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Volume 609: debated on Wednesday 4 May 2016

I know that the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating Leicester City on winning the premier league title. Having been 5,000:1 outsiders at the start of the season, they have shown superb ability, incredible resilience and a great team ethic.

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 begin by associating myself with the Prime Minister’s comments about Leicester City? That result is something on which he and I can agree.

On Monday, the Foreign Secretary said:

“There is a need for a new initiative in the Syria dialogue to keep it alive.”

Will the Prime Minister withdraw his airstrikes, which have done nothing to bring about peace, and will he redouble his efforts to secure a political resolution to the war through a new dialogue, as recommended by his own Foreign Secretary?

I think that we should do both. I think that we should continue to hit Daesh terrorists because they threaten our country, but at the same time do everything that we can to support dialogue between the opposition and the Syrian regime, which is what the progress has been about. We will continue to take both those steps.

Q2. My right hon. Friend will be aware that 33 Conservative candidates will stand in the Lincoln city elections tomorrow, along with our county’s police and crime commissioner candidate—and Labour will lose some seats! All of us in Lincoln are aware of the need for tolerance and the stamping out of racism and anti-Semitism, especially in view of my Labour predecessor’s current role on the Board of Deputies. Will my right hon. Friend join me, and all our Conservative colleagues, in condemning the actions and propaganda of Hezbollah and Hamas? (904863)

I certainly wish my hon. Friend’s candidates well. If people want to have well-run services at a good cost and keep taxes down, it is right for them to vote Conservative throughout the country.

My hon. Friend’s point about Hamas is important. We should be clear about who they are. They are a terrorist group who believe in killing Jews, and that is why whatever the Leader of the Opposition says about combating anti-Semitism in the Labour party will mean nothing until he withdraws the remark that they were his friends. He needs to do that, and he should do it today.

I join the Prime Minister in congratulating Leicester City on their amazing achievement. I hope that what he has said is not an indication that he is going to support another football team, rather than sticking with the two that he has already.

Later today, commemorations begin for Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. I hope that it is agreed in all parts of the House that we should send our best wishes to those who are commemorating the occasion, and also send a very clear statement that anti-Semitism has no place in our society whatsoever and we all have a duty to oppose it.

Tomorrow people will go to the polls to vote in council elections in England. Nine of the 10 most deprived councils are set to see cuts higher than the national average, and eight face cuts more than three times the national average. That means less money for youth services, for adult social care, and for those in the areas with the greatest need. The Prime Minister used to say, “We are all in it together.” What happened to that?

First, I join the right hon. Gentleman in saying that we should always support Holocaust Memorial Day, whether here in the UK, where we have a number of commemorations, or in Israel. But I am going to press him on this point, because he said:

“it will be my pleasure and my honour to host an event in parliament where our friends from Hezbollah will be speaking… I’ve also invited friends from Hamas to come and speak as well.”

Hamas and Hezbollah believe in killing Jews, not just in Israel but around the world. Will he take this opportunity? If he wants to clear up the problem of anti-Semitism in the Labour party, now is a good time to start: withdraw the remark that they are your friends.

I have made it very clear that Labour is an anti-racist party and that there is no place for anti-Semitism within it. We have suspended any members who have undertaken any anti-Semitic activities or work or made such statements, and have established an inquiry led by Shami Chakrabarti. The point the Prime Minister makes relates to a discussion I was hosting to try to promote a peace process. It was not an approval of those organisations. I absolutely do not approve of those organisations.

The reality is that vulnerable people are being abandoned in this country. The Prime Minister has said that social care and support for the elderly were a priority for him. If that is the case, why has he cut £4.5 billion since 2010 from the adult social care budget, leaving 300,000 older people without the care and support they need to live in dignity?

First, we are putting more money into social care and allowing councils to raise council tax to put that money in.

I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman will have to do this one more time. He referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as his friends. He needs to withdraw that remark. Let me give him another chance: are they your friends or are they not? Those organisations, in their constitutions, believe in persecuting and killing Jews. They are anti-Semitic and racist organisations, and he must stand up and say they are not his friends.

Obviously, anyone who commits racist attacks or who is anti-Semitic is not a friend of mine. I am very clear about that. I invite the Prime Minister to think for a moment about the conduct of his party and his candidate in the London mayoral elections and their systematic smearing of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), our candidate for Mayor. I wish him well, and I invite the Prime Minister to undertake to ensure that the Conservative party in London desists from its present activities in smearing my friend.

Last week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s “Destitution” report found that 1.25 million people in Britain were unable to afford the essentials needed to eat and stay warm, clean and dry. The number of people using food banks rose again last year. The Prime Minister usually lectures us about a stronger economy. When will that stronger economy mean that fewer people need to use food banks?

What the stronger economy means is that there are over 2 million more people in work than when I became Prime Minister, and that someone can now earn £11,000 before paying tax; and we have introduced a national living wage—something never done in 13 years of a Labour Government.

I completely reject the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about Labour’s candidate for the London mayoralty. As I have said before at the Dispatch Box, we are not responsible for everything someone says when they share a platform with us, and we cannot control everyone who appears in a picture, but there is a pattern of behaviour with the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). He shared a platform with Sajil Shahid, the man who trained the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks and accused the United States of bringing 9/11 on itself. He shared a platform with an extremist who called for Jews to be drowned in the ocean. When this was put to the right hon. Member for Tooting, he described it as mere “flowery” language. If the leader of the Opposition wants to know why he has a problem with anti-Semitism, let me tell him: it is because his candidates share platform after platform with extremists and anti-Semites and then excuse their words. One more time: say you withdraw the remark about Hamas and Hezbollah being your friends.

Last week, the Prime Minister tried, as he often does, to smear my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting for his association with Sulaiman Ghani. It turns out that Mr Ghani is actually an active Conservative supporter who has shared platforms with the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). The Prime Minister should also reflect on the words of Lord Lansley some years ago when he said that racism was “endemic” within his party. We have set up a commission of inquiry; I suggest that the Prime Minister might think about doing the same thing.

Lord Kerslake, the former Government housing chief, has said that the Housing and Planning Bill

“effectively removes the security that people need”,

and that it is “fundamentally wrong”. Homelessness is up by a third since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, and it is rising again this year. A voter, Malcolm, wrote to me this week to say that he and his family will lose their home if the Government’s Housing Bill goes through. Why can the Prime Minister not follow the example set by the Welsh Labour Government by placing a legal duty and responsibility on councils to help people during a housing crisis? Why cannot he do that?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what this Government have done, not in Wales where Labour is in control but here in England: we have built twice as much council housing in the last six years as Labour did in the previous 13.

But I am not going to let the issue about the right hon. Member for Tooting rest. The Leader of the Opposition raised the case of Sulaiman Ghani, whom the right hon. Member for Tooting shared a platform with nine times. This is a man who says that it is wrong to stop people going to fight in—[Interruption.] No, as long as it takes. Do you want to know the views of a person that your leader has just quoted? He has described women as—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) might be interested in this. He described women as “subservient” to men. He said that homosexuality was an “unnatural” act. He stood on a platform with people who wanted an Islamic state. That is why the Leader of the Opposition’s attempts to deal with anti-Semitism are utterly condemned to failure. He will not even condemn people who sit on platforms with people like that.

I did point out to the Prime Minister—I was trying to help him—that the gentleman concerned is actually a Conservative. Maybe he would care to think about that. He might also consider that Shazia Awan, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate, has said this of the Tory mayoral campaign:

“I’ll be voting Labour. A lifelong Tory voter and ex-candidate, I’m ashamed at the repulsive campaign of hate”.

Homelessness has been reduced by 67% in Wales since the new regulations came in. Why can the Prime Minister not do the same in this country? Inequality is getting worse. Education ought to be a route out of poverty, but new figures show that the number of people participating in a level 2 adult education course in the first half of this year fell by a fifth compared with last year. How can we tackle inequality when the Prime Minister and his Government are taking away the opportunities for people to find a pathway out of poverty?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about inequality, but inequality has gone down under this Government. There are 764,000 fewer workless households and 449,000 fewer children living in workless households. Why? Because we have a growing economy, a living wage, more jobs and people paying less tax. That is what is happening under this Government. Once again I say to him that we are investing in schools to give people opportunities and in schemes to allow people to own homes to give them opportunities. He opposes all those things because the truth is this: he may be a friend of the terrorist group Hamas but he is an enemy of aspiration.

Order. Let me gently say to the assiduous but slightly over-enthusiastic Government Whip, the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), that his role is to be seen and not heard—no further noise, please, from the hon. Gentleman today or from the sidekick to his right. A cabal of Whips will not shout people down in this Chamber. Be quiet or leave; it is very simple.

The Prime Minister’s Government cut income tax for the richest, cut capital gains tax, and cut corporation tax again and again. At every turn, they make the wrong choices. Tomorrow, people can make their own choices about the crisis of social care, the housing crisis in this country, the unprecedented cuts to local councils in the areas of greatest need, and the cuts to further education, taking opportunities away from young people. The choices have been made. The Government cut taxes for the rich; we want proper taxation to ensure that there are decent services for the rest.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that tomorrow is about choices. People can choose a party that is on the side of security for hard-working people and that wants to ensure that there are more jobs, better pay, lower taxes, good schools for their children, and a seven-day NHS that is there for them when they need it. Their other choice is to back a party that puts extremists over working people and that is utterly incapable of providing the leadership that their local council or our country needs.

Q5. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in order to create a northern powerhouse that can produce innovation and prosperity, investment is needed in vital transport links in our northern cities? Of particular concern to my constituents is the junction of the A34 and the A560 at Gatley. Will the Prime Minister and his Ministers meet me to discuss how we can keep traffic moving into and out of the great city of Manchester and alleviate congestion in my constituency of Cheadle? (904866)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. We established Transport for the North to look exactly at schemes such as the one that she proposes, so that we can speak with one voice. We are also investing £13 billion in transport across the north over this Parliament. Planning for the next road investment strategy for after 2020 is also now under way, so it is absolutely the right time for her to make that point.

Last week, the Prime Minister took issue when I mentioned unaccompanied Syrian refugee children in Europe and the Kindertransport of the 1930s. Since then, he has been written to by Sir Erich Reich, the chairman of the Association of Jewish Refugees’ Kindertransport special interest group, who said:

“The echoes of the past haunt many of my fellow Kinder and I whose fate similarly rested with members of the British parliament. I feel it is incumbent on us to once again demonstrate our compassion and human-kindness to provide sanctuary to those in need.”

Why has it taken so long, and the threat of a parliamentary defeat, for the Prime Minister to begin changing his mind?

First, let me pay tribute to the gentleman mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. Let us be clear that no country has done more than Britain to help when it comes to Syrian refugees. No country has raised more money, and only the United States has spent more money. I want us to proceed with as much support from across the House as we can. I think it is right to stick to the principle that we should not be encouraging people to make this dangerous journey. I think it is right to stick to the idea that we keep investing in the refugee camps and in neighbouring countries. I also think it is right not to take part in the EU relocation and resettlement schemes, which have been, in my view, a failure.

We are already taking child migrants in Europe with a direct family connection to the UK, and we will speed that up. I am also talking to Save the Children to see what more we can do, particularly with children who came here before the EU-Turkey deal was signed, because I say again that I do not want us to take steps that will encourage people to make this dangerous journey. Otherwise, our actions, however well-meaning they will be, could result in more people dying, rather than more people getting a good life.

Last week, I accused the Prime Minister of walking by on the other side when he stoutly defended his then policy, opposing further help for unaccompanied refugee children in Europe. If what we are hearing now is the beginnings of a U-turn, I very much welcome it, as I am sure do Members from all parts of the House. May I encourage him to think more about what can be done, given that the Kindertransport helped 10,000 children from Europe? Finally, may I ask him to take the opportunity to thank Lord Alf Dubs and all campaigners who have worked so hard for the UK to live up to the example and the spirit of the Kindertransport?

I certainly think that all those people deserve recognition for the work they have done to put this issue so squarely on the agenda, but let me say again that I reject the comparison with the Kindertransport. I do so for this reason: I would argue that what we are doing primarily—taking children from the region, taking vulnerable people from the camps, going to the neighbouring countries and taking people into our country, housing them, clothing them, feeding them and making sure they can have a good life here—is like the Kindertransport.

I think that to say that the Kindertransport is like taking children today from France, Germany or Italy—safe countries that are democracies—is an insult to those countries. But, as I have said, because of the steps we are taking, it will not be necessary to send the Dubs amendment back to the other place; the amendment does not now mention a number of people. We are going to go around the local authorities and see what more we can do, but let us stick to the principle that we should not be taking new arrivals to Europe.

Q7. The Department of Health is looking to introduce a cell-free DNA test for pregnant women in order to reduce the number of miscarriages, but this will have the unintended consequence of increasing the number of abortions for those with Down’s syndrome. I know that nobody in this House cares more about the protection and safety of those with special needs, so will the Prime Minister meet me and representatives of the East Lancashire Down’s Syndrome Support Group so that we can look at ways of protecting those with Down’s syndrome and ensuring that they will not be simply screened out? (904868)

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. A local group of Down’s syndrome parents came to my constituency surgery on Friday and made all these arguments to me. As a constituency MP, I am taking this up with the Department of Health to make sure that all the right processes are followed. There are moral and ethical issues that need to be considered in these cases, but on the other hand we also have to respect the view that women want to have screening and testing about the health of their children, and we should be in favour of maximum transparency, on the basis that this is optional rather than mandatory, but it is part of routine care. So the Health Secretary is going to have to find a way through this, but, above all, we must make sure we go about it in the right way.

Q4. Nifco UK manufactures components for Ford and Nissan cars and employs hundreds of people, including many from my constituency. I am sure the Prime Minister knows of the need for us all to get behind our manufacturing industry, but does he agree with Nifco’s managing director, Mike Matthews, that it would be “business suicide” for the UK to leave the European Union? (904865)

I think we should listen to all the business voices, particularly those in manufacturing, so many of whom say that we are better off in a reformed European Union. We get an enormous amount of investment, particularly from Japanese motor industries. I will be welcoming the Japanese Prime Minister here to the UK tomorrow, when I am sure this will be on the agenda.