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Volume 566: debated on Wednesday 17 July 2013

Q5. The Prime Minister claims that he did not know that Lynton Crosby worked for big tobacco, yet Crosby is at the heart of Tory party policy and strategy. Why is the Prime Minister developing a bad habit—perhaps an addictive one—of turning a blind eye to who his advisers actually work for? (165613)

Let me explain to the hon. Lady: the role of Lynton Crosby is to advise me on how to defeat a divided and useless Labour party, but I have to say that on the basis of today’s evidence I am not sure he is really necessary.

Q6. In my Welsh constituency, patients have to wait 36 weeks for elective treatment, while the figure in the English constituency of Shropshire next door is 18 weeks. What lessons does the Prime Minister believe the Government can learn about how the NHS has been managed in Wales over recent years? (165614)

There is a very clear lesson, which is do not vote Labour, because people can see what is happening in Wales, where Labour is in control of the NHS. It cut the budget by 8% and as a result Wales has not met a single waiting time target since 2009. Meanwhile, in England we are increasing spending on the NHS. The shadow Chancellor keeps pointing at the shadow Health Secretary, but the fact is that the shadow Health Secretary is the man who said it would be irresponsible to increase spending on the NHS. I have a summer tip for the leader of the Labour party: if you want to do better, you need to move the two people next to you and you need to do it fast.

Will the Prime Minister study the precise meaning of the word “question” and the precise meaning of the word “answer”, and consider the need for a link between the two following the record number of unanswered questions and pre-prepared party-political jibes last week at Question Time, which was a demeaning spectacle that shamed him and his office? Will he make a start by giving me an answer to this question that is both relevant and courteous?

That question was a bit complicated for a Whip’s handout, so the hon. Gentleman probably did think of it himself. This Government are far more transparent than any of our predecessors in the information that we publish and the public spending data that we provide. We are far more transparent than the last Government.

Q7. I am pleased to say that unemployment in Northampton North continues to go down. Does the Prime Minister agree that today’s jobs figures prove that the Government’s economic policy has not led to “the disappearance of a million…jobs”, which was the forecast of the Leader of the Opposition? (165615)

It is extraordinary that on a day when there has been a fall in unemployment, the Leader of the Opposition had nothing to say about it. In fact, I have done a bit of checking and he has not asked a full set of questions about the economy since February, because he knows that our policies are working and Britain’s economy is mending. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the forecast was made that we would not make up for the loss of public sector jobs with jobs in the private sector—[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members are shouting. They are shouting because they do not want to hear good news about falling unemployment, but people want to hear about more jobs, more businesses and progress in our economy.

There is too much shouting on both sides of the House, not just on one side. That is the reality.

That was definitely a Whip’s handout—there is no doubt about that one. Let me explain to the hon. Lady an important distinction—[Interruption.]

The top rate of tax will be higher in every year of this Government than it was in any year under the previous Government. Let me explain how it works in the hon. Lady’s party: the trade unions give Labour money and that buys the policies, it buys the candidates, it buys the MPs and it even buys the leader. I am not surprised if they are worried about the product that they have ended up with.

Q8. Enfield has had the early advantage of a welfare cap for the past three months. With jobseeker’s allowance claims in Enfield falling at twice the rate of claims in the rest of the country and with youth unemployment in Enfield at the lowest level since early 2009, will the Prime Minister ensure that where Enfield leads, the nation follows? (165616)

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the people in Enfield who have found work. Not only is the welfare cap right because it would be wrong for people who are out of work to be able to earn more than the typical family that is in work, but it is working because the figures show how many people, seeing that a welfare cap is coming down the road, are getting out there, looking for work and finding jobs. That is good news for them and good news for our economy.

Q9. Would Mr Adrian Beecroft have been asked to provide a report for the Government on employment regulation if he had not been a major donor to the Conservative party? (165617)

The right hon. Gentleman speaks as a member of Unite and someone who receives £6,000 for his constituency party. Adrian Beecroft produced an excellent report on encouraging enterprise, jobs and wealth creation. Let me explain the big difference one more time. The trade unions that give money to the Labour party can pick the candidates and vote for them, pick the leader and vote for him, and pick the policies and vote for them. I was elected by a one member, one vote system; the leader of the Labour party was elected by a trade union stitch-up.

Any Government should of course be able to introduce a reasonable cap on very high claims for taxpayer-funded benefits. However, if we are all in it together, why are the Government resisting the introduction of a cap on the taxpayer-funded benefits amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds and, in some individual cases, more than £1 million that go to the largest and wealthiest landowners in the country through the farm support system?

This Government have done a huge amount on tax reform to ensure that people pay the taxes they owe. Of course, we always look at the common agricultural policy to make sure that it is fair.

Q10. In order to save the Prime Minister a little time, I have been a member of the Unite union since I joined at the age of 16 as an engineering apprentice. I am happy to debate who spent their youth more productively. On 26 June, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) on Tory dinners for donors, the Prime Minister said that he would be happy to publish the Gold report. Is the reason he has not done so because he is ashamed of the fact that his party has had more donors than a late-night kebab shop? (165618)

It is that time in Prime Minister’s questions when we ought to remember the donation of Mr Mills, the man who gave £1.6 million to the Labour party and got advice about how to dodge his taxes. When we get an answer to when the Labour party is going to pay that money back, I will answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question.

While still hoping that the Prime Minister will agree with the CBI and me and withdraw support for HS2, he will remember last November giving me an undertaking that people disrupted by this project would be fairly and generously compensated. Is he aware that on phase 1, HS2 Ltd has not yet rerun the basic consultation on compensation, and on current plans will not do so for two or three months? Will he please intervene and speed up this process before those constituents, and others whose lives are affected, are totally ruined by this flawed project?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this matter. We will be setting out further consultation later this year, as we have previously announced. We are committed to a very generous and fair compensation scheme. Matters relating to compensation are very important, which is why we have to consider them carefully and make sure that we get the decisions right. My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary will be happy to meet her and discuss her constituents’ concerns.

Q11. The Prime has been helping Jersey-registered companies with their exports. Perhaps he could tell the House whether the reason he took Petrofac’s Ayman Asfari with him to Kazakhstan was because he had donated £300,000 to the Tory party. (165619)

First, let us remember which Government made sure that Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and all the others paid taxes properly—it was this one. I will tell the hon. Lady directly why I took Ayman Asfari to Kazakhstan: Petrofac is a company that employs tens of thousands of people in this country. It is investing billions in the North sea and is a major British energy company. I am proud of the fact that we fly the flag for British energy companies, so when I have finished taking them to Kazakhstan, I will be taking them to India, to China and to Malaysia. We are not embarrassed about business, industry, enterprise and jobs on this side of the House—we want more of them.

During my right hon. Friend’s friendly discussions with Chancellor Merkel, did they examine the evidence that the existence of the European single currency is a major cause of the despair now sweeping across southern Europe, threatening the democracy of Portugal, Spain and Greece?

When I meet Chancellor Merkel we often discuss the single currency. It is important, whatever one’s views about the single currency—I never want Britain to join—that we respect countries that are in the single currency and want to make it work. At the same time, I believe that there is an opportunity for Britain to argue that the European Union needs to change. We need to make this organisation one that both members of the single currency and members who are not in the single currency can be comfortable in. I think Chancellor Merkel understands that. I also think that Prime Minister Letta from Italy, whom I will be meeting straight after questions, understands that point too. That is why I think getting a better settlement for Britain is achievable, and one we can consider in a referendum by the end of 2017.

Q12. The Prime Minister failed to say last week when he would give back the stolen cash that Asil Nadir gave the Conservative party. When will he give it back? (165620)

I have to say, the Whips have been very active with the hand-outs this week. What we need to know is when we will get back the taxpayer money from Mr Mills’s donation. Never mind a donation that happened 20 years ago; this happened about 20 weeks ago.

One of the first acts of the Government was to agree a request to fund security measures in Jewish voluntary-aided, maintained and free schools. Parents in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) were paying for these additional security measures from their own pockets, because the last Government refused to help. As this funding arrangement ends in 2015, will the Prime Minister support my campaign for the Education Secretary to continue the scheme?

I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend says. I am a strong supporter of free schools and of the Community Security Trust, which I think has provided a lot of security for schools in his and neighbouring constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will be very happy to look at this issue to see how we can continue to give them support.

Q13. Given the scandal of price fixing in the oil and gas industry currently being investigated by the EU, does the Prime Minister agree that it is important to be absolutely transparent about the oil and gas companies Lynton Crosby’s lobbying firm has represented? (165621)

Really, have they got nothing to say about unemployment, improving education or capping welfare? It pains me to point this out to the hon. Lady, but she has received £32,000 from affiliated trade unions. Let me explain the difference: the Conservative party gives Lynton Crosby money to help us get rid of Labour—that is how it works—whereas the unions give Labour money. She said on her website:

“I am a member of Unison and Unite…and regularly raise trade union issues in parliament.”

They pay the money in, they get the results out—that is the scandal in British politics.

Q14. Many water companies in England have paid huge dividends to their shareholders, have avoided paying tax and are not properly accountable, and in this region are proposing an annual increase of £80 a year on water rates. Will the Prime Minister ensure that no public subsidy is given to Thames Water or any other water company that puts its profits and shareholders ahead of the interests of ordinary ratepayers and taxpayers in his constituency and mine? (165622)

First, let me be clear: I have always said that companies should pay the tax they owe. I do not want to comment on an individual company’s business, but that is the case. Any support from the Government must be targeted to benefit customers’ bills and to provide value for taxpayers. There is merit in the Thames tunnel proposal, and we need to look at that carefully, because it would benefit London, including the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents and everyone else living in London, but I can assure him that we will use every tool at our disposal to get the best deal for London, bill payers and taxpayers.

We can run through this one again; let me have another go at explaining. Right, it works like this: the Conservative party gives Lynton Crosby money and he helps us to attack the Labour party, right? The trade unions give money to the Labour party—the other way around—and for that they buy your candidates, they buy your MPs, they buy your policies and they even give you this completely hopeless leader.

My constituent, Kelly Bridgett, was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 25 when she had her first smear, and sadly she had to have a hysterectomy. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Kelly on her “Drop your pants to save your life” campaign to raise awareness of cervical cancer, and will he talk to the Health Secretary about Kelly’s wish to bring the age at which young women can have a smear down from 25 to 20?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to his constituent for their bravery in raising this campaign and speaking so frankly about it. The screening programmes we have had in the NHS under successive Governments have been one of its greatest successes in terms of early diagnosis of cancer and saving lives. We should always be asking what the latest evidence is for the screening programmes, and when they should start. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will want to talk to my hon. Friend about this campaign.