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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 592: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2015

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Gaza

1. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the tripartite mechanism for the reconstruction of Gaza. (907427)

We are supporting the temporary Gaza reconstruction mechanism to facilitate the import of construction materials into Gaza. Almost 40,000 people have now been able to buy materials to repair their homes. There is still a lot more to do, but the mechanism is a step in the right direction.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the UN needs to take action to ensure that all the building materials going into Gaza are used to alleviate the dire conditions of the Gazan people, rather than diverted by Hamas for military purposes?

The right hon. Lady is quite right to raise that as an issue to be considered. There is no evidence at the moment to suggest that what she is worried about is happening. In addition, part of our support for the reconstruction mechanism has been to fund a monitoring process so that the right checks can be made to avoid such things happening.

I listened carefully to what the Secretary of State has said. How on earth does she know that Hamas is not using such material to build tunnels for terrorist purposes? How do we know?

There is a mechanism to check and control the materials as they come into Gaza. My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the very difficult issues involved in reconstruction. Even with the mechanism in place, we expect reconstruction to take two to three years. Ultimately, the alternative to not using this sensible mechanism is for Gazans who have been forced out of their homes and have lost their homes simply to have nowhere to live. That situation is clearly not sustainable—it would certainly not be good for the many children who live in Gaza—and we are therefore right to be taking action to address it.

Has the right hon. Lady seen early-day motion 746, standing in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House? It salutes the Big Ride from Edinburgh to London by 1,000 cyclists, which will take place later this year to provide funds for the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping deprived children who are war victims in Gaza. The right hon. Lady has an admirable record on this issue. Is she willing to give her support to the Big Ride?

I was not aware of the early-day motion that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. I will certainly take a look at it. It sounds as if it is a very valuable fundraising effort. As I have set out, we are absolutely determined to play our part in supporting the Palestinian Authority to enable it steadily to rebuild after the conflict in Gaza.

Many of my constituents, including a group called Knighton Action for Peace and Justice, have grave concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. How are the Government using their influence to encourage Israel and Palestine to reach a more satisfactory agreement about water resources in the occupied territories?

A significant amount of infrastructure was damaged during the crisis over the summer. Part of the £20 million we committed at the reconstruction conference attended by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is to help to replace the infrastructure that has been lost. All the discussion and debate we can have today is simply palliative while a long-term political settlement is being reached, which is the only thing that can in the end improve the long-term prospects of people living in that part of the world.

Some 100,000 homes were destroyed or damaged in the most recent crisis in Gaza, and flooding, heavy snow and plummeting temperatures have now intensified the terrible conditions faced by Palestinian men, women and children. While I was in the Occupied Palestinian Territories last month people were literally freezing to death because they struggled to get hold of the materials they need to rebuild. Will the Secretary of State explain why her Government pledged £20 million to help such efforts, but have so far disbursed only a quarter of that figure?

It is important that the hon. Gentleman reflects on the broader assistance that we provide. As he will be aware, over the summer we provided £17 million of emergency assistance. I have talked about the £20 million that we have pledged to the Gaza reconstruction mechanism, which we are in the process of delivering. He will be aware that from 2011 to 2014, we pledged significant resources of about £350 million. We are one of the leading supporters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides key day-to-day services. He is right to draw attention to the conditions in which people are living. That is why we provide so much support, of which I am sure he is supportive.

Commonwealth Multilateral Agencies

2. What support her Department has provided to Commonwealth multilateral agencies since May 2010; and whether she plans to change the funding her Department provides to those organisations. (907428)

Since 2009, DFID has provided £180 million to six Commonwealth organisations. The budget is some £50 million this year and it will remain so in the next financial year.

The diversity of the Commonwealth of nations is part of its strength. Programmes such as the Commonwealth scholarships and the Local Government Forum build on that by supporting education and the exchange of best practice among Commonwealth citizens and Governments. Does the Minister agree that at a time of rising extremism, both political and religious, in a number of Commonwealth countries, the contribution of those programmes should be celebrated and extended to build shared values and understanding?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. Looking at the budget, the scholarship fund currently runs at £23.6 million and next year it will be £23.6 million. There is no cut whatsoever—rejoice!

Developing World (Humanitarian Assistance)

3. What steps she is taking to target humanitarian assistance at the poorest children in the developing world. (907429)

We work with agencies such as UNICEF and Save the Children to meet the immediate needs of children, but our key agenda is to link humanitarian assistance with long-term development.

Getting food and shelter to children is essential, but will the Minister consider the global investment that is necessary in the social and emotional rehabilitation of children? That will make them less traumatised by their experience; enable them to raise good families of their own and to rebuild their cultures; and, perhaps above all, make them more resistant to political and religious fundamentalism.

Yes; absolutely. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work in driving forward that agenda. He is right that people will not achieve their potential while they are traumatised and do not have education and proper support. One third of refugee children are without primary education and some three quarters are without secondary education. It is for that reason that we have more than doubled our budget for education in conflict-affected and fragile states. We are determined to drive forward that agenda internationally.

An outstandingly good charity in my constituency, Alive & Well, ships essential equipment such as water purification equipment to some of the poorest children in the world, particularly in Sierra Leone. The next shipment was due to go on 24 February, but the charity has discovered that the import duties that are being applied by the Government of Sierra Leone, which are up to 100% of the value of the goods, will make it impossible. Will the Minister take up the matter with his opposite number in the Sierra Leonean authorities to reduce the unfair import duties?

Almost 5 million children die every year across the globe, principally because of malnutrition. What targets are being set internationally to ensure that that figure reduces year on year?

We have a project to reduce stunting. We spend a great deal of our budget on humanitarian relief that is targeted at children. It is a problem to which we are alive and on which we are leading.

Syria

The UK has pledged £700 million so far in response to the Syria crisis, providing food, medical care and relief items to some of those most in need, including children. That includes the £50 million that I announced at the UN General Assembly for the No Lost Generation initiative, which will provide education, psycho-social support and protection for Syrian children who are affected by the crisis in Syria and the region.

Children who are displaced by the Syrian crisis not only lose their homes, but are at risk of having their life chances permanently and irreparably damaged. What is my right hon. Friend’s Department doing to help ensure that Syrian refugee children can not only expect adequate primary and secondary education, but have some hope of higher education?

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend about the need to address the lack of education for children affected by this crisis, and the package that I mentioned announcing at the UN covers three new programmes specifically for education for Syrian refugees and host communities in Jordan and Lebanon. Those programmes will be about improving the quality of education, particularly for early-grade primary school children in Jordan, and integrating Syrian refugee children into the system. My right hon. Friend is right to say that more needs to be done, and we launched the international No Lost Generation initiative precisely to get more and broader support for the issue.

14. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is simply not possible for some of those children to receive the support and treatment they need in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, and that her Government should be doing more to resettle Syrian children and their families in this country? (907440)

I agree it is important that we play our role in the refugee crisis and provide refuge to people affected by it, which is precisely what we are doing. On helping children where they are—the overwhelming majority of children affected are still in the region—we are working hand in hand with the Lebanese Government to ensure that there is the capacity for children to get education. There is more to be done, but we can be proud of the leading role played by the UK.

On the visit to Jordan and Lebanon by the International Development Committee last year we saw the huge amount of work that those countries are doing to support children affected by the conflicts. What is the Department doing to ensure that the children of Jordan and Lebanon do not suffer because of the huge burdens placed on their public school systems?

We are working directly with both those Governments to ensure that our programmes help not only Syrian refugee children but, particularly in Lebanon, a host of children who were in school but perhaps did not get the textbooks they needed. We have provided a much broader package, and it is important that host communities are helped to cope with the strains that the refugees are putting on them.

Over a year ago, the Government committed to allowing a small number of refugees from Syria into the UK, including children with specific medical needs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many children from Syria with specific needs have been allowed to come to the UK?

I do not have that precise information but I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. As I said in response to an earlier question, that programme is in place to help Syrian refugees who particularly need to take advantage of it. The most important thing is to get broad international support to help the 3.8 million refugees who are now in the region and need assistance.

Ebola

5. What the cost has been of the UK’s contribution to the response to the Ebola outbreak to date. (907431)

The UK has committed £325 million to tackling the Ebola crisis. The UK is leading the international response to the crisis in Sierra Leone by diagnosing and isolating Ebola cases more quickly, trebling the number of treatment beds, supporting burial teams, and assisting in the research for a vaccine.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that at the recent London conference, Britain was able to persuade other Governments to contribute financially? Does she agree that we should be proud of the hugely positive contribution made by Great Britain through DFID’s budget—symbolised by Nurse Cafferkey and others with medical and other expertise—to resolving the Ebola outbreak?

Yes; the international effort has involved not only financial assistance from a host of countries, but assistance in kind from countries such as Australia which is helping to set up Ebola treatment centres. I pay tribute to the work done across the Government, not just in my Department. As my hon. Friend says, vital work has been done by Public Health England, NHS workers and our amazing Ministry of Defence and soldiers who have done an incredible job. Without their efforts none of this would have been possible, and thanks to them we are now turning the corner.

The right hon. Lady’s permanent secretary told the Public Accounts Committee that one of the key lessons of Ebola was the need for more research and development on vaccines. Between 2008 and 2013, Britain gave £40 million to support the work of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. I understand that IAVI’s research contributed to the science that led to the fast-track Ebola vaccines, yet she has slashed the UK’s support for IAVI from £40 million to just £5 million for 2013 to 2018. Does she regret that 86% cut?

No, I do not. The hon. Lady talks about the science, but we stopped funding the vaccine research because the basic science to support a vaccine was not in place. To have continued putting money into this research, when the early indications were that it was not going to deliver a vaccine, would not only have been a waste of money, but done a disservice to our investment into tackling AIDS. I should also point out that, in 2009-10, the Government invested £249 million in tackling HIV/AIDS, but in 2013-14 we increased that by 50% to £372 million.

I do not know whether the right hon. Lady heard me say that IAVI’s research contributed to some of the science that led to the Ebola vaccine. The point of research is that it builds knowledge.

The world must never again be left so exposed to Ebola. The good news that Ebola infections are falling in Liberia has meant that the trial of Brincidofovir as a drug therapy for Ebola was halted last Friday. Does the right hon. Lady agree that we need urgently to roll out the Ebola vaccine trials from Liberia to Sierra Leone and Guinea to discover which vaccine works?

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is aware, but we have worked hand in hand with the Medical Research Council and GlaxoSmithKline to help those trials to come forward faster. In fact, the Minister for Government Policy and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster , my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Oliver Letwin), has played a pivotal role internationally in ensuring that those trials could progress. It would be more constructive if she asked some relevant questions, rather than scoring pointless political points.

Sustainable Development Goals

8. What steps she is taking to ensure that the UK plays a leading role in preparations to set new UN development goals in September 2015. (907434)

The UK plays a leading role internationally at the EU and UN and bilaterally to push for an ambitious and implementable post-2015 framework. As the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) will know, the first session of intergovernmental negotiations on the SDGs has concluded, and the open working group proposal includes 17 goals and 169 targets. We support the breadth and balance of the proposal but will be arguing for a much more concise and workable agenda as negotiations progress.

Millennium development goal 3 was to promote gender equality and empower women. Will the Secretary of State be championing the inclusion in the new SDGs of texts on ending violence against women and girls and supporting sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as statements in the declaration of the commission on the status of women?

Absolutely—yes. The Government play a leading role in raising the issue of violence against women and girls, and I pay tribute to the amazing work done by the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague). I can assure her that we will continue to play that role.

The Secretary of State has already indicated the complexity of the goals under discussion. What steps are being taken to ensure effective integration of the different goals, particularly the proposed target on under-fives mortality and those on water, sanitation and hygiene, given that most diarrhoeal diseases result from a lack of investment in that sector?

I very much agree with the hon. Lady. The key to success in getting a sensible outcome for a new post-2015 framework is to ensure that it is not a shopping list, but that it actually works as an overall strategy to bring change on the ground and lift people out of poverty over the next 15 years.

Topical Questions

My Department continues to work closely and effectively with the Sierra Leonean Government to defeat Ebola, and our strategy is working—there are now signs that the infection rate is falling. We are far from complacent, however, because many cases remain, and we will see our mission through to the very end.

Since the last session of DFID questions, I have attended the Gavi replenishment conference in Berlin, at which Gavi surpassed its replenishment target of $7.5 billion from donors, which will help to immunise 300 million additional children and save more than 5 million lives. The Government have confirmed an additional commitment to Gavi of £1 billion in funding from 2016 to 2020.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. On Syria, along with many colleagues I visited the Nizip 2 camp on the Turkish border last year and met the 17,000 refugees based there, half of whom were children. What the children particularly need is books in Arabic, so they can learn and then become the doctors and engineers they want to be. What steps are the Secretary of State and her Department taking to ensure that these children get the Arabic books they need?

I too have had the chance to visit one of the refugee camps on the Syrian/Turkish border. The Turkish Government have put an immense amount of investment into supporting those people, and indeed providing some of the best quality refugee facilities that I have seen. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that textbooks are an important part of that. We have provided textbooks in Lebanon; I would be happy to look further at the point that he has raised.

T2. I will take my moment, Mr Speaker. Over 30 years ago, this country was very generous in response to the Ethiopian famine, but now, over the last three years, we have given £1 billion in aid—despite the fact that the security forces in Ethiopia are raping, torturing and killing. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in Ethiopia on these matters? (907403)

The right hon. Lady is right to raise her concerns about the behaviour of the police and security services. We raise our concerns, too. That should not overshadow the rest of the important work we are doing to help people in Ethiopia steadily to lift themselves out of poverty. If we consider development over the last 30 years, we can really see that Ethiopia has come on a tremendous way since it first appeared on our TV screens when it was facing the famine of 1984.

T3. Following on from the question about Gaza, may I ask what this Government are doing to assist the Palestinian Authority in their economic development of the west bank? (907404)

My hon. Friend is right to point out the importance of economic development. In respect of our bilateral programme, we work on three key areas, and one of those, of course, is indeed wealth creation. We are promoting private sector development that can contribute to state and peace building by increasing fiscal sustainability and reducing unemployment and poverty.

T4. In the light of the problems with the Private Infrastructure Development Group, does the Secretary of State believe we get good value for money from the £12 billion a year overseas aid budget? (907405)

Yes, I do. We have been more clear-cut about the outcomes we are trying to achieve. As for the facility the hon. Gentleman mentions, it has pulled in £6.8 billion-worth of investment in infrastructure in some of the poorest countries in the world, which will help them steadily to make their way out of poverty. Surely creating the markets of the future is one of the smartest things we can do if we want to stay prosperous ourselves.

T5. More cowardly and unforgiveable executions have again reminded us of the depths of ISIL’s depravity. As temperatures plummet in northern Iraq, will the Secretary of State update us on progress in providing humanitarian assistance to the 5.2 million Iraqis affected by this brutal conflict? (907406)

Yes, I will. It is worth saying that the reason we have women and girls at the heart of our international development agenda is that we know they have no rights whatever in so many parts of the world, so my hon. Friend is absolutely—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Secretary of State. These are extremely important matters, affecting very vulnerable people. The answers from the Secretary of State should be heard.

On Iraq in particular, we work extremely hard on the so-called winterisation approach, ensuring that tents are warm, that people have blankets and that appropriate shelter, food and sanitation are in place. That has been done, but the challenge in the region is now immense. The Syrian crisis alone has seen 3.8 million refugees.

T6. Many people who live and work in the United Kingdom, including people in my constituency, wish to send money back to their families in other parts of the world. Initiatives from companies such as Xendpay are starting to challenge some of the costs of money transfer. What is the Secretary of State doing to address the charging of exorbitant fees of up to 20% for money transfer services such as those provided by Western Union? (907407)

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the role played by remittances, which are a key part of the grand sweep of cash flow into developing countries. As she will know, we are working very hard in countries such as Somalia to ensure that families can continue to send money back to their relatives. I agree with her that one of the most important things we can do is introduce competition to the market, as well as helping to develop banking services so that people have more choice.

T8. What work is the Department doing to bring about behavioural change in areas that are affected by Ebola, and has it made an assessment of the impact of that on transmission rates? (907409)

So-called social mobilisation has been key to bearing down on transmission rates. We understand that they are now well under 1%, which is great news. If we are to combat local outbreaks, however, it is vital that people understand how to stay safe, and DFID has played a major role in bringing together a consortium of different organisations to help to ensure that that happens.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

I am sure that the whole House will join me in condemning the sickening murders in Syria of the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and the Jordanian pilot Lieutenant Moaz al-Kasasbeh, and I am sure that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House will be with their families at this very difficult time. We should also think of our own pilots and their families, and of all those who serve. I can assure the House that we will not stop until the murderous ISIL extremists who are behind this, and their poisonous ideology, are eradicated.

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

May I associate myself with the comments that the Prime Minister has just made?

A constituent of mine, an agency worker, told me that he pays income tax only if he works overtime. Part of his wages is paid in expenses, even when he is on holiday, which affects his national insurance contributions and therefore his benefit and pension entitlement. The sum of £16 a week is deducted from his wages to administer his payroll, and he even has to pay for his own pay slip. Is that any way in which to treat our working people?

We are looking into abuse by the so-called umbrella companies that can sometimes bring such things about, but the broader point is that I want to help people like that by cutting their taxes and taking them out of income tax altogether. We have already taken 3 million of the lowest-paid people out of income tax altogether, and we plan to enable people to earn £12,500 before they start to pay income tax, which will take another 1 million out of it altogether.

Will the Prime Minister welcome the increase in the number of students—especially those from the poorest backgrounds—who are applying for university places? Will he confirm that both universities and students would lose as a result of the reduction in funding that would be caused by a cut in fees? How could a policy that helped only rich graduates possibly be called progressive?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The coalition’s university policy was a long-term policy which has resulted in a record number of students going to university, as well as an increase in the number of university students from the poorest backgrounds. That is good for our country, good for students, and good for universities. What a contrast with Labour Members, who told us four years ago that they were going to get rid of tuition fees and who, four years later, have absolutely nothing to say about it. When will they make up their minds?

I join the Prime Minister in condemning the appalling murders of the Jordanian pilot and the Japanese hostages by ISIL. These were sickening and despicable acts, and simply reinforce our determination to defeat that evil organisation.

Everyone pays stamp duty on stock market transactions except those involved in hedge funds, who are allowed to avoid it. That is costing many hundreds of millions of pounds. Why is the Prime Minister refusing to act?

I have to say that for 13 years, during many of which the right hon. Gentleman was in the Treasury, they did absolutely nothing about this. What this Government have done is more than any previous Government to make sure that individuals and companies pay their taxes properly. I have to say I am delighted that he has raised the economy on the morning after his shadow Chancellor could not name one single business leader who backed Labour.

This is Prime Minister’s questions and the Prime Minister should try to answer the question. I asked him a very specific question about why hedge funds are not paying stamp duty on stock market transactions. It is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. He is being funded to the tune of £47 million by the hedge funds. Everyone knows that is why he is refusing to act, but what is his explanation?

Let me just remind the right hon. Gentleman that when we came into office foreigners did not pay stamp duty on the properties they bought, foreigners did not pay capital gains tax on the properties they bought, and because of his tax rates City hedge fund managers were paying lower tax rates than the people who cleaned their offices. That is what we had to sort out. But let me put it to him again: the day after his shadow Chancellor was asked on television whether he could think of one single business leader, do you know what he said, Mr Speaker? He said, “Bill Somebody”! Bill Somebody is not a person—Bill Somebody is Labour’s policy.

I will tell the Prime Minister what people on the Opposition Benches are doing: we are standing up for hard-working families and businesses while he is a friend of the tax avoiders. I am going to keep asking him the question until he answers it. It is a very specific question about hedge funds avoiding stamp duty on their share transactions. It is costing hundreds of millions of pounds. He is bankrolled by the hedge funds. He claims he wants to act on tax avoidance. Why will he not act?

If the right hon. Gentleman has a good submission for the Budget, he can talk to the Chancellor about it. He says what they are doing on his side of the House. Let me tell him what he has been doing on his side of the House: two former Labour Health Secretaries completely condemned his health policy; all the leading university vice-chancellors condemned his university policy; and he cannot find one single business leader to back his economic policy. Is it any wonder that the Chuckle Brothers have lodged an official complaint and said they do not want to be compared to the two clowns opposite?

I am afraid I am going to keep asking the question until the Prime Minister has an answer. Let me explain it to him. [Interruption.] You can’t help him George; you’re too far away. Let me explain it to him very simply. Everybody pays stamp duty on their share transactions. [Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting. The questions and the answers will be heard. This is a democratic Chamber and no one, but no one, is going to be shouted down. The point is very simple and very obvious, and I hope everyone can grasp it.

Let me explain it to the right hon. Gentleman very simply. Everybody pays stamp duty on their share transactions, but the hedge funds are protected. We have been calling for action on this. It could raise hundreds of millions of pounds. Why will he not act?

We have acted on stamp duty. We will continue to act on stamp duty, but the right hon. Gentleman sat for 13 years in the Treasury and never did anything about it. If he wants to make sure that he acts on tax avoidance and evasion, why does he not start with Labour’s biggest donor, Mr John Mills— yes, we all remember this—who gave his donation in shares in order to cut his tax bill? Has he paid back the taxes yet?

I am really pleased the Prime Minister wants to talk about donors. Let us talk about his donors: £7 million—[Interruption.]

Order. The question will be heard. It is a very simple point. I have had to make it a second time, and I will make it as many times as necessary: the right hon. Gentleman will be heard.

I was talking about the Prime Minister’s donors, Mr Speaker: £7 million from Lord Laidlaw, a tax exile living in Monaco; £3 million from Michael Hintze with a company based in Jersey; and Michael Spencer, who gave him £4 million, involved in the LIBOR scandal. Same old Tories.

Now, let us give the Prime Minister a fifth chance. I know he does not do his homework, but this is his fifth chance. The hedge funds are avoiding tax to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. Will he now promise, from that Dispatch Box, to act for the national health service?

We had Labour for 13 years: no action on stamp duty, foreigners not paying stamp duty, foreigners not paying capital gains tax, no bank levy. The right hon. Gentleman talks about tax exiles: Andrew Rosenfeld, the man who raises his money, was for years a tax exile living in Geneva. That is what we get. But is it any wonder the right hon. Gentleman wants to find one particular issue to raise today? He cannot talk about minimum wages because his policy is to cut them, he cannot talk about energy prices because his policy is to keep them up, he cannot talk about universities because his policy is to trash them, and he cannot name a single business leader who supports Labour. No wonder the person who wrote “Things can only get better” says it no longer applies to Labour.

So basically, the right hon. Gentleman has been found out: five chances to answer the question, no answer coming. Let us close that tax loophole so we can have more doctors, more nurses, more care workers and more midwives. This is the difference: this is a Prime Minister who will not tackle tax avoidance for the simple reason that too many of his friends would get caught in the net. They are the party of Mayfair hedge funds and Monaco tax avoiders, and under him you always know that it is one rule for those at the top and another rule for everyone else.

There is only one person who has been found out this week and that is the leader of the Labour party: his economic policy has collapsed; his health policy has collapsed; his universities policy has collapsed. The most vital election in a generation is coming, and people can see the choice: a Labour party that is anti-enterprise, anti-business and that is falling apart under scrutiny, and a Conservative party turning this country around. That is the choice: competence from us, chaos from them.

This week we have seen that fear is spreading across this land among senior business people. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that he will stay the course of his—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman’s question must be heard. If he wants to continue the last bit of it, he can: spit it out.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that he will stay the course to prosperity with his long-term economic plan?

We will stay the course, because we can now see 1.75 million more people in work, the deficit down by half, the British economy growing faster than any major economy in western Europe, and business and enterprise large and small saying we have the right plan and we should stick to that plan. That is what we will do: it is competence versus chaos.

Q2. They were elected by fewer than 15% of the public and their first elections cost £80 million: why will the Prime Minister not scrap these ridiculous police and crime commissioners and instead put the money into front-line policing that would keep our communities safe? (907413)

The hon. Lady might want to ask why her former colleague Alun Michael stood for one of these posts. I think this is bringing accountability to our police service, because everybody knows there is now one person they have to account to. In the past, people did not know how to access their police authorities; they do now.

Q3. When my right hon. Friend visits Yorkshire tomorrow, he will be spoilt for choice by the number of businesses that are investing in creating jobs in Leeds, bringing unemployment in my Pudsey constituency down 55%, in Leeds West down 39%, and in Morley and Outwood down 51%. Does that not show that all parts of Leeds are contributing to the northern economic powerhouse, thanks to this Government’s economic policies? (907414)

I am very much looking forward to explaining how our long-term economic plan will really benefit and continue to benefit Yorkshire and north-east Lincolnshire. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have got employment up by 114,000 since the election; private sector employment is up by almost 200,000 since the election. [Interruption.]

The shadow Chancellor says come to Morley and Outwood. Believe me, I will be there, and I am afraid to say I have a plan to increase unemployment in that constituency by one, to give him a bit more time to remember a single business man who supports him.

The Labour party was in power for 13 years and failed to deliver a single additional power to Scotland that was outlined in the vow. The Conservatives and the Lib Dems have been in power for five years and, like Labour, they are not proposing the real home rule that was promised. Do the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party now understand why the voters of Scotland are sick of the Westminster parties, in contrast with the SNP, which will always put Scotland first?

This coalition Government have actually taken part in a massive exercise of devolution to the Scottish Parliament, and have already set out a significant extra increase in powers that will take place whoever is standing at this Dispatch Box after the election. Yes, we have had a Westminster Government here for the last five years. We have an SNP Government in Scotland, and as the new Labour leader in Scotland has pointed out, under the SNP, A and E waiting times in Scotland are now worse than they are in England. So apparently, it is all right to compare Scotland and England, but of course, it is not all right to compare England and Wales. That is interesting, is it not? It is a fascinating political strategy for the Scottish Labour leader to say that life is always better under the Tories, but I agree.

Q4. Given the success the Prime Minister claims for the coalition’s long-term economic plan, why, if allowed to govern alone, does he want to change it to bring in even deeper cuts to public services? (907415)

I believe that after seven years of economic growth, which is what we will have had by 2018, we should be starting to pay down the deficit by running a surplus. I think that is something that every business and every family in the country will understand. You need to fix the roof when the sun is shining, and as far as I can see, it is only the Conservative party that will offer that at the next election.

Q5. When the Prime Minister comes to Yorkshire, he might reflect on the promise he made to a Barnsley business to support efforts to secure a major international contract to manufacture solar panels. Billions of pounds of investment depend upon him keeping his word, but delays in Whitehall mean that the deal is now at risk. Will the Prime Minister do what he said he would do: intervene to make sure that we can bring hundreds of good, skilled jobs to this country? (907416)

I understand that UK Trade & Investment, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Foreign Office have all been providing advice and support to Solar Europa, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, and have met it on a number of occasions. We want to promote all projects that can create jobs in the UK and benefit relations with international partners. So I will look to see if there is anything that can be done in the Whitehall system that is getting in the way of this company, and I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

My constituent Mr Mohammed Naved Bashir was arrested in December. Despite pointing out on numerous occasions that he had a different name from that of the wanted man, he was held in prison cells in Halifax for three days. It was confirmed that the police had arrested the wrong person only when he was transported and presented to a judge in Glasgow. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Home Secretary to look into this case and perhaps supply the answers that Mr Bashir is not getting to the questions he is putting to the police?

This sounds like a very concerning case. My understanding is that West Yorkshire police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the arrest and detention of Mr Bashir. I cannot give the House the specifics of the case because it involves ongoing legal action, but I will discuss it with the Home Secretary as my hon. Friend asks. Of course, one option would be for Mr Bashir to make a formal complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but let me try to get my hon. Friend some more information about this.

Q6. I know that the Prime Minister has followed closely the recent upheaval in the NHS in north Staffordshire, involving the Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent hospitals merger, the PET-CT scanner and the waiting times at accident and emergency. His Government commissioned KPMG to produce the Staffordshire “distressed economy” report, but it is being withheld. Will he now commit to publishing the full report so that we can all see his real plans for the NHS in Stoke-on-Trent and north Staffordshire? (907417)

I will look closely at the specific issue that the hon. Lady has raised. As she knows, the safety of patients in Staffordshire is absolutely our main priority. I know that the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust is working hard with the trust development authority and the other parties involved to manage a safe and timely transition of services, and I think that all parties should work together to do that. I have to say that that is not helped by the Leader of the Opposition going to Stafford and deliberately scaremongering and trying to frighten local people. He has said that Stafford hospital is on “the road to closure”. This is what he means by “weaponising” the NHS. It is an absolutely disgraceful tactic. The hon. Lady knows it is not true, and the Leader of the Opposition knows it is not true but he has not got the gumption to say so.

Q7. I know that the Prime Minister shares the gratitude expressed on both sides of the House for the sacrifices made by our health care professionals and members of our armed forces, including my constituent Lieutenant Marc White, who have risked their lives to help the people of Sierra Leone to combat the scourge of Ebola. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a way should be found to recognise their bravery? (907418)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am sure that everyone would like me to put on record my praise for those incredibly brave people who have worked in very difficult conditions, including over Christmas. They include doctors and nurses from our NHS and people from our armed forces, our civil service and non-governmental organisations. They are helping to save thousands of lives in Africa and protecting the UK from the potentially disastrous consequences of the disease spreading. In recognition of the bravery of those from the UK, I intend to recommend to Her Majesty the Queen the introduction of a new medal to pay tribute to their efforts. Details will be out in due course, and this should be in place by the summer. It is absolutely right to say that those people are incredibly brave and that we owe them an immense debt of gratitude.

Today’s “Green Budget” from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that median wages were still almost 5% lower last year than they were in 2008. Will the Prime Minister now admit that families across the country are indeed facing a cost of living crisis?

What the “Green Budget” today shows—I think we should take this as an important reference work—is that Labour would lead to an extra £170 billion of borrowing. That is the official figure. The shadow Chancellor was busy yesterday. In another of his interventions, he said on Radio 2 that “debt would be higher”. The cat is out of the bag. It is official: Labour would borrow, tax and spend more, and do all the things to put us back into the mess we got out of.

Q8. In recent weeks, Dover and east Kent have suffered gridlock due to problems at the port of Dover and the fire in the channel tunnel. Will the Prime Minister support the finding of a long-term solution to the problem? Will he consider making this a national strategic priority and using lorry levy funds to help to pay for it? (907419)

My hon. Friend is right to raise this question, and I know how hard he works for people in Dover and across east Kent. I understand that he met the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) about this, and as a result we have ordered an urgent review to look at the contingency arrangements for the M20/A20 and for the M2/A2 in the event of severe disruption at Eurotunnel and the channel ports, taking account of the recent congestion. It is important that we learn the lessons from this incident, and if the report comes up with good suggestions, we will look at them very carefully.

In 2010 the Prime Minister said that if he failed to deliver on his promises, voters should kick him out—his promise on pointless reorganisations of the NHS, his promise on immigration in the tens of thousands, his promise to wipe out the deficit in this Parliament. He has broken his contract with the British people. If he is a man of his word, there is a P45 with “Cameron” on it. He should take it, take that lot and go.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman the commitments that I made. I said we would turn the British economy round—we have turned the economy round. I said we would get the country back to work—there are 1.75 million more jobs. I said we would get the deficit down—it is down by a half. I said we would protect the NHS and we have protected the NHS. I said I would look after Britain’s pensioners—we kept our promise to pensioners. I can tell the hon. Gentleman what the competition will be at the next election—competence and a long-term plan from the Government, chaos from Labour.

Q9. On Friday I visited the Cranswick pork facility in my constituency. It now employs 1,500 people at that site alone, hundreds more than in 2010. A lot of that investment came about because Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers opened up the Chinese market and have kept it open. Will the Prime Minister come and visit the facility, see the northern powerhouse in action, and see the effect of a long-term economic plan with exports at its heart? (907420)

My hon. Friend is right to highlight that. One of the largest and most important manufacturing sectors in Britain is the food sector. It is very competitive. We need to do more to promote exports and my right hon. Friend the Agriculture Secretary is doing just that. The Chinese market represents an enormous opportunity. A number of important trade missions have already been carried out there, but we are also pushing within Europe for a free trade agreement with China. Other countries, including New Zealand, have shown the massive amount of benefit that that can bring to their country, and Britain will always be at the forefront of arguing for these trade agreements.

Q10. Does the Prime Minister know of anyone who owns or works for a UK- registered company that uses a Luxembourg-based holding company in order to avoid paying their fair share of tax in the UK? (907421)

I want to see more and more companies headquartered here in the United Kingdom. Under this Government, that is exactly what is happening. We inherited a situation where company after company was leaving our shores. Because we now have competitive tax rates and a business-friendly Government, more and more businesses are coming here, including in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Last week six-year-old Sam Brown from my constituency, with 10-year-old Kamal from London, came to see the Prime Minister to deliver personal letters to him about the NHS England failure to come up with a process to allow the NHS to fund the drugs they need for Morquio syndrome, which also apply to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. NHS England is still dragging its heels. Will the Prime Minister, who I know has taken an interest in this, please intervene to come up with an interim solution so that all these children can get the drugs that they need?

I well remember meeting the hon. Gentleman and the young boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy syndrome. I have looked into this. The consultation is under way and will finish at the end of April. Following this, the NHS will make a decision as quickly as possible whether or not routinely to fund Translarna. I have discussed this with the Health Secretary and we will do everything we can to help.

Q11. In 2010 the Government withdrew £80 million from five schools in my constituency. This destabilised the school in the village of Ryton so much that it is being forced against the will of all concerned to become an academy. The curriculum is constantly being cut, dedicated staff have lost their jobs and there is more of the same to come in the summer. What do I tell my constituent Lauren White, who loves this school, when she has seen her chosen career disappear before her very eyes? (907422)

All the evidence is that schools that have converted to academy status have seen their standards improve at a faster rate than maintained schools. Is it not interesting that the party that started to promote academies has given up on that good reform, as well as the other reforms it has given up on? We have put extra money in for school places, we are seeing improvements in school standards and we have said that any schools that are either inadequate or require improvement will need to be taken over by an academy if they do not have a proper plan for improvement. All parents who want to see their children succeed at school will welcome that.

Q12. My right hon. Friend has been admirably robust at combating anti-Semitism, and this Government have been generous in supporting security measures at state faith schools. However, 120 community buildings are now at risk of a terrorist attack of the type we saw in Paris. Will he commit to looking at creating a counter-terrorism fund to help maintain the security measures at these community buildings? (907423)

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I have met the Jewish Leadership Council and discussed this issue in the light of the Paris attacks. As he knows, the schools security grant, which we introduced, has made available £2.3 million of funding in the current year to protect security at Jewish schools, and it will be maintained next year. The Education Secretary is also going to meet the Community Security Trust to see whether we can do more to help Jewish independent schools. In my view, we need to do everything we can to help this community feel safe and secure in our country. I would hate it for British Jews not to feel that they have a home here in Britain—safe, secure and a vital part of our community.

Q15. It is now two years since a meningitis B vaccine was licensed for use across the EU. To achieve its effect of being able to prevent more than 80% of meningitis B cases here, it needs to be on the routine immunisation schedule for the NHS. The Prime Minister sounded hopeful in the House in November. Can he give us some indication as to when there will be a conclusion to the negotiations between the Government and Novartis? (907426)

I am afraid I cannot give any further update; the discussions are still under way. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this would be a vital step forward, because of the horrors of this disease. But he also knows that there would be huge cost issues if we were to make sure that this was made available. So those discussions with the drug company are vital. They are ongoing, and if I can give him an update in a letter, I will do so.

Q13. The whole of Herefordshire is behind a transformative project to create a new university specialising in engineering and technology, and, in particular, the agri-technology, defence and security sectors. That is possible only because of the Government’s universities policy and their decision to lift the cap on student numbers. Will the Prime Minister look hard, with the Chancellor, at the potential to award some public capital funding to support this enormously worthwhile project? (907424)

My hon. Friend is right to say that uncapping university numbers removes the cap on aspiration. We want to have a country where everyone can have the choice of an apprenticeship or a university place. He is right that some areas of our country, including Herefordshire, have been under-served by university provision, which is why we have got the extra £200 million available in the Higher Education Funding Council for England to support STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—capital investment. I know he is discussing this with the Chancellor to see whether we could make available some of this funding for the scheme he talked about. Let me say how important it is that we maintain a long-term plan for funding our universities. Young people in Britain want to know that we have the best universities in Europe and that they will continue to be that way. That is why what the university vice-chancellors have said this week about how our plans are working and costed, and Labour plans are completely unworking and uncosted, is so important.

Last night, the Prime Minister was on television saying that he would crack down on firms that move abroad to avoid paying their tax. So my question is this: when the Government launched the taxpayer-backed national loan guarantee scheme in 2012, why did the Prime Minister decide to allow companies based offshore in tax havens to apply for this form of state aid?

The national loan guarantee scheme was run by the banks, and it was the banks that chose what companies to fund. Let me say this: we have done more than any previous Government to ensure that companies pay their taxes. We inherited a situation from Labour in which foreigners were not paying stamp duty, companies were leaving Britain, and we were giving knighthoods to bankers who had failed Britain. All of that has changed.

Q14. This week is the anniversary of the great storm that ripped up the railway line at Dawlish in my constituency. I thank the Prime Minister and Network Rail for their very fast action to restore the line. Will he confirm his ongoing commitment to the South West rail link and the future funding for it? (907425)

First, let me join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the orange army that did such a fantastic job at Dawlish in getting that line back on track in such a short time. As she knows, we have also committed a further £30 million towards resilience and protection this year, but, more importantly, we are working with the South West Peninsula rail task force to bring together all the strategic and local transport schemes. I am absolutely determined that the south-west will have strong connections—road, rail and air—with the rest of the country, and those connections are absolutely vital to our long-term plan.