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Prime Minister

Volume 566: debated on Wednesday 10 July 2013

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before listing my engagements, I am sure the whole House, and indeed the whole country, will wish to join me in congratulating Andy Murray on his historic Wimbledon success. To become the first British player to win Wimbledon for 77 years is a fantastic achievement and will rightly go down in our history books.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Today, the Government are setting out plans to modernise Royal Mail and to allow hard-working—[Interruption.]

Order. This is exceptionally discourteous. We have Question 1. The hon. Gentleman will ask the question; and that question, and the answer to it, will be heard.

Today, the Government are setting out plans to modernise Royal Mail and to allow hard-working postmen and women to own 10% of the shares. Will the Prime Minister tell us what support he is expecting to see for this measure?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I think there will be widespread support around the country for modernising this great public service, for getting new capital into the service and for ensuring that 10% of the shares go to the people who work for Royal Mail. Remarkably, it was proposed by the Labour party when it was in government, but of course, because the trade unions now oppose it, Labour has to oppose it too—fresh evidence today that it is still in the pockets of its trade union paymasters.

Let me first join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Andy Murray for his fantastic victory—following Virginia Wade’s victory in 1977. It was a fantastic achievement; he showed extraordinary determination, and the whole country is incredibly proud of him.

As the Government consider party funding reform, will the Prime Minister tell the House how much his party has received in donations from hedge funds?

Order. The Prime Minister, I know, will want to answer the question put to him, and we must hear him do so.

I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has this sudden interest in party funding. Let us be frank: every donation to the Conservative party is fully set out and public. Let us be clear what this real scandal is about; it is about trade union fixing of political appointments to this House, so when he gets to his feet, let us hope he addresses the 40 seats that Unite has fiddled, and let us also hope he publishes the Falkirk report and tells us—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question!”] Labour Members do not want to hear—[Interruption.]

Order. I am always concerned about the rights of Back-Bench Members, and they will be heard; and if we run over for the purpose, because of this sort of conduct, so be it. They will be heard. Please, let us have a bit of order and some answers.

I do not think the Prime Minister wanted to answer the question, did he? So let us give him the answer: the Conservative party has received £25 million from hedge funds. Now, next question. In the Budget, the Chancellor gave hedge funds a £145 million tax cut. Can the Prime Minister tell us: was it just a coincidence?

The top tax rate under this Government is going to be higher than it ever was under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, but let me tell him this important point. There is a big difference between donations to the Conservative party and donations to the Labour party, and the difference is this: donations to the Labour party buy votes at your conference, buy candidates and MPs in this House, and pay for the votes that gave him his job. They paid their money, they bought their votes, they put him in his place, and that has not changed a thing.

I will tell him what the difference is: 6p a week in affiliation fees from ordinary people up and down this country, against a party funded by a few millionaires at the top. And what is—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Ellis, you find it so difficult to control yourself. I am sure you did not when you were practising at the Bar. Calm it, man! Get a grip of the situation!

What is shameful about it is that the Prime Minister does not even know about the extra tax cut he gave to hedge funds. He says he wants reform, so I have a proposal for him. I am willing, as I have said before, to have a £5,000 limit on donations from trade unions, businesses and individuals, as part of a fundamental reform in the way our parties are funded. Is he willing to do that?

First of all, let me deal with—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] I will answer. Let me deal with 6p a week—[Interruption.]

Let me deal with 6p a week. Here are the figures since the right hon. Gentleman became leader: £8 million from Unite, £4 million from GMB and £4 million from Unison. They have bought the policies, they have bought the candidates and they bought the leader.

I have long supported caps on donations. I think we should have caps on donations, and they should apply to trade unions, to businesses and to individuals, but let me say this. There is a—[Interruption.]

Order. There is still too far much shouting, on both sides of the Chamber. The Prime Minister I think is concluding his answer.

Let me be frank with the right hon. Gentleman. There is a problem with a £5,000 cap, and it is this. It would imply a massive amount of taxpayer support for political parties; and frankly, Mr Speaker, I do not see why the result of a trade union scandal should be every taxpayer in the country paying for Labour.

So there we have the truth: the Prime Minister is ducking funding reform. He does not want it to happen. Let us test his willingness to reform in this House. Current rules allow MPs to take on paid directorships and consultancies, as long as they are declared in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and Members on both sides of the House abide by those rules. I say: in the next Parliament—this will affect both sides of this House—MPs should not be able to take on new paid directorships and consultancies. Does he agree?

I think that what matters is that everything is transparent and open. Those are the rules we agreed. The right hon. Gentleman made me an offer—[Interruption.]

Order. I said a moment ago that the Leader of the Opposition must be heard, and he must be. The Prime Minister must also be heard.

The right hon. Gentleman made me an offer. Let me make him an offer. If he wants change, there is a Bill coming to the House of Commons next week that will cover trade unions. If he wants to legislate to move from opting out to opting in, if he wants to give union members a chance to choose whether to donate and to vote on whether they should give to Labour, we will legislate. Will he accept that offer of legislation? Yes or no?

I have to say that the right hon. Gentleman will have to do a lot better than that. He must answer the question on second jobs—[Interruption.] Let me tell him and all the Members opposite that between now and the general election, they will be subject to this test: do they support second jobs, new directorships and consultancies—yes or no? That is the test. Let us try the right hon. Gentleman with another test. I say—[Interruption.]

Order. The question must be heard, and the people whom I might have thought about calling to ask a question who are shouting from a sedentary position might just as well leave the Chamber.

As well as ending new directorships and consultancies, there should be a limit in the next Parliament on how much people can earn on top of their MP’s salary, as happens in other countries. The public would expect nothing less. What does the Prime Minister say?

What is interesting is that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about the trade unions stitching up parliamentary selections. He does not want to address that, but that is what this scandal is about. Let us ask what has actually changed since yesterday. Will the unions still have the biggest vote at the conference? Yes. Will they still be able to determine the party’s policy? Yes. Will they still have the decisive vote in choosing the Labour leader? Yes. Those are the facts: they own you lock, stock and block vote.

This is a man owned by a few millionaires at the top of society, and everyone knows it. Here is the difference between him and me: I want action on second jobs; he does not. I want party funding reform; he does not. I am proud that we have links with ordinary working people; he is bankrolled by a few millionaires. The party of the people. The party of privilege.

It is not the party of the people; it is the party of Len McCluskey. That is the fact—[Interruption.]

It is not the party of the people; it is the party of Len McCluskey. They buy the candidates, they buy the policies and they buy the leader. What is Labour’s policy on Royal Mail? It is determined by the Communication Workers Union. What is its policy on health? It is determined by Unison. What is its policy on party funding? It is determined by Unite. It is no wonder that that the right hon. Gentleman thinks like Buddha: he wants to be reincarnated and come back as a proper leader.

Q2. Three quarters of a million British people suffer from heart failure, a condition—[Interruption.] (164129)

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Three quarters of a million British people suffer from heart failure, a condition that uses 1 million hospital beds every year. Recent research funded by the British Heart Foundation has found that even low levels of air pollution can significantly increase the risk. Will the Prime Minister commit to meeting European standards on air quality? If implemented, such a commitment could increase life expectancy by up to eight months.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about air quality. We have seen real improvements in recent years, and that makes a genuine difference to public health. Important discussions are ongoing in the European Union at the moment, particularly about car emissions, and I will perhaps write to him about our conclusions on those issues.

Q3. The Government have diverted EU regeneration funds intended for South Yorkshire to benefit wealthier parts of the UK. The chair of Sheffield City Region local enterprise partnership has said that the arguments of local business have been ignored, and that the decision will have a hugely negative impact on jobs and growth. Why has the Prime Minister ignored local business leaders, and how can he justify allocating 34% more per head to Cheshire than to South Yorkshire? Do not this Government always have the wrong priorities and stand up for the wrong people? (164130)

We have done a very fair assessment not only between the regions of the United Kingdom, but between the nations of the United Kingdom about how to distribute this money. We have distributed it in a fair way. If we look at Yorkshire and the Humber, we see employment up by 11,000 this quarter and 86,000 since the election, but as the hon. Gentleman is a member of Unite, it is not surprising that he does not mention that fact.

Q4. Does the Prime Minister welcome last Friday’s vote to give the British people a say on their relationship with Europe—a vote with a stark contrast, in that those in the Labour party chose to stay away and squabble with themselves over fixing within the unions? (164131)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) on how he presented his Bill on a referendum in the European Union. There was unanimous support on this side of the House from the Conservative party. What was noticeable is that although there was a 19-page briefing from the Labour party—like every other bit of paper nowadays, we find it lying around the House of Commons—Labour Members could not make up their mind which way to vote.

Does the Prime Minister agree with a former Conservative treasurer that the money received from Asil Nadir is tainted and that the Conservatives have a moral duty to give it back? When will he return that money?

The hon. Gentleman should start with the fact that his party has taken £1.6 million—not a £5,000 cap—from Mr Mills and advised him how to dodge the tax.

Q5. Under the last Government, communities such as Thanet were left and abandoned on benefits. Was my right hon. Friend impressed by the thousands of jobs created in Sandwich, London Array and our jobs fair? This Government are putting people back into work. (164132)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was impressed on visiting Thanet to see the jobs being created by the London Array. It is providing jobs in shipping for seamen, jobs in engineering, apprenticeships; it is a really important investment for this country, and we hope to see many more like it in the future.

Q6. Is the Prime Minister aware that there is widespread agreement in this House about the importance of investment in infrastructure and indeed widespread agreements about its job-creating potential? Can he therefore tell us why, after three years in office, employment in the construction sector has fallen by 84,000 people? (164133)

Employment in construction is currently rising, and the recent news on construction has been very good. That is because we have an infrastructure plan, a fifth of the projects are under way and we have road building at far higher levels than it ever was under the Labour Government. Whereas Labour electrified literally five miles of railway line, we are going to electrify hundreds of miles of railway line. I note that the hon. Gentleman does not mention the fact that he has been paying rent to Unite in his constituency. Normally, it is money from Unite to Labour; in this case, it is from—

Is my right hon. Friend aware that after yesterday’s surrender of powers by the Home Office to the European Union by bringing the European Court of Justice into the arrest warrant, the Commission has welcomed it as pragmatic? Has pragmatism overtaken the Prime Minister’s popular desire to repatriate powers?

The Home Secretary’s announcement yesterday represents the repatriation to the UK of 98 powers. There were 133 items on the justice and home affairs list, which is a massive transfer of power back here to the UK. I think my hon. Friend should welcome that.

Q7. A carer and her husband who has Parkinson’s disease were moved to a two-bedroomed property because she found it impossible to sleep when they were sharing a room. The cumulative effect of this Government’s welfare changes means that she is going to have to find an additional £1,000 a year. Carers UK has published evidence showing that the discretionary payment scheme is benefiting only one in 10 people. That is the scheme that Government Ministers frequently pray in aid. Was it the Prime Minister’s intention that nine out of 10 carers should face eviction, debt arrears and bailiffs? (164134)

Let me make it clear that disability living allowance, the main benefit received by disabled people, is being uprated by inflation and excluded from the welfare cap. When it comes to the spare room subsidy, anyone who needs to have a carer sleeping in another bedroom is exempt from it. There is also the discretionary payment. [Interruption.] Labour Members shake their heads, but the fact is that they have opposed each and every one of our welfare savings, and it is now Labour’s policy to adopt our spending plans. They cannot go on accepting the plans but criticising them at the same time.

It is one year since the Government suspended aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime in Rwanda over the role that the regime played in supporting warlords and militia gangs in the Congo. Recently, the UN confirmed that Rwandan army officers are still involved in such activities. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that those actions are unacceptable for a Commonwealth nation? Will he work with his international counterparts to ensure that those committing war crimes are brought to justice?

Those committing war crimes should always be brought to justice. I have raised the issue of support for the M23 with President Kagame on a number of occasions. We need to bear that in mind in looking at our aid programme, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has done.

I think we should also recognise—this goes across parties in this House—that British investment in aid in Rwanda has created one of the great success stories of African development over the last decade. We should continue to invest in that success and lift people out of poverty while delivering a very clear message to President Kagame at the same time.

All Members of Parliament have the clearest possible duty to their constituents. Let me make this point. Do I think the House of Commons benefits from people like the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and his experience? Do I think the House of Commons benefits from the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who comes to this House with his experience? I think we do benefit. I am not sure that we benefit from my immediate predecessor, but there are Opposition Members who give good service to this House.

We are all celebrating Andy Murray’s historic victory this week. The Prime Minister may not know that history was also made in 1954, when Dave Valentine, a Scotsman, was the first man to lift the rugby league world cup trophy for Great Britain. The 14th rugby league world cup is happening this year—the first major sporting tournament on these shores since last year’s wonderful London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Will the Prime Minister give it full support and will he come to one of the games?

I was not aware of that important piece of history and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing me up to date. I strongly support the fact that we are holding this tournament and will give it all the support I can. Obviously, between now and then we have the small issue of the Ashes, and it is important that we hold that as well.

Q9. When the Prime Minister entertained the hedge fund owners of Circle health, the private hospital company, to a dinner for donors in Downing street, what did he promise in return for their £863,000 donation to the Tory party? (164136)

Let me just give the hon. Gentleman the figures: £8 million from Unite; £4 million from GMB; and £4 million from Unison. The difference is this. Those donations—they buy your leader, they buy your policy, they buy—[Interruption.]

Q10. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is welcome that 2,500 out-of-work households in London can no longer claim more than the average working family earns—a welfare reform opposed by the Labour party at the behest of its union barons? (164137)

The Labour party has opposed every single welfare change that we have made—£86 billion in total. People in this country, including trade union members, will find it inexplicable that the Labour party thinks you are better off on benefits than you are in work. That shows that not only does it have the wrong relationship with the unions—it has the wrong values, too.

Order. Basic manners would suggest that the question be heard. Just as I said about Mr Lord, so, too, I say that Cathy Jamieson will be heard.

Q11. Perhaps the Prime Minister can tell the House whether Mr Aidan Heavey’s donations to the Conservative party had any influence on the Foreign Secretary’s intervention in his company’s tax dispute? (164138)

As I said, the donations to the Conservative party do not buy votes at our party conference; they do not buy votes for our leader; they do not mean donors can select candidates. That is the unhealthy relationship in British politics, and the Opposition can bluster all they want, but they have been found out in Falkirk and they are being found out across the country.

Q12. Every Shropshire child receives £4,612 per annum for their education. In other parts of the country that figure is as high as £7,000, £8,000 or £9,000. This funding mechanism is completely unjust and puts Shrewsbury children at a disadvantage. Will the Prime Minister do everything in his power to help the Education Secretary change this funding mechanism before the unions try to block it? (164139)

We agree that the current system is unfair, and my hon. Friend gave the figures. We have committed to consulting on how best to introduce a national funding formula for 2015-16. We will consult widely all the interested parties to get this right. That will obviously include all Members of Parliament, and I know he will campaign very hard on that issue.

The Tory Chair of the Treasury Select Committee has described the Government’s banking reforms as “falling short” and in some respects “virtually useless”. Is this the pay-off for all the millions the banks have poured into the Tory coffers?

It is this Government who commissioned the Vickers report. It is this Government who committed to a ring fence around retail banks. It is this Government who are legislating to have criminal sanctions against bankers. What did the last Government do? What did those two do when they were sitting in the Treasury when Northern Rock was handing out 110% mortgages? They were knighting Fred Goodwin and watching while Rome burned.

Q13. On Friday the town centre of Bury will fall silent as the people of Bury lead the nation in paying respects to Drummer Lee Rigby, who was so horrifically murdered on the streets of Woolwich. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to all his family and friends and his comrades in the Fusiliers for their calm and dignified response to their loss, and thank all those in the Church, our armed forces, the police and public services who have been engaged in the planning and preparation for the funeral? (164140)

My hon. Friend speaks for the whole country and the whole House when he talks about this issue. We should all pay tribute to Drummer Lee Rigby for his service to our country. I heard about it at first hand when in Afghanistan meeting other members of his regiment. We should also pay tribute to his family for all the pain and difficulty they are going through, and I am sure it will be a very fitting and moving service on Friday and the whole country will be mourning with them.

I have a JCB factory in my constituency, and I represent its parliamentary interests as part of my parliamentary duties. Will the Prime Minister tell us how much the Foreign Secretary was paid by JCB while he was in opposition?

JCB is a great British company that exports all over the world. Instead of trying to talk it down, we should be celebrating it. It is opening businesses; it is creating employment; it is training apprentices; it is backing our academy programme. How typical of the party opposite; all it wants to do is talk down great British businesses.

Q14. Does the Prime Minister agree that what this Government do, as when they helped us save the Medway Insolvency Service, is represent the interests of ordinary, decent trade unionists, who too often are lions led by donkeys? (164141)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and may I pay tribute to him for his work in saving the Medway Insolvency Service? This is important; the fact is that those in the Labour party are in hock to union leaders, and that is why they refuse to investigate the scandal of these rigged appointments. That is what this scandal is about, and that is what they refuse to talk about.

Large developers are major contributors to Conservative party funds, so could the Prime Minister tell the House what role they have played in shaping Conservative party planning policy?

As a member of Unite, the hon. Lady speaks with great authority on this subject. Let me explain again: when people donate to the Conservative party they are not buying votes for the leader, they are not buying policies and they are not buying votes at the party conference. The reason the Leader of the Opposition has his job is that trade unions bought votes in the Labour party and put him where he is. That does not happen in any other political party, and if Labour Members have got any sense at all, they will realise it is profoundly wrong.

Q15. I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that there is no better way to build a stronger economy and a fairer society than through apprenticeships. In Solihull, the number of apprenticeships has nearly doubled already, and I am on a mission to build on that success by working with local businesses to create 100 new apprenticeships in 100 days. Will the Prime Minister support that objective? (164142)

I would certainly support my hon. Friend’s campaign, as I would support the campaign of all Members across the House to encourage people to take up apprenticeships. That is about encouraging not only young people, but businesses. In Solihull and the west midlands we have the advantage of Jaguar Land Rover, a company that is really powering ahead, taking on many more employees and also investing heavily in apprenticeships.

This morning, a constituent contacted my constituency office threatening to commit suicide because they were so depressed from the effect that welfare reform was having on them. I would like to say that that was a unique incident, but it was not. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to analyse the effect of welfare reform on the mental health of this country and how he is going to react to it?

As I have said many times at this Dispatch Box, I am always happy to look at individual cases, but the fact is that we badly need to have welfare reform in this country; the system was completely out of control. Housing benefit was out of control, and disability living allowance had gone up by a third in the past 10 years. We need reforms, and it is no good the shadow Chancellor gesticulating, because he now is in favour, apparently, of welfare reform; the only problem is that he opposed all £86 billion of the reforms that we have made.

Engineering work financed by this Government is under way to re-double the line between Stroud and Swindon, which is fantastic news. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is a good example of sensible investment in infrastructure, leading to economic growth for Gloucestershire?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Investing particularly in some of the branch lines which have been single-track lines, such as the ones that serve my constituency, and turning them into double-track lines really makes the service far better and far more reliable; we can also get more people out of their cars and on to trains, and use the service like that.

What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that he needs to examine again this relationship between the unions and the Labour party—that is the problem. [Interruption.] Yes, they do this: they give you the money, they buy the votes, they buy the leader. That is how it works.