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Volume 542: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2012

Q8. Is the Prime Minister aware that Harlow has the highest business growth in the whole of the United Kingdom, thanks to a Conservative council that is open for business and a Conservative-led Government who have invested in an enterprise zone, increased apprentices and cut taxes? Will the Prime Minister come to Harlow so we can show Britain how to lead the economic recovery? (100969)

Although I am in danger of being accused of watching too much television, I think we could summarise my hon. Friend’s question by saying, “The only way is Essex”. I know he speaks up for his county; what I would say is that I congratulate Harlow on its fantastic achievement. The Government want to play their part, not least with the enterprise zone in west Essex, which covers Harlow and which we hope will create 5,000 new jobs.

Q9. In North Tyneside more than 7,000 hard-working families depend on working tax credits to make ends meet, yet fewer than 200 people have to pay top-rate tax. Which of those groups does the Prime Minister think needs the most support in the Chancellor’s Budget? (100970)

What I can tell the hon. Lady is that we increased the child tax credit by £255 last year, which was the biggest increase in its history, and that it will go up by another £135 this year. In terms of the very richest in our country, let me reassure her that, after this Budget, they will be paying more in tax.

Q10. Does the Prime Minister agree that, as well as the Liberal Democrat priority to lift the tax threshold to £10,000, one of the best ways of helping—[Interruption.] (100971)

Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the best ways of helping families on low and medium incomes is to build more affordable housing throughout the country? Given that Labour’s legacy in London was to have 350,000 families on the waiting list, will he assure us that there will be more affordable housing in London and across the country?

We do want to get our housing markets started again, including for affordable housing. That is why, with the higher right-to-buy discounts, that money is going to go back into building affordable homes. At the same time, we are doing more to kick-start those places that have planning permission but cannot get under way because of problems with bank and other finance. That is why we are putting extra money into those schemes, to make sure that that building takes place this year or next year.

The Information Commissioner has confirmed that some of the information used by the Consulting Association to blacklist trade unionists could only have come from the police or the Security Service. When 3,000 people, mostly celebrities, had their telephones hacked, the Government set up an inquiry under Leveson. When 3,200 trade unionists have been blacklisted, and many have lost their livelihoods, the Home Secretary simply suggests that they go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Why is there one route to justice for celebrities, and another for working people?

There is one law that has to cover everybody in this land, and if there is any accusation of wrongdoing, that is something that the police, who are completely independent of the Government, can investigate. That is what should happen. I say that on the hon. Gentleman’s behalf, but he could do something on everyone else’s behalf. He runs the Right to Work campaign, which is stopping young people getting work experience places. If he cares about opportunities for young people, he will give up that left-wing organisation.

Q11. My county of Herefordshire has below-average household income, but public funding for schools and health care in Herefordshire has been among the lowest in the country for a long time. Does my right hon. Friend share my view that that is unfair, and will he personally support measures to change the funding formulas, to get a fair deal for my county and for other similarly affected rural areas? (100972)

My hon. Friend will know that we are looking at the funding formula for schools. We want to try to make it simpler, so that people can see what the criteria are and why their area receives the money that it does. At the same time, we are introducing the pupil premium, which will mean that parts of the country such as his, where there are quite high levels of deprivation in parts, will get specific funding for those children who are on free school meals. That should help the funding of those schools that need the money the most.

Will the Prime Minister do the honourable thing and publish the risk register, including the action that is needed to mitigate the risks that the Health and Social Care Bill still poses to patients?

What I would say is that, as far as I can see, we have actually voted in this House of Commons twice on the same issue—thank you, Mr Speaker—and on both occasions, there was a significant majority in favour of the Government’s position. I would also add that the last Government had many, many opportunities to publish risk registers, and they did not do it.

Q12. For 10 years or more, leading Conservatives such as Lord Saatchi and Lord Tebbit have argued for working people and pensioners on low incomes to be taken out of income tax altogether. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a thoroughly Conservative idea whose time has well and truly arrived? (100973)

What I would say to my hon. Friend is that, almost uniquely, I am not going to prejudge what is in the Chancellor’s Budget. However, I think that we can say that it is—if you like, Mr Speaker—a kaleidoscope Budget.

Q13. The Prime Minister may recall that at the time of the strategic defence and security review, he described it as a mistake and an error to use the short take-off vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. As the Ministry of Defence is about to perform a U-turn on the decision to rescind the original decision, does he now accept and understand that the real mistake and error has been a defence review that has been inadequate and is fast unravelling? (100974)

The real mistake and error was inheriting a £38 billion black hole in the defence budget. To pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, what he wants as Defence Secretary is to be the first—in a generation, frankly—to announce a balanced and funded budget for defence, for this year and for many years to come. That is what we are discussing. We will look at all the evidence and all the costings. As the hon. Gentleman will know, costings change in defence, but I make this pledge: if costs and facts change, we—unlike previous Governments—will not just plough on regardless and make the wrong decisions for political reasons.