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Volume 512: debated on Wednesday 30 June 2010

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Is the reason that the Prime Minister wants to put fewer criminals in jail to do with cutting crime or cutting budgets?

What the Government want to do is clear up the complete mess of the criminal justice system left by the Labour party. Each prison place today costs £45,000, yet 40% of prisoners are back in prison within a year, more than half of them are on drugs, and around 10% of them are foreign national prisoners, who should not be here in the first place.

The American waste giant, Covanta, is proposing to build in my constituency an incinerator about the size of Wembley. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that decisions about such matters will be made at a local level in future?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this, and it is right that decisions should be made locally. We want to make sure that all the latest technology for alternatives to incineration is considered, so that we can make sure that we are using the best ways to achieve a green approach.

We were very concerned this morning to read reports that as a result of the right hon. Gentleman’s Budget, 1.3 million jobs will be lost. Can he confirm that this was an estimate produced by Treasury officials?

The right hon. and learned Lady should know—[Interruption.] I will give a surprisingly full answer if Opposition Members just sit patiently. This morning the Office for Budget Responsibility produced the full tables for the Budget for employment in the public and the private sector. That never happened under a Labour Government, right? As shown in the Budget, unemployment is forecast to fall every year under this Government, but the tables also show public sector employment. It is interesting that from the tables we can see the effect of Labour’s policy before the Budget and the effect of our policy after the Budget. What the figures show is that under Labour’s plans, next year there would be 70,000 fewer public sector jobs, and the year after that, there would be 150,000 fewer public sector jobs. We have had the courage to have a two-year pay freeze. I know we have all been watching the football, but that was a spectacular own goal.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has published some new figures today, but it is the figures that he has not published that I am asking about—the figures that show that 1.3 million jobs will be lost. Why will the Prime Minister not publish those Treasury documents? Why is he keeping them hidden?

The forecasts that are published now are independent from the Government. That is the whole point. [Interruption.] It is no good Opposition Members chuntering about that. They now support the Office for Budget Responsibility, completely independent of Government. The right hon. and learned Lady’s approach is extraordinary. Before the election the shadow Chancellor, the then Chancellor, was asked on BBC radio on 23 April 2010, and the transcript says:

“‘Will you acknowledge that public sector jobs will be cut?’ Darling: ‘It’s inevitable.’”

But even the OBR says that under the Prime Minister’s Budget, unemployment will be higher than it would otherwise have been. It says that on today’s figures and it said that on last week’s figures. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the secret Treasury analysis shows that under his Budget, 500,000 jobs will be lost in the public sector, but even more will be lost in the private sector?

The figures published today show 2 million more private sector jobs. They show 1.4 million more people in work at the end of this Parliament. They show unemployment falling every year. It is not really any surprise that the former Labour Minister, Digby Jones, after the Budget said—[Interruption.] Why not listen?

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Prime Minister. I must ask hon. and right hon. Members to listen with some restraint. I want to hear the answers.

The Opposition gave him a peerage. They might as well listen to what he had to say. He said:

“I think that sign has gone up around the world saying Britain is serious about sorting out its economic mess”.

He is right. It is a pity he did not say it when he was in office.

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question about the 1.3 million. He has not agreed to publish those documents. He should know what abject misery this unemployment will cause to individuals, to families and to communities. Can he tell us now how much extra it will cost in unemployment benefits?

The right hon. and learned Lady does not seem to understand. Unemployment will be falling during this Parliament. We have published the full figures, but it is not now us publishing the figures, it is the Office for Budget Responsibility. She must understand that this is something the Labour party now supports. Let me repeat: the figures show that unemployment in the public sector would be higher under Labour’s plans next year and the year after. When she gets to her feet perhaps she will tell us whether she now supports the pay freeze to keep unemployment down?

Mr. Speaker, you can always tell when the right hon. Gentleman does not want to answer a question, because he asks me a question. He should recognise that under the OBR figures published today, unemployment is higher than it would have been because of his Budget. The same is shown in the OBR report last week. He will not tell us how much more the Treasury will have to pay out in benefits to people without work as a result of his Budget. Will he tell us how much less will be coming in in taxes as a result of fewer people in work because of his Budget?

There will be more people in work. Like every Labour Government, the Opposition left us with unemployment rising and at the end of this Parliament unemployment will be falling. That is the difference. My advice would be to look at the figures before standing up and asking the question. If one looks at the figures one sees higher public sector unemployment next year and the year after under Labour. The right hon. and learned Lady has slotted the ball straight into the back of her own net.

We will look at the figures if the right hon. Gentleman will publish them. We know that because this Budget hits jobs, the Treasury will have less money coming in and more money going out. Does not that make reducing the deficit even harder and more painful, with bigger tax rises or even deeper cuts in public services? Why are the Lib Dems just sitting there letting this happen? No one who voted Lib Dem voted for this.

The right hon. Lady talks about reducing the Budget deficit, but we have not heard one single proposal for cutting the deficit. We all know that the Opposition left us the biggest Budget deficit in the G20—the biggest Budget deficit in our history. We have been having a good trawl for the stupidest piece of spending that they undertook, and I think we have found it. It was in her own Department, which spent £2.4 million doing up the Department, including £72,000 each on two-storey meeting pods known as peace pods. This is what they were for—[Interruption.] It is true. I am reading from her own Department’s staff magazine. Taxpayers have a right to hear where their money went. This is where it went. It was

“a 21st century…space of quality, air and light, where we can…relax and refuel in a natural ebb and flow.”

That is what has happened. They have gone from peaceniks to peace pods, and bankrupted the country in the process.

The Prime Minister will be aware that Winchester hosted the largest homecoming parade of returning troops from Afghanistan to date last Wednesday afternoon, when 650 men and women from 11 Light Brigade marched through the city’s streets in the presence of the Duchess of Cornwall. Will he join me in paying tribute to those 650 brave men and women, the 64 who did not make it home and, of course, the thousands of Winchester constituents of mine who showed their gratitude for a job well done?

I shall certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all those who served in Afghanistan. The homecoming parades that have been instituted are an absolutely excellent way of showing the whole country’s support for our armed forces. He rightly talks about those who did not come home, and we should also think of those who have come home wounded and will need our support, backing and help in terms of health and mental health services, prosthetic limbs and other things of a really high quality for the rest of their lives. I am determined that we will honour that commitment.

Q2. The leaked Treasury papers are absolutely clear that unemployment will rocket by 1.3 million over the next five years. Does the Prime Minister not realise that millions of people watching this who face unemployment over the next few years will think that his comments are tinged with contempt in his refusal to answer perfectly straightforward questions from the Labour Front Bench? (4721)

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We are publishing the figures, and they show exactly what will happen in terms of private sector employment and public sector employment. As the previous Government accepted, there will be reductions in public sector employment, but according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which is independent of the Government, the growth in the private sector more than makes up for that. After he has left this room, he should maybe spend some time in a peace pod, wander to the Library and have a look at the figures, where he will see the Office for Budget Responsibility showing unemployment falling every year of this Parliament.

Q3. Following last week’s much welcomed Budget announcement, does the Prime Minister agree that correcting our deeply unbalanced economy will require fresh investment and enterprise in many northern cities, such as my own of York, which for so long was neglected by the Labour Government? What assurances can he give to me and my constituents that the coalition will do all it can to encourage the economic growth— (4722)

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise that point, because during the past decade the disparity between regions actually got worse. Regional policy has for the past decade been a complete failure, and that is why we are right to cut rates of corporation tax, to say to new businesses, “You can set up without having to pay national insurance on your first 10 employees,” to bias that policy in favour of parts of the country where the needs are greatest and to have a £1 billion regional growth fund that can help parts of the country such as the one that he represents.

Does the Prime Minister accept that one consequence of a prison sentence is that those serving them are unavailable to reoffend?

Yes, absolutely—I mean, that is absolutely right. That is why prison is there. I believe that prison can work; the fact is that it is just not working properly at the moment. When we have got those reoffending rates, the cost of each prison place and the appalling problem of drugs in prison, we have got to reform. If the Labour party wants to put itself on the side of the argument of simply defending the status quo, it is making a great mistake. If ever there were a part of our public services that needed radical reform to make sure that prison does work, then now, that is it.

Q4. Given the Chancellor’s recent comments stating that the UK is open for business, I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister why foreign students who come here to study at English language schools for a period greater than six months and contribute an estimated £600 million a year to that vital industry must now already be able to speak English before they can obtain a visa. Will the Prime Minister arrange for me and a delegation to meet the Immigration Minister to sort that out and show that our Government really are open for business? (4723)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we want to make sure that this country is open for business, and we are taking steps to do that. The point about people coming here to learn English is that, if they come to learn English for less than six months, that is permitted, but clearly there are problems, as everybody knows: too many bogus colleges and too many people pretending to come and study, when really they are coming for work. I shall certainly organise a meeting between my hon. Friend and the Immigration Minister to discuss that, but it is right that we have to deal with the problem of bogus colleges, where there has been so much abuse in recent years.

The Prime Minister has said that he wants to see more companies owned by their workers—the so-called John Lewis model. Sheffield Forgemasters is one of those companies. Will the Prime Minister therefore now accept that he was wrong to criticise its shareholders for seeking a loan from the Government? They were not seeking to line their own pockets; they have not yet taken a penny in dividends. What they were seeking to do was ensure the future of that company and other jobs in the UK.

The hon. Lady talks about the importance of firms being owned by their own employees; I am looking forward to her support and the support of every Labour Member when we make sure that the Post Office has that sort of ownership model and we get the investment going as well. [Interruption.] I will take that as a yes, then.

Q5. About 5,000 young people a year leave local authority care, and without parental support many of them end up on the streets or in our prisons. Do the new Government have any plans to intervene more effectively in the lives of that very vulnerable group, to try to improve their life chances? (4724)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. We really do need to do better as a country. The fact is that around 0.6% of children are in care, but 23% of adult prisoners in our prison system were in care. We have to do better. One of the problems is that, unlike other 18-year-olds, children leaving care aged 18 have nowhere to go and no one to help them. We have to do better. We are looking at this area and I recognise that dealing with the scandal of the poor outcomes for children in care is something, frankly, that everyone in this House ought to support.

Homecoming parades for our very brave soldiers in Afghanistan are incredibly important, but so is an exit strategy from Afghanistan. Given the growing agreement that there is no military solution to the crisis there and that the head of the Army himself has said that we should start talking to the Taliban soon, would the Prime Minister not agree that we should start talking now, so that we can save more lives on all sides and bring our troops home?

May I first of all welcome the hon. Lady to the House? Winning her seat was an incredible achievement for her party, and I know that she will make a huge contribution during this Parliament.

We discussed Afghanistan at quite some length in the House yesterday. Of course there is no purely military solution; very few insurgencies are ended by purely military means. But I think it is important to continue with the strategy this year of the military surge, to put pressure on the Taliban—and, of course, there should be a political track. But as I said yesterday in the House, we have to recognise that there is a difference between the Taliban linked to al-Qaeda, who want to do so much harm not just in Afghanistan but across our continent as well, and those people who have been caught up in an insurgency for other reasons. Should there be reconciliation and reintegration? Yes, of course; there is, and we can go further. But I think that the things that the hon. Lady is talking about would not be advisable.

Q6. As we pay tribute to the members of our armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, it is worth remembering that for every life lost there, six more are changed for ever through the loss of one or more limbs. Sometimes there are things that money cannot buy, but I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of an extra £67 million to try to help to counter improvised explosive devices. Will he explain to the House how that money will be spent? (4725)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and pay tribute to him as a member of our Territorial Army reserve. He is himself a bomb disposal expert who has served in Afghanistan. What the bomb disposal and IED teams do is beyond brave. I saw for myself in Camp Bastion their training and instruction. They do a really extraordinary thing for our soldiers and our country. We announced an extra £67 million to give proper protection; £40 million of that is for more protected vehicles. We will also be doubling the number of teams. All the time, we have to keep up with the technology that our enemy is using.

My hon. Friend mentioned people coming home having lost one limb or two. These are young people, who do not just want to have a new limb and a quiet life—they want to run marathons and to climb Everest. They want to have fulfilled lives. We have to make sure that the support and the very best prosthetic limbs are there for them so that they can lead those lives.

Q7. In light of the earlier exchanges about employment and job losses, does not the Prime Minister think that the announcement this week of a further 4,000 full-time-equivalent staff being cut from Jobcentre Plus by next March amounts to a false economy? (4726)

First, I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. Not everyone will know that she was head of the Child Poverty Action Group, which has done incredible work in our country over many years. I pay tribute to her for that.

Let me just repeat: the forecasts show employment rising—that is the key—and employment is the best way of tackling poverty. Of course there are going to be public sector job losses, and of course there are going to be cuts in some programmes—that would have been true under a Labour Government, and it is true under our Government. The key, though, is gripping this problem so that we start to get confidence and growth in our economy and so we start to get the recovery. I say to Labour Members that they have got to engage in this debate rather than play this pathetic game of pretending there would not have been cuts under Labour. There would have been—they announced them, they just never told anyone what they were.

The campaign of the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband) is so confused these days that he is seeking support from Conservative MPs. He says that the Budget was avoidable. Can I ask the Prime Minister whether it was avoidable or—[Interruption.]

Order. It is a good idea to start with a question that directly relates to the policy of the Government, but unfortunately this one does not.

Q8. The paediatric cardiac unit at Glenfield hospital in my constituency provides outstanding care, not only in terms of the quality of surgery but of the excellent nursing, aftercare, and facilities and support for parents. Will the Prime Minister confirm that all aspects of care will be considered as part of the Government’s review of children’s heart surgery; and will he agree to visit the Glenfield’s unit before the review makes its recommendations to see for himself the excellent care it provides? (4727)

I quite understand why the hon. Lady raises this question. A national examination of children’s cardiac services was started under the last Government, and it will continue under this Government, because we have got to make sure that standards are as high as they can be in this incredibly difficult and technical area. We all have our interests to defend—obviously, I have the John Radcliffe hospital, which does a great job as well, next to my constituency—so she is right to stand up for her constituents in that way. The examination needs to take place. However, one of the keys is going to be protecting, as we believe is necessary, spending in the NHS over this Parliament, with modest, real-terms increases each year. That is our policy; it is no longer the policy of the Labour party. So when difficult decisions have to be made, it would be worse if we were adopting the Labour policy of cutting the NHS.

Q9. Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the fact that through protecting investments in health care, the coalition Government have been able to approve the £40 million hospices capital grant, £600,000 of which will go towards the expansion of St Richard’s hospice in Worcester, which will benefit at least hundreds of patients a year, with community care, and hundreds of families and care workers across Worcestershire in the years to come? (4728)

My hon. Friend is right to raise the hospice movement, which has been one of the great successes of the big society that we have in this country. I think we all cherish what the hospice movement does.

May I take this opportunity, on behalf of the whole House, to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s father, who served in Parliament for 49 years? He gave great service to this country, and he gave great service in Wales. He had many achievements in his long career. If politics is about public service in the national interest, and things that can change people’s lives, his pioneering reform of selling council homes to their tenants is something that I think has greatly improved our country.

I wonder whether the Prime Minister could tell us who he considers to be right on short prison sentences—the Secretary of State for Justice or the leader of his party in the Scottish Parliament.

The point here is straightforward. We all know we have to keep short sentences for some purposes; I have said that, and the Lord Chancellor has said that. Of course we need to have that in some circumstances, but do we benefit from lots and lots of very short sentences? I think it would be better if we could improve community sentences so that they were tough. One of the problems of the appalling inheritance that we have from the past 10 years is that no one has any faith in the community sentences that ought to be a good alternative to prison.

Q10. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ignore Simon Heffer when, in The Daily Telegraph today, he advocates the complete abolition of the Department for International Development on the basis that charity begins at home? Will he take this opportunity to tell those sections of the Poujadiste press that keep on having a crack at the Government’s commitment to international development that our national interest, security stability and sense of humanity very often begin overseas? (4729)

My hon. Friend is entirely right, and he has a record as a Minister for Africa and a Development Minister in a previous Government. The fact is that we have made a commitment, both nationally and internationally, to increase our aid spending, and I think Britain should be a country that sticks to its word. I have to say, even to those who take a more hard-headed approach to these things, that overseas aid is in our domestic interest. When we think of the problems that world poverty causes, we see that it is in our interest and that of our national security to deliver that aid. Above all, Britain sticking to its word, as I found at the G8 and G20, gives us the opportunity to have some moral authority and moral leadership on this vital issue.

How can the Prime Minister justify the fact that hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, the victims of the financial crash, will unquestionably lose their jobs because of the huge public service cuts to come, when the bankers and super-rich, the architects of the financial crash, whose wealth grew by £77 billion in this last year according to The Sunday Times rich list, stand to lose neither their jobs, their income nor their wealth? Is that what he means by everyone being in it together?

The right hon. Gentleman fought the last election on £50 billion of unspecified cuts. That is why the figures published today show that public sector job losses would be higher under Labour in the next two years. He can say all he likes about bankers; the fact is, his party would not introduce a bank levy until the rest of the world had decided to do it. We have done it in seven weeks.

Q11. My constituent Milly, aged five, wrote to me recently asking why there are special days for mothers and fathers and not for children—[Interruption.] (4730)

Will the Prime Minister commit to working with voluntary organisations to raise the profile of our children’s day on 20 November, to celebrate the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and indeed to celebrate the achievements of all our children, whether they be rich or poor?

The hon. Lady has a long record of supporting children’s day and the United Nations convention, which was signed in 1990. I think we should raise the profile of the day, and I know she will be pleased to note that the coalition is making good progress on that. Only this morning the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), held a seminar about special needs children and how we must ensure that their needs are properly protected under this coalition Government.

Q12. The Prime Minister might have noticed that the people of Scotland did not choose his party, except in one seat out of 59, and they did not choose the Conservatives’ poodles, the Liberal Democrats, either. Can he assure the House, as an absolute chill runs through Scotland at the 1.3 million hidden job losses that he did not publish, that any proposals for cuts in public services and expenditure in Scotland, and any Barnett formula cuts, will be brought before the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs—[Interruption.] (4731)

I am well aware that the Conservative party did not sweep Scotland, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of it.

What I said I would do if we formed a Government was to go straight to Scotland and Wales to meet the First Ministers and have—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has asked a question; he might as well listen to the answer before he starts shouting at me. I said that I would have proper meetings and have a respect agenda in which we respected the devolved Assemblies. I have to say that under the last Government there was a whole year during the financial crisis when the Prime Minister of our country did not even meet the First Minister of Scotland. That will not happen under this Government—we believe in respect.

Q14. May I tell the Prime Minister how pleased my constituents were when he found £50 million to help further education colleges that were promised funding but left high and dry by the previous Administration? Will he ensure that the application for an FE college in Haverhill in my constituency is given the attention it deserves, so that Haverhill can get the FE college that it is promised? (4733)

My hon. Friend makes a very good public spending application, and I am sure that the Treasury will have been listening carefully. He also makes a very good point: even in a difficult Budget, when reductions had to be made, we have boosted spending on FE colleges and increased the number of apprenticeships, after the shambles left by the last lot.

Q13. The Local Government Chronicle has listed my constituency as the one that has received the biggest cuts in Britain—nearly £3 million at district level. As the Prime Minister will be aware, it is an area of poor health, low incomes and some of the worst housing in Britain. In fact, at the weekend the Liberal Democrat leader of Burnley borough council, the neighbouring council, said:“The cuts announced by the Government are hitting deprived areas like Burnley much harder than the more affluent areas.”Does the Prime Minister agree with his colleague in the Liberal Democrats? (4732)

Of course there will be difficult decisions in the Budget and on public spending reductions. Everybody should know that and should be honest about it rather than pretending that they would not have happened if we had had a different Government. What we will do is help areas of need through the tax changes we are making and also through the regional development grant of £1 billion, for which areas such as Hyndburn are able to bid to ensure that they get an increased private sector, to try to get the motor of our economy going again. That is absolutely vital.