I spoke yesterday to my constituent, Delyth Thompson, who, like the constituents of many colleagues across the House, was anxious because her son’s passport had not arrived on time. Given the dreadful level of service she described to me, she was quite shocked to find that the Passport Office returned a surplus of £73 million. What does it say about the values of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government that the Chancellor is actually making a profit out of our constituents’ misery?
What I would say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, and any other constituent of any MP in this House—because this is an important issue; it is a difficult issue and we must get it right—is that anyone who needs to travel within the next week and who has waited more than three weeks through no fault of their own, will be fast-tracked for no extra cost so that they can get their passport in time. I do not want anyone to miss their holiday because of these difficulties. We have seen a 15% increase over the last week in the number of passports being processed, but we need to go faster and we need to hire more people. The Home Secretary will be updating the House on that this afternoon.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the growing sentiment that, as the publication of the Chilcot report has been so long delayed, the ancient but still existing power of Back Benchers to commence the procedure of impeachment should now be activated to bring Mr Tony Blair to account for allegedly misleading the House on the necessity of the invasion of Iraq in 2003?
I would say to my right hon. Friend and Father of the House that it is important that we see the results of the Iraq inquiry. It has had access to all of the papers, all of the officials and all of the Ministers. Frankly, if the Iraq inquiry had started when the Conservative party and indeed the Liberal Democrats suggested it, the report would have been published by now. But Opposition Members, including, incidentally, the Leader of the Opposition, voted against starting the Iraq inquiry on no fewer than four occasions.
All of us will have been appalled by the images of the brutal aggression of ISIS that has spread across Iraq, terrorising its citizens and undermining its fragile democracy. Iraq is today facing fundamental threats to its integrity, security and stability. Will the Prime Minister provide the House with his latest assessment of the situation in Iraq? Following the welcome appearance yesterday of Prime Minister Maliki with Kurdish and Sunni representatives, calling for national unity, what more does he believe can be done to encourage a more inclusive and representative Government, which is essential for the future of Iraq?
The Leader of the Opposition is absolutely right that one of the crucial things that needs to happen is for the Iraqi Government to take a more inclusive approach towards Shi’a, Sunni and Kurd, as the important constituent parts of Iraq. I can tell the House that the latest reports indicate that fighting is continuing on a front from Samarra to Baqubah; that the Baiji oil refinery in Tikrit is under attack by ISIL; and that the Peshmerga are fighting ISIL in Diyala province. But meanwhile there is this large-scale recruitment not only of Shi’a militias but also of other young recruits to the Iraqi armed forces, and it is vital that that proceeds and that ISIL is pushed back by the Iraqis. The absolutely key thing to recognise here is that when there is this combination of poor governance, of ungoverned spaces and of support for extremism, that provides an opportunity for the terrorist, and we have to address this on each of those three fronts, supporting the Iraqi Government with the work that they need to do.
I agree with the Prime Minister. This crisis, though, is not affecting just Iraq, but has consequences for the whole world, including the UK. Can he tell us the extra measures that the Government are taking and contemplating, including through the Border Agency and the Home Office, to ensure that British nationals in the region cannot return here and engage in violent extremism or terrorism, and can he say what the Government are doing to prevent people in this country from becoming radicalised and travelling to the region in order to fight?
I believe this is the correct focus. As I said yesterday, our approach to this issue must be based on a hard-headed assessment of our national interest. Most important of all is how to keep our citizens safe here at home. The Leader of the Opposition asks specifically about the actions we are taking. We will be legislating in this Session of Parliament to make the planning of terrorist attacks overseas illegal here in the UK. We will be making sure that our security, intelligence and policing resources are focused particularly on that part of the world and the danger of British people travelling there, becoming radicalised and returning to the UK. We have already stopped a number of people travelling, we have taken away passports, including using the new powers that we legislated for in the previous Parliament, and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our country safe.
The Prime Minister will have our full support in doing so, and if there are further measures, we will look at those.
I want to talk about Iran and its role in this crisis. We support the announcement made yesterday by the Foreign Secretary of the plans to reopen the British embassy in Tehran and the dialogue started by the Foreign Secretary with his counterpart, but the challenge we face in Iraq is that although Iran opposes ISIS, the Iranian regime in the past has shown that it does not support a vision for an inclusive and democratic state in Iraq. So can the Prime Minister give the House his current assessment—and that of the Government—of the willingness and intent of the current Iranian regime to play a constructive rather than a divisive role in helping to resolve the Iraqi crisis?
I am grateful for the cross-party approach on this and will make two points. It is important to re-engage in dialogue with Iran, and that is why we are planning to reopen the embassy. It should be done on a step-by-step basis. As I said, it should be done with a very clear eye and a very hard head because we know of the appalling things that happened to our embassy back in 2011. To people who say there is some sort of inconsistency in having dialogue with Iran while at the same time recognising how much it has done to destabilise the region, I would say that we need to take a consistent approach with all the players in the region, which is to say that we support the voices of moderation and the voices that support democracy, inclusive government and pluralistic politics under the rule of law. We need the Iranian Government to play that role, as well as everybody else.
The broader context to this is, of course, the wider Sunni/Shi’ite schism across the region. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is not just Iran, but other significant countries across the region that have a huge responsibility not to take steps that will further fuel the sectarian conflict? That includes support for extremist groups, including ISIS. Will the Prime Minister make it clear in his conversations with all countries in the region that that will simply fuel the conflict?
Whatever we are looking to do, whether it is to support the voices of moderation and democracy in Syria, whether it is to try to help the Iraqi Government close down the ungoverned space in Iraq, or whether it is in the conversations that we have with other regional players, it is very important that we are consistent in that engagement and that we oppose extremism, terrorism and violence. Let me reassure the House that when it comes to the support that we have given to rebels in Syria, we do that through the official Syrian opposition, who are committed to those things and not to extremism, violence and terrorism. Our engagement with the Saudi Arabians, the Qataris, Emiratis and others is all on the basis that none of us should be supporting those violent terrorists or extremists.
I want to ask about the humanitarian situation in the region and the consequences of what is happening in Iraq. We have British allies in the region, such as Jordan, that are already dealing with a huge refugee crisis, and events in Iraq threaten to make that worse. Britain is doing a good job of providing welcome humanitarian support for those in the refugee camps, but there are more refugees outside the camps than inside the camps. What further practical measures does the Prime Minister believe we can take to support countries such as Jordan and Lebanon that are affected by this crisis?
Let me update the House. When it comes to the Syrian refugee situation, we remain the second largest bilateral aid donor anywhere in the world, which is something I think Britain can be proud of. We are providing shelter, food, clothing and support for the millions of people who have been made homeless by the conflict. When it comes to supporting neighbouring countries, we have given some direct help to Jordan, because the increase in the population of Jordan, and indeed of Lebanon, is equivalent—thinking about it in our own terms—to almost 15 million coming to the UK. In terms of the humanitarian situation emerging in Iraq as a result of ISIL’s murderous regime, we have already announced £3 million of humanitarian aid for people who have been displaced in the region, and I can announce today that we will be increasing that to £5 million. Yet again, Britain will be playing its role for those who, through no fault of their own, have been displaced by conflict and face a very difficult situation.
I welcome that and hope that the Prime Minister will continue to look at what more can be done for those outside the camps and to support the infrastructure in countries such as Jordan.
Finally, everything we are seeing across the region begs a fundamental question about whether it can develop a politics where people live alongside each other as citizens, rather than dividing along sectarian, ethnic or religious lines. Does he agree with me that while we can and should provide assistance to make that happen, in the end it is the political will of those in the region that will determine whether that happens?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be a mistake to believe that the only answer to these problems is the hard attack of direct intervention, which we know can create problems in itself, but I also disagree with those people who think that this has nothing to do with us and that if they want to have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq that will not affect us, because it will. The people in that regime, as well as trying to take territory, are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom, so the right answer is to be long-term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent in the interventions we make. The most important intervention of all is to ensure that those Governments are fully representative of the people who live in their countries, that they close down the ungoverned space and that they remove the support for the extremists. We must do that not only in Syria, but in Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and Mali, because these problems will come back and hit us at home if we do not.
Q2. This week construction begins on Watford’s new university technical college, which is sponsored by the Meller Education Trust. In it, students will receive a first-class academic education, but also real preparation for real jobs in the real world. Will the Prime Minister encourage young people in Watford to explore the opportunities that this wonderful new school will offer? (904309)
I know that we are doing all we can to help get the Watford university technical college ready to open its doors in September so that students can start to benefit. Having visited university technical colleges in Harlow and Staffordshire, I think that they represent the filling in of one of the missing links in our education system that was left after the second world war, when ironically we helped the Germans establish good technical schools but did not put them in place here in the United Kingdom. I am very proud to be leading a Government who are putting that right.
Three large GP practices in the most deprived areas of North East Derbyshire are facing crisis. In England we are at least 10,000 GPs short of what we need, so it is no surprise that people cannot get an appointment. Labour is promising a maximum 48-hour wait to see a GP. What is the Prime Minister promising?
In order to provide more GPs, we need to provide money. This Government have increased spending on the NHS, which the Labour party told us was irresponsible. What we see in our NHS today is 7,000 more doctors, more nurses and more midwives, but 19,000 fewer bureaucrats. I think that is absolutely vital in providing the health services we need.
Q3. The Prime Minister knows that I am awaiting a detailed response from him about a dire pollution event in Avonmouth in my constituency, but will he welcome the happier news that just up the river we are in the midst of a volunteering week of action to renovate the historic Lamplighters pub? It was closed under Enterprise Inns in 2009 but is now reopening thanks to the determination of local residents and the new owners, Kathie and Dominic Gundry-White. Will he welcome all the jobs, community spirit and real ale that will bring?
I am delighted to welcome that real ale, and I of course recommend that my hon. Friend’s constituents take advantage of the 1p cut—not just in this Budget, but in the previous Budget. I know that people in Avonmouth have suffered unacceptably from the air pollution problem, and I am very happy to discuss that with my hon. Friend. We are seeing a growth of community pubs, and that is all to the good. It is of course welcome that we introduced the community right to bid, which has enabled a number of communities to take hold of such facilities and operate them for the use of the public.
Q4. In its recent report on the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich, the Care Quality Commission praised the staff for being “kind, caring and respectful”, but highlighted serious capacity constraints in the A and E department. Does the Prime Minister remember that a year ago, before being stopped by judicial review, his Government proposed to close the A and E department in the neighbouring Lewisham hospital, which would have added massively to the pressures on the already overstretched Queen Elizabeth? What lessons have been learned from that serious error of judgment? (904311)
The most important thing with our health service is to praise good service when we see it, but to recognise that where we see poor service, it has to be turned around. We are very clear about the turnaround work that is being done in many of our hospitals and that was left for year after year under Labour. The House might be interested to know that the average wait in A and E was 77 minutes when Labour was in power; it is now 30 minutes under this Government.
Q5. Will the Prime Minister advise my constituents about what action the Government are taking to ensure that areas of regeneration, such as Colindale in my constituency, receive the necessary public service infrastructure to support the increase in population? (904312)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Obviously, things such as the new homes bonus have helped to make sure that local authorities can put infrastructure in place. We have revised and strengthened new planning guidance to ensure that infrastructure is provided to support new development. My hon. Friend will also know that, as a result of the recent award of the Thameslink franchise, there will be new rolling stock on the line and that by the end of 2018 there will be over 3,000 more seats on trains running through Hendon at peak times, which I hope is welcome to his constituents.
Q6. What does the Prime Minister believe are the underlying causes of the £2 billion deficit forecast for English national health service trusts for next year, and what are his remedies? (904313)
The estimates being made today are made on the basis that we have set challenges for the NHS in terms of making efficiencies. What I can report to the House, after four years in government, is that it has met those efficiency challenges every single year under this Government, and that money has been ploughed back into better patient care in our NHS. The great question for the NHS in British politics today, I would argue, is: why is it that in Wales—under Labour control—8% cuts have been made in the NHS budget? [Interruption.] Opposition Members might be yawning; people are not yawning in Wales because they are stuck on waiting lists desperate for treatment.
Q7. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the England women’s football team on their success in the World cup qualifiers? On and off the pitch, women are delivering for England, with more women in employment and more women setting up businesses than in 2010. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, in our long-term economic plan, we will ensure that women can continue to score the goals for the UK economy, and that no one is left behind? (904314)
I am very happy to join my hon. Friend in doing so. As a keen fan of not just the England football team but the English cricket team, I have had the great pleasure of having representatives of the England women’s football and cricket teams in Downing street recently. I made the point to them that they seem to put us through considerably less heartache, stress and worry when they are qualifying for major competitions—and indeed, in the cricket team’s case, when they are winning the Ashes.
There is some good news to celebrate. Female employment is at a record high in our country. There are nearly 700,000 more women in work than at the election. We are seeing more women entrepreneurs starting up businesses. We are making sure that it is fairer for women in terms of pensions. I believe that this Government have a good record, but there is always more to be done.
Exactly 20 years ago today, gunmen went into a pub in a place called Loughinisland in my constituency and killed six men. There have been widespread claims about collusion and police cover-up, and their families have never received truth and justice. Only two weeks ago, the police ensured that the police ombudsman’s investigation was stalled. Does the Prime Minister agree that all UK police services must co-operate fully with their oversight authorities, according to the letter and the spirit of the law, to ensure that families such as those I represent in Loughinisland receive truth and justice?
I agree with the hon. Lady that everyone should co-operate with the police ombudsman. The police ombudsman system in Northern Ireland is now a model that other countries are looking to follow. This is something I discussed recently with the Taoiseach in relation to what happens in the Republic of Ireland. We have a system that works. We have the Historical Enquiries Team, which is also working. I very much hope that the work can continue between the parties in Northern Ireland to discuss the Haass principles and ideas for flags, parades and the past, and that everyone can come together to sort these issues out.
Q8. In Gillingham and Rainham, youth unemployment is down, overall unemployment is down and business creation is up. Does the Prime Minister agree that this clearly shows that our long-term economic plan is working? Linked to that, will he join me in welcoming the creation of a new university technical college in Medway, which will ensure that our future generations have the right skills to succeed in life? (904315)
I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that it is welcome that youth unemployment, which has been too high for too long in our country, is down by 25% this year in his constituency, and that long-term youth unemployment is down 41%. He made the point about university technical colleges. I want to see one of those in every major town in our country, so that we can really give our young people the opportunity of a good technical education if that is what they choose, and I want those schools to be well funded, well resourced and partnered—as is the case in his constituency—with good organisations that can bring their expertise to bear.
It is a simple issue of principle. This is much more connected to the principle than to the name, and I think that the principle will be shared on every side of the House. It is that the members of the European Council, the Prime Ministers and Presidents elected under the treaties, should choose who runs the European Commission. I do not mind how many people on the European Council disagree with me; I will fight this right to the very end.
I say this to my colleagues on the European Council, many of whom have expressed interesting views about this principle and this person: if you want reform in Europe, you have got to stand up for it, and if you want a change in Europe, you have got to vote for it. That is the message that I will take, and that is the right message for our country.
Q9. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last year, a Cabinet Office Minister said:“Relocation of staff out of expensive London offices to other regions continues to be high on the agenda…to deliver the savings needed.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 964W.]Will the Prime Minister look into moving some of those jobs to Redcar and Cleveland, where we have low-cost offices, affordable housing, school places, people who are ready to work, and a great lifestyle? (904316)
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the relocation of jobs, and of course we want to see that develop. I know that it was disappointing about the changes to the Insolvency Service in Stockton last year, but one of the reasons that happened was that there had been such a sharp fall in bankruptcy and company closures, which is a welcome development. As he knows, employment in the north-east is rising overall—it rose by 47,000 last year—but we need to ensure not only that we generate private sector jobs but that, where we can sensibly locate public sector jobs to different parts of the country, we continue with that programme.
The estimate so far is that about 400 people from the UK have taken part in fighting with ISIS. However, that number is based much more on what is happening in Syria, rather than in Iraq, on which we have considerably less information. Together with the Home Secretary and others, I have chaired a series of meetings in Whitehall to ensure that our intelligence, security and policing services are focused as sharply as they can be on this problem. It is estimated to be a greater threat to the UK than the return of foreign jihadis or fighters from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. As I have said, we need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep our country safe.
Q10. While it is good news that the budget deficit has been cut by a third, there is much more to do. One way of helping our country to live within its means is to send back all the convicted criminals who are foreign nationals, because it is costing British taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds each year to keep them in our prisons. All too often, attempts to send back such criminals are scuppered by human rights legislation. What plans does the Prime Minister have to put an end to that ludicrous state of affairs? (904317)
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that we need to do more on that front. We have removed about 20,000 foreign national offenders since the Government came to office, but the number is still too high. I have allotted individual Ministers to individual territories that have the highest numbers of foreign offenders—countries such as Nigeria, Jamaica, Vietnam and China—to ensure that we make progress on returning those prisoners. We need to use the prisoner transfer agreement within the European Union, because that could lead to the return of a large number of prisoners, not least to Poland. We have to keep up the pressure on this issue. I believe that if we get a Conservative Government after the next election, we will have substantive reform of the Human Rights Act, which is not working properly for Britain.
Q11. Last month, the national health service missed its cancer treatment target for the very first time. What does the Prime Minister have to say to the patients and their families who have had to put their lives on hold while they wait for vital treatment to start? (904318)
There is not a family in this country who are not affected by cancer and the difficulties in ensuring that they get the treatment that they need as fast as they can. We have a series of targets for cancer treatment and we are meeting almost all of them. We have seen an increase of about 15% in the number of people who are being treated for cancer. Of course, we have introduced something that never existed under the previous Government—the cancer drugs fund. The hon. Lady probably knows people in her constituency, just as I know people in mine, who are getting medicines that they need, which they never got before.
Q12. The Prime Minister will know that the economic recovery in Essex has been led by the private sector, with Essex firms creating thousands of new jobs and exporting across the globe. Will he commend Essex businesses and support their efforts to export more by looking favourably on our plans to upgrade the infrastructure on the road and rail networks across Essex? (904319)
As I have said before, where Essex leads, the rest of the country follows. Private sector employment, entrepreneurialism and the employment of more people are exactly what the economy needs in the economic recovery, and that is what our economic plan is delivering. Last week, we saw a record increase in employment. This week, we have seen inflation fall to a five-year low. I had very successful meetings yesterday with the Chinese Premier, in which we signed £14 billion-worth of important deals that will bring jobs, growth and investment to this country. We have to keep working on every aspect of our plan, including increasing our exports to the fastest growing countries in the world.
The former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, has made a strong case for looking at our constitutional arrangements, whatever the outcome in Scotland in September. Does the Prime Minister accept that devolution in England, outside London, is very much unfinished business? If our great cities such as Birmingham want to remain the economic engines, they require radically reformed funding structures and our regions require strategic directly elected mayors.
As the hon. Lady knows, I am a fan of directly elected mayors. However, the people of Birmingham had their chance to make that decision and they voted not to have a mayor. I hope that people will see successful mayors in London, Liverpool, Bristol and other parts of the country, and see that there are benefits from that approach. I agree with her that, even if we do not move to a mayoral system, there is more that we can do through city deals, local enterprise partnerships and devolving some of the funding in Whitehall further down towards cities and regions. All that would be to the good. It is worth while and welcome that in its policy review, her party has decided not to tear up local enterprise partnerships, but to extend them. It is good that there is cross-party agreement on how to drive devolution out to our great cities around the country.
Q13. On behalf of my Burntwood constituents, may I thank the Prime Minister for his swift and effective action in giving what is, in effect, a posthumous honour to my constituent Stephen Sutton? With the economic plan now working well, how can we build on that and on the legacy that Stephen Sutton set for charitable giving? (904320)
Stephen was an absolutely inspiring individual, and his zest for life, even as he was suffering from a very difficult and progressive cancer, was completely extraordinary and very inspiring. He raised a huge amount of money for teenage cancer services, and he raised it from right around the world as well as the UK. I think it is right that our honours system properly rewards people who give to charity, and who give of their time, from the very bottom to the very top. There is probably more we can do to make sure that our honours system really reflects what the British public want, which is to see giving, generosity and compassion rewarded.
The Prime Minister may recollect that a few months ago at Prime Minister’s questions I asked him to meet the victims of the drug Primodos. More than 50 of them are coming to Parliament today, and I ask the Prime Minister if he would see them; look at the documents that we have produced, which show that the then medical community knew that the drug was causing deformities in babies and nothing was done about it; and consider a public inquiry.
I do not think I will be able, I am afraid, today to see her constituents and the people she is bringing to the House of Commons. I am very happy to have another conversation with her about what can be done and to understand what more can be communicated to those people, so perhaps we can fix that up.
Q14. In welcoming the Chinese Premier Mr Li to this country, and in recognising that China is one of the greatest export markets for Britain, may I ask the Prime Minister to use his good offices to unblock the barrier to the export of pigs’ feet for human consumption, which will bring in thousands of pounds and ensure the long-term economic growth of north Yorkshire? (904321)
I will certainly take up my hon. Friend on that issue. I recall that on a previous visit to China we unlocked the export of pig semen to China, so we made progress. I seem to remember that the press release referred to “the pig society”—sorry about that one. I will look very carefully at the question of pigs’ feet, and if exports can be allowed and jobs can be created by that, I will be happy to help.
Q15. Notwithstanding serious problems elsewhere, does the Prime Minister share my concern about the crisis in South Sudan, where 4 million people are facing famine? What steps are being taken to implement the peace process? (904322)
I discussed the issue yesterday with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, very bravely, had been with local church leaders to the town of Bor, which has been the site of some of the most serious fighting. It is a very different part of the world from the one we discussed earlier, but some of the same rules apply. We need a Government who govern on behalf of all the people in that country, Dinka and Nuer, and who do not try to divide the country along ethnic lines. We will do what we can. When we talk about intervention in this country, it is intervention through diplomacy, through aid, through assistance and through advice, and we will continue to do that good work.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that at the conference this weekend in Athens of the national chairmen of the European Select Committees, which was attended by delegates from all parties as well as by chairmen of the European parliamentary committees, the British delegation defeated an attempt to treat the word “euroscepticism” as equivalent to xenophobia and racism; and, furthermore, that on the question of the procedure relating to the proposed appointment or election of Mr Juncker, the conference agreed with the British delegation that that was an unprecedented, unacceptable and unsuccessful procedure?
There are no surprises that my hon. Friend was successful in this very important negotiation on behalf of Britain. There is support right around Europe for the concept of the Council of Ministers making these choices, but, as I say, it requires the elected Prime Ministers and Presidents to vote in the way that they believe.
What I meant when I said we would protect the NHS is just that. We are spending £12.7 billion more on the NHS; Labour said that that was irresponsible. We have 7,000 more doctors in our NHS, 3,000 more nurses in our NHS, and over 1,000 more midwives in our NHS, but there is something we have less of in our NHS—we have 19,000 fewer bureaucrats, and that money has been piled into patient care, including improving primary care right around the country.
The people of Newark have enjoyed becoming better acquainted with the Prime Minister this past month.
I regret to inform the Prime Minister that last week the town of Southwell in my constituency was again flooded. Will he reaffirm his commitment to supporting my proposal that the parts of Nottinghamshire that were severely affected by the floods of 2013 receive similar grants to the parts elsewhere in the country flooded at the beginning of this year?
First of all, may I welcome my hon. Friend to his place in the House of Commons after what was a long and arduous but well fought and very positive by-election campaign?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that there are parts of the country, in Nottinghamshire but also elsewhere, that flooded during the course of 2013 and were not eligible for some of the payments made subsequent to the flooding at the turn of the last year, with support for householders and farmers and other sorts of proposals. We are looking very hard at whether we can put back to the beginning of the 2013 financial year the eligibility criteria for that flood work. I will look at this issue very carefully and talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to see whether we can resolve it for my hon. Friend.