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Volume 517: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2010

Q6. What recent representations he has received on the likely effects on small businesses of the implementation of the Government's proposals for automatic enrolment in pension schemes. (21202)

I thank my hon. Friend for the question. The making automatic enrolment work review, which was published last week, examined the impact on businesses of the reforms. It concluded that small businesses did need to be included in the reforms if we are to bring about the improvement in savings for retirement necessary to tackle the consequences of an ageing population and widespread under-saving for retirement. These reforms will give 1.2 million people who work for small businesses the opportunity to save for their retirement. The review made a number of recommendations to try to help small businesses to introduce those reforms. We shall look at them extremely carefully to ensure that they are not too onerous.

I welcome the Government’s desire to encourage a savings culture. However, for many small businesses, every new piece of legislation, no matter how small, has a significant impact on the bottom line. Will the Prime Minister introduce a scheme that allows us to road-test all new legislation and its impact on small businesses?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and this policy will be road-tested on the bigger companies that must introduce it first. However, we must accept that there is a problem with only 10% of very small businesses having pension provision, so 1.2 million people will have the chance to save. We will look very carefully at the reforms, and they will not be introduced for small businesses until at least 2014.

My hon. Friend will know that I have appointed Lord Young to look at all the impacts on small businesses. We also have the one-in, one-out rule under which every new regulation must mean that another regulation is scrapped.

Q7. Will the Prime Minister tell the House the total overall saving from reducing the overall number of elected MPs by 50, and increasing the number of unelected Lords by up to 100? (21203)

Size and costs. I remind the hon. Gentleman that his Vale of Clwyd constituency has just 55,968 people—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but my constituency has many more than that. I am afraid that I must just ask him to work a little harder.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister visited Westhill in my constituency. It is a world centre of excellence in sub-sea engineering. Will he ensure that the Home Office meets concerned local companies to discuss the future of the visa system to ensure that vital inward investment is not lost to this country? It supports thousands of local jobs.

We will certainly do that. As I said in answer to an earlier question, as we look through the last Government’s points system and immigration policy, we really do believe that it will not be difficult to achieve much better immigration control without disadvantaging business. For example, things such as inter-company transfers should not be included in what we are looking at. I do not think we will have a problem. Given the very broken system that we inherited, there should be no problems improving it.

Q8. In almost every answer at PMQs, the Prime Minister unfairly blames the challenges facing our country on the previous Government. Will he tell us about his biggest mistake as Prime Minister? (21204)

I will leave others to judge the many mistakes that I am sure I will make in this office. I am sure that, as a talented former head teacher, the hon. Gentleman would always say to his pupils, “You have to accept your responsibilities”, and it is about time that that lot accepted theirs.

Q9. Given what the former Chief of the Defence Staff said at the weekend, will the Prime Minister undertake never to veto essential defence measures because they are politically too difficult? (21205)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Let me first pay tribute to the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup. He was a dedicated public servant who has done an extremely good job for our country. He made an important point: it is important not that politicians agree with the chiefs of staff on every occasion—there should be a lively debate between them—but that we should not, as politicians, put off essential decisions that need to be taken. In our defence review I think we have taken the tough and difficult decisions that were necessary.

Q10. It has recently been announced that there will be 300 job losses at New Cross hospital in Wolverhampton. Can the Prime Minister explain exactly how that squares with his promise to protect the NHS, or is this just another broken promise? (21206)

The promise that we made is a promise that has been delivered, which is to make sure that NHS spending, when we combine capital and current spending, is going to increase in real terms every year. That is not a promise that has been backed by the Opposition, so if the hon. Lady is worried about NHS cuts, she should start talking to the shadow Health Secretary.

Talking of photographs, we know from the Conservative party conference that the Prime Minister, like me, enjoys a pint. As he knows, this is the first ever British pub week. Will he join me in celebrating this vital cultural and social institution? Will he commit to being a pro-pub Government, and will he join the save the pub group—

Order. I have been very helpful to the hon. Gentleman, and he should not abuse my help by trying to ask three questions when one will suffice.

I very much agree with what my hon. Friend says. I am a big supporter of British pubs, and I want us to be a pub-friendly Government. And yes, I am going to a pub this week. I cannot say where it is, because otherwise it would be discontinued, but I am looking forward to it.

It is estimated that 1.4 million people are going to lose their jobs, and it is also being said that when VAT rises in January, another 300,000 will be lost. Why is the Prime Minister picking on hard-working families? Why does he not take it out on the banks and the speculators who caused the problem in the first place?

This Government, unlike their predecessors, have introduced a banking levy, so the banks will be making a contribution. The hon. Gentleman cites the report that was published this week, but it has not been received with much enthusiasm by other organisations. For instance, the Institute of Directors said that it is

“dangerous for the CIPD to make headline-grabbing forecasts which are based on little more than a guess”.

Hon. Members should spend less time talking down the economy and more time working out how we can get growth.

Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be wrong for convicted prisoners to be able to vote, as suggested by the European Court of Human Rights? The incarceration of convicted prisoners should mean a loss of rights for that individual, and that must surely include the right to vote.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It makes me physically ill even to contemplate having to give the vote to anyone who is in prison. Frankly, when people commit a crime and go to prison, they should lose their rights, including the right to vote. But we are in a situation that I am afraid we have to deal with. This is potentially costing us £160 million, so we have to come forward with proposals, because I do not want us to spend that money; it is not right. So, painful as it is, we have to sort out yet another problem that was just left to us by the last Government.

Q12. Following the previous question, how does the Prime Minister view the prospect of prisoners electing the new police and crime commissioners? (21208)

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about why this proposal is so bad, but I am afraid that we have to deal with the situation in front of us. Are we going to delay and delay and waste another £160 million of taxpayers’ money, or are we going to take difficult action and explain it to the British public as best we can? I do not think that we have a choice if we are to do the right thing and save the Exchequer money.

Q13. Is the Prime Minister aware that the split-site buildings of the Duchess’s high school in Alnwick are in a far worse state than many of the schools included in Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, but the school was always excluded from that programme? Will he make sure that it gets fair consideration under a much more focused and better managed scheme of school buildings? (21209)

I can give that assurance—that we are going to have a new scheme and there will be £15 billion of schools capital spending in the programme going forward. That will enable us to rebuild many schools—primary as well as secondary schools. I look forward to doing that.

Q14. In answer to a question I put to the Prime Minister in July—and, indeed, in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) last week—the Prime Minister said that the reason for not initiating tax breaks for the computer games industry was that they were poorly targeted. That seems to contradict talks I have had with his Ministers, who say that it is Government policy not to give tax breaks to any industry in future. Will the Prime Minister give me a definitive answer for the benefit of the House and my constituents? (21210)

The steps we took in the Budget, which I think were right, were to look at the tax system and try to simplify the corporation tax regime so that we could bring about one of the lowest rates of corporation tax in the developed world. That is what we have done—with cuts in corporation tax this year, next year and the year after to bring it down to 24%. That is what we are doing and we are paying for it by removing a number of allowances. I think it is a very progressive and sensible reform that will make Britain, including Scotland, one of the best places in the world to do business.