painkillers and tranquillisers if we did more-through physiotherapy and other therapies-to deal with the problem in the first place. Secondly, all addictions need proper attention, and proper treatment and therapy, to rid people of their addictions, whatever they happen to be. I am sure that the report will mention that.
Q7.  Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Will the Prime Minister respond positively to the uplands inquiry by the Commission for Rural Communities-which reveals the great value and potential of magnificent hill areas such as ours in Northumberland-by stressing the need to ensure that hill farmers have an adequate income, and that there are rented homes, apprenticeships, and services such as broadband to enable young people to stay in those areas?
The Prime Minister: I will certainly look carefully at the report. I have every sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Upland landscape is as beautiful as it is because it has been farmed for centuries, and we need to recognise the connection between beautiful landscape and active farming. We want our countryside to be a living, working countryside, not a museum.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned housing. We must also recognise that the top-down target system was not working. Our plans in the coalition agreement to increase the ability of communities, including villages, to decide whether they want to put in extra homes is a good way of helping to keep the pub, the post office, and the local shops and schools open, and I hope we can proceed with that work.
Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I am sure that, even as we speak, the Prime Minister and his team are seeking to make savings and possibly cuts, hopefully without affecting front-line services. May I commend to him one way of saving £7.2 million a day? Bring the troops home from Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I just do not agree with him. I think that if we brought the troops home precipitately-if we did it straight away-not only would we let down our NATO allies, not only would we let down the Afghan people, but we would create circumstances in which the Taliban would return, and the danger of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan would come straight back.
I know that what we are doing is dangerous and difficult, and that it is costing us dearly. I am, of course, acutely aware of that. However, I think that we must put our effort and our shoulder behind the wheel of the Obama-McChrystal plan to ensure that it works as well as it can, and accompany that military surge with a political surge. We need to seek a political settlement to get Taliban fighters to put down their arms and reintegrate into Afghan society. That is the way in which to create some stability in Afghanistan-never a perfect democracy, but some stability-in which event our troops can come home with their heads held high.
Q8.  Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to all who work for the health service, but will he also examine the circumstances in which patients are often discharged from hospital only to be readmitted very soon afterwards? The assessment for continuous health care has become something of a postcode lottery. Will the Prime Minister examine that as well, to ensure that such care is paid for on the basis of clinical need?
The Prime Minister: Thank you, Mr. Speaker; the one answer that I will give is this. I know that there is a big problem with hospitals discharging patients, sometimes to meet their own targets-including financial targets-without thinking of the longer-term consequences if those patients have to return. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has announced that hospitals will be responsible for patients not just during their treatment but for the 30 days following their discharge, so that we can better link health and social care to ensure that people leave hospital at the right time, in the right way, and for good.
Q9.  Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): Siemens is proposing to close Trench UK in my constituency and to transfer its production to France and Germany, despite the fact that Trench UK has a full order book, healthy profits and is exporting all over the world. It is a first-class product. Would the Prime Minister meet me so that we can discuss that illogical decision which could lose the UK a jewel in manufacturing?
The Prime Minister: I would certainly meet the hon. Gentleman. I know how frustrating this can be; Siemens is a big investor in my constituency, too. The jobs that he is speaking about are exactly the sort of high-tech, high-skill jobs that we want to keep in this country. Therefore, I will certainly meet him, and we will do what we can in the Budget to ensure that we have in this country a tax regime, support for apprenticeships and support for training that will want to make businesses locate, stay and invest in Britain.
Q10.  Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Every household in Gravesham has inherited a sort of second mortgage of debt. Can the Prime Minister give us some idea of the level of debt per household across the country?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right that every single person in this country is now carrying £22,000 of debt because of the mess that the last Labour Government left us. The fact is this: if we do not do something about it, by the end of this Parliament, we will be paying £70 billion in debt interest. That is more than we spend on schools and more than we spend on defence. It would be a tragic waste of money. That is why, however painful it is, we have to get to grips with the deficit that we were left by the last Labour Government.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Can the Prime Minister explain why the changes to local government funding last week mean that, in Witney in Oxfordshire, people will see an uplift of 1.7%, while children in Brent will see a loss from their education budget of £1.88 million? Can it have anything to do with last week's statement by the Minister with responsibility for local government, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), who said:
"Those in greatest need ultimately bear the burden of paying off the debt"?-[ Official Report, 10 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 450.]
The Prime Minister: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that we are going to introduce the pupil premium, so that the money follows our country's poorest children to the schools that they go to. That is what is going to happen. That is what he should support and I will look forward to him supporting it when it comes.
Q11.  Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): As the Prime Minister strives to restore sanity to our national finances, will he give a word of reassurance that the Budget next week will seek to encourage and support those who save and provide for their own future?