The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
I have regular discussions with organisations that deliver the Work programme. I recognise that they operate in a challenging environment, but I salute their collective early success in getting more than 200,000 long-term unemployed people into work, as I am sure does the hon. Lady.
I thank the Minister for that response. A recent report by the Work and Pensions Committee on the Work programme found that many voluntary sector organisations that are listed as sub-contractors do not consider themselves to be involved at all, leading to suspicions that specialist organisations are being used as “bid candy”, rather than to deliver services. What will the Minister do to ensure that such charities are treated fairly?
It is for the Department for Work and Pensions to respond to that report; my role is to ensure that the relevant Minister understands the concerns of the voluntary sector. We should recognise that more than 350 voluntary sector organisations in the supply chain are doing incredibly valuable work to get long-term unemployed people back into work. My other role is to ensure that we learn the lessons from that programme in forthcoming payment-by-results programmes, not least in the transforming rehabilitation and probation programme.
Has my hon. Friend noted the figures from the Department for Work and Pensions that show that voluntary and community based organisations, such as Whitwick Community Enterprises in my constituency, make up the largest proportion of workplace providers under the Work programme at 47%?
My hon. Friend is right that almost 50% of the supply chain is in the voluntary sector. We all know from our experience of such organisations what extraordinarily valuable work they do to get people ready for work and into work. We want to make the programme work.
Surely the Minister knows that New Philanthropy Capital has advised the Government not to repeat the mistakes of the Work programme. What lessons will he learn so that those mistakes are not repeated and so that third sector organisations and charities that want to help unemployed people are encouraged to do so?
I do not necessarily recognise that mistakes have been made. Payment-by-results is a tough and challenging regime, but each exercise will be different and the process will evolve. It is a better regime than paying for failure and mediocrity, which is what the Labour Government did. The next test is the probation reforms. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail of what the Ministry of Justice has produced, he will see that lessons have been learned on having more contracts, paying much more attention to how the supply chain is managed and investing in capacity building in the voluntary sector so that it can do more.
The National Fraud Authority estimates that the public purse loses more than £20 billion a year to fraud. That figure has been far too high for far too long. Last year, the Departments that engaged with the cross-Government taskforce that I chair saved an estimated £5.9 billion. However, we know that there is much more to do.
I pay tribute to the Minister for the billions of pounds of cross-departmental savings that he has achieved. In targeting that £20 billion, I urge him to look again at the risk-averse legal advice in Whitehall that is stopping data-sharing between the public and private sectors, because fraudsters who commit fraud against the private sector often do so against the public purse.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks, for his interest in this area and, more generally, for the brilliant forensic work he does on the Public Accounts Committee to protect the taxpayer’s interest. He is right about the legal advice that is often given in this complex area of law, which is a mishmash of common law and statutory provisions. There are many opportunities to share data, which would protect privacy but promote the public interest by saving money. We need to look at that area and have a rather more open approach.
I will certainly consider that. We need to get much better at sharing information about fraud and attempted fraud both within the private sector and between the public and private sectors. That has been done far too little, but we are getting better at it. There is still much to do and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s thoughts.
Public Sector Contracts
It is Government policy to dismantle the barriers facing small companies, charities and voluntary organisations to ensure they can compete for contracts on a level playing field. We have taken a number of significant steps specifically to support charities and social enterprises to bid for and win public sector contracts, such as the implementation of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, a community right to challenge, and reforms of procurement processes that make them more open and fair to charities.
The Foundation for Social Improvement today reports:
“Looking to the future of the commissioning process, it is clear that the current situation is not sustainable. Only around one quarter of respondents indicated that they felt they could carry on bidding for—and carrying out—local authority contracts over the next 5 years.”
Is it true that the Government’s plan to break open public services is merely benefiting a handful of large companies that use charities as “bid candy”, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) said, and as the report concludes?
As the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd) made clear in an earlier answer, many charitable organisations are already taking part and there are opportunities for more. What I take from the hon. Gentleman’s question is his willingness to work with me and others who care about making procurement better throughout the whole public sector, and encouraging local authorities to do their bit alongside the reforms we have achieved in central Government.
I applaud the Government’s steps to encourage charities to win public sector contracts, but does my hon. Friend believe there is a threshold to the proportion of income that charities receive from the public sector, above which they stop becoming charities because they are merely agencies of the state?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and it may be just as much the responsibility of trustees of an organisation to look at such issues within that organisation. The Government welcome the diversity of the sector and the opening up of Government procurement to those who can do the job well for value for money.
The Justice Secretary is a man who appears to be in something of a hurry. The Minister may be aware of growing concern among small voluntary organisations that provide services to ex-offenders that under the Justice Secretary’s plans their work will be undermined as large contracts are given to a small number of private providers. What reassurance can be given to those important small charities?
The right hon. Gentleman may wish to direct that question to the Justice Secretary himself, but the Parliamentary Secretary has had many discussions with Members across Government about opportunities for the voluntary sector, and we are passionate about getting that right.
In strongly applauding my hon. Friend’s work in this area, may I suggest that it needs to go beyond the procurement process itself? The other danger is public sector bodies—both locally and centrally—taking on employees to do work that could be done more effectively by voluntary sector organisations.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about the value for money that the state would seek to achieve at all levels. Alongside that, our reforms include measures to build the capability of the third sector, which I am sure we would all want to see strongly succeed.
Is it clear that not only have the Government failed to deliver more public sector contracts to charities, but after three years in office the big society project has now become a shrivelled society, except in one area—charitable activity and supporting people whom the hon. Lady’s Government have driven into poverty? More than 13 million people are now in poverty, two thirds of whom are in work.
It is a sad thing. In the past year, the number of people dependent on food banks tripled to almost 350,000, of whom—listen to this figure—126,889 are children. There is no doubt that the Minister is a decent human being, but did she really come into politics to increase the scale of the third sector on the back of a disgraceful rise in the number of children in poverty? Is she ashamed of that record?
What I am ashamed of is the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to turn an important issue into a political football. Like many others in the House, I have stood alongside excellent volunteers at food banks in my constituency. I applaud their efforts, their goodheartedness and their contribution, but I do not applaud his blindness to the notion that the use of food banks in fact soared under the previous Labour Government.
National Citizen Service
The National Citizen Service is a fantastic opportunity for our young constituents to make a difference in the community and to develop really valuable skills. Demand is growing rapidly, so we are making 50,000 places available this year and 90,000 in 2014.
I frequently meet with the Challenge Network, which is the principal provider of the NCS in Pendle, and I am looking forward to taking part in a “Dragons’ Den” exercise with it later this year. Will my hon. Friend say what the outcomes are for young people who have so far taken part in the NCS programme?
I thank my hon. Friend for his positive engagement with the programme. As he would expect, we commissioned independent research on its impact, and it tells us that so far we are getting £2 of value for every £1 of public money we spend. The most significant impact has been on what might be called work-ready skills: in particular, helping young people to develop confidence and teamwork, leadership and communication skills, all of which are very important in the workplace.
Youth work budgets have been slashed throughout the country, but the amount the Government are spending on a six-week programme for 16-year-olds would fund a 52-week-a-year service for 13 to 19-year-olds. Will the Minister rethink the NCS and instead put the money into a year-round youth service?
I think the hon. Lady should speak to her Front-Bench team, who recently said they were not against the NCS. I think they saw the numbers on the very positive impact it has on young people, and I hope she will support that too. Youth services around the country do not have to be cut. There are lots of other options for local authorities—to mutualise, to look at other delivery models—and we stand ready to support them in that.
5. What progress he has made on abolishing quangos. (160378)
To date, the number of public bodies has been reduced by more than 240, through abolitions and mergers, and by the end of the spending review period in March 2015, the Government will have reduced their total number by a third.
That is absolutely the right question, and part of the answer is that in the future any new proposal for creating a public body will have to get the approval of the Minister for the Cabinet Office, and I think I can reliably inform the House that the answer would likely be no. Furthermore, in the future, every public body will be subject to triennial reviews set up to justify their continued existence. It is about changing the culture that we inherited from the last Government.
One set of so-called quangos that was immediately abolished were the very accountable regional development agencies, and since then regional assistance has noticeably been a pale shadow of what it was. What steps is the Cabinet Office taking to audit the effectiveness with which the subsequent bodies—the regional growth fund, the local enterprise partnerships—are delivering regeneration to areas that desperately need it, such as mine in north Staffordshire?
I am puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s question, particularly in relation to exactly whom the RDAs were accountable to. I do not think that anyone is weeping for their absence, and I think that he should give LEPs a chance. My impression is that they are doing increasingly valuable work. We have new city deals and a whole new era of localism, with more and more decisions being taken locally and accountable to the communities they serve. I hope he will welcome that.
Co-operatives and Mutuals
6. What steps he is taking to encourage co-operatives and mutuals to provide public services. (160379)
The Government are committed to supporting public service mutuals in providing public services. We know that mutuals can bring significant efficiencies that benefit not only public service users and the taxpayer, but the staff who form them. Our mutuals support programme is tracking more than 120 emerging and established public service mutuals across 13 different sectors.
I do not entirely see the connection between those two phenomena. We actively encourage groups of public sector workers to come together to form new entities that continue to deliver public services, but on a contractual basis, not a line-managed, bureaucratic basis. I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman that there is a lot of interest in the public sector. Many entrepreneurial leaders are looking for the opportunity to lead the service in an innovative and less-restricted way.
The Government wish to strengthen the role of Ministers in permanent secretary appointments to reflect Ministers’ accountability to Parliament for the performance of their Departments. We believe it sensible to allow a choice of candidates who are judged by the Civil Service Commission to be above the line and appointable. The Civil Service Commission’s recent guidance is capable of strengthening the Minister’s role. We will review how it works before deciding whether to seek further changes.
Does the Minister agree with the two recent excellent reports from the Institute of Government and the Institute for Public Policy Research, which say that for there to be proper accountability Secretaries of State must have a say in who runs their Department, albeit from a shortlist agreed in the normal way? Will he reassure us that, contrary to press reports, he is not caving in to the mandarins on this vital reform?
I do not think that that is a phenomenon that would be recognised in Whitehall. The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. The relationship between permanent secretary and Minister is very important. Ministers are accountable in this place for their Department, and it seems to us to make sense—it clearly makes sense to him, too—that a Minister should be given a choice of candidates, as long as they are deemed to be politically impartial and capable of doing the job properly.
I commend my right hon. Friend for encouraging a lively debate on the leadership of the senior civil service, not least because senior appointments have led to a great deal of churn and discontinuity at the top of Government Departments in recent years. May I also congratulate him on publishing the IPPR report? We look forward to him coming before the Public Administration Committee to discuss it.
I look forward to one of my regular attendances at my hon. Friend’s Committee with barely concealed impatience. I am grateful for the interest he and his Committee take in this important area. I would like to take the opportunity, while answering this question, to pay tribute to so many hard working civil servants who do a fantastic job, and to the support that so many of them have given to the programme of reform we have set in train.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (160389)
My departmental responsibilities include responsibility for public service efficiency and reform groups, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy in the public sector, transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.
I was able to announce a couple of weeks ago that in the last financial year, 2012-13, we made over £10 billion of efficiency savings. It is a pity that it has taken so long to get on with this. If the present Leader of the Opposition had started on the process when he was in my position, the country’s public finances would now be in a much better state.
The single biggest source of new social finance for charities and social enterprises would be a UK community investment Act that required banks to lend into areas that they are not currently lending into. Why are the Government blocking such reforms?
I think that is the first Labour policy announcement I have heard in three years. In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question, this country is the acknowledged world leader in developing a new source of finance for social organisations. It is called social investment, and it was the subject of a special meeting of the G8 this week, at which everyone stood up and said that Britain was recognised as a world leader in this regard, not least because of our creation of big society capital, which has £600 million on its balance sheet, to make it easier for charities and social enterprises to access capital.
Way back in 2004, Sir Peter Gershon recommended the introduction of shared services to try to break down that silo mentality and to make efficiency savings. For eight years very little happened, but we are now breaking through and making big progress on legal services, on internal audit and on back-office, transactional, human resources and finance services. There is much more to do, however, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support.
T6. Bolton community and volunteer services have congratulated Bolton council on preserving funding for the voluntary sector, but projects are still at risk owing to rising costs, increasing demand and reduced access to funding. What will the Minister do to save community and voluntary sector projects in Bolton West? (160394)
The hon. Lady should direct her first inquiries to the council, because not all councils are cutting funding to the voluntary sector. She should be aware of the broad national picture, in which volunteering is up, giving is stable and social investment is rising. There is a whole range of Government programmes to support and strengthen civil society and help it to maintain its resilience through this very difficult period.
T3. In 2010, the Smith report suggested that substantial cost savings would result from moving parts of the civil service from London to the regions. It suggested a target of moving 15,000 civil servants by 2015. Will the Minister update us on progress? (160391)
Repeated reports show that the best protection that can be given to individuals, households and businesses is basic online hygiene and safety. We have increased spending on cyber-security at a time of great financial stringency, and we are generally regarded as being well placed in the international rankings on cyber-security, but there is absolutely no room for complacency.
T4. Keighley town council is currently running a £160,000 deficit and has a liability of £1 million. Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no accountable body for town councils and therefore no one to protect taxpayers’ money? Will he look at this issue as a matter of urgency? (160392)
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will have taken note of the concern that my hon. Friend raises, but I have always thought that town councils were meant to be accountable to the residents of the town.
The Prime Minister was asked—
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.
I will also be making an announcement about a new Minister to join the Government. At the end of the year, Stephen Green, the former chair and chief executive of HSBC, will be standing down as Trade Minister, after doing a superb job refocusing the Government’s efforts in key export markets. I can announce today that Ian Livingston—for the past five years chief executive of BT, one of Britain’s most successful businesses—will take on this vital role. I believe he will bring huge talent to a vital national effort.
I think my hon. Friend makes an important point. There are many good teachers in our schools who have not been through the formal processes. I know that this week we have had another new policy from the Opposition banning all such teachers from such schools. As ever, although I have been busy, I have had a careful look at this policy and I note that there are such teachers—people who teach—among those on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), a renowned historian, teaches in his local comprehensive schools. He is going to be banned. And of course, there is the former Member for South Shields, who enjoys doing that as well. I think this policy—another shambles—is another example of brotherly love.
Yes, I do support both those measures. Obviously we need to take time to read this excellent report, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) for the excellent job that he has done. Penalising, including with criminal penalties against bankers who behave irresponsibly—I say yes. Also, making sure that for banks in receipt of taxpayers’ money we can claw back and have a ban on bonuses—I say yes too.
On the specific issue of criminal penalties, I am glad that the Prime Minister supports the proposal, but will he confirm for the House on this important issue that the Government will put down the appropriate amendments to the banking Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, to make sure that this gets on the statute book as soon as possible?
We will be using that Bill to take these important steps. The key thing is that we have the opportunity, first, because we said there should be a parliamentary inquiry that could be done rapidly, rather than a public inquiry, which the right hon. Gentleman supported. If we had done that, we would just about be getting going with the inquiry. Instead, we have a good inquiry and good results, and we can have strong legislation too.
Just to be clear about this, if the Government do not put down the amendments on criminal penalties in the banking Bill, we will and we will make sure they happen.
The Prime Minister praises the Parliamentary Commission on Banking, but let us turn to one of its recommendations from last year’s report. It said that the Government should legislate for a general power to break up the banks, breaking up high-risk casino banking from high street banks. We think it is right, the commission thinks it is right, but the Government are so far refusing to implement—[Interruption.] The part-time Chancellor is trying to give some advice to the Prime Minister. We think it is right and the commission thinks it is right, but the Government have so far refused to implement that recommendation. Why are the Government not doing it?
Let me say first that I would rather listen to my Chancellor than listen to the right hon. Gentleman’s neighbour the shadow Chancellor. We remember his advice. Mortgages of 125% from Northern Rock: that is fine. A knighthood for Fred Goodwin: that is fine. The biggest banking bust in British history: that is fine. The shadow Chancellor was the City Minister when all that went on, and it is this Government who are clearing up the mess. As I have said, we would not have these results without the excellent inquiry that was commissioned by this Government, and we would not be able to legislate if we did not have the excellent banking Bill provided by this Government.
As for the right hon. Gentleman’s question, we are putting a ring fence around retail banks, something which, in 13 years of a Labour Government, the right hon. Gentleman and the shadow Chancellor never got round to doing, although they were both in the Treasury.
We are really not going to take lectures from the guy who was the adviser on Black Wednesday in 1992.
The Prime Minister had no answer to the question about retail and investment banking. Perhaps he can do better on the issue of bonuses and the banks. Last week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that in April bonuses in business and financial services were 64% higher than they were a year ago. Why does the Prime Minister think that is?
Bank bonuses are about a fifth of what they were when the right hon. Gentleman was in the Treasury. They have been going down, not up.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to discuss the issue of banking, perhaps he will reflect on the fact that the Labour Government’s other City Minister, Lord Myners, had this to say today: “The Government of which I was a member certainly has to take some culpability for the fact that the regulatory oversight of the banks was not as effective as it should be.” He went on: “To do otherwise would be to pull the wool over the eyes of the electorate.” Perhaps the next time the right hon. Gentleman stands at the Dispatch Box, he will apologise for the mess that Labour made.
The Prime Minister is asking questions, Mr. Speaker. He is preparing for opposition.
Let us talk about what people were saying in 2008. We all remember the speeches, do we not, Mr. Speaker? Let me quote from “David Cameron: A Conservative Economic Strategy”. In March 2008, the Prime Minister said:
“As a free-marketeer by conviction, it will not surprise you to hear me say that a significant part of”
the problems of the last decade
“has been…too much regulation”.
There we have it: the Prime Minister wanted less regulation of the City.
Let us return to the question about bonuses. The fact is that bonuses in the City were up by 64% in April—and why? Because the Prime Minister has cut the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p. People took their bonuses in April, and were given a massive tax cut as a result. Will the Prime Minister confirm that 64% figure, and the fact that people are being given a massive tax cut as a result of his decision?
First, let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures. In 2012-13, City bonuses will be 85% lower than they were in 2007 and 2008, when those two were advising, or working in, the last Government, and had responsibility for regulating the City. It does not matter what the right hon. Gentleman says; he cannot get over the fact that they presided over boom and bust, the collapse of the banks and the failure to regulate. We remember what they said in 2008: they said “No more boom and bust” . They referred to
“ a… golden age for the City”.
That is what they said. They cannot hide their dreadful record, and they ought to start with an apology.
The whole House will have noted that the Prime Minister cannot deny the figures that I read out to him. He does not even know the facts. Bonuses are up so that people can take advantage of his massive cuts. Here is the truth. For all his tough talk, the reality is that the Prime Minister is dragging his feet on banking reform. Business lending is still falling, bonuses are rising, and while ordinary families are suffering, he is giving a massive tax cut to the bankers.
Just another display of extraordinary weakness! Labour had 13 years to sort out this problem and did absolutely nothing. It is this Government who have introduced the banking Bill, this Government who have introduced the ring fence, this Government who have put the Bank of England in charge of regulating credit in our economy. Instead, what we ought to be getting from the right hon. Gentleman is an apology and a thank you to us for clearing up the mess they left.
Occasionally, one should be grateful. May I warmly commend my right hon. Friend for being the first Conservative Prime Minister ever to commit to a referendum on Europe and for leading a Government who have done more than any other to tackle welfare dependency, to reduce immigration and to bring in academies, thereby showing that one can be Conservative, popular and right all at the same time?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and may I, on behalf of everyone in the House, congratulate him on his richly deserved knighthood? He has served in this House for many decades and also in the vital role of overseeing the Public Accounts Committee, which does such important work in our parliamentary system. I am grateful for what he says about the referendum and I would urge all colleagues to come to the House on 5 July and vote for this Bill.
I am proud that we have protected the poorest in our country by increasing the child tax credit, but the most important thing we can do to tackle poverty is to get more people into work. There are now more people in work in our country than at any time in our history. In the hon. Gentleman’s own area, in the west midlands, the number of people employed is up 66,000 since the election. It is worth remembering the last Government’s record, because even during the boom years, private sector employment in the west midlands went down.
I am sure the Prime Minister will want to join every Member in wishing all British players the best of luck for the Wimbledon championships, which start on Monday. Looking to the future, does he back the Lawn Tennis Association’s schools tennis programme, which is now in operation in over 16,000 schools, including a number in my Winchester constituency such as the Henry Beaufort and Kings’, to help find us some future home-grown and home-trained champion?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. First of all, let us congratulate Andy Murray on his excellent victory at the Queen’s club at the weekend, and wish him and other British players well for the Wimbledon tournament. We should commend the LTA for its work in trying to make tennis much more of a mass participation sport. I see it in the primary school that my children go to, where more tennis is being taught and played. It still has a long way to go. The LTA has to satisfy Sport England and all the funding bodies that it is doing everything it can to make tennis a mass participation sport.
Q3. When, according to The Sunday Times, just 1,000 of our richest citizens have increased their wealth since the financial crash by £190 billion while everyone else has been forced to take on average a 6% real-terms cut in income, is not the Prime Minister’s policy of enriching the perpetrators and punishing the victims the very opposite of a one nation Britain? (160321)
The richest in our country are going to pay a higher percentage of income tax under this Government than they did under the last one. The right hon. Gentleman sat in that Government and had an opportunity to do something about it, but all the time he was a Minister, the top rate of tax was actually lower than it is going to be under this Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if a community is obliged to take a strategic piece of infrastructure, there should be agreements for payments and compensation for any blight that is caused by a nationally important piece of structure like a rail freight interchange?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. That is why section 106 agreements exist. We need to keep this under active review, particularly with a view to how we are going to handle fracking and shale gas, for instance, where we might need a simpler and more direct mechanism to make sure that communities feel the real benefit of things that benefit the economy overall.
Q4. On Monday, the Milburn report showed that the proportion of students from state schools at elite Russell Group universities is now lower than a decade ago. Meanwhile, another report, Project Hero, is secretly considering lifting interest rates on previous graduate loans. After £9,000 tuition fees, does the Prime Minister think such another breach of faith is more likely to encourage students from less wealthy backgrounds to apply to university, or discourage them? (160322)
I will make two points to the hon. Gentleman, because this is an important question. First, the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university is higher than it has ever been, so that is a good step forward. Secondly, if we want to get children from disadvantaged backgrounds into universities, we should be supporting things like the academies programme and free schools. We saw in Labour’s announcement this week that they are now saying that they support free schools. That is great. The trouble is they then went on to say that they are not going to allow any more of them. Then they said this, which is quite extraordinary:
“What we will have is a new academies programme including parent-led academies, really good teacher-led academies like Peter Hyman’s school in east London”.
They want more schools like that. The shadow Education Secretary is nodding. There is only one problem: that school is a free school. What a complete shambles.
What discussions has the Prime Minister held with colleagues at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to amend the priorities of Natural England and the Environment Agency so as to recognise the value of productive land and the need to protect farmland in my constituency from flooding?
I have conversations about this issue with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As I announced in the House last week, he will soon bring forward the proposal to make sure that the insurance scheme that protected households in danger of flooding is renewed. We also need to make sure we protect farmland in the way the hon. Lady says, not least because, with global populations rising, the demand for food production is going to increase, and we should make sure we have a good level of food security in this country.
Q5. The last Labour Government took 1 million children out of poverty. Figures released recently show that one in six children in this country now lives in poverty. In my constituency, one in three is living in poverty, compared with one in 10 in the Prime Minister’s constituency. What is he going to do about it? (160323)
Q6. Whatever the long-term benefits of the high-speed rail project, it is already causing serious worry for tens of thousands of home owners along the route. Will my right hon. Friend give urgent attention and consideration to the possibility of introducing a property bond, to remove that blight? (160324)
I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about this issue. It is right that he stands up for his constituents, and other MPs have discussed this issue with me. I think we should remain committed to HS2, because it will connect our cities and communities and bring many benefits, particularly to the north of England, as it is built out, but we should look at the compensation schemes available, and we are consulting and listening to the idea of the property bond.
Q7. In his statement following the appalling murder of Drummer Lee Rigby a month ago, the Prime Minister announced the setting up of the Government’s taskforce on tackling extremism, and said:“We will also look at new ways to support communities as they come together and take a united stand against all forms of extremism.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2013; Vol. 563, c. 1235.]In Woolwich, our diverse communities have been working hard to do just that. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what progress has been made by the taskforce, and specifically what new ways he envisages will emerge to support communities such as ours? (160325)
First, may I commend the right hon. Gentleman on all the action he has taken in his community. I saw for myself when visiting Woolwich how strongly that community has come together to decry absolutely what happened and to build a stronger future.
The taskforce has met, and the first papers and ideas have been commissioned. One particular idea we are looking at is something I heard about when I was with the right hon. Gentleman in Woolwich: where, for instance, communities want to come together and try to drive extremist groups out of particular mosques or Islamic centres, they often need help, including help with legal advice, to do that. That is one of the specific ideas, but the action of this taskforce should cover the whole waterfront of everything we do right across our communities.
Given the need to improve recognition of the role of women in the developing world, especially in the contexts of health, education, water and sanitation, business and all other matters that affect administration in those countries, will my right hon. Friend take a positive interest in my Gender Equality (International Development) Bill, which will be introduced today? Will he note that it is already supported by a very wide range of people, including WaterAid, The GREAT Initiative and others?
I will certainly study my hon. Friend’s Bill. It is not necessarily the Bill we would all expect him to produce, but it sounds like an absolutely excellent idea. In co-chairing the high-level panel at the UN about the future of development, I wanted to make sure that gender equality was put right up there in the replacement for the millennium development goals, and it is there. I think his Bill might be able to provide some extra ideas for how to bring this to life.
Q8. In 2010, the Prime Minister proudly stated:“we actually made sure that neither the budget, nor the spending round…would result in any increase in child poverty” but in his first full year as Prime Minister, the number of children in absolute poverty rose by 300,000, and it is still rising. Will he now admit that he was wrong and that his policies are to blame? (160326)
We made a specific decision in the spending round to increase the child tax credit to protect the poorest families in our country, but we had an inheritance from the last Government of such appalling levels of debt that it has been difficult and painful to deal with them. Let me repeat the point that the best way to get people out of poverty is to see employment grow, and in the north-west, the part of the country that the hon. Lady represents, employment has risen by 6,000 this quarter, it has risen by 50,000 since the election and unemployment is down by 20,000 since the election. Those are all life chances, jobs and chances to get on which people did not have under the last Labour Government.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s leadership at the G8 to prevent the horrors of Syria from turning into a regional humanitarian catastrophe? May I also urge him to pursue further the support for Lebanon and Jordan, two very fragile neighbouring states, and especially to go further with the support we are providing for the Lebanese army, which is the only cross-confessional organisation in the area and a potential stabilising force?
I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about the G8. We did make some good progress on Syria, particularly on support in terms of humanitarian aid, where $1.5 billion extra was pledged for what is now becoming one of the worst humanitarian crises we have seen in recent years. He is absolutely right to say that we need to support the neighbouring states, and we should pay tribute to the Lebanese army, which plays a very important role—we do indeed fund its activity in terms of some of the border posts.
Q9. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), and indeed several times in this Question Time, the Prime Minister has said that the best way of tackling poverty is to get people into work. In principle I agree with him, but would he explain this: why is it that two thirds of the children in poverty today come from families where at least one adult is in work, and why is that figure rising? (160327)
The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that work is the best answer for taking people out of poverty. Yes of course we should continue to pay child benefit, which we do. Of course we should continue with the tax credits that we do pay. Indeed, one of the decisions we made when we came into office was to stop the nonsense of tax credits going to people, including Members of this House of Commons, earning £50,000 or more a year. So we are focusing the help on the people who need it most, and we have seen in the west midlands an extra 66,000 people in work.
Q10. A few weeks ago, nine paediatricians wrote to me and the Care Quality Commission expressing serious safety concerns after maternity services at the Eastbourne district general hospital were downgraded. Since then, their managers have acted in an intimidating manner. Will the Prime Minister assure me that reprisals will not be made against those doctors and that the managers implement the safety concerns? (160328)
As we have discussed before in this House, there should always be safeguards for people who whistleblow and for people who tell the truth about problems in our NHS. We have completely overhauled the Care Quality Commission from what was—and the report out today proves it—a totally dysfunctional organisation that we inherited.
In a few weeks’ time, thousands of young people across the country, including many from my constituency in Salford and Eccles, will be graduating from university and looking forward to getting their first step on the career ladder. Unfortunately for many of them, the only option will be a long-term unpaid internship that requires them to work for free. Will the Prime Minister therefore make sure that the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2011 are rigorously enforced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to put an end to this exploitation of our young people?
The right hon. Lady is doing some important work in this area. It is a difficult area to get right, because we all know from our own experiences that some short-term unpaid internships—work experience—can be very valuable for the people taking part. On the other hand, unpaid interns should not be employed instead of workers to avoid the national minimum wage. That is the balance that we have to get right, and I commend the right hon. Lady for the important work that she is doing.
Q11. The excellent children’s heart unit at Southampton general is the best in the country outside London, yet the recent decision by the Secretary of State means more uncertainty for patients and their families in my Eastleigh constituency. What assurances can the Prime Minister give about the future of that unit? (160329)
I do not think the Secretary of State had any choice but to re-begin the whole process of looking at Safe and Sustainable in children’s hospitals, including Southampton, which is twinned with the hospital that serves my constituency, so I quite understand people’s frustration about the time that this is taking, but most important of all is to make sure we get the decision right.
The Government’s own research shows that there is a link between the portrayal of women as sex objects in the media and greater acceptance of sexual harassment and violence against women. That being the case, will the Prime Minister join me in trying to get our own House in order and calling on the parliamentary authorities to stop The Sun being available on the parliamentary estate until page 3 is scrapped, and will he have a word with his friend Rupert Murdoch about it while he is at it?
I am glad the hon. Lady got her question asked after the dazzling T-shirt that she was wearing last week failed to catch Mr Speaker’s eye. I am afraid I do not agree with her. It is important that we can read all newspapers on the parliamentary estate, including The Sun.
Q12. I welcome the Prime Minister’s leadership on getting the G8 to agree a deal on tackling aggressive corporate tax avoidance. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will not be offering a corporate tax avoidance service, as does the Labour party? (160330)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. At the G8 we achieved real progress on tax transparency and cracking down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, but is it not a sad thing that, although we were doing that, the Labour party is still offering tax avoidance advice to its donors, and it has not paid back the £700,000 of tax that it owes? Let me remind the leader of the Labour party what he said:
“If everyone approaches their tax affairs as some of these companies have approached their tax affairs we wouldn’t have a health service, we wouldn’t have an education system.”
So he has to put his hand in his pocket and give the money back.
Q13. I wrote to the Prime Minister on 8 May and I have not yet received a reply. May I ask him now whether he has had any discussions with Lynton Crosby about the standard packaging of cigarettes or the minimum price of a unit of alcohol—yes or no? (160331)
I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that Lynton Crosby has never lobbied me on anything. The only opinions that I am interested in are how we destroy the credibility of the Labour party, on which he has considerable expertise, though I have to say that he is not doing as good a job as the Labour party.
Q14. Last year the Prime Minister successfully intervened in the case of newly born baby Lexie-Mai, who has eventually been confirmed as the daughter of Private Daniel Wade, who died on active service in Afghanistan. Private Wade’s fiancée and her family are in the Gallery today. This whole situation would not have arisen if the Ministry of Defence routinely kept samples of DNA of soldiers on active duty. Are we making any progress on this? (160332)
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and he is quite right to have stood up for his constituents in the way that he did. I would like to convene a meeting with MOD Ministers so that I can get back to him with the very best answer about the action we can take to stop these problems happening in the future.
We need to build more houses in our country, and that is exactly what the Government are doing. We are building more social houses and more private houses, and we are reforming housing benefit so that we can better use the money. The question now is for the Opposition. They spent weeks and weeks complaining about the removal of the spare room subsidy. I do not know whether anyone else has noticed: they do not ask questions about it any more. Could that possibly be because they have not got a clue about whether they would restore it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very good news that this free trade agreement has been launched at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. It will now take many months of very difficult and patient negotiation. It is a hugely complicated problem, because we want it to cover all sorts of areas, such as public procurement and services, and not just manufactured goods, but it is good that it is getting going, because this could mean millions of jobs right across Europe and great benefits for us here in the UK.
On the subject of giving money back, which the Prime Minister has just referred to in respect of the Labour party, will he now explain to the House why when he had a windfall he decided to write down his mortgage at Notting Hill instead of writing down the mortgage on the one that he was claiming for from the expenses allowance in the House of Commons?