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Volume 564: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2013

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.

Does the Prime Minister agree that there are many pupils in excellent schools benefiting from outstanding teaching from inspirational teachers, not all of whom have necessarily been to teacher training college?

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.

Following the Parliamentary Commission on Banking, can the Prime Minister confirm that he supports its important recommendations on bonuses and criminal penalties, and that he will use the banking Bill to implement them?

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.

Q2. Is the Prime Minister proud of the fact that, on his watch, 300,000 more children have been pushed into absolute poverty? (160320)

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)

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the problem with the last Government’s legacy is you left a massive debt burden and a massive deficit, and this Government have had to take action to deal with it. As I said, the best way to get—

Order. I did not leave any debt burden. We will concentrate on the policies of the Government. Nothing further requires to be said, so we shall move on. I call Mr Graham Brady.

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 study my hon. Friend’s Bill closely. It is not the Bill that everybody might expect—[Interruption.]

Order. Let us hear a bit more about Mr Cash’s Bill—I think the Prime Minister is going to tell us.

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.

The number of homeless families living in temporary accommodation rose by 5,000 in the last year. Will the Prime Minister explain why?

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?

With an estimated £10 billion boost to our economy, does my right hon. Friend agree that a free trade agreement with the United States represents a glittering prize for Britain and for Europe?

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?

I think that what the hon. Gentleman needs to do is concentrate on the massive problem on his Front Bench. Every week until they pay the money back, they will get a question about the £700,000 that they owe to the British taxpayer.