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Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2016

I know the whole House will want to join me in marking Holocaust Memorial Day. It is right that our whole country should stand together to remember the darkest hour of humanity.

Last year, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I said we would build a striking national memorial in London to show the importance Britain places on preserving the memory of the holocaust. Today, I can tell the House that this memorial will be built in Victoria Tower Gardens. It will stand beside Parliament as a permanent statement of our values as a nation, and it will be something for our children to visit for generations to come. I am grateful to all those who have made this possible, and who have given this work the cross-party status that it so profoundly deserves.

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

I echo the Prime Minister’s sentiments regarding Holocaust Memorial Day. We must never forget.

The North sea oil and gas industry, on which many people in my Waveney constituency are dependent for their livelihoods, is facing very serious challenges at the current time. The Government have taken steps to address the situation, but more is required if the industry is first to survive, and then to thrive. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he recognises the seriousness of the situation, and will he do all he can to get the industry through these very difficult times?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. I do recognise the seriousness of the situation. The oil price decline is the longest in 20 years and nearly the steepest, and this causes real difficulties for the North sea. We can see the effects in the east of England, of course across Scotland, particularly in Aberdeen, and in other parts of our country, too. We discussed this at Cabinet yesterday. I am determined that we build a bridge to the future for all those involved in the North sea. We are going to help the sector export its world-class expertise. We are going to help such economies diversify. We announced £1.3 billion of support last year for the North sea. We are implementing the Wood review. I will be going to Aberdeen tomorrow, where we will be saying more about what we can do to help this vital industry at this vital time.

On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the remarks the Prime Minister made about Holocaust Memorial Day. It is the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. We have to remember the deepest, darkest days of inhumanity that happened then and the genocides that have sadly happened since. We must educate another generation to avoid those for all time.

Independent experts have suggested that Google is paying an effective tax rate on its UK profits of around 3%. Does the Prime Minister dispute that figure?

Let us be clear what we are talking about here. We are talking about tax that should have been collected under a Labour Government being raised by a Conservative Government. I do dispute the figures the right hon. Gentleman gives. It is right that this is done independently by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but I am absolutely clear that no Government have done more than this one to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance—no Government, and certainly not the last Labour Government.

My question was whether the Prime Minister thinks an effective tax rate of 3% is right or wrong. He did not answer it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer described this arrangement as a “major success”, while the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson only called it a “step forward”. The Mayor of London described the payment as “quite derisory”. What exactly is the Government’s position on this 3% rate of taxation?

But we have put in place the diverted profits tax, which means that this company and other companies will pay more tax in future. They will pay more tax than they ever paid under Labour, when the tax rate for Google was 0%. That is what we faced.

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we have done. We have changed the tax laws so many times that we raised an extra £100 billion from business in the last Parliament. When I came to power, banks did not pay tax on all their profits—allowed under Labour, stopped under the Tories; investment companies could cut their tax bill by flipping the currency their accounts were in—allowed under Labour, stopped under the Tories; and companies could fiddle accounting rules to make losses appear out of thin air—allowed under Labour, stopped under the Tories. We have done more on tax evasion and tax avoidance than Labour ever did. The truth is that they are running to catch up, but they haven’t got a leg to stand on.

It was under a Labour Government that the inquiries into Google were begun. In addition, as a percentage of GDP, corporation tax receipts are lower under this Government than under previous Governments.

I have a question here from a gentleman called Jeff. [Interruption.] You might well laugh, but Jeff speaks for millions of people when he says to me:

“Can you ask the Prime Minister…if as a working man of over 30 years whether there is a scheme which I can join that pays the same rate of tax as Google and other large…corporations?”

What does the Prime Minister say to Jeff?

What I say to Jeff is that his taxes are coming down under this Government, and Google’s taxes are going up under this Government. Something the right hon. Gentleman said in his last question was factually inaccurate. He said that corporation tax receipts have gone down. They have actually gone up by 20% under this Government because we have a strong economy, with businesses making money, employing people, investing in our country and paying taxes into the Exchequer.

If, like me, the right hon. Gentleman is genuinely angry about what happened to Google under Labour, there are a few people he could call. Maybe he should start by calling Tony Blair. You can get him at J. P. Morgan. Call Gordon Brown. Apparently, you can get him at a Californian bond dealer called Pimco. He could call Alistair Darling. I think he’s at Morgan Stanley, but it’s hard to keep up. Those are the people to blame for Google not paying its taxes. We are the ones who got it to pay.

The problem is that the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister, and is responsible for the Government and therefore responsible for tax collection. Google made profits of £6 billion in the UK between 2005 and 2015 and is paying £130 million in tax for the whole of that decade. Millions of people this week are filling in their tax returns to get them in by the 31st. They have to send the form back. They do not get the option of 25 meetings with 17 Ministers to decide what their rate of tax is. Many people going to their HMRC offices or returning their forms online this week will say this: why is there one rule for big multinational companies and another for ordinary small businesses and self-employed workers?

All those people filling in their tax returns are going to be paying lower taxes under this Government. That is what is happening. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, he can, if he wants, criticise HMRC, but HMRC’s work is investigated by the National Audit Office, and when it did that, it found that the settlements that it has reached with companies are fair. That is how it works. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is pointing. The idea that those two right hon. Gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week. They met the unions and they gave them flying pickets. They met the Argentinians; they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met a bunch of migrants in Calais; they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hard-working taxpayers.

We have had no answers on Google; we have had no answers for Jeff.

Can I raise with the Prime Minister another unfair tax policy that affects many people in this country? This morning the Court of Appeal ruled that the bedroom tax is discriminatory, because of its impact—[Interruption.] I don’t know why Members opposite find this funny, because it isn’t for those who have to pay it. The ruling was made because of the bedroom tax’s impact on vulnerable individuals, including victims of domestic violence and disabled children. Will the Prime Minister now read the judgment and finally abandon this cruel and unjust policy, which has now been ruled to be illegal?

We always look very carefully at the judgments on these occasions, but of course our fundamental position is that it is unfair to subsidise spare rooms in the social sector if we do not subsidise them in the private sector where people are paying housing benefit. That is a basic issue of fairness, but isn’t it interesting that the first pledge the right hon. Gentleman makes is something that could cost as much as £2.5 billion in the next Parliament? Who is going to pay for that? Jeff will pay for it. The people filling in their tax returns will pay for it. Why is it that the right hon. Gentleman always wants to see more welfare, higher taxes and more borrowing—all the things that got us into the mess in the first place?

We have not had any answers on Google or the bedroom tax, but I ask the Prime Minister this. Shortly before coming into the Chamber, I became aware of the final report of the United Nations panel of experts on Yemen, which has been sent to the Government. It makes very disturbing reading. The report says that the panel has documented that coalition forces have

“conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees…civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques”.

These are very disturbing reports. In the light of this, will the Prime Minister agree to launch immediately an inquiry and a full review into the arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and suspend those arms sales until that review has been concluded?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have the strictest rules for arms exports of almost any country anywhere in the world. Let me remind him that we are not a member of the Saudi-led coalition; we are not directly involved in the Saudi-led coalition’s operations; and British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes. I will look at that report as I look at all other reports, but our arms exports are carefully controlled and we are backing the legitimate Government of the Yemen, not least because terrorist attacks planned in the Yemen would have a direct effect on people in our country. I refuse to run a foreign policy by press release, which is what he wants. I want a foreign policy that is in the interests of the British people.

Q2. The recent explosion of spurious legal claims against British troops, including those pursued by the law firm that has donated tens of thousands of pounds to the shadow Defence Secretary, undermine the ability of our armed forces to do their job. Will the Prime Minister join me in repudiating the disdain that this shows to our brave servicewomen and our brave servicemen? (903270)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, we hold our service personnel to the highest standards, and it is right that we do, but it is quite clear that there is now an industry trying to profit from spurious claims that are lodged against our brave servicemen and women. I am determined to do everything we can to close that bogus industry down. We should start by making it clear that we will take action against any legal firm that we find to have abused the system to pursue fabricated claims. That is absolutely not acceptable.

I begin by associating the Scottish National party with the comments of the Prime Minister in relation to Holocaust Memorial Day, and commend Governments across the United Kingdom for supporting the Holocaust Educational Trust for the important work it does.

Does the Prime Minister agree that there is no justification for discrimination or unfairness towards women in the private sector or the public sector, or by the Government?

First of all, I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman says about the Holocaust Educational Trust. I remember as a new constituency MP meeting people from the trust and seeing the incredible work they do in my constituency. They work extremely hard around the clock but this day is particularly important for them. I urge colleagues who have not visited Auschwitz to do so: it is something they will never forget, no matter what they have read, films they have seen or books they have interrogated. There is nothing like seeing for yourself what happened in the darkest hour for humanity.

In terms of wanting to end discrimination against women in the public sector, the private sector, in politics and in this place: yes, absolutely.

I very much welcome what the Prime Minister says on both counts. He is aware of the state pension inequality that is impacting on many women, and that, on pension equalisation, this Parliament voted unanimously for the Government to

“immediately introduce transitional arrangements for those women negatively affected by that equalisation.”

What will the Prime Minister do to respect the decision of this Parliament and to help those women who are affected—those born in the 1950s—who should have had proper notice to plan their finances and their retirement?

First of all, the equalisation of the retirement age came about on the basis of equality, which was a judgment by the European Court. We put it in place in the 1990s. When this Government decided—rightly, in my view—to raise the retirement age, we made the decision that no one should suffer a greater than 18-month increase in their retirement age. That is the decision that this House of Commons took. The introduction of the single-tier pension at £155 a week will be one of the best ways that we can end discrimination in the pension system, because so many women retiring will get so much more in their pension which, of course, under this Government, is triple-lock protected, so they will get inflation, earnings or 2.5%, and never again a derisory 75p increase.

Q3. Our prisons can still be centres of radicalisation. Will the Prime Minister look at all measures, including those in the all-party parliamentary group for boxing report, for preventing troubled young people from falling into the jaws of those dangerously screwed up and predatory extremists? (903271)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very disturbing that, when people are in our care and when the state is looking after them, on some occasions, they have been radicalised because of what they have heard in prison either from other prisoners, or on occasion, from visiting imams. We need to sort this situation out. The Justice Secretary has put in place a review. I will look carefully at the report my hon. Friend mentions, but, if anything, we must ensure that people who are already radicalised when they go to prison are de-radicalised rather than made worse.

Q5. Since the Chancellor of the Exchequer took control of the public purse, he has utterly failed to get the deficit under control. To date this year, he has borrowed over £74 billion to plug the gap or—to use the vernacular his party is fond of using for a hypothetical independent Scotland—the monumental financial black hole in his books. Is he now likely to breach his own deficit reduction target for the year by somewhere in the region of £9 billion? Will the Prime Minister finally concede— (903273)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and the economic strategy the Government have pursued, has cut the deficit in half from the record level we inherited. Soon it will be down by two-thirds. We are meeting what we want to see in terms of debt falling as a share of our GDP. What a contrast with the situation Scotland would be facing if it had voted for independence. In just six weeks, we have seen a 94% collapse in oil revenues. Because we have the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom, the collapse in the oil price and taxation will not affect people in Scotland. Had Scotland been independent, it would be a very, very dark day indeed.

Q4. Recently, I held a mental health forum in my constituency. I brought service users and commissioners together to explore how we could improve mental health services in Dudley and Sandwell. I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent announcement on increased funding for mental health services. Does he agree that, despite the fact we have more work to do, his commitments are a clear indication of our desire to have a revolution in mental health services in Britain? He has delivered some commitments on that. (903272)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. There is further to go, but the Government are investing more in mental health. We introduced the waiting times, most recently saying that young people suffering episodes of psychosis should be seen within two weeks. There is funding, there is parity of esteem, there is waiting time. There also needs to be a bigger culture change not just in the NHS but right across the public and private sectors, so that mental health conditions are given the attention they deserve.

Q6. From April, a woman who works full time stands to lose thousands of pounds in tax credits if she becomes pregnant with her first child. When will the Prime Minister stop attacking working people? (903274)

What we are doing for women like that is making sure that this year they can earn £11,000 without paying any income tax. If they are on low wages, if they are on the minimum wage, they will get a 7% pay increase because of the national living wage. For the first time, there will be 30 hours of free childcare for those people. That is what we are doing for hard-working people. Do we need to reform welfare? Yes, we do. If the hon. Gentleman had read the report into why his party lost the election—not the one it published, of course; the secret one we all read over the weekend—he would see that, by its endlessly arguing for higher and higher welfare, the British public rightly concluded that under Labour there would be higher and higher taxes.

Q8. I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s words on creating a national memorial to the victims of the holocaust. Tonight in Harrow, representatives of the whole community will come together to listen to the people who survived the holocaust. This is the only way we can preserve their memory. My right hon. Friend rightly alluded to the wonderful work of the Holocaust Educational Trust in allowing literally thousands of young people to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and to see it at first hand. Will he commit the Government to continue funding the Holocaust Educational Trust, so that many thousands more can see the horrors of the holocaust? (903276)

I can certainly make that commitment. We have funded the trust with over £10 million since I became Prime Minister. As I said in answer to an earlier question, it does excellent work. I also think there is a real need now as, tragically, the remaining holocaust survivors are coming to the end of their lives. Many of them—I will be spending some time today with some of them—are now speaking up in the most moving and powerful way. Recording their testimonies, which must be part of our memorial, is absolutely vital. Their description of what they went through and the friends and family they lost, is so powerful and moving we must capture it for generations to come.

Q7. In 2013, the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee recommended extending the retention of business rates to include new build nuclear power stations. The Centre of Nuclear Excellence is in my constituency, and the new build at Moorside is vital for our economic prosperity. Given the Government cuts to Cumbria’s councils, does the Prime Minister agree that if we are truly to build a northern powerhouse, our local authorities must retain all business rates from the nuclear new build in west Cumbria? (903275)

I will consider very carefully what the hon. Lady says. We are committed to the new nuclear industry, and we are obviously making good progress with Hinkley Point, but we need another big station to go ahead. I will consider very carefully her comments about business rates retention and business rates more broadly, but the most important thing is to have energy infrastructure that allows for the delivery of new nuclear power stations. That is the Government’s position.