If he will list his official engagements for
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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.
Having met four young people from my Bridgend constituency, my right hon. Friend will be aware that it is vital that those young people have the assurance and confidence that, for their futures, there will be apprenticeships and good jobs available for them, on which they can build their future lives. Can I give them that assurance from the Prime Minister?
I was pleased to meet young people from my hon. Friend's constituency and to talk about the creation of jobs and opportunities for young people. The whole House will be pleased to know today that the employment figures show that we have more people in employment than at any time in our history. Despite the global financial turbulence, which has meant unemployment rising in America and unemployment twice as high as ours in France and Germany, we have seen unemployment fall in every region and nation of the country over the last year. That is possible only because of the policies of stability and the creation of the new deal, which we will continue to pursue; that never happened under the previous Government.
The whole world will have been shocked by the pictures on television last night of the security crackdown and the dead bodies on the streets of Lhasa and other parts of Tibet. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that, yes, our relationship with China is vital, and China is a major power, but we must be absolutely clear in telling the Chinese Government that this is completely unacceptable?
I spoke to Premier Wen of China this morning, and I made it absolutely clear that there had to be an end to violence in Tibet. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will agree with that. I also called for constraint, and I called for an end to the violence by dialogue between the different parties. The Premier told me that subject to two things that the Dalai Lama has already said—that he does not support the total independence of Tibet and that he renounces violence—he would be prepared to enter into dialogue with the Dalai Lama. I will meet the Dalai Lama when he is in London. I think it is important that we all facilitate discussions, but the most important thing at the moment is to bring about an end to the violence, to see reconciliation, and to see legitimate talks taking place between those people in China.
Can I congratulate the Prime Minister on making absolutely the right decision with regard to the Dalai Lama? It is a difficult decision, but it would not have been made any better by delaying it, and I congratulate him on doing the right thing.
May I say to my right hon. Friend that long-term unemployment is down 82 per cent. in my constituency, and overall unemployment is down by 39 per cent.? I have just been in discussions with a prospective inward investor who proposes to bring another 600 jobs to my constituency. My right hon. Friend knows that the success in turning around the economy in my area is due to the relationship between the Government and the private sector. Will he ensure that we invest in training, so that those good trends continue in future?
My hon. Friend has fought hard for the car industry and other jobs for his constituency, and for the development of the science-based industries in the whole of the north-west region. He will be pleased to know that unemployment is falling in the whole region, that unemployment is down on a year ago, and that more jobs are being created in all parts of the country. We will continue to pursue the policies that are necessary—putting stability first by bearing down hard on inflation, a new deal to give people chances of jobs, and apprenticeships for young people. None of that would happen under the policies of the Opposition.
Two hours ago a retired Gurkha soldier handed over this medal to me in protest at the Government's refusal to grant him British citizenship. Does the Prime Minister know what it means for a loyal British soldier to give up a medal that he won for his long years of service to this country? Can he explain to the Gurkhas why on earth he believes that Gurkhas who have served in the Army after 1997 are worthy of British citizenship, but those who served before that date should be deported?
Let me also pay tribute to the Gurkhas. They have been in existence since 1815. They have served loyally in every part of the world, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they fought with Prince Harry over the past few months. They have done a tremendous job for our country. We are the first Government to have given Gurkhas the right to a pension, for those serving after 1997. We are the first to have given equal pay to the Gurkhas. We are the first to have dealt with the problems of married accommodation, and we are the first to say that after four years in the Army they will have the right to residence in this country. Those are changes that we have brought about. Why is the date 1997? It is the date that the Gurkhas, once based in Hong Kong, moved to be based in Britain. That is why we are honouring the promises that we made for the period after 1997.
That is a technical argument on a moral issue. It is a spectacular misjudgement from the man who signed the cheques for the Iraq war, but has never had the moral courage to take responsibility for it. After five years of conflict in Iraq— [Interruption.]
After five years of conflict in Iraq, at the cost of 175 British soldiers' lives, over 600,000 Iraqi civilians and £7 billion of taxpayers' money, will the Prime Minister tell the House today whether he has any regrets about his decision to support and pay for the war in Iraq?
There is a democracy in Iraq as a result of the changes that have been brought about. Millions of children are getting the benefit of education, vaccination and health care services as a result. We are rebuilding, with the Iraqis, the economy of Iraq. I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman wants to go back to a situation where Saddam Hussein was in control of Iraq.
Children's centres, where community midwives, health visitors and speech and language therapists are working alongside child care providers and family support workers, are making a real difference to the life chances of children and giving tremendous support to their parents. Will my right hon. Friend please give an assurance to the House that the funding for the Sure Start programme will continue, so that every community has access to fully integrated children's services?
There is a transformation taking place in care for the under-fives. There are 1,500 children's centres now, and there will be 3,500 in 2010. That means that for most constituencies, there will be five or six Sure Start children's centres available for use by both parents and children. What would be a terrible mistake is the Conservative policy to take £200 million out of the budget of Sure Start centres. The Conservatives must explain how many areas will have their Sure Start centres closed as a result. They are proposing doing the worst by young children by cutting back on vital provision in early years learning.
Before the House breaks for Easter, I should like to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to answer some of the questions that he has completely failed to answer in recent weeks. [Interruption.] I thought he would welcome the opportunity. Last week I asked him whether we could have free votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in this House, whereas in the House of Lords he whipped his peers on conscience issues. Can he tell us today: will we have free votes on that Bill on his side of the House when it comes here?
I made the position clear last week about this Bill. This is an important Bill that improves the facilities for research and is vital for dealing with life-threatening diseases. It is a Bill that has gone through the House of Lords. I said very clearly that everybody in this House should have the right to exercise their consciences. We will come back to the House with our proposals to take it through in later times.
Why can he not just tell us whether we can have free votes or not? What is so difficult about making a decision about this issue? If he cannot make a decision about this, no wonder the country is in such a mess.
Let me try an issue that I asked the Prime Minister about two months ago—identity cards. I asked him whether he was personally in favour of compulsory identity cards. I am opposed to that; he says that it is a matter for Parliament. Well, the last time I looked he was a Member of Parliament. Will he be voting for them—yes or no?
I was in favour of them then, and I repeat that now. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the question that he never answered: is he in favour of compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals—yes or no? We are in favour. Is he against?
If the Prime Minister wants to ask me questions, he should call an election, so he can ask six a week. In the meantime, my responsibility is to ask him questions on behalf of the country, and his responsibility is to answer on behalf of the Government. ID cards for foreigners are just a way of spinning biometric visas, and there is not a person in the House of Commons who is opposed to them.
Let me try another question. [Interruption.] It is good to see the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families sitting there so quietly this week. [Interruption.] Very, very good. He had a choice: he had to learn either to shout more clearly or to be quiet. He has made the right choice.
When I asked the Prime Minister about A-levels six weeks ago, he could give absolutely no guarantee that they would remain after the review in 2013. That means that children starting secondary school do not know whether they will be doing A-levels or not. I want A-levels to remain as the gold standard. Does he?
I also answered this question a few weeks ago. The review will take place in 2013. Nobody is going to take away A-levels when they are successful. What we are going to do is look at how the diplomas are working, review the issue in 2013 and then make a decision. That is a guarantee that A-levels are in business for the next five years.
So the Prime Minister can give us absolutely no answer for after 2013. That means that children at secondary school and their parents have no idea about what sort of examination system is going to be in place.
The Prime Minister cannot make a decision about free votes and he cannot make a decision about A-levels. No wonder his new spin doctor Stephen Carter says that living in Downing street is like living in a surreal cartoon. There are now so many spin doctors in Downing street that they have started spinning against each other and leaving in floods of tears. There is a new strategist, a man called David Muir. Yes, I have done a bit of research—he is the chief strategist and on the internet he has listed his favourite book. It is called— [Interruption.] Is his favourite book not the following? It is called "The unstoppable power of leaderless organisations". If the Prime Minister cannot make a decision, and if he cannot run his office, why does anyone wonder why he cannot run the country?
We are dealing with the substance of issues. The Opposition are playing at politics; we are dealing with the substance of governing. It is interesting that there was not one question about the global economy. Why? Because the Conservatives do not have a policy on the global economy. There was not one question about the health service, because they have no proper policy on the national health service. There was not one question about local government services because they are cutting local government services. They have no answer to the problems of this country.
Fifteen thousand houses are being built in London in the course of a year. The Mayor has raised the target to 30,000, but he also wants 50 per cent. of those houses to be affordable housing. It is very sad that the Conservative mayoral candidate for London has abandoned pursuing that target, in the event that he were ever elected. Surely in London, of all places, we need more affordable housing. We will deliver it; the Conservatives would not.
Can the Prime Minister explain how a London Underground public-private partnership contract that charges out a technician at the rate of £140,000 a year meets the Government's targets for best value? Who shall we blame for this state of affairs?
We are increasing usage of the underground in London from 1 billion passengers a year to 1.5 billion passengers a year. Public transport in London has never been better as a result of the decisions that we are taking. Unfortunately, it would be cut by the Conservatives.
It seems certain that coal miners' beat knee is about to be made a prescribed industrial disease. In order that we can avoid another feeding frenzy for solicitors, will the Prime Minister get his Ministers to meet interested MPs to see whether a scheme can be established that gives value for money to the taxpayer, fair compensation to the coal miner and nothing to the solicitor?
I understand that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council is currently looking at this very issue and at whether the disease should be prescribed and therefore liable to compensation and help. It will make recommendations to Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions in due course, and we will take action on that. I can say to my hon. Friend that it is only because we have taken action on industrial diseases over these past 10 years that miners are now receiving the compensation that they never received under the previous Government.
2008 is the year of reading. Is the Prime Minister aware that many visually impaired and dyslexic children cannot obtain vital textbooks in accessible formats? Last year, the Government made a welcome commitment to improve the provision of such materials. Will he ensure that that commitment is delivered?
I had the privilege of being at the launch of the national year of reading. It is very important to encourage all children to get the benefits of reading. The hon. Lady rightly raises the problem of dyslexic children and others who are in need of special help. I will look at everything that she says on that matter and write to her.
My hon. Friend has been very active in protecting children, particularly children who are away from their homes, from abuse and exploitation. As she may know, we have set up the review under Dr. Tanya Byron, which is to look into the evidence of harm and measures to protect children from inappropriate content online. I have talked to Dr. Tanya Byron about her review. She will report soon. I believe that she will make recommendations that will take into account the need to see the internet as a means by which people get access to learning materials and to new technology but also as a danger and a harm on which we have to take action where necessary. I hope that my hon. Friend will look forward to Dr. Byron's report.
Is it right that a person who has been given a driving ban for a serious offence such as causing death by dangerous driving and is subsequently given a prison sentence for an unrelated criminal offence can continue to use up their driving ban while in prison? Should it not be deferred until they are released?
Last Saturday's grand slam victory shows the sporting skills and passion of the Welsh nation. In looking forward to the Olympic games in 2012 and the opportunities that they will provide to Welsh communities such as my own, Ynys Môn, which has been chosen for potential training facilities for athletes from across the world, does the Prime Minister agree that the legacy from the Olympics must be spread across the United Kingdom, and will he urge his Ministers to work with the devolved Administrations and the Olympics committee to ensure that that legacy crosses the United Kingdom and peripheral areas such as north-west Wales?
I hear that my hon. Friend has a sore throat, no doubt from cheering all over the weekend. I, too, send my congratulations to the captain and the manager of the Welsh team on their great success in the international championship.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The benefits of the Olympics must be spread across the whole country. That is the intention behind persuading the different teams to do training in particular areas of the country before they arrive in London. I understand that the Australian Paralympics team are going to base themselves in Wales for the pre-games camp. I hope that in other areas of the country, regions, cities and towns will see the benefit of such activity as we move forwards to 2012. The Olympic games are for the whole United Kingdom, and I believe that that is how the public see them.
Can the Prime Minister tell the House how many post offices are due for closure in his constituency? Is he fighting to keep them open, as his Cabinet colleagues are doing in their constituencies? Does he not find it rather bizarre that they are fighting against a policy of his and of his Government that is doing so much damage to the post office network in this country?
The post offices are losing half a million pounds a day. I, too, want to see good services for post offices in every part of the country, but the fact of the matter is that there are 800 post offices where, on average, 16 people attend every week. We have got to take action. I take it from the motion that the Conservatives have tabled for debate today that they are not proposing extra money to save the post offices. Unfunded promises are empty and hollow promises to the people of this country. We have put aside £1.7 billion to make such money available to the post office network. I can only repeat what the chairman of the National Federation of SubPostmasters said this morning:
"Post Offices do not have the customer base they used to have many years ago. Many Post Offices are far quieter than they used to be and...although this is unpopular closing two and a half thousand Post Offices, it is necessary to make sure that the remaining eleven and a half thousand have a future."
That is what we intend: to make sure that they do have one.
Order. Before going any further, Mr. Evennett, it is not your purpose to come into this Chamber to shout down the Prime Minister, or any other hon. Member who is addressing the House—and that goes for a few others. I will not tolerate this situation.
A constituent of mine will have approximately £1,500 less spent on him for public services than the exact equivalent in Glasgow. There is increasing anger in the English regions about the Barnett formula, which is a threat to the Union. Will my right hon. Friend agree to review this formula?
We are due to publish a paper on the Barnett formula soon, but I say to my hon. Friend that the allocation of funds in the United Kingdom is based on a needs assessment that started more than 30 years ago, has been agreed by all parties subsequently, and has been followed by every Government since. It is based on the idea that we should allocate resources in the UK on the basis of need. That is the basis on which the Barnett formula exists.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Lincolnshire police authority has increased its precept by 78.9 per cent. That is the result of continuous underfunding due to a grants system that does not properly address the needs of rural areas. Would he please ensure that in the coming year there is a special one-off payment to help, and that in future the grants system is adjusted so that forces such as Lincolnshire get proper resources?
We have promised police authorities a minimum of 2.5 per cent. extra per year for the next three years. I have not seen similar promises to fund policing made by the Conservative party. As a result of doubling expenditure on police since 1997, we have more police than ever before in our history, and we are better served by police and community support officers. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that that is one of the reasons why crime has fallen in this country.
Figures revealed to me show that 10,500 households in Brighton and Hove are currently waiting for council homes fit to live in. Some are rehoused 20 miles away in temporary accommodation, while others are in private rented accommodation that is substandard to say the least. What additional powers will the Prime Minister make available to Members of Parliament to force Tory-led local authorities such as mine to build more affordable homes?
There is a desperate need for more houses in this country, and it is important that all the agencies that can make possible the building of housing do so. Therefore, it is sad to see that some Conservative and Liberal authorities are unprepared to build the houses needed. We are prepared to make additional funding available, as we have shown. I hope that local authorities in every area of the country will respond to the urgent need.
My constituent, Adela Mahoro Mugabo, who is HIV positive after being raped and tortured in Rwanda, is threatened with being sent back to that country, where she will not be able to access the treatment that she requires to stay alive. Will the Prime Minister intervene to stop that travesty of justice?
I am very happy to look at the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions. Obviously, there is no reason to believe that people being returned to Rwanda, which is now a peaceful country, will be tortured or in difficulties as a result of that. If there is an issue about the treatment of this particular patient, we will obviously consider it.
Can it be right that a tax exile is allowed to spend unlimited amounts of funding on political campaigning outside an election period? Is it not time that that issue was tackled, and is not that best done by getting all the political parties back around the table to agree a settlement that is acceptable to all?
We have made proposals to reform party funding and we will introduce a White Paper on the matter soon. It is important to acknowledge that most of the public want a ceiling on election expenditure and on individual contributions. We are considering that; it is unfortunate that it does not have all-party support.
Yesterday, I was pleased to present a petition to the Prime Minister on behalf of my constituent, Mr. Ali Pourkaberian, an Iranian Christian who was supposed to be deported. We were delighted to get the news on the same day that his deportation has been put on hold. However, when will the Government accept that deporting Christians, homosexuals or anyone else whom the objectionable regime in Iran does not like is simply not facing up to our human rights responsibilities?
I think that we do face up to our human rights responsibilities, and when there is a proven case on which we can act, we will take action. I do not know about the individual case, but it is important to ensure that the system is used fairly and that decisions are made in the right way at all times.
It is clear that the international drive for biofuels is doing more harm than good for food security and biodiversity, and even in combating climate change. Will my right hon. Friend take a lead in Europe by calling for the current targets to be abandoned until we have a truly sustainable generation of biofuels?
I attended the European Council last Friday and we are holding fast to the general environmental targets, which include a 60 per cent. or more reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. My hon. Friend will have noted the Chancellor's proposals on biofuels in the Budget. Of course, we wish other countries to do as we are doing in making it clear that we will make the necessary changes, based on the scientific evidence.
The consultation process leads to three different stages, in which Postwatch is involved. As a result, 10 per cent. of the proposals have been changed. There is an additional stage that has been agreed whereby the chairman of the Post Office, Mr. Leighton, will examine any individual representations that are made to him after those stages. I believe that there is, therefore, a set of opportunities for people to put their case. The fact that 10 per cent. of changes have been reversed shows that the Postwatch system is working.
Gift aid makes a genuine difference to many charities, which will welcome the transitional measures that were announced last week in the Budget to help soften the blow caused by the reduction of the basic rate of income tax. Will the Prime Minister reassure charities in my constituency that there is a long-term plan, past the three years referred to, to ensure that there is no reduction in income and that we can drive up levels of giving through gift aid?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We provided £100 million a year as transitional support for those who receive gift aid relief as charities to enable them to deal with the consequences of reducing the basic rate from 22p to 20p. We have also introduced several other measures, such as a comprehensive programme for bringing additional smaller charities into gift aid and outreach to many new charities to help them use gift aid to advantage. Of course, in the past few years, the amount of tax relief available to charities has risen from £1.9 billion to £2.9 billion. That is £1 billion extra through tax relief going to the charities of this country. That would not have been possible without proper economic policies that were working for the people of Britain.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the global economic downturn is sending jitters through the whole economy. He will also be aware that there is a delay in the European Union on a decision regarding state aid for Northern Rock. That will obviously be causing great concern to those whose jobs are at risk and to small investors in Northern Rock, such as me. When does he expect the Commission to give a ruling on state aid provisions for Northern Rock?
I hope, therefore, that the hon. Lady would support the policy that we have proposed on Northern Rock, as someone who has followed what has happened, and that she might disagree with what those on the Opposition Front Bench have done. As far as the European Union is concerned, we are in discussions with the Union, and I believe that it will approve our proposals. I believe that our proposals are right for the company, right for the work force and right for the stability of the economy, and I believe that we will make progress very soon.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that regenerating small towns and cities is as key as regenerating large ones, and that universities can be part of that process? With that in mind, will he welcome and encourage the ambitious plans of Blackpool and the Fylde college to give a new cutting edge to the leisure and creative industries and to business, in our university plans in Blackpool?
My hon. Friend is a persistent campaigner on behalf of Blackpool and its regeneration. It is important to recognise that colleges of education, colleges of higher education and universities are some of the biggest employers in our towns and cities. It is only because of the Government's policies to expand higher education, to have more students and apprenticeships, and therefore to have more people staying on at school in education afterwards, that it is possible to contemplate new universities in this country, and that is exactly what we are going to do.