Skip to main content


Volume 549: debated on Wednesday 5 September 2012

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the servicemen who have fallen since the House last met: Lieutenant Andrew Chesterman of 3rd Battalion the Rifles, Lance Corporal Matthew Smith of 26 Engineer Regiment and Guardsman Jamie Shadrake of 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards. We send our deepest condolences to their colleagues, friends and loved ones. Their courageous and selfless service to our country will never be forgotten.

Before listing my engagements, I would like to say on behalf of the Government, and I hope the whole House, a word about the huge success this summer of the Olympic and Paralympic games. I want to send all our congratulations on the superb performance of Britain’s athletes and Paralympians. I want to say a huge thank you to the volunteers who put such a smiling face on the games and a large well done to all the organisers. I think that they made the entire country proud and, as they promised, they have indeed inspired a generation.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that his Cabinet reshuffle of his B team has not raised a ripple with the general public? On the other hand, those loud boos that greeted the Chancellor of the Exchequer will haunt the posh boys for ever. Why does The Prime Minister not be a man, do the decent thing and call a general election?

It is very good to see the hon. Gentleman back in such good form. I am sorry that when I was forming my Government of all the talents I could not find him on my speed dial, but I have done something that new Labour never managed: I have taken a miner and put him in the Cabinet, and he is running the railways. I thought the hon. Gentleman would appreciate that. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker, you will be aware that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Liberal Democrats reneged on a promise to deliver boundary changes in exchange for a referendum on the alternative vote. If the Deputy Prime Minister goes to the Prime Minister and says that he will deliver boundary changes in exchange for state funding of political parties, what will the Prime Minister’s answer be?

I am not in favour of extending state funding. I think that it is very important that all political parties work hard to attract members and donations. Frankly, when we get those donations we pay credit to people for funding political parties, which is in the public interest.

Let me join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lieutenant Andrew Chesterman of 3rd Battalion the Rifles, Lance Corporal Matthew Smith of 26 Engineer Regiment and Guardsman Jamie Shadrake of 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards. They all died serving our country. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten, and our thoughts are with their families and friends.

I also want to join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to everyone involved in the Olympic and Paralympic games—our athletes, our fantastic volunteers and indeed the whole country, which united in support of team GB. It showed our country at its best, it brought Britain together and we should all be proud of the achievement.

After two and a half years in government, the Prime Minister returned from his summer break and told the nation that he now realised it was time to “cut through the dither”. Who did he have in mind?

The right hon. Gentleman has had all summer to think of a question. Is that really the best he can do?

Let me explain to the right hon. Gentleman what this reshuffle is all about. It is not that there are two economic Departments in our country, the Treasury and Business; I want every single Department to be about the economy. I want the Transport Department building roads; I want the Communities Department building houses; I want the Culture Department rolling out broadband; and I want the Agriculture Department backing British food. This is a Government who mean business, and we have got the team to deliver it.

The Prime Minister mentions the reshuffle; it is good, of course, to see the Chancellor still in his place. I have to say to the Prime Minister that he has come up with an ingenious solution to the problem of his part-time Chancellor: he has appointed another one—the former Justice Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). It is a job share; we will see how they get on.

I do not know whether the Prime Minister remembers, but a year ago he published his national infrastructure plan alongside the autumn statement. He said at the time of that plan that it was an

“all-out mission to unblock the system”.

Can he tell us, one year on, how many of the roadbuilding projects announced in that plan have actually started?

First, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the issue of Chancellors, because I have got my first choice as Chancellor, while he has got his third choice as shadow Chancellor. Apparently, he still has to bring in the coffee every morning—that is how assertive and butch the Leader of the Opposition really is.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about infrastructure. If we look at what is planned by this Government, we see that between 2010 and 2015 we will be investing £250 billion in infrastructure. That compares with just £113 billion between 2005 and 2010. That shows that he has absolutely not got a clue.

The difference between the shadow Chancellor and the Chancellor is that the shadow Chancellor was right about the economy and the Chancellor was wrong. I have to say that the Paralympic crowd spoke for Britain.

However, it is another Prime Minister’s questions, we are back and, characteristically, the Prime Minister does not answer my question. The answer is that none of the roadbuilding programmes announced in his grand infrastructure plan has started.

Let us look at another grand claim the Prime Minister made. In March, he published his housing strategy. He said:

“our housing strategy is beginning to get Britain building again.”

Before he starts talking up his next announcement about housing, let us look at the effect of the last one. Can he tell us how many houses have started to be built since his announcement?

Housing starts are up 30% since 2009, which was the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s. That is what the right hon. Gentleman’s Government left. He praised his shadow Chancellor to the gunnels, but let us remember that it was the shadow Chancellor who landed us in this mess. Who was the City Minister when the City went bust? The shadow Chancellor. Who was the man who gave us the biggest budget deficit in the developed world? The shadow Chancellor. That is what that team has delivered and that is why the British people will never trust them again.

I think that sometimes the right hon. Gentleman forgets that he has been Prime Minister for two and a half years. He has got to defend his record, and he cannot defend his record. Again, he did not answer my question. I asked him about what had happened to housing starts since he made his announcement. The reality is that housing starts have fallen since then. They are 24% lower than they were a year ago and lower than they were at the time of the last Labour Government. Another grand claim has not materialised.

Now, let us talk about planning. In March, after 18 months of consultation, the Prime Minister hailed his flagship planning policy and said that it was the biggest revolution in 60 years. But on Sunday he said that he was “frustrated” by the system and the

“hoops we have to jump through”

and that he wanted to change it again. How is he so incompetent that he brings in a flagship planning Bill, calls it a revolution, and then six months later says that it is not fit for purpose?

The national planning statement that we inherited from Labour was over 1,000 pages; it is now down to just 52 pages. We have radically simplified the planning system—something that the right hon. Gentleman should be praising rather than attacking. He might want to notice that today the World Economic Forum has come out and said that for the first time in a decade, instead of Britain going down the world competitiveness ratings, we are back in the top 10 and rising. Let me read what it said:

“The United Kingdom…continues to make up lost ground in the rankings this year”—

lost ground that happened under the last Labour Government. There is a reason for that—it is because this Government are cutting regulation, cutting corporate tax, taking people out of tax, getting our businesses moving right across our country, investing in the regional growth fund, and delivering more apprenticeships than any previous Government. That is what we are delivering; what has he done over the summer? Where are the policies on welfare? Nothing. Where are the policies on education? Nothing. Where is the great plan for our economy? His only answer to a debt crisis is to spend more, borrow more, and put up the debt.

Back to the bunker after that one, I am afraid. I think the crimson tide is back as well.

Over the past two and a half years we have seen announcements on infrastructure—failed; announcements on housing—failed; announcements on planning—failed. What is the reason for this economic failure? The reason is that the Prime Minister’s fundamental economic approach is wrong. After the summer we now know that in his whole two and a half years as Prime Minister the British economy has not grown at all. So why does he not admit it? The real problem is this: plan A has spectacularly failed.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is actually happening in our economy, which is that we are seeing the private sector growing and expanding. There are 900,000 more people employed in the private sector than there were two years ago. We are now a net exporter of cars and motor vehicles for the first time since the 1970s. We are seeing the fastest rate of business creation that we have seen for decades. That is what is happening. Our economy is rebalancing. There is growth in the private sector. Our exports to China are up 72%, to India up 94%, and to Russia up over 100%. That is what is happening. It is a hard road, it is a difficult road, but we will stick to that road because we will deliver for the British economy.

We are in the longest double-dip recession since the second world war. How out of touch does this Prime Minister sound? [Interruption.] I have to say to the Tory Members of Parliament that they can go to their constituents and start trying to blame everyone else, but they have been in government for two and a half years. It has happened on their watch.

We saw a reshuffle yesterday. The Prime Minister brought back the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who had been sacked; he promoted the Culture Secretary, who should have been sacked; and he left in place the part-time Chancellor, who the whole country knows should be sacked. It is the same old faces and the same old policies—a no-change reshuffle. If the Prime Minister really wants to cut through the dither, there is no place like home.

The big difference in British politics is that I do not want to move my Chancellor; the right hon. Gentleman cannot move his shadow Chancellor. The fact is that in spite of all the economic difficulty this is a strong and united Government, and in spite of all the opportunity this is a weak and divided Opposition. [Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the Prime Minister has seen today that PricewaterhouseCoopers has produced a report saying that Aberdeen needs to recruit 120,000 skilled people in the next 10 years if we are to deliver our capacity in the global energy economy. Will the Government take steps to ensure that an energy academy and the necessary support infrastructure for training are put in place so that we can deliver growth for the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, which is that the growth of the economy around Aberdeen, obviously linked to North sea oil, has been extremely successful. I want to see that continue to expand and I will listen very carefully to what he says and look at what the British Government can do to help provide that extra capacity, which I have seen for myself.

Q2. Will the Prime Minister confirm that we learned over the summer that the UK borrowed £9.3 billion more in the first four months of this year than it did in the corresponding period last year? (118557)

We have cut the budget deficit by a quarter in two years but, obviously, it is immensely challenging to get the deficit down. I note that Labour’s answer to getting the deficit down is to borrow more—to borrow an extra £200 billion. The one way you cannot get borrowing down is to put borrowing up.

Q3. My constituents were delighted when BMW announced the investment of £250 million to increase Mini production and called its Oxford plant the heart and home of this great British success story. Does the Prime Minister agree that this kind of inward investment is vital to kick-start the economy and that we must do more to prioritise policies to make the UK more attractive to investors? (118558)

My hon. Friend and I have neighbouring constituencies and many constituents who work at BMW at the old Cowley works. It is very good news that BMW is investing another £250 million in that plant on top of the £500 million announced last year. That is safeguarding over 5,000 jobs in the Oxford, Swindon and Hams Hall plants. It is part of a huge recovery story for the British motor manufacturing industry. We are now net exporters. That has not happened since the 1970s and it is a huge credit to Jaguar Land Rover, Nissan, Toyota, BMW—to all those companies that are investing in and choosing Britain. They are not choosing Britain because of the weather; they are choosing Britain because we have cut corporation tax, because we are investing in apprenticeships, because we are investing in the infrastructure that they need, and because they know that this is a country open to business.

Poor Wirral families face the indignity of food banks, and Save the Children is launching its first ever public campaign for British children. What is the Prime Minister doing to help?

What we are doing is making sure that we target help on the poorest families in our country, which is what we have done through the tax credit system. At the same time, we should praise all the voluntary and big society efforts to help the poorest families in our country.

Q4. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the 23 million people in our country who work with such commitment in the private sector—the sector that generates the wealth that this country so desperately needs? Will he also welcome, as I do, the fact that under this Government we now have more people employed in the private sector than at any time in our history? (118559)

The point my hon. Friend makes is very important. If you look at the figures and include all of the financial sector, you will see that there are more people employed in the private sector today in Britain than at any time in our history. [Interruption.] Oh, the shadow Chancellor says that that is because we are in recession. It is because companies are choosing to employ people and the private sector is getting larger, which is good news. Employment is up 201,000 this quarter; unemployment is down 46,000 this quarter; the claimant count has fallen; the rate of unemployment is down; youth unemployment is down—I would have thought that the whole House would welcome those figures.

Q5. Last Sunday the Prime Minister told us that there should be no more excuses for failure. Given that his policies have produced the longest double-dip recession since the war, with output down, borrowing up and a collapse in consumer confidence, is his failure to apologise because he does not take his own advice, or because he considers that a record of astounding success? (118560)

This comes from an hon. Lady who served in a Government who, after 13 years, delivered us the longest and deepest recession since the war and who gave us the biggest budget deficit of virtually any country in the developed world. Of course, it takes time to get yourself out of a hole as deep as the one that was dug by the shadow Chancellor and the leader of the Opposition.

Q6. Over the summer, Jaguar Land Rover announced the creation of 1,100 additional jobs at its Castle Bromwich plant. That is in addition to the 750 jobs that it is creating in my constituency of South Staffordshire. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a stark contrast between the rhetoric of the last Labour Government about reviving the automotive industry, and the actions and delivery of this Government? (118561)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the past two years, Jaguar Land Rover has hired an extra 8,000 new workers. That is a massive success story for the west midlands and for a great British brand. It is also, let us say so, a big success story of massive inward investment from the Indian parent company. We should praise all those things and recognise that we have to do even more to make Britain a really business-friendly country, with low rates of regulation, low rates of tax and lots of support for apprenticeships and infrastructure. That is what we are delivering, and we will continue to do so.

Q7. Hundreds of young people from outside Europe chose London Metropolitan university, confident in British higher education. The Prime Minister needs to tackle visa fraud, but will he lift the threat to deport students who have paid their fees and complied fully with all the rules? Why is he so damaging the standing of British universities around the world? (118562)

I know that the right hon. Gentleman speaks with considerable experience and wants to speak up on behalf of his constituency. Having looked at this case and at the action that the Border Agency has taken, it seems to me that there were some real abuses. I want Britain to be open to students. Let us be clear: anyone who can speak English and who has a university place is able to come here and study at our universities, but the Minister for Immigration has rightly been very hard in closing down bogus colleges and in ensuring that action is taken when good universities, like this one, are not meeting the rules. That must be right if we are to control immigration.

Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister aware that in Watford in the last quarter of 2012, for which the numbers have just come out, 327 new companies were incorporated? That is a record and is way beyond anything in history. I think he will agree that that shows that the Government’s policy of encouraging private enterprise is succeeding.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As I understand it, 2011 saw the fastest rate of new business creation of any year in decades. That is what our economy requires. It takes time and patience, because we need a massive rebalancing away from the public sector and towards the private sector, and we need other industries, not just finance and retail, to succeed. We want to see business regeneration right across our country. That rebalancing takes time and is difficult, but it is the only long-term way out of the economic difficulties that we were left by the Labour party.

Q8. The Prime Minister is right to celebrate the most extraordinary Paralympics, which we are seeing at the moment, and the exceptional achievements of Team GB within those games. What, then, does he say to Baroness Grey-Thompson and the other Paralympians who warned this week that his decision to cut disability living allowance will prevent disabled people from participating in sport and threaten the legacy of the London games? (118563)

The message that I would give to everyone in ParalympicsGB—which is, of course, a separate team from Team GB—is a huge congratulations on their massive success at the games. It has been truly inspiring to see on television or in person, which I have had the privilege of doing, the absolutely packed stadiums for the Paralympics. That is not something that everyone expected, but it says a lot about our country and our people, and is great for the Paralympics.

To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, we are not cutting the money that is going into supporting disability. We are reforming the system by replacing disability living allowance with the personal independence payment. That is all about recognising people’s needs. It has been worked up very carefully with the disability lobby and I think that it will be an improvement on the current system.

Q9. The Prime Minister is well aware of the lack of capacity at Britain’s airports. In seeking to resolve that problem, will he consider the opportunity presented by regional airports, such as those in Birmingham, which could help to rebalance the economy? (118565)

My hon. Friend makes a very good point about regional airports. Let me be very frank about this: these very large infrastructure projects are extremely difficult for individual Governments to take on and deliver. What we need to do is build a process that will hopefully have cross-party support, so that we can look carefully at the issue and deliver changes that will address the problems of capacity that we will have in future years and the issue of the UK’s hub status. I hope to make an announcement about that in the coming days, but it is important that we work across party lines, because this will not happen unless parties sign up to a process that can deliver.

I just wonder whether I can cut through the waffle that the Prime Minister gave us in answer to the question about disability living allowance. The reality is that 600,000 disabled people will lose an extra cost benefit. Instead of just giving warm words to disabled people in this country, why does he not take aside his immovable Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and say to him that it is time we thought again on this one?

The move from disability living allowance to personal independence payments has been an exercise of huge consultation with the disability lobbies to try to ensure that we get this right. The fact is, there are hundreds of thousands of people on DLA who have never had a recheck since they started to take on that benefit, and many others—I know this as a parent who filled out the form myself—who have to fill out reams of answers to questions without the proper medical check that would actually get them the benefit quicker. We are moving from an old system that is out of date to a new system that will actually help disabled people.

Q10. Selective dorsal rhizotomy is the name of an operation that allows children with spastic cerebral palsy, like my constituent Holly Davies, to leave their wheelchair behind and walk independently. It has been carried out successfully thousands of times in the United States but is available only privately in the UK as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence refuses to allow the operation on the NHS. Will the Prime Minister look at the situation and help me, and the families across the country who are currently raising money for their children to have the operation, to get NICE to change its mind? (118567)

I will certainly look closely at that. I quite understand, as a parent of a very disabled child who had cerebral palsy, that if there was anything that a parent could do to get their child out of the wheelchair, they would want that to happen. I have looked at this case, and NICE actually says that the operation is a treatment option for some children and young people, but it cautions against the potentially serious complications, because it is an irreversible operation with risks involved. However, I will look at the matter very carefully and see whether there is anything more that NICE should consider.

Q11. Whenever the Prime Minister is faced with industrial dispute in this country, he always advises the trade unions to go for reconciliation and arbitration. In the interests of fairness, will he speak to his new Health Secretary and ask him to involve himself in the dispute at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust, to ask its board to do what the union is asking for and refer the dispute to the NHS Staff Council for resolution? (118568)

The new Health Secretary will have been listening carefully to that, and I am sure he will be able to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman.

It is very important that motorists have the right to renew their car tax at the post office. Not everybody has internet access. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency contract is up for renewal soon. Will the Prime Minister please ensure that the contract stays with the Post Office?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, particularly as he represents a very far-flung rural constituency with people living across a number of different islands. I am sure the Business Secretary will have been listening carefully to what he says, although the Government can make a limited amount of interference in such contracts.

What I would say about the police and crime commissioners is that we have not yet had the elections. We are going to have elections in November, and this is a very good opportunity to broadcast from this House what an important set of elections those are. I want to see a new form of accountability coming through in our police forces, and this is an excellent reform. I am sure that many people want to turn out and vote, hopefully for their local Conservative candidate.

Over the summer, a number of communities across Brigg and Google, including Swinefleet and Crowle, suffered flooding, in part because our drainage dykes are not cleared out as drainage boards fear prosecution under conservation of habitats legislation. Will the Prime Minister meet his new Environment Secretary and take away that threat of prosecution, so that drainage dykes that were built and dug to protect property can do their job?

As someone who represents a constituency that has frequently been subject to very bad flooding, I know how many frustrations there can be in local communities when things that need to be done do not get done quickly enough. Sometimes that is the fault of different agencies, sometimes that of landowners, sometimes that of local authorities. All sorts of issues have to be crunched through, but I am sure that the Environment Secretary will have listened closely to what my hon. Friend said.

Will the Prime Minister confirm, with no ifs or buts, that there will be no third runway at Heathrow airport while he leads his party?

Let me say clearly that, while I believe that we need to establish a form of review that will bring parties together and make a decision about airport capacity, I will not break my manifesto pledge.

A letter from and meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence has confirmed that the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is the only battalion that should not have been cut on military grounds. What did for 2RF was the additional criterion that regimental losses be capped at one battalion, thus saving more poorly recruited Scottish battalions ahead of a Scottish referendum. Will the Prime Minister kindly meet me and other MPs from across the House to discuss the issue?

I am happy to arrange a meeting between my hon. Friend, the Defence Secretary and other interested Members. It is right for the Army to change in its structure—not in its overall size; with 82,000 regular soldiers and 30,000 territorials, the Army’s overall size will not change. It was and is difficult to do that in a way that respects regimental traditions, cap badges and issues that I know are very dear to a number of hon. Members. However, it is important that we do that across the United Kingdom. That is what the Government set out to do, but I am happy to arrange that meeting.