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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 26 November 2014


The Secretary of State was asked—

Smith Commission

1. If he will give guidance to the Smith commission on ensuring that its proposals do not hamper cross-border trade with the north of England. (906203)

At the outset of this process, Lord Smith set out a number of guiding principles underpinning cross-party talks. They included the principle that the proposals should strengthen Scottish devolution and the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom, and that they should not cause detriment to the UK as a whole or to any of its constituent parts.

My constituents campaigned very strongly so that we remained “better together”, and whether that related to farmers, business, trade or joint air passenger duty, it continues. Does the Minister welcome the borderlands initiative between local authorities on either side of the border?

I very much welcome the borderlands initiative, which is an excellent example of cross-border working. Councils are working together across the Scottish and English borders to maximise economic and cultural opportunities.

I understand that the Smith commission has written to a number of companies asking for their views on the question of what should be devolved. Companies in my constituency are telling me that if Scotland were to be given some of the powers that are being considered, they would leave Scotland. Is that good or bad?

The Smith commission has engaged in a widespread consultation with all aspects of Scottish society. I understand that there were some 14,000 submissions, and the commission will obviously look closely at all of them.

What everyone wants, in Scotland and in England, is the certainty of knowing how we are to move forward. My party is committed to including a Scotland Bill in the Queen’s Speech when we win the general election next May. Will the Minister’s party make the same commitment?

I do not share the hon. Lady’s arrogance, but what I do share is the commitment to delivering the Smith commission’s proposals. We have made it absolutely clear that draft legislation will be produced by 25 January next year, and there will be a commitment to enact that legislation in the next Parliament.

A wide range of proposals have been submitted to the Smith commission which would foster economic growth, job-creating powers, and the ability to tackle social inequality. Is the Minister confident that the commission will recommend the devolution of corporation tax, job-creating powers and the setting of a minimum wage?

I am not going to prejudge the Smith commission. All that I know in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s proposals is that his party had an opportunity to select him as one of its commissioners so that he could argue for those measures, and, as far as I am aware, it did not do so.

Following the independence referendum, survey evidence in Scotland showed that 71% of Scottish respondents wanted the Scottish Parliament to control all taxation raised in Scotland, 66% wanted devo-max—that is, the devolution of all areas of Government policy except defence and foreign affairs—and 75% wanted control of the welfare and benefits system to be devolved. Is the Minister confident that the Smith commission will recommend the devolution of those powers?

The Smith commission includes two representatives of the Scottish National party, and is seeking to reach cross-party agreement. What we all know is that 55% of people in Scotland—more than 2 million—voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The Smith commission will report tomorrow. Its report will lay the foundations for greater devolution for Scotland and, hopefully, the devolution of powers from Edinburgh, at the centre, to a more local level. The Minister referred to a closer working relationship between the borderland areas in the north of England and the south of Scotland. Will he guarantee that whatever the Smith commission delivers will add up fiscally, to ensure that it does not work to the detriment of the people of Scotland?

That is one of the principles guiding the Smith commission’s work. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that, notwithstanding the commission’s recommendations on powers for the Scottish Parliament and more devolution in Scotland, in the south of Scotland we need to continue to work with our friends and neighbours in the north of England.


2. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on shipbuilding on the Clyde. (906204)

First, I would like to place on record my congratulations to Nicola Sturgeon on her recent election as Scotland’s First Minister. I spoke to her on the evening of her election and made the point that Her Majesty’s Government here look forward to working with her and her colleagues in the way I believe the people of Scotland would want.

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues affecting Scotland, including shipbuilding on the Clyde, most recently last week with my right hon. colleague the Secretary of State for Defence, during which he reiterated his recent public statement underlining that complex UK warships are built only in UK shipyards. He plans to visit the Clyde again shortly.

I am sure many on the Opposition Benches would echo the comments about the new First Minister and wish her well.

The Secretary of State gave a slightly nuanced answer. I wonder if he will state categorically that the Type 26 frigates will be built, and perhaps he could throw some light on why the First Sea Lord felt he could make the comments that threw into doubt the proposals for those frigates.

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on finding nuance where absolutely none was intended. The First Sea Lord will, of course, speak for himself, but she will be aware that questions of contract are down to Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, and she will no doubt have seen, as other Members did, the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday making it very clear that that is where the orders will go.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision by the people of Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom has been exceptionally good news for defence shipbuilding on the Clyde, that defence is an extremely important component of the United Kingdom and that the prospect of more jobs arising out of the Type 26 global combat ship, for which I had some responsibility in the Ministry of Defence, should mean that there will be a really good assurance of jobs on the Clyde in Scotland?

Indeed, the efforts of the MOD—and I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend during his time as a Defence Minister—are exceptionally good news for jobs in shipbuilding on the Clyde. It is also good news for the Royal Navy, because that is where the expertise and the body of skills lie, so that is the best place for these ships to be built.

Are admirals self-employed? Whatever possessed the First Sea Lord to suggest that these ships would not be built on the Clyde? It is clear that separation shuts shipyards, not Scotland being part of the United Kingdom. Has the Admiral been keel-hauled or walked the plank, or would it be better if he was invited to meet the Scottish Affairs Committee?

Having appeared before the hon. Gentleman’s Committee on a number of occasions, I have a small suspicion that of the various options he outlined the last one is the least attractive. As I have said, the First Sea Lord will speak for himself. I have no doubt that in making his comments he felt he was speaking in the best interests of the Navy, but as I have said, the question of contracts is to be determined by Ministers, and the Secretary of State for Defence could not be clearer in his comments in this regard.

My right hon. Friend will understand that, as someone who lived close to Yarrows shipyard for quite a long part of my life, I have a particular attachment, and indeed affection, for the notion of shipbuilding on the Clyde. Will he accept that in the event that orders from the MOD are no longer placed, the impact will be not just on jobs directly associated with the construction of ships, but on all those companies on both banks of the Clyde that supply goods and services to BAE Systems?

Indeed, that is the case. Like my right hon. and learned Friend, I have my own family associations with shipbuilding on the Clyde, and I think we are probably typical of many in Scotland today. The truth of the matter is that if that business had been lost, which of course would have been a consequence of a yes vote, the implications would have been profound not just for those who are directly employed in the shipyards, but for the supply chain right across Scotland.

Will the right hon. Gentleman go back to the Defence Secretary to discuss concerns about slippage in the programme, in order to allay fears about exactly when the work is likely to come to the Clyde and to the work force whose livelihoods depend on it?

I can assure the hon. Lady that I have regular contact with the shipbuilding unions on the Clyde. I listen to their concerns and I hope that I can give them some assurance of the Government’s intentions. However, there must be commercial rigour in the laying of those contracts, and it would be inappropriate for the Government to make any announcements before that point has been reached. I do hope that we have all, on both sides of the House, learned the lessons of the past in that regard.

I am the MP for the Scotstoun yard on the Clyde, in which it has been said that £200 million is to be invested to turn it into a state-of-the-art facility. Given that thousands of jobs are at risk there, is it not time that the First Sea Lord was sacked for causing my constituents, the people who work in my yard, such worry? This is ridiculous and he should stand down immediately.

Perhaps I could just caution the House against getting too excited about the comments—or, indeed, the future—of the First Sea Lord. I cannot over-emphasise the fact that the decisions on those contracts are made by Ministers, and that those Ministers are quite clear that our complex warships are built only in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman should be able to give that assurance to his constituents.

The Scottish Government took action in the summer to secure the future of the Ferguson shipyard, the last remaining commercial shipyard on the Clyde. Given the doubts that have been cast over the UK Government’s commitment to bringing the Type 26 frigate contracts to the Clyde, will the Government publish the commercial principles agreement with BAE Systems, so that there can be transparency in the process?

Let us reflect for a second on what the hon. Lady has just said. There is no doubt about the commitment to bring the T26 ships to the Clyde. That is an absolute commitment—[Interruption.]

Order. The parliamentary leader of the Scottish National party is behaving as though he were a kind of pre-programmed computer with a monotonous yell. He should stick to sucking his glasses. We do not need to hear that. He wants to be a statesman, but that is not statesmanlike.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) behaves exactly as we all expect him to. We have come to expect no more of him than that. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) asked about the publication of the agreement. She should raise that matter with the appropriate Department.

Living Wage

The Government support businesses that choose to pay the living wage, where it is affordable and does not cost jobs. Decisions on what wages to set, above the national minimum wage, are for employers and workers. However, we encourage employers to pay the living wage where possible.

Last week, Glasgow Celtic, the football club that I support—indeed, I am a season ticket holder—announced that anyone working there who was not on the living wage would be put on to it. That will mean a major increase for many of the club’s employees. Where Celtic leads, many others follow. We have only to look back to 1967 when Celtic became the first British club to win the European cup. They were followed, famously, by Manchester United in 1968—

What can the Minister do to ensure that more organisations and major employers in Scotland pay the living wage?

On this occasion, I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that where Celtic football club has led, others should follow. We want to encourage all employers who are in a position to do so to pay the living wage.

Pay is one of the most important tools in helping to fight poverty, but it also makes perfect business sense. The Government appear to have absolutely no plans to encourage employers to pay the living wage. The Minister will also be aware that the Scottish National party Government have just refused to put the living wage into Government contracts. Should not the Government be supporting Labour’s “make work pay” contracts, which would share tax benefits with employers, thereby encouraging them to pay the living wage?

I completely refute the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the Government are not encouraging employers to pay the minimum wage where they are in a position to do so and it does not cost jobs. This Government’s commitment to those on low pay is clear from the way in which we have raised the personal allowance. His party’s position is far from clear—Labour claimed that it would reduce the national minimum wage to a level that is actually lower than it is projected to be in 2020.

As we approach the first anniversary of the tragedy, I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering the victims of the Clutha helicopter crash that happened in my own city. Our thoughts will be with the victims and their families this Saturday.

Does the Minister agree that the living wage is a means of addressing the scandal of low pay in Scotland, and that tackling low pay should be a higher priority for this Government? In the light of that, can he tell the House how many people in Scotland were paid below the minimum wage in the past year?

I join the hon. Lady in highlighting the first anniversary of the terrible Clutha tragedy. It is a credit to all Members of this House and particularly to the people of Glasgow that not just at the time but throughout the past year they have responded to that.

The hon. Lady will know that unlike the Labour Government, this Government have been keen to ease the procedures whereby those who pay below the minimum wage are named and shamed. Earlier this year 25 employers that had not paid the minimum wage were named, three of which were in Scotland.

That is a most disappointing answer. In fact, 11,000 people in Scotland are paid below the minimum wage, and it is shameful that neither the Minister nor the Government know that figure. In the past two years there has not been a single prosecution, and only two companies in Scotland have been named and shamed. Eleven thousand people in Scotland are not paid what they are entitled to. Given the gross failure of this Government properly to enforce the national minimum wage, should not the Minister apologise to those 11,000 people who have been failed by this Government? He does not even know who they are.

It is the hon. Lady who needs to apologise. Anyone watching this exchange would think that there had been were prosecutions under the previous Government. There were absolutely none. If she wants to get her facts right, I can tell her that three companies have been named and shamed in Scotland. They are Sun Shack Ltd in Hamilton, Cargilfield School Ltd in Edinburgh and Perth Hotels Ltd in Perth. If she has the details of additional people who are not receiving the minimum wage, rather than political point-scoring in this House, she should take their details to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs so that their employers can be dealt with.

Smith Commission

4. When he expects the Smith commission to publish its report; and what steps are planned to implement its findings. (906206)

6. When he expects the Smith commission to publish its report; and what steps are planned to implement its findings. (906208)

Lord Smith is expected to publish his heads of agreement soon. In accordance with the timetable, this Government will produce draft clauses by 25 January. I shall, of course, with your assistance, Mr Speaker, endeavour to keep the House informed of all developments.

I was delighted that the people of Scotland voted to keep Carlisle at the centre of the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that we fulfil the commitments made to Scotland and ensure that there is a tight but sensible timetable to bring these commitments to law?

I could not agree more. The commitment was made in all good faith and solemnity by the party leaders during the referendum campaign. It will be kept according to the timetable previously outlined.

Is the Secretary of State confident that the Scottish Government will support the proposals, or will they begrudge what is offered to them?

The Scottish Government—or at least the Scottish National party—are taking part in the Smith process. I believe that John Swinney, their nomination as one of their commissioners, is an honourable man who would not do that in anything other than good faith. I very much hope he and his party will not prove me wrong on that.

10. Is the Secretary of State aware that devolution, like Union, is a principle and not an expedient, so it should apply to all the nations of the United Kingdom, Scotland included? Is he also aware of a letter signed by Mayor Boris Johnson, Councillor Sir Richard Leese and all the senior local government officers and leaders asking for the same package to be applied—or for consideration to be given to its application—to England as Lord Smith wishes to apply to Scotland? (906212)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of what devolution is actually about. I say to him, however, that in Scotland we have debated our constitutional future over decades. Change can be achieved only by building the broadest possible consensus from the lowest possible level up, taking in parties outside the political process. The people of England will need to do that if they are to have a better constitutional future.

13. Does the Secretary of State accept that the issue of fracking and exploring for minerals in Scotland is one legitimately looked at by the Smith commission? If it recommends that that goes to Scotland, it will stop the clock on using reserve powers and will let Scotland decide about fracking. (906215)

Like everybody else, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait to see what recommendations come from the Smith commission. The Government were responsible for setting it up and we will deliver on the heads of agreement when they are published, but it would not be appropriate for me, standing at this Dispatch Box now, to second-guess what Lord Smith is going to say.

Superfast Broadband

The Government’s superfast broadband roll-out programme has invested £120 million, provided to the Scottish Government to deliver rural broadband services across Scotland. More than 150,000 Scottish homes and businesses now have access to broadband from the work done so far.

The Secretary of State will be aware that 69% of UK premises have access to broadband whereas the figure for Scotland is only 48%. Does he agree that the situation for my constituents in Torhead Farm is unacceptable? That housing scheme is served by two cabinets, one in the commercial scheme and the other in the community scheme, so one person has access to commercial broadband whereas their neighbour does not, because of the Scottish Government’s failing scheme. Can he help the Scottish Government to get a grip of this, so that everyone gets access to broadband services?

As the hon. Gentleman says, the responsibility for the delivery of this money and the improvements that can come from it has been given to the Scottish Government. I hear similar stories to the one he mentioned as I go across Scotland; it is clear that there are problems. If he wishes to furnish me with the details, I will be more than happy to take up the matter with the Scottish Government.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent project to roll out fibre and broadband in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire, with welcome funding from this Government. Is he as surprised as I am to learn that neither Openreach, nor the Highlands and Islands Enterprise is either capable or willing to say who will benefit? What can we do to get transparency into this process, so that these communities know what they are getting?

I am indeed aware of the projects to which my right hon. Friend refers, and I share his disappointment that, apparently, information as fundamental as that has not been given to his constituents. It is difficult to see why people would want to keep it a secret.

8. Superfast broadband could be assisted by the high data speeds given by 4G mobile. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that high data speed 4G comes to rural and island areas sooner rather than later? (906210)

The hon. Gentleman rightly identifies 4G as an opportunity for communities of the sort that he and I represent. He will be aware of the money that has been put into the mobile infrastructure project by this Government. That work is going on and will ultimately assist in reaching 4G.

Income Tax

7. What progress has been made on the implementation of a Scottish rate of income tax; and if he will make a statement. (906209)

Implementation of the Scottish rate of income tax is being led by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and the Work programme includes representatives from HM Treasury, the Scotland Office and Scottish Government. The project is handling the detail of the implementation and operation of the Scottish rate and is on track to make the necessary changes in readiness for April 2016.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Office for Budget Responsibility has consistently reported that the Scottish tax share of income tax is reducing, which is largely due to the fact that we have a higher proportion of basic rate taxpayers. Will he tell us what discussions he has held on how that will be reflected in the final transitional settlement when the Scottish Government take control of the share of Scottish tax?

That is exactly the sort of detail that informs the ongoing discussions between the Treasury and the Scottish Government in relation to the necessary adjustments to the block grant.

So that the Scottish National party can get its views on income tax heard, does the Secretary of State think that it, and not the Liberal Democrats, should be in the leaders’ debate as it is polling more than the Liberal Democrats?

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


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.

In April 2010, I agreed with the Prime Minister and Nick that VAT was a regressive tax. Indeed the Prime Minister went further and said that it was far more regressive than income tax. He then went on to break his pledge to the British people and hiked up VAT to 20%. May I give him an opportunity to restore his credibility on VAT and ask him to rule it out completely to pay for any future income tax cuts?

Our plans involve not putting up taxes, but continuing to grow our economy and create jobs. With regard to the long-term economic plan, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that a new statistic has come out today. We used to say that there were 400,000 new businesses in Britain. I can now tell the House that, since 2010, there are 760,000 new businesses.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the one topic that is not being discussed today in the Opposition day debate is the Welsh health service? Sadly, my mother died under the Welsh health service. At her inquest, it was revealed that ambulances routinely had kit that had not been checked and things that had been left out. Does he share my concern that it has taken the death of another person in Wales to get a change to this service?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that there is a debate on Wales in the House today, but not a debate about the health service in Wales. We should have such a debate because the health service in Wales made the decision to cut the NHS budget rather than to increase it, as we have done in England. It has not met an NHS target on cancer or waiting times since 2008. The NHS in Wales is in trouble and that is not because of hard-working doctors and nurses, but because of a Labour Administration who cut the NHS and failed to reform it.

Everyone was appalled by the abuse of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View. It is a basic obligation of a civilised society to treat everyone, especially the most vulnerable, with respect and dignity. A couple of years ago, the Government set the aim of moving people into the community and out of these assessment and treatment units. Today’s report shows that that has not happened. Can we today, across the House, reaffirm that aim?

We should absolutely reaffirm that aim. Anyone who, like me, watched the television programme on Winterbourne View would have been absolutely shocked at the way in which people with learning disabilities are treated. Everybody knows that that has been a problem for years and decades—not for a few months—and that we have to do more to get people out of hospitals and into loving and caring homes in the community. The reason why we commissioned this report from Sir Stephen Bubb, and it is an excellent report, is that the commitment to get all the people out of the hospitals had not been met. Sir Stephen has come up with good ideas for how we bring together the health service and local authorities to ensure that people with learning disabilities are treated with respect.

I am grateful for that answer, but there are still more people with learning disabilities moving into institutional care than there are moving out of it, which is taking them away from their families and friends. Will the Prime Minister promise today that there will be a clear timetable so that the promises made to people with learning disabilities and their families are kept?

I do not want to set out a timetable that it is not possible to meet. We have just received the report from Stephen Bubb. He says clearly:

“it’s…unfair to blame the Government, I think it’s been a system failing, and I am very keen not to put blame anywhere, I am very keen that we move on.”

Indeed, we should move on and plan properly how we commission care and places in the community, using local authorities as well as the NHS, so that we respond to the report in good time, because otherwise we will make the same mistake again.

I hope that the Prime Minister will take the report away and consider setting out a timetable, because a promise was made, and this is about the future and doing right by people with learning disabilities and their families.

I want to turn to the wider issue of the NHS. We saw a report this week of a patient waiting 35 hours in A and E. Across England, A and Es including Scunthorpe, Middlesbrough and King’s Lynn are telling patients not to turn up. We have seen report after report of patients waiting hours for ambulances. Does this represent more than some isolated incidents, and actually show an NHS in England at breaking point?

The figures show that, yes, the NHS is under pressure. Last week, 429,000 people presented at accident and emergency units across England, which is 3,000 more patients every day than under the previous Government. What has happened is a big increase in accident and emergency admissions. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the target is to see 95% of people within four hours. The running total for this year is 94.7%, so the figure is 0.3% below what we are meant to achieve. The key thing is what we are going to do to respond to these problems in A and E. We are putting £700 million more into the NHS this year, and we are able to do that only because we have a strong and growing economy. That is the key: you can have a strong NHS only if you have a strong economy.

The truth is that the crisis in A and E is a symptom of the crisis in elderly care and in relation to getting to see a GP. One of the biggest problems is that one in four people is unable to see a GP within a week, and we even heard yesterday from the Health Secretary that that is a problem. What does it say about the NHS when the Health Secretary says that he goes to A and E because he cannot get a GP appointment?

Yet again, the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House to raise a problem that he created. Following the Labour party’s GP contract, 90% of doctors opted out of out-of-hours care. That is why we are putting in place arrangements for seven-day opening for GPs, and 7 million people already have access to that. I repeat: if you cannot run the economy, you cannot run the NHS—and he could not run either.

The truth is that we introduced evening and weekend opening; the Prime Minister cut it. We opened walk-in centres; he shut them. He promised to improve GP access, but he has not delivered it, and this is happening on his watch. Today, the King’s Fund says that without an emergency injection of resources, the NHS will face financial meltdown. This is exactly the same pattern that we saw under the previous Tory Government: winter crisis followed by emergency bail-outs. Is it not a damning indictment of the Prime Minister’s record on the NHS that we are back to those days?

What we have is this Government putting £12.7 billion more into the NHS, and that is why we have 1,200 more nurses, 8,000 more doctors and patients being treated with greater care. The real point is this: the right hon. Gentleman famously forgot to mention the deficit, and we know what happens when you forget about the deficit. Look what happened to health care spending in Portugal: cut by 17%. Look what happened to health care spending in Greece: cut by 14%. He cannot run the economy and he cannot run the NHS—he has no plan for either.

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what is happening. Deficits are rising right across the NHS because of his mismanagement—his top-down reorganisation that nobody wanted and nobody voted for. He has turned the NHS from a service that was succeeding to a service in crisis, and it is a crisis of his making. He closed the walk-in centres. He introduced the top-down reorganisation. He cancelled the GP target so that people could get in to see their general practitioner. He has broken his promises. Only a Labour Government can save the national health service.

What the right hon. Gentleman forgets is that when we put £12.7 billion into the NHS, his shadow Health Secretary said it was irresponsible. It is only because we have safeguarded the economy that we can safeguard the NHS. The fact is, he forgets the deficit, his shadow Health Secretary forgets Mid Staffs, and both of them have forgotten that we only get a strong health service with a strong economy.

Inciner8, a manufacturing company in my constituency, provides portable incinerators to the United Nations that are crucial and vital in addressing the issue of Ebola. It is now offering to donate a further £200,000-worth of equipment if the Government will match it. Will the Government consider this proposal?

I will certainly look at the proposal. After all, we backed the Ebola fundraising that was very effective in that excellent England-Scotland international, which raised a serious amount of money for Ebola, and we also acted on the Band Aid single, so we will have a close look at what the hon. Gentleman says.

Q2. A recent report by the respected charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, found that the Government’s unfair tax and benefit changes had resulted in the poorest half of households losing out, while the top 1% had seen their incomes rocket. That makes me feel extremely angry. What does it make the Prime Minister feel? (906254)

I have studied the report carefully, and it says that the rise in adult poverty outlined by the report occurred on Labour’s watch. Since the election, we have seen 600,000 fewer people in relative poverty, 670,000 fewer workless households, and 300,000 fewer children in poverty. The other point about the report—I am sure the House will want to hear this—is that it covers only the income figures up to April 2013. It says:

“since the middle of last year, there have been huge increases in employment, which will surely impact on incomes and risks of poverty.”

That is absolutely right.

Q3. In my constituency, we are very proud of local boy, Lewis Hamilton. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Lewis, Ross Brawn, who helped to design the car, and Mercedes? Does he agree that the British motor racing industry not only gives us a lot of entertainment, it also gives us jobs, engineering skills and British business success? (906255)

I certainly join my hon. and learned Friend in praising Lewis Hamilton. He is a young man with nerves of steel and huge ability, and he made everyone in our country proud. But my hon. and learned Friend is right: we should not just be proud of the drivers; we should be proud of the industry. All 19 of the Formula 1 races last year were won by British-built cars. This is an enormous industry for our country. There are 43,000 people employed in Oxfordshire alone in this industry. It is also worth remembering that it is not just Formula 1. I had a reception at No. 10 Downing street for the whole motorsport industry, and it is important to remember that that goes all the way from go-karting up to Formula 1, and Lewis Hamilton started off in a go-kart.

Q4. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that real wages have fallen by up to 9% in recent years, with two thirds of those who got work last year earning less than the living wage. This is leading to extensive in-work poverty, especially in areas such as the north-east that already have lower incomes. How can the Prime Minister say that we are all in this together, and what will he do to tackle the issue? (906256)

First of all, we will go on growing the economy, creating jobs, and, crucially, cutting people’s taxes. Because the best way to help with this issue is to do what we have done, which is to lift 3 million of the lowest paid people out of poverty altogether and to cut taxes for 26 million more. The figures show that two thirds of the jobs we have created have been full-time jobs, not part-time jobs. The long-term economic plan is working.

A few weeks ago a 92-bed hospital in Kerry Town in Sierra Leone was completed, at a cost of £2 million to the British taxpayer. That is a good thing. As of last night, it was looking after five patients. It is run by Save the Children. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Secretary of State for International Development and others in the Government to ensure that proper use is made of the hospital?

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. It is good that the hospital has been built, and roughly on time, but there is an issue with its operation. We are working intensively with Save the Children to ensure that it reaches its full capacity and full use. We are building other facilities across Sierra Leone, as well as community centres, of course, because we need all those facilities to bring Ebola under control.

Q5. Prime Minister, we are living in the early days of a UKIP UK in which Farage and company pull all the strings in this House. Pandering to UKIP has been a disaster for the Prime Minister and for the Tory party, as even a cursory look at the opinion polls shows. Is it not time to stand up to its pernicious agenda and take it on? My country might be dragged out of Europe against its will because of this UKIP-ification. How could that possibly be right? (906257)

There is something that the hon. Gentleman’s party and UKIP have in common: they seek to divide people. We stand for the United Kingdom and bringing people together.

Q6. I welcome the Prime Minister’s strong support for protecting funding for the NHS and the drive towards efficiency in Dorset, but the needs are great, particularly for children’s mental health services, for adults in crisis and for social care. Will he please support additional resources for the NHS and social care in the forthcoming autumn statement? (906258)

My right hon. Friend will obviously have to wait for the Chancellor to make his autumn statement but, as I said a moment ago, we have been able to put more money into the NHS and to ensure that the NHS and social care are working better together, for instance with our Better Care fund, because we have a strong economy that can deliver those resources. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that we safeguard and improve our NHS, and that means everything to do with our NHS, including the mental health services she mentioned.

Will the Prime Minister condemn the new Israeli Government Bill that removes what are defined as national rights from all Israeli citizens who are not Jews, makes Hebrew the only national language and has been denounced by the Israeli Attorney-General as causing a

“deterioration of the democratic characteristic of the state”?

Will he make it clear that the statutory, repressive removal of citizenship rights on the basis of religion will turn Israel into an apartheid state?

One of the reasons I am such a strong supporter of Israel is that it is a country that has given rights and democracy to its people, and it is very important that that continues. When we look across the region and at the indexes of freedom, we see that Israel is one of the few countries that tick the boxes for freedom, and it is very important that it continues to do so.

Q7. I am sure that the Prime Minister will share my enthusiasm for E.ON’s confirmation this week that 300 jobs are to be created for the construction and maintenance of a new offshore wind farm, many of which will be in Newhaven in my constituency. Does that not prove that doing the right thing for the environment is also doing the right thing for the economy, and will he condemn those people, in UKIP and elsewhere, whose anti-green rhetoric would destroy green jobs? (906259)

What we have seen under this Government, of whom until recently the hon. Gentleman was a part, is consistent levels of investment in green energy, which is producing jobs in our country. Obviously what is happening in Newhaven is welcome, but so too is what is happening on the Humber estuary and in Hull, with the large Siemens investment, which is not just about making wind turbines, but will involve a huge supply industry around it.

On Saturday, I attended the service at Birmingham cathedral along with the families of those who lost loved ones in the 1974 pub bombings. They are all agreed, after a 40-year-long wait, that there is still no action to bring to justice the perpetrators of that action. Will the Prime Minister confirm what action he is going to take?

First of all, our sympathies and condolences should still go to those people who lost their relatives 40 years ago. When you lose a relative, that stays with you, and the grief and the pain stays with you, for ever. It is important that we continue to work to try to make sure that we address all the issues that happened in the past, find those who are responsible, and try to help people to come to terms with what has happened. That needs to happen in Northern Ireland as well as on the mainland.

Q8. When I see a white van, I think of the small business owner who works long hours to put food on the family table. When I see the cross of St George, I think of the words of my constituent, William Shakespeare:“This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not sneer at people who work hard, who are patriotic, and who love their country? (906260)

I agree with every word my hon. Friend has said. In fact, I was wondering why the Labour Benches were so quiet, and now I realise, of course, that the former shadow Attorney-General, who normally makes so much noise, is presumably not here today. She is probably out taking pictures of people’s homes, I expect. We know what that meant about the modern Labour party—sneering at people who work hard and love their country.

Q9. Can the Prime Minister tell the House how much taxpayers’ money his Government spent on challenging the EU cap on bankers’ bonuses before it was abandoned last week? Has he learned nothing from Rochester and Clacton, and is not UKIP right, because even UKIP was against increases in the bankers’ bonuses? (906261)

We were taking the same approach as that advised by the Governor of the Bank of England and by all the experts who advised us on that position. I think it is important to stand up to Brussels and to challenge them when we think it has got it wrong.

Q10. Is the Prime Minister aware that areas, such as Romford in the London borough of Havering, with a high concentration of older people will be substantially hit by the financial implications of the Care Act 2014? Will he meet me, and a delegation, to look at a more equitable funding arrangement for older people? (906262)

I will make sure that my hon. Friend has a meeting either with me or with the Health Secretary to discuss this issue. The Care Act makes some very important breakthroughs in terms of providing care for people and making sure there is quality care for people. I would add that if he does have a high concentration of older people in his constituency, they will obviously welcome the fact that by next year the basic state pension will be £950 higher than it was when we came into government in 2010.

Q11. Does the Prime Minister think it is right to give Serco a £70 million contract when there are questions about its handling of Yarl’s Wood and allegations of serious abuse and sexual violence? Does he not agree that a full, independent inquiry into these allegations should have been carried out before his Home Secretary signed off on that contract? (906263)

It is very important that when these contracts have gone wrong—the hon. Gentleman is right that in some cases they have gone wrong—it is properly looked at and investigated and lessons are learned. On occasion, we have made sure that serious amounts of money have been recovered from the companies concerned. What we should not do is use one or two bad contracts to fulfil the trade unions’ dream of ending all contracts altogether.

Q12. I thank the Prime Minister for his Government having designated Warton in my constituency as an enterprise zone, but may I ask what steps they are taking to ensure that Warton is the most attractive zone for advanced manufacturing inward investment? (906264)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says about Warton. The enterprise zones are now all up and running, and they are all working well. They have created over 12,500 jobs, and 434 different businesses are coming into the enterprise zones. Making sure that they succeed means that we have to market them even better, using UK Trade & Investment and its resources both here and around the world. In terms of advanced manufacturing, if we promote to companies the tax rates we have, the patent box and the catapult institutes up and down the country to support advanced manufacturing, and bring all those things together, it is absolutely clear to me that there is no better place to invest in Europe right now than coming to invest in Britain.

Q13. The first thing I think of when I see a white van is whether or not my father or my brother is driving it.The National Audit Office has revealed that 40% of cuts to councils in England have been made at the expense of adult social care. The consequences of this on the NHS are obvious. This is the Prime Minister’s disaster. Will he tell the House today what the cost of this failure is? (906266)

If the hon. Gentleman values people who work hard and want to get on, he ought to cross the Floor and come over to the Government Benches.

On the issue of social care, we have introduced the Better Care fund, which has taken money and pulled it between the NHS and social services to make sure that they can work together. It is absolutely vital that we do that, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is working in his local area to make sure that that happens.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Argus is currently off Sierra Leone fighting the war against Ebola, saving lives there and keeping us safe at home. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the crew and their families for their service and their sacrifice now and over Christmas?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. RFA Argus is often based in Falmouth. Its crew are doing an amazing job, and they are doing so at some personal risk to themselves. It is absolutely essential that Britain takes this leading role in Sierra Leone and inserts not just the hospital beds and staff, but the training and logistics that are going to be essential in turning around this crisis. Having RFA Argus there with all its expertise and ability is an absolutely key part of that.

Q14. Following the closure of Hammersmith and Central Middlesex A and E departments in September, west London now has some of the worst waiting times for A and E in the country, but last week NHS England told the Evening Standard that Charing Cross A and E would be replaced with an emergency centre run by GPs and nurses. Will the Prime Minister abandon any further cuts to A and E services in west London? (906267)

The hon. Gentleman should know not only that we are recruiting more A and E consultants and nurses in north-west London and that Northwick Park and Ealing hospitals are getting more beds, but that both Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals have GP-led urgent care centres on site that are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Instead of trying to frighten his constituents, he should be talking about the investment going into the local health service.

The Prime Minister will not be surprised to hear that I will be marking world AIDS day on Monday in Brighton, but will he join me in encouraging people this week—national HIV testing week—to come forward and have regular tests?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Obviously, this Government are pioneering the idea of free tests. We think that is very important. We need to tackle HIV and AIDS not just in our country, but around the world. That is also why we have put so much money into antiretroviral drugs.

Can the Prime Minister envisage any circumstances in which he would lead the no campaign in an EU referendum?

Unlike the Labour party, I have set out what I want to achieve, which is a renegotiation and then a referendum. I think Britain is better off inside a reformed European Union. I have to ask Labour Members, “What are you frightened of?” We say, “Trust the people, and let the people decide.”

Royal Mail’s universal service obligation—that is, to deliver mail to every premises in the country and collect mail from every post box six days a week—is vital. Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that he will never allow the universal service obligation to be watered down in any way, and so support red van man?

I know how important the universal service obligation is, particularly in constituencies such as my hon. Friend’s, which includes so many islands and far-flung communities. It is very important that it is maintained.

Order. A Parliament, if it believes in anything, believes in free speech. I do not need the heckling: it is tedious and low grade. The hon. Gentleman will be heard, however long it takes—it is as simple as that.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for spending so much time in Rochester and Strood. Dr Phillip Barnes, the acting chief executive of Medway Maritime hospital, said this morning that what our hospital needs is a period of patience and stability. Does the Prime Minister agree?

I agree that the hospital needs those things, but it also needs the attention that will be brought about by the special measures that Medway is in. We have seen extra A and E consultants and nurses going in. There are 112 additional nurses and 61 more doctors, but it will take time to turn around a hospital that had very high rates of mortality and that still has challenges. The only thing that I fail to understand is why the hon. Gentleman decided to join a party that does not believe in the NHS and that wants to break it up.

In 1971, the first refuge in the world was set up in Chiswick in my constituency. Yesterday, the Home Secretary announced the much-needed investment of £10 million for refuges across the country. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling for an end to domestic abuse right across the country?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we need action against domestic abuse on every front. We have passed new legislation and improved training for the police. Refuges are crucial, which is why the announcements that we have made about discrete funding are so important.

I really appreciate what the Prime Minister said about the Government’s investment in antiretrovirals, and I commend them for their investment in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. However, I ask the House to remember that 76% of children who are living with HIV around the world do not receive medication, largely because there is no research and development incentive to make such medication available. We have seen at our peril that a lack of investment in neglected diseases, such as Ebola, risks the health of everyone in the world. What will the Prime Minister do to encourage investment in neglected diseases?

I very much agree with what the hon. Lady said about the global fund. It has been an excellent way of getting countries around the world to make contributions. Britain has been no slouch in doing so and has been a major funder of the global fund.

On how we tackle diseases, pandemics and problems in our world, I think that we need to have a serious look at the World Health Organisation. It is that body, which is under the ambit of the UN, that ought to be able to respond and to do so rapidly, but it is badly in need of reform. As I have said in this House before, we need to look at how we pool resources so that we can act more quickly. Part of that should be reforming, in particular, the regional aspects of the WHO, which is not fit for purpose.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that Tony Blair should get a global legacy award from Save the Children for taking us to war unnecessarily in Iraq?

The remarkable thing about that award is that Tony Blair got it from someone who used to work for Gordon Brown. Obviously the person who gave the award knows about peacemaking and peacekeeping, but it is not for me to get involved.

In 2010, the Prime Minister promised to protect the front line, yet with the biggest police cuts in Europe, our police service is facing the loss of 30,000 officers—more than half of them from the front line—which is threatening, in the words of the Association of Chief Police Officers, their ability to perform their statutory functions and protect the vulnerable. Does the Prime Minister understand the concern that is being expressed in communities all over the country at his Government’s systematic undermining of the bedrock of policing: local policing and neighbourhood policing?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. We have made difficult decisions about police budgets. We had to cut those budgets by 20%, but at the same time as doing that we have seen that crime has actually fallen in this country, whether measured by the national crime survey or the figures reported to the police. On both counts, crime has come down. The other thing that has happened is that because the police have done such a magnificent job of reform and improving efficiency, the percentage of officers on the front line has actually gone up.

Every hour a man dies from prostate cancer in the UK. Testicular cancer is now the most common cancer in men aged 24 to 49 in the UK and, on average, 12 men a day die as a result of suicide. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating all the men who have taken part in the Movember campaign to raise these men’s health issues, and will the Government continue to fund and support these vital issues?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in praising all those who have taken part in Movember—he is sporting a magnificent specimen himself. Next to him, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) looks as though he is about to star in a Cheech and Chong movie—his moustache is remarkable. My protection team has also done incredible work on this and is raising a lot of money. I am only sorry that I do not seem able to join them. The causes are important, especially the cancers for which we need to raise awareness, improve treatments and save lives.