Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 540: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2012


The Secretary of State was asked—

Independence Referendum

1. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Scotland on a referendum on independence for Scotland. (95262)

8. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on a referendum on independence for Scotland. (95269)

10. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of Scotland on a referendum on independence for Scotland. (95271)

The First Minister and I met on Monday 13 February to discuss a referendum on independence. The Prime Minister, the First Minister and I had a further meeting on Thursday 16 February, when we discussed the need for any referendum to be legal, fair and decisive. It is in everyone’s interests that both of Scotland’s Governments work together and I look forward to meeting the First Minister again in due course.

The Scottish Government are the most resolute defenders of the Barnett formula, arguably against the interests of the other nations of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State therefore think that if the people of Scotland vote yes in a referendum on independence, the Barnett formula should apply to the nation’s debt?

I do not envisage that Scotland will become independent from the United Kingdom. I think we are stronger together and weaker apart. The hon. Gentleman touches on the fundamental issue of sorting out what the basis of that independence might look like, and the Scottish National party has so far singularly failed to answer questions on that.

Will the Secretary of State again confirm his and the Government’s commitment to a single, non-leading question in the referendum on Scottish separation, and will he further commit to a simple yes or no reply?

The fundamental issue is about independence, and that is what we must resolve. We must have a legal, fair and decisive independence referendum.

Will my right hon. Friend clarify whether he has had conversations about Antarctica and whether it is true that the previous Government simply forgot to deal with Antarctica and the British territory there? What is his position on making sure that we retain control of it?

The hon. Lady highlights an important part of the world in which it is important that the UK Government have a role to play. May I point out that through the Scotland Bill, which is passing through their lordships House, we are delivering the biggest transfer of powers to Edinburgh since the Act of Union and tidying up some of the inconsistencies of the devolution settlement?

When the Scottish Secretary and the Prime Minister met the First Minister, the Prime Minister offered a proposal for enhanced devolution but failed to spell out what that might be. What does the Scottish Secretary envisage a package of devolved financial powers might look like? Would it include corporation tax, all of income tax and the aggregates levy?

It is incredible that the SNP wants to ask a question about further devolution when it has not set out what the fundamentals of independence would be. One would think that after decades of having that as its main reason for existing, it might have some clear ideas on the issue.

That was a very instructive answer because it failed entirely to answer the question. There was no detail about what the Prime Minister proposes. Is that because there is no detail, is it because the announcement was made simply to capture one day’s news headlines, or is it meant to cover the embarrassment of this Government, who voted against the devolution of any further powers in the Commons debates on the Scotland Bill last year?

Honestly, the hon. Gentleman has a bit of a cheek talking about a lack of detail when his party cannot spell out what the currency situation would be in an independent Scotland, what the national debt might look like and how it might deal with pensions and financial regulation. It is absolutely clear that we must make the most fundamental decision on Scotland’s future in a clear-cut and decisive way. The debate about devolution will be ongoing and I very much look forward to being part of it.

My right hon. Friend has spelt out the absence of detail given by members of the Scottish National party in this House. Has he impressed on the First Minister, in the opportunities he has had to do so, the First Minister’s unequivocal obligation to explain to the people of Scotland not just the process of independence but the consequences and costs of it and the length of time it would take to implement?

My right hon. and learned Friend highlights some very important central issues in the debate about independence. I believe Scotland is stronger as part of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom is stronger because Scotland is part of it. On financial issues, our place in the world and the strength of our defences, there are huge numbers of unanswered questions for the SNP that it must now get on and address.


2. How many young people aged between 16 and 24 are not in employment, education or training in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (95263)

According to the latest figures published in the annual population survey, the number of 16 to 19-year-olds estimated to be not in education, employment or training in Scotland in 2010 was 36,000.

There is another important element to the question that I asked, which refers to young people up to 24 years old. They are the hardest-hit young people and we do not want to see that generation lost. In rural localities such as the right hon. Gentleman’s and mine, policies to get young people back into work will depend, as far as the private sector is concerned, on small and medium-sized enterprises. These businesses are suffering severely and the pressure on them is not enabling them to create jobs. Does the Secretary of State understand that we need a taskforce mentality to deal with young people’s unemployment?

My officials are working on the statistics for up to 24-year-olds. They are not currently published but I look forward to getting the data for the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

On the fundamentals of the economy, I absolutely agree that we need small and medium-sized businesses to be given the ability to grow. That is why we are putting pressure on the banks to lend to them and ensuring that we support the young people we are dealing with. The youth contract is fundamental—£1 billion to help people get more places on work experience and to help employers to take people on. It is that kind of action that will help people get into the jobs market.

My right hon. Friend rightly mentions the youth contract, which comes into effect in April. Does he agree that it is imperative that the Scottish Government, the British Government and employers in Scotland work together positively to ensure that young people get the opportunities, and that they are not distracted by scoring points against each other, but rather work together for young people?

I quite agree with my right hon. Friend. Working with Members across the House over the past six to eight months, I have held meetings and seminars around Scotland that have been focused on youth unemployment and on bringing together employers, young people, Scottish Government agencies and United Kingdom Government agencies. In March in Dundee we will have a national convention which John Swinney and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will attend, so that we can take the agenda forward together.

No one in the House is complacent about youth unemployment and the plight of young people trying to find work in very trying economic circumstances. I welcome the joint initiative of the national convention taking place next month, but may I press the Secretary of State on what outcomes he expects from that convention, and whether he will welcome the initiatives that the Scottish Government have taken to ensure a place for every young person aged 16 to 19 in Scotland in work, training or education?

It is vital that Scotland’s two Governments work together on this terrible problem that existed under the previous Government and continues. We need to address that using everything we can to help young people get experience, training or jobs. We will work hard on all those, and if others wish to work with us, we will welcome that.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many young Scots have lost their jobs since he was appointed to his job in May 2010?

If I may say so, the hon. Lady should remember the economic mess that we inherited from the Labour Government, since when we have been fixing the deficit and seeking to rebalance the economy and ensure that we have sustainable growth. The youth contract, work experience and all the support we are giving are vital to ensuring that we get young people back into the workplace.

I notice that the Secretary of State struggled somewhat with that answer. There is one statistic that he should be familiar with. Since his Government scrapped the future jobs fund, 23,000 jobs have been lost in Scotland. That is more than 400 jobs every week for young people, while he has become the Tories’ man in Scotland. We are in the midst of a youth unemployment crisis, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has been posted missing. In contrast, Labour took direct action through the future jobs fund, delivering more than 10,000 real jobs for young people in Scotland. So can the Secretary of State share with the House what plans he has—any ideas at all—to take direct, effective action to tackle youth unemployment in Scotland?

As ever, the hon. Lady wishes to leave behind the horrible mess that the Government she supported left for us to fix. She cannot escape that reality or the fact that youth unemployment rose under Labour. We are investing £1 billion in the youth contract, which will enhance the number of work experience places and provide additional support for employers taking on young people, and has provided the Scottish Government with additional resources. I have been working with her colleagues and others to ensure that we do everything we can to tackle this terrible problem.

Human Trafficking

3. What steps he is taking to ensure that the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland are discussed by the relevant officials in England and Wales. (95264)

The Government are considering the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland, in line with the ongoing implementation of the human trafficking strategy we launched in July 2011.

If the Minister had read the inquiry report, he would have seen that its main recommendation is that there should be a new human trafficking Bill for Scotland. I suggest to him that that would solve the problem of implementing the EU human trafficking directive, which we have signed up to, across the UK. I invite him and other interested parties to attend the all-party group on human trafficking next Monday in Room 7 to hear the inquiry being reported on in the House and perhaps take some advice.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the field of human trafficking, where co-ordination between involved agencies is critical if we are to find real solutions, is yet another practical example of a policy area that is best tackled at UK level?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that the UK can bring great weight to this issue on behalf of Scotland. It is also an issue where we have been able to work with the Scottish Government, demonstrating that the two Governments can work together on matters of great importance on a day-to-day basis.

Credit Rating

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a credit rating for Scotland. (95265)

Thanks to the decisive action that this Government have taken, the whole of the United Kingdom benefits from record low interest rates and a confirmed triple A credit rating status.

What estimate has the Secretary of State made of the extra debt interest that an independent Scotland would have to pay were it not to benefit from a triple A rating?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about how an independent Scotland would fare. The rating agencies have been quite clear that there are issues relating to the track record of Government, the pension arrangements, national debt and so much more that they need to take into account. Of course, it is in the gift of the Scottish Government, should they so wish, to ask for a draft opinion on what that status might look like, but so far they have not done so.

What analysis have the Government undertaken on the impact of a low credit rating on my constituency, and more widely on Lanarkshire, in the event of Scotland separating from the rest of the United Kingdom?

I recognise the challenges that face the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents and many others in Lanarkshire and elsewhere. I stick to the basic belief that Lanarkshire and Scotland are better off being part of the United Kingdom and much stronger that way than they would be if we went our separate ways.

Crucial to a good credit rating for Scotland will be its attractiveness to private investment to come into the country to invest in jobs and the economy. To that end, will the Secretary of State emphasise to the Scottish First Minister that the uncertainty caused by the referendum is causing a growing number of companies to pause their investment decisions until they get clarity on Scotland’s direction of travel?

My hon. Friend goes to the central issue, which is when this debate will take place. We should get on and make this fundamental decision about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom sooner rather than later. I cannot for the life of me understand why we should have to wait the best part of three years, with all the economic uncertainly that will generate, until reaching that decision.

Does the Secretary of State not understand that it is not the credit rating score that matters, but the cost of servicing Government debt? Japan, which has a much higher net debt and a double A minus credit rating, pays less interest on Government bonds than the UK. The truth is that it is the yield that counts, not the triple A rating or lack thereof. Will he now stop this ridiculous scaremongering about ratings?

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that the triple A status has no bearing on the interest rates we pay? He really needs to wake up and, with his colleagues, answer some of the fundamental questions at the heart of the debate, which so far they have ducked.

Benefits Cap

5. What meetings Ministers in his Department have had with Ministers in the Department for Works and Pensions to discuss the effect on Scotland of the proposed benefits cap. (95266)

12. What meetings Ministers in his Department have had with Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions to discuss the effect on Scotland of the proposed benefits cap. (95273)

Mr Speaker, you will be aware that the Chairman of the Work and Pensions Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg), who is a regular attendee at Scotland questions, has suffered a fall. I am sure that we all wish her well in her recovery.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are in contact with Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions on a range of issues concerning welfare reform.

Is it not clear that if the nationalist Government in Scotland had control of welfare policy, there would be no benefits cap in Scotland, despite widespread public support for it?

What is clear is that the Scottish National party is making a proposition for independence without explaining to people how benefits at current levels would be paid in future, or where the money would come from.

With the average income in Scotland being £419 a week, does the Minister not agree that a benefit cap of £500 a week is a reasonable and sensible level?

I do agree that that is a reasonable and fair measure, and constituents in constituencies such as mine cannot understand how the Labour party and the nationalists can promote the idea that the benefit cap should be higher than £35,000.

Is not the truth about the benefit cap, however, that if such a household on £419 a week, as cited by the previous questioner, had six children—like some of my constituents do—who had to be cared for, they would also receive child benefit, and that therefore the comparison that has been made is not fair? What is going to happen when the discretionary housing payments to a council—that is the only answer from the Government—run out?

The hon. Lady should listen to her hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), when she says that if Labour is to be taken seriously on any issue it has to

“pass the test of fiscal credibility.”

On this issue, that is a very relevant point.

The right hon. Gentleman will not be aware that I have the highest percentage of single women in any constituency in the country. What is he doing to help those women—[Interruption.] This is not a joke. This is a serious point, and Government Members can laugh all they like, but there are single women in this country who are struggling. What is his party going to do to help them?

What this Government are doing is tidying up the mess that the hon. Gentleman’s Government left, which has placed single women and many other people in a perilous financial position.

Public Expenditure

The most recent estimate of the level of public expenditure in Scotland, published in October 2011, shows that the level of public expenditure in Scotland was £10,165 per head for 2010-11.

Last week at the breakfast table, Mrs Bone and I were talking about public expenditure in Scotland and the First Minister, as one does, when suddenly our 11-year-old son, Thomas, asked, “Is Alex Salmond a goodie or a baddie?” What does the Secretary of State think?

As ever, the goings on at the Bone household breakfast table are a thing of national interest, and we look forward to further updates in due course. I think that when the hon. Gentleman’s son gets a chance to meet the First Minister, he will be delighted by the conversation that he has, but the important point that we should know is that the First Minister wants to make England separate from Scotland; we do not.

On public expenditure, the Secretary of State will know that not one ounce of UK steel is being used to build the new Forth road bridge. Is it not shameful that 29,000 of tonnes of steel can be shipped 12,500 miles from Shanghai but not 33 miles from Lanarkshire?

The hon. Gentleman’s commitment to Lanarkshire and to the steel industry is absolutely understood and well known, and his anger is understood, too. It is a matter that was of course devolved to the Scottish Government, and it is for them to answer his very difficult question.

In welcoming the additional per capita expenditure represented by the £100 million investment in sleeper services, I wonder whether the Secretary of State agrees that it is a good example of the Westminster and Holyrood Governments working more effectively together than separately, and will he seize the opportunity now to call on the likes of Richard Branson, Pete Waterman and others with innovation and entrepreneurial skills to see whether we can re-establish motor-rail services now that the sleeper services are secure?

My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the important investment that we have committed to the sleeper services, for which he has been an undoubted champion over a very long period. He is right to stress that we need to look at innovative ways to develop those services, and I look forward to discussing his idea further.

Severe Disability Premium

As at 3 April 2011 in Scotland, there were 4,800 in-work families benefiting from the severely disabled child element and with child tax credit above the family limit. There are 5,000 severely disabled children in these families.

I thank the Minister for that answer. The Prime Minister told this House on 14 December and again on 23 January that his Government will not be cutting benefits for disabled children. Given that almost 8,000 children in Scotland will lose £1,400 a year through the child tax credit changes, does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister was plain wrong and clearly does not understand his own policy?

What I agree with is the fact that the Government are not making any savings at all from these changes. Savings from abolishing the adult disability premiums and changes to the child rate will not return to the Exchequer; those savings will be recycled into higher payments for more severely disabled people. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I know that the House will want to hear Mrs Eleanor Laing.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does the Minister agree with me and my constituents that in matters of disability payments for severely disabled children, and of all other payments from taxpayers’ money for the people who are most in need throughout our entire country, we are better off raising money together and working together as one United Kingdom?

The severe disability premium and all other benefits are clearly set out by the United Kingdom Government. The Scottish National party has failed to set out how a single benefit in Scotland would be paid for post independence, if it were ever achieved.

Defence Munitions Beith

I spoke to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), last week on this issue. As he confirmed on Monday, there are no current plans to change the status of DM Beith. There is a need to maintain Beith until the Spearfish torpedo has been converted to a single-fuel system, when the need for specialist facilities may lapse. The conversion programme is expected to be completed around 2018.

Defence Munitions Beith is one of the largest employers in North Ayrshire and is wholly dependent on Ministry of Defence contracts. Will the Minister ensure that there is a ministerial visit to the facility from the Scotland Office to find out what more can be done with a view to ongoing representations for future contracts with the Ministry of Defence?

I am pleased to be able to confirm to the hon. Lady that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be pleased to visit that facility in her constituency.

Independence (Financial Effects)

15. What preparations his Department has made for dealing with issues that would arise in the event of Scottish independence. (95276)

The Scottish Government are proposing independence, but they have failed to set out what independence would mean for Scotland. This Government are clear that Scotland is stronger for being part of the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom is stronger for having Scotland within it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Scottish politicians, instead of focusing on independence, should, in these difficult economic times, stop depending on one industry in the North sea and look to create a broader industry sector that will provide economic support for the rest of Scotland?

My hon. Friend is right that our primary concern is to ensure that we get the economy on the right track. By fixing the deficit, rebalancing the economy and ensuring that there is sustainable growth, we will do just that. In the meantime, we should get on with resolving the issue of independence to remove the uncertainty that it causes. [Interruption.]

Does the Secretary of State agree that in the event of independence, there would be many unnecessary financial and regulatory costs to both Scotland and England in the areas along the border between the two countries? In an extreme case, there is the absurd possibility of border controls.

First, I am not contemplating Scotland actually becoming independent, because I am confident that Scotland will vote to stay in the United Kingdom. However, my hon. Friend highlights a central issue. The SNP cannot dodge some of the issues that there would be in relation to Europe if we were to become separate, including those to do with the borders. As a borders MP, I think that those issues are as absurd as he does.

Has the Secretary of State considered the recent study by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which shows that even if it formed a sterling zone with the UK, a separate Scotland would experience volatile public finances, inherit debts at either 70% or 80% of GDP, and face tougher constraints on levels of tax and borrowing than it does as an equal participant in fiscal union with the UK?

Of course I have studied that report. The hon. Gentleman puts its conclusions succinctly. Those are points that the SNP has failed to answer.

Prime Minister

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 Senior Aircraftman Ryan Tomlin from 2 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment. It is clear from the tributes paid by his RAF colleagues that he was a determined young man with immense potential. His service and his sacrifice to our nation will never be forgotten.

Members of the House will also have seen the reports that the talented and respected foreign correspondent of The Sunday Times, Marie Colvin, has been killed in the bombing in Syria. It is a desperately sad reminder of the risks that journalists take to inform the world of what is happening, and of the dreadful events in Syria. Our thoughts should be with her family and friends.

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

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about our brave troops and the brave journalists who report their activities?

The Prime Minister has said that one of his main priorities is to fight crime. Will he explain, therefore, why since the election there has been a cut of more than 4,000 in the number of front-line police officers? The South Yorkshire police helicopter, which last year was responsible for apprehending more than 700 criminals, will be scrapped by the Policing Minister against the advice of the chief constable. How can the Prime Minister explain these matters? They clearly indicate to the public that crime will rise. This is simply another broken promise from this Prime Minister.

On the issue of the helicopter, talks are under way between South Yorkshire police and the Association of Chief Police Officers. I am confident that helicopter coverage will be maintained. On the wider issue, I would make the point that recorded crime is down under this Government. The figures from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary show that it believes that there will be more police in visible policing roles this March than there were a year ago.

This Monday was meant to be a happy reunion for pupils at Alvechurch Church of England middle school following the half-term break. Instead, it has turned out to be a day of mourning for the school and the entire community because of the news of a coach crash in France, which claimed the life of a much-loved local teacher, Mr Peter Rippington, and left many school children seriously injured. Will the Prime Minister join me in expressing sympathy for all those who have been affected and in wishing all those who are still being treated in France a swift recovery and a speedy return home?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this desperately sad case. I know that Peter Rippington was much respected in the local community and at the school. He will be hugely missed. I am sure that the thoughts and sincere condolences of everyone in the House will be with my hon. Friend’s constituents and everyone who has been affected. Our consular staff in France continue to provide support to all those who are still in France. Our ambassador, Sir Peter Ricketts, has visited passengers in hospital and is liaising with the local authorities. We will do everything we can, with the French authorities, to get people home safely.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Senior Aircraftman Ryan Tomlin from 2 Squadron, RAF Regiment. He died bravely and courageously serving our country, and our thoughts are with his family and friends.

We are also thinking today about the tragic death of Marie Colvin. She was a brave and tireless reporter across many continents and in many difficult situations. She was also an inspiration to women in her profession. Her reports in the hours before her death showed her work at its finest, and our thoughts today are with her family and friends.

On Monday, the Prime Minister held his emergency NHS summit and managed to exclude the main organisations representing the following professions: the GPs, the nurses, the midwives, the pathologists, the psychiatrists, the physiotherapists and, just for good measure, the radiologists. How can he possibly think it is a good idea to hold a health summit that excludes the vast majority of people who work in the NHS?

What I want to do is safeguard our NHS. We are putting more money into the NHS—money that Labour is specifically committed to taking out. But let us be frank: money alone will not be enough. We have to meet the challenge of an ageing population, more expensive treatments and more people with long-term conditions, and that is why we have to reform the NHS. My summit was about those organisations, including clinical commissioning groups up and down the country—8,200 GP practices—that want to put the reforms in place.

So the Prime Minister has got no answer about his ridiculous summit that excluded the vast majority of people who work in the medical professions. Let us remind ourselves of what he said just a few short months ago during his so-called listening exercise. He said that

“change—if it is to…really work—should have the support of people who work in our NHS. We have to take our nurses and doctors with us.”

Now he cannot even be in the same room as the doctors and nurses. Does that not tell him that he has lost the confidence of those who work in our national health service?

What I want to know is, when is the right hon. Gentleman going to ask a question about the substance of the reforms? He does not want to ask about choice, because the Opposition used to be in favour of choice but will not back it in the Bill. He does not want to ask a question about competition, because they used to favour competition but now will not support it in the Bill. They used to support GPs being put in charge of health budgets. They backed that, but they will not support it now it is in the Bill. Why not ask a serious question? Incidentally, as we are being kept here to vote at 7 o’clock on the publication of the risk register, why does he not ask a question about that?

Does the Prime Minister not think it was a serious question about his exclusion of the vast majority of people who work in our NHS? He should not worry—[Interruption.]

Order. The House must calm down. Tranquil and statesmanlike is the mode for which Members should strive.

We will come to the substance of the Prime Minister’s Bill, but let me ask him this very important question. There were people who attended the summit and expressed deep concerns about his Bill. Even those who were invited to his summit did so. Following his health summit, can he tell us what changes, if any, he is planning to make to his Bill?

Why does the right hon. Gentleman not stop worrying about my diary and start worrying about his complete lack of substance? We are going ahead with these reforms because we think it is good for patients to have choice, good to have the involvement of the independent and voluntary sectors in the NHS and good to have more emphasis on public health. That is why we are doing these reforms.

Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of one thing that he used to believe. He used to believe—this was what his Health Secretary said—that

“the private sector puts its capacity into the NHS for the benefit of NHS patients, which I think most people in this country would celebrate.”—[Official Report, 15 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 250WH.]

The Opposition are now committed to a 5% cap on the private sector, which would mean hospitals such as the Marsden hospital sacking doctors, sacking nurses and closing wards. Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman again: we are here at 7 o’clock to vote on the risk register. Are you going to ask a question about it, or are you frightened of your own motion?

Order. I think it would be good if we could preserve some parliamentary manners in this place, and the Prime Minister will know that I am not frightened of anything.

Nobody believes the Prime Minister and nobody trusts him on the health service. At the Homerton hospital on Monday, I met senior staff working in HIV services, who explained to me how the Bill will fragment and disrupt services—[Interruption.] The Health Secretary should be quiet and listen to the people who work in the health service. If he had done some listening before—[Interruption.] He should calm down.

The senior staff working in HIV services explained that HIV treatment is currently commissioned by one organisation: the primary care trust. Under the Prime Minister’s plans, treatment will be commissioned by three organisations: the national commissioning board, the clinical commissioning group and the health and wellbeing board. The staff said that that will damage the world-class service they provide for patients. Why will he not listen to the people who actually know what they are talking about in the NHS?

If the right hon. Gentleman is opposing other organisations that have expertise in AIDS and AIDS treatment taking part in the NHS, he is opposing the Terence Higgins Trust, which does an enormous amount to support HIV. The fact is that we are seeing complete opportunism from the Labour party, which used to back choice, the independent sector and reform. I say to you, Mr Speaker, you don’t save the NHS by opposing reform; you save the NHS by delivering reform.

The Prime Minister does not even understand his own Bill. Let me explain to him. The question was about the fragmentation of commissioning. The experts at the Homerton—[Interruption.]

Order. Opposition Members are becoming over-excited. There is a long time to go and I want to get to the bottom of the Order Paper.

Let me say to the Health Secretary that I do not think the Prime Minister wants advice from him.

Let me explain to the Prime Minister that the question was about the fragmentation of commissioning—[Interruption.] Good: I am glad you have got it. Maybe when you get up you can answer the question.

Order. I say to the Leader of the Opposition: keep me out of it. I said that to the Prime Minister and I am saying it to him.

Order. [Interruption.] Order—I say that to the shadow Chancellor as well—[Interruption.] Order. Members might be enjoying themselves, but I ask them to think of what the country thinks—[Interruption] Order. I ask Members to think of what the country thinks of how we conduct ourselves.

The Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the NHS professions because of the promises he made before the election. Will he now give people a straight answer to the question I asked him two weeks ago and admit that he has broken his promise of no top-down reorganisation?

If the right hon. Gentleman took any longer, we would have to put him on a waiting list for care, his question took so long. He asks about integration. Let me explain to him, because I do not suppose he has read the Bill, that clauses 22 and 25 place a specific duty on key organisations to integrate health and social care. The Bill is all about integration, but here we are, on his fifth question, and he still will not mention his vote on the risk register. I think I know why. I have here Labour’s brief for this afternoon’s debate. There is an excellent section explaining why we do not publish risk registers. The second argument is particularly strong. It goes like this:

“Andy Burnham blocked the publication of the Department of Health’s risk register in September 2009.”

There we are. The Opposition are absolutely revealed as a bunch of rank opportunists, not fit to run opposition, not fit for government.

I will tell the Prime Minister what happened under the previous Labour Government: the lowest waiting times in history; more doctors and nurses than ever before; and the highest patient satisfaction with the NHS. I will match our record on the NHS with his any day of the week. The problem with this Prime Minister is that he asks people to trust him but he has betrayed that trust. The problem with this Prime Minister is that on the NHS he thinks that he is right and everyone else is wrong. It has become a symbol not of how his party has changed but of his arrogance. I tell him this: this will become his poll tax. He should listen to the public and drop the Bill.

Six questions and not one mention of the motion that the Opposition are putting before the House tonight! To put it forward and then not back it up shows an absence of leadership. [Interruption.]

Order. Members on both sides of the House are yelling at each other. It is rude, it is unfair on the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and it should stop.

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is actually happening in the health service under this Government: waiting times for outpatients, down; waiting times for inpatients, down; the number of people waiting in total, down; the number of people waiting for more than a year, halved; hospital infections, down to their lowest level; and mixed-sex wards, down by 94%. That is our record. There are 4,000 more doctors, almost 1,000 more midwives and fewer managers. He talks about what people think about this Government, so let me remind him what his two-time candidate said about him this week:

“You are not articulating a vision or a destination, you’re not clearly identifying a course and no-one’s following you…My problem is that you are not a leader.”

I could not have put it better myself.

Q13. In 2009, when the Conservatives took control of Lancashire county council, fostering services were rated unsatisfactory. Since then, its budget has reduced by £120,000 and it is now rated outstanding. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating county councillor Tony Winder and his Conservative colleagues not only on doing more for less but on doing it better? (95259)

I certainly join my hon. Friend in that, and he makes an important point: across the country we have different councils coping with the issues of fostering and adoption, and producing very different results. We need to publish all these figures so that we can see which councils are doing well and getting value for money, as they clearly are in Lancashire, and, above all, which councils are doing the best to get children out of care and into a warm and loving home.

Q2. The national minimum wage has lifted millions of workers out of poverty pay, so will the Prime Minister support hard-working people and give a commitment today to drop unjust plans to freeze it? (95248)

We support the minimum wage, we have supported its uprating and we have already uprated it. It has an important role to play.

Q3. The children of Somalia should be able to expect a life before death. Does not tomorrow’s London conference provide an opportunity to signal to the terrorists, pirates and corrupt of Somalia that we are all determined to do whatever we can to ensure stability and good governance in Somalia? Will the Prime Minister welcome the participation in the conference of the President of Somaliland, given its experience of peace-building in the region? (95249)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We will be welcoming the President of Somaliland to the conference. Somaliland has taken an important step forward in showing that better governance and better economic progress are possible. In many ways, it is an example that others can follow. But the conference is not about recognising Somaliland; it is about trying to put in place the building blocks, among the international community but above all among the Somalis themselves, for a stronger and safer Somalia. That means taking action on piracy and hostages, supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia and increasing its funding and role in Mogadishu, and working with all the parts of Somalia to try to give that country, which has been more blighted by famine, disease, terrorism and violence than almost any other in the world, a second chance.

Given what the Prime Minister said last week in Scotland, will he devote as much time to facing up to the grievances that the English feel from the current proposals of devolution as he will to considering new proposals of devolution to Scotland? Will he open a major debate here in the House on the English question, so that Members from all parts of the House can advise him on what measures of devolution England needs if we are to gain equity with other countries of the United Kingdom?

We have, obviously, set up the West Lothian group to look at this issue, and obviously we want to make sure that devolution works for everyone in the United Kingdom, but I would part company slightly with the right hon. Gentleman for this reason: I believe the United Kingdom has been an incredibly successful partnership of all its members. Far from wanting to appeal to English people in any way to nurture a grievance they feel, I want to appeal to my fellow Englishmen and say, “This has been a great partnership”—a great partnership for Scotland, but a great partnership for England too. Of course Scotland must make its choice, but we hope that Scotland will choose to remain in this partnership that has done so well for the last 300 years.

Q4. Does the Prime Minister agree that an elected mayor and more power for cities, including over local railway infrastructure, present a great opportunity for those of us in Bristol who have long campaigned for the resurrection of local rail, including the Henbury loop line around the north of the city? (95250)

I support having elected mayors in our great cities. Obviously it will be for those cities themselves to choose. I am hugely encouraged by what has happened in Liverpool recently. We will be having referendums, and people in Bristol will have their chance to make that choice. At the same time, what people have not entirely noticed is that the Government are going through a huge act of devolution to cities, in terms of the powers and the money that we are prepared to offer them, so that they can build their own futures. If we think of how Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham—these great cities—built themselves up in the first place, we see that it was not on order and instruction from London; it was the great city figures who did that for them. We want that to happen again.

Q5. On Tuesday the Education Secretary said that the Prime Minister’s decision to set up the Leveson inquiry was having a “chilling” effect upon freedom of expression. Does the Education Secretary speak for the Government? (95251)

The point I would make is this. It was right to set up the Leveson inquiry, and that is a decision fully supported by the entire Government, but I think my right hon. Friend is making an important point, which is this: even as this inquiry goes on, we want to have a vibrant press that feels it can call the powerful to account, and we do not want to see it chilled—and although sometimes one may feel some advantage in having it chilled, that is not what we want.

Many of my constituents will be fully supportive of the Chancellor’s refusal yesterday to sign off on the EU accounts. Does the Prime Minister agree with me and my constituents that it is totally unacceptable that for 17 years now the EU has failed to get auditors to sign off on its accounts?

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and it was not just Britain that took this stand; it was also the Dutch and the Swedes. For too long the accounts have not been properly dealt with, and corruption and fraud have not been properly dealt with, and it is entirely right to make this stand.

Q6. Last week in Edinburgh the Prime Minister said there were more powers on the table for Scotland, but could not name any. A few months ago he mocked the idea of Scotland controlling its own oil wealth, and in the Scotland Bill even the Crown Estate was too big. Can the Prime Minister now name one power that he has in his mind from this latest U-turn? (95252)

I did not think that the Scottish National party favoured devolution; I thought it favoured separation. Yet as soon as you are offered a referendum that gives you the chance to put that in front of the Scottish people, you start running away.

Q7. Tomorrow, Members of this House will have the chance to debate the importance of cycling, following The Times cities fit for cycling campaign. The Minister for cycling, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), has made some welcome announcements and investment, but there is still much more to do. Will the Prime Minister commit the Government to support The Times campaign, increase investment in cycling and take much greater steps to promote cycling across the country? (95253)

The Times campaign is excellent, and I strongly support what it is trying to do. Anyone who has got on a bicycle, particularly in one of our busier cities, knows that they are taking their life into their hands every time they do so, so we need to do more to try to make cycling safer. The Government are making it easier for councils to install mirrors at junctions. We are putting £11 million into training for children and £15 million into better cycle routes and facilities across the country. If we want to encourage the growth in cycling that we have seen in recent years, we need to get behind campaigns such as this.

Since he has been Prime Minister, the company A4e has won contracts worth £224 million from the Department for Work and Pensions alone. In view of the fact that there are record numbers of unemployed people and that employees of this company have been arrested, what action is he taking to make sure that neither vulnerable unemployed people nor the taxpayer are victims of fraud by A4e?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue, which I understand dates back two years to schemes run by the previous Government. As I understand it, it was the company itself that raised the issue with the relevant authorities. There is an ongoing police investigation, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment much further. All I would say is that the investigation needs to be thorough and needs to get to the truth, and then we can take its findings into account.

Q8. Generations of young people have benefited from work experience schemes through getting experience of the working world. Will the Prime Minister praise those companies that are doing everything they possibly can to encourage work experience schemes—unlike the militant hard left, who have not only shut down these schemes, but would rather see people get a handout as opposed to a hand-up in life? (95254)

I think my hon. Friend speaks for many in this House and the overwhelming majority in this country who think that companies offering work experience schemes to those on unemployment benefit is a thoroughly good thing. Let us be clear: this is not a compulsory scheme, but one that young people ask to go on. The findings are that around half of them are actually getting work at the end of these schemes. That is a far better outcome than the future jobs fund had—and at about a 20th of the cost. I think we should encourage companies and young people to expand work experience because it gives people the chance to see work and all it involves, and gives them a better chance to get a job.

Prime Minister, thousands of BAE workers in every constituency right across Lancashire are concerned and angry about the Eurofighter Indian contract. Earlier this week, you held a meeting with Lancashire’s Tory MPs. When will you be arranging a meeting at 10 Downing street for all Lancashire MPs—or do you have something to hide?

Order. I am not arranging any meetings at 10 Downing street, although it is possible that the Prime Minister might. We will hear.

I have met a number of Members of Parliament for whom BAE is in their constituencies—including the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson),who came to see me with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I have had many MPs coming to see me. This Government are absolutely committed to helping with Eurofighter and Typhoon in every way we can. That is why I have undertaken trips right across the middle east. Let me say that when I do, I often get criticised by Labour MPs for taking BAE or Rolls-Royce on the aeroplane. I think it is right to fly the flag for great British businesses, and I will continue to do so.

Q9. Last week at the breakfast table, Mrs Bone was saying how she knew the Prime Minister wanted to deport the terrorist Abu Qatada straight away and put the national interest first—[Interruption.] (95255)

Mrs Bone knew, however, that this action was being blocked by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Liberal Democrats. Suddenly, our 11-year-old son Thomas asked, “Is Nick Clegg a goodie or a baddie?” What does the Prime Minister think?

There is only so much detail I can take from the Bone household. In believing that I am very keen that Abu Qatada be deported, Mrs Bone is indeed psychic, as that is exactly what I believe. That is why the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers are working so hard with the Jordanians to get the assurances that we need so that this can indeed take place. The Deputy Prime Minister thoroughly backs that approach.

Both the Prime Minister and the Housing Minister have told the House that rents are falling in the private rented sector, when the evidence—including from the most recent survey by Inside Housingis that rents are rising. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to put the record straight, or will he continue to blame the tenant when the real responsibility lies with landlords charging ever-higher rents and the failure of his Government’s house building programme?

Given that that question has come from a member of a party that saw house building fall to its lowest level since the 1920s, I think I will take it with a lorryload of salt.

Q10. We have put great effort into stamping out and kicking out racism in football in this country. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when he brings together representatives of the sport later today, he will do everything he can to ensure that prejudice does not creep back into the game and that racism stays out of football? (95256)

My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise this issue. It was a huge achievement when Britain, and its football authorities and clubs, led the world in kicking racism out of football, something that has not happened in all other countries. However, we have seen some worrying signs recently.

The reason I think that this matters so much, not just to football but to Government and to everyone in our country, is that football and footballers are role models for young people. What people see on the football pitch they copy when they go and learn to play football themselves. That is why I think it important to bring people together and ensure that we kick racism out of football for good.

Q11. Let me first associate myself with the Prime Minister’s condolences to the family and friends of the member of the armed forces who lost his life last week. I am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in thanking the thousands of people who serve in the reserve armed forces. My constituents who serve in the Royal Marine reserve forces in Dundee have expressed concern about the possible closure of the Royal Marine reserve detachment, but when I write to Ministers at the Ministry of Defence about it, they refuse to give me a definitive answer. Does the Prime Minister agree that that is inappropriate, unsatisfactory, and perhaps even arrogant? (95257)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising again the case of the brave man from the RAF regiment who gave his life, and all those who serve in Afghanistan. He is absolutely right: the reserve forces in our country are a huge national asset. We want to expand them, and we are putting in more than £1 billion between now and 2015 to ensure that we can do that.

No decision has been made about the future of the Dundee Royal Marine reserve headquarters, but there is no intention to cut the number of Royal Marine reservists in Scotland. Indeed, those who look at the whole issue of our armed forces and reservists throughout Scotland will see that we actually need more people to join the reserves. I hope that everyone in the House who likes our Territorial Army and the other reserve forces will back the recruitment campaigns, because if we are to have an Army with 80,000 regulars and 40,000 reservists, we need a cultural step change in our country so that we really respect what our TA and other reserve forces are doing.

Q12. On Friday, United States marshals will escort my 65-year-old constituent Chris Tappin from Heathrow to a jail in Texas, where he will face pressure to plea bargain in order to avoid lengthy incarceration pending a financially ruinous trial for a crime that he insists he did not commit. What steps is the Prime Minister considering to reform the US-UK extradition treaty, which has been so unfair to the likes of Gary McKinnon and, now, my constituent Mr Tappin? (95258)

I quite understand why my hon. Friend has raised the case of his constituent. Obviously Chris Tappin has been through a number of processes, including those of the magistrates court and the High Court, and the Home Secretary has thoroughly considered his case.

My hon. Friend has also raised the more general issue of Sir Scott Baker’s report on the extradition arrangements, which he has completed and which we are now considering. He did not call for fundamental reform, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will examine his findings carefully, and will also take into account the views of Parliament that have been expressed in recent debates. Of course, balancing the arguments is vital, but I think it important for us to remember at the same time why we enter into these extradition treaties: to show respect for each other’s judicial processes, and to make sure that people who are accused of crimes can be tried for those crimes—and Britain can benefit from that as well. A proper, sober, thoughtful review needs to take place, and this case shows why.

Q14. So far, the Government’s response to the unfair relationship between pub companies and their licensees has been self-regulation, not statutory regulation. On 12 January this year the House voted unanimously to set up a review panel, to be agreed by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, to review the implementation of self-regulation, but to date there has been absolutely no response from the Government. Can the Prime Minister tell me whether he is backing the will of Parliament or the will of pub companies? (95260)

I am a keen supporter of Britain’s pubs, so I will write to the hon. Gentleman and get him a good answer.

In his speech in Edinburgh last week, the Prime Minister rightly described Scotland as

“a pioneering country all its life”


“the turbine hall of the Industrial Revolution”.

The next pioneering revolution in this country will be in green technology, and the green investment bank will be key in its promotion. As he has now visited Edinburgh, does he agree with me that it is the perfect location for that institution?

It is certainly one of the locations that are being considered, but the hon. Gentleman will know that a number of bids have been made by different towns, cities and, indeed, regions of the country, which all want to host this excellent innovation, the green investment bank.

Q15. Returning to the issue of the NHS and the pertinent question posed by the Leader of the Opposition, why has the Prime Minister broken his promise not to engage in another top-down reorganisation of the national health service? (95261)

What we are doing is abolishing the bureaucracy that has been holding the NHS back. We are going to cut, in this Parliament, £4.5 billion of bureaucracy—by getting rid of the primary care trusts and the strategic health authorities—all of which will be invested in patient care. The policy of the hon. Gentleman’s party is to say that real increases in NHS spending are “irresponsible”. That is his party’s view. We do not think that it is irresponsible—we think that it is responsible—which is why we are putting the money in, and he would take the money out.

There have been lots of interruptions today, but I am concerned about the interests of Back Benchers.

Last week in Ethiopia with Save the Children, I saw at first hand how malnutrition is stunting the growth of the world’s poorest children. Does the Prime Minister agree that the UK has a real opportunity to lead the international debate in tackling malnutrition, which will help the growth of the world’s children, and economic growth as well?

My hon. Friend is entirely right about this, not only because we work with excellent organisations and non-governmental organisations such as Save the Children that are doing excellent work, but because the UK is the second largest bilateral donor in the horn of Africa, where we have seen that appalling famine with many people starving and dying. Not only are we doing our bit in money, investment and time, but that gives us an opportunity to lead the debate on where we need to take the development and aid agenda next.