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Volume 547: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2012

Q7. The Prime Minister has not had time to reach a judgment on the tax affairs of Gary Barlow—he is a busy man—but he has had years to consider those of massive Conservative donor Lord Ashcroft. Are they morally wrong, like Jimmy Carr? (113864)

Like all Members of both Houses of Parliament, all peers have to be full UK taxpayers. That is a change I fully support. While we are on this subject, the hon. Gentleman might want to have a little look at Labour’s chief fundraiser, a man called Andrew Rosenfeld. Between the years of 2006 and 2011 he lived in which key marginal seat? Anyone? Zurich.

Order. The hon. Gentleman deserves to be heard. There has been far too much noise today when Members have been asking their questions. It is discourteous. Let us hear Mr Bernard Jenkin.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to remind the House that there is a crucial EU summit at the end of this week? Which is more important for UK growth and jobs: the implications of the massive changes being proposed in the EU or House of Lords reform?

Clearly, in terms of growth in the UK economy, what is happening in the eurozone and in Europe is extremely important, and it is a very vital summit that is taking place this Thursday and Friday. The UK Government have a very clear view: the eurozone countries need to do more in the short term to settle the financial instability in the markets, but they also need to take medium and longer-term steps to make sense of the eurozone. That will involve them sharing greater powers, but that is something the UK should not be involved in. I think that we have a very clear view: we push forward our arguments with great vigour and we protect and defend the UK economy and political system at the same time.

Q8. Every hour of every day somebody is killed by a weapon that has been irresponsibly traded from one country to another. Next week the arms trade treaty negotiations start in New York. Will the Prime Minister make sure and guarantee that the British delegation fights for the inclusion in the treaty of not only police and security apparatus that can be used for internal repression, but ammunition, which is vital? It is bullets that kill. (113865)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we back the arms trade treaty, as we have done for a considerable amount of time, and lobby very vigorously on that issue. On the specific point he raises, I will look at it and write to him.

On Friday night, the towns of Bacup, Crawshawbooth and Darwen were subject to unprecedented flooding when the River Irwell and the River Darwen burst their banks at the same time. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the emergency services on working through the night and, in particular, the residents of Crawshawbooth, who came out in the morning to clean up their village so that it was able to welcome the Olympic torch less than 12 hours later?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising the emergency services. These were really very dangerous and damaging floods, caused by a huge amount of rainfall over a very short period. The emergency services performed superbly, and I hope to go and see that for myself, but now we are in the recovery phase and the phase when people start to look at going back into their homes. There will be all sorts of questions about insurance and about how we can help, and I am sure that he will make those arguments in the House and that the Government will do all they can to help.

Q9. Will the Prime Minister finally answer the question why this year to date this Government have actually borrowed £3.9 billion more than they had by this time last year? (113866)

The deficit, which the hon. Gentleman and his party left, is down by a quarter, and the policy that he supports is to spend more, to borrow more and to put the debt up even further.

Q10. Seventeen-year-old Godwin Lawson, from Enfield, was tragically stabbed to death in 2010. Since then his mother, Yvonne, has become a powerful force for challenging the culture of knife crime, by sharing her experiences of her son’s death with young people in schools. She, like many groups on the front line of knife crime, can make an extraordinary contribution to challenging that culture, but some authorities are not yet getting behind them by supporting and offering funding to achieve that aim. Will the Prime Minister lend his support and encouragement to those people and to the councils to get behind them? (113867)

I will certainly give my support to Yvonne Lawson and to all those who are playing such a heroic role in trying to change the culture of knife crime and of carrying knives in our country. It is worth remembering that this year, for instance, Ben Kinsella would have been 21, and I pay tribute to Brooke Kinsella and to all such family members. It would in many ways be easier for them to try to turn away from the tragedy that robbed them of their children, their brothers and their sisters, but instead they campaign and show immense bravery, raising the profile of the issue. The Government must play their part by making sure that there are tough mandatory sentences, and we are and have done that, but a larger culture change needs to take place, and the bravery of those who have lost loved ones—going into schools and talking about the dangers of carrying knives—can play a huge role in that.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the horrific explosion that occurred in Shaw in my constituency yesterday. I am sure the whole House will want to pay tribute to, and mourn the death of, two-year-old Jamie Heaton and to send its best wishes to burns victim, Andy Partington. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the work of the emergency services that attended the event yesterday, work that I witnessed first hand, as well as to Oldham council’s civil contingency service and to the Red Cross? Does he agree that we must never take for granted the courage and bravery of those servicemen and women?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to speak as she does, and I am sure the whole House will want to send a message of sympathy and condolences to the family of that poor two-year-old, who lost his life, and also our best wishes to the burns victim who is in hospital being treated at the moment. The scenes of what had happened as a result of that explosion were really quite appalling to see on our televisions, and I certainly join her in paying tribute to the emergency services. I also wish all speed to the police in getting to the bottom of anything that might have happened or gone on. Everyone will require answers to what has been an absolute tragedy.

Q11. The Calder Valley flood victims Facebook page and the Community Foundation for Calderdale JustGiving page show great community spirit, and the fact that the arts festival, Mytholmroyd gala and handmade parade are all going ahead this week shows the community’s resilience and, also, that the Calder Valley is open for business. Can my right hon. Friend update our flooded communities on how negotiations are going with the insurance industry, so that they can get insurance in the future and at a reasonable price? (113868)

I quite understand why my hon. Friend wants to raise that issue. I believe that more than 550 properties in his constituency alone were affected by these really damaging and dangerous floods. On flood insurance, we are going to work very hard with the industry to continue to deliver widely available and affordable household insurance in flood-risk areas. I absolutely join him in praising the resilience of his community, having suffered as my constituency suffered in 2007. Although the recovery from floods is extremely difficult, the resilience of our communities and the amount of public and community service that comes out of them is remarkable and deserves our praise.

Twenty years ago this week, the giant Ravenscraig steelworks in my constituency was forced to close. Thousands of steelmaking jobs were lost, and sadly many of my former steelworking colleagues never found work again. Twenty years on, will the Prime Minister apologise for his party’s shameful role in the demise of the Scottish steel industry?

I am sorry for every job that has been lost in manufacturing industry over a very long period of time. I would say, though, that while manufacturing as a share of the economy almost halved under the previous Government, that share is now increasing. It is worth recognising that under this Government the steel industry has started up again on Teesside, and that is something that the whole House should applaud.

Q12. Hereford is the home of the SAS, and 19 July will be the 40th anniversary of the battle of Mirbat, in which nine SAS soldiers fought off more than 300 heavily armed guerrillas. During the battle, Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba was shot while single-handedly operating a 25 lb field gun—a weapon designed for a six-man team. Successive Governments have declined to recognise the extraordinary nature of his sacrifice. The SAS has many heroes, but will the Prime Minister finally put this matter to rest and give his support to the campaign to award Sergeant Labalaba the posthumous Victoria Cross that he so clearly earned? (113869)

My hon. Friend is right to speak up for the SAS, which, as he says, is based in his constituency, and the extraordinary fight that those soldiers had in Oman all those years ago. We are not allowed to speak a lot on the record about what they do, but it is worth putting on the record the immense gratitude of all Governments and, I think, the entire British people for the risks they take on our behalf. Thinking of the recent hostage rescue, I would like to do that personally. Regarding my hon. Friend’s question, these sorts of decisions are not for politicians to make, but let me once again pay tribute to the heroic actions of that man and everyone involved on that day.

What my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary explained in great detail in yesterday’s debate is that we want to have in our country an absolute gold standard of exams that are about rigour and high standards. The tragedy is that we inherited from the previous Government a system that was being progressively dumbed down, where Britain was falling down the league tables and GCSE questions included things such as, “How do you see the moon—is it through a telescope or a microscope?” Government Members think we need a rigorous system, and that is what we are going to put in place.

Q14. The exciting Goonhilly space science and technology park in my constituency richly deserves the conditional regional growth fund approval that will secure vital jobs and inward international investment into the UK, and will harmonise with the Government’s welcome and crucial commitment to space sector growth. Will the Prime Minister please use his influence to ensure that there is no—I am sorry to say—further avoidable delay in the implementation of the RGF grant and the launch of this vitally important enterprise? (113871)

I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend says. Almost 60% of regional growth fund projects are now under way, and the money has been distributed in very many cases, but I will look specifically at this project, which does sound interesting and worth while. As I understand it, it involves radio astronomy and satellite management. It will bring to Cornwall high-tech jobs that it wants and needs, so I will do my best to make sure it happens.

A third of south-east London health care trusts’ deficit is due to the private finance initiative. Is not the Secretary of State for Health wrong to suggest that the entire deficit is due to the PFI? Should he not be working with local health managers to deal with the situation rather than imposing an outside administrator to cut local health services?

First, it is this Government who are putting more money into the NHS this year, next year, and the year after. Some of these NHS trusts, such as the one the hon. Gentleman mentions, do have enormous deficits, and a large part of that is down to the completely failed PFI systems that the previous Government put in place. In hospitals up and down the country, it costs £120 to reset an alarm, £466 to replace a light fitting—[Interruption.] Labour Members are shouting from a sedentary position that these were Conservative PFIs. They were not—every single one of them was put in place under a Labour Government. Yet again, time for an apology.

I certainly support flatter, fairer taxes. That is why we have taken 2 million people out of income tax and why we have a lower top rate of tax to make us competitive with the rest of the world. It is important to put it clearly on the record that tax evasion is illegal and wrong, and should be chased down, and that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said, some of the tax avoidance schemes that have been put in place in recent years are very questionable. The Government should be absolutely clear that the Revenue’s task is to close those schemes down and to ensure that people pay their taxes properly.

In December last year, this House passed a motion calling for a Bill to make urgent reforms to our deeply unfair extradition treaties. Nearly seven months later, there has been no Bill and no action. What makes the Prime Minister more uncomfortable: ignoring the will of the House for months on end or the plight of those facing imminent extradition?

We held the Scott Baker review, which looked carefully at the extradition arrangements. The hon. Lady should of course look at some of the cases that have caused concern, but I urge her to look also at the overall figures, which show that we are benefiting by being able to extradite people who have committed serious crimes from the US back to the UK. We continue to look at this issue. We will ensure that we do the right thing for our country, but people should not think that it is a very simple issue, because it is not.

Will the Prime Minister congratulate the excellent Secretary of State for International Development on producing a flag that will replace the European Union logo on all our overseas aid? He should be thoroughly congratulated.

I am sure that, like myself, my hon. Friend—and probably Mrs Bone as well—got the “Dear colleague” letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with his excellent new logo. It shows that the aid that we send is provided not on behalf of the British Government, but on behalf of all British people, who I think support the fact that Britain stands for something in the world: we stand for helping the poorest in our world, even as we have a difficult time in our own country.