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Prime Minister

Volume 559: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2013

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

More than 2,500 households in Halton are affected by the bedroom tax. The chief executive of the National Housing Federation said this week:

“The bedroom tax is ill-thought and unfair as thousands of disabled people will have no choice but to cut back further on food and other expenses in order to stay in their…homes.”

Will the Prime Minister now drop this callous policy?

Let us be absolutely clear that this is not a tax. Let me explain to the Labour party that a tax is when someone earns some money and the Government take some of that money away from them—that is a tax. Only Labour could call a benefit reform a tax increase. Let me be clear to the hon. Gentleman: pensioners are exempt, people with severely disabled children are exempt and people who need round-the-clock care are exempt. Those categories of people are all exempt, but there is a basic issue of fairness. How can it be fair that people on housing benefit in private rented accommodation do not get a spare room subsidy, whereas people in social housing do? That is not fair and we are putting that right.

Figures published yesterday show that over the past 20 years there has been a 137% increase in the number of deaths linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Does the Prime Minister agree that if we are to stop that awful condition afflicting more people in the future, we must invest much more in preventing it and on research in particular? Will he outline to the House what the Government are doing to help support those with dementia and those who care for them?

My hon. Friend raises a point of concern to everyone in this House and everyone in this country, because no one knows when a relative could be afflicted by the condition. Her point is absolutely right: this is a disease and we should be thinking about it as a disease, as we do when we try to crack cancer, or heart disease, or strokes. That is why the Government are increasing the amount of money going into medical research so that we can try to prevent dementia in more cases. But there are many other things we need to do to improve the care in care homes and in hospitals and to ensure that we have more dementia-friendly communities so that we all learn how to deal with people who have dementia and how to help them lead lives that are as productive as possible.

I would like to ask the Prime Minister about an individual case that has been raised with me. John works in east London and is worried about what is happening to his living standards. His salary is £1 million and he is worried that under proposed EU regulations, his bonus may be capped at just £2 million. Will the Prime Minister tell us what he is going to do for John?

What I would say to John and everyone like John is that under this Government, bonuses are one quarter of what they were when the right hon. Gentleman was in the Treasury. I will take lots of lectures from lots of people, but I do not have to listen to the croupier in the casino when it all went bust.

I know the Prime Minister does not want to deal with the facts, but he sent his Chancellor to Europe yesterday in order to argue against the bonus cap, he says, presumably because he thinks it will be bad for the City of London, but who led the negotiations on the bonus cap? It was a Conservative Member of the European Parliament. What did she say? She said

“we have managed to produce a deal that will strike the right balance for the majority of bankers who take responsible decisions.”

Why are the Prime Minister and the Chancellor the only people who think it is a priority to fight for bigger bonuses for bankers?

As ever, the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. We have some of the toughest rules on bonuses and the toughest rules on transparency of any major financial centre anywhere in the world. When the croupiers were in charge, where was the transparency? There was none. Where were the rules? There were none. We are not going to listen to them, but there is an important issue here. There are some important British national interests. We are responsible for 40% of the EU’s financial services. Those industries are here in our country and we ought to make sure that they go on contributing to our Exchequer. We want to make sure that international banks go on being headquartered here in the UK. We think that matters. The right hon. Gentleman might want to just pose and play politics, but we care about these things. We also want to make sure that we can put in place the very tough ring-fence around our retail banks so that the complete shambles that he presided over can never happen again.

This is the man who in opposition said:

“There will be a day of reckoning”

for the bankers. Now he sends his Chancellor to fight against the bonus cap in Brussels. What did he say? Was he arguing that there should be more regulation of the banks? No. [Interruption.] Oh, he says he was. Let’s see. What did he say? David Cameron, “A Conservative Economic Strategy”, March 2008. I have it here. He said:

“As a free-marketeer by conviction, it will not surprise you to hear me say”

that the problem of the past decade has been

“too much regulation”.

There we have it. I think John the banker will take heart that the Prime Minister is straining every muscle to help him. Now, let me ask the right hon. Gentleman about the cases of the hundreds of thousands of disabled people who will lose an average of £700 a year because of his bedroom tax. Is he going to fight for them, like he is fighting for John the banker?

First of all, let us just remember what happened in 2008, when the right hon. Gentleman was sitting in government—the biggest banking bust in our history, the build-up of the biggest deficit in our history. All the mess that we have to deal with now was delivered by him and his henchmen in 2008. Before we go on to the spare room subsidy, let him get to his feet and apologise for the mess that he left in this country. Apologise!

Order. I know that there are people who do not like it if Question Time runs over. Personally, it does not matter to me at all. The more noise and disruption there is, the longer it will take and the longer we will be here. It is very simple.

I notice that the Prime Minister has a new tactic, which is to ask me questions during our exchanges. All I can say is that it is good to see him preparing for opposition. The Home Secretary shakes her head. I am looking forward to facing her when they are in opposition.

Let me ask the Prime Minister another question, because he did not answer the one about the bedroom tax. He talked earlier about the hardship fund. Let us look at the facts about the fund. Some £25 million of it has been allocated specifically to help disabled people hit by the bedroom tax, but how much do his own figures show he is taking from disabled people? The answer is £306 million. Will he admit that the vast majority of disabled people hit by his bedroom tax will get no help from his hardship fund?

First, the whole House, and the whole country, will note that there was no apology for the mess left by the Labour party.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that his figures on the spare room subsidy are completely wrong. The last thing he said before sitting down was that we are cutting the money going to disabled people. That is simply not the case. In 2009-10 the money spent on disability living allowance was £12.4 billion. By 2015 it will be £13.3 billion. There is no cut in the money going to the disabled. This Government are protecting that money, in spite of the mess he made. On the spare room subsidy, pensioners are exempt, people with disabled children are exempt and anyone who needs help around the clock is also exempt. As he is fond of reading out letters from constituents, let me read from one I got on this issue from a pensioner:

“We are expected to find up to an extra £60 per month out of our pensions for having extra bedrooms.”

Of course, they are not, because they are pensioners and are therefore exempt, but they have been terrified by the right hon. Gentleman’s completely irresponsible campaign.

I think what that means is that there was nothing in the briefing on the question I asked. Let me just make it clear, because the Prime Minister obviously does not understand it. His own impact assessment—he might like to read it, by the way—states that 420,000 disabled people will be hit by the bedroom tax by an average of £700 a year. That is £306 million. The money in the hardship fund allocated to disabled people is just £25 million. It is basic arithmetic. Will he admit that the vast majority of disabled people will get no help from the hardship fund and will be hit by his bedroom tax?

The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong, because anyone with severely disabled children is exempt from the spare room subsidy—[Interruption.]

Order. Members must not shout at the tops of their voices at the Prime Minister. The question has been asked, it was heard and the answer must be heard.

The right hon. Gentleman completely ignores the fact that anyone with severely disabled children and anyone who needs round-the-clock care are exempt from the spare room subsidy. The point he has to address is this: we are spending £23 billion on housing benefit. That is up by 50% over the past decade. That is £1,000 every year for every basic rate taxpayer. We say that it is time to reform housing benefit, and it is only fair that we treat people in social housing in the same way as we treat those in private rented housing. He has no proposals to do anything about welfare, other than to put up borrowing.

I think that we have established today that the Prime Minister does not understand his own policy. It is shameful to do this and not even understand the impact on the people of this country. He pulls out all the stops to defend the bankers and their bonuses, but he has nothing to say to the disabled people being hit by his bedroom tax. He stands up for the wrong people. It is no wonder his Back Benchers and the country think he is totally out of touch.

What we have heard today is what we hear every single Wednesday. The Opposition will not support one single change to welfare. They will not support reforms to housing benefit. They did not even support it when we took housing benefit away from people charging £100,000 a year. They would not support changes to child benefit. They will not support any changes to disability living allowance. They will not support changes to council tax benefit. They have opposed £83 billion of welfare saving. That is the point. They have to admit that their policy is to put up borrowing. They have nothing to offer, only debt, debt and more debt.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] Forgive me, Mr Speaker, I was taken by surprise and my question might surprise some Members even more. On 8 March we celebrate international women’s day. Will the Prime Minister join me in calling on the Indian and Pakistani Governments to do more to uphold the rights of women and to advance the gender agenda?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. There are some particular issues we should really focus on. Female genital mutilation is a completely unacceptable practice that we need to deal with right across the world, but including here in the United Kingdom, and we will be making an announcement about that. We should also do more to crack down on the completely unacceptable practice of forced marriages. Forced marriages are still taking place right here with people involved from the United Kingdom, and we need to do more to put a stop to it.

Q2. I have been asked by the good people of Whitburn to open a food bank for West Lothian. I am very proud of these people who are pulling together as community, but I have to say that I carry a sense of absolute shame that this Government are driving people, even working people, more and more to have to use food banks. I can see people waving this away. It is a question of morality. The Government must surely look after the poor as well as look after the rich. (146192)

I welcome people making this contribution in our country, as the last Labour Government did by giving the organisation that founded food banks a prize and an award for its work. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the use of food banks went up 10 times under Labour, but one thing Labour refused to do, which we have done, is to allow jobcentres to point people towards food banks if they need them. The last Labour Government were worried about the adverse publicity, and they put that worry before the needs of people up and down the country.

Q15. Does the Prime Minister agree that we cannot borrow less by borrowing more, that we cannot deal with the deficit left by the last Labour Government by increasing our debts, and that the shadow Chancellor’s plan for doing so is both financially and morally bankrupt? (146205)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The policy of the official Opposition is to borrow less by borrowing more. It is completely incredible. That is why the Leader of the Opposition comes here week after week and asks all sorts of questions but will never mention his borrowing policy. It is an extraordinary point, but the Leader of the Opposition has a policy he is so embarrassed about that he cannot tell the House of Commons.

Q3. David Nicholson showed wilful and culpable ignorance while more than 1,000 people died needlessly in the NHS. How can the public have any confidence in the administration of the NHS while this man remains? Will the Prime Minister not sack him immediately? (146193)

What I would say about David Nicholson is that he has very frankly and very candidly apologised and acknowledged the mistakes that were made. That is an important point, because everyone has to think of their responsibilities with regard to the dreadful events that happened at the Staffordshire hospital, including the fact that part of the problem was people following a very top-down, target-led agenda which led to patient care being put on the back burner. David Nicholson has made his apology and wants to get on with his job of running an excellent national health service, and other people, frankly, should be thinking of their positions too.

Q4. Will the Prime Minister welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton) and agree with me that even governing parties can win marginal by-elections if they stick by their leader through thick and thin and campaign hard for a stronger economy and a fairer society? (146194)

I will certainly welcome the new Member of Parliament for Eastleigh—for the period of this Parliament. I am sure that he will enjoy making a contribution to our debates. I note very carefully the rest of my hon. Friend’s question.

Q5. This time last week, the Prime Minister told me that he would not force GP commissioners to put health services out to tender. By the end of last week, doctors, nurses and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, as well as nearly 250,000 members of the public, had said that they did not believe him. Was yesterday’s withdrawal of the NHS competition regulations down to his Government’s incompetence or to the fact that the public and professionals do not trust him and believe that he is about to privatise the NHS? (146195)

With respect to the hon. Lady, there is an attempt to create an entirely false argument. The aim is to ensure that the rules for procurement and diversity in the NHS fully respect the position that was put in place by the last Government and that has been repeated under this Government. We are putting that beyond any doubt. What I would say to her is what I said last week: what are we to be frightened of in making sure that in our brilliant NHS there can be a full contribution from private sector companies and voluntary and charitable bodies?

That position was in the manifesto on which the hon. Lady stood at the last election. In case she has forgotten, I will remind her of what it said: “We will support”—[Interruption.] I thought that Labour Members would like to hear their manifesto. It said:

“We will support an active role for the independent sector working alongside the NHS in the provision of care, particularly where they bring innovation—such as in end-of-life care and cancer services”.

What happens is that when the Labour party goes into opposition, it becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of the trade union movement.

A report to Monitor recommends the closure of acute services and most emergency and maternity services at Stafford. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and colleagues to discuss the serious impact that that would have on access to services for people throughout Staffordshire, including the two new Signals regiments that we will be welcoming in 2015?

I have discussed that issue many times with my hon. Friend and am happy to speak to him again. The trust continues to face serious financial challenges that are putting at risk its work to improve services for patients. As is required by the legislation, Monitor will consult the Secretary of State for Health and others before making the final decision to go ahead with the matter that my hon. Friend raises. If he wants to discuss it with me or the Secretary of State for Health, I am very happy to have that conversation.

Q6. This week, the Centre for Economics and Business Research reported that one in 10 people in Newcastle has borrowed money to pay for food. From April, 20,000 of our poorest households will be asked to find up to £125 per month to pay for the council tax benefit cut and the bedroom tax. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether, at the same time, he will benefit personally from the millionaires’ tax cut? (146196)

First, let me address the issue of the spare room subsidy in Newcastle specifically. There are 9,000 people on social housing waiting lists. Across the country, 250,000 people are living in overcrowded accommodation and would love to have access to a house with more rooms, while 386,000 people are living in under-occupied housing. The Labour party does not want to recognise that reality and has absolutely nothing to offer in terms of reform.

Q7. Last year, more than 100 women were killed by men in the United Kingdom. We know that domestic violence happens behind doors across the entire country. Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity of international women’s day to pay tribute to the outstanding work of Wiltshire police in trialling new ways of reducing this appalling crime and to the victim support centre in Devizes, which provides services for those who suffer in my constituency? (146197)

I am happy to do that. Fighting domestic violence is an important part of international women’s day, as my hon. Friend says. I commend not only the police in Wiltshire, but the local authority because it has done very good work to bring all the agencies together to ensure that there is a joined-up approach to cracking this difficult problem which, as she says, has often been hidden from view.

Q8. A recent report by the TUC suggested that wages in this country have been depressed by 3% since you came to power. Sorry, I meant the Tories, not you, Mr Speaker. Given that fact and the cuts to welfare, why is it that bankers, spivs and speculators can get away with stuffing their pockets with £50 notes under the guise of bonuses? When will the Prime Minister get a grip of the fat cats? If he is not going to get a grip, he should let my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) into his seat and he will get a grip. (146198)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that when his hon. Friends were in charge, the bonuses were higher, the banks were going bust and there was no proper regulation. That is why we are dealing with the mess—[Interruption.] He can try and wave it away, but the right hon. Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) were sitting in the casino when the wheels stopped spinning and the country nearly went bust.

Q9. Does the Prime Minister welcome the action taken today by the Office of Fair Trading to ensure that payday lenders behave responsibly and fairly? (146199)

My hon. Friend raises an important case because a number of payday lenders have been behaving in a completely irresponsible way. The OFT is putting 50 firms on notice over their behaviour, and requiring them to take specific actions or face fines or have their licences revoked. The OFT is also consulting on referring the entire sector to the Competition Commission. Action is being taken and I commend the OFT for what it has done.

Q10. Rotherham college of arts and technology has just had a cut of 280 places for 16 to 18-year-olds. That is a 10% cut, despite Rotherham being a youth unemployment hot spot. With rising youth unemployment and a flatlining economy, why is the Prime Minister denying the young people of Rotherham an education? Will he explain why he is cutting taxes for millionaires while young people have no future? (146200)

Let me just tell the hon. Lady that in her region, employment is up by 21,000 this quarter, and by 74,000 since the election. We have taken 192,000 people in her region out of tax altogether, and youth unemployment has fallen since the election.

Q11. Like many others I welcome last week’s figure showing that annual net migration has fallen by a third since the general election. Does the Prime Minister agree that that shows that the Government are ending uncontrolled immigration while the Labour party has opposed every single step we are taking to bring it down? (146201)

My hon. Friend makes a worthwhile point and we have taken action right across the board to deal with the completely unacceptable situation we inherited. Under the last Government, net migration ran at more than 200,000 people a year, which meant 2 million over a decade. That is two cities the size of Birmingham coming and staying in our country under their completely busted and bankrupt system. We have cut that net migration by a third by taking a series of steps, none of which the Opposition have supported. We hear that tonight we are going to get one of those fake apologies from the Leader of the Opposition. I suspect it will be every bit as real as his completely fake apology for the mess he left the economy in.

Q12. After the riots the Prime Minister offered people in Croydon reassurances about public safety. Under the latest Tory proposals, however, every police station in Croydon North will close down and there will be fewer police officers than the wholly inadequate number that existed immediately after the riots. Is that another broken promise? (146202)

First, the hon. Gentleman’s figures are wrong. The number of neighbourhood police officers in London is up from 895 to 3,418. Crime is down in the Met, and he should welcome that rather than criticise it.

The Lord said, “Go forth” and in Eastleigh Labour came fourth. The Prime Minister has observed that UKIP is a party of

“nutcases, fruitcakes and closet racists”

yet his Deputy Chairman says that the Conservatives should form an electoral pact with UKIP. How are the talks going?

First, I commend my hon. Friend on his splendid waistcoat. I am sure that if he reveals it a little further we will see that—yes, all right; enough already. It was a good, honest and fair fight in Eastleigh, but I want to be absolutely clear that the party that is meant to challenge as the Opposition in our country went precisely nowhere.

Q13. My constituents in Dumfries and Galloway are demanding that big businesses pay their full taxes. Likewise, they are determined that individuals should pay all their taxes. The Prime Minister has said that he will pay all taxes due in the proper way. Next month, will that include any tax at the new 45p rate, which he has cut from 50p? (146203)

First, I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman supports the Government’s G8 initiative on tax transparency, on which we are going to make some real progress. The reason for replacing the 50p rate with the 45p rate is that the 50p rate was not raising proper money. Indeed, it raised £7 billion less. That is probably why for 10 years in office the Labour party never put it in place. That is also why under this Government the 45p rate will be a higher rate than ever it was when the two croupiers were sitting in the casino.

Q14. The widely disputed economic benefits of HS2 may or may not be realised in 20 years’ time. However, the blight, fear and anxiety the project generates hit my constituency on 28 January with the announcement of the extended route. I now have constituents who cannot sell their houses, businesses uncertain about their future and the potential loss of a £500 million private sector investment set to generate 7,000 jobs in 2016. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that representatives of HS2 visit my constituency to address the real concerns of my constituents about this project? (146204)

I am very happy to make sure that what my hon. Friend asks for happens. I quite understand that the launch of a project such as HS2 causes a lot of local concern and unease. That is why we are putting in place such a large national consultation and will put in place a very generous compensation scheme. If we are to win in the global race economically, we must ensure that we invest in new infrastructure, whether roads and bypasses, bridges, tunnels or, indeed, railways including high-speed rail. The rest of the world is getting on board the high-speed rail revolution and it is right that we should too.

Giving an extra £150 million to local authorities to streamline adoption services and taking the exact sum out of the care sector’s early intervention grant seems to be a classic example of giving with one hand and taking away with the other. In adopting that approach, is not the Prime Minister acting in a manner more usually associated with his coalition partners?

I do not accept that. It is important that we make progress with rates of adoption in our country. Far too many children are left for far too long in care when we know that they could be adopted into loving homes. Taking some of that money, and really encouraging local authorities to raise their game and improve what they do, can transform the life chances of other people who would be stuck in care. We all know that the state is not a good parent, and we want to see more children adopted more quickly, so more can grow up in a loving home.

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in that. The fact is that the economy is rebalancing. We are seeing that in the export figures to some of the fastest growing countries in the world. We see it in the fact that 1 million more people are in private sector jobs. We see it in the fact that the rate of new business creation is the fastest now that it has ever been in our history. We see it in the fact that our economy employs more people now than it has ever done in our history. There is still a long and difficult road to travel, but the deficit is down by a quarter and we are taking the steps we need to take to get the economy moving. But as ever, we have nothing constructive from the Opposition.

I am delighted to hear the Prime Minister say that he agrees that the payday loan industry is irresponsible. Will he now therefore commit to doing the one thing we know would make a difference and cap the charges of legal loan sharks—yes or no?

As I have said, the most important thing to do today is to welcome what the Office of Fair Trading is doing, which is putting those companies on notice. It is worth making the point that without an effective regulated sector, there are far more dangers from loan sharks, which is the point that the hon. Lady makes.

This week, the 45 million people of Kenya, one of the fastest emerging markets in which the UK is the biggest trade partner, went to the polls to elect a new Government under a new constitution. Yesterday I came back from the funeral in Kenya of Dr Anthony King, the young, British conservationist, world-renowned in the fight against poaching, who was tragically killed last week. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to join me in sending our condolences to Dr King’s family and our support to the people of Kenya in showing the power of democracy, justice and the rule of law?

I commend my hon. Friend on raising this issue and I join him in paying tribute to Anthony King. I know that my hon. Friend travelled to Kenya to speak at his funeral, and it is right that he did so. We all want to see proper, free and fair elections completed, counted and finished in Kenya and a proper democratically elected Government in that country, and to make sure that there is justice when dreadful events such as this take place.