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Prime Minister

Volume 565: debated on Wednesday 3 July 2013

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.