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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 520: debated on Wednesday 8 December 2010


The Secretary of State was asked—

Sunbeds (Regulation) Act

1. What recent discussions she has had with the Welsh Assembly Government on the implementation in Wales of the Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010. (28250)

The Secretary of State and I have a wide range of discussions with Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on a range of issues relevant to Wales. The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act 2010 will come into force in England and Wales on 8 April 2011. It will prevent people under the age of 18 from using sunbeds on commercial premises by making it an offence for sunbed operators to provide access.

I thank the Under-Secretary for that answer. As he is aware, my former colleague, Julie Morgan, the previous Member for Cardiff North, and I fought long and hard for the Act. It is vital that we stop under-age use of sunbeds. The Minister for Health and Social Services in Wales is determined to introduce the principle as a matter of urgency. The introduction of the Act on an England and Wales basis is vital. I urge the Under-Secretary to press UK Ministers for action and to keep the issue at the forefront of the public health debate.

I commend the efforts of the hon. Lady and Ms Julie Morgan in drawing this important public health issue to our attention. As the hon. Lady is aware, the Welsh Assembly Government intend to introduce regulations in 2011 further to regulate sunbed businesses in Wales only, on which they are consulting. This significant measure is aimed at protecting young people, but it also concerns a public health issue for older people. Sunbeds pose a cancer risk and, to be frank, frequently do not produce a very good look.

Labour Statistics

2. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the level of employment in Wales. (28251)

7. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on the level of employment in Wales. (28256)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on the level of employment in Wales. I am pleased that for the past three months in Wales, unemployment figures have fallen while employment has risen—positive signs that our approach is working.

Nobody would wish to be complacent, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the good news on employment in Wales is an indication that the hard choices we have made about the economy are working for Wales?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have had to make hard choices. We are rebalancing and strengthening the economy by cutting the mountain of debt that the previous Government left us, in order to improve our economic prospects and ensure that more jobs can be created in Wales and across the United Kingdom.

My birthplace of Anglesey is no stranger to the difficult economic times we have had, particularly given the loss of hundreds of jobs at Anglesey Aluminium Metals. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to encourage employment on Anglesey and across north Wales?

I am sure that hon. Members from all parts of the House agree that the job losses at Anglesey Aluminium Metals were a great blow to the Anglesey economy. I am delighted—and, as an Anglesey boy, my hon. Friend will know—that the life of Wylfa power station has been extended by two years. The site is one of eight across the UK that have been shortlisted for future nuclear generation. That would ensure good employment for the people of Anglesey and north Wales, and I am sure that all hon. Members hope it will come to fruition.

Of course, those decisions about Anglesey were taken by the Labour Government and supported by the excellent MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen). I wish the Secretary of State and all at the Wales Office festive greetings. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates show that the actions of her Government will result in tens of thousands of public sector job losses in Wales. How many of those will involve women?

I wish the shadow Secretary of State a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year, and I thank him for his kind greetings. We are certainly not complacent and any job losses are to be regretted. We were pleased, however, that the OBR’s original 490,000 forecast for the reduction in public sector staff came down to 330,000 in last week’s forecast. I am sure that he will want to welcome that reduction of 160,000.

I find it astonishing that the Secretary of State has no idea of the number of women in Wales who will lose their jobs as a result of the public sector cuts implemented by her Government. Women make up fully three quarters of public sector workers in Wales, including at Newport passport office, which is being so shamefully closed. The highly respected Fawcett Society is so incensed at the punitive impact on women of Government cuts that it even tried to challenge them in the High Court. As the first woman Secretary of State for Wales, is she proud of her Government’s attitude to Welsh women?

The Government have considered all the possible impacts on women, and many of the changes that we have made to support small companies, for example, will help women, because women are much more likely to work part time. The shadow Secretary of State has misled the House, and—

Order. The Secretary of State must not accuse any right hon. or hon. Member of misleading the House. She has a lot of experience, and I know that she will correct what she has just said.

Of course I will correct it, Mr Speaker. The shadow Secretary of State is possibly in danger of misleading the House, because he knows quite well that Newport passport office has not yet been closed and that we have already secured the front-of-house services for it, which will save up to 45 jobs. In 2008, his Government did exactly the same thing to the passport office in Glasgow, so I will take no lessons from him.


4. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on policing in Wales. (28253)

Effective policing in Wales is of the utmost importance to the coalition Government. Both the Secretary of State and I have had regular discussions with Cabinet and ministerial colleagues on matters affecting policing and law and order in Wales.

The Minister will be aware of the crucial strategic importance of the Milford Haven waterway as an energy hub serving every constituency in the land. Will he assure the House that Dyfed-Powys police will have the long-term resources necessary to protect that vital asset?

The Government recognise the strategic importance of Milford Haven and indeed of all other Welsh ports, and we will work closely with ministerial colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that appropriate support is provided in future. Future funding for counter-terrorism policing has been protected as far as possible in the spending review because of the nature of the threat.

I am sure that Welsh police will welcome the Government’s refreshing approach. What else will the Minister do to liberate Welsh police from bureaucracy and get them back on the beat?

The Government are indeed keen to throw off the legacy of bureaucracy. As a result of the bureaucratic element of Labour policing policy, police officers were left impotent behind desks. Last year under Labour, just 14% of all police officers’ time was spent on patrol, compared with 22% on paperwork.

Does the Minister recall the Prime Minister saying during the election campaign that he thought police community support officers did a good job and that we should have more of them? Does he agree, and if so, what representations is he making to ensure that Wales does not lose out on PCSOs?

The Government do indeed recognise the importance of PCSOs, but the employment of them must be a matter for individual police forces. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the policing settlement is due shortly.

The chief constable of Dyfed-Powys police recently wrote to me outlining the fact that the consequence of the comprehensive spending review for the force would be at least a 20% cut in real terms—a £10 million loss to the budget. With 83% of costs relating to staffing, will that inevitably lead to cuts in front-line policing and a reduction in the quality of service provided in the communities I represent?

Again, I have to say that the issue of staffing must be one for individual police forces. The Government are trying to be sensitive about the cuts that are necessary as a consequence of the appalling economic legacy that has been left to the country by the Labour party.

Further to the previous question, what representations has the Minister made on the future of the rural policing grant as it affects Dyfed-Powys? The grant is currently £2.64 million and there are real concerns about the implications of any change for the delivery of front-line protection.

I am sure that that will be a matter of particular concern to my hon. Friend. The Home Office is considering the matter, which will be the subject of an announcement shortly.

The Minister and the Secretary of State say that individual police forces will be responsible for the cuts that they have to make. However, they will know that North Wales police—overall crime in the area reduced by 40% under the Labour Government—now faces cuts of perhaps 230 officers from 1,600, and 160 police community support officers. If crime increases from the current record lows in north Wales, will the Minister and Secretary of State blame the chief constable?

Before I answer that question, may I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being awarded the accolade of “one to watch” in the ITV Wales political awards? I can assure him that I am indeed watching him.

The hon. Gentleman’s point has been well rehearsed, but I would rather rely on the chief constable of North Wales, who has given an assurance that the force will continue to protect the public and provide a service in which the public can be confident.

Diamond Jubilee

5. What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport on arrangements in Wales to mark the diamond jubilee of HM the Queen. (28254)

The Government are closely involved in the plans to celebrate Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee in 2012. A special four-day jubilee weekend will be held over the first week of June 2012, and other events will be announced in due course.

Does the Secretary of State agree that all parts of the UK should play their part in ensuring that the celebration of the Queen’s 60th anniversary as head of state is a momentous occasion? Will she outline what her Department is doing to work with the Welsh authorities and others to ensure that the jubilee is truly a momentous occasion?

The jubilee will be a truly historic occasion, and certainly a great testament to the hard work and dedication of Her Majesty the Queen to this country and her people. The people of Wales will be able to play their full part in it. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are working closely with Buckingham palace and the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that the Welsh public are given every opportunity to celebrate the jubilee.

I am absolutely certain that large numbers of people in my constituency will want to celebrate the 60th anniversary, just as they did the 50th anniversary. However, I urge the Secretary of State to speak to the police and health service in Wales, because on the last long weekend when we had two bank holidays together several young people in the Rhondda died from drug overdoses, many of them because they were given their methadone for the Monday and Tuesday on the Friday beforehand. Will she ensure that we do not repeat those problems?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that problem, because I was not aware of it. Certainly, that would be sad at a time of celebration. He will be aware that the Government are publishing our new drug strategy, and I will ensure that that problem is brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who is responsible for the strategy. We will take action on that front, but perhaps he could help me by writing to me so that I can take the matter up properly.

Welfare Reform

6. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on welfare reform in Wales. (28255)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about a range of issues relevant to Wales. The Government have set out our plans to introduce legislation radically to reform the welfare system by creating a new universal credit, which will simplify the system, make work pay and combat worklessness and poverty in Wales and throughout Britain.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it would be far better to have a small number of benefits that make sense rather than a huge number of benefits that are complex and confusing, and that no one could possibly understand?

Yes—that is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions proposes to replace six benefits with one universal credit. That will not only simplify the procedure, but encourage people to get back into work.

With simplification, there is always the danger of people falling outside categories, and therefore of gross injustices. Will the Minister have a word with the Work and Pensions Secretary about boosting the face-to-face advice that is available from the Department for Work and Pensions, especially in rural areas? That would be a great step forward.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. As he knows, the matter is the subject of a White Paper and no doubt he will feed into the process. Overall, it is considered that the new benefit will be simpler and easier for people to understand.

I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to know that the number of claimants for jobseeker’s allowance in Brecon and Radnorshire has dropped by 25%. Does he agree that that is to do with the resilience of small manufacturing companies such as Beacon Foods—which I visited on Monday—coming through the recession in the way they have?

Indeed, and one must never forget that small and medium enterprises are the backbone of the Welsh economy. The measures that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put in place should do much to ensure that they have a successful future.

Is the Minister aware of the impact on constituents of mine in Bridgend of the lowering of mortgage interest relief for those on benefits from the previous rate of 6.8% to 3.67%? A constituent of mine who has a mortgage at a rate of 5.85% has a shortfall of £236 a month, which is getting him increasingly into debt and he faces losing his property. What help can be offered to people such as my constituent?

I am sorry to hear of the predicament of the hon. Lady’s constituent. If she writes to me, I will pursue the matter further.


8. What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister on the proposed referendum on law-making powers for the National Assembly for Wales. (28257)

I have had regular discussions with the First Minister on the proposed referendum. I can confirm that this Government have delivered on their commitment to hold a referendum on further powers for the National Assembly for Wales in the first quarter of next year. The legal instruments setting out the arrangements for the referendum to take place on 3 March 2011 were approved by Parliament and will be considered at the Privy Council meeting later this month.

In the light of that answer, what consideration has my right hon. Friend given to the outcome of the referendum?

The Wales Office will remain strictly neutral throughout the referendum process, but it is right to consider and prepare now for the outcome, whether it be a yes vote or a no vote. Clearly, a yes vote will transfer primary powers to the Assembly over those areas already devolved, and that will mean a changed relationship with Westminster, including the impact of legislation made in Cardiff on this House and this legislature. If there is a no vote, we will retain the existing legislative process. In that eventuality, I will examine how we can make the system more effective and more efficient, because it is broadly agreed that the legislative competence order process, as it currently operates, is cumbersome and time consuming.

I welcome the referendum on greater law-making powers for the Assembly, and I will campaign and vote for a yes. While the Secretary of State does not have a vote and wishes the Wales Office to be neutral, can she indicate what the Under-Secretary, who is a Welsh MP, will do? Will he vote yes or no, or will he sit on the fence?

Ministers in the Wales Office will remain neutral. Unlike the hon. Gentleman’s party, the Conservative party in Wales will allow members a free vote. That is the sensible way to proceed.

Aerospace Industry

9. What recent discussions she has had with ministerial colleagues on support for the aerospace industry in Wales. (28258)

My right hon. Friend and I have had regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on support for the aerospace industry in Wales. I am pleased that we will take forward our order for A400M transport aircraft and the future strategic tanker programme, safeguarding hundreds of highly skilled jobs in north Wales.

Does my hon. Friend regret the pre-election scaremongering, especially in Wales, that we would scrap the A400M, project?

I do. The A400M is of crucial importance to the aircraft industry in north Wales. Although the wings are not made there, the technology that produces the wings is based there, and it is of extreme importance to the aerospace industry in Broughton.

I was talking to the managing director of GE Aviation in Nantgarw on Monday and he said that he was willing to work with the Government to encourage other inward investors—for example, Boeing—to add to the aerospace cluster in Wales. Will the Minister take up that offer and work with stakeholders in Wales to increase inward investment and the number of jobs?


10. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the likely effects on Wales of spending reductions in respect of police forces. (28259)

Effective policing in Wales is of the utmost importance to the coalition Government. Both the Secretary of State and I have had regular discussions with Cabinet and ministerial colleagues on matters affecting policing and law and order in Wales.

North Wales police force is one of the best in the country. Under Labour, it had record investment, a record number of police officers and a record drop in crime. Under the Con-Dem Government, all that will be reversed when North Wales police will be forced to sack 250 officers and 484 civilian staff. Will the Minister and his team do what they should be doing, stick up for Wales and stop these dastardly cuts?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the cuts are necessary entirely as a result of the Labour party’s incompetent management of the economy. I reiterate that the chief constable of North Wales has sufficient confidence in his force to say that it will continue to protect the public and provide a service in which the public can be confident.


11. Whether she has discussed with the Secretary of State for Transport the electrification of the London to south Wales railway line; and if she will make a statement. (28260)

I have had, and continue to have, discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about that matter. We have already announced £7 billion of rail infrastructure improvements that will reduce journey times to Cardiff by 15 minutes. The next step is to work with the Welsh Assembly Government on the business case for further electrification. I have recently spoken to both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to agree how best to take that forward.

People in Wales will be very disappointed by such a response. Network Rail has allocated no expenditure whatsoever to Wales for the next 12 months. Does the right hon. Lady realise how vital that is to the Welsh economy?

I think I heard that question. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on receiving at the ITV Wales Welsh politician of the year awards the “campaigner of the year” award for his work on aftercare for military veterans. We all congratulate him heartily.

I assure him that I fully support electrifying the great western main line, but the process is not simple and a range of factors must be considered. If he thinks it is such an easy matter, he should ask the people he sits on the same side of the House with why not a single centimetre of line was electrified in Wales under the Labour Government. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. It is very discourteous to Members and, indeed, to Ministers.

The assurances that the right hon. Lady gives that she will fight her corner for Wales are becoming rather empty—a bit like the situation with tuition fees and the Lib Dems.

It is unusual for the hon. Gentleman to be quite so sour. As he knows, the Department for Transport is considering new inter-city rolling stock to replace the existing InterCity 125s. The two options that remain under consideration are the revised bid from Agility Trains for a mixed fleet of some all-electric trains, and a proposal for a fleet of new all-electric trains that could be coupled to new diesel locomotives. He knows the decision is complex and I reassure him that I am working with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on the business case. My officials are constantly in touch with the Department for Transport. We need to take our time and get this decision right for Wales.

The Secretary of State has said that she will resign if the high-speed main line goes through her constituency. Will she resign if she fails to secure the electrification of the line to south Wales?

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Prime Minister is well aware of my constituents’ objections to route 3. If the preferred route on the high-speed rail is route 3, he will expect me to argue against it, not least because we will be holding a proper consultation. He also knows that, when he was in Government, many Cabinet Ministers made representations on post offices in their constituencies after they had supported—


12. What recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on policing in Wales. (28262)

I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier response to my hon. Friends the Members for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) and for Wycombe (Steve Baker).

Having lived in Wrexham for most of my adult life, I notice that North Wales police force has one of the lowest crime rates and the highest percentage of uniformed officers on the streets compared with other forces in England and Wales. Does my hon. Friend think, as I do, that we could learn something from the North Wales police force?

Yes, indeed, we can. Principally, what we have in north Wales is a chief constable who has displayed a tremendous can-do attitude and is prepared to live within his financial means.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Private John Howard from 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, who died on Sunday 5 December. He was an incredibly gifted and popular Paratrooper. We should send our condolences to his family, his friends and his loved ones at this very sad time. While I was in Afghanistan, I also met the two brave Paratroopers who were wounded at the same time that he was tragically killed. They were in the excellent Camp Bastion hospital, and I know that their families will be relieved to know that they are doing well and are in extremely good spirits.

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.

I would like to associate myself with the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we invest in the future of the unmanned aerial vehicle programme that has been developed at Warton in my constituency, and will he accept my invitation to come and see first hand the outstanding work force who are driving innovation and skills at that plant?

I would be delighted if I could take up the opportunity of seeing my hon. Friend’s constituency and that facility. The truth is that the UAV programme is exactly the sort of defence asset that we should be investing in. It plays an absolutely vital role in Afghanistan—we are increasing our spending on that project—and it shows the point of having a defence review, as it is vital to start spending money on the weapons of the future, rather than on legacies of the past.

May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Private John Howard, from 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment? He showed enormous courage. We pay tribute to his sacrifice, and our thoughts and deepest condolences are with his family. I join the Prime Minister also, as he recently came back from Afghanistan, in paying tribute to all our troops serving in Afghanistan and their families.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that after his changes are introduced, English students will pay the highest fees of any public university system in the industrialised world?

The figures are well known for what students will pay. They are much lower than what students pay in the United States, for instance, but I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that in the end, we have to make a choice. If we want to see university education expand and universities well funded, we have to work out where that money is going to come from. Our proposal is that graduates should make a greater contribution, but only if they are successful. They will start paying back only when they are earning £21,000. That is better than the system that we inherited.

The Prime Minister did not answer the question. This country will have the highest fees for going to a public university in the whole industrialised world. He says that his plans are about properly funding universities. They are not: he is cutting public investment in universities and loading costs on to students and their parents. Will he admit that the reason fees are being trebled is to make up for an 80% cut in the university teaching budget?

The reason these contributions are going up is because we were left a completely unsustainable situation. That is why, before the last election, the Labour Government put in place the Browne commission, and why the Conservative party backed it. One party has had the courage of its convictions to see this through. [Interruption.] To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they never signed up to the Browne review. The right hon. Gentleman did, and he is the one guilty of rank hypocrisy.

The right hon. Gentleman has given it away: one party. There are 57 Liberal Democrats, and they are split four ways. That is something, even for the Liberal Democrats. Things are so bad that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) is offering his own unique solution to the votes tomorrow. He says that if you run quickly, you can vote both ways. I have to say that if the Kremlin were spying on the Liberal Democrats, we would know why: they want a bit of light relief.

Let us have the Prime Minister answer another question, because he did not answer the first two. He says that he does not want the next generation to be in debt, so does he not understand the anxiety that students and parents have about starting their adult lives with a debt of £40,000?

You cannot attack a plan if you do not have a plan. The fact is that Labour went into the last election with a 25% cut planned for the Business Department. The right hon. Gentleman has absolutely no way of making the numbers add up. Everybody knows that they said that they would not introduce tuition fees; they introduced them. They said that they would not introduce top-up fees; they introduced them. They said that they supported the Browne review; he wrote it into their manifesto. Why are they breaking their pledge about the Browne review? Why? The fact is—[Interruption.]

Order. All this finger-pointing is very unseemly. I want to hear the response of the Prime Minister.

The leader of the Labour party saw a big crowd assembling in the Mall, and he just decided, “I am their leader, I must follow them.” That is his idea of leadership.

A week really is a long time in politics—not so much waving but drowning. Let us talk about social mobility, because that is at the heart of these proposals. Let me quote someone whom the Prime Minister used to trust on social mobility—the person he appointed to head his social mobility taskforce: the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). He said:

“I’m concerned about the effect this would have on social mobility and the huge level of debt we are encouraging young people to take on.”

I know that the Prime Minister does not have much time for the right hon. Gentleman these days, but why does he not listen to him on this issue?

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what has happened in terms of social mobility. Last year, there were 80,000 students on free school meals; only 40 of them went to Oxford and Cambridge. That is the situation with social mobility. What we are introducing—[Interruption.] I know that the Opposition do not want to hear the details. We are introducing a situation where nobody pays fees up front, including part-time students—which is 40% of students—and nobody pays anything back until they are earning £21,000. Under the new system, everyone will pay back less than they pay under the current system—[Interruption.] They will pay back less every month; that is the case. The poorest will pay less, the richest will pay more. It is a progressive system, but the right hon. Gentleman has not got the courage of his convictions to back it.

Only the Prime Minister could treble tuition fees and then claim that it is a better deal for students. No one is convinced, frankly. Is it not absolutely clear that this policy is in chaos? The Education Minister refuses to answer questions on it, and the Government rush out proposals on it daily. Is it not the most sensible thing for the Prime Minister to go away, think again and come up with a better proposal?

The right hon. Gentleman has absolutely no idea what he would put in its place. He supported a graduate tax, which his shadow Chancellor does not back. He was the person who wrote the manifesto suggesting the Browne review. He is just demonstrating complete political opportunism—[Interruption.] Yes, total opportunism. He is behaving like a student politician and, frankly, that is all he will ever be.

Mr Speaker, I was a student politician, but I was not hanging around with people who were throwing bread rolls and wrecking restaurants. Is it not the truth that all the Prime Minister can offer us is “you’ve never had it so good” on planet Cameron? What does he have against young people? He has taken away the child trust fund; he is abolishing the education maintenance allowance; he is scrapping the future jobs fund; and now he is trebling tuition fees. Is not the truth that he is pulling away the ladder because he does not understand the lives of ordinary people up and down this country?

The fact is that if you introduce a graduate tax, you are going to be taxing people on £6,000, £7,000 and £9,000. Where is the fairness in that? The truth of the matter is that we examined a graduate tax and we know it does not work; the right hon. Gentleman’s party examined a graduate tax and knows it does not work; the Liberal Democrats had a look at a graduate tax and they know it does not work. The only reason he is backing it is because it gives him a political opportunity. I know what it is like: you can sit there for year after year; you see a political opportunity, but you will never be a party of Government. [Interruption.]

Order. There is far too much noise in this Chamber; the public absolutely detest and despise it. The House must come to order.

The Prime Minister may be aware that a young constituent of mine, Connor Rankine-Christ, was stabbed in an unprovoked attack at the weekend and has been battling to overcome life-threatening injuries this week. The suspect was released on bail just 24 hours after the attack, which has understandably upset and worried the victim’s family. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the courts should still be able to remand individuals in custody in the most serious cases where there is a risk that the defendant will cause injury by reoffending?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right: the courts must have this power. If they believe that someone is dangerous and could offend again, it is absolutely right that that person is not given bail. That happens under our system and it should go on happening under our system.

Overseas Voluntary Sector

Q2. What assessment he has made of the likely effects of proposed reductions in expenditure on the programme partnership agreement on the effectiveness of organisations assisted by the Government in the overseas voluntary sector. (29132)

Expenditure through the programme partnership agreement is not being reduced. We expect to allocate £120 million every year to this programme from 2011 to 2014. At the same time, we are increasing overall levels of support for the most effective organisations working overseas, and we are keeping the promise to reach 0.7% of gross national income for aid by 2013.

Many colleagues on both sides of the House, including myself, have seen at first hand the great work that Voluntary Service Overseas volunteers do worldwide. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that he will continue to provide the necessary and expected support for VSO to continue to improve the lives of 26 million people around the world?

I can do that. Voluntary Service Overseas is an excellent organisation and I know it has widespread support across the House. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is in discussions about how to ensure that its programme goes on succeeding and expanding. Fundamentally, with a growth in the Department for International Development’s budget, there is every chance that that could happen; that is what I expect to see.

Voluntary Service Overseas provides valuable experience opportunities as well as giving people a connection with development. I welcome what the Prime Minister has said, but can he give an assurance that VSO’s current concern that its budget might be cut will be overcome by giving it access to other budgets within the Department for International Development?

I believe that the discussions are going extremely well and that it will be possible to guarantee that. One reason why people are asking this question about programme partnership arrangements is because the Government want to ensure that organisations are not wholly dependent on Government money, but seek sources of funding elsewhere. As my right hon. Friend says, there are opportunities through other budgets within DFID, and VSO could also make applications to the global fund to combat poverty.


Q3. While temperatures drop across the UK, profit margins for the energy companies have risen by an unacceptable 38%, compelling people on limited incomes to turn their heating down. What will the Prime Minister do to force these privatised companies to pay back some of their excessive profits to customers before more pensioners freeze to death? (29133)

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask this question. Two things need to be done. The first is that the regulatory authorities need to be tough with the energy companies—and that is exactly what I expect Ofgem to do. The second thing that needs to happen is that the cold weather payments need to kick in. We have already spent £173 million since the start of the particularly cold weather. One reason why this is working so well is that we have made permanent what was only a temporary increase from Labour before the last election.

This morning, I spoke to one of my constituents—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] It might come as news to Labour Members, if they were quiet, and they should try it. Mrs Lowther, who is 76 years of age, is disabled and has been housebound for 11 days now, because of the snow and ice in Stapleford. Does the Prime Minister agree that in such inclement weather it is imperative that we are good neighbours, especially to the elderly and the frail?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Of course the Government should be there with cold weather payments, and we are. We should be there with winter fuel payments, and we are. It is also important that local government plays its role, ensuring that grit supplies are there. By being good neighbours, we can all help those who could suffer in the cold weather, and she is quite right to raise the point.

Q4. As someone who claims to be an avid fan of The Smiths, the Prime Minister will no doubt be rather upset this week to hear that both Morrissey and Johnny Marr have banned him from liking them. The Smiths, of course, are the archetypal student band. If he wins tomorrow night’s vote, what songs does he think students will be listening to: “Miserable Lie”, “I Don’t Owe You Anything” or “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”? (29134)

If I turned up, I probably would not get “This Charming Man”. If I went with the Foreign Secretary, it would probably be, “William, It Was Really Nothing”.

Order. There is simply too much noise. It is very unfair. I want to hear Mr Stewart Jackson.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a badge of shame, for which the Labour party should apologise to taxpayers, parents and pupils, that having doubled education spending during their term in office, they managed to drive down educational attainment standards to the bottom of the international league, according to the OECD?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The tables published today make depressing reading. We are falling behind countries such as Poland and Estonia, which we should be well ahead of. Frankly, this comes down to the choice we have to make. We made the choice of putting an extra £3 billion into the schools budget during this Parliament, because we want more done in early years and primary education so that we get the social mobility about which the Leader of the Opposition was posing earlier.

Q5. Over half the students at the university of Wolverhampton come from disadvantaged backgrounds. This morning, the University and College Union said that Wolverhampton was one of the universities at high risk, owing to the Government’s massive 85% cuts to its teaching grant. Will the Prime Minister explain to students and local businesses exactly why he is putting Wolverhampton university at risk in that way? (29135)

The hon. Lady stood for election on a manifesto that supported the Browne commission—[Interruption.] She did; she can deny it now, but that is what the manifesto written by the Leader of the Opposition said. The fact is that we have to make a decision. Is it right for taxpayers to continue providing the predominant support for university education? [Hon. Members: “Yes.”] They say yes now, but that is not what they stood on at the last election. Many taxpayers do not go to university or benefit from a university education, so it is fairer and better to ask students to contribute, but only when they are successful. No one will contribute until they earn £21,000, which is £6,000 more than under the system that the hon. Lady’s party introduced.

Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as concerned as I am about absurd health and safety legislation, which has reached such dizzy heights in this country that the chief executive of Sainsbury’s told me last week that Christmas crackers are now category 1 fireworks, and cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 16 without the risk of a six-month sentence of imprisonment? Will he put a firework up the health and safety legislation?

Q6. The Prime Minister told the House in June that he had been treated not too badly on his last visit to Gateshead—we are, by nature, a very friendly bunch. Will he return to discuss with regional political leaders of all parties their real concerns and fears that the Government’s current strategy is undermining the potential for economic recovery in our region, particularly through the slashing of support for the tourism industry? Before he mentions it, we are already trying to squeeze a few gallons out of a pint-sized regional growth fund pot. (29136)

There is big Government support for the north-east. There is big support for Nissan and its electric car, and we are supporting the National Renewable Energy Centre, which is building the world’s biggest testing facility for wave and tidal technology. We have also awarded a £7 million contract for the construction of the first advanced bioethanol plant in the Tees valley. So we are investing in the north-east.

The hon. Gentleman talks about a fragile economic recovery. If we had listened to his party, there would not be a recovery; we would be queuing up with Ireland to go to the International Monetary Fund.

Drunks and binge drinking have fuelled an economy that has sadly seen people the victims of knife crime. May I ask my right hon. Friend to stiffen the Justice Secretary’s resolve in dealing with those who carry knives and those who commit knife crimes?

My hon. Friend has made an important point. If she reads the Green Paper, she will see that adults committing a crime with a knife should expect to go to prison. That is absolutely right, because there are far too many people committing knife crimes today who do not go to prison, and they should.

Q7. The dissident terrorist threat is a continuing problem in Northern Ireland, and we have seen some evidence of the terrorists’ capabilities in recent months. Will the Prime Minister ensure that if additional resources that were not previously envisaged are deemed necessary by the Chief Constable to deal with such a threat, he will ensure that they are provided without delay? (29137)

Of course we keep a very careful eye on the situation in Northern Ireland, and on whether additional resources are required. We stuck to the pledges made by the previous Government about properly funding the devolution of policing and justice. I think that decisions are better made locally, which is why that was the right step to take. I know how difficult the security situation is in Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to police on both sides of the border for the brilliant work that they do. Of course we always stand ready to help, but we did make quite a generous settlement in terms of devolving law and justice, and that should be the first call for resources.

In Afghanistan on Monday, the Prime Minister said that British troops could start coming home from Afghanistan as early as next year, which is a major policy shift. With which of our allies did he discuss that decision, and does he envisage the gap being filled by the Afghan army or the US army?

What I said in Afghanistan was what I said before I went to Afghanistan and what I will happily say again today, which is that the whole of NATO and all the nations of the international security assistance force that are involved in Afghanistan are committed to transition to Afghan control between the start of 2011 and the end of 2014. As that happens, there will clearly be opportunities either to reinvest troops in training missions or, indeed, to bring them home. What the Chief of the Defence Staff and I both said at a press conference in Afghanistan was that it might be possible to bring some of our troops home next year.

Q10. Tomorrow the Deputy Prime Minister will vote to break his election promise on tuition fees. This Prime Minister has also broken his election promise to maintain the child trust fund for the poorest in our society. What message does that send to young people about trusting Government? (29140)

I seem to remember that the right hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the last Government, who commissioned the Browne review. [Interruption.] Yes: the Government who went into the election committed to cuts of 25% in the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. If they were committed to that, what were Opposition Members going to do? Were they going to cut the number of people in universities, or were they going to cut the money going to universities? We have had absolutely no answer. The people who are actually behaving in a way that I think drags politics through the mud are people who introduced tuition fees, introduced top-up fees and commissioned the Browne review, and who then, as soon as they are in opposition, behave irresponsibly and run away from it.

Q11. There are currently plans to regenerate Camborne and Redruth, which would create 6,000 new jobs and allow the building of a modern, state-of-the art mine in Redruth. However, the work depends on transport infrastructure improvements which are currently being reviewed by the Department for Transport. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in difficult times when capital is scarce we should prioritise projects that create jobs and deliver growth, and that the Department for Transport should review its assessment criteria? (29141)

My hon. Friend speaks very well for his constituency and fights very hard for the economy in Redruth and Camborne, and he is absolutely right that of course we should give priority to transport projects that have the greatest economic return. That is what the Department for Transport does; it also has to look at environmental and other factors, but decisions should be based on where we can show economic benefits from transport—and remember that we are putting more money into transport capital infrastructure than the previous Government planned to do.

In light of his experience of the World cup bid in Zurich last week, can the Prime Minister tell us what his view now is of an organisation that engages in the most convoluted and bizarre voting arrangements, that says one thing and then votes exactly the opposite way, and that has a leader who seems more interested in power and prestige than accountability—and after he has finished with the Lib Dems, can he tell us what he thinks of FIFA?

I certainly learned one thing: when it comes to breaking promises, politicians have got nothing on football management—there is no doubt about that. [Interruption.] Before Labour Members all start pointing, we should just remember who it was who said, “We will never introduce tuition fees.” Who said, “We will never introduce top-up fees”? Who said “We will back the Browne review”? Who is now an organised hypocrisy?

Q12. Following the Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan and the review of the military covenant published today, will he reassure me that his Government will go that extra mile to support our troops, who have given so much to our country? (29142)

I am sure the whole House is grateful for what my hon. Friend said about our troops. On my visit to Afghanistan, I was again struck by just how hard these people are working, and how courageous, professional and brave they are. They are genuinely the best of British, and we owe it to them that we support not just them, but also their families. One thing I am pleased we have been able to do is introduce a pupil premium for the children of forces families. I know from my own constituency that many children at schools dominated by forces families leave and go to a different school within each year. I think giving extra support to forces families in this way is absolutely right, and I am sure it will be supported by all.

In a tragic incident yesterday at the Sonae factory in my constituency, two people working at the plant were killed. I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in expressing deepest condolences to the families of those who were killed, and does he agree that when the Health and Safety Executive and police investigations into what happened have been completed, whatever action is necessary will be taken?

I certainly join the right hon. Gentleman in what he says about his constituents and the dreadful accident that took place. It is important that we have procedures in place for the HSE and others to investigate these issues and, as he says, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Q13. Does the Prime Minister agree that foundation schools are already free from local authority control, and will he meet me to discuss the cancelled innovative project to join foundation school Redcar community college with Kirkleatham Hall special school, to replace their dilapidated classrooms and provide facilities for the community? (29143)

I know that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will be delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that. The point is that all schools now being given this greater level of independence—whether as foundation schools or the new academy schools—should have greater ability to get together and collaborate to invest in their future, rather than always having to rely on a drip-feed from Government Ministers.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Parliament may have been infiltrated by an imposter? The Deputy Prime Minister—[Interruption.] The Deputy Prime Minister has said he will vote to treble tuition fees and abolish the education maintenance allowance. Before the general election the leader of the Liberal Democrats said he would vote to abolish tuition fees and keep the EMA. [Interruption.] Can the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to finish his question without chuntering and shouting from a sedentary position. The last sentence please.

I have to say that the hon. Gentleman has the unique qualification of being one of the brothers who was selected on an all-women shortlist—next time he comes in he should dress properly.

Q14. Within the next couple of years the Ministry of Defence will relocate a further 1,300 jobs away from Bath, allowing two major sites in the city to be redeveloped. Given the urgent need for 3,000 additional affordable homes within the city, will the Prime Minister give me the assurance that the MOD will work with the Homes and Communities Agency and the local council to ensure that the sites can be used for those houses, rather than merely to get the best price in the sale? (29144)

I discussed this with my hon. Friend this morning, and I certainly agree that the Ministry of Defence should work with the HCA to try to bring this about. Sometimes the wheels can turn quite slowly when it comes to Defence Estates. I know that he will work hard, and I will ask the MOD to work hard, to get this fixed.

The Prime Minister will be aware that a week is a long time in politics. Having had all that time, could he now update the House on his rethink on the future of school sport partnerships?

I think that there is quite a common position between both sides; I read the debate where the shadow sports Minister said that clearly we could not afford the current level of commitment. He also said that the current way of doing things was not particularly efficient. So we are reviewing it and making sure that we do provide money for school sport from the centre, but that we do so in a better way because, frankly, too many children in too many schools do not have access to sport after 13 years of a Government who talked an awful lot about it.

Q15. The Browne report states that only just over 1% of UK graduates gave gifts to their former universities, compared with at least 10% in the United States. Does the Prime Minister agree that those of us who received free university education and are in a position to do this should be encouraged to do some serious giving to universities to support current students? (29145)

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that other countries do better at endowing their universities and making sure that they have a wider source of income. But the fundamental issue is this: if we are going to look at how we are going to fund universities in the future, it cannot be right, and we will not get a proper expansion of higher education, if we just ask taxpayers, many of whom do not go to university, to fund that expansion. It is right that students—only when they are successful, only when they have left university and only when they are earning £21,000—should make a contribution. They should do so in the progressive and fair way that Browne and we have set out.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the Arctic conditions sweeping across central Scotland. Constituents of mine have been trapped in cars and buses overnight, they have been trapped in their own homes, and schoolchildren have been forced to spend the night in temporary accommodation. Can he assure me that the UK Government are offering all possible assistance to the Scottish authorities, up to and including the use of military personnel and equipment?

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we stand ready to give any assistance in terms of how we are doing these things. Ministerial meetings at, in effect, the Cobra level, are going through what actions need to be taken. There is a bigger strategic supply of grit than there has been in previous years, the military stand ready to help and I can guarantee him that whatever needs to be done will be done.

We now come to the statement by the Minister for pensions, Steve Webb. May I appeal to Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, so that we can hear from Minister Webb?