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Volume 528: debated on Wednesday 18 May 2011

Q8. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no case for giving the EU powers over taxation, least of all in the present circumstances? Will he assure me that the Government will simply say no to the proposed EU directive for a common corporate tax base? (55960)

I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend. Those in the EU who want to see further tax harmonisation usually make one of two arguments: either they want to raise more money for the EU, which I do not agree with, or they are trying to reduce tax competition within the EU, which I also do not agree with. It is important that we keep our competitive tax rates and do not give the EU further coverage over our tax base.

Q9. The ministerial code is extensive in its guidelines and rules governing Ministers. What is the policy of the Prime Minister and his Government on Ministers who break the ministerial code? (55961)

Obviously, breaking the ministerial code is an extremely serious offence. I know that the hon. Gentleman has asked questions before about the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), and let me be clear that the Employment Minister played no part in the decision-making process to award Work programme contracts. I want to make that point clear to the hon. Gentleman, as he has asked me the question.

Q10. May I echo the tribute that my right hon. Friend paid to Nigel Mead, the young Royal Marine who was serving with 3 Commando Brigade, which is based in my constituency?Given the recent inflation figures and the loose monetary conditions that contributed to the causes of the credit crunch, should my right hon. Friend now lead a fundamental debate reviewing the inflation target, and the operation and workings of the Monetary Policy Committee? (55962)

The point that I would make to my hon. Friend is that one of the fundamental causes of the problems during the credit crunch was the poor regulation of our banking system and credit. We have taken steps to put that right by putting the Bank of England back at the pinnacle of that system, after the failure of the system put in place by the Labour party. On inflation, I strongly support monetary policy being independent and established by the Bank of England. I do not want to go back to the bad old days of the Treasury setting interest rates. I think it is better to have that power vested in the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England.

Q11. A number of my constituents with very serious health conditions are being declared fit for work under the Department for Work and Pensions work capability assessment. Can the Prime Minister give me a guarantee that the assessment will be fit for purpose by the time of the big move from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance, especially in the light of cuts at the DWP? (55963)

Of course we want to get the tests right, but I believe that the tests are showing that it has been wrong to leave so many people on benefits for so long without proper assessment. Of course, we can always improve the processes, and we will ensure that we do that as we go along, but I think it is absolutely right to go through people on all benefits and ask whether they can work, and what help they need to work. Then if they are offered work that they do not take, frankly, they should not go on getting benefits.

Now that there is to be a full investigation into the abduction or murder of Madeleine McCann, is there not a much stronger case for a full investigation into the suicide or murder of Dr David Kelly?

My hon. Friend is raising two issues. First, on the issue of Madeleine McCann, it is welcome that the Metropolitan police have decided to review the case and the paperwork. On the issue of Dr David Kelly, I thought the results of the inquest that was carried out and the report into it were fairly clear, and I do not think it is necessary to take that case forward.

Q12. Is the Prime Minister aware that the most revealing statistic in recent days has been the fact that in recession-hit Britain, the billionaires have gone up by 20—an increase of 37%—in the first year of this Tory rule, while in the real world inflation is going through the roof and thousands of blind people are having to march through the streets of London to hang on to their disability living allowance? What a savage indictment of this lousy, rotten Tory Government, propped up by these pathetic Liberals—[Interruption.] (55964)

I think that the most revealing statistics today are the unemployment figures, which show that employment in our country is up by 118,000, that unemployment is down by 36,000, and that youth unemployment fell by 30,000. Those are the statistics of what is happening in the real world, rather than in the dinosaur land that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) still inhabits.

Q13. Hard-working families in Broxtowe want a cap on benefits, but the Labour party will vote against such a cap. Would the Prime Minister help us in this way: who is living in the real world and who is representing real families—us or them? (55965)

My hon. Friend is entirely right. We are proposing a cap of £26,000 on the benefits that a family can receive. People would have to earn something like £40,000 to get that level of income. Frankly, some people will be watching this and thinking, “I’m earning £15,000”—or £16,000, or £17,000—“Why am I paying my taxes to go to families that are getting more than £26,000 in benefits?” To answer my hon. Friend’s question, the Government are in touch with what people want, and the Labour party seems to have gone to sleep.

What can the Prime Minister say to the people of Sunderland, the largest city in the north-east, and to my constituents, about the news that the Olympic torch is not stopping in the city?

I have to say that I was not aware of that. Perhaps I can look into the route that the Olympic torch will take—and if it is possible to divert it via Sunderland, I will certainly do my best.

Q14. An increasing number of European Court of Human Rights and European Court of Justice judgments are deeply unpopular in our country, and intrude on what should be the preserve of member states. Will the Prime Minister assure my constituents that he will use every ounce of his considerable personal authority to support efforts to push back those overbearing institutions? (55966)

I agree with my hon. Friend. We are leading the process of trying to reform the ECHR so that it pays more attention to the decisions of national Parliaments and, crucially, national courts. As for the ECJ, one thing that we must do is stop the transfer of further powers from Westminster to Brussels. That is why we are putting in place the referendum lock.

Does the Prime Minister think that the power and influence of this House of Commons will be diminished or increased by the reforms to the House of Lords that were announced yesterday?

I think that Parliament as a whole will be increased in terms of authority and respect. It is right to insert into the House of Lords some elected peers, so that we recognise that in the modern world, it is right to have two Chambers that are predominantly elected. That is the policy of the Government. It is clear to me that there are massive divisions on both sides of the House about that policy. However, this is an opportunity for the House of Commons to try to find a path through those, which we must do to achieve what was in every manifesto: elections to the House of Lords.

Q15. An independent investigation is due to report on allegations that Reading borough council, when last under Labour control, diverted section 106 moneys to plug gaps in the general budget, and also to fund unrelated projects. Can the Prime Minister offer any advice on how residents can make use of the Localism Bill to ensure that section 106 money is spent correctly? (55967)

I would make two points to my hon. Friend. First, the Localism Bill gives local people a greater ability to influence what happens to section 106 money. Secondly, because of the new homes bonus, councils that go ahead with building homes will get more money, so they need not feel that they must go for one huge development in order to draw in the section 106 money. It could be that a different pattern of development—one more in tune with what local people want—would deliver some of the benefits that local people want to see.

May I return the Prime Minister to his earlier remarks on rape? We all support moves to make the justice system easier for women, but many people out there—victims and non-victims alike—find his proposals to reduce sentences by up to 50% abhorrent and frightening. The only responsible thing for him to do is to take that out of any consultation now.

The point is that what the hon. Lady says is not what we are proposing—[Hon. Members: “Yes it is!”] Let me make this point as well: because this Government take the crime of rape so seriously, we have boosted the funding for rape crisis centres. The real need—frankly, the whole House should unite on this—is to change the fact that 94% of rapists are walking the streets free because they have not been convicted. That is what we have got to change.

There are currently 2,500 trade union representatives across the public sector paid not to provide the service that they represent but to carry out campaigning activities that should be funded by the unions—and because the unions do not pay their salaries, they can spend their subs on other things, such as subsidising that lot over there. Does the Prime Minister not think it time that that was reformed?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. [Hon. Members: “No he doesn’t!”] It is interesting that whenever someone raises a point about union funding they get shouted down by the Labour party, because Labour Members do not want any examination of what trade unions do, or how much money they give to the Labour party. [Interruption.] I think that they protest a little too much.

I am absolutely delighted to be supported by the trade union movement. May I ask the Prime Minister why he has not sacked his NHS adviser, Mark Britnell, who said that the NHS would be shown “no mercy”, and that the reforms would be a “big opportunity” for private profit and would transform the NHS into an

“insurance provider, not a state deliverer"?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to clear this up. When I read about Mr Britnell being my adviser, I was slightly puzzled, because I have never heard of this person in my life, and he is not my adviser. However, I did a little research, and it turned out that he was an adviser to the previous Government. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Oh, don’t worry, there is plenty more. He helped to develop Labour’s NHS plan in 2000, which increased the role of the private sector, he was appointed by Labour as chief executive of one of the 10 strategic health authorities set up by Labour, and when the Leader of the Opposition was in the Cabinet, Mark Britnell was director general for NHS commissioning. Although I do not know him, therefore, I suspect that Labour Members know him rather well.

I was rather impressed by that last answer, but I will draw the Prime Minister on to something else. Yesterday the Government announced plans to reform the second Chamber. Can he tell the House whether he will use all means necessary, including the Parliament Acts, to protect the coalition’s legislative programme?

The short answer is yes. This is Government legislation, like any other piece of Government legislation, and will be scrutinised, carried through, debated and discussed, and then passed in the same way.