Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
If he will list his official engagements for
Copy and paste this code on your website
I have been asked to reply.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of the servicemen killed in Afghanistan in the past week. They were Corporal Tom Gaden, Lance Corporal Paul Upton and Rifleman Jamie Gunn of 1st Battalion the Rifles, and Marine Michael Laski of 45 Commando, who died last week following injuries sustained in Afghanistan. We owe them, and all who have lost their lives, our gratitude for their service. They are dedicated people, fighting in our interests for a safer world. They will not be forgotten.
In a survey published last week, 74 per cent. of parents said that they were very concerned about the increasing violence in video games. Given the increasing availability on the internet of games that exhibit scenes of graphic and gratuitous violence, when do the Government propose to implement the Byron report in full? This is not about censorship; it is about protecting our children.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his long-standing campaign on the issue. We need to make sure that we have tough classifications that are properly enforced. We need to make sure that parents have the information that they need. We need to make sure that the industry plays its part. The Government will take action on all those fronts.
May I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute to Corporal Tom Gaden, Lance Corporal Paul Upton, Rifleman Jamie Gunn and Marine Michael Laski, all of whom, as she said, have given their lives in the past week in service to their country in Afghanistan? I also want to express our horror at the attack yesterday on the Sri Lankan cricket team, and join in sending our thoughts and condolences to the families of those killed and injured in that outrage. Thinking of all those people, will she agree that if there is to be any further increase in British troop levels in Afghanistan, it must be accompanied not only by clear and achievable objectives and the tackling of corruption in Afghanistan, but by a commitment from the Government to a proportionate increase in the number of helicopters and armoured vehicles, which are essential if our forces are to do their job?
Of course we agree that our troops should have all the logistical support that they need when they are in the field.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising what happened in Pakistan, and I fully support what he said. This terrible attack is a tragedy for Pakistan and we strongly condemn it. It was an attempt to destabilise democracy in Pakistan and it cannot be allowed to succeed. Our thoughts are with the families of the Pakistani police officers who died and with the Sri Lankan cricketers. The Foreign Secretary has written to the Presidents of Pakistan and Sri Lanka and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has conveyed his condolences. The UK is working closely with Pakistan and the international community to combat the threat from terrorism and violent extremism, which threatens not only the security of the region but the rest of the world.
We obviously agree about Pakistan, and we will hold the Government to their commitment on the necessary equipment for our forces in Afghanistan.
On the economy and domestic matters, we have been pressing for several months now for action to get credit moving from the banks to businesses and, in January, the Government finally announced a type of loan guarantee scheme, the working capital scheme, saying that it would help businesses now. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that it is not yet operational and that not a single loan has so far been guaranteed under the scheme?
The provisions under that scheme are being finalised, but I would not want the right hon. Gentleman to convey the idea that there is not real help available to businesses now. There is. Businesses with cash-flow problems can apply to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to defer their tax payments, and 72,000 businesses throughout the country have been able to do that. Businesses have been helped with their cash flow by making sure that the Government and Government agencies pay their bills on time, and they are doing that. Businesses are also helped by the extra money being put into the economy with the VAT cut, the extra help to pensioners and tax credits. Businesses are also helped by public investment: capital investment in building schools, hospitals and children's centres, which the right hon. Gentleman would cut.
The right hon. and learned Lady may wish to get off the subject of the working capital scheme, but this was the Government's flagship scheme for getting credit moving in the economy, which is what so many of us called for. The Prime Minister said on
This scheme will come into effect. We have taken a number of measures to get lending going again in the economy, nearly all of which the Conservative party has opposed. We have taken action to recapitalise the banks. We have taken action— [Interruption.]
Order. Mr. Hands, why do you not allow the Leader of the House to answer the question that she has been asked? It is unfair to shout.
We have taken action to save the banks from total collapse, action that the Conservatives opposed, and they would have allowed the banks to collapse. We are taking action now to require the banks to increase their lending, and that is why we have an agreement with Northern Rock for £14 billion extra to be lent into the housing market and £25 billion extra to be lent to small businesses. We have been taking the action, all of which the Conservatives have opposed, and we have been getting real help to businesses. The right hon. Gentleman can say all he likes about one particular measure, but while we take a range of measures, they would do nothing.
I am not talking only about one particular measure. Not only is the working capital scheme, announced in January, not operational now in March, but the jobs recruitment scheme, announced in January, has now been delayed until April; the mortgage support scheme, announced in December, has not even been worked out yet; the guarantee scheme for asset-backed securities is not starting until April; and the Lloyds bank deal, meant to be announced on Friday, has also been delayed. I am not talking about one measure, but about the failure to implement right across the Government's economic policy.
Why does the Leader of the House not step in? When Chamberlain lost his party's confidence, Churchill stepped forward; when Eden crossed the Atlantic, exhausted, Supermac came forward. This could be her moment. While the Prime Minister is away, will she step in and make sure that these schemes, on which so much economic confidence depends, are actually implemented now?
The right hon. Gentleman has raised the very important question of mortgage support. People are worried; they fear that if they lose their job, they will lose their home. I remind the House that we have given help to people who fear that they might lose their homes. Instead of having to wait 39 weeks, people who become unemployed will get help with the interest payments on their mortgages at 13 weeks, and an extra amount will be allowed. For people who lose their jobs, we have put extra investment into the jobcentres, and the private organisations too, which help people get retrained and back into work.
As far as the courts are concerned, every single county court now has a help desk to protect people who face repossession, and the building societies and banks have agreed that they will not take repossession action until at least three months of arrears have accumulated. Yes, we are working to ensure that if income falls in a household, there will be a moratorium for up to two years for interest payments. We are working on that, and we look forward to bringing it forward. While the right hon. Gentleman focuses on political gossip, we focus on fighting for Britain's future.
The right hon. and learned Lady should not describe her leadership campaign as "political gossip"; that is not the way to go about winning the leadership of her party. [Interruption.] Yes, I do know about that. I am only a deputy now, but at least I am a loyal one.
If the right hon. and learned Lady will not step in and secure the implementation of all the schemes that I have mentioned, will she step in on the other matter vital to economic confidence—the recognition of past mistakes? She has been overruled, we understand, on Royal Mail, and she has been hung out to dry by the rest of the Cabinet on the Goodwin pension. But she has the opportunity to speak for the Prime Minister's Cabinet colleagues, urging him to say sorry and move on. In the disagreement between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, whose side is she on, and will she advise the Prime Minister to say sorry for past mistakes?
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said that when it comes to financial services, yes, we should all learn lessons and take action on the basis of that. Lessons need to be learned not only by the Government but also by the regulators and the financial services industry itself, and action needs to be taken. And we will take action on regulation, remuneration and corporate governance.
But as well as making sure that we have the right regulation system in this country, we have to recognise that whatever the system of regulation in one single country, we have to work together to make sure that the global financial system is properly regulated, because this has been a global financial crisis. So we will learn the lessons and we will take action.
But it is not just for us to learn lessons; the Opposition, too, have lessons to learn. When they were in government, there was no golden age of regulation: people lost a great deal in the collapse of BCCI and through the mis-selling of pensions. When we brought forward statutory regulation, they fought us tooth and nail, and all the way; and even as the credit crunch began to bite, they called for the total deregulation of the mortgage market.
As far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned— [ Interruption. ]
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to learn lessons, let me remind him of what he said when he was Leader of the Opposition:
"As Prime Minister, I will make deregulation one of my top priorities."
He went on:
"I will drive regulation from the centre. And I will promote Ministers not on the basis of whether they regulate enough, but on the basis of how much they deregulate".
So yes, we have lessons to learn, but we will learn no lessons from him.
Mr. Speaker, you would never think the Leader of the House was speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, who named a whole Department after deregulation and regulatory reform; you would never think she was speaking on behalf of a Prime Minister who said yesterday that he had nothing to apologise for. Is it not now the case that we have Cabinet Ministers manoeuvring for the leadership while the Prime Minister is abroad, and a Government who no longer command the confidence of the people of this country; and is it not clearer than ever that the people who got us into this mess cannot be the people to get us out of it?
It is sad but predictable that the right hon. Gentleman should focus on political gossip. Our focus under the Prime Minister will be on the real concerns, real worries and real anxieties of people in this country. We will get on and build the new schools, new hospitals and new children's centres that the Opposition would stop; and we will help business whereas they would do nothing. I am happy to leave the political gossip to him; we are getting on with fighting for the future of this country.
Some 34,000 families in my constituency are languishing on the council's housing waiting list. They earn, on average, less than £24,000 per year, yet the Mayor of London has decided to decrease the numbers of homes for rent built in the capital by 10 per cent. Failing to deal with the snow was one thing, but blatantly ignoring the needs of my constituents and tens of thousands of other Londoners is another. Can she—will she—intervene?
I know that my hon. Friend and her hon. Friends will stand up for all those people in London who need housing and need it now. While Boris Johnson, the Mayor, does not recognise their concerns, I know that they have, in my hon. Friend, a champion on housing.
May I add my condolences to the families of Marine Laski, Rifleman Gunn, Lance Corporal Upton and Corporal Gaden, who all died serving their country on
As the Leader of the House is a former pensions Minister and Law Officer and, I believe, a trained solicitor, she is exceptionally well placed to understand pensions law. Instead of the rather eccentric proposal for a "Harriet's law" to stop Sir Fred Goodwin's pension, would it not be more sensible for the Government to use existing legislation under which pensions can be forfeited in cases of employee negligence, which is surely the case with Sir Fred Goodwin, Adam Applegarth of Northern Rock and the others who bankrupted their banks?
Perhaps I can update the House on this matter. The Government have asked United Kingdom Financial Investments to investigate all the circumstances surrounding the contract for Sir Fred Goodwin's pension, including the extent to which it was discretionary and including whether or not the people who took the decision had all the facts on which they could take it. That, too, bears on the enforceability of the contract. We are absolutely clear that it is not acceptable and we are taking all steps to challenge the enforceability of the contract.
I think that the right hon. and learned Lady is missing the point. The issue is not whether the pension is £400,000 or £700,000; the issue is why it is being paid at all. Is this not part of a much bigger issue? There is growing anger in what she calls the court of public opinion not just about the pension and remuneration of those who are now public sector employees, but about other public sector fat cats, including senior civil servants and, dare I say it, Ministers, and their very lavish and generous pensions. Does she recognise that anger, and what is she proposing to do about it?
I think that we do recognise that concern. In particular, there is concern about the question of remuneration in the financial services industry because it has been part of encouraging short-termism and risk-taking. As well as looking at the contractual basis of Sir Fred's pension, we have also asked the Financial Services Authority and the Walker commission to look at how we tackle and improve the remuneration regime as part of corporate governance.
When it comes to the banks squandering their customers' money, there is one thing that perhaps I ought to add. I discovered that it was not only Sir Fred who was getting money off RBS; it was also Mr. Hague, who got £30,000 off the Royal Bank of Scotland, it turns out, for just two after-dinner speeches.
Order. [ Interruption. ] Order. You must be quiet—you cannot shout across the Chamber.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will not say, "Pay it back". What I would say to my right hon. and learned Friend is that in 1965, a piece of legislation was brought in by the Labour Government covering statutory redundancy pay. That has been eroded over many, many years. Will my right hon. and learned Friend support my private Member's Bill on
We want to do everything that we can to support people who, through no fault of their own, lose their work. I know that that private Member's Bill is coming forward; the Minister will respond on that occasion and give his response to those important proposals.
In addition to the list that my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague gave to the Leader of the House of schemes to assist business that are not operating, may I add one more? It is the scheme to introduce help for those without trade credit insurance, promised by the industry Minister when the Government announced their help package for the motor industry. Thousands of companies around the country, both large and small, are finding trading extremely difficult without this trade credit insurance. When will the Government announce the details of that scheme?
I agree that that scheme is important. We have to do everything that we can to help manufacturing—in particular, through the automotive assistance scheme. In addition, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that businesses in his constituency benefit from public capital investment. I hope that he will agree with us that the Opposition should not oppose capital investment in his constituency. I hope that he will support the ability for businesses in his constituency to defer their tax payments. Opposition Members have a choice: they can either say to their constituents that there is no help and that nothing can be done, and wring their hands, or they can work to support businesses and bring schemes forward.
At this very moment, in west Hendon mosque in my constituency, funeral prayers are being held for my constituent, 19-year-old university student Hassan Kul Hawadleh—an innocent victim of a brutal knife attack, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, merely filling up at a petrol station. Rather than attend his funeral, his family asked me to come to the House today to ask my right hon. and learned Friend this: what more can be done to redouble our efforts against knife crime to prevent such pointless tragedies occurring again in the future, and to support families such as theirs in their bereavement?
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, the Metropolitan police, local authorities, schools, youth centres and community organisations across London are working together to tackle the menace of knife crime. While crime generally has gone down, there is a problem of knife crime that persists, which is why we have strengthened the law to ensure that there is a greater possibility of searches and that there are tougher penalties. But today, we share with my hon. Friend the grief about his constituent, and we send our condolence to the bereaved family.
Will the deputy Prime Minister confirm that the real reason for part-privatising Royal Mail stems directly from European Union postal legislation, which forced Royal Mail to divest itself of its most profitable business, thereby handing—it over lock, stock and barrel to European competitors? What sense is there in that?
The real reason, and the basis on which we are bringing forward the Postal Services Bill, is the analysis in the Hooper report, which we commissioned as long ago as December 2007. It made it clear that we need to take action to put Royal Mail, which, as the Prime Minister has said, is part of the fabric of our society, on a firm footing for the future. That means that we have to ensure that the pension liabilities are met. We have to ensure that the unfair regulation is tackled. We have to ensure that there is legislative underpinning of universal postal services, and also that we get into the organisation—so that, as well as meeting its pension liabilities, it can also modernise—considerable public capital investment but also private capital investment. When we bring forward that Bill to support the future of Royal Mail, I hope that the hon. Lady and all other hon. Members will support it.
I am delighted that the Government have brought forward £900 million of capital funding for schools. Shockingly, however, the Conservative-led Brighton and Hove city council failed to take advantage of the £9 million available locally, despite admitting that there are not enough places for my local children. What advice does my right hon. and learned Friend have for councils that could not get it together in time to take advantage of our Government's funding?
There is no excuse for my hon. Friend's council not to step forward to ensure that it can take advantage of the funds that have been made available to improve still further the education prospects of children in her constituency. I hope that she will be able to work with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to ensure that, despite the lagging behind of her local council, it will get on and deliver for children in her constituency.
I believe that Sir Fred was nominated for a knighthood because of his services to the Prince's Trust. I understand that it was not in recognition of his services to banking.
Last week, we laid the first bricks in the £4 million extension to Rainbows children's hospice, which is in my constituency but serves the whole east midlands. We still need another £1 million, plus £2.5 million each year to keep the hospice running. When are the Government finally going to act to ensure that children's hospices do not rely for 95 per cent. of their funding on local residents and fundraisers, and finally get them to parity with adult hospices, for which about 40 per cent. of the funding comes from the public purse?
I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those in the NHS, both in hospital care and in the community, who help with palliative and end-of-life services, but I would also like to pay a very big tribute to the hospice movement, the voluntary movement that has spearheaded new ways to care for people at the end of their lives. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made that a priority, investing £30 million extra for palliative and end-of-life care and announcing additional support for all hospices and hospice home services for children up to the age of five. There is a great deal of progress under way, and it is very important indeed.
The right hon. and learned Lady will be aware that electronic identification of sheep will become mandatory for all animals born after
I know that identification of sheep is very important as part of infection control. The hon. Gentleman will know that that is a serious issue. Therefore, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to write to him on the issue.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, contrary to what was said by the quasi-deputy leader of the Opposition, Mr. Hague, we have in fact already received the agreement of the Commission for the £2.3 billion of aid for the motor industry and we expect to have clearance for the £20 billion working capital package this month? That said, will she take it from me that now is the time, when we have those permissions and the schemes in place, for us to get cracking and get the money out to the companies that deserve and merit it? Will she also have a word with my very good friend in another place, congratulating him on what he has done, but telling him that he has got to get cracking?
My hon. Friend makes some very important points. I would have liked to give those points as my answer to a previous question, but I would also like to tell the House that the Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill, which will be introduced in the House today, will facilitate an extra £16 billion, to be directly available. I hope that all hon. Members will welcome that Bill being introduced to the House today.