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Volume 551: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2012

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.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the full panoply of Government powers is used to investigate the predatory activities of the late Mr Jimmy Savile?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The allegations and what seems to have happened are completely appalling, and they are shocking the entire country. The allegations leave many institutions, perhaps particularly the BBC, with serious questions to answer. Above all the question is, “How did he get away with this for so long?” The most important thing is that the police investigation is properly resourced and allowed to continue. I do not rule out further steps, but we now have independent investigations by the BBC and into the NHS, and today I can confirm that the Director of Public Prosecutions has confirmed that his principal legal adviser will again review the papers from the time when a case was put to the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecution. The Director of Public Prosecutions will specifically consider what more can be done to alert relevant authorities when there are concerns but a prosecution is not taken forward. The Government will do everything we can, and other institutions must do what they can, to ensure that we learn the lessons from this and that it can never happen again.

Last week, the Prime Minister told this House that

“we will be legislating so that energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers”.—[Official Report, 17 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 316.]

Will he now explain—including to his Energy Secretary—how he will guarantee everybody in the country the lowest tariff?

As I said last week, we are going to use the Energy Bill to ensure that customers get the lowest tariffs. That is what we want to do. There is a real problem here that is worth looking at: last year, there were more than 400 tariffs. That is completely baffling for customers and although encouraging people to switch can help make a difference, we need to go further and we need to use the law. I am in no doubt that we are on the side of people who work hard, pay their bills and want a better deal.

The only people who were baffled last week were all the Prime Minister’s Ministers, who did not know anything about his announcement. Last week, it was a gilt-edged guarantee from the Prime Minister. Of course, now we have read the small print it has totally unravelled—another dodgy offer from this Prime Minister. Why cannot he admit the truth just for once? He does not do the detail, he made up the policy and he got caught out.

We are going to use the Energy Bill to ensure that people get the lowest tariff. The Deputy Prime Minister said exactly the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman wants to look at the detail; let me ask him about this detail—yes, we have his entire energy policy laid out for us. Perhaps he can tell us something. Now he says he wants to scrap Ofgem; in government, he kept Ofgem. Now he says he wants to pool energy supplies; in government Labour scrapped pooling energy supplies. Now he says he wants to refer the big six to the Competition Commission; then he said he would not do it because it would be wrong. I am all in favour of switching, but this is ridiculous.

Let us talk about my record as Energy Secretary. I want to thank the Prime Minister for the Conservative party briefing document issued last Thursday—after the chaos at PMQs. It reveals something very interesting. While I was the Energy Secretary, the average dual fuel bill fell by £110; under him, it has risen by £200, so I will compare my record with his any day. [Interruption.] Look, the part-time Chancellor is giving advice again. I am actually coming on to one of his favourite subjects—the west coast main line.

The former railways Minister, now the Northern Ireland Secretary, told us in August about the franchise process, saying:

“We’ve tested it very robustly”.

The former Secretary of State for Transport, now the Secretary of State for International Development—she does not really want the job, but she is down the Bench over there—said:

“The process is incredibly robust”.

Yet we learn today that concerns about flaws in the process were raised by the bidders as long ago as May 2011. Can the Prime Minister tell us whether any Minister knew about the bidders’ concerns?

First of all, the right hon. Gentleman says he wants to talk about his record as Energy Secretary, so I think we should spend a little bit of time on that. The fact is, under Labour, gas bills doubled and electricity bills were up more than 50%. When he became Energy Secretary, the companies were making a £25 loss per bill; when he left government, they were making £55 profit per bill. He did not stand up to the vested interests; he stuffed their pockets with cash. Right, we have dealt with that—oh, by the way, while we are on his energy record, he put in place in his low-carbon transition plan a policy that would have added £179 to every single person’s bill in the country. Perhaps when he gets up, he can apologise for that.

Order. Perhaps Members on both sides could calm down. Let us now hear from the Leader of the Opposition.

Even the Prime Minister is taking his habit of not answering questions to a new level. I asked him a question—[Interruption.] If he wants to swap places, I am very happy to do so. I asked him a question about the railways. [Interruption.] The Chancellor is shouting from a sedentary position, but it is not the ticket that needs upgrading; in my view, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The mishandling of this process has cost taxpayers up to £100 million, so which of the Prime Minister’s former Transport Ministers who oversaw the bidding is responsible for this multi-million pound fiasco?

There is a proper independent investigation into what happened with the west coast main line. The Secretary of State for Transport has made a full statement to this House and has explained what will be done so that commuters continue to receive a good service and we get to the bottom of what went wrong. What is interesting—and what the country will notice—is that the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the Chancellor because he cannot talk about the economy because he has got no plans to increase the private sector. He cannot talk about the deficit because he has got no plans to cut it. He cannot talk about welfare because he opposes our plans to cap it. He cannot talk about all the issues that matter to this country—and that is why he stands up and just tells a whole lot of rubbish jokes.

I think we can take it from that answer that no one is taking responsibility for what happened on the railways. Ministers did not know the detail, they did not do the work, and they got caught out—but who can blame them? They are just playing follow my leader, after all.

This is what the right hon. Gentleman said before he became Prime Minister:

“We must provide the modern Conservative alternative. Clear. Competent. Inspiring.”

Mr. Speaker, where did it all go wrong?

I will tell you what has happened under this Government in the last week. Inflation: down. Unemployment: down. Crime: down. Waiting lists: down. Borrowing: down. That is what is happening, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot talk about the real issues, because he is not up to the job.

It is good to see the crimson tide back. This is the reality: the Prime Minister is living in a parallel universe. It has been another disastrous week for his Government. Last week he defended the Chief Whip; now the Chief Whip has gone; he made up an energy policy; that has gone too; and he has lost millions of pounds on the railways. Is not the truth that there is no one else left to blame for the shambles of his Government? It goes right to the top.

It is only a bad week if you think it is bad that unemployment is coming down. We think it is good. It is only a bad week if you regret the fact that inflation is coming down. We think it is a good thing for our country. It is only a bad week if you do not think it is a good thing that a million more people are in work. That is what is happening in our country. Every bit of good news sends that team into a complete decline, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the good news will keep coming.

Q2. Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the good news that there has been a 13% fall in recorded crime in the west midlands over the past 12 months, and congratulating West Midlands police and the Dudley local policing unit on their performance? Robbery is down by 31% and house burglaries are down by 29% in my area. Does not that fall in crime show that police reform is working? (124340)

My hon. Friend has made an important point. Not only has recorded crime fallen by 6%, but the crime survey showed that it had fallen by 6%. This is a time when we are making difficult decisions about police funding, but owing to the combination of that police reform—the changes that we are making—and a tougher approach to criminal justice, crime is falling and public satisfaction with the police is going up.

Q3. Last year the Prime Minister told the House that there was no reason why front-line police officer numbers needed to fall, but my constituents in Harrow tell me that they are seeing fewer police on our streets. Is not the real truth that there are 6,800 fewer police officers since he came to power? (124341)

What is actually happening is that the number of neighbourhood police officers has gone up by 2,360 since 2010.

Q4. Last week planning permission was granted for a large retail leisure park on derelict land at Skew Bridge, between my constituency and the Corby constituency. It will create 2,000 new jobs, and will provide a large branch of Marks and Spencer and a stunning nature reserve. Labour opposes that development. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whom the people of Corby should support—Christine Emmett and the Conservatives, who are campaigning for 2,000 new jobs, or Labour’s Corby luddites? (124342)

My hon. Friend has made the excellent point that it is this party and this Government who are getting behind economic development. As I have just said, every piece of good news is a disaster for Labour Members. They wake up every morning wanting more unemployment, but unemployment is coming down. They wake up wanting inflation to rise, but inflation is coming down. As we can see in Corby, it is the Conservatives who are getting behind growth and jobs in the future.

During the last election, the Prime Minister made many pledges to the electorate. One of those pledges was that he would help to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. Given that our economy lags behind the United Kingdom average and, indeed, behind the position in Scotland in terms of key economic indicators, when can we expect an announcement from the Prime Minister on the steps that he will take to help to rebalance our economy?

I do want to see the Northern Irish economy rebalance; it badly needs to, because the size of the state sector is so big and accounts for so much of Northern Ireland GDP. We are continuing to pursue the policy of looking at a lower corporation tax rate for Northern Ireland, because of the land border with the Republic. I do not believe that is the only thing we should look at. We also need to see how we can boost manufacturing and small businesses, increase the rate of business start-up and also do all the things we can to encourage inward investment into Northern Ireland, which I have been doing, including on the trips I have been making to other parts of the globe.

Q5. On Monday I was delighted when the Prime Minister put his personal rocket boosters under payment by results for rehabilitation. Will he, as First Lord of the Treasury, ensure that the Treasury stands four-square behind the Ministry of Justice as it designs and delivers the first generation of payment-by-results programmes, which are radical, globally new and underwrite unquantifiable cash consequences of success for the next spending review period? (124343)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We should be bringing payment by results to all of the criminal justice system. Currently, we spend over £1 billion on probation. I want to see payment by results being the norm rather than the exception. To be fair to the Treasury, when it designed payment by results in the welfare system, it allowed the Department for Work and Pensions to spend the future receipts of lower benefit claims. I am sure the Treasury will be equally inventive and creative when it comes to making sure we get better value for money and better results in our criminal justice system.

Q6. Last week from the Dispatch Box the Prime Minister said that services at Kettering hospital were safe. This week we have learned that the official review’s so-called best option is to get rid of many vital services in our hospital and to reduce the number of beds by 80%. Is it not the truth that you cannot trust the Tories on the NHS? (124344)

What is true is that you can always guarantee that Labour Members of Parliament will get up in Parliament and scaremonger about our NHS. What I said last week is absolutely right.

Q7. With 170,000 fewer people on benefits and 1 million new jobs created, should it not be perfectly clear that this Government’s plan is working? (124345)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The figures showed last week that there are more people in work than at any time in our history. There are more women in work than at any time in our history, and since the election the number of full-time jobs has increased faster than the number of part-time jobs. There is absolutely no complacency on the Government Benches, but we have got to do everything we can to continue the progress—getting people into work, getting the long-term unemployed into work and cracking down on youth unemployment as well.

Q8. Can the Prime Minister explain the relationship between Virgin Care donations to the Tory party, the number of Virgin Care shareholders on clinical commissioning group boards and the number of NHS contracts that have been awarded to Virgin Care? (124346)

All donations to political parties are properly disclosed and properly announced, but the difference, I have to say, between the donations that the Conservative party gets from individuals and businesses, and the trade unions’ donations to the Labour party is that they effectively buy votes at the Labour party’s conference and policies in its manifesto, and they vote for the Labour leader as well. The trade unions pay the money, they get the votes. That is the scandal in funding parties.

Q9. Under the previous Labour Government the national health service lost hundreds of millions of pounds because the cost of treating foreign patients was not properly recovered. Can I get an assurance from my right hon. Friend that both the Department of Health and the Home Office will now work together to resolve this issue? (124347)

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. This area—who should pay, how much and when—has become much too complicated, so I have asked that Ministers get together to simplify it. My hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is going to be leading this process, and I hope we can come up with a simplified system in which the public will have real trust.

Q10. Jimmy Carr avoided £3.3 million of tax last year, and the Prime Minister said that was morally wrong. Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay and Starbucks have between them avoided nearly £900 million of tax. Will the Prime Minister now take this opportunity to condemn their behaviour as morally wrong? (124348)

The right hon. Lady makes an important point. This is an international problem that all countries are struggling with: how to make sure that companies pay tax in an appropriate way. I am not happy with the current situation; Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs needs to look at it very carefully. We need to make sure that we are encouraging these businesses to invest in our country—as they are doing—but they should be paying fair taxes as well.

May I ask my right hon. Friend why, as he told me on Monday, he thinks that the single currency needs a banking union, as the crisis in the euro has been caused not by the absence of a banking union, but by the absence of a single fiscal policy? Yet, if a fiscal union were introduced, it would certainly be dominated by Germany, and that would lead to the death of democracy throughout most of Europe. So is not the least painful solution the abolition of the euro and the return to national currencies?

What I would say to my right hon. Friend is that I believe that the insecurity in the eurozone is caused in part by both those issues: the lack of a fiscal union, but also the lack of a banking union. One of the problems in the eurozone at the moment is the different level of interest rates in Spain, Italy and Portugal, which is in part because of concerns about the link between weak banks and sovereign Governments. Only when we have a banking union will there be greater security about those weak banks. We have a single currency in the United Kingdom, and we also have a banking union in the United Kingdom; we would not treat banks differently because they are in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, rather than in England. I believe a working single currency will need a working banking union; I think that is logically consistent and sensible.

Q11. Last week we had a Government Chief Whip who was educated at Rugby public school, and this week we have one who was educated at Eton. I wonder whether the Prime Minister can give us an update on his campaign to spread privilege. (124349)

I would argue that Members across this House would recognise that the record of my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) stands for itself. [Interruption.]

After the BBC director-general’s appearance before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday, I hope the whole House will agree that it is essential that the two independent inquiries get to the truth. Full details of those inquiries are still sketchy, despite my having sent two letters to the BBC asking for full disclosure. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling for full details to be published today, so that both inquiries can have the full confidence of the public and Jimmy Savile’s victims can hear the truth?

First, may I commend my hon. Friend on the good, valuable and dedicated work he has done on this issue of making sure that all these institutions get to the truth? To be fair to the BBC, I believe that the two inquiries it has set up qualify as independent inquiries. The inquiry into the “Newsnight” programme is being carried out by the former head of Sky News, Nick Pollard, and the second—and more important, in many ways—review into the culture and practices of the BBC going back many years is being led by a former Appeal Court judge, Dame Janet Smith. As my hon. Friend says, it is very important that the BBC makes it clear that these inquiries can go where the evidence leads, have access to all the paperwork and be able to be truly independent and get to the truth on behalf of all the victims of Jimmy Savile.

Q12. Caught out, the Prime Minister refused to answer a question last week, so will he now tell us why he will not publish the e-mails, texts and other correspondence between himself, Rebekah Brooks, News International and Andy Coulson, so that we can judge for ourselves? What is he frightened of: scandal, embarrassment—or is there something more damning that he is frightened of? (124350)

I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman but it was this Government who set up the Leveson inquiry, and have co-operated with it and given it all the information it has asked for.

Q13. In March, my constituent Emma Hickman was informed that her fiancé, Private Daniel Wade of 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, had died in Afghanistan. Three months later, she gave birth to Daniel’s baby, Lexie-Mai. The Army will not accept paternity without evidence; nor will it release the DNA without a court order. As a consequence, Lexie-Mai receives nothing. Will the Prime Minister help to expedite this case? Will he also require that the Army routinely holds DNA, as happens in other countries, such as the United States? (124351)

On the latter part of my hon. Friend’s question, I will certainly look at that. I was as shocked as he was when I found out about this case. I will do everything I can to try to expedite—as he says—a conclusion to it. I am sure that the sincere condolences of everyone in this House go to Private Wade’s family. This is an absolutely dreadful situation and it cannot be allowed to continue. The Ministry of Defence is aware of it, and it raises some complicated legal issues, but the reaction from colleagues around the House when my hon. Friend said what he said shows that we have to move quickly and get this sorted.

Q14. Does the Prime Minister recall telling the House last year that the UK would lead the world in eradicating modern-day slavery? Could he explain to the House why his Whips organised, last Friday, to talk out my Bill that would eradicate that problem in the supply chains of British companies? Will he meet me and the people who support the Bill so that we can move this campaign forward? (124352)

This Government have an excellent record in combating modern-day slavery, not least because we continue to commit, through our international aid programme, to tackle those countries where it still, so regrettably, exists. I will look very carefully at the Bill that the hon. Gentleman mentions and perhaps write to him about the issue.

A number of major employers in my constituency are calling for greater certainty for investors in one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, low-carbon energy. Will the Prime Minister respond to their calls—specifically for a 2030 carbon intensity target for the power sector?

I am looking very carefully at these issues, but I have to say that we have already taken the most important step, which is to set the renewables obligation certificates—the ROCs—out into the future, so that investors know that they can invest, for instance in offshore wind, knowing what the return is going to be. There will be more detail, of course, when we produce the Energy Bill later in this year.

Q15. May I refer the Prime Minister to the Hansard record from 23 May 2012? The right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) asked him the following:“Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that he will not succumb to the diktat from the European Court of Human Rights in relation to prisoners voting”.His reply was:“The short answer to that is yes.”—[Official Report, 23 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 1127.]Will he confirm that that is still his position? I hope that it is. Will he tell us how he is going to get around breaking European law? (124353)

I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The House of Commons has voted against prisoners having the vote. I do not want prisoners to have the vote, and they should not get the vote—I am very clear about that. If it helps to have another vote in Parliament on another resolution to make it absolutely clear and help put the legal position beyond doubt, I am happy to do that. But no one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government.

Is the Prime Minister aware that last year there was a borough council-run referendum in my constituency about whether to locate an energy-from-waste incinerator on the edge of King’s Lynn? Is he aware that on a 61% turnout, 65,516 of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) voted no? That amounted to a staggering 92.7% voting no. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential for local democracy and for localism that my constituents and these people are listened to?

I think it is very important that the planning system listens to local people and that proper processes are followed. I am sure that my hon. Friend will work very hard in this case to make sure that that happens.

The evidence file used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former Prime Minister, who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No. 10.

The hon. Gentleman raises a very difficult and complex case, and I am not entirely sure which former Prime Minister he is referring to. What I would like to do is look carefully in Hansard at the allegations he has made and the case he has raised, and look carefully at what the Government can do to help give him the assurances he seeks.

My hon. Friend is tempting me into commenting on what Lord Leveson might or might not recommend in his report, but having set up the inquiry on an all-party basis, it is important that we allow him to produce his report. What I would say is that I think one can obsess too much about how exactly such things are done, when what matters most of all is whether we have a regulatory system in which the public have confidence that, if mistakes are made, there are proper corrections; that if newspapers do the wrong thing, they can be fined; and that when things go wrong, there is proper investigation. That seems to me to be the most important question for us all: are we going to put in place a system in which we have confidence and the public will support, but in which we are seen to have a free, independent and very vigorous press?

Is the Prime Minister aware that young people’s unemployment in my constituency has gone up by 1,000%? What is he going to do about this scandal?

What we are doing is putting in place, through the Work programme and the Youth Contract, the biggest ever scheme to help people to get back into work. We have seen success in recent weeks and months, with more people in work than at any time in our history and recent figures showing a decline in the claimant count, a decline in unemployment and a decline in youth unemployment. There is far more to do, but we are at least heading in the right direction.

Will the Prime Minister promise today, that unlike other leaders in other Parliaments in the UK, he will never spend £100,000 fighting the release of legal advice that he does not hold and never asked for?

The hon. Gentleman asks a baffling question about a truly baffling situation. We were told, I believe, by the First Minister in Scotland that he had legal advice on Scotland’s place in the European Union in the event of independence, but it turns out that he did not have any legal advice at all. What that shows is that when the spotlight is shone on the Scottish National party’s case for separation, it completely falls apart.

The Prime Minister has rightly expressed concern about child abuse in our institutions, but last year the Government reduced child protection measures in schools, and changes made to Ofsted will result in some schools never being inspected on their child protection procedures. Will the Prime Minister now meet me and cross-party MPs from the all-party child protection group to protect our children now and in the future?

I am very happy to arrange a meeting between the hon. Lady and the new Minister, who has huge experience in this area and who I know will be delighted to discuss it with her. What we have tried to do is simplify a set of rules and regulations that involved 9 million or 10 million more parents in this sort of thing and concentrate on where the focus is needed, but I am happy to arrange that meeting.