The Secretary of State was asked—
The bilateral aid review identified as the main needs of Bangladesh: expanding access to health, education and safe water for the poorest; protecting against risks related to climate change; and supporting private sector development to help the poor lift themselves out of poverty. The UK’s development programme directly targets those needs and will lift 5 million people out of poverty by 2015.
All three Department for International Development Ministers have visited Bangladesh in the past few months, and we are encouraging all political parties to work towards free, fair and credible elections to be held by early 2014. That requires the politics of vision, not the politics of venom, and the UK stands ready to continue our work with the Bangladesh Election Commission to make the elections a success and to help the democratic process.
Many of the multilateral programmes focus more than our poverty programmes do on this challenge, but the right hon. Gentleman does the issue a great favour by highlighting the significance of diabetes. I can assure him that we will give it the attention it deserves in all the work that we do in the country.
UN Relief and Works Agency
In 2011 DFID gave just over £30 million to UNRWA, and we are in the process of setting our budgets for the next few years. We will work with all donors and host Governments to help UNRWA’s long-term financial position so that it can continue to deliver its programmes to meet the needs of Palestinians and Palestinian refugees.
The Minister will be aware that about 75% of Palestinians in Gaza depend on food aid from UNRWA, and with the massively increased number of demolitions of homes in Jerusalem and the west bank by Israeli forces, UNRWA’s work is vital to Palestinians. The Government have a good record on funding. Will he give a commitment that that will continue, and will he work to ensure that the international community recognises UNRWA’s importance?
Yes, we have repeatedly made clear to the Israelis our serious concern at last year’s 40% increase, as recorded by the UN, in the number of demolitions of Palestinian properties in the west bank and East Jerusalem. We view such demolitions and evictions as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and as harmful to the peace process. In all but the most limited circumstances, they are contrary to international humanitarian law, and we condemn them.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that UNRWA’s remit extends beyond the Palestinian territories themselves. Conditions in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan remain fragile, and DFID funds UNRWA to provide essential services to all these refugees across the region. In 2011 our support helped to provide maternal health care to 263,000 women, education for 45,000 children, and food and income support for 29,000 refugees. We are in close contact with UNRWA as it strives to maintain services in Syria.
Most of the support to refugees is given through UNRWA, but we are giving our full support to the Palestinian Authority, it being the effective government of the west bank, and through it we hope to ensure that all those affected are properly supported by access to the full legal rights necessary to pursue any claims that they might have.
May I particularly welcome the extra funding recently announced for the 400,000-plus refugees in Lebanon to help fund health care and education for thousands of children? Does my right hon. Friend agree that although this assistance is welcome in the short term, it is no substitute for the long-term peace settlement necessary to enable these 5 million refugees to go home and get on with their lives?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I am sure that the vast majority of Members in this House agree with him. The permanent plight of someone who is an everlasting refugee is not something that any of us would relish, and it is the peace process that we hope can eventually give a permanent settlement and solution for those who are so affected.
I returned yesterday morning from a visit to Somalia. Thanks to British aid and support, the lives of millions of Somalis have been saved. We have reduced the number of people in danger of imminent death by two thirds, but 250,000 people—many of them children—remain in danger of starving to death.
On his visit to Somalia, the Secretary of State will have been in a good position to make an assessment of the current state of the famine there. We know that the United Kingdom has made a significant effort in leading the relief work. Is he satisfied that the international community is making the same effort to help the beleaguered people of Somalia?
My hon. Friend is right to underline the importance of the whole international community being engaged in tackling the famine. The situation is that some two thirds of those who were in imminent danger of starving to death are no longer in that position, and Britain has been involved in quite literally saving something like half a million lives in the last year. Huge lobbying is still required. Britain has made it clear that we will produce assistance over the next year, specifically to tackle acute malnourishment, providing seeds, fertiliser and clean water, but the whole international community must take up this task.
My hon. Friend has used his opportunity well, Mr Speaker. Some 60% of Britain’s development support for Somalia goes into Somaliland, but as the Foreign Secretary has made clear recently, it is extremely important that Somaliland and Puntland settle the dispute on their border as speedily as possible. When disputes are settled in Somalia, we will be able to address the underlying causes of poverty and not have to cope with the symptoms of it.
The consequences of the bad harvest last year and the famine are, of course, enormously aggravated by the lack of security in Somalia and the control that al-Shabaab has in many parts of the country. What are the Government doing, on their own account and through the European Union, to strengthen AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—and improve security in Somalia?
It is absolutely essential that AMISOM is strengthened and given the capacity to operate more effectively, but the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that the Prime Minister has convened a conference on Somalia in London on 23 February. The processes that come out of that will not be led by the international community or Britain; they need to be owned by the Somalis, led by the Somalis and the countries of the region, and strongly supported by the international community.
May I ask the Secretary of State for his response to the criticism in the Oxfam and Save the Children report “A Dangerous Delay”, which is partly based on Somalia? Does he think that there are lessons to be learned, given that an imminent threat of famine is now looming in the Sahel?
Oxfam and the other agencies did a service in pointing out—as they did in their report, if not in their press release—that Britain had shown the way and led the world in tackling the famine in the horn of Africa. However, the report is right in identifying the importance of long-term action to support resilience. As for the Sahel, Britain is not going to lead there, but we have announced a significant amount of support, specifically: therapeutic feeding for 68,000 children; support with food and water for 50,000 people; and support in terms of seeds and vaccinations for cattle for 30,000.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his visit to Somalia and on Britain’s proactive response to the crisis there. However, may I ask whether he will be joining Turkey, which has said that it will be approaching some of the wealthiest Muslim countries to see if they can make a more substantial contribution to preventing starvation in Somalia?
My hon. Friend identifies a most important aspect of the conference on Somalia that is to take place in London, which will be to ensure that all the different nations that are engaged in Somalia work together. It will also be important to ensure better co-ordination of humanitarian relief with the established, richer donors and the donors in the Gulf.
In recent years, there have been problems off the Somali coast for travellers, although progress has been made in recent months on that issue. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that liaison will continue internationally to ensure that people can travel across that part of Africa in safety?
One of the problems is that of piracy. In Puntland, I was able to see the importance of tackling piracy by arresting pirates and putting them through the judicial system, as well as the other measures that, given some stability, the international community would be able to use to tackle the problem directly. We hope that this subject will also be addressed at the London conference.
The situation in South Sudan remains somewhat bleak, in the absence of agreement on the outstanding issues between the two Sudans. Humanitarian needs in South Sudan remain pressing, due to continuing inter-communal violence in Jonglei and elsewhere, and to the influx of refugees and returnees from Sudan. The United Kingdom continues to play a lead role in supporting an effective and co-ordinated humanitarian response. I will be giving oral evidence on South Sudan to the International Development Committee later today.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question; his knowledge of that part of the world is indeed deep, not least because of the tremendous contribution that his wife made to supporting the people of South Sudan some years ago. More than 85,000 refugees have arrived in South Sudan, fleeing the conflict over the border. There are 25,000 in Unity, and 61,000 in Maban. In Warrup county, the humanitarian community is supporting 110,000 people who have been displaced from Abyei since 2011. In addition, 360,000 have already been assisted in coming down from Sudan, with a potential 700,000 still to come. This is placing enormous strain on the emergency and humanitarian response, but the UK is playing a lead role and, in December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a two-year package of support for the humanitarian funds. [Interruption.]
The United Nations mission in South Sudan has been widely criticised for having a poor mandate and for having its resources in the wrong place. What is the Minister’s view on that?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just returned from the African Union summit that was held in Addis Ababa last weekend, and he is fully seized of that issue. He had direct discussions on this matter with the chairman of the commission, with President Mbeki and with Prime Minister Meles. People are focused on the question of an appropriate mandate, but the current position is that it is better to deploy into the right places the troops who have been mandated, rather than distract ourselves with a review of the mandate itself.
The Select Committee is looking forward to having an extended exchange with the Secretary of State on South Sudan this afternoon. In the light of the disruption of oil supplies, and the fact that the South Sudan Government are 98% dependent on oil revenues, will the Minister tell us what steps our Government and the international community are taking to resolve the dispute and to support the South Sudan Government in regard to that financial constraint?
Extensive meetings took place in Addis Ababa over the weekend, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was involved at the highest level. The straight fact is that, while the oil dispute is outstanding, progress is going to be impeded. We call on all parties to acknowledge that it is in their mutual interest to pull back from the brink and reach an agreement, with the north getting the ships to sail and the south to release oil from the wells again.
Employment (Developing Countries)
7. What steps he is taking to increase the number of people in employment in developing countries. (92783)
Economic growth is the primary driver of job creation, and it is a top priority among the United Kingdom’s new development policies on economic development, wealth creation and job creation. The Department is implementing programmes that will strengthen the private sector, encourage investment, improve finance for businesses and enhance the education and skills of the work force in developing countries.
At the last G20 meeting, world leaders committed to establishing a taskforce to look at employment in developed countries. With unemployment rates in developing countries above 60%, will the UK Government urge the G20 taskforce to look not only at developed countries but at developing countries as well?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need to look at both developing and developed countries. As discussed throughout what has been a disappointing out-turn from the Doha round, it is important to understand what is coming through in terms of jobs, job creation and investment flows in the emerging countries as well. She is right: this has to be on the agenda for developing countries as much as for developed ones.
The CDC has undergone fundamental reform over the last 18 months and is now ready not only to identify those things in which it can uniquely and competitively invest—patient capital, as it is best known—but to focus on what will end up being job-full rather than job-less growth in a way that will benefit the economies of developing countries.
Does the Minister still think that companies like Sun Biofuels, which has made more than 1,000 people redundant in Tanzania and treated local people appallingly, are a shining example for countries around the world of how to produce green energy that is good both for the environment and for the economy, despite concerns about the impact of biofuels on food security, water access, land grabs and doubts about whether they even contribute to environmental gains?
The hon. Lady raises an issue about whether combining business risk and new green sources of energy is inevitably risky, with failures likely along that track. I understand her concerns, but she should not overlook the enormous progress made in developing economic growth and business potential in these countries, along with the drive towards green energy production and the need to ensure that these countries have an opportunity to leapfrog many of the technologies we have in the western world.
The coalition Government have doubled British aid to Burma. If progress on political reform continues, we will be able to do much more.
My hon. Friend poses the key question of whether these reforms are real. The fact that the regime in Burma has now released nearly all its political prisoners—particularly Min Ko Naing whom many Members campaigned to see released—is an enormously encouraging sign. The real test will come with the 48 by-elections due to take place before April. We will see how those elections are conducted and whether they are free and fair. If they are, that will be the most eloquent possible answer to my hon. Friend’s question.
My Department is preparing energetically for the Prime Minister’s conference on Somalia in London on 23 February. We are working hard to deliver the results we set out to the House in the key reviews conducted last year, and we are procuring humanitarian support for many of the most wretched people in the world.
Stepping Stones Nigeria is the charity based in Lancaster involved in educational development in the Niger delta. Would my right hon. Friend be good enough to facilitate a meeting between his officials and the charity to see how far that work can be expanded?
The charity is doing excellent work, and we will be pleased to ensure that it can meet officials perhaps to find out how it can access the Government’s new global poverty action fund, which specifically seeks to help non-governmental organisations and charities that are doing brilliant work in difficult parts of the world.
Does the Secretary of State think that it was appropriate for him to say in Delhi last December that a strategic aim of the United Kingdom’s aid programme for India was “seeking to sell Typhoon”? With that one comment, he undermined the commitment of successive Governments not to tie aid to trade. Does he stand by his irresponsible comment?
T3. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government recognise the importance of tackling neglected tropical diseases, and can he tell us what discussions he has had about the matter with the Gates Foundation? (92794)
My hon. Friend is right to mention the work of the Government, together with the Carter Centre and the Gates Foundation, on the neglected tropical diseases that destroy the lives of millions of people in the world. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, who has driven the process for the British Government, to the great advantage of people who are caught by these terrible diseases.
T2. I welcomed the words that we heard from the Government earlier in condemnation of the displacement of Palestinians, but can the Secretary of State tell us specifically what assistance might be offered to the Bedouins who are currently being displaced from their traditional areas? (92793)
All these humanitarian issues are wrestled with by the international community. The hon. Lady heard about the very specific support that Britain is delivering through UNRWA. We will consider her question about the Bedouins in the terms that she has specified.
As my hon. Friend will know, the Arab Partnership Fund is financed partly through the Foreign Office and partly through my Department. We address many of the humanitarian issues, as well as issues involving the capacity-building and economic growth that are essential if progress is to be made, while the Foreign Office addresses many of the political issues. I am satisfied that the APF is delivering what we seek from it, but I accept that much more needs to be done in the future. [Interruption.]
T6. On 7 July 2010, the Prime Minister joined me
“in welcoming the peaceful and credible elections in Somaliland”—[Official Report, 7 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 361],
and promised to increase engagement and aid as a consequence. Will the Secretary of State tell us what his current priorities are in relation to helping economic and social development in Somaliland? (92797)
We looked at the Somaliland programme following the intervention by the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that some 60% of British support for Somalia as a whole goes into Somaliland. During my visit to Hargeisa in Somaliland last year, I was able to observe the specific impact of that support both on economic development in Somaliland and on security. Britain is strongly engaged in supporting the training of the police and security forces.
T5. I am sure that all Members were appalled by the recent bombings in northern Nigeria, when so many people were killed and maimed. Given that 9 million people live in the city of Kano, all of whom are vulnerable to poverty and many of whom suffer abject poverty, will the Secretary of State confirm that he will take action, and continue to take action, to assist there? (92796)
There were British officials in Kano when the explosions took place. They have all been safely evacuated to Abuja, but my hon. Friend is right to make it clear that our programme of support for northern Nigeria, where there are many extremely poor people who are a magnet for the terrorist recruiter, must address all those issues, and Britain is working closely with the Government of Nigeria to do that.
T7. On a recent visit to the west bank, I was horrified to learn that schools are routinely targeted for demolition. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that that undermines humanitarian efforts in the west bank and East Jerusalem, and will he join me in condemning that appalling practice? (92798)
As the Minister of State eloquently set out in answer to an earlier question, and as I saw for myself on a visit to the west bank and Gaza immediately before Christmas, humanitarian aid is targeted directly at helping the victims of what the hon. Lady describes. Our commitment is to continue to ensure that Britain is engaged in the most effective possible resolution of those matters, both on the ground and in international forums.
APASENTH, a group with 20 years’ experience of working with adults with special educational needs in London, will shortly visit Bangladesh to see whether it can use its expertise to establish a centre there for people with autism. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and members of APASENTH after its visit to see how his Department can help that initiative?
I certainly undertake to ensure that a Minister meets my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. I suggest that he and the charity engage with the global poverty action fund—a new fund set up by the coalition Government to support non-governmental organisations with matching money. He may find that a rewarding vein to mine.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Signaller Ian Sartorius-Jones from 20th Armoured Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron 200, and Lance Corporal Gajbahadur Gurung, attached to 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. These were dedicated soldiers who were highly respected by their colleagues. Their courageous, selfless service will never be forgotten by our country.
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.
May I associate myself and the whole House with the Prime Minister’s remarks and his condolences to the families and friends of the two brave soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country?
In the past week, chief constables in England and Wales have warned that policing is on a “cliff edge” and is facing a “watershed moment”, as numbers fall to their lowest in a decade. My force in Staffordshire is cutting hundreds of officers and staff, yet during the TV debates before the general election, the Prime Minister said:
“there’s no doubt about it. We’re not seeing enough police on the streets, we’re not catching enough burglars, we’re not convicting enough.”
How does the Prime Minister’s rhetoric then square with the reality of what is happening to front-line policing now?
The fact is that the percentage of officers on the front line has actually increased. We inherited a situation where there were 6,000 uniformed officers performing back-office roles in the police. We have had to make difficult spending reductions, but I think that if the hon. Gentleman listens to his Front Benchers, he will now find out that they support the cuts, and they support the pay freeze. They even support our police commissioners so strongly that droves of Labour MPs are going to quit to try to become them.
Q2. Tonight, the House will have a historic vote on whether households on benefits should be able to receive more than households in work. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the introduction of a benefits cap should have the support of the whole House? (92712)
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The cap is right, and the cap is fair. It is right to say that you should not get more than £26,000 a year in benefits—that is £500 a week—and it is fair because we are introducing a new principle into our welfare system: an able-bodied family who can work should not get more in benefits than the average family gets from work. The leader of the Labour party has said that he is not against a cap in principle; tonight we will find out whether he is in favour of a cap in practice.
May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Signaller Ian Sartorius-Jones from 20th Armoured Brigade Headquarters and Signal Squadron 200 and Lance Corporal Gajbahadur Gurung, attached to 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment? Both men showed exceptional courage and bravery and our thoughts are with their family and friends.
Before the election, legislation was passed by Parliament with cross-party support to make all banks disclose how many people earn more than £1 million, but it needs the Government to trigger the change. Will the Prime Minister now go ahead and do it?
We now have the toughest and most transparent regime of any major financial centre in the world. For the first time ever, banks will publish the pay of the top eight executives. That never happened in 13 years of a Labour Government. On the specific Walker reforms, Walker himself said that they should be done at the same time in all countries across the European Union.
Exactly what we would expect: no leadership on top pay from this Prime Minister. In case he has not heard the news, more than eight people are earning more than £1 million at our banks. What did the Chancellor say in opposition? He said this—[Interruption.] Government Members should listen to what the Chancellor said in opposition. He said:
“We…support…proposals to make those banks disclose the number of their employees who are on high salaries.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 706.]
He even called for the banks to publish their names. It is another broken promise from this Government. I ask the Prime Minister the question again: the legislation is on the books, it is ready to go and it had all-party support, so why does he not make it happen?
We are listening to the advice of the man who produced the report for the last Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman asks about the number of people getting £1 million bonuses, but let me remind him that it was the last Labour Government—when he was in the Cabinet—who agreed an RBS bonus pool of £1.3 billion. Literally hundreds of people were getting £1 million bonuses and he signed it off. The issue for the right hon. Gentleman is why he is in favour in opposition of things he never did in government. Some might call it opposition; some people might call it hypocrisy.
I will tell the Prime Minister what hypocrisy is: it is saying that he will stop a £1 million bonus to Stephen Hester and then nodding it through. I have to say to him that I think we have now heard it all, because he says that the class war against the bankers is going to be led by him and his Cabinet of millionaires. I do not think it is going to wash, frankly.
Let me ask the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Let me ask him about another simple proposal. He had no answer on transparency. Does he agree with me that to bring a dose of realism to the decisions about top pay there should be an ordinary employee on every pay committee, so that people on a huge salary have to look at least one of their employees in the eye and justify it?
I am very happy to do that, Mr Speaker. It is just that we are expected to listen to the people who presided over the biggest banking and financial disaster in our history and it is not as if they had nothing to do with it. One of them was the City Minister and the other was sitting in the Treasury. I have to ask: who failed to regulate the banks? Labour. Who gave us the boom and bust? Labour. Who failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining? Labour. Who presided over these multi-million pound bonuses and did absolutely nothing? Labour.
I have looked very carefully at the right hon. Gentleman’s propositions and I do not think it is practical to do what he is suggesting. It breaks an important principle of not having people on a remuneration committee who will have their own pay determined, so I do not think that it is the right way forward. The House might be interested to know, as I have looked carefully at all his proposals, that he also proposed in Glasgow to ban performance-related pay in all but the most exceptional circumstances. That is completely wrong. There are people working in offices, factories and shops around the country who want performance-related pay and who, if they meet some targets, would like to have a bonus at the end of the year. That is pro-aspiration and pro-doing the right thing for your family. That shows that the right hon. Gentleman has not a clue about how to run an economy.
Now we know where the Prime Minister stands: no to transparency and no to an employee on the remuneration committee. And what was the Chancellor doing last week when they were supposedly cracking down on top pay? He was going to Davos to tell the business community to lobby for a reduction in the top rate of income tax. We know the truth. When it comes to top pay, this Government and this Prime Minister are part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Yesterday, it was announced that the French company Dassault had won the first round in the contest for the $10 billion fighter aircraft contract with India. That is disastrous news for thousands of workers up and down the country, particularly in my constituency. Given the long relationship between India and Britain and given that we give many times more aid to India than France ever did, will the Prime Minister engage himself and the full force of the Government in attempting to reverse that decision?
Of course I will do everything I can, as I have already, to encourage the Indians to look at Typhoon, because it is such a good aircraft. The decision is obviously disappointing, but it is about who the Indians have assessed as making the lowest bid and have therefore asked to enter into further negotiations. They have not yet awarded the contract, and I would say to my right hon. Friend, who I know cares deeply, as I do, about the people employed in his constituency, that we do not expect any job losses to stem from this decision and that it does not rule out Typhoon for India. We must go on making the case that this is a superb aircraft with far better capabilities than Rafale, and we will try to encourage the Indians to take that view.
Q3. The Deputy Prime Minister recently said that means-testing might be brought in for pensioner bus passes. Was he speaking for the Government and does the Prime Minister really think that is fair? (92713)
If a local supermarket closes down, another quickly takes its place. If Portsmouth football club closes down, Pompey fans will not be content with buying their season ticket from Southampton. Will the Prime Minister add his voice to mine in calling for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to meet the club so that it recoups the tax it is owed, our club survives and the fans have their chance to become its owners?
I will certainly do that, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. Knowing one or two Pompey fans, I can completely understand that the idea they could go and support Southampton is completely incredible. We must do everything we can to keep the friendly rivalry going.
This week, the British Medical Journal, the Health Service Journal and the Nursing Times published a joint editorial that said the Prime Minister’s reorganisation
“has destabilised and damaged one of this country’s greatest achievements: a system that embodies social justice and has delivered widespread patient satisfaction, public support, and value for money. We must make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
Why does the Prime Minister think he has so comprehensively lost the medical profession’s trust?
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to raise the welfare cap today. I think that people up and down the country will recognise that.
There are tens of thousands of general practitioners up and down the country who are implementing our reforms because they want decisions to be made by doctors, not bureaucrats, they want to see health and social care brought together and they want to put the patient in the driving seat. The right hon. Gentleman should look at what is actually happening in the health service. Waiting times are down, infection rates are down and the number of people in mixed-sex wards, which we put up with for 13 years under Labour, is down by 94%. He should be praising the good things that are happening in the health service rather than having his policy, which is to say that an increase in NHS resources is irresponsible. That is Labour’s position; it is this Government who are putting the money in and getting the reforms right.
Every time the Prime Minister talks about the NHS he just shows how out of touch he is with what is happening on the ground. Let me now tell him who is lined up against the health Bill: 98% of GPs, against the Bill; the Royal College of Nursing, against the Bill; the Royal College of Midwives, against the Bill; the Royal College of Radiologists [Hon. Members: “Against the Bill!”]; the British Medical Association [Hon. Members: “Against the Bill!”]; the Patients Association [Hon. Members: “Against the Bill!”]. He knows in his heart of hearts that this Bill is a disaster. There were rumours last week that he was considering dropping the Bill. He has a choice: he can carry on regardless or he can listen to the public and the professions. Will he now do the right thing and drop this unwanted Bill?
If you are trying to bring into a public service choice, competition, transparency, proper results and publication of results, you will always find that there will be objections. The question is, is it going to improve patient care and the running of the health service? [Interruption.]
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman something that Tony Blair once wrote about the process of reform. Now there is a man who knows a thing about bonuses and pay. He said this—[Interruption.] Listen, listen:
“It is an object lesson in the progress of reform: the change is proposed; it is denounced as a disaster; it proceeds with vast… opposition; it is unpopular; it comes about; within a short space of time, it is as if it has always been so. The lesson is instructive: if you think a change is right, go with it. The opposition is inevitable, but rarely is it unbeatable.”
That was someone who knew a thing or two about reform.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. A year ago, I asked the Prime Minister for help when the announcement was made of the Pfizer closure in Sandwich. Does he agree that the support and help from his Ministers, which delivered us an enterprise zone and £40 million for jobs in east Kent, have ensured that we are still a leading centre for life sciences?
I am delighted with what my hon. Friend says. It was a tough and difficult time when Pfizer made that decision, but I think this has shown that, by Government, industry, local people in Kent and organisations coming together, we have been able to keep a lot of jobs, and a lot of investment and research and development, in that area. I would say to all pharmaceutical companies that this Government have the patent box, so if people invent things in this country and develop them in this country, they pay only a 10% corporation tax rate. That enables us to say to pharmaceutical companies all over the world, “Come and invest in Britain.”
Q4. This week, temperatures across Britain have dropped drastically. Last winter, 200 people died every day from preventable cold weather-related illnesses, but in Barnsley, instead of being able to focus resources on promoting the dangers of cold weather, we have had to set aside £17 million for an undemocratic, top-down reorganisation of the NHS. Will the Prime Minister tell my constituents whether that really is a responsible use of public money? (92714)
First, I would say to the hon. Gentleman and to everyone in Barnsley that this Government have been able to keep the higher level of cold weather payments, which was introduced before the election, and we have kept it for all years. I think that will be a real help, along with the winter fuel allowance. On the NHS, I say to him that he should simply look at the figures. Since the election, there are 4,000 more doctors working in our NHS. There are 620 more midwives working in our NHS. We are treating 100,000 more patients per month in our NHS. That is what is actually happening in the NHS, if he looks at what is happening in his hospital, rather than just repeating what the trade unions are telling him.
Q5. The Prime Minister will be aware that talks between St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust and Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust on their possible merger have been abandoned. I seek reassurance from him that Epsom and St Helier will be able to engage with local partners, such as local authorities and clinical commissioning groups, in order to come forward with a proposal that meets local health needs, and that the £290 million allocated for the hospital is still available. (92715)
I totally understand my right hon. Friend’s concern about this issue. The priority for the trust remains securing the future of the Epsom, St Helier and Sutton hospitals. I understand that the trust board and those working on a possible merger had already started to look at other options in case the merger did not happen. I understand that they are now looking at the next steps and I am sure that the Department of Health will want to engage very closely with him as this unfolds.
Q6. The Prime Minister is keen to tell us that work should always pay, so what would he say to my constituents from low and middle-income families who have contacted me to convey their fears about the measures the Government are bringing forward, such as the removal of working and child tax credits? These are working people who are already facing severe financial difficulties, and the current proposals could cost hard-working families with disabled children and in receipt of the lower disability premium over £1,300 a year. (92716)
I would make two points. Of course we have had to reform the tax credits system. When we came to office, tax credits went all the way up the income scale so that even Members of this House were eligible for them, so we have taken them further down the income scale. In terms of what the hon. Lady says about disability, I would make two points. First, disability living allowance—the absolutely key benefit—is going up by 5.2% this April, which will be well ahead of inflation. The point I would make about universal credit is that the lower rate for disabled children is £53, as she will know. Anyone on that level will be completely protected through transitional payments. We have not yet set the higher rate, but I can tell the hon. Lady that it will be at least what it is now, and possibly higher.
Q7. Will the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, look at the recent shocking report by Anna Klonowski on allegations of overcharging of vulnerable adults on Wirral and cases of violence and intimidation under a Labour-led council, making sure that those responsible are brought to account and never work in adult social services again? (92717)
I will certainly look at the report my hon. Friend mentions. This is clearly a very serious matter. I will also ask the Minister responsible in the Department of Health to look into the matter further and then speak with her. The Care Quality Commission, which has had a difficult birth, clearly has a really important job to do in ensuring that its inspections are thorough and targeted in the areas where they are most needed. It sounds from what she says that there is clearly a very great need for this to happen on Merseyside.
Q8. Today the Prime Minister denied yet again that he is cutting benefits for disabled children, but the lower rate of disability living allowance for disabled children is being reduced from almost £54 to almost £27, a cut of practically 50% which will affect 100,000 children. Is that not correct? (92718)
I think that that is absolutely right. It is right to bring in the cap. It introduces a new principle, which is that you should not be better off on benefits than the average family is in work. What we have had from the Labour party is complete silence. Will it support us tonight in the Lobby? Why does the Leader of the Opposition not just nod? Nod? Answer came there none. I thought that it was all about taking tough decisions—that they were in favour of a cap; they were going to tear up some of Labour’s history; it was time to make some bold decisions. Come on, one bold decision—just nod. Are you with us or are you against us? A great big vacuum.
Q9. Will the Prime Minister explain why a 65-year-old constituent of mine, who cannot get a council home, has to pay £100 of her £570 a month rent because of his housing benefit reforms? Why is this Prime Minister so much tougher on the vulnerable than he is on the powerful, with their excessive bonuses? (92719)
We know that the Opposition are not going to back us on the welfare cap, and now we can see that they are against the housing benefit reforms as well. Let me just remind the hon. Lady what her own shadow welfare Minister said. He said that it is completely unacceptable that housing benefit has rocketed to £20 billion. This is what he said. Where is “Baldemort”? He is not at home today. He said that Beveridge
“would scarcely have believed housing benefit alone is costing the UK over £20 bn a year.”
This Government are reforming it; that Opposition are doing nothing.
Q15. Does the Prime Minister agree that all Members who claim that they are on the side of hard-working families throughout the country should vote with the Government tonight to cap benefits at £26,000, which is, after all, the average income of hard-working families? (92725)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. People up and down the country will be completely amazed that the party that is supposedly meant to stand up for working people thinks that it is okay to get more on benefits than a family gets from working. So let me give the Opposition one more go. Are you with us in the Lobby tonight? Absolutely hopeless.
Q10. It is now clear that the single biggest funder of the Prime Minister’s party got his peerage on false pretences. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that Lord Ashcroft has now told the whole truth about his connections with the building company Johnson International, or is it yet again one rule for the Prime Minister’s rich friends and another rule for everyone else? (92720)
Q11. Eight million households have to make do with earning £26,000 or less before tax. What message does my right hon. Friend think that we will be sending to those people if we renege on our promise to cap benefits at £26,000 a year? (92721)
There will be many people in the country who criticise the benefit cap, saying, “Actually, £26,000, £500 a week, is too high.” I think it is fair, I think it is right, but I think that people expect their politicians to make it clear that you are better off in work than you are on benefits. Plenty of people are excluded from the cap because they are on disability living allowance, not able to work and the rest of it, but if you can work you should not be better off on benefits. That is a simple principle, and I find it amazing that the Labour party cannot agree. One more go? One little nod? Nothing.
Q12. In opposition the Prime Minister told millions on TV: “If you work hard, I’ll be behind you.” RBS, which is 82% state-owned, has not signed up to pay the living wage of £8.30 per hour in London and £7.20 elsewhere for all its staff and contractors. Why do his Government support low wages for workers but big bucks and bonuses for banksters? (92722)
I thought that by referring to standing up for people who work hard the hon. Gentleman was beginning to get the hang of it and that we might have had a supporter tonight. What this Government have done with RBS is radically cut the bonus pool, which was massive under Labour; say that there should be a £2,000 cash cap, unlike the massive cash increases under Labour; and begin to get that bank under control.
Q13. The Liberal Democrats’ plan to increase the income tax threshold to £10,000 was on the front page of our manifesto. It will give many working people an extra £700 a year and lift millions of poorly paid people out of income tax altogether. At a time when many working people are struggling to make ends meet, will the Prime Minister agree to go further and faster on that much-needed tax cut? (92723)
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this issue. I am proud of the fact that we have taken 1.1 million people out of tax. Those are some of the lowest paid people in our country, and the majority of them are women. We are committed to making further progress during this Parliament with this policy.
Q14. Before the general election, the Prime Minister told midwives that he would make their lives easier and that he would recruit 3,000 more of them. Since the general election, nurses and midwives have been down-banded, working harder for less, and midwives in training have been reduced by 3% a year. Were the British people wrong to take him at his word? (92724)
I am very sorry, but the hon. Lady’s figures are, in fact, wrong. Compared with the time of the election, there are over 620 more midwives working in the NHS and there are record numbers in training. We want to do more, but we will be able to do more only if we keep funding the NHS; the hon. Lady’s party is committed to cutting it, saying that NHS funding increases are irresponsible. We will be able to do that only if we keep cutting back on the bureaucracy, which we are doing very successfully with our reforms, and making sure that the money goes into the front end. But there are more midwives. There are more in training. I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s figures are wrong.
On new year’s eve 2010, my constituent Jamie Still was killed by a drink-driver who was more than twice over the limit, yet Jamie’s family had to face the fact that the person who had killed him continued to drive for a further eight months until sentencing. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet the family and consider their campaign, which is that people who are seriously over the limit in death by dangerous driving cases should have their driving licences withdrawn as part of their bail conditions?
My heart goes out to my hon. Friend’s constituents for the loss that they have suffered. He raises a very important point about what happens in cases such as these and what one can and cannot do with bail conditions. I will certainly go away and look at that. It may well be that this is something that we can consider alongside the recommendations that we are considering about drug-related driving. There is more work for the Government to do in this area, and I will certainly listen to my hon. Friend’s and his constituents’ concerns.
We believe on these Benches that the Government’s welfare cap is both fair and reasonable, and we will be supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight. But we also believe that the Lords amendments affecting vulnerable people—cancer patients and disabled people—are also fair and reasonable, not least because of the disproportionately detrimental effects, of which the Prime Minister will be aware, on Northern Ireland. Why, therefore, are we so limited in time for debating these crucial issues, which affect so many of our most vulnerable people?
First of all, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support in the Lobby tonight and I look forward to seeing him there. On the issue of the cancer sufferers and the plans for the employment and support allowance, let me just explain that under our plans the number of cancer sufferers who will get extra long-term help through the ESA support group is actually going to increase. We are going to reduce the number of people who have to have face-to-face assessments. These proposals have been fully supported by Professor Harrington, whom we asked to look into the issue because we were not happy with the previous Government’s arrangements and the way in which these things were dealt with.
The point that I would make to the right hon. Gentleman is that there are two types of employment and support allowance. There is the support group, who will always go on getting support, which is not means-tested; as long as they need that help they will get it. There is also the work-related activity group—people who, with help, are able to work. I think it is right to ask them, with support, to get into work, and that is what we are going to do.
Who does the Prime Minister think is on the side of hard-working low paid families in Nuneaton—the Conservative-led coalition, which is taking the lowest paid out of tax and capping benefits, or the Labour party, which took away the 10p tax rate and is flip-flopping over the benefit cap?
Order. Before the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) presents his ten-minute rule motion, I issue my usual appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber. They should do so quickly and quietly, so that the rest of us can listen to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he can move into view. [Interruption.] We are exceptionally grateful.