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Central Ayrshire

Volume 553: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2012

I look forward to visiting Scotland soon and will obviously look carefully at whether I can visit the hon. Gentleman’s constituency of Central Ayrshire.

I thank the Prime Minister for his response. A few months ago, he came to Troon in my constituency and he was going to give me the opportunity to take him around. One of the areas I was going to take him to was the Troon shipyard, where I served my apprenticeship many years ago—in fact, when he would probably still have been in short trousers. Outside the door of the shipyard on a Thursday was a man called the tallyman, who was a loan shark. He charged half a crown, which is 12.5p, per £1 each week on a loan to a shipyard worker. Today, we are hearing all about these—

Mr Speaker, you hold one of the great offices of state, as does the Prime Minister. What is he personally going to do to drive these sharks out of our economies?

I enjoyed my visit to Troon. I made the offer to the hon. Gentleman at that time that I would happily share a platform with him to defend our United Kingdom, but for some reason the invitation got lost in the post. I therefore make the offer to him again.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point about payday loans. We have seen the preliminary report by the Office of Fair Trading. We need to take action, and that is why we are giving the OFT a new power to suspend a consumer credit licence with immediate effect when there is an urgent need to protect consumers. The report shows that many companies are not sticking to the guidelines, and that is not acceptable.


Has my right hon. Friend seen the recent Experian study which shows that Milton Keynes is the area of the UK best placed to lead economic growth, with a forecast growth of 3.1% a year?

My hon. Friend is a great spokesman for Milton Keynes and has welcomed me there many times. It has a successful economy based largely on small and medium-sized enterprises. One thing we need to do, in Milton Keynes and elsewhere, is to get the housing market moving again. I am convinced that that is an important part of driving recovery in our economy.

Q8. Many young apprentices receive very low wages—the youngest only £2.60 an hour. Is it fair for the Prime Minister to take housing benefit from young people who cannot live with their parents but are trying hard to build a future for themselves? (128807)

The Government strongly support the growth in apprenticeships, and we have seen something like 1 million new apprenticeships under this Government. I know that housing benefit is a very important issue, but there is a problem, which needs proper attention: we seem to give some young people a choice today, in that if they are on jobseeker’s allowance they can have access to housing benefit, but if they are living at home and trying to work they cannot. We need to recognise that in many cases we are sending a negative signal to young people through our welfare system.

Yes, it is. It is this Government who, in record time, have established a Green Investment Bank that is now in Edinburgh and starting to make loans.

Q9. I am sure the Prime Minister agrees with me that a Government spokesman describing the report by the Children’s Commissioner into child abuse as “hysterical” was extremely unhelpful. Victims of abuse already find it difficult to come forward, including those who were abused by Cyril Smith in Rochdale. Will the Prime Minister now help these victims by publishing all the police files on Smith, and ensure that a police investigation takes place into all the allegations and any cover-up? (128808)

On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, the issue that is being examined is very serious, and we need to study carefully the interim report that has been produced. It has some extremely disturbing findings and we need to give every encouragement to the Children’s Commissioner to ensure that a final version of the report is produced. The specific issue raised by the hon. Gentleman concerns very serious allegations about a former Member of this House. I understand that Greater Manchester police have today confirmed that they will investigate any allegations of sexual abuse involving the late Sir Cyril Smith from 1974 onwards.

I say to the hon. Gentleman and all Members of this House, particularly in the light of what has happened over the past few weeks, that if anyone has information or facts they should take them to the police. That is the way we should investigate these things in this country.

Q10. Businesses are helping to cut the borrowing deficit by paying tax on their profits. Some multinationals, such as Starbucks and Amazon, appear to be paying low amounts of UK corporation tax. Does the Prime Minister think that that part of the tax code needs investigating? (128809)

I think it does need investigating. I have asked the Treasury to do that and it is looking as hard as it can at what can be done. There are clearly things that one can do nationally, and that is worth examining. Because we live in a competitive global economy where companies can move their capital, headquarters or money around, we need greater international agreements. We have come to a very important international agreement with Switzerland that will recover billions of pounds of tax for our country, but we need to work hard. That is where the G8 can help to ensure we get a fair share of tax from companies, especially given that Britain is doing its bit to cut rates of corporation tax so that they are some of the most competitive in the world.

Q13. The Prime Minister quite rightly praised the wonderful work of London’s emergency services during the Olympics, Paralympics and Her Majesty’s jubilee. Does he share the concern of the London public about the number of fire stations that are threatened with closure, in particular the one in Clapham Old Town in my constituency? Will he join the campaign to save that fire station, and does he agree that it is not right to choose a fire station for closure simply because it is on very expensive land? (128812)

Obviously this is an issue for the Mayor as well as for the Government, but I will look closely at what the hon. Lady has said. Hon. Members must recognise that the most important thing is the time it takes the emergency services to get to an incident. As constituency MPs, we are naturally focused on the bricks and mortar items—whether ambulance or fire stations, or other facilities—but what really matters for our constituents is how quickly the emergency services get to them and how good the service is when they do so.

Q11. Does my right hon. Friend share my deep disappointment, and that of many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that the Church of England yesterday failed to make proper provision for women bishops? It was a sad day for our national Church and our national character, particularly given that 42 of 44 dioceses voted overwhelmingly in support of women bishops. Is the dangerous consequence of that vote not the disestablishment of the Church of England but simply disinterest? (128810)

My hon. Friend speaks with great expertise and knowledge. On a personal basis, I am a strong supporter of women bishops and am very sad about how the vote went yesterday. I am particularly sad for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, because he saw this as a major campaign that he wanted to achieve at the end of his excellent tenure of that office. It is important for the Church of England to be a modern Church that is in touch with society as it is today. This was a key step it needed to take.

Q12. The Prime Minister promised that his start-up loans scheme would provide 2,500 loans to young entrepreneurs to get their business ideas off the ground, but only 43 loans have been granted. Why has he not delivered on his promise? (128811)

The start-up loans initiative is a very strong one. I want to look at putting even more resources into it, because there is a major demand. At well as start-up loans, we have the enterprise allowance scheme. That was originally available only after people had been unemployed for three months, but under this Government it will be available from the first day of someone being unemployed. In the 1980s, many people used an enterprise allowance scheme to start up their first business and get their foot on the first rung of the ladder. Those are the sorts of people we want to help.

Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Drapers’ academy, which is in the most deprived ward in my constituency? It is sponsored by the Drapers’ Company and Queen Mary college, London. In only its second year, it has become the fastest improving school in the country, and is a wonderful example of the Government’s academy scheme.

I certainly join my hon. Friend in that. One strength of the academy programme is in getting sponsors such as the Drapers’ Company, and other businesses and organisations, behind a school and helping to change its culture and improve it. That is why we set a new target last week for academies taking over failing primary schools. We do not think that academies should be restricted to secondary schools; we want to see sponsored academies taking over primary schools where results are not good enough. All hon. Members can now focus on this: because of effective academy sponsors, some schools in inner-city areas are doing better than schools in some of the leafy shires and suburbs. We can use that change to drive up aspiration and achievement right across our education system.

Following the Prime Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) a moment ago, and given that the Church of England is the established Church, will the Prime Minister consider what Parliament can do to ensure that the overwhelming will of members of the Church and of the country is respected?

I will certainly look carefully at what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The Church has its own processes and elections. They might be hard for some of us to understand, but we must respect individual institutions and the decisions they make. That does not mean we should hold back in saying what we think. I am very clear that the time is right for women bishops—it was right many years ago. The Church needs to get on with it, as it were, and get with the programme, but we must respect individual institutions and how they work, while giving them a sharp prod.

The cut in this country’s EU budget rebate, which was agreed by the last Labour Government, is now costing taxpayers £2 billion every single year. Will the Prime Minister please confirm that in the forthcoming budget negotiations he will not agree to any further reduction in the rebate?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher is an incredibly important part of Britain’s position in Europe and making sure that we get a fair deal. It is absolutely extraordinary that the last Government gave away almost half that rebate, and we have never heard one word of apology or regret for the fact that however hard we fight in Europe—and I will fight incredibly hard this week for a good deal—they have cut away our footing by giving away half the rebate.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his very wise decision to bring the G8 summit to County Fermanagh and confirm the enthusiasm with which that decision has been received in Fermanagh. Does he think it will be possible to bring further similar prestigious events to Northern Ireland in the future?

I will certainly look at that. It really is the right decision for the G8 to be based in Northern Ireland and at Lough Erne on 17 and 18 June. I was talking with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister yesterday about this, and it would have been unthinkable 20 years ago to have such an event, with so many world leaders coming to Northern Ireland. It will be a great advertisement for Northern Ireland and everything that its people can achieve. I hope that it will also be the harbinger of further events to come.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the United Kingdom’s retention of its triple A status, when France lost its triple A rating this week, shows that the UK retains the confidence of international markets because of the difficult but necessary decisions that we are taking?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Because we have set out a clear plan, we are able to have low interest rates and international confidence, which is line 1, paragraph 1 of the proper growth plan for the UK.