Skip to main content


Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 26 November 2014

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.