Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 565: debated on Wednesday 3 July 2013


The Secretary of State was asked—

Electricity Transmission Projects

The Wales Office takes a close interest in National Grid’s electricity transmission projects in Wales, and I will meet National Grid later this month to discuss them in further detail.

Western Power Distribution is consulting on routes for electricity poles linking TAN 8 area G in north Carmarthenshire to the national grid in the south of the county. Local people feel strongly that any electric cables should be underground to preserve the beauty of the Tywi valley, and are concerned that the consultation period is far too short. Will the Minister impress upon the Department of Energy and Climate Change and National Grid that such transmission projects in open Welsh countryside should be underground, and at the very least that the WPD consultation should be extended into the autumn?

These transmission projects are best dealt with case by case. The problem with a default position of saying they should always be underground is that it adds huge cost and complexity, making projects unaffordable. We want to keep the lights on in Wales, so we need infrastructure that is affordable, but I will certainly look into the specific point the hon. Gentleman raises about the consultation period with Western Power.

National Grid has proposed to construct a 40 km 400 kV line through my constituency, but the local economy depends to a significant extent on its physical beauty and tourism. Will the Secretary of State press National Grid to ensure that if it does go ahead with this monstrous proposal it will be placed entirely underground?

National Grid has already given a commitment that where possible it will use underground cabling projects in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but in my discussion with National Grid the week after next I will certainly raise the point again and come back to my hon. Friend with a fuller answer.

On electricity generation, does the Minister share my concern about the stance of Plaid Cymru and its leader Leanne Wood on new nuclear, and Wylfa B in particular, despite the £10 billion of investment and the 6,000 jobs it could bring to Ynys Môn and the wider Welsh economy?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about many of the positions of the Plaid Cymru leader in Wales, not least on nuclear. We still do not quite know the party’s position on investment in nuclear power, but we know that project would be a huge boost to the economy of north Wales.

Has the Minister noticed some of the very fine print in the Energy Bill allowing pylons, which are already large enough, broadly speaking to be doubled in size without extra planning permission? Does he agree that that would wreck the landscape of Wales, as of England, and we ought to be extraordinarily cautious about it?

I agree with my hon. Friend that we have some unique and outstanding areas of beauty in Wales that need to be protected where possible, but, as I said in answer to an earlier question, these projects are best dealt with case by case, balancing environmental considerations with those of affordability and, of course, the views of the local communities, which should be at the heart of all planning applications.

Aviation Sector

8. What recent assessment he has made of the role and importance of the aviation sector in Wales. (162131)

The aviation sector is vital to the Welsh economy, and I was pleased to see so many Welsh businesses represented at the Paris air show last month.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the UK’s overall aviation strategy is there to support more jobs, exciting top-end engineering and ensuring we have a strong technology base in this country?

Yes, the United Kingdom aerospace industry is the second largest in the world, and is by far the largest in Europe, and it contributes some £24 billion per annum to the UK economy. The Government have set out our strategic vision for the UK’s civil aerospace sector in the aerospace industrial strategy, which includes Government investment of £2 billion over the next seven years.

Does my right hon. Friend think it is a good use of taxpayers’ money to buy Cardiff International airport?

That is entirely a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government, who have purchased it at a cost of £52 million. Clearly Cardiff does need an international airport, and I very much hope it will develop under the Welsh Government’s tutelage.

I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of the new terminal being built at Chester Hawarden airport in the constituency of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), which will cater for small planes carrying up to 50 passengers. What benefits does my right hon. Friend foresee for north-east Wales, and for Chester as well, from having direct flights to Cardiff, across the UK, and to continental Europe?

I was very pleased to see that a service is being developed at Hawarden airport. It will clearly be extremely important to north-east Wales and the two enterprise zones at Deeside and Wirral Waters.

At the last Welsh questions, the Secretary of State was asked whether he thought Airbus jobs would be safer if the UK was outside the EU. He failed to answer that question. Will he answer it now?

The issue of a referendum on Europe has, of course, yet to be determined. Consultation will take place with all sectors of industry, aviation included.

Constituents have visited my surgery expressing concern at the potential closure of 71 Inspection and Repair Squadron at St Athan, with the loss of 75 highly skilled jobs in the aviation sector that are based at the station there. Will the Secretary of State talk to the Ministry of Defence to explain how the defence footprint, particularly in highly skilled aviation jobs in Wales, is shrinking? Will they make sure that that does not happen?

I am, clearly, happy to raise the hon. Lady’s concerns with the MOD, but when I visited the British Airways maintenance centre at Cardiff airport only a few weeks ago I was impressed by the fact that a large number of workers there were former RAF employees.

Does the Secretary of State agree that membership of the European Union is an essential precondition of the continued success of the UK arm of Airbus?

These issues fall to be considered in the debate about whether we should have a referendum on the European Union.


3. What discussions he has had with (a) his ministerial colleagues and (b) Ministers in the Welsh Government on improvements to the M4 motorway. (162126)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues here in London and with Welsh Ministers on improvements to the M4. I am clear that the M4 is the single most important piece of transport infrastructure for the Welsh economy, and we are absolutely committed to working with the Welsh Government to deliver the funding solution required for improving that motorway.

I am grateful to the Minister for his efforts in trying to deliver improvements to the network and the M4 around Newport. It is the gateway to the south Wales economy. What reassurance can he give me that the project will go ahead this time, because it was cancelled twice by the Labour party?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s campaigning, and the work of other Government Members, to see the improvements to the M4. He rightly points out that this project was shelved on several occasions by Welsh Ministers. I do not want to pre-empt any announcement today, but I would like to give him every reason to be optimistic that we will get a successful outcome to the discussions with the Welsh Government on this issue.

Help to relieve the traffic nightmare around Newport is vital, but will the Minister assure my constituents that any resource given to the Welsh Government will be significant enough to help deal with the big impact that any new road will have on local communities and the environment?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise the technical challenges involved in a new relief road for the M4. She will have noted the Welsh Government announcement that they will shortly launch a consultation on the details of the scheme, which will provide her local community with every opportunity to express concerns and, we hope, get answers to their questions.

I applaud the Minister for his determination to go ahead with this much-needed project, which has been blocked so many times by members of the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly. May I also urge him to ensure that it is linked to an announcement about the future of the Severn bridge, as motorists are struggling to pay the costs of it, just a few years before it is returned to the Government?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I said in answer to a previous question, I am not going to pre-empt any announcement today. I recognise the concerns of the Chairman and other members of the Select Committee about the high tolls on the Severn bridge, but we are not in a position today to make any comment on what lies beyond 2018, when the current concession comes to an end.

Spending Review

4. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the spending review on Wales. (162127)

6. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the spending review on Wales. (162129)

I have had a number of discussions with the Chancellor on the spending review. This Government are investing in Wales. The announcement of the £250-million new prison in north Wales will create much-needed jobs for the region and further boost economic growth.

Missing from the spending review was real investment in Welsh ports and Welsh infrastructure to those ports. Wales has already lost out under this Government on ports, which are the gateways to Wales. They could regenerate sectors such as energy and, thus, make places such as Holyhead world leaders. When will this Secretary of State stand up for Welsh ports and make sure that we get a level playing field for this energy development, which includes marine, tidal, onshore wind, offshore wind and nuclear power, which Plaid Cymru does not support?

I regularly visit ports across Wales and am well aware of the importance of Holyhead port to the economy. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that we need better connectivity with the ports, on which I am pressing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I am raising it with the Welsh Government.

The austerity audit published in the Financial Times found that the average working Welsh adult would lose £549 a year from the cuts compared with just £470 for an adult in England. Given that, why is the lion’s share of investment in infrastructure plans in London and the south-east, with no high-speed rail to Wales and no capital investment? Will he fight for a fair share of investment as well as an unfair share of cuts?

I strongly refute the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that Wales has somehow been short-changed: the investment in railways is very significant, with electrification right through to Swansea; in north Wales, we have a new prison; and we have new nuclear on Wylfa. The hon. Gentleman should also remember that as a result of our tax changes the average taxpayer in Wales is some £750 per annum better off.

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the decision to protect funding for S4C in the recent spending review?

Absolutely. S4C is extremely important to the cultural life of Wales. It is the only Welsh language channel in the whole world and its value to Wales cannot be overstated.

Further to that answer, will the Secretary of State reiterate the importance of that decision for the independent television production sector in Wales, which is critical for many of our local economies?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The independent production sector in Wales is not only innovative but extremely important to the Welsh economy and I am sure it was very relieved by the Government’s announcement last week.

As the Secretary of State will know, total pay in Wales has fallen by 8% since 2007, one of the biggest falls in living standards in Europe. The spending review will not help the Welsh economy very much, taking a further £1 billion out of the Welsh economy—and the Labour party has now signed up to that. It is for Ynys Môn to decide whether it wants Labour cuts or Conservative cuts. Which does the Secretary of State think would be appropriate?

I will make no apologies for the way in which the Government have treated the interests of Wales since we came to power. We have seen more infrastructure investment in Wales under this Government than under 13 years of Labour and I am proud of the support we are giving to Welsh families and the Welsh economy.

The IMF—the high priests of austerity—said that the Government should cut less and start spending more on infrastructure projects. The re-announcement of HS2 last week was sort of welcome, but the cost has gone up to £50 billion. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that Wales will not be given the £2.5 billion consequential?

HS2 is a United Kingdom project and both north and mid-Wales will benefit from it. I know that the right hon. Gentleman uses the north Wales line regularly, so I presume that he will support our campaign for electrification of that route.

In the spending review, the Chancellor made a significant announcement about capital expenditure. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that we in Wales get the appropriate proportion of that capital infrastructure spend?

I believe that Wales has had more than a fair share of capital expenditure announced. Let me reiterate: the electrification of the south Wales and valley lines, the north Wales prison and the commitment to support new nuclear through guarantees.

The reality is that since 2010 the Welsh budget has been cut in real terms by £1.7 billion, or 11%, yet on Welsh television last week the Secretary of State for Wales said that Wales had “got off lightly”. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not exactly famed across the House for his humour, but was that meant to be a joke?

Compared with the average cut across Whitehall, which was 8%, and the cut to the Wales Office budget, which was 10%, I would say that the real-terms cut of 1.9% for Wales, because of the protection of the health budget and the education budget, is a good deal.

The answer is clear: Wales is meant to be grateful for this Government’s largesse, but the reality is that on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch, the budget is down £1.7 billion, real wages are down £1,700, 3,000 more people are out of work, 35,000 people are using food banks, 33% of children in Wales are in child poverty and 400,000 people have lost their tax credits. If that is “getting off lightly”, heaven help the most vulnerable in Wales if he and his Government decide to get serious.

The hon. Gentleman is in a terrible quandary. On the one hand, he wants to support his Westminster boss and accept coalition spending cuts; on the other, he wants to obey his Cardiff boss who says, “Enough is enough”, and borrow more: one man, two guvnors.

Energy Policy

5. What discussions he has had on the effect of the Government's energy policies on the Welsh economy. (162128)

This Government’s energy reforms are designed to attract substantial investment in energy infrastructure throughout the UK, including in Wales. I believe that Wales has a key and significant role to play in meeting the challenge of creating a low-carbon energy network, fit for the 21st century.

Does the Minister agree that last week’s announcement on contracts for difference provides future certainty for all investors?

I certainly do agree. That announcement and other spending review announcements show that we are a serious Government—serious about attracting the investment that Wales and the UK need to keep the lights on and upgrade our energy networks.

How many green deal starts have there been in Wales? Will the Minister reflect on the fact that there are likely to be very few, and that businesses told him so?

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman tries to criticise the green deal programme. We are in the early weeks of a 20-year programme that will lead to real improvements in energy efficiency and help to tackle fuel poverty in Wales. Perhaps he would like to come with me on a visit to the British Gas green deal academy in Tredegar, where he will see the value of the green deal for Wales.

It is intended that 10% of UK energy consumption will be carried across Ynys Môn and the Menai straits on pylons. At the same time, electricity from Scotland to England will not go through the Lake district, but be carried under-sea to the Wirral and across the Wirral underground. Why the difference?

As I understand the project across the Menai straits, four options are being looked at and sub-sea is one of them. I shall certainly discuss the matter with National Grid, as I recognise the significant concern, and I will follow up with the hon. Gentleman in due course.

The Welsh steel industry could have to wait yet another year for the Government to get state aid clearance for the energy-intensive industries package—a package that would not have been necessary had the Government not gone it alone and introduced such a high carbon floor price. What can the Minister do to secure interim support to prevent energy-intensive industries in Wales from being forced to run down production and lay off workers?

I and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), recently met representatives of different industries in south and north Wales for a round table to discuss precisely that question. Those present included Tata Steel and Celsa Steel, large industrialists from south Wales, and Toyota from north Wales. We are looking at specific solutions that will keep the Welsh economy powering ahead.

Legal Aid

7. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on the effect of the Government's legal aid proposals in Wales. (162130)

I recently met my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary to discuss matters relating to Wales, including the proposed reforms to criminal legal aid in England and Wales. I have also met Welsh representatives of the legal profession to hear their views on the proposed changes.

Research by the Monmouthshire Law Society found that law firms serving Gwent would have to make up to 15 members of staff redundant if they lost their criminal legal aid contract. Does the Minister share their belief that these changes are the final nail in high street law firms in Wales?

No, I do not. It is clear that there have to be reductions in legal aid spend, and a consultation is ongoing. Recently, my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary made it clear that, having listened to representations, he believed that choice is important both to clients and to solicitors, and choice will be incorporated in the final proposals. [Interruption.]

Order. There are some very noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. Let us hear Mr Chris Ruane.

The legal aid cuts in my constituency will affect many of my constituents, who will also be affected by the closure of the Rhyl family court, the closure of the Rhyl Army recruitment centre, the closure of the Rhyl tax office and, on top of all that, the closure of the Crown post office. How will that help the regeneration of Rhyl?

With regard to legal aid, I can only reiterate the answer I gave the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans): the Government’s proposals are to ensure that choice is available to clients and solicitors’ firms.

EU Structural Funding

9. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on Wales of the proposal to limit the allocation of EU structural funds to those member states with a GDP per capita of less than 90% of the EU average. (162132)

In February, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated a real-terms reduction in the EU budget for the first time in its history, saving UK taxpayers an estimated £3.5 billion over the next five years. I continue to support reforms that are in the best interests of Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole.

Does my hon. Friend agree that imposing reforms in the structural funds would be a fantastic deal for European taxpayers and would enable Westminster to determine best the regional policy that would be in the best interests of Wales?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and recognise the particular expertise she has developed in this area. We are always open to listening to new ideas for reforming European funding, but I hope that she will recognise the fantastic deal that British, Welsh and European taxpayers got as a result of the historic negotiated agreement to see a real-terms reduction in the EU budget for the very first time.

National Procurement Service

11. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Welsh Government’s national procurement service on suppliers based in England. (162134)

Public sector contracts are an important source of income for many businesses. Although I support efforts to make the procurement of public service contracts more streamlined in Wales, I do not think that should be at the expense of ensuring value for money regardless of where the supplier is located.

Small businesses in Herefordshire find it increasingly difficult to become accredited suppliers to the Welsh public sector. There is a growing tendency, and indeed a Welsh Government policy, to encourage public organisations to buy Welsh. Does the Secretary of State share my view that public organisations in Wales should not be discouraged from buying from English suppliers and that the Welsh Government should make it very clear that they cannot do so?

I trust that the new public procurement process will be driven by providing value for taxpayers’ money, irrespective of where the business is located. Part of the object of the procurement service is to develop local supply chains, and in many parts of Wales the local economy will include businesses located in England.

Will the Secretary of State applaud the work of Professor Dermot Cahill of Bangor university, who is working with others and the Welsh Government to increase the number of small and medium-sized enterprises that are now making use of procurement in Wales? Would the right hon. Gentleman not say that, in that regard, Wales is leading the way?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but frankly the word from smaller businesses in Wales is that they are frequently precluded from bidding because of the Welsh procurement process. I hope that will change under the new arrangements.

Police and Crime Commissioners

13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the responsibilities of police and crime commissioners in Wales. (162136)

I have discussed the responsibilities of police and crime commissioners with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. PCCs are democratically elected and accountable to the communities they serve.

Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the former chief constable of Gwent yesterday told a Select Committee of this House that she was bullied out of her job?

I heard what the former chief constable said. I want to reiterate what I said at the last Welsh Grand Committee. I have the highest possible regard for Carmel Napier. Ultimately, however, it must be for the police and crime commissioner to make that decision, and of course he is accountable to Parliament through the Home Affairs Committee.

Does the Secretary of State think that it is desirable that police and crime commissioners should in effect be able to sack police constables on a whim, as has happened in Gwent?

Clearly, the power to dismiss a chief constable is one of the statutory powers given to that officer. However, when it is exercised, the police and crime commissioner must be extremely careful to ensure that the proper procedures are adopted and, furthermore, must understand that he will be accountable to Parliament.

The evidence we heard yesterday from the chief constable was that she was called in and, out of the blue, the police and crime commissioner said that he would dismiss and humiliate her. That is an extraordinary, menacing and bullying attitude. Are police and crime commissioners the Government’s stupidest policy?

For the first time, democracy has been introduced into the policing of this country, and that must be desirable. I also heard the evidence, and no doubt the Home Affairs Committee will be reporting in due course.

Prime Minister

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.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me, and I think much of the nation, that the best way to celebrate the 65th birthday of the NHS is for the Government to strip out the culture of secrecy and cover-up that we have seen so strongly in Morecambe and Mid Staffs and put patient safety and empowered professionals back at the heart of the NHS?

I think my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The way to celebrate the NHS’s 65th birthday is to go on investing in it as this Government are with an extra £12 billion, but also to be on the side of patients. That is why we are introducing the chief inspector of hospitals, who will make a real difference. Yes, we do need to end the culture of secrecy and cover-up that we had under Labour.

I am sure I speak for everyone in this House when I say that there is deep concern about what we have witnessed over the past few days in Egypt, including appalling violence and deaths, just a year on from free elections. I begin by asking the Prime Minister for assurances that all the appropriate steps are being taken by the Government to guarantee the safety of UK nationals in that country.

I can certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance—and also to safeguard our embassy in Cairo. I should add that we are advising British nationals against all but essential travel to Egypt, except for the Red sea resorts, as set out on the Foreign Office website.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that these are deeply disturbing scenes. The level of violence is appalling. We should appeal to all sides for calm and to stop the levels of violence and particularly the sexual assaults. It is not for this country to support any single group or party; what we should support are proper democratic processes and proper government by consent.

I agree with the Prime Minister. All of us want to see a peaceful resolution to the present crisis. Therefore, can the Prime Minister tell the House what work is being done, even at this late stage, by the UK and indeed the European Union to encourage the Egyptian Government to secure a negotiated political solution to this crisis in advance of today’s Egyptian army deadline?

What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that very clear messages have been sent to President Morsi—including by President Obama, who spoke with him directly; we have also been communicating through our ambassadors—that, yes, he has a democratic mandate and we respect that, but democracy also means ensuring that everyone has a voice and leaders have a responsibility to represent all Egyptians and show they are responsive to their concerns. That is what the Government need to do in order to bring about peace and stability in that country.

I am grateful for the Prime Minister’s answer and I know that he and the Foreign Secretary will keep the House updated in the coming days.

Let me turn to another subject. The country will need 240,000 extra primary school places by 2014. Can the Prime Minister assure parents that that will not be met by increasing primary school class sizes?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we put in place through the spending review the additional money for 500,000 extra school places, so we should be able to provide those school places without seeing an increase in classes.

But class sizes are rising. When the Labour Government came to office, the number of infants being taught in class sizes of over 30 was a quarter. When we left office, it was just 1.8%. It has doubled on the Prime Minister’s watch—that is the reality for lots of parents.

Under the Prime Minister’s plans, one third of new schools are being built in areas where there are surplus places. Can he explain to parents in areas where they are struggling to get their children into primary school why he is spending money building schools where there are already plenty of places?

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that he left the biggest budget deficit in Britain’s peacetime history. We have had to make difficult decisions. That is why we have cut welfare, that is why we have cut areas of spending—but we have made education a priority. That is why the amount of money going into our schools is going up and not down. That is why we are funding half a million extra school places. That is why this Government have built 200 new school buildings since taking office.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about new schools going into different areas. What that is code for is Labour’s opposition to free schools. We want more new, good schools. Their policy is still the same as John Prescott’s policy—remember that? The trouble with good schools is that everyone wants to go to them. Well we want good schools, but, as ever, his questions are written by Len McCluskey of Unite.

As always, this Prime Minister has no answers to the questions that he is asked. If he will not answer me, maybe he will answer David Simmonds, who is the Conservative spokesman for the Local Government Association. This is what Mr Simmonds says:

“We know of schools that are literally falling down and still have to compete with brand new builds down the road”—

in other words, in areas where there are surplus places. Is not the truth that while the Prime Minister is pouring millions of pounds into building new schools where there are already places, the only way he is going to meet the shortage in other areas is teaching kids in Portakabins and increasing class sizes?

The fact is that the last Labour Government cut primary school places. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what this Government are doing. The education capital budget is £21 billion over the next six years: that is what we are doing. What is so interesting is that he is taking his script from the trade unions, who do not like choice, who do not like new schools, who do not like free schools—they want to control everything. But we know one organisation they have got control of. We see it in black and white—they have taken control of the Labour party.

Order. There is the usual, very low-grade, very substandard, very unnecessary heckling. If the session has to run longer, it has to run longer. Let us try to observe some decorum, which the public can respect.

Let us have a debate about ethics. This is a Prime Minister who had dinners for donors in Downing street. He gave a tax cut to his Christmas card list, and he brought Andy Coulson into the heart of Downing street. The idea that he is lecturing us about ethics takes double standards to a whole new level.

In this one policy on schools we see the hallmark of this Government: they make the wrong choices on tax and spending. The millionaires’ tax cut, the top-down reorganisation of the NHS, and schools in areas where there are surplus places—and all the time they repeat the meaningless mantra, “We’re all in this together.”

The right hon. Gentleman goes up and down the country speaking for Len McCluskey. No wonder the former Home Secretary calls them “the party of the graveyard”. I have the press release here: “How Unite plans to change the Labour Party”. [Interruption.] I know you are paid to shout by Unite, but calm down a bit. This is what it says: “We give millions of pounds to the party—the relationship has to change” and

“We want a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign”.

That is what this week shows: too weak to sack his Health Secretary, too weak to stand up for free schools, too weak to stand up to the Unite union, too weak to run Labour, and certainly too weak to run the country.

Q2. New rules mean that my constituents in Redditch have to register individually if they want to vote to stop electoral fraud. Does my right hon. Friend think the same rules should apply to joining a political party? (162804)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Individual voter registration is a major step forward, but, frankly, we have a situation with one of this country’s political parties whereby it has become apparent that votes are being bought and people signed up without consent—all done by the man, Len McCluskey, who gave the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) his job.

Q3. There was demand for food banks from 30,000 households in the year before the general election, but the figure was 350,000 households last year. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge, unlike his noble friend Lord Freud, that rocketing demand for food banks shows we have a problem? (162805)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as a member of Unite, will want to look very carefully at his own constituency Labour party. Who knows how many people it has bought and put on the register?

Food bank use went up 10 times under Labour—that is what happened—and it is this Government who are helping working people by freezing their council tax, giving 24 million people a tax cut and taking 2.4 million of the poorest people out of tax.

The Prime Minister will be aware of the recent terrible stabbings in my constituency that led to the death of Louisa Denby, aged 84, and the serious injury to nine-year-old Jason D’Arcy, who was playing in the park. Will the Prime Minister join me not only in praising the police for their swift action in making arrests, but in supporting the local community and congratulating it on its steadfastness and community spirit, which has helped it get through a traumatic period?

I certainly join my hon. Friend. These were truly shocking events. To read this morning about the young the boy who staggered out of the park bleeding, having been stabbed, and the grandmother who was described as so much of a community member that she was seen as everybody’s grandmother was truly disturbing. I join my hon. Friend in praising the police and the local community. We must make sure that justice is done.

Q4. The Government have promised that by 2016 no one will have to pay more than £72,000 towards the cost of their personal care. I do not know whether the Prime Minister had a chance to read an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, but it said that the cap will be not on actual costs, but on eligible costs, which will not include people’s costs in meeting their moderate care needs or, indeed, all the costs they incurred in going into a private residential home. Is this not another example of the Prime Minister promising to do one thing when in reality he plans to do something completely different? (162806)

What we are introducing is what was debated and discussed in this House in terms of those costs that will be covered and those that will not. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party had 13 years to cap the costs of care and do something about the rising costs of social care, but it did precisely nothing.

Q5. May I congratulate the Government on achieving political agreement on the next round of common agricultural policy reform? May I also make a plea that proper time be taken to agree its implementation in order to ensure a level playing field and a fair deal for Britain and our farmers? (162807)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have got a good deal on the common agricultural policy. We need to listen carefully to our farmers’ concerns so that they are not disadvantaged compared with other countries. We also need to take the time to introduce the new system, because when the single farm payments were introduced so quickly under the last system we suffered large fines from Europe as a result. My hon. Friend is being extremely wise on this issue.

Q6. Is the Prime Minister aware of the rather disturbing commitment given yesterday by his Chancellor to continue to interfere and intervene in the affairs of the Royal Bank of Scotland on behalf of the taxpayer? Is he also aware that the Chancellor’s last intervention—the completely irresponsible ousting of Stephen Hester—has cost the British taxpayer £4.5 billion so far as a result of the loss in value of their shareholding? Will the Prime Minister, as First Lord of the Treasury, instruct his Chancellor to desist from any such interventions in the future?


What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has great experience of lending money, is that it is important that the Government stand up for the taxpayer and ensure that Royal Bank of Scotland has the right strategy and the right leadership so that we get back the money that was put into the banks by the last Government.

Two days ago saw the start of independent retailer month. Does the Prime Minister agree that we need to do more to support local independent shops, to keep our high streets vibrant and creative, and to avoid takeover by multiple retailers and the formation of clone towns?

On this issue, I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman and think that he speaks for a lot of Britain. We should be working out what we can do through the Portas review and in other ways to back our town centres. We should be looking at how the rates system works for our town centres. We should also be looking at the planning system, as we are, and how we can use change of use to back our town centres. We should work with local authorities that want to see their town centres succeed. This is a vital issue for towns up and down our country, and it has my full backing.

Ministerial Visits

I very much enjoyed my recent visit to the Nissan factory in Sunderland for the launch of the first mass-market electric vehicle to be fully produced in the UK. That will support more than 500 jobs at the plant and 2,000 jobs across Britain’s car industry. I look forward to visiting the north-east again soon.

When the Prime Minister next visits, he will see again for himself that the key issue facing the region is unemployment. There are more than 20 applicants for every advertised vacancy. His policy of local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones is not having the same effective impact on the region’s economy as the development agency had. Will he consider the appointment of a Minister to work with the local enterprise partnerships and Members of Parliament from the region to push forward the private sector employment agenda?

Ministers do work with the enterprise zones. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures. Obviously we want to see more, but employment in the north-east is up by 9,000 and private sector jobs in the north-east by 37,000 since the election. There is not only the success at Nissan: Hitachi is committed to building a new train building plant in County Durham, which will bring 700 jobs; the new Tyne tunnel opened in 2011; and extra money is going into the Tyne and Wear metro. All those things will make a difference. In the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, the youth claimant count has fallen by 4% over the past year.

On his next visit, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to promote apprenticeships and the support that the Government are giving to them among north-east businesses? Will he also take another look at the A1 and press the Department for Transport to get on with dualling it?

The last time I was in the north-east, I made a speech about apprenticeships. It is remarkable how many people have started apprenticeships under this Government. On the transport issue, we are funding feasibility studies into fixing problems on the A1 north of Newcastle to Scotland and on the Newcastle and Gateshead A1 western bypass. We are also improving the A19 between Newcastle and South Shields. That is a much better record than that of the Labour party. Even though it had a Prime Minister who came from the north-east, it never did what we are proposing to do with the A1.


Q8. Given that the Prime Minister is so keen to talk about infrastructure investment, will he explain why his Government have cut capital investment again in 2015-16 by nearly £1 billion? (162810)

The hon. Lady is wrong. If she looks at the figures, she will see that we have added to the plans that Labour had for this Parliament and are increasing the amount of capital spending. The Opposition come to this House and oppose changes to welfare, oppose cuts to Government programmes and oppose the efficiency changes that we are making. They have not supported a single cut that we have made. If they did all the things they say, there would be no capital spending at all. That is the problem with the weakness of Labour Front Benchers: because they have taken no tough decisions, they cannot support the capital spending that this country needs.

Can the Prime Minister confirm reports from Jordan that a new treaty has been signed and that this country could have the pleasure of seeing the back of Abu Qatada as soon as this weekend?

I can confirm that this treaty has been taken through both the Jordanian Parliament and our own, but I do not want to say anything that in any way could stop what we all want to happen happening.

Q9. When the Government tried to get workers to exchange their rights for shares, we were told that 6,000 businesses would sign up. In the event, only six have even shown an interest—not 600 or 60, only six. What went wrong? (162811)

The programme has not even started yet: it starts in September. It is a programme that has been praised by the Institute of Directors, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses, but of course it has not been praised by Len McCluskey and the Unite union. The hon. Gentleman is a member of Unite, so he has to stick to their script. What a sad day for democracy.

Ministerial Visits

I enjoy all my visits to Bury. I look forward to visiting it again, and I always take special time to look at the statue of Sir Robert Peel.

Whenever the Prime Minister does next find time to sample the delights of Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington, will he join me in meeting some of the hundreds of local small businesses and charities that will be £2,000 a year better off from next April because of the new employment allowance, which will cut employers’ national insurance contributions, giving them a real incentive to create genuine new jobs?

My hon. Friend is right: you can now walk down any high street in any town in Britain and point out to shopkeepers and business owners that if they employ people, they will see a £2,000 reduction in their national insurance bill, and if they do not employ people, they can take people on and not pay national insurance. That is possible only because of the tough decisions the Government have taken on public spending and welfare, decisions that have never been backed by Labour, but which demonstrate that we are on the side of people who work hard and want to get on.

The Prime Minister’s deputy party leader in Scotland describes the UK Government’s scaremongering about independence as “silly”; one of his key donors in Scotland describes it as “puerile”; and the country’s leading Conservative commentator says that it is “tripe”. Given that the Prime Minister is in charge of Project Fear for the UK Government, will he ditch this silly, puerile tripe?

I have a remarkable feeling of déjà vu, because I was asked precisely this question yesterday. I will give a similar answer: the information that has been produced by the Government on what would happen under Scottish independence is impartial, extremely powerful and very sensible. The fact is that the Scottish nationalists are losing the arguments on jobs, the economy and the influence that Scotland would have in the world. I say bring on the referendum, because they are losing the battle.


Q11. Last Sunday, High Wycombe Rotarians raised more than £10,000 for local under-privileged children. I feel sure the Prime Minister will join me in encouraging membership of a full range of voluntary service clubs in the community, but does he agree that those wonderful voluntary institutions stand in stark contrast to the kind of institution that would try to block-buy political influence despite—[Interruption.] (162813)

My hon. Friend is right. It is a huge honour for me to be an honorary member of my local Rotary club in Witney. Such clubs are an important part of the big society, they raise a lot of money and they do an excellent job, but they certainly do not go around hoovering up members by making single payments from trade unions in order to buy influence.

Q12. Back in March, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, “I wouldn’t be sleeping if we didn’t have 10,000 signed up to the Green Deal by the end of the year.” So far only four households have signed on the dotted line: is that Len McCluskey’s fault as well? (162814)

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the figures. The fact is that 37,000 households have had green deal assessments and more than 5,000 have had their boilers changed. Of course, the hon. Gentleman also receives sponsorship from the Unite union—

He does not? He should go through his constituency records and check all the members are still alive—that might be a good start.

The Prime Minister has rightly won praise for his work on dealing with tax avoidance, but some people have called him hypocritical. What does he say to that?

What is hypocritical is to take donations from a donor in the form of shares to avoid taxes. That is what the Labour party has done. It should pay back that £700,000 to the taxpayer, and that money should go to schools and hospitals. That is Labour’s shame.

Q13. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the latest Work programme figures show that it is missing every single one of its minimum performance standards? (162815)

If the hon. Lady is asking about the Work programme, the fact is that it has got 312,000 people into work. Some 60% of the people going into the Work programme are coming off benefits. While the Unite union and all the Unite Members opposite might not want to hear it, and while it might not be part of Len McCluskey’s script, the fact is that this programme is twice as good as the flexible new deal.

Q14. As a doctor who once had to listen incredulously to a patient explain, via a translator, that she only discovered she was nine months’ pregnant on arrival at terminal 3 at Heathrow, I was pleased to hear the statement from the Secretary of State for Health today on health tourism. Does the Prime Minister agree that although the savings are modest, the principle matters? The health service should be national, not international. (162816)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. This is a national health service, not an international health service. British families pay about £5,000 a year in taxes for our NHS. It is right to ensure that those people who do not have a right to use our NHS are properly charged for it. We have made this announcement, and I hoped that there would be all-party support for it, but Labour’s public health Minister has condemned it as “xenophobic”, so I assume that Labour will oppose this sensible change that working people in this country will roundly support.

Q15. The bedroom tax is turning into a disaster in constituencies such as mine. Families are moving out of good-quality social housing and into the private rented sector at a greater cost to the taxpayer. Three and four-bedroom houses are now standing empty and are classed as hard to let. I even have pensioners approaching me saying that they want to downsize but cannot because small properties are prioritised for families. Is this not turning into a disaster for the taxpayer, as well as for families? (162817)

This is fair for the taxpayer. We do not give a spare room subsidy to people in private sector accommodation, so we should not give a spare room subsidy to people in council accommodation. The question now is for the Opposition. We have decided to remove the spare room subsidy. They now say they support our spending changes—well, they did for about five minutes last week. Is that still the case, or are they committed to repealing this? There is absolutely no answer.

The shocking abuse that was revealed in Winterbourne View and by Operation Jasmine in Wales has revealed a gap in the law, which means that while the staff are prosecuted, the organisations are never corporately accountable for what they have allowed to take place. Will the Prime Minister meet me and a small delegation to discuss how to plug the gap in the law and ensure that there is proper accountability for abuse and neglect?

I am very happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman, because this issue is vital. I think the Francis report had a number of recommendations on duties of care and duties of candour that we need to put in place. I am keen to ensure that we get that done.

Why has the royal charter, which was approved overwhelmingly by this House, still not been sent to the Privy Council when that should have been done in May? Will the Prime Minister assure the House and the victims that he will not do a deal with certain newspapers further to water down Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations?

What I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we have to follow the correct legal processes. The legal advice, which we have shared with the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy, is that we have to take these things in order: we have to take the press’s royal charter proposal first, and then we have to bring forward the royal charter on which we have all agreed. I have to say that I think the press’s royal charter has some serious shortcomings, so, no, I have not changed my view.

I call Mr Drax. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman wanted to be called and I have called him. He should be thanking me.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, very much indeed. I am most grateful to you.

Given that the selection of parliamentary candidates is a legitimate concern of this House, does the Prime Minister agree with me that the voting irregularities in the Falkirk constituency should be looked at as a matter of urgency?

Order. The question is about a party matter. It is not a matter of Government responsibility, not a matter—[Interruption.] No, no: it is not a matter for the Prime Minister—complete waste of time.

The all-party group against human trafficking has raised the awareness of modern-day slavery to a great level. I am delighted to report that last night 158 hon. and right hon. Members of this House and the other House attended the annual general meeting. That is a credit to the Prime Minister’s personal commitment to this issue. Would he consider, perhaps in the next Queen’s Speech, having a modern slavery Act?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the consistent work he has done on this vital issue. It is important that we wipe out modern-day slavery, and I very much enjoyed going to meet him and other Members to see just how bad the situation is. We are looking at legislative options, and I will be chairing a committee across Government to look at what more can be done.

One of my constituents and her three-year-old child had become homeless fleeing the most heinous domestic violence; and now, despite legally living and working in this country for four years, an immigration technicality has made them destitute. Will the Prime Minister please examine this legislation and its possibly unintended consequences, so that in future no woman and her child may suffer double abuse?

I am very happy to look at the individual case the hon. Lady raises, which actually links to the last question, about modern-day slavery. Sometimes immigration rules have caused difficulty for those who want to flee the people who are keeping them entrapped in their homes, so I am very happy to take up the individual case.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the shocking catalogue of revelations of NHS management failures highlights the importance of the Government’s quiet revolution of patient empowerment and accountability, which we need to modernise the NHS so that it becomes driven by the patients who pay for it and whom it is there to serve?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am a huge fan of and believer in our NHS. At its best, it provides the best care in the world and incredible compassion for families who use it, but we do not serve the NHS if we hide or cover up when there are difficulties in individual hospitals. Clearly there were in Stafford, there were in Morecambe Bay and, we read today, there are in the Tameside hospital, too. That is why the reform of the Care Quality Commission and the chief inspector of hospitals post are so important, and why I think the friends and family test, which will be applied in every part of every hospital over time, will make a real difference. That is in stark contrast to what we had under the last Government, when inspectors were basically told not to surface problems, because it was somehow embarrassing for the Government.

Was it the Prime Minister’s conception when he set up the office of police and crime commissioner that a fine chief constable such as the one in Gwent should have a career cut short by a vindictive bully who told her to resign or he would humiliate her?

The point of having police and crime commissioners is to make sure there is proper accountability and that police constables have to account to a local person. That is why a number of former Labour Members of Parliament stood for the post. In some cases, such as that of John Prescott, the people of his region saw sense and rejected him.

Order. Before I call the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement, let me say that we need an orderly House, both because that is right in itself and because it will be of interest, in the light of the coverage of this matter, to discover whether he has anything to say in the House that we have not already heard outside. We look forward to it.