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Volume 560: debated on Wednesday 13 March 2013

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.

We all know that the Prime Minister believes there is no alternative to his double-dip, his double-debt or his loss of the triple A credit rating, but is he aware that his Back Benchers and some of his Cabinet believe there is an alternative to him?

What this Government are delivering are 1 million private sector jobs and the fastest rate of new business creation in this country’s history. We have paid down the deficit by 25% and have cut immigration by a third. We have a long, hard road to travel, but we are going in the right direction.

I am sure that the Prime Minister will wish to add his condolences to the family and friends of Christina Edkins, who was murdered on a bus to school in my constituency last Thursday morning.

The Government have rightly introduced minimum custodial sentences for people convicted of threatening someone with a knife, but does the Prime Minister agree that it is time to introduce a legal assumption that people carrying a knife intend to use it and should attract a prison sentence, so that we can redouble our efforts to rid our communities of the scourge of knives?

I think that my hon. Friend speaks for the whole House and, indeed, the whole country on the absolute revulsion at this horrific crime. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere condolences to Christina Edkins’s family.

We take knife crime extremely seriously, which is why, as my hon. Friend has said, we changed the law so that any adult who commits a crime with a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and for a serious offence they should expect a very log sentence. I will happily look at what my hon. Friend suggests. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is currently reviewing the powers available to the courts to deal with knife possession and will bring forward proposals in due course.

In the light of his U-turn on alcohol pricing, is there anything the Prime Minister could organise in a brewery?

I would like to organise a party in the brewery in my constituency, to which the right hon. Gentleman would be very welcome, to celebrate that the shadow Chancellor should stay for a very long time on the Front Bench.

The right hon. Gentleman obviously could not tell us about his policy on minimum unit pricing for alcohol. The reality is that he has been overruled by the Home Secretary on that one.

Let us turn to another thing that the Prime Minister has said that we cannot trust. In his speech last Thursday, he said that the independent Office for Budget Responsibility is

“absolutely clear that the deficit reduction plan is not responsible”

for low growth. That is not what the OBR says. Will he acknowledge that today?

Just returning to the right hon. Gentleman’s earlier question, the interesting thing—[Interruption.] I will answer his question. The interesting thing about British politics right now is that I have the top team that I want and he has the top team that I want too. Long may they continue.

The point of the Office for Budget Responsibility is that it is independent. Everyone should accept everything that it says, and I do. We should look at what it says about why growth has turned out to be lower than it forecast. It said that

“we concluded from an examination of the…data that the impact of external inflation shocks, deteriorating export markets, and financial sector and eurozone difficulties were more likely explanations.”

To be fair to the shadow Chancellor, his own press release says:

“The OBR says they are yet to be persuaded”

by the case that he makes. Given that his plans are more spending, more borrowing and more debt, the country will never be persuaded.

The Prime Minister is clearly living in a fantasy land. He wants us to believe that the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility wrote him an open letter the day after his speech because he enjoyed it so much and agreed with it so much. Actually, what he said in the letter was:

“we believe that fiscal consolidation measures have reduced economic growth over the past couple of years”.

Yesterday, we learned that industrial production is at its lowest level for 20 years. That sets alarm bells ringing for everyone else in this country; why does it not for the Prime Minister?

The first point is that manufacturing declined as a share of our GDP faster under the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member than at any time since the industrial revolution. That is what happened: the decimation of manufacturing industry under 10 years of a Labour Government. He quotes from the Office for Budget Responsibility and I accept everything that it says, but let me quote from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It says that borrowing under Labour would be £200 billion higher. Does he accept that forecast?

It is good to see, for a second week running, that the right hon. Gentleman is getting into practice for Opposition. He had nothing to say about industrial production, but his own Business Secretary—the guy who is supposed to be in charge of these issues—is going around telling anyone who will listen that the plan is not working. He says that

“we are now in a position where the economy is not growing in the way it had been expected.”

He goes on:

“We don’t want to be Japan with a decade of no growth.”

When the Prime Minister’s own Business Secretary calls for him to change course, is he speaking for the Government?

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is happening in industrial production. We are now producing more motor cars in this country than at any time in our history. Exports of goods to all the key markets, such as India, China, Russia and Brazil, are increasing very rapidly. None of those things happened under a Labour Government when they trashed our economy, racked up debts and nearly bankrupted the country.

On capital spending, I think that we should spend more money on capital. That is why we are spending £10 billion more than was in the plans of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. We should be using the strength of the Government balance sheet to encourage private sector capital. That is why, for the first time in its history, the Treasury is providing those guarantees. The fact is that he wrecked the economy and put in place plans for capital cuts, and we are investing in the country’s infrastructure.

Never mind more car production, it is “Taxi for Cameron” after that answer.

Things are so bad that the Government sent out Baroness Warsi at the weekend to say that she had “full confidence” in the Prime Minister and that he had support from

“large parts of his party.”

Maybe he even has the support of large parts of his Cabinet, I am not sure. Just a week from the Budget, the Home Secretary goes out making speeches about the economy—I think the part-time Chancellor should concentrate on the Budget—then she gets told off by the Children’s Secretary, who is hiding down there by the Chair, for jockeying for position. Is not the truth that it is not just the country that has lost confidence in the Chancellor and his economic plan but the whole Cabinet?

The weakness in the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is that my party has unanimous support for his leadership, as long as he keeps the shadow Chancellor there. I have to say—[Interruption.]

Order. It is very discourteous for Members to gesticulate so aggressively at the Prime Minister. Let us hear his answer.

What is remarkable, yet again, is this—where is the argument on welfare? He has got no argument on welfare. Where is the argument on the deficit? He has got nothing to say about the deficit. Where are his plans for getting the economy moving? He has got nothing to say. That is what is happening under his leadership—absolutely nothing apart from debt, debt and more debt.

The Prime Minister is absolutely hopeless, and today’s exchanges have shown it. A week out from the Budget, they have an economic policy that is failing, a Prime Minister who makes it up as he goes along and a Government who are falling apart, and all the time it is the country that is paying the price.

Six questions, and not a single positive suggestion for how to get on top of the deficit that the right hon. Gentleman left, not a single suggestion for how to deal with the massive welfare bills that we were left, and not a single suggestion for how to improve standards in our schools. But I do know what he has been doing over these last months, because I have been passed—[Interruption.]

And it is a particularly interesting one, because I have here a copy of the right hon. Gentleman’s diary and I know what he has been up to. These are the dinners that he has held to raise money from the trade unions in the last few weeks: the GMB, USDAW, ASLEF, the TSSA, UCATT—£2.7 million, dinosaur after dinosaur, dinner after dinner. They pay the money, they get the policies, but the country would end up paying the price.

Q2. It is national apprenticeship week. More than 1,500 businesses in Kirklees are now offering apprenticeships, and we are becoming an official apprenticeship hub. Will the Prime Minister join me in praising all the businesses in my area that are taking on apprentices, Kirklees college under the leadership of Peter McCann, which is offering vocational training, and all the great young people who are going to see a positive future for our great nation? (147453)

I will certainly join my hon. Friend in what he says about national apprenticeship week. It is an important moment for our country, because over the past two and a half years we have seen 1 million people start apprenticeships, and the run rate is at more than half a million a year. That is very important for our country, and what I want to see is a new norm where we recognise that people who leave school should either be going to university or taking part in an apprenticeship. That is the agenda and the ambition that we should set for young people and our country.

Q3. Is it not the case that a couple who have separated could still live in the same home without bedroom tax rules applying? Given that glaring loophole discouraging marriage, should not the Prime Minister’s next U-turn be axing this cruel and shambolic tax altogether? (147454)

First of all, let me say once again that only the Labour party could call welfare reform a tax. A tax is when you earn money and the Government take away some of your money. This is a basic issue of fairness. There is not a spare room subsidy for people in private rented accommodation in receipt of housing benefit, so we should ask why there is a spare room subsidy for people living in council houses and getting housing benefit. It is a basic issue of fairness and this Government are putting it right.

Q4. Glossop Cartons in my constituency has just invested significantly in placing the world’s first order for the Euclid digital cutting and creasing machine. Tomorrow, Nestlé opens its brand new, state-of-the-art bottling plant for the famous Buxton water, also in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those significant investments show that this Government are making Britain well equipped to win the global race? (147455)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do see investment by large multinational companies, such as Nestlé, which now recognise that we have one of the most competitive tax systems anywhere in the world. KPMG recently reported that in just two years we have gone from having one of the least competitive corporate tax systems in the world, to having one of the most competitive. What has changed is the arrival of this Chancellor and this Government who have put right the mess made by the Labour party.