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Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2010

Q3. In the past 12 months, people in Blackpool have turned out in unprecedented numbers for Remembrance day and Armed Forces day ceremonies and to give a civic welcome to troops returning from Afghanistan. Blackpool has done that because people recognise the sacrifice being made by those who risk their lives daily. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will continue their resolute action against any extremist group, wherever it comes from, that seeks to disrupt and dishonour that support? (310398)

I praise Blackpool for hosting the first Armed Forces Veterans day. I know that Blackpool has lost soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and my hon. Friend is right to say that we must commemorate all those who have served and made sacrifices for our country. I share his views on extremists who use freedom of speech in our country to foster division and incite hatred and, in some cases, to incite people to kill. We have already strengthened our powers to allow us to prosecute them, and an organisation was proscribed yesterday as a result of our determination to do what is absolutely necessary through the legal process. This is also about standing up for our shared values and showing young people in Muslim communities in particular that we stand for values of justice, dignity and fairness. I believe that our Prevent strategy, which involves talking to people in their schools, churches, faith groups and mosques, is an important way of building inter-religious consensus and a belief that we can solve all our problems together.

After the events of last week, the Prime Minister told his colleagues that he would change the way he governs. Can he tell us how he will be different?

I think that I should start by saying that the right hon. Gentleman looks very different from the poster that we see out there. If you cannot get your photograph right, it is pretty difficult to get your policies right as well. Last week, we announced plans for digital Britain, plans to improve education in our community, and plans for 70,000 jobs in offshore power. We also announced our new growth strategy. This is the Government who are moving forward with policy. He can have his posters; we will have the policies.

The Prime Minister asks about pictures. Why don’t we do a bit of market research? When it comes to Labour Members’ election addresses, hands up who is going to put the Prime Minister’s picture on the front. Come on, hands up. [Interruption.] Four! There are six of them who do not want him in the Cabinet, and just four who are going to put his picture on their election addresses. He has been airbrushed out of the whole campaign.

Let us see if the Prime Minister has changed. Let us see if he is prepared to do something that he has never done before—listen to people, and admit his mistakes. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) asked a very straight question. When Britain went into recession with one of the largest deficits in the industrialised world, that was because this Prime Minister thought he had abolished boom and bust. That claim was wrong, wasn’t it?

As I keep telling the right hon. Gentleman, we went into the recession with one of the lowest debts in the G7, and the reason we had one of the lowest debts in the G7 is that we had taken action over the previous years to run down the debt that had been run up by the Conservative Government.

I think the country would prefer our policies to a person who has three policies on one day. The right hon. Gentleman needs three television election debates because he has three versions of the same policy to put forward in the debates.

The Prime Minister talks about his policies. We now know what his own election co-ordinator thinks of his policies—yes, the Development Secretary. I do not know whether he is the chairman of the campaign or the co-ordinator of the campaign: the Prime Minister has three people co-ordinating his campaign.

This is what the Development Secretary said. He said that Labour

“don’t… have any policies. For God’s sake, Harriet’s helping write the manifesto!”

I must say that I think that is completely unfair. After all, the deputy leader of the Labour party took only five hours and 32 minutes to come out and support the Prime Minister, whereas the Secretary of State for International Development took six hours. [Hon. Members: “Question!”] All right, here comes a question. Let us try something else to see if this Prime Minister has changed. Will he now admit the truth about spending cuts? He has stood there week after week and denied what everyone knows to be true: that there will be spending cuts. The Chancellor now says that those cuts will be the deepest for 20 years. Will the Prime Minister repeat those words?

The right hon. Gentleman is becoming even redder—much redder than he is in his photograph on the poster. I have to say that what you see is clearly not what you get.

I have to say this to the right hon. Gentleman as well. I wish that he could talk about policy. We are coming out of the most difficult recession that countries have faced. Every country around the world is facing the difficult public spending decisions that the Chancellor talked about last week. I agree exactly with what he said: that every country has got to face up to it. But there is one way of facing it up to it, and that is publishing our deficit reduction plan, and another way: the right hon. Gentleman’s not knowing what he wants to do on the married couples allowance, not knowing what he wants to do on national insurance, and not knowing what he wants to do on the top rate of tax. He is asking people for a don’t know at the election rather than a yes or a no; and the only policy he has that is not going to change is his policy on inheritance tax, which helps the richest persons in our society.

If the Prime Minister wants to know how people are going to vote, why does he not find some courage for once and call the election?

The Prime Minister talks about policy. The country is fed up with his policies, but his colleagues were not complaining about the policies; they were complaining about the weakness, the dithering and the backbiting. That is what they were complaining about.

Everyone can see that the Prime Minister will not change the way in which he governs. Everyone can see that he will not answer the question, and that he will not be straight with people. Is not the conclusion of the last week that the Cabinet and the Labour party are too disloyal to support him, but too incompetent to remove him? Should he not ask for the verdict of the British people, so that we can get rid of the lot of them?

I must say that the right hon. Gentleman’s airbrushed poster had better lines on it than the lines that he is delivering today. He should get better lines from the shadow Foreign—[Interruption.]

This is what the Leader of the Opposition said only a few days ago:

“I messed up and there is no other way of putting it, you know; I was thinking about all sorts of different things and I misdescribed our policy.”

He has misdescribed what he is doing, because we know that on the health service there is no guarantee for cancer patients; we know on police that there is no guarantee about neighbourhood policing; we know on education that there is no guarantee of education to 18; and we know on the recession that the Conservatives would have done nothing to take us out of the recession and that they would have gone back to the policies of the 1980s. When he finally wakes up to the fact that policies matter more than posters, he will know that his policies are actually those of the ’80s, not those for 2010.

Will the Government back my amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill next week that will rid Parliament of parasitic non-doms?

Q4. We have heard why, however implausibly, the Prime Minister will not give evidence to the Chilcot inquiry before the general election, but may I ask him a question that he can answer right now, because I am simply asking for his opinion? Alastair Campbell made it clear yesterday that this Prime Minister was intrinsically involved in all the decision making in the run-up to Iraq, so does he personally regret any of the decisions taken in the preparations for, and conduct of, the war in Iraq? Is he personally sorry? (310399)

I have already said that the reconstruction that was done after the war effort in Iraq was insufficient; the general view held by many people who have looked into this is that insufficient preparations were made for that. But I was part of the Cabinet that made the decisions on Iraq, and I stand by the decisions we made.

Q5. This week, a Member of the House has resigned, with mental illness being a factor. I make no comment about individual cases, but as the law stands any Member of this House who suffers a bout of serious mental illness can be automatically disqualified from office, no matter what the prospects of recovery. That is wrong, and it would never be tolerated for a physical illness, no matter how debilitating. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity presented by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to implement the Speaker’s Conference recommendation that this wrong should be righted? (310400)

My hon. Friend has raised a very important issue. The Justice Secretary and the Health Secretary are giving careful consideration to the appropriate way forward, and I understand that we will also respond in due course to the recommendation to the Speaker’s Conference report that was published on Monday.

The first duty of any Government is to keep our nation safe. Given the tens of thousands of abuses of tourist visas, work visas and other visas, how confident is the Prime Minister that he has a firm grip on this nation’s national security?

At every point we try to be as vigilant as possible in the way we run the services that are necessary for our national security. Immediately after the Detroit attempted bomb on Christmas day, it was for us also to make sure that our security arrangements for people coming into the country were satisfactory, and I ordered a review of those arrangements, as I told the House last week. Equally, we also decided that the co-ordination of our different services is an important issue, and, facing new technology and new methods being used by terrorist groups, we had to do more to ensure the full co-ordination of all our services to deal with potential incidents. That is another set of work that has been put in motion. So at all times we seek to be vigilant. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the introduction of biometric visas and then of the e-Borders system will be of great benefit to us in being able to identify people coming into and going out of the country, and I hope there will be all-party support for that.

Q6. Employment in the public sector is very important to the economy of Wales, and cuts in the short term would impede the recovery of the private sector. Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the difference between the impact of the tough but long-term approach he is taking and of the precipitate, immediate and unplanned cuts that are demanded by the Leader of the Opposition? (310401)

I can say from the work that has been done that if we had pursued the same policies as in the 1980s and the 1990s, 1.7 million fewer people would be employed today. It is because we took action to help young people into work and to help small businesses that the unemployment claimant count, which was 10 per cent. or higher in some of the recessions of ’80s and ’90s, has remained half that today, and we are determined to do still more to help young people into work and those adults who are looking for work. The difference is this: when it came to the recession, other parties were prepared to walk by on the other side, but we decided to act.

I am thinking of all the issues that the hon. Gentleman wishes me to talk about in relation to the western Sahara. The one thing that I have been worried about is the growth of ethnic violence in these areas. The one thing that we have tried to do is increase—indeed, double—our aid to these areas, and the one thing that we have been worried about is the growth of terrorist groups in these areas. That is why we are taking the action that is necessary to dissuade people from terrorism. I have had numerous conversations with leaders in these areas. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to direct me to a specific point, I will take it up.

Q13. Does the Prime Minister recall in September 2008 acclaiming the success of the 16 Air Assault Brigade and 2,000 British soldiers in delivering to the Kajaki dam a turbine? Will he tell the House why that turbine, which cost lives, has not been installed? Who makes these important military so-called strategic decisions? The turbine was delivered at a high price and has not been installed— (310408)

I have investigated the issue. Rightly, it is asked of us why the turbine is not working, when it was delivered at great cost in terms of lives and effort. Other sources of power have been found for the areas that were supposed to be served, but it is still our intention that that turbine be used to create the power that is necessary for the economic advance that is possible.

Q8. Essex teenage tearaways are being sent to a sensitive residential area in Castle Point by Essex county council without any consultation whatsoever. They are terrorising residents, elderly frail people and businesses with extreme bad behaviour. Does the Prime Minister agree that people should always be properly consulted, and that the location of those establishments should be sensitively and carefully considered? Essex county council should be ashamed of putting it— (310403)

No one should be expected to suffer from antisocial behaviour. That is why we have created neighbourhood policing units that have a responsibility for dealing with antisocial behaviour as well as with crime. It is also why we are targeting families such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentions, whose lives are so chaotic that they are disrupting the lives of people around them. No pensioner, in particular, should be expected to suffer from that. That is why next month we will be announcing new measures to help people who are victims of antisocial behaviour, so that we can get quick action to them as well as deal with the problems at source. I hope the hon. Gentleman can be assured that we are taking the action that is necessary, but recognise that this is a problem for many people in the country.

Q15. Today’s stunning results in the schools in Staffordshire, Moorlands demonstrate 10 years of remarkable achievement and a decade of investment in dilapidated schools transforming them into modern learning centres for the whole community. Why is it—[Interruption.]—that the hardworking students and the efforts of school staff, head teachers and governors are constantly talked down by the Opposition? (310410)

They can try and shout down good news but we will tell people. Ten or 12 years ago there were 1,600 underperforming schools in our country when we came to power. Today the figure announced is fewer than 250. This a huge change that is being met by the national educational challenge. We should continue to ensure that by 2011 there is not one underperforming school in our country. We ought to offer the best education to every child. Even if Conservative Members sneer, we will continue to finance the education of every young person in this country.

Q9. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for playing extra time. May I ask the Prime Minister what he is doing to prevent the population of this country from reaching 70 million? (310404)

We have introduced the points system for immigration. The points system is working because where we need no unskilled workers and need workers who have specialist skills but not other workers with skills, they will not now be invited into the country. Of course, when people come into the country, they must have a contribution to make to this country. The points system is ensuring that net migration is falling. It is also ensuring that where we do not need workers to come into the country, they do not come in.

Order. I should be grateful if Members who are leaving the Chamber would do so quickly and quietly.