The Secretary of State was asked—
Energy Generation Sector
Before I answer the question, Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to express my sympathy—and, I am sure, that of the whole House—for the victims of the flooding in north Wales and our thanks for the hard work of the emergency services. I propose to visit the affected area tomorrow.
I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on the prospects for the energy generation sector in Wales, particularly in relation to the recent good news that Horizon Nuclear Power has been bought by Hitachi, helping to secure the future for new nuclear on Anglesey.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and join him in paying tribute to our emergency services. On the specific issue of nuclear power, in my constituency of Pendle we have the excellent Graham Engineering, which is part of the nuclear supply chain and supports more than 300 local jobs. In light what he has just said about the Hitachi-Horizon announcement and nuclear generation in Wales, can he say more about supply chain job creation in both Wales and other parts of the UK?
The announcement by Hitachi provides an enormous opportunity for all those involved in the nuclear industry in this country, particularly those in the supply chain. I am heartened that Hitachi has already said that up to 60% of the total cost of the first nuclear reactor will come from British content. I have no doubt that there is a tremendous opportunity for companies such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
I welcome the support the Secretary of State has given to Horizon and for the takeover by Hitachi. To get 21st-century technologies such as offshore wind and nuclear power on to the grid, we need to improve the infrastructure, and 21st-century infrastructure should include subsea and subsea stations. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the proposals from National Grid that are in front of the public in north Wales?
I commend the hon. Gentleman for the work he has done in seeking to obtain new nuclear on Anglesey. He knows that I have always been anxious to work closely with him on all aspects of nuclear generation on Anglesey and of course I am prepared to meet him, because he has raised a very important point.
As the Secretary of State knows, Wales is very well placed for energy generation and the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project plans to offer educational services to the university in Swansea to foster skills in green energy creation. Will he commend the project and those similar to it for their commitment to creating jobs and local expertise in Wales?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Green energy presents enormous opportunities to Wales and I commend the project he mentions. We now have the green investment bank, which has just been launched today. It will provide the most enormous opportunity to leverage investment into that important future sector.
I thank the Secretary of State for being so positive. He knows that renewable energy generation in Wales increased by 58% between 2004 and 2010 and employs hundreds of people, including in the solar panel industry in mid-Wales, and of course we have seen the developments on Ynys Môn, the energy island. Does he agree that now is perhaps the time for us in Wales to showcase our skills, our resources and our prospects to the rest of the world at a green energy summit? If he is so minded, would it not be a good thing to place that summit in the enterprise zone at Trawsfynydd?
Actually, I had not thought of that, but it is an excellent idea that we should take further. I was speaking to the leader of Gwynedd council, Councillor Dyfed Edwards, the other day and discussed the important enterprise zone at Trawsfynydd. Let us explore the prospects of a summit at Trawsfynydd.
We continue to work closely with the Welsh Government on their proposal to introduce an opt-out system of consent for organ donation in Wales. We have made considerable progress across the UK over the past four years with organ donor numbers rising by about 40% over the baseline year of 2007-08.
Since the organ donation taskforce was set up by the previous Prime Minister—it reported in 2008—there has been a massive increase in organ donation across the UK, particularly in Wales, where the level of donation is higher. What plans does my hon. Friend have to discuss with the Department of Health at Westminster and the Welsh Government the ways in which we can work together to build on that success?
Extensive discussions are under way involving all the Departments and Ministers that my hon. Friend mentioned with a view to achieving further increases in organ donation across the UK. We have yet to see the detail of the Welsh Government legislation, but we hope it will contribute to a further increase, not cut across it.
Hon. Members may recall the visit of Mr Matthew Lammas of Newport to the House just over a year ago. At the age of just 23, he gave a harrowing account of his wait, the frustrations and delays, for a heart transplant. Tragically, Matthew died two months ago, but is not the example of the frustration and delay that he faced a powerful argument for supporting the proposals of the Welsh Assembly Government?
The hon. Gentleman brings a powerful example to the House of why we need to do more at different levels, in both the UK and the Welsh Governments, to increase the number of organ donors across the UK, and to that end we look forward to seeing the detail of the Welsh Government legislation.
I very much welcome the Welsh Government’s initiative of introducing legislation to increase organ donation, but after the Supreme Court justices described as “bizarre” the referral by the Secretary of State to the court of the Welsh Government’s byelaw legislation, will the Minister give the House unreserved assurances that the Wales Office will not delay this life-saving legislation and will not waste taxpayers’ money by making any more spurious referrals to the Supreme Court?
My Department and the Department of Health have been in close discussion with the Welsh Government about the detail of the legislation, and we are optimistic that all outstanding devolution issues will be addressed before publication of the legislation.
Commission on Devolution in Wales
I welcome the publication of the commission’s first report. It is an important piece of work that is thorough and wide-ranging, and I am giving each of the 33 recommendations my full consideration in consultation with Treasury and other Cabinet colleagues. The Government will respond formally in due course.
I, too, congratulate Paul Silk and his team on the excellent work they have done and on the report they produced. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment to introduce legislation in this Parliament to carry forward some of the recommendations in the Silk report?
The Silk Commission makes a compelling case on the devolution of partial income tax to the Assembly. How swiftly does the Secretary of State believe that we can proceed on this, given the apparent reluctance of the First Minister to countenance reform before full Barnett reform, despite a very good agreement that was brokered in October?
The First Minister’s position is a matter for him, but Paul Silk makes it clear that the commission recommended the devolution of income tax-varying powers within different bands, subject to agreement between the Welsh and the British Governments on issues such as funding. That matter must continue to be looked at.
Does the Secretary of State agree that those who argue that Wales does not have the tax base to partially devolve income tax are fiscally illiterate?
I think it unlikely that the Assembly could raise unlimited amounts of tax, because it would need unlimited levels of income, which everyone would agree it does not have. Paul Silk’s work is important, and it deserves careful consideration, and that is what is happening at the moment.
May I first add my words of sympathy and best wishes to those who have been affected by the floods in Wales, and my thanks to the emergency services and volunteers, and to the Secretary of State for going there tomorrow?
As the Secretary of State will know, the Silk commission’s report is a very important document that has produced recommendations relating to air passenger duty and income tax—issues that affect not just Wales, but the whole of the UK. Does he therefore agree that the whole House ought to be able to debate those issues, and can he explain why he seems to want to limit that debate to the Welsh Grand Committee?
I believe that we should have an early debate in the Welsh Grand Committee on this important issue. The hon. Gentleman will know that my office is in touch with his office and the offices of the leaders of other parties with a view to agreeing that. It should be done as quickly as possible. On the question of a further debate, that is clearly a matter for the Treasury, the Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly Government to progress the work that is being done to discuss the issue, and at that stage we should consider a further debate, which could potentially be on the Floor of the House. Certainly, any legislation would require primary legislation, which would have to be a matter for the House to deal with in the usual way.
I think the Secretary of State said he is in favour of a debate on the Floor of the House, which is welcome, as his predecessor committed to holding such a debate when we last discussed the Silk commission. In anticipation of that debate and outside the Silk commission, so to speak, the right hon. Gentleman will know that borrowing powers are extremely important to the Welsh Government. Can he confirm that the Silk commission’s recommendation that £200 million-worth of non-income tax powers would constitute, in his view, an independent income stream that would facilitate borrowing for the Welsh Government?
EU Regional Policy
In July my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced to the House the launch of the Government’s review into the balance of competences of the European Union. The review will look at the scope of the EU’s competences as they affect the UK and what this means for our national interest. The review will be completed in 2014.
As the Government’s position, set out in the fifth cohesion report in January 2011, is that wealthier states should not receive structural and cohesion funds, what assessment has my hon. Friend made of the impact on the Welsh regions of repatriating regional policy to the UK?
The Government have made consistently clear our belief that wealthier member states have both the ability and the capacity to finance their own regional development policy and hence do not require structural funds. However, as the Prime Minister made clear on Monday afternoon, we also recognise that the more prosperous member states, such as the UK, need to be given time to make the adjustment and so should continue to receive funding during the 2014-20 programming period. The Government will consider the right balance of competences in terms of regional policy in the autumn of 2013 as part of our review.
Does the Minister accept that Wales does not get its fair share of UK funding in either capital or revenue from Barnett, that the money paid, for instance, to Swansea university—£60 million from the European Investment Bank and £30 million from convergence—helps Wales to succeed, and that we would like to see the UK Government help Wales in the same way?
I do not accept that Wales is underfunded. This Government have demonstrated in our announcements on investment in rail infrastructure in Wales and broadband infrastructure in Wales that we are providing funding over and above the Barnett formula for Wales, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s proposition at all.
Information on the expected impact in Wales and across Great Britain of our housing benefit reforms is set out in the relevant impact assessments.
Many of my constituents who are in work on low incomes face an unpalatable choice in April next year. Do they face unaffordable increases in rent, do they downsize to non-existent one-bedroom flats, or do they make themselves homeless? What advice would the Minister give, particularly at a time when the Government are giving a tax cut to millionaires?
Many, many people in work face exactly the same difficult choices about their living arrangements as the ones that the right hon. Gentleman described. One of the central principles of our reforms is that people receiving benefits should have to make the same practical decisions about their living accommodation as people in work.
Many disabled constituents have come to me because, despite having had to make adjustments to their homes simply to accommodate their disability, they now face being kicked out for having an extra bedroom. Does the Minister think that is fair in the 21st century?
The Government are making available transitional funds to help people who have made significant adaptations to their homes in order to cope with serious disability—exactly the circumstances the hon. Gentleman describes—because we recognise that there is a vulnerability and we want to protect those people.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that the housing benefit budget in this country is £23 billion and that 5 million receive it? With a budget of that size, surely it is appropriate that the Government are demonstrating to the taxpayer that they are working to get value for money.
My hon. Friend is exactly right, but our reforms are based not just on the need to achieve value for money for the taxpayer. Underpinning our welfare reforms is the need to elevate the principle of making work pay and to ensure much greater fairness in the way our welfare system is delivered.
UK Trade & Investment
The progress of enterprise zones in Wales has been somewhat patchy, compared with those in England. Will my right hon. Friend agree to work with the enterprise zone in St Athan in seeking to attract major international airlines because of its policy on aerospace?
14. With 11 jobseeker’s allowance claimants chasing every vacancy, we need jobs in Blaenau Gwent. A planning application for a world-class motor sport project will be kick-started this week. Will the Secretary of State help the investors to meet the Treasury to nail down the tax incentives needed for that game-changing development? (129646)
I commend the hon. Gentleman for his efforts on behalf of that enterprise zone. He will know that I have met the potential operators of the race track. I understand that bids for enhanced capital allowances have been made by the Welsh Government to HM Treasury. As he knows, I am always happy to discuss these issues with him in person.
The economy is our top priority, and I am very pleased that unemployment in Wales fell by 5,000 over the last quarter and by 14,000 over the last year. In October 2012 there were 21,000 people in Wales who had been claiming job seeker’s allowance for 12 months or longer.
It demonstrates nothing of the sort. The statistics published yesterday for the Work programme should not be the basis on which its overall success is judged, because it is a long-term programme. Many of the biggest gains from the programme will be seen in the second year, and statistics will follow this time next year.
Recently in Caernarfon 300 people applied for three jobs at a supermarket checkout and 30 people applied for a junior secretarial post, some of them with higher degrees, and I could give further examples. Why are the Government punishing people who are looking for work when that work is not to be found?
We are not punishing people who are looking for work at all; we are incentivising them to go out and find work. I remind the hon. Gentleman that unemployment is falling right across Wales. There are pockets where more needs to be done, particularly in rural and isolated areas, but he should not doubt our ambition to see all of Wales enjoy some of the good things we are currently seeing in the Welsh labour market.
With Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland now having Assemblies or Parliaments of their own, many of us would like to see the three territorial Departments rolled into one to save taxpayer funds. Given that that is not part of the coalition’s programme, will my right hon. Friend at least look at more joint working and shared services between the three Departments so as to save money for the taxpayer?
I am pleased to say that that joint working already takes place. In fact, the Wales Office is working actively with the other territorial offices to identify shared working arrangements and we also have a shared parliamentary team. I must take issue with my hon. Friend: I think that Wales benefits immensely from having a Wales Office here at Westminster and I would not want to see it submerged in a quasi-colonial office.
I am determined that we should maximize the opportunities that enterprise zones can offer in attracting private sector investment and growth into Wales. I am working with ministerial colleagues and the Welsh First Minister to secure this.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the proximity of the Deeside enterprise zone with those in Wirral Waters and Daresbury. Does he think there is a case for those three enterprise zones to work together to maximise the potential for economic growth in the economic sub-region?
Yes. As my hon. Friend has said, the Deeside enterprise zone is close geographically to that in Wirral Waters, and I believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for synergy between the two zones. In fact, I have already had discussions with the chairman of the Deeside enterprise zone to see what can be done to advance that.
What processes does the Secretary of State have in place to try to resolve some of the issues that Welsh border constituencies have with access to the NHS, road maintenance and other services? They are finding it very difficult to resolve such issues through their local MPs, because the Welsh Assembly and Government will not give time to consider them.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I believe that, in his part of the world, the Mersey Dee Alliance is an appropriate focus and I was very heartened by the proposals in Mrs Elizabeth Haywood’s report to the Welsh Government to create a cross-border city region focused on the Mersey Dee Alliance area.
The Government are committed to tackling fuel poverty and helping people in Wales and across the UK, and especially those in low-income vulnerable households, to heat their homes more affordably.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government cannot, of course, control volatile energy prices on the world markets, but what we can do is ensure that consumers in the UK get access to the very best deals on their energy bills. That is what we are committed to doing, as demonstrated by last week’s announcement by my right hon. Friend the Energy Secretary.
Capital Investment (Rail)
I discussed railway infrastructure with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport when I met him last month. Last week I met local authorities and business leaders in north Wales to confirm my commitment to progressive electrification of the railways in Wales.
I was disappointed to read in a recent letter from the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) that the Welsh Government has not prioritised the electrification of the north Wales line. In view of the fact that the Welsh Government do not seem to be interested in north Wales, will the Secretary of State provide an assurance that the Wales Office will prioritise expenditure on the north Wales line in due course?
As my hon. Friend will know, only last Friday I held a meeting in Llandudno, the consequence of which was the formation of a working group to work towards the electrification of the north Wales coast line. The group has started its work and I hope that it will receive support from hon. Members in this House.
Far from the Assembly’s Transport Minister not being interested in north Wales, he represents a north Wales seat and has been communicating with me about electrifying the Wrexham-Bidston line. Will the Secretary of State please join our communication and work with us to improve public transport networks in north-east Wales?
The Wrexham-Bidston line was also a matter under discussion last Friday. I mention again the two enterprise zones in Wirral Waters and Deeside, which would benefit enormously from the electrification of that line. I am very supportive of what the hon. Gentleman says.
Private Sector Employment
The Government have taken action to protect the economy and have set out a comprehensive strategy to achieve strong, sustainable and balanced growth. Because of this action, we have seen over 1 million private sector jobs created across the UK since we came to power. [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister was asked—
Before I answer, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our sympathies to the victims of the appalling flooding that we have seen across our country in recent days, and in giving support and praise to our emergency services—the police, fire and ambulance services—and to the Environment Agency, local councils, voluntary bodies and good neighbours, who have all done extraordinary things to help those in distress.
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.
The whole House will of course endorse the words of the Prime Minister in paying tribute to our fantastic emergency services in responding to the terrible floods, and those who have been victims of them.
Tomorrow sees the publication of the Leveson report. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who should be uppermost in our minds are the victims, unfairly, of previous media intrusion? Does he also agree that the status quo needs updating?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says. The status quo, I would argue, does not just need updating; the status quo is unacceptable and needs to change. This Government set up Leveson because of unacceptable practices in parts of the media and because of a failed regulatory system. I am looking forward to reading the report carefully, and I am sure that all Members will want to consider it carefully. I think we should try to work across party lines on this issue. It is right to meet other party leaders about this issue, and I will do so. What matters most, I believe, is that we end up with an independent regulatory system that can deliver and in which the public will have confidence.
Let me associate myself entirely with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the victims of flooding. All my sympathies and the sympathies of Labour Members go to those victims, and our thanks go to the emergency services and the Environment Agency for the fantastic job that they do.
Let me also associate myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about the Leveson report, which will be published tomorrow. I hope that we can work on this on an all-party basis. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for real change, and I hope that this House can make it happen.
When the Work programme was launched in June 2011, the Prime Minister described it as
“the biggest and boldest programme since the great depression.”
Eighteen months on, can he update the House on how it is going?
Yes, I can update the House. Over 800,000 people have taken part in the Work programme, over half of whom came off benefits. Over 200,000 people have got into work because of the Work programme. It is worth remembering that the Work programme is dealing with the hardest to employ cases in our country; these are adults who have been out of work for over a year and young people who have been out of work for over nine months. On that basis, yes, we need to make further progress, but it is the right programme.
But the scheme is supposed to create sustained jobs for people, and in a whole year of the programme just two out of every 100 people got a job—that is a success rate of 2%. The Government estimate—[Interruption.] I do not know why the part-time Chancellor is chuntering—yesterday in Cabinet he was telling off the Work and Pensions Secretary for the failure of the Work programme.
The Government estimate that without the Work programme—this is the basis on which they did the tender—five out of every 100 people would get a job. Is it an historic first to have designed a welfare-to-work programme in which someone is more likely to get a job if they are not on that programme?
I have to say to the Leader of the Opposition that I listened very carefully to what he said, and what he said was wrong. He said that only 2% of people on this programme got a job. That is not correct. More than 800,000 people have taken part, and more than 200,000 have got into work. The specific figure that he referred to concerned people continuously in work for six months—but of course, he is only looking at a programme that has been going for a year, and the figure is 19,000 people. He should listen to the CBI, which said that
“the Work Programme has already helped to turn around the lives of thousands of people”.
Those are people who Labour left on the scrap heap. The right hon. Gentleman should be apologising, not attacking the Work programme.
I think that is as close as we get to an admission that I was right and he was wrong.
The Prime Minister boasted that his flagship policy, the Work programme, was about tackling the scourge of long-term unemployment. Will he confirm that since the Work programme was introduced in June 2011, long-term unemployment has risen by 96%?
Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the employment numbers: a million more private sector jobs over the past two years; since the last election, 190,000 fewer people on out-of-work benefits; in the last quarter, employment up by 100,000 people and unemployment down by 49,000. While we are at it, let us remember Labour’s poisonous legacy: youth unemployment up by 40%; unemployment among women up by 24%; and 5 million people on out-of-work benefits. That is the legacy we are dealing with, and we are getting the country back to work.
I wish for once that the Prime Minister would just answer the question. I asked him a very simple question about whether long-term unemployment has gone up by 96% since the Work programme was introduced, and the answer is yes. While he is talking about Labour’s programmes, let us talk about the future jobs fund. Last Friday, the Government issued a very interesting document. The Prime Minister spent two years rubbishing the future jobs fund but what did this document say? It said that the scheme provided
“net benefit to participants, their employers and society as a whole.”
In other words, it was a success. The Prime Minister rubbished the programme yet it helped 120,000 young people into work. His Work programme has helped only 3,000—[Hon. Members: “What does it cost?”] They shout, “What does it cost?”, but we cannot afford not to have young people in work. Is the truth that the Prime Minister got rid of a Labour programme that was working, and replaced it with a Tory one that is not?
Once again the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong so let me give him the figures. The Government’s work experience programme sees half of the young people who take part get into work. That is the same result as for the future jobs fund, and it costs 20 times less. That is the truth: our programme is good value for taxpayers’ money and it is getting people into work. The right hon. Gentleman wasted money and left people on the dole.
The more the Prime Minister blusters, the redder he gets and the less convincing he is. That is the reality. We know in real time what happened at yesterday’s Cabinet—they were at each other like rats in a sack. The Chancellor blames the Work and Pensions Secretary; the Work and Pensions Secretary blames the Chancellor for the lack of growth. The Prime Minister is doing what he does best and blaming everyone else for the failure. Is the reality that the Government’s failure on the Work programme is a product of their failure to get growth, and the failure of their whole economic strategy?
The right hon. Gentleman worked in a Government where the Prime Minister and the Chancellor could not be in the same room as each other—rats in a sack does not even cover it.
Why not have a look at what the right hon. Gentleman has achieved on welfare this week? Once again this week, Labour voted against the welfare cap. Today, the Opposition are asking us to vote on a motion in the House on welfare. Last night, the motion specifically said they wanted further reform of welfare, but today the motion mentions nothing about it. The truth is that they are against the benefit cap, against the housing benefit cap and against the Work programme. They are officially the party of something for nothing.
I will tell the Prime Minister the reality. His welfare reform programme is failing because there is not the work, and his economic strategy is failing. That is the reality. He has a Work programme that is not working, a growth strategy that is not delivering, and a deficit that is rising. The Government are failing, the Prime Minister is failing and the British people—
I think what we can see is a leadership that is drowning. This Government have cut corporation tax, scrapped the jobs tax, introduced enterprise zones, backed the regional growth fund, and funded 1 million apprenticeships, and we are rebuilding our economy so that we see 1 million more people in private sector work. We are putting the country back to work; Labour wrecked it.
Q2. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Milton Keynes-based Red Bull Formula 1 team on winning the world championship for three years in a row? They are another fine example of British technological innovation. (130300)
I am delighted to praise and pay tribute to the Formula 1 team based in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which sadly beat the Formula 1 team—Lotus Renault—based in mine. It is a remarkable fact that almost all of the Formula 1 cars, wherever they are racing in the world, are built, designed and engineered here in Britain. It is an industry in which we lead the world, and we should be very proud of it.
Q3. The Prime Minister must have studied his Government’s own report that shows that the future jobs fund had a net benefit to participants, employers and society. Given that report, and that youth unemployment is now higher in Leicester than it was at the general election, why did he tell me in questions a year ago that the future jobs fund provided only “phoney jobs”? (130301)
The hon. Gentleman needs first to explain why youth unemployment went up 40% under the Labour Government. The facts of the future jobs fund are these: the figures show that 2% of the placements in Birmingham under the future jobs fund were in the private sector, but the rest were in the public sector. The cost of the scheme was 20 times higher than the work experience placement, which is doing just as well.
My right hon. Friend is aware that the Government are consulting on the compensation people will receive if High Speed 2 goes ahead. This is critical for people in my constituency. Will he give me a personal undertaking that he will study the proposals for the final packages for compensation and ensure that those people whose homes, businesses and lives will be totally disrupted by the scheme if it goes ahead are both fairly and generously compensated?
I absolutely give that undertaking that I will look carefully at the scheme. As my right hon. Friend knows, we are consulting at the moment. The proposals we have put forward are as good as the scheme for HS1 and better than the compensation scheme for previous motorway developments. As she also knows, there is an advance purchase scheme for property purchase to simplify the process for property owners in the safeguarded area. There is also a voluntary purchase scheme to allow home owners outside the area to have their homes purchased. I am very happy to discuss with her and others how we can ensure that the scheme works properly for people.
Q4. On Monday, the police and crime commissioner, Bob Jones, and Chief Constable Chris Sims, called for a fair deal for policing for Birmingham and the west midlands, which arguably has the highest policing needs outside London. How can the Prime Minister hope to build one nation if areas such as Birmingham and the west midlands lose 800 front-line police officers while low-crime areas such as Surrey get an extra 250 bobbies on the beat? Do not we all deserve to live in safe communities? (130302)
The point I would make to the hon. Lady is that yes, we have asked the police to make funding reductions. They have been able to do that, keeping a higher proportion of bobbies on the front line, which has been effective, and taking people out of back-office jobs. At the same time, crime has fallen and public confidence in the police has risen. Yes, we are asking the police to take difficult decisions, but they are doing it and they are delivering.
Q5. I congratulate the coalition Government on introducing regulations to protect the welfare of wild animals performing in travelling circuses. This House voted overwhelmingly for a complete ban in 2011. While we wait for a draft Bill to be published, will the Prime Minister commit to introducing legislation so that this ban can be introduced in this Parliament? (130303)
Petrol prices in this country are among the very highest in the EU, and diesel prices are the very highest. Given that the Prime Minister is introducing minimum limits on alcohol pricing, can he turn his mind to maximum limits on fuel duty and start reducing the price of petrol and diesel for hard-pressed families and businesses across the UK?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Because of the changes we have made, petrol and diesel are 10p less a litre than they otherwise would have been if we had kept the tax increases that were put in place by the Opposition. That is the effect of this Government and we want to go on making that progress.
Q6. I thank my right hon. Friend for visiting Buckfastleigh with me yesterday, a town in my constituency severely affected by flooding. What the people of Buckfastleigh wish to know is how they are now going to get flooding insurance at affordable rates, particularly given that many homes have been blighted. Will he join me in pressing the Association of British Insurers to stop grandstanding in its negotiations with the Government, to get down to the table and thrash out a deal so that my constituents can get the insurance they need? (130304)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I very much enjoyed visiting his constituency with him yesterday, seeing at first hand the appalling damage done by the floods and speaking with local people, the emergency services and the Environment Agency about all the work that is being done to protect more houses in future. We need to address the insurance issue and negotiations are under way. The Minister for Government Policy, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin) is leading for the Government. I want us to get a resolution so that insurance companies provide what they are meant to provide, which is insurance for people living in their homes who want proper protection.
I thank the Prime Minister for his expressions of sympathy for the family of my elderly constituent who died in the floods. I join him in expressing sympathy to the families of all those—I think four people—who have died in the floods. Will the Prime Minister immediately reverse the 30% cuts he has made to flood defences in the past two years? What part will he play in the issue of flood insurance for those who live in flood risk areas?
Let me join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to his constituents, who have had to bear some truly terrible floods. The pictures of floods in St Asaph were of biblical scenes. The emergency services have performed extraordinary feats to rescue people and to help people at what is a very difficult time. On flood defence spending, the Government are planning to spend more than £2 billion in the next four years. That is 6% less than in the previous four years, but we believe that by spending the money better, and by leveraging money from private and other sectors, we can increase the level of flood defence spending. The spending that is already under way will protect an additional 145,000 homes between now and 2015, but if we can go further then of course we should.
Q7. More than 3 million people a year fall victim to postal scams, telephone calls and e-mails making false promises of lottery wins, windfalls and inheritances. Is my right hon. aware that £3.5 billion a year is lost by UK consumers? Will he commit to working with the Home Office to amend existing legislation to protect the predominantly elderly and vulnerable victims? (130305)
I think my hon. Friend makes an important point. This is a growing area of crime and criminality that takes advantage of people using the internet and often those who are vulnerable. That is why, as part of the National Crime Agency, we are setting up a new unit dedicated to tackling this problem that will work across agencies to catch criminals and take the steps she rightly speaks about.
Q8. A moment ago, the Leader of the Opposition asked whether long-term unemployment had risen by 96% since the introduction of the Work programme, but he did not receive an answer. I ask the Prime Minister again: has long-term unemployment risen by 96% since the Work programme was introduced? (130306)
I have given the figures for the Work programme: 800,000 people taking part and 200,000 people getting work. That is against a background where, over the last quarter, unemployment and the rate of youth unemployment have been falling and there have been more people in work. That is a record we can build on.
A free press is a necessary counterbalance to a strong state and the British people also have an inherent sense of fairness, so we do not need to restrict the press; we need to focus on redress when the press cross an unacceptable line. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend look at access to justice in this country to ensure that the libel and defamation laws we already have are available to everyone, not just the rich and famous?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about access to justice, but one of the key things that the Leveson inquiry is trying to get to the bottom of is: how can we have a strong and independent regulatory system, so that we do not have to wait for the wheels of the criminal justice system or the libel system to work? People should be able to rely on a good regulatory system as well in order to get the redress they want, whether prominent apologies, fines for newspapers or the other things that are clearly so necessary.
Q9. The Department for Education is proposing to close its Runcorn site, with the loss of at least 220 jobs. It is in the 27th most-deprived borough in the country. How will that help with unemployment and social deprivation in my constituency? It is a pity that the Education Secretary has refused to meet me to discuss this matter. (130307)
I know that the hon. Gentleman has met the permanent secretary at the Department for Education to discuss the matter, and I will certainly discuss it with the Secretary of State as well. Of course, there will be consultation with affected staff and other local MPs, but let me make this important point: we all know that we have to try and find savings in departmental overhead budgets in order to maximise the money going into the schools. The Government have managed to maintain the per-pupil funding, and I am sure that hon. Members who think about it will consider that the most important thing for our schools, our children and our education system.
Last year, more than 10,000 men in Britain died from prostate cancer, the silent killer. Survival rates have increased from 20% to 70%, because of earlier diagnosis and better drugs. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister’s commitment to the NHS cancer drugs fund. Will he join me in welcoming the Movember campaign’s work to raise male health awareness and champion British leadership in cancer research?
I not only join my hon. Friend in praising the Movember campaign but praise his efforts lurking tentatively under his nose. This is an important campaign, because it raises awareness of cancers, including cancers such as the one he mentioned, which people are sometimes worried about mentioning and talking about. Raising awareness is important, as too are things, such as the cancer drugs fund, that ensure we get the drugs to the people who need them.
Q10. I once represented a seriously injured car-crash victim who was hounded and hurt further by an irresponsible press. When he set up the Leveson inquiry, the Prime Minister said: “I accept we can’t say it is the last chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.”For the victims—for the McCanns, the Dowlers—will he keep his word? (130308)
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), in saying that uppermost in our minds, as we consider the report, should be the victims of press intrusion and invasion of privacy, and the appalling things, in some cases, written about them and their families. We owe them a regulatory system that will work for them and which the public will have confidence in, and that is what we hope Leveson will produce.
Leaving home before it is light and returning from work when it is dark, hard-working families in my constituency have a gross household income of just £25,000. Does my right hon. Friend think it right that their neighbours living on benefits currently earn more?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Only this week we have yet again had a vote on our welfare benefits cap—which most people would see as generous at £26,000—and once again Labour has voted for unlimited welfare. We have long memories: we can remember that under Labour, some families were getting £70,000, £80,000, £90,000 or £100,000 of housing benefit. Labour did nothing about it because it believes in something for nothing.
Q11. Since the Prime Minister denounced aggressive tax avoidance as “morally repugnant”, why are his Government now actively promoting aggressive tax avoidance by cutting the tax on multinationals that open a finance company in a tax haven from the current 23% to just 5%? How can we be one nation when the Government are on the side of the tax dodgers? (130309)
We were all inspired by the amazing London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games, in an incredible summer of sport, but it is so important to get people involved in grass-roots community sport. Will the Prime Minister meet me, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the county sports partnership network and Sport England to discuss the “Be Inspired, Get Involved” initiative, the first fair of which is this evening in my constituency?
I am happy to meet my hon. Friend about this issue. It is important that we take the legacy of the Olympics and turn it into increased rates of participation. That means, yes, working with the organisations that he spoke about, but also recognising the many heroes and heroines right around our country who run the Saturday morning football clubs, rugby clubs and cricket clubs. It is those clubs that provide so much of the answer for getting more sport into our communities and more sport into our schools as well.
Q12. Will the Prime Minister, like me, welcome the ceasefire in Gaza last week and regret all those who died as a result of the conflict, but also recognise that, fundamentally, the future of the middle east lies with peace and justice for the Palestinian people, be they in Gaza, the west bank or refugee camps? We have to recognise the Palestinian people, so tomorrow, will the British Government accordingly cast our vote at the United Nations in favour of Palestinian recognition without any preconditions—such as suggesting they should not have access to the International Criminal Court—as an independent, recognised nation? (130310)
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the fact that there is a ceasefire and that that conflict has ceased. I do not go all the way with him on the rest of his question, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be making a statement about this from the Dispatch Box in a few moments. I do not want to steal his thunder, but I think it is important that we use our vote to try to say to both sides in this conflict: “We need talks without preconditions.” In the end, as I said on Monday, the only way we are going to see a peace process that works is when Israelis and Palestinians come to the table and talk through the final status issues, including Jerusalem, including refugees and including borders—when they do it themselves. We can wish for all we want at the United Nations; in the end, you have got to have direct talks between the direct parties to get the two-state solution we want.
The Prime Minister will be aware that tomorrow’s business on the Order Paper includes a debate in my name to mark the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Asians by Idi Amin from Uganda and their arrival in the UK. However, because of the need for a statement on the Leveson inquiry, it is likely that my debate may not now take place. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I and the community at large fully appreciate the circumstances. However, does the Prime Minister acknowledge the need for and the importance of such a debate, and will he also do whatever he can to ensure that I am given another debate as soon as possible?
The reaction of colleagues from right across the House shows that my hon. Friend speaks for the whole House—and I believe the whole country—in wanting to speak up for the Ugandan Asians who came to our country in the 1970s, who have made the most fantastic contribution to our national life. It is very good to see. I remember meeting my hon. Friend’s parents and how proud they are of him—second generation, coming to this country, sitting in the House of Commons and speaking up so well on these and other issues. Although I do not have control of the House of Commons agenda—sadly—I very much hope that the people who do will listen carefully to the point he made and reschedule his debate as fast as possible.
What I can confirm is that, at 45p, the top rate of tax will be higher under this Government than it was in any of the 13 years of the last Government. That is a fact. The richest in our country will actually be paying more in income tax in every year of this Government than in any year of that Government.
In Harlow, Comet has made 80 home delivery and shop staff redundant, and the jobs of at least 65 transport and logistics staff are now at risk. Many of the redundant workers are suggesting that there has been malpractice. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Business Secretary to investigate this, to ensure that anyone who has lost their job gets the proper support and help that they are entitled to?
I am very happy to look carefully at what my hon. Friend has said. Clearly, what has happened at Comet is a tragedy for those who work for that business. I will talk to the Business Secretary about this, and see what can be done in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.
Q14. Last week, the Prime Minister told me and the House that the Government were investing an extra £900 million to combat tax avoidance. In fact, as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will confirm, no such investment is taking place, and HMRC is facing a 15% cut in its budget. So is the Prime Minister guilty of fact avoidance or fact evasion? (130312)
The truth is that this Government have put £900 million into the specific measures of getting hold of tax avoidance. All these schemes grew up under years and years of the Labour Government, but they never did a general anti-tax avoidance. They presided over a system where people in the City were paying less tax than their cleaners, and it took this Government to sort it out.
May I warn my right hon. Friend not to be remembered as the Prime Minister who introduced state regulation of the press? A free press is an essential part of a free democracy. Does he agree that state regulation of the press is like pregnancy? Just as someone is either pregnant or they are not, so we can either have state regulation or not. There is no alternative third way.
Where I would agree with my hon. Friend is that a free press is absolutely vital for a healthy democracy. We should recognise all that the press has done, and should continue to do, to uncover wrongdoing and to stand up to the powerful. That is vitally important and, whatever the changes we make, we want a robust and free press in our country.
Q15. Research by the charity Save the Children reveals, shockingly, that one in seven children in our country do not have a warm coat this winter. The Government are now cutting child benefit support to 100,000 families who look after disabled children—[Interruption.] Whatever our views on how our economic problems were brought about, surely it cannot be right that children, the poorest and the most vulnerable pay the most for this economic crisis. (130313)
I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and the point that I would make is that we are removing child benefit from people earning over £60,000 a year. We think that that is the right step to take, because those with the broadest backs should be bearing the greatest burden. We have frozen child benefit for other families, but we have increased the child tax credit that goes to the poorest families.