House of Commons
Wednesday 26 November 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Spoliation Advisory Panel
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report from Sir Donnell Deeny, Chairman of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, dated 26 November 2014, in respect of a tapestry fragment in the possession of Glasgow City Council as part of The Burrell Collection.—(Alun Cairns.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
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 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?
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 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.
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?
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.
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—
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.
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?
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.
5. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of provision of superfast broadband services in Scotland. (906207)
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.
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?
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?
The Prime Minister was asked—
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)
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was pleased to give some short notice of this point of order on an issue that goes to the heart of Government transparency, accountability to Parliament and potential inappropriate lobbying of Ministers and a former chief executive of the Food Standards Agency. It relates to a potential announcement on campylobacter tomorrow and it is important that we have the information.
On 12 November I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Cabinet Office and the Secretary of State for Health, asking them to respond to these allegations so that the individual could be cleared of inappropriate lobbying, which would be a breach of his terms of conduct on leaving the FSA—and potentially a breach of the ministerial code as well. To her credit, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responded to me within seven days—on 19 November. The Cabinet Office, after follow-up letters, e-mails and telephone calls, is on the job and tells me it can respond by 8 December. I have received no response whatever from the Health Secretary or Department of Health.
I ask for your help and guidance on how to expedite the responses. It is a critical issue for the individual concerned and the conduct of Departments. Parliament and the public need to know the answer before any statement is made—possibly tomorrow.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. If I heard him correctly, he said that I had had some modest advance notice. I am sorry to inform him that I was not aware of his intended point of order and, therefore, I have not had an opportunity to reflect on its contents. I note that he ascribes considerable urgency to the matter. He is dextrous in his use of parliamentary devices and can no doubt repair to the Table Office to table further questions if he is dissatisfied.
Also, immediately to his left sits no less a figure than the shadow Leader of the House, who might think it appropriate to raise the matter at business questions tomorrow. If she has a miscellany of other matters to raise and does not wish to raise this issue, the hon. Gentleman might seek to catch my eye at business questions himself. Ministers from the Department of Health will certainly be conscious of the matter by now or very soon. The hon. Gentleman is fortunate also in that the Leader of the House is sitting resplendent on the Treasury Bench and will therefore be aware of his angst on this matter. We will leave it there for now.
Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary Theresa May, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Philip Hammond, Secretary Michael Fallon, Danny Alexander and James Brokenshire, presented a Bill to make provision in relation to terrorism; to make provision about retention of communications data, about information, authority to carry and security in relation to air, sea and rail transport and about reviews by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission against refusals to issue certificates of naturalisation; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 127) with explanatory notes (Bill 127-EN).
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the annual registration of dogs; to require that income from registration be used to fund the enforcement of conditions and penalties imposed on those owning and controlling dogs; and for connected purposes.
On 9 March 2013, my Atherton constituent Jade Lomas Anderson was 14 years old. On 26 March, she was savaged to death by four dogs. Jade was a very popular girl. She was full of life and loved to dance. Her friends said that she was beautiful, kind and a very good friend. Her 13-year-old boyfriend Josh said that she was beautiful and would not hurt a fly. Because she had got a glowing end-of-term report from her new school and as a special treat, Jade’s parents gave her permission to stay overnight at her friend’s house. Her mum and stepdad did not know that there were five dogs in that house, or that one of those dogs was so out of control he was kept in a small cage in the kitchen. They did not know that Jade would be left in the house alone when her friend went next door, or that the dog would burst out of his insecure cage and start the attack that ended her life.
Her parents, Michael and Shirley, have been amazingly brave and determined that no other family should suffer in the way that they have done. They have campaigned tirelessly since Jade’s death, but sadly nine other people have been killed by dogs since then, making it 25 people who have been killed by dogs since 2005. As Michael says, dog attacks are at epidemic proportions. There are some 210,000 dog attacks each year and more than 6,000 people are admitted to hospital, often with life-changing injuries. On average, 12 postal workers are attacked each day and the NHS spends more than £3 million on treating the victims of dog attacks.
Progress has been made since Jade’s death. The law has been changed: owners can now be prosecuted for attacks that happen on private property and the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 introduced a range of measures to deal with dangerous dogs. I personally am not convinced that the Act does enough to tackle the prevention of dog attacks, but as the RSPCA said,
“it’s too early to tell the effectiveness of the new rules so we are sitting back and waiting to see how things develop”.
However, there are still many more things we need to do to tackle the problems associated with dog welfare and dog control.
The all-party group on animal welfare’s sub-group on dogs will launch a report shortly, supported by all the major dog charities, on developing an effective England-wide strategy for dealing with dogs. It points the way forward, including updating and consolidating all relevant dog control legislation. Among other things, it makes recommendations on dog breeding, dealing and trading, and educating people on looking after dogs and staying safe around them. I really hope the report will be adopted and implemented in 2015.
Clearly, if we are to prevent dog attacks we need to tackle the situations that create dangerous dogs. Taking a puppy away from its mother at too young an age, before it is properly socialised, is a major problem, and I know that hon. Friends have previously attempted to introduce legislation to deal with the irresponsible breeding, importing and selling of dogs. Owners need to choose the right dog for their living environment and not have too many dogs in a household. They need to ensure that their pets are properly fed and exercised. The owner of the dogs that killed Jade could not remember when she had last exercised the dogs. The dog that killed Clifford Clark in Liverpool had not been fed for nearly two days and had resorted to eating cigarette butts and plastic bowls. Of course, owners should never leave their dogs unattended with children, no matter how docile they believe the dog to be.
All measures to protect dogs from cruelty and protect the public from dangerous dogs, and preventative measures to stop dog attacks, need to be properly resourced. In 2010, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated that there were 10 million dogs in the UK and that the cost of irresponsible ownership to the taxpayer was more than £80 million. The all-party group report states that there is an urgent need to identify a means for ensuring adequate resources to tackle dog-related issues, but there is not a consensus on how that should be achieved. The RSPCA is in favour of dog licences or an annual registration fee, but the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club are vehemently opposed, preferring some sort of levy on items that dog owners purchase. My Bill is a solution to funding measures for dog welfare and dog control.
All dogs in Wales will have to be microchipped after March next year, and in England from April 2016. A fee for registering a dog on a national microchipping database and a small annual re-registration fee, with the money ring-fenced for dog welfare and control, would not only produce money but promote responsible ownership and ensure that owners are held responsible for their dogs.
Currently, the police often return a chipped dog to the registered address only to be told it was given away months or even years previously. If we sell or pass on our car, we tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency that we are no longer the owner. Why on earth would we not expect a dog owner to behave responsibly and do the same thing, when they are dealing with a living, breathing animal totally dependent on human beings for its welfare?
One of the first things Michael Anderson called for was dog licences; the coroner at Jade’s inquest called for the introduction of a licensing scheme for all dogs to ensure the traceability of dogs to owners and to address issues of breeding and trafficking; and the Wigan Evening Post has also launched a campaign for dog licences, and it is not alone. Many of the people who signed my petition for stronger legislation called for the reintroduction of licences, and many older people cannot understand why they were abandoned. In 2010, the RSPCA reported that two out of every three dog owners supported a licensing scheme and that 70% of those who supported licensing said they would be prepared to pay £30 or more.
A licence suggests not simply registration, but possibly vetting for suitability and other conditions. I would not be against that, but my Bill simply calls for registration and the ring-fencing of moneys raised. The dog licence in England, Wales and Scotland was abolished in 1988. At that time, the fee cost £3.5 million a year to collect, but the licence only generated £1 million, and only about half of owners had a licence. The fee was 37p and had not increased since its introduction in the 19th century. In fact, it had been reduced from 37.5p when the ha’penny was withdrawn in 1984. Had it kept pace with inflation, it would have been £10 in 1986.
Of course, the licence was not scrapped without a fight. In this place, Lord Rooker, then MP for Birmingham, Perry Barr, argued for the Opposition that the licences should be retained and raised to between £10 and £20, with the money raised helping to fund a network of dog wardens. The late Bob Cryer, then MP for Bradford South, supported this proposal and called for controls giving local authorities the power to draw up a register of dangerous dogs. Baroness Fookes, former Conservative MP for Plymouth Drake and a former president of the RSPCA, said that the money raised from the licence fee could be put towards a package of dog welfare measures, including an efficient warden service. Unfortunately, the vote was lost by 57 votes, meaning that I am here, 28 years later, arguing for much the same thing, but now linked to the compulsory microchipping of dogs.
Those who argue that licensing and registration do not work need to look at other countries. Some 23 European countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have systems of dog licensing or registration. In Italy, registration not only has reduced the number of strays, but is reported to be effective in reducing uncontrolled reproduction and dog overpopulation, as well as reducing the human health risk from dog-borne diseases and environmental contamination. It has also improved the control of activities such as dog fighting. Australia reports similar results, with the additional bonus that the number of complaints about dogs has reduced by half.
Doubters argue that it is a tax on good owners and that irresponsible owners will not pay, but we do not accept that argument for good drivers and irresponsible drivers, or responsible workers and irresponsible workers; we ensure that everyone pays, and if they do not, we take enforcement action.
I am sure, in the future, I will argue in this Chamber for further measures to protect dogs and prevent dog attacks, but today I am merely asking for their annual registration. It would be a fitting tribute to Jade Lomas Anderson and her wonderful parents.
Question put and agreed to.
That Julie Hilling, Robert Flello, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mike Kane, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, John Pugh, Rosie Cooper, Oliver Colville, Miss Anne McIntosh, Liz McInnes, Andrew Rosindell and Mrs Mary Glindon present the Bill.
Julie Hilling accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 9 January 2015, and to be printed (Bill 126).
[10th alloted day]
I beg to move,
That this House believes the Government has failed to deliver rising living standards and a recovery that works for the many, with working people on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010; notes that the Office for Budget Responsibility has said that stagnant wages and too many low-paid jobs are leading to lower tax revenues and more borrowing, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s pledge to balance the books by 2015 set to be broken; calls on the Government to bring forward a plan in the Autumn Statement to deliver a recovery for the many, not just a few at the top, with proposals for a minimum wage rising as a proportion of average earnings, an expansion of free childcare for working parents, a cut in business rates for small firms, an independent infrastructure commission, and the building of 200,000 new homes a year; believes that a tough and fair plan to deliver a current budget surplus and falling national debt as soon as possible in the next Parliament would include reversing the Government’s £3 billion a year tax cut for the top one per cent of earners and introducing tougher measures to tackle tax avoidance; and further believes that the Autumn Statement should use £1 billion of fines from the recent foreign exchange manipulation scandal for an immediate boost to health and care, and announce a £2.5 billion a year fund to help save and transform the NHS, including funding for an extra 20,000 nurses and 8,000 GPs.
The Government deputy Chief Whip will have spotted that, next week, the Chancellor is bringing forward his autumn statement, which gives the Chancellor a chance to reflect on his nearly five years in office and on the impact made over that period on the living standards of millions of our constituents who have, of course, been following so carefully the choices he has made. I have taken the liberty of digging out the 2010 autumn statement of 29 November because it is always worth reflecting on what the Chancellor was saying four years ago, and worth comparing his intentions back then with the reality we and our constituents now face.
Back in 2010, then, when the right hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) was knee-high to a grasshopper in political terms, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Government
“will meet our fiscal mandate to eliminate the structural current budget deficit one year early, in 2014-15.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 531-2.]
“Britain is on course…to…balance the books, something that some people repeatedly said could not happen.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 530.]
Well, I am afraid to say that it has not happened. In fact, last year the deficit was £102 billion and so far, during the first seven months of this year, it is heading even higher.
The hon. Gentleman has put a motion before the House on the performance of the economy. I have read the motion carefully, and before he starts reflecting on previous speeches, I wonder whether he could explain why unemployment is not included in it and why we now have the lowest unemployment and the highest rate of employment in our history?
I have only just started my remarks. I shall come on to employment, the levels of under-employment in our economy and the changing nature of the employment market because that is crucial. It links in particular to the health of our public finances and I want to touch on some of those issues, but I wanted to make sure that the House was aware of the Chancellor’s promises made in the autumn statement of 29 November 2010, just so everybody can see the context in which we have to appraise the Chancellor’s performance.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but it is not just on the deficit that we have seen difficulties, as there is a second aspect of the Chancellor’s promises back in 2010. He promised that by this financial year, he would
“get debt falling as a percentage of GDP”—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 532.]
Yet it turns out that he has failed on that, as well. In fact, he is now saying that debt is not going to start falling as a percentage of GDP until some time in the middle of the next Parliament. It is really important to pin down the Chancellor’s promises and the failure to deliver on them.
This morning, 30.8 million people went to work—a record in our country’s history. That is no mean feat after Labour’s crash. With the storm clouds gathering again in the eurozone, why would we ever want to go back to where we were four and a half short years ago?
When it comes to the nature of our recovery, the fact is that most people are not feeling the great benefit that the hon. Gentleman espouses. The vast majority of people—confirmed in opinion polls just last week—are reporting that, as far they are concerned, life is getting harder and their living standards are falling, not rising.
Did my hon. Friend hear John Humphrys interviewing Jim Rogers, one of the leading American investment gurus? When asked why he would not recommend investing in the UK, he said that it was a country with a Government who keep on borrowing and printing money.
I listen avidly to the “Today” programme, but I did not hear that interview. It is important that we pin these Tories down on their failure to deal with borrowing and the deficit. This situation is going to continue well into the next Parliament, and we need to address it in a serious way, not with more of the politicking that we have seen from the Chancellor.
The Prime Minister likes to say—the Tories have said it in party political broadcasts and keep repeating it—that the national debt is somehow falling. The national debt has got larger and larger—[Interruption.] No, let me correct the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier)—there is a difference between the national debt and the deficit. The national debt has got higher and higher and higher. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) was right to say that it now stands at more than £1.4 trillion. He knows that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have added more to the national debt in their four and a half years in power than the previous Administration did in 13 years.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly struggling a little with the definitions of how we run the public finances. The reason why the national debt is going up is that in 2010 this Government inherited a deficit, which is the difference between income and outgoings, of £156 billion. That had been set in place some time before. If the hon. Gentleman remembers, the deficit in 2005—fully two or three years before the financial crisis—was already around £50 billion a year. The previous Government, then, were increasing the national debt. It is going up because the only way to account for the deficit is by putting it on the national debt. The hon. Gentleman must understand the most basic facts of fiscal policy.
I will give way to hon. Members in a few moments, but there are other facets of the Chancellor’s promise in that 2010 autumn statement we have to nail down and put on the record. In that statement, he also promised that he would cut the interest charges to service the national debt by £19 billion. Do hon. Members know where we are when it comes to the national debt’s servicing costs? This year, debt interest has hit £52 billion and is forecast to be £75 billion by 2018-19—a situation compounded, of course, by the Government’s failure to tackle the deficit. Each year that they add another £100 billion to the deficit, they have to fund and service the debt levies accrued.
What the hon. Gentleman says is all very sanctimonious, particularly given that his leader could not even mention the word “deficit” in the speech he made at Labour’s party conference. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman’s party has set out £166 billion more in spending than the Government have, so how will he pay for that?
The hon. Gentleman is slightly deluded in his understanding of our position. We have made it absolutely clear that we will not have any manifesto commitments funded by additional borrowing, yet we have not heard the same promise from Conservative Ministers, so I invite the Exchequer Secretary to stand up and tell us how the Conservative Front-Bench team are intending to pay for the £7 billion-worth of pledges that the Prime Minister has made. Opposition Members have to conclude that the Government are going to add it to VAT. That is what they have done in the past; it is their track record. Ducks quack, the sun comes up in the morning and Tories increase VAT. It is what they always do.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for stating his party’s position so clearly. Just to restate it, he did not question the £116 billion-worth of extra commitments, but he did say that Labour has a commitment not to increase borrowing to pay for all these spending commitments. Will he now take the opportunity to clarify that point by saying which taxes he intends to put up to pay for his spending commitments?
I shall come shortly to the particular changes that we believe need to be made for our economy. For example, we believe that the national health service needs additional support and that we need to increase a levy on ultra-high-value properties to pay for such things. I shall come on to the specific details in a moment, but I want first to finish giving the Chancellor’s record and his promises in that autumn statement.
The Chancellor made other promises, too. He promised that business investment would zoom away over the four years, saying that it would be
“8% for each of the next four years”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 530.]
In reality, it has been barely half that. Back then, in autumn 2010, the Chancellor promised that exports would grow on average by more than 6% a year. In fact, in 2012 he promised that he would more than double annual UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020. The problem is that that would require 10% annual growth in exports and we have had barely 4%, leaving them £330 billion short of their target.
It was not supposed to be like this. The Chancellor set out with a totally different set of ambitions and made a series of promises to the electorate. He set out his pledges and he has failed to deliver on them. What is worse, and what matters to our constituents, is the promise that the Conservatives made on living standards. They said that living standards would rise and that was the solemn pledge in their manifesto:
“We want to see an economy where not just our standard of living, but everyone’s quality of life, rises steadily and sustainably.”
These Tories—by which I also mean the Liberal Democrats—need to be held to account for the neglect they have shown and the distress they have caused, particularly to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. After prices have been taken account of, wages have fallen in real terms by an astonishing £1,600 a year and prices continue to rise.
The shadow Minister talks about the Chancellor’s record, what he has achieved and what he has set out to achieve. One of the key planks of the proposals was a reduction in youth unemployment. In the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, youth unemployment has gone down from 6.1% to 4.2%, and in my own constituency it has gone down considerably. That clearly supports what the Chancellor set out to do by giving young people a chance and opportunity in life through work.
My constituency has the 10th highest youth unemployment of any in the country and I will not take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman. The Government have no answer for the 700,000 young people who remain long-term unemployed. They have a Work programme that sends more people back to the jobcentre than it puts back into work—[Interruption.]
Order. I am very uncertain quite what the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) had for breakfast this morning. Without wishing to be personal, I would simply observe that a close family relative of his lives in my constituency and he is a person of impeccable manners, as the hon. Gentleman usually is. My constituent would not approve of the hon. Gentleman’s ranting from a sedentary position. If the hon. Gentleman undertakes to behave in a seemly manner from now on, I promise not to report his bad behaviour to my constituent.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument about the appalling economic context that the country faces. Does he agree that the reduction in full-time jobs—there are 670,000 fewer full-time jobs in the economy since 2008—is an indictment of the poor health of the economy under this Government?
I do not usually chide my hon. Friend, but I am going to do so today for being too generous and kind to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My hon. Friend has not mentioned the appalling performance of this country on productivity. We are 20% below our competitors. What is the Chancellor doing about that? My hon. Friend has to be tougher and nastier to the Chancellor.
All my hon. Friend will get from the Chancellor is the hollow slogan about the Government’s plan, but their plan contains nothing to tackle the productivity crisis in our economy. My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. We need a plan that deals with those infrastructure challenges and with getting bank lending back on its feet again to help enterprises make the next move into growth and innovation. We must tackle the skills problem. They are all factors that would represent a genuine plan to tackle the productivity issue.
I would like to make a little progress, because I know that a lot of Members want to speak.
The problem with this Chancellor and the promises that he made back in 2010 is that he has failed abysmally to complete the deal and ensure that he delivers on those promises. It is not just about the record on the national health service or even on immigration, where the Government have failed to meet their target of reducing net migration to tens of thousands. They have failed to deliver a recovery shared by all, they have failed to eliminate the deficit, as they promised to do, and they have failed to detoxify their reputation on the NHS. The real question is whether the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, after nearly five years, are prepared to start taking some responsibility for the situation.
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously arguing that the challenges we are addressing through our long-term economic plan have nothing to do with the fact that we had the deepest economic recession since the second world war—a recession over which his Government presided—which led to thousands of people being made unemployed, hundreds of businesses going bust and an absolutely devastating long-term effect on many people’s lives? Does he not take any responsibility for that?
Government Members want to airbrush the fact that there was a banking crisis, and a global banking crisis—[Interruption.] They do not like the fact that there was a banking crisis. They want to pretend that it was everybody else’s fault—there they go again.
I must tell the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) that he has been in government—perhaps he has not been a Minister, but he has supported the Government—for nearly five years. The Government must start taking some responsibility for the state of the economy.
On living standards, in Wrexham median weekly earnings have fallen by 7.4% in the past year. The Government show a complete lack of comprehension of my constituents’ lives. For as long as they continue to do that, they will not even begin to address this country’s fundamental economic problem.
It is the complacency from those on the Government Benches that will, I think, shock our constituents most of all.
Only last week, the Deputy Prime Minister said in questions that “the economy is fixed”. How out of touch are Ministers in this Government, whether they are Liberal Democrats or Tories?
If we listened to the Government, we would never think that the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the collapse of Fannie Mae in America caused the last economic crisis. They continually blame the previous Labour Government, but they have to face up to the truth, which is that it started in America and no Government could have legislated for it. They have now found out that there is an economic crisis and recession in Europe, so is that the next excuse for a punitive Budget?
The previous Government did the right thing after that banking crisis by getting growth moving forward—growth that had the rug pulled from under it by the lack of confidence shown by the Chancellor and the measures he took in that autumn statement back in 2010 and in his emergency Budget.
The Government’s long-term plan is little more than trickle-down economics, which has failed in the past and will fail again in the future. The share of national income held by 90% of earners has shrunk since this Government came to power, whereas the share of the cake held by the wealthiest 1% has—surprise, surprise—gone up.
We need a plan that genuinely delivers a recovery for the many, not just for the few. We do not need the slogan-heavy, content-light, trickle-down plan of Treasury Ministers, but we need action on house building, which is at the lowest level since the 1920s, with a goal of building 200,000 new homes each year by 2020. We need a minimum wage rising as a proportion of average earnings and real incentives for the living wage. We need the expansion of free child care for working parents, paid for by the bank levy that the Government failed so spectacularly to collect. We need a cut in business rates for small firms, rather than a reliance and a focus only on corporation tax cuts for big businesses. We need an independent infrastructure commission to deliver the transport networks that our economy needs, rather than what suits the Government’s short-term political needs. We need to tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts, we need to hear the Government argue for Britain to play a leading role in a reformed European Union, and we need a real economic plan that can enable us to earn our way towards rising living standards for all, not just for the few. Those are the priorities for next week’s autumn statement.
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s words, but let us write some facts into the debate about living standards. Will he deny the statistic from the House of Commons Library which shows that real average weekly earnings were falling faster between 2008 and 2010 than they were after 2010? Will he deny the statistic which shows that the average earnings of those who had been in a job for over a year have risen by more than 4% in the last year? Will he deny the fact—this, too, is a statistic from the House of Commons Library—that 71% of all the jobs created in the last year have been full-time jobs?
I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been, but did he not see the headlines in all the newspapers about the results of the annual survey on hourly earnings that the Office for National Statistics published last week? According to the ONS, the average weekly pay of full-time workers went up by just £1 between 2012 and 2013. That is a rise of just 0.1%, far below the rate of inflation. Prices continue to rise, but pay, wages and earnings do not keep pace with them. Government Members may not realise that. In the world that they inhabit, life is sweet—everything is fine in the world that they inhabit—but for most of our constituents, times are tough and life is getting harder.
This may even be the worst situation since the 1870s. Perhaps we should ask the House of Commons Library to go back in history, and tell us how bad things were in the 19th century.
I have set out our priorities for the autumn statement. However, we do not just need a strong economy to ensure that everyone gets a piece of the action; we need a strong and sustained economy to deliver strong and sustained public finances, which is why the autumn statement also needs a plan to balance the nation’s books in a fair way.
When will Ministers realise that the health of our economy shapes the health of our public finances? During the first seven months of this year, borrowing has been £3.7 billion higher than it was during the same period last year. Why? The Office for Budget Responsibility itself says that stagnant wages and all those low-paid jobs are keeping tax revenues down. The Chancellor has to realise that a low-wage, low-productivity economy will not deliver the goods. The OBR is predicting that growth will slow down next year, and yesterday the OECD cut its growth forecast for this year and next year.
The deficit has not been tackled effectively, and not just because of falling revenues. The Government like to sound tough on welfare inflation, but they do nothing to tackle the underlying causes of it. The Department for Work and Pensions has overspent by £25 billion since 2010. Let me give the House a few examples of where it has gone awry. It has spent £5 billion more than it planned to spend on tax credits during the current Parliament, because of the failure to tackle rising levels of low pay and insecurity. The number of working people—working people!—who are claiming housing benefit has risen by 50% since 2010 and is set to double by 2018, which will cost nearly £13 billion.
Whether the underlying issue is low pay, rising rents or the 700,000 young people who are in long-term unemployment, the Government have produced no serious, structural response. For them, tackling the deficit means little more than lopping off a fixed percentage from every departmental expenditure limit in each 12-month cycle. We need an economy that delivers higher-quality jobs, decent living standards, and robust and sustained growth, as well as tough decisions on spending and tax.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer caved in too easily to the lobbying of his friends who pushed him for that £3 billion a year tax cut for the top 1% who are earning over £150,000 a year. They must have been pestering him—“Give us that tax cut!”—and he did not have the will power just to say no. Instead, he piled higher VAT and cuts in tax credits on to millions of working people, because he did not mind that so much. I am afraid that a fairer plan for reducing the deficit must mean reversing the huge tax giveaway for millionaires—
Let me point out not only that a record number of people went to work this morning, but that both long-term unemployment and worklessness rose under the Labour Government. Thanks to this Government’s welfare reforms and long-term economic plan, long-term unemployment has fallen by 99,000, and worklessness has fallen dramatically. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the Government’s long-term economic plan and welfare reforms have worked extremely well?
How disappointed the hon. Gentleman’s constituents must be to hear his comments, which contained no reflection or recognition of any of the problems that they face, including their cost of living difficulties. No, as far as the hon. Gentleman is concerned, everything is fine and wonderful: it is all working totally as it should be. I must tell him that he will have to face his electorate in a few months’ time, and that he will face their anger and concern about his failure to deal with the living standards that they have been experiencing.
We had a global banking crisis, but, as I recall, growth was 1% in the first quarter of 2010. We had a strong level of growth as we came out of that crisis, because we took up the challenge to stimulate the economy and get it moving again. There was a VAT reduction at that time, and then what happened? What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer do? What did he do, with the help of the hon. Gentleman’s votes? He whacked up VAT to 20%, although the hon. Gentleman had not mentioned that in his election manifesto. He, too, will have to face his electorate and account for the decisions that he has made.
I do not want to take up too much time, because I know that many other Members wish to speak, but it is important for me to say something about the fiscal challenge. There will have to be other difficult decisions, which is why Labour is looking at every single Department and every item of expenditure, line by line, in our zero-based review, and identifying the different choices that can be made to enable us to live within our means. We have already proposed scrapping winter fuel payments for the richest 5% of pensioners, cutting Ministers’ pay by 5%, capping child benefit rises at 1% for two years, reviewing the value for money of assets and non-essential buildings owned by the Government, and making savings of £250 million in the Home Office budget—by, for example, scrapping police and crime commissioners—in order to better protect front-line policing. Over the weeks ahead, we will set out more of our early findings from other Departments.
Our plan is to balance the books and get the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament. While the Prime Minister and Chancellor think it is okay to make £7 billion of unfunded pledges—the Prime Minister said that again today at Question Time—although even the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has described that as a “total fantasy”, our manifesto will not make commitments that would be paid for by additional borrowing. When we make promises, we will say where the money will come from. We would willingly put all our costings before the OBR so that it could check and validate them—but, of course, that would upset the Chancellor’s plan to smear our proposals and run a dirty election campaign based on fear rather than fact. If the Chancellor only had the guts to put his plans, and all our plans, in front of the OBR, perhaps we could let the public form a judgment based on the values and merits of the manifestos and their policy proposals.
How can the hon. Gentleman credibly expect the public to buy into Labour’s ability to balance the books? Every year, from 2001 onwards, the Labour Government spent far more than they took in, which is why they were left with one of the biggest deficits in the G7. You cannot spend more than you take in: that is the root cause of the problem, but Labour Members do not get it.
The hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were backing all the spending plans during those years. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman did not even mention the banking crisis. Where was he during that period? Does he really think that his constituents will be tricked by his airbrushing of the situation? The hon. Gentleman’s party has been in office for five years, but the Conservatives have failed on the promises they made to tackle the Budget deficit and get borrowing down. They promised that we would not have a Budget deficit, and they failed and it will be up to the next Government to finish the job.
Whoever wins the next election will have to pick up the pieces of this current mess. We will make sure that resources are channelled towards the issues that matter most to the public, but we should not have to wait until next May: the Chancellor has the opportunity to act now. That is why the third task for this autumn statement is to deliver a costed and funded plan to save and transform our national health service. In my constituency in Nottingham it is getting harder to see a GP; on cancer waiting times we still have a system struggling to meet the two-week target from GP referral to first outpatient appointment; and at the beginning of the month in Nottingham almost one in five patients had to wait more than four hours at our local emergency department. We have excellent staff and diligent management at our local hospital, but the pressures on their shoulders have been getting worse and worse, and Ministers have left the NHS to cope on its own, without finding the new sources of funding to put this situation right.
I therefore put this challenge to the Minister today: when she gets to her feet to respond to this debate, will she accept our suggestion to use £1 billion of banking fines from the recent foreign exchange rigging scandal and earmark this windfall for the NHS? More than that, will the Minister do what is required to tackle tax avoidance, and introduce a levy on tobacco firms and a tax on properties worth over £2 million to raise £2.5 billion a year—on top of the Government’s spending plans—for an extra 20,000 nurses and 8,000 doctors? These are necessary—and some of them are difficult—decisions, which focus relentlessly on supporting the NHS at this time of need.
These are the tests for next week’s autumn statement: a recovery for the many; a fairer approach to balancing the books; and a plan to save our NHS. Britain cannot afford another autumn statement of inactivity, neglect and the same old trickle-down economics. We need a Government who step up and take action to deliver a recovery shared by all. I commend the motion to the House.
Today the Opposition have reminded us why Labour can never be trusted with the economy again. So appalling is its reputation on all matters economic that even its former Chancellor, and now we hear its former Prime Minister, are seeking to join the exodus from the parliamentary Labour party, belatedly fleeing the scene of the economic carnage they helped to create. The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) spoke about the 2010 autumn statement. Back then the former shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), forecast that there would be a “jobless recovery”. Since then Labour has become a broken record, and over the past four years it has been proved wrong about the economy and sought to mislead and frighten the public at every opportunity. Instead of presenting a sustainable economic plan to the House today, Labour Members come here and use this very rare debate on the economy to talk down the economy, and sneer at those who want to work hard and to get on in life, which is why I would like to start by bringing the House’s attention to a few basic economic facts about their track record.
With a record peacetime deficit, increased unemployment and a welfare system that was broken, Labour left Britain’s economy in a mess. On top of that they doubled income tax for the poorest, and insulted pensioners with derisory levels of state pensions, not to mention the mean-spirited 75p increase in state pension; that is how the Labour party rewards our pensioners after a lifetime of work. Labour also oversaw a doubling of council tax, increased the rate of fuel duty 12 times, and failed to support parents with child care costs, yet Labour Members have the audacity to come here today and lecture us about child care costs. The Government are reforming child care through tax-free child care and sustainably helping hard-working and hard-pressed families up and down the country.
This Government have cut the deficit by over a third, so we will not take any lectures from the Opposition or the hon. Lady about that—notwithstanding the fact that when in office Labour failed to prepare our young to compete against the brightest and the best when it came to skills, jobs and education, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Since 2010, this Government have worked hard to turn this situation around. By working to our long-term economic plan, we have seen the deficit cut by over a third, income tax cut for over 25 million people, benefits capped to reward work, and 1.7 million more people in employment, while over 2 million more private sector jobs have been created and employment is the highest on record. We have created 1 million apprenticeships. The state pension has increased. More children are in good and outstanding schools. Over 50,000 families now have a home thanks to our Help to Buy policy. This is a good start, but we are the first to recognise that the job is far from finished.
I gather the Minister is visiting my constituency tomorrow, although her office was not prepared to tell us what she will be doing there; perhaps she can tell me now. May I urge her to meet some of my constituents, and go around some of the estates and find out what life is really like for those people, because it bears very little resemblance to what she is telling us now?
I am looking forward to coming to the hon. Lady’s constituency tomorrow.
I have made it perfectly clear that we have made a good start but the job is not yet finished. The UK currently has the highest rate of growth in the G7; it is over twice that of Germany.
My hon. Friend is right that we have made a good start. The Opposition spokesman talked about opinion polls, but, interestingly, he did not talk about the opinion poll showing that the public saw we had done a good job, and that we have an economic competence lead of 26% over the Opposition and their plans.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and this brings us back to the heart of this debate. It is about having a long-term economic plan that is tackling the challenges for our economy left by the former Government, while also looking ahead to the future and making sure we have a plan in place.
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that had it not been for Labour’s great recession, living standards in this country would be much higher. Thanks to our economic plan and policies, we are now seeing booming inward investment, often by more than the rest of the EU combined, with all the main sectors of the economy growing. A growing economy, a falling deficit, record numbers in work: those are the economic facts that Opposition Members seem to want to deny. They want to continue to scaremonger and misrepresent the economic reality. We said we would get the deficit down, and the deficit has come down. We said we would recover the economy, and recovery is taking place. The Opposition predicted that 1 million people would lose their jobs, but 1.7 million jobs have been created.
It would not be realistic to pretend that the job is done, however, or that the situation is perfect. We know it is not, and that is a result of Labour’s great recession, but I am sure that all Members will agree that responsible government means being straight with the public about the economic situation we are in.