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Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2013

Q10. Following decades of underinvestment and hollow promises from previous Governments, the coalition’s early decision fully to dual the A11 is driving investor confidence in Norwich and East Anglia. May I urge the Prime Minister to continue to look east, as a powerhouse for economic growth, and to back the opportunities available for investment in the great eastern main line? (900628)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stand up for Norwich and for Norwich’s economy. The £100 million we are investing in the A11 is an important part of that. It will be completed in 2014, and it will cut congestion on the route between Cambridge and Norwich. For once, I have said something that the shadow Chancellor agrees with, because I know that he wants to go and watch the Canaries. Now we will be able to get him there a little bit quicker. There is no end to my munificence in trying to help the shadow Chancellor.

Two weeks ago, the head of the Security Service warned about the extent of Islamist extremism. This week, two individuals have been charged with serious terrorist offences. What is the Prime Minister going to do in January when, as a result of his Government’s legislation, some of those whom the Home Secretary has judged to pose the greatest threat to our security are released from the provisions of their terrorism prevention and investigation measures?

We have put in place some of the toughest controls that one can possibly have within a democratic Government, and the TPIMs are obviously one part of that. We have had repeated meetings of the extremism task force—it met again yesterday—setting out a whole series of steps that we will take to counter the extremist narrative, including by blocking online sites. Now that I have the opportunity, let me praise Facebook for yesterday reversing the decision it took about the showing of beheading videos online. We will take all these steps and many more to keep our country safe.

Q11. Following the reckless handling by The Guardian of the Snowden leaks, will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the women and men of our intelligence services, who have no voice but who do so much to keep this country safe? (900629)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is one of the greatest privileges of my job to work with our intelligence and security services and to meet some of the people who work for them. He is right to say that they do not get thanked enough publicly because of the job they do, but I am absolutely convinced that the work that GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 do on behalf of our country helps to keep us safe. We have seen that again this week with the arrests that have taken place. Once again, this came from brilliant policing work and brilliant intelligence work, helping to keep our country safe. We cannot praise these people too highly.

Q12. The realities of work for millions of people—low pay, short time, zero hours, agency exploitation—were exposed on Channel 4’s “Dispatches” this week. Did the Prime Minister see it? If not, will he use catch-up, so that he can watch it and then wake up to real life in Britain? (900630)

Everyone in our country wants to see living standards increase, more people in work and for people to keep more take-home pay. That is why we have cut taxes for the typical working person—by £705 if we look at what will be in place next year. Let me make a point about zero-hours contracts. The proportion of people in employment on zero hours in 2012 was the same as it was in the year 2000. The number of people on zero hours increased by 75% between 2004 and 2009—when that lot were in government.

Q13. Businesses in Crawley are creating hundreds of jobs, and as a result unemployment fell to 2.7% last month. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way to raise living standards is to increase and continue the policies of economic growth rather than the Labour party’s discredited policies of debt? (900631)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we see in our country is business confidence rising and consumer confidence rising. Our exports are increasing, construction and manufacturing are up, and we are seeing a good growth in employment: there are a million more people in work in our country than when we came to office. Of course we want to do more to help people to feel better off by reducing their taxes, which is exactly what we are doing. All that would be put at risk if we gave up on reducing the deficit and having responsible economic policies. The Labour party would give us a double whammy of higher mortgage rates and higher taxes, and that is just what Britain’s hard-working families do not need.

Does the Prime Minister think it fair that a sacked pregnant woman will now have to pay £1,200 to take a maternity discrimination case to an employment tribunal?

It is very important for people to have access to employment tribunals, and they do under this Government. One thing that we have done is ensure that people do not earn such rights until they have worked for a business for two years, and I think that that is the right approach.

Q14. Thanks to the Chancellor’s economic policies, unemployment in Burton and Uttoxeter fell by 10% last month, and is now at its lowest since September 2008. Many of the new jobs were created in small businesses which now have the confidence to invest. Will the Prime Minister commit himself to supporting those small businesses, to help us to “grow” the economy? (900632)

My hon. Friend is right. Unemployment in the west midlands fell by 14,000 during this quarter. However, my hon. Friend does not just talk about helping people back into jobs; he has also set up a job fair in his constituency, which has done a huge amount to bring businesses large and small together with those who want jobs. That is the sort of social action in which Conservatives believe: not just talking, but helping.

I wrote to the Prime Minister on 8 May about the possible involvement of Lynton Crosby in public health matters. I raised his failure to reply on 19 June at Prime Minister’s Question Time, and again during the summer Adjournment debate on 18 July. I have served under four previous Prime Ministers who replied to Members’ letters—[Interruption.]

Order. This question will be heard with some courtesy, which is what I expect in the case of all questions. That is very simple and very straightforward.

I have served under four previous Prime Ministers who replied to Members’ letters. Why will this Prime Minister not do so?

I will certainly reply to the right hon. Gentleman’s letter, but let me give him a reply right now. Public health responsibility is a matter for the Department of Health. Lynton Crosby’s job is the destruction of the Labour party, and he is doing a pretty good one.