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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 5 November 2014

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Humanitarian Needs (Gaza)

1. What plans she has to work with her international counterparts to address humanitarian needs in Gaza. (905888)

May I start by paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who now moves over to the Home Office but did some fantastic work alongside me on the women and girls agenda, and also wish the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) good luck in his mission impossible as he seeks to take over Labour in Scotland?

The UK will continue to work closely with international partners to address humanitarian needs in Gaza. We have already provided over £17 million in humanitarian assistance and recently committed a further £20 million at the international donor conference in Cairo to assist those affected, including hundreds of thousands left homeless as winter approaches.

There are 1.8 million people in Gaza and it is physically smaller than the Isle of Wight. Does the Secretary of State accept that 485,000 people in Gaza need emergency food assistance and 273,000 people need school buildings for shelter and, most important of all, around 1 million people are desperate for work? What is the right hon. Lady doing about that?

My hon. Friend raises some very good points. Gaza is one of the most densely populated parts of the world. As he says, we are, of course, providing shelter and basic services to many people, but we also increasingly work on private sector support, supporting livelihoods, and the key to that in the long term is a political settlement that means the economy in Gaza can thrive normally.

Will the right hon. Lady condemn in the strongest terms the recent total closure of the Gaza border by Israel, in utter violation of the ceasefire, making it very difficult—even more difficult—for the aid she provides and the other aid for reconstruction after the terrible destruction imposed by the Israelis? This cannot go on.

We are extremely concerned about the continued restrictions, which have a tremendous effect on the Gazan economy. Of course we understand the security concerns of Israel, but ultimately we need leadership from both parties to move forward to some political settlement. We will never get to provide the long-term support to people unless we can get in and out of Gaza easily and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that has been a very great problem for us.

10. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking my constituents from Lockwood, Crosland Moor and Thornton Lodge for their fundraising efforts to help address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and will she confirm what steps the UK is taking to aid reconstruction in Gaza following the Cairo conference? (905897)

I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents. They are among the millions of groups and communities around our country that do fantastic work supporting people in very difficult parts of our world. We are playing our role. Part of our announcement at the international donor conference was to make sure we can help fund some of the reconstruction that is now required in Gaza.

While I agree with the Secretary of State that a political settlement is vital, does she agree with me that there is still no excuse for Israeli forces firing on fishermen when all they are doing is trying to fish, or firing on farmers when all they are trying to do is farm their land, and what can she do to ensure that the Israeli forces stop doing this?

We are always concerned about these sorts of incidents of violence. In the end, people will have to get back around the negotiating table, and we will have to have talks that go further than the ceasefire that is currently in place. They need to get back under way in Egypt, and ultimately people need to agree that the current status quo is simply untenable, and communities on both sides need to work towards having a better future for their children than they are currently experiencing.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right that we need a political settlement, but is she concerned that, of all the money that is being given, some will be siphoned away for Hamas to build new tunnels—terror tunnels—back into Israel? What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that British taxpayers’ money does not contribute to that?

I can categorically assure my hon. Friend that no aid money goes to Hamas. We have safeguards in place to ensure compliance with both UK and EU legislation on terror funding.

15. Given this House’s historic vote to recognise Palestine, the decision of the Swedish Government and similar debates in the French and Irish Parliaments, what work is the Secretary of State doing with Palestinian civil society and structures to prepare the state for wider recognition? (905902)

We do broad capacity-building with the Palestinian Authority. As the hon. Lady points out, there is a political element to the way forward that is the base for seeing any real progress in the long term. First, though, our focus has been on providing humanitarian support to people affected by the recent crisis, and then more broadly starting to be part of the reconstruction efforts so that we can get people back into their homes and, critically, get children back into their schools.


2. What progress her Department has made on its work with the Ministry of Defence to tackle the Ebola crisis in west Africa. (905889)

3. Whether pledges made by the international community at the “Defeating Ebola” conference in London on 2 October 2014 are being fulfilled. (905890)

The UK is leading the international response to the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, committing £230 million so far. We are providing 700 beds, including at the Kerry Town treatment facility that opened today, ensuring safe burials are taking place, providing more community care and helping to train health care workers. The “Defeating Ebola” conference we held in London last month generated more than £100 million of support to the overall response.

I am aware that my right hon. Friend recently visited Sierra Leone. Can she update the House on any specific projects she witnessed there that would reassure me and my constituents that we are doing all we can to fight this?

I can. We can be very proud of the role the UK is playing: both the public’s response to the recent Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, which shows the British people’s generosity, and the work the Ministry of Defence is doing. I had the chance to see the Kerry Town facility as it was nearing completion a couple of weeks ago. It is opening today to treat patients and will save lives and stop the spread of the infection.

The Secretary of State will know that the international community has a very proud record of making pledges when international crises happen, but a very poor record of delivering on the pledges. Given that every day delayed means more lives lost to the Ebola crisis, what pressure is she applying to the international community and all agencies to ensure that they deliver on their promises?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise these issues. The UN General Assembly and World Bank meetings were good opportunities for me to raise them, as was the recent EU Council, at which the Prime Minister successfully pushed to get more than £1 billion of support. We are now seeing many of the pledges made at the London conference come through. The most recent example is that the Norwegians will now be providing health care workers to help us operate some of those core facilities.

The Secretary of State and many Members of this House will be familiar with the heartbreaking and moving diary of a young doctor from Huddersfield working in Sierra Leone. I hope she agrees that we owe Africa. Whatever we are doing, we are not doing enough: can we do more?

As I said, I think we should be proud of the work we are doing, and we are doing a huge amount. Alongside the beds we are providing, we are helping to make sure that burials can take place safely, we are scaling up the training of health care workers—800 a week are being trained by the MOD—and we are rolling out more community care. As the hon. Gentleman says, this care is often being delivered by volunteers from Sierra Leone, who are involved in safe burials, and from our own country, and we should thank them for their generosity of spirit.

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking those dedicated workers from Sierra Leone, the UK and across the world who are risking their lives to tackle this? Will she also ensure that the UK Government’s cross-departmental working delivers a long-term legacy to Sierra Leone of a strong health service capable of preventing any such disaster from happening again?

I am pleased that my right hon. Friend has given me the chance to give a very personal thank you to my staff, who have really played a role in leading our efforts on the ground in Africa, pulling together the MOD, Public Health England, and NHS workers—who have done an amazing job—alongside our Foreign Office staff. We have nearly doubled our DFID team in Sierra Leone. Many of them are people who thought they would be doing something entirely different, but are now working round the clock to tackle Ebola. We should be proud of what we are doing. My right hon. Friend is of course right that we should also look to ensure that we can strengthen health care systems in countries such as Sierra Leone, so they are better placed in future to combat these challenges on their own.

We support the actions of this Government on Ebola, but the sluggishness of the international response raises alarming questions about the functioning of the World Health Organisation. There were warnings in April that the epidemic was unprecedented and in June that it was out of control but, amid reports of political leveraging and deliberate delay, the WHO waited until August to declare Ebola an international public health emergency. Will the Secretary of State tell me what exactly her Department has done to enact reform of the WHO since she came to office?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one of the principal measures that we introduced was the multilateral aid review, which looks systematically across multilateral bodies to understand whether they give the taxpayer good value for money. We will continue to do that. As he says, a key element of the Ebola crisis has been the lack of a co-ordinated response at the beginning, and we need to learn from that.

It was the fundamental lack of basic health coverage in pockets of west Africa that allowed this outbreak to go unchecked for so long. That was one element in the so-called perfect storm of Ebola. At present, the next worldwide deal on development calls merely for healthy lives and well-being, so will the Secretary of State now go further in strengthening the language of the stand-alone goal on health? Will she match the Labour party’s commitment to universal, guaranteed health care for all?

This Government have finally honoured the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on aid, and we have significantly increased our spend in relation to providing critical health care. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are also playing a leading role in ensuring that the post-2015 development framework does indeed get great health outcomes for people in developing countries.

Disabled People: Aid Programmes

4. What steps her Department is taking to ensure that people with disabilities benefit from UK aid programmes. (905891)

First, may I say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) was a champion for this brief and for disabled people in the most vulnerable countries in the world? We are publishing a framework on 3 December, because we are determined that disabled people will benefit from UK aid.

I am delighted to hear that we are going to publish the disability framework on 3 December. How will it ensure that disabled people—particularly those with learning and intellectual disabilities —are systematically and consistently included in UK aid programmes?

I ask my hon. Friend to show some patience until 3 December. What I can tell him is that we have consulted widely and undertaken to quadruple the number of staff working on this. We have also appointed a senior management champion. With respect to mental health and disability, we are funding a major study in Asia and Africa to see what works in poorly resourced countries.

Will the Minister assure the House that the Department for International Development will continue to focus on supporting excellent advocacy groups such as the one I met in Angola, where people are suffering from the effects of land mines? That is a very useful thing to do.

I hope that I will be able to give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. Perhaps he would like to meet me to discuss the work of that non-governmental organisation.

Our troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan, but there remains a legacy of unexploded ordnance and many disabled Afghans. Will the Minister tell the House what DFID will be doing to help those who suffer disability as a result of the armaments left by several conflicts in that poor country?

We will continue to work with the Halo Trust to dispose of that ordnance. Equally, we have an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan and to providing aid to deal with the problems that my right hon. Friend has mentioned.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries. To that end, will he support the proposal for a stand-alone goal on inequality in the post-2015 framework?

We have so far succeeded in ensuring that that goal will be included on the post-2015 agenda—I think it is remiss that it does not already exist as part of the development goals—and we are determined to keep it there as the discussions proceed.

Sustainable Development

5. What recent discussions she has had with her international counterparts on including climate justice in future sustainable development goals. (905892)

I regularly discuss the sustainable development goals with my international counterparts, most recently doing so with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, at the UN General Assembly. Of course, ensuring that environmental sustainability and climate change are integrated into the sustainable development goals is a key priority for the UK Government.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does it mean she supports the inclusion of climate change or a climate-related sustainable development goal as a stand-alone goal, or is this just something that she sees factored into other elements that will be in the goals?

We think that making sure we have targets on areas such as climate change is vital. We also recognise that millennium development goal 7, on sustainable development, was ineffective, because people did not focus on it and it needed to be better mainstreamed into the rest of the framework. It is important that we focus on ensuring that sustainability is mainstreamed right the way through the post-2015 framework.

Climate change disproportionately affects the poorest people in the world, so will the Secretary of State act on the calls of supporters of Christian Aid, including those from St Andrew’s church in Chippenham who met me recently, to do what she can to help make sure that next year’s Paris climate talks deliver an agreement that will tackle this threat and look after the very people her Department seeks to help?

My hon. Friend is right to say that next year’s meeting in Paris is crucial to finally getting the international deal we need to tackle climate change. He will also be aware of a lot of the work my Department does on helping people cope with and adapt to the problems of climate change. The poor are always hit hardest and hit first by climate change, and they have the least wherewithal then to get their lives back on track.


I thank the Minister for that answer. As I am sure he will recognise, last week’s welcome election result showed that Tunisia, where the Arab spring started, is a beacon of hope in the region. Will his Department prioritise support for Tunisia, to help it to make further progress and provide a working example of how real change can take place in that region?

I entirely endorse the right hon. Gentleman’s description of the progress Tunisia has made, and it is important that we keep that progress going. We have spent some £10 million in Tunisia since 2011, the European Union has a budget of €169 million this year, and there is money from the International Monetary Fund and other sources. We will continue to watch this brief.

Some excellent work has been done to support politics in Tunisia, particularly by an organisation called Forward Thinking. I hope that that would come within the remit of the Department’s funding scheme.

There are particular issues affecting the people of Tunisia that do not affect other north African countries. Does the Minister agree that we should build on bilateral relationships between Tunisia and the UK, and strengthen those links between the two nations?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and we are straining to do that. Principally, Tunisia is very close to Libya, and that presents a significant difficulty.

Topical Questions

A fortnight ago, I visited Sierra Leone to see how Britain is helping that country battle Ebola and the part we are playing. Today, the first of six new UK Ebola treatment facilities opens to patients in Kerry Town. Last month, I attended the World Bank annual meetings in Washington, where the UK hosted several successful economic development events. I met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim to discuss the post-2015 development goals and the global response to the Ebola crisis. On Monday, I made a speech to the Family Planning 2020 event, where I set out how commitments we made at the London summit on family planning two years ago are delivering real progress.

Recent rains and a huge effort have temporarily assisted millions of people threatened by famine in South Sudan. Will my right hon. Friend update the House as to how she sees the situation now and whether she thinks food stocks in South Sudan are going to last beyond December or January?

My right hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. We have committed £42.5 million now to support refugees in the region; there are estimates that their number might rise to more than 700,000 by the end of the year, and 1.5 million are at risk of food insecurity. It is crucial that we make sure we have the humanitarian assistance in place to support these people.

The first problem with DFID’s inaction on corruption highlighted by last week’s report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact is that the watchdog tells us that DFID’s objectives are

“not focused on the poor”.

The commission’s recommendations demand that DFID establish a new unit specifically to drive out this curse. Will the Secretary of State do so—yes or no?

DFID does a huge amount of work tackling corruption. The One campaign said:

“The UK has a strong reputation for getting its own house in order on anti-corruption”,

so we do not need to take lectures from the Labour party. I can assure the hon. Lady that our strategy is also about tackling corruption upstream. Work that we have done in Nigeria, for example, with anti-corruption agencies has helped recover £1.5 billion and supported more than 2,500 corruption cases being brought.

T5. Given the recent withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, can my right hon. Friend reflect on the key achievements of her Department in development in Afghanistan over the past decade? (905867)

We have provided health care access to millions of people, particularly women, who have never had it before. We have seen girls getting into school and having opportunities to pursue their lives in a way that they never had before. We have brought livelihood support to people, provided humanitarian support and worked to strengthen the Government in Afghanistan to enable them to deliver for their people in the long term. We should be hugely proud of the work that DFID has done, as well as being proud of the work that our brave servicemen and women have done.

T2. Millions of children face violence every day, with both boys and girls suffering from abuse and exploitation. UNICEF’s children in danger campaign makes a powerful case for this to be a priority, so will the Secretary of State agree to push for a target to end all forms of violence against children to be included in the global development goals currently being negotiated? (905864)

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. The UK is one of the leading donors to UNICEF; we recognise how important its work with children is. We are looking particularly at the vulnerability of children in Sierra Leone as many of them are orphaned as a result of the Ebola crisis.

T6. The Secretary of State will be as alarmed as I am that President Kirchner of Argentina is purchasing 24 new fighter bombers at a time that Argentina is going cap in hand to the World Bank, expecting UK taxpayer money to prop up its failing economy. Will Her Majesty’s Government veto any attempt by Argentina to obtain more funds from the World Bank and urge our European allies and the United States to follow us in that veto? (905868)

My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I toughened up our policy in precisely that way several months ago. We do, therefore, take that stance and have been lobbying others. Unlike the Opposition, we do not want to see aid going to countries that do not need it or will misspend it. For example, under Labour Britain gave £83 million to China in 2007-08, the very year that China spent £20 billion hosting the Olympics.

T3. While £600 million of UK aid is being channelled through the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition—[Interruption.] What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the new alliance does not bully countries such as Ghana into passing legislation that is designed to restrict local farmers’ ability to save and exchange locally produced seed, making them dependent on a few big suppliers and decreasing biodiversity? (905865)

Order. It is quite difficult for people to hear the question. It is very important that the Secretary of State should hear it. These are extremely serious matters that we are discussing. Let us show some courtesy towards each other.

The hon. Lady is right that as part of the new alliance, it is vital that we see support for smallholder farmers alongside the broader work that is taking place to strengthen agriculture in many of those countries that she has spoken about. It is part of an economic strategy as well as a food security strategy and it is immensely important.

T7. Given the recent success of the Somali peace process, does my right hon. Friend agree that her aid programme for that country now needs to concentrate on building up the private sector and wealth creation? (905869)

My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the things that DFID is doing more than ever before is work on economic development. It is vital that we help people and countries end aid dependency through jobs.

T4. I am delighted that the Secretary of State has been to Sierra Leone, but does she realise that even though I have begged the Leader of the House, we still have not had a major debate on Ebola? We owe that to Africa. When are we going to move? When are we going to debate it in this House and when are we going to do more? (905866)

The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that there is an Adjournment debate on Ebola tonight, and oral questions provide a great opportunity to discuss and debate the work we are doing.

China has been very willing to exploit commercial opportunities and raw materials in Africa, but it has committed fewer funds to fighting Ebola than the UK has, despite having a GDP that is four times larger. Will the Government encourage China to live up to its responsibilities in Africa as well as exploiting the opportunities?

It is important that countries such as China work alongside other members of the international community that are leading the fight, such as the UK, to ensure that we bear down on Ebola. We are working directly with the Chinese, but it is important that all countries step up and do more.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


With Remembrance day next week, I am sure that the whole House will join me in remembering all those who sacrificed their lives defending our country and the freedoms we hold dear. This time of year once again reminds us of the incredible job that our armed forces do to ensure our safety and security. With combat troops coming home from Afghanistan, we will all want to pay particular tribute to the 453 soldiers who lost their lives and all those who were injured during that long campaign. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

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

May I first associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about Remembrance weekend, when we remember the contribution that so many have made, from all parts of the UK, in our armed forces?

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister said that concerned steelworkers at Clydebridge in my constituency and at sites across the UK should judge Klesch Group by its actions. With its record of asset stripping in France and Holland and the news overnight of the failure to purchase Milford Haven, does he believe that it is in the public and national interest for the strategically important UK foundation steel industry to be sold to Klesch Group?

First, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that what has happened at Milford Haven is very disappointing. We will continue to work with the company concerned and try to find employment opportunities for all those who work there. With regard to Tata Steel, Clydebridge employs around 90 people and, as he knows, is an integral part of the Long Products division. We took action in the Budget to support heavy industry, and we are working with Klesch Group and with the Scottish Government. It says that it is taking this on as a going concern and that due diligence has started. I think that the right thing to do is to work with the Klesch Group to try to ensure that its plans are to maintain that company. What we need overall is a situation in this country in which the steel industry continues to grow, as it has been doing under this Government.

Q14. On behalf of my constituents, may I offer my sympathy to the families of those killed and to those injured in the tragic factory fire in Stafford last week, and may I also praise the wonderful response of the emergency services? UK exports to countries outside the European Union have gone up by a remarkable 22% over the past three years, including transformers, generators and financial services IT systems from my constituency. Will the Prime Minister look at whether the support given by UK Export Finance could be increased, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises? (905886)

First, let me join my hon. Friend in offering condolences to the families of those killed in the fire in Stafford; we must get to the bottom of exactly how it started. In terms of supporting exporting companies, a very important part of our long-term economic plan is ensuring that we get more small and medium-sized companies exporting. As he will know, we have increased the budget for UK Export Finance and made available export contracts for small and medium-sized enterprises worth over £1 billion, and we will continue to work with those companies, including through the GREAT campaign, which is opening up new markets for British products to ensure that more of our companies choose to export.

Let me join the Prime Minister in recognising the importance of Remembrance Sunday. This year has particular significance: it is the year of our withdrawal from Afghanistan and, of course, 100 years since the start of the first world war. It is a moment to remember all those who lost their lives in war and everyone who has served our country. That is why we will all be wearing our poppies with particular pride this year.

The Prime Minister is nearly two years into his renegotiation with the European Union. He has to get 27 countries to agree with him. How many has he got so far?

What we have is a set of things that we want to sort out in Europe. We want to sort out safeguards for the single market. We want to get out of ever-closer union. We want reform of immigration. But here is the difference. We have a plan. He has no plan. And we have a plan that will be put to the British people in an in/out referendum. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us, when he gets to his feet: why is he frightened of the British public?

My position on the referendum is exactly the same as his was before he lost control of his party. I think we can take it from the answer to that question that the answer is none; he has no allies. He says that his

“admiration for Angela Merkel is enormous.”

After the last couple of days, we can see that the feeling is mutual. If it is going so swimmingly, why does he think that Chancellor Merkel has already rejected his proposals?

On that the right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong as well. She has herself said that there are problems in terms of free movement that need to be dealt with. He talks about support for a European referendum. Perhaps he would like to address this. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has decided to leave the House of Commons—about the only person on the Labour Benches who had any economic credibility—has said that a European referendum is inevitable. He says:

“It’s a boil that has to be lanced.”

If it is inevitable, why is the Leader of the Opposition so frightened of the British public?

We know about the boil that has to be lanced—it is his divided party. The right hon. Gentleman should listen to what his own MPs are saying. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), the one who has not defected yet, says:

“vague promises about a better deal for Britain will not wash.”

They know his renegotiation is going nowhere. Two years ago, the Prime Minister gave an interview to The Daily Telegraph, and this is what it said:

“Mr Cameron will not countenance leaving the EU and says that he would never campaign for an out vote in an EU referendum.”

Is that still his position?

I think Britain is better off in a reformed European Union. But the point is this: I have a plan for renegotiating our situation and holding a referendum. The right hon. Gentleman has absolutely no plan whatsoever. He talks about the views of Back Benchers. I have the new view of one of his Front Benchers. This is the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, the man he appointed to the Front Bench, and I am sure the House will be interested. He said:

“the Labour Party…right now is…in a dreadful position.”

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) has been silent for too long. He goes on:

“And we’ve got to be honest about ourselves. We have very low esteem with the electorate. The electorate looks at us and has no idea what our policies are.”

He concludes:

“We have a moribund party”.

That is not the view of the commentators. It is not the view of the Back Benchers. It is the view of the Front Benchers. It is official. It is a dead parrot.

Let us talk about his party: defections, rebellions, demands for a pact with UKIP, and that is before the Rochester and Strood by-election. Everyone will have heard—[Interruption.]

Order. The Leader of the Opposition must be heard. However long it takes, that will happen. So people who are making a noise should calm themselves.

And he did not answer this fundamental question that matters to businesses and families. He used to say he would never be for leaving the European Union. That was his position two years ago. [Interruption.] Tory Members ask what my position is. I want to stay in the European Union. The right hon. Gentleman cannot even answer the question. That was his position then. I am just asking him to repeat the same words as he used then; that he would never campaign to leave the European Union. Yes or no?

I answered that question the last time round. I want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union, but we need the reform. We have a plan. The right hon. Gentleman has no plan. We say it is time to get out of ever-closer union. What do the Opposition say? Nothing. We say, “You have to safeguard the single market.” What do they say? Nothing. We say, “You have to reform immigration.” What do they say? Nothing. Absolutely feeble. That is why he faces a crisis in his leadership: because he has nothing to say about the deficit; nothing to say about the economy; nothing to say about welfare; and nothing to say about Europe. And the whole country can see they have a nothing Leader of the Opposition.

There is no point in the Prime Minister giving us the “fight them on the beaches” speech, because the last time he tried that was over Jean-Claude Juncker and he lost 26 votes to two. That is his leadership in Europe. Everyone will have heard his weasel words. He will not be straight with his Back Benchers and he will not be straight with the British people. He had a referendum on the alternative vote, and his position was crystal clear—he was for no. He had a referendum on Scotland, and his position was crystal clear—it was no. He wants a referendum on the EU. No ifs, no buts: is he for in or for out?

The right hon. Gentleman is asking me about a referendum that he will not support; the Labour party is so chicken when it comes to trusting the British people. His position is completely unbelievable. We say renegotiate, hold the referendum and let the British people make their choice. He will not even support a referendum. He also says that we should listen to Back Benchers. Perhaps he should try listening to the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) who, on immigration, said:

“Let’s be honest about it.”

He said:

“If you make a mistake you should say sorry.”

So let me ask again: why will he not have a referendum, and will he apologise for the mess on immigration?

British business will be holding their heads in their hands about a Prime Minister who cannot say that he wants to stay in the European Union. His renegotiation is going nowhere. He is caught between his Back Benchers who want to leave and our national interest that demands we stay. That is why on Europe, he dare not say yes and he dare not say no. He is a “don’t know” Prime Minister.

I am afraid, Mr Speaker, that this is what happens if we write our questions before we listen to the answer. I could not be clearer: I want Britain to stay in a reformed European Union. Unlike the Labour party, we have a plan to get that reform and hold that referendum. This comes at the end of a week when the last Labour Chancellor said that the Tories are right over a referendum; the shadow Deputy Leader of the House said that Labour is in a dreadful position; and John Prescott said that Labour had a problem communicating in English. [Interruption] That is it. When you get a lecture from John Prescott on the English language, you are really in trouble. Everyone can see it: a leader in crisis and a party with nowhere to go.

Q15. May I ask the Prime Minister a sensible question? Does he welcome the fact that, for the first time ever, all local authorities, business leaders and local enterprise partnerships in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall have reached agreement on the improvements necessary to upgrade the transport infrastructure of the south-west? Will he agree to meet a small delegation from the peninsula so that we can discuss those proposals and he can help us put in place a long-term connectivity plan? (905887)

I am happy to have that meeting with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right about the need to upgrade the transport links to the south-west, which is why we have been carrying out the rail study. Even before that, we have spent more than £31 million on important rail improvements. A number of road improvements, including the Kingskerswell bypass, have already been put in place. Our roads programme includes major and important work for the south-west. But I am happy to hold that meeting.

Q2. Today’s Health Committee report on mental health services for children and young people describes how budgets have been frozen or cut, services are being closed and young people are being sent hundreds of miles away from their families or kept in police cells because there are no beds. Is that what the Prime Minister means by parity of esteem for mental health services? (905874)

We have taken a whole series of steps in difficult economic circumstances, of which the first is parity of esteem in the NHS constitution. We have seen a big expansion of talking therapies that were not available under the previous Government; we have introduced for the first time a waiting time standard for young people with psychosis, which never existed under the previous Labour Government; and we have, for the first time, a Minister with dedicated responsibility for child and adolescent mental health services. Of course much more needs to be done. The demands on our mental health services are very great, but the steps that I have mentioned have not been taken by previous Governments. We have managed to take them because we have put the money in and made important reforms to get rid of bureaucracy. All of those things are possible only if there is a strong economy backing a strong NHS.

Q3. On Saturday, the fountains of Trafalgar square, right through to Lancaster museum and Fleetwood’s Marine hall, were lit purple to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. Will the Prime Minister look very carefully at the report produced last week by the all-party group on pancreatic cancer, with the support of Pancreatic Cancer UK, calling for more research into this dreadful disease before it becomes Britain’s fourth biggest killer in terms of cancer? (905875)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and the all-party group for the work that they do. I know how close this issue is to his heart and how much he feels this personally. The difficult situation here is that the one-year survival rate for those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is about 20% and the five-year survival rate is only 5%, and that is not good enough. We are spending more money on research. We are investing a record £800 million over five years in a series of biomedical research centres, including the Liverpool pancreas biomedical research unit. We need the research to go in and for these new treatments to be properly tested so that we can improve these cancer survival rates as we have for other cancers.

Four weeks ago, a 150-year-old industry in my constituency announced that it will be pulling out of Northern Ireland, with the loss of 900 jobs—the equivalent of 32,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. To say that is a body blow would be an understatement. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and industry leaders to see if we can find a strategy and a way of keeping some of those jobs in Northern Ireland?

I am very happy to discuss this with the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps on a forthcoming visit to Northern Ireland, we might be able to meet in Ulster and discuss these issues. I think the issue he refers to is also plain paper packaging, where I want to see us make progress; I think there are important health benefits there. I am happy to discuss the issue with him.

Q4. My right hon. Friend may be aware that my constituents Dr and Mrs Turner’s granddaughter died of the dreadful disease meningitis B. Thirty babies die of this a year. Much more worryingly, 300 babies are severely maimed; indeed, a baby in Bristol at the moment is facing quadruple amputations. There is a licensed and safe vaccine available; the issue is cost. Will my right hon. Friend please intervene to see what can be done to resolve this issue? (905876)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing up this issue. I am certainly keen to help if I can. If we were able to introduce a vaccine, I think we would be the first country in the world to do so nationally. But as he says, there are issues. That is why, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, we are having discussions with the producer of the vaccine to see whether we can find a cost-effective way of doing this. The case that he raises, and many other heartbreaking cases, show how desirable it is to make progress on this issue.

Q5. People in Devon face being denied operations if they are overweight or smokers, as well as the loss of all fertility treatment, cataract operations restricted to just one eye, and the closure of Exeter’s very successful walk-in centre, all because of the unprecedented financial crisis facing my local NHS. Does the Prime Minister still think that his massive and costly reorganisation has been a success? (905877)

What we did by reducing the bureaucracy in the NHS is save £5 billion in this Parliament. That is why, nationally, there are over 8,000 more doctors and 2,500 more nurses. We have been able to do that only because there are 20,000 fewer administrators in the NHS. Those are the figures.

The right hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but those are the figures. His local clinical commissioning group is getting an £18 million cash increase in the next year, and it is going to get an additional £19 million through the Better Care fund, so locally there should be improvements in services rather than the picture he paints.

I am concerned that the revised criteria for exams in religious studies have yet to be published by the Department for Education. I am informed that the hold-up is in No. 10. Can the Prime Minister confirm that this is not the case and that they will be published very soon?

I will look carefully at the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. It is important to get right the issue of how religious education is carried out. If there is a blockage in my office I will make sure that I go into Dyno-Rod mode and try to get rid of it.

Q6. At his party conference, the Prime Minister promised that, if re-elected, he would cut income tax by £7 billion. That money has got to come from somewhere, so just how big an increase in VAT has he got in mind this time? (905878)

We have demonstrated in this Parliament that if you manage the economy properly, it is possible to reduce spending, to reduce the deficit and to reduce taxes at the same time. That is exactly what we have done. During this Parliament, we have taken the personal allowance—the amount people can earn before paying income tax—from about £6,000 to £10,500. [Interruption.] I know the Labour party does not want to hear good news, but people are paying less income tax under this Government. We have taken 3 million people out of income tax altogether. If re-elected, we want to raise to £12,500 the amount of money that people can earn before they start paying income tax. Why do we want to do this? Because Government Members think people should have more of their own money to spend as they choose.

Yesterday’s announcement by Rolls-Royce of significant job losses across the country will devastate people and homes, and could well damage our national engineering skills base. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and employee representatives from Rolls-Royce to see if we can try to minimise the effect of this by finding alternative engineering jobs and if we can try to preserve our vital engineering expertise? Will he reassure my constituents in Filton that he will continue to champion our world-renowned and world-class defence export manufacturing?

I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that I will do everything I can to champion companies such as Rolls-Royce, whether in civil aerospace or defence aerospace. I try to take it on as many of my trade missions as possible, because it is an absolutely world-class, world-beating company. Obviously, it is disappointing that it plans to reduce the number of people it employs. It is not yet clear how many of those job reductions will be here in the UK. Of course, Rolls-Royce employs over 25,000 people in the UK. If we look at what has happened to the aerospace industry over the past four years, we see that employment is up by 10%, exports are up by 48% and turnover is up by a fifth. This is a successful industry that is being backed by our modern industrial strategy, but we need to do everything we can to make sure this company, and others like it, continue to succeed in the years ahead.

Q7. In 2010, Warrington had 127 full-time equivalent GPs. At the last count, it had 97, and some of my constituents are waiting up to two weeks for an appointment. Is the Prime Minister’s failure to provide access to basic health care a result of deliberate policy, or is it simply carelessness? (905879)

First of all, there are 1,000 more GPs across the country than there were in 2010. If the hon. Lady wants to know what has happened in Warrington under this Government: when I became Prime Minister, 130 people were waiting a year for an operation; today, that number is zero. That is what has happened under this Government. Because we are making the money available, it is possible to have more GPs coming into an area, alongside the 1,000 we have already introduced.

At a time of economic crisis, the stability of the coalition has helped us to build a stronger economy. Does the Prime Minister agree that, in creating a fairer society, any further rise in the tax allowance should not be done on the backs of the poor?

It has been possible in this Parliament to raise the personal allowance to take some of the poorest people out of tax—3 million people have been taken out of tax, with a tax cut for 26 million people—at the same time as making decisions that are fair for all, such as, for instance, making sure the NHS gets an extra £12.7 billion. Of course, we do have to make difficult decisions. Some of the difficult decisions we have made have been looking at things such as the Home Office budget, where the police are being far more efficient than they were, and making changes to welfare, each and every one of which has been opposed by the Labour party. The fact is that if you manage the national finances carefully, get our economy to grow properly and ignore the shadow Chancellor, who nearly bankrupted the country, you can do these things together.

Q8. After reading yesterday’s front page of The Times, may I welcome the Prime Minister’s late conversion to ID cards, even if they are—for now—virtual and without Labour’s biometric functionality? If the Prime Minister intends to keep his promise to keep our borders safe and secure, will he tell the House when the system will be in place, and why it has taken him so long? (905880)

It is a very interesting development that Labour Members are now back in favour of ID cards. I thought even they had seen the folly of their ways. We are introducing proper border checks so that we can count people in and count people out—something that was never available under Labour, and something that Labour actually helped to get rid of. We are also ensuring that we know more about those who are coming and when they have left.

My right hon. Friend will recall our support for the training of Libyan troops at Bassingbourn barracks in my constituency. Does he share my concern that the programme failed to maintain discipline, and the consequences of that were very serious in my local community? Will the Ministry of Defence account fully to my constituents for the failures in the delivery of the programme, and does the Prime Minister agree that the Libyan soldiers should now be repatriated to Libya, and that there is no basis for any of them to seek or receive asylum in this country?

I agree with my right hon. Friend on every front. What has happened at Bassingbourn in Cambridgeshire is completely unacceptable. These are criminal actions, and I have asked the Chief of the Defence Staff for a report into that. A decision was taken at the National Security Council, which I chaired on 28 October, to end the training altogether. The trainees will be returning to Libya in the coming days and, in the meantime, all unescorted visits from the camp have been stopped altogether.

Q9. Which does the Prime Minister believe is more immoral—raising VAT to 20%, or concealing the intention to do so? (905881)

I will tell the hon. Lady what is immoral, and that is racking up debts for our children that we are not prepared to pay ourselves. That is what we inherited. We inherited the biggest budget deficit of any country anywhere in the world. That is the moral—or rather immoral—inheritance that we received from the Labour party.

Q10. Returning to the economy, is the Prime Minister aware that the region with the most tech start-ups outside London, the fastest rate of growth in private sector businesses over the last quarter, and the highest rise in the value of exports, is the north-east of England? Does he agree that we should stick to the long-term economic plan so that we can all have the benefit of that? (905882)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is notable when we look at things like small business creation, exports and investment that growth is coming from around the country, including the north-east. That is a huge contrast with 13 years of Labour when in our economy, for every 10 jobs created in the south only one was created in the north. That is the record of the last Labour Government. We need to increase entrepreneurialism and start-ups in every part of our country—that is what start-up loans and the enterprise allowance scheme are doing. There is a new spirit of enterprise in Britain, and this Government are backing it.

Q11. In 2012 my constituent, Sam Boon, died while on a World Challenge trip to Morocco. He was 17. The coroner was so concerned at the multiple failings that she issued a section 28 report to the Minister for Schools to prevent future deaths. There are British safety standards, but they are entirely voluntary. Why is adherence to those standards not compulsory, so that no other parent has to suffer like Mr and Mrs Boon? (905883)

I would like to look carefully at the case the hon. Lady has mentioned and write to her about it. It is important to ensure that safety standards are upheld, and to try to prevent tragedies such as the one she refers to.

The Government have been absolutely right to push for 90% availability of superfast broadband by next year, and for universal basic broadband services. Is the Prime Minister aware that those targets could be missed even in urban areas such as Cheltenham, and will he ask Ministers to ensure that local delivery matches the Government’s ambition?

I will certainly do that. We review very regularly the performance of broadband targets, because that is absolutely essential, particularly for rural areas. If someone is left off superfast broadband, it is much more difficult to take part in the modern economy. Progress has been very good, and it has made a big difference that British Telecom is prepared to publish all the areas not yet covered, so that other companies can come in and see what they are able to provide. We are also making available broadband vouchers for small businesses, which are very successful, and we can look to see whether we can expand that. I am convinced that spreading broadband right around the country is one of the most important priorities for this Government.

Q12. Since the Prime Minister likes to bang on about Labour overspending, is he aware that in Labour’s 11 years before the crash in 2008 the biggest deficit was 3.3% of GDP, whereas the Thatcher and Major Governments racked up deficits bigger than that in 10 out of their 18 years? So who are the over- spenders? It is a no-brainer. (905884)

There is only one problem with what the right hon. Gentleman says, which is that the deficit that Labour left, and we inherited, was 11.5% of GDP. It was bigger than almost any other country’s anywhere in the world. If he does not believe me, he can listen to his own shadow Chancellor, who said this:

“I think that the fact that you had the massive, global financial crisis which happened on our watch meant that people saw their living standards hit…I don’t think we would be being straight with people if we only said it was the financial crisis. It was also after 13 years in government we had made some mistakes.”

There we have it—some mistakes. You bet there were mistakes: overspending, over-borrowing, overtaxing, wasteful welfare, bloated expenditure. A complete and utter failure and it is extraordinary they are still sitting there on the Front Bench.

The Prime Minister will be aware that millions of people have been to see the 888,246 poppies at the Tower of London, designed and commissioned by Paul Cummins from Derby. Will he congratulate the hundreds of volunteers who have helped to make them in Derby, and the hundreds and hundred of volunteers who helped to plant them, to commemorate this very important centenary?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising all those who have been involved in this extraordinary project, which has I think brought forward from the British public a huge amount of reverence for those who have given their lives and served our country. The numbers going to see this display have been truly extraordinary. It is worth remembering that out of this display a lot of good will come, because, as I understand it, the poppies are being auctioned to raise a lot of money for military and veterans charities that will be there to do good in many years to come. It is an extraordinary display and one that the country can be very proud of.

Q13. In the past 12 months, it is estimated that 24,000 people have died from diabetes-related complications. Next Friday is world diabetes day. As one of the 3.2 million diabetics, may I urge the Prime Minister to do all he can to raise awareness on this issue, in particular to introduce measures that will reduce the amount of sugar in our food and drink? We can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes and we can save lives. (905885)

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the importance of this issue. The consequences of diabetes, in terms of appalling things such as leg amputations, cost the NHS literally billions of pounds a year. If we can get better at preventing diabetes, and then testing and better at helping diabetics themselves, we can make huge savings while improving people’s quality of life.

I gather the right hon. Gentleman also wants me to try to ban sugar and fizzy drinks in No. 10 Downing street for 24 hours. I will try to negotiate that with my children. He also, as I understand it, wants me to light my home blue. That is something I am all in favour of—keeping it that way for some time to come.

HS3 and other improvements to rail connectivity in the north-west are important, but the recent parliamentary approval given to the Able UK development in northern Lincolnshire emphasises the importance of connections on the south trans-Pennine route between Cleethorpes and Manchester. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that my constituency and northern Lincolnshire will figure in future proposals to improve connectivity, so that the area can benefit from the Government’s long-term economic plan?

I certainly assure my hon. Friend that we are looking at all the elements of east-west connectivity and trying to make sure that we bring the benefits of faster journey times, greater capacity and electrification to all parts of the country. I know the Chancellor was listening very carefully to the statement he made.