Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th December 2010.

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Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde 11:30 am, 8th December 2010

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 8 December.

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Private John Howard from 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, who died on Sunday 5 December. He was an incredibly gifted and popular Paratrooper. We should send our condolences to his family, his friends and his loved ones at this very sad time. While I was in Afghanistan, I also met the two brave Paratroopers who were wounded at the same time that he was tragically killed. They were in the excellent Camp Bastion hospital, and I know that their families will be relieved to know that they are doing well and are in extremely good spirits.

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.

Photo of Mark Menzies Mark Menzies Conservative, Fylde

I would like to associate myself with the condolences expressed by the Prime Minister. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we invest in the future of the unmanned aerial vehicle programme that has been developed at Warton in my constituency, and will he accept my invitation to come and see first hand the outstanding work force who are driving innovation and skills at that plant?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I would be delighted if I could take up the opportunity of seeing my hon. Friend's constituency and that facility. The truth is that the UAV programme is exactly the sort of defence asset that we should be investing in. It plays an absolutely vital role in Afghanistan-we are increasing our spending on that project-and it shows the point of having a defence review, as it is vital to start spending money on the weapons of the future, rather than on legacies of the past.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Private John Howard, from 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment? He showed enormous courage. We pay tribute to his sacrifice, and our thoughts and deepest condolences are with his family. I join the Prime Minister also, as he recently came back from Afghanistan, in paying tribute to all our troops serving in Afghanistan and their families.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that after his changes are introduced, English students will pay the highest fees of any public university system in the industrialised world?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The figures are well known for what students will pay. They are much lower than what students pay in the United States, for instance, but I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that in the end, we have to make a choice. If we want to see university education expand and universities well funded, we have to work out where that money is going to come from. Our proposal is that graduates should make a greater contribution, but only if they are successful. They will start paying back only when they are earning £21,000. That is better than the system that we inherited.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

The Prime Minister did not answer the question. This country will have the highest fees for going to a public university in the whole industrialised world. He says that his plans are about properly funding universities. They are not: he is cutting public investment in universities and loading costs on to students and their parents. Will he admit that the reason fees are being trebled is to make up for an 80% cut in the university teaching budget?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The reason these contributions are going up is because we were left a completely unsustainable situation. That is why, before the last election, the Labour Government put in place the Browne commission, and why the Conservative party backed it. One party has had the courage of its convictions to see this through. [ Interruption. ] To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they never signed up to the Browne review. The right hon. Gentleman did, and he is the one guilty of rank hypocrisy.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

The right hon. Gentleman has given it away: one party. There are 57 Liberal Democrats, and they are split four ways. That is something, even for the Liberal Democrats. Things are so bad that John Hemming is offering his own unique solution to the votes tomorrow. He says that if you run quickly, you can vote both ways. I have to say that if the Kremlin were spying on the Liberal Democrats, we would know why: they want a bit of light relief.

Let us have the Prime Minister answer another question, because he did not answer the first two. He says that he does not want the next generation to be in debt, so does he not understand the anxiety that students and parents have about starting their adult lives with a debt of £40,000?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

You cannot attack a plan if you do not have a plan. The fact is that Labour went into the last election with a 25% cut planned for the Business Department. The right hon. Gentleman has absolutely no way of making the numbers add up. Everybody knows that they said that they would not introduce tuition fees; they introduced them. They said that they would not introduce top-up fees; they introduced them. They said that they supported the Browne review; he wrote it into their manifesto. Why are they breaking their pledge about the Browne review? Why? The fact is- [ Interruption. ]

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The leader of the Labour party saw a big crowd assembling in the Mall, and he just decided, "I am their leader, I must follow them." That is his idea of leadership.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

A week really is a long time in politics-not so much waving but drowning. Let us talk about social mobility, because that is at the heart of these proposals. Let me quote someone whom the Prime Minister used to trust on social mobility-the person he appointed to head his social mobility taskforce: Mr Davis. He said:

"I'm concerned about the effect this would have on social mobility and the huge level of debt we are encouraging young people to take on."

I know that the Prime Minister does not have much time for the right hon. Gentleman these days, but why does he not listen to him on this issue?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what has happened in terms of social mobility. Last year, there were 80,000 students on free school meals; only 40 of them went to Oxford and Cambridge. That is the situation with social mobility. What we are introducing- [ Interruption. ] I know that the Opposition do not want to hear the details. We are introducing a situation where nobody pays fees up front, including part-time students-which is 40% of students-and nobody pays anything back until they are earning £21,000. Under the new system, everyone will pay back less than they pay under the current system- [ Interruption. ] They will pay back less every month; that is the case. The poorest will pay less, the richest will pay more. It is a progressive system, but the right hon. Gentleman has not got the courage of his convictions to back it.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Only the Prime Minister could treble tuition fees and then claim that it is a better deal for students. No one is convinced, frankly. Is it not absolutely clear that this policy is in chaos? The Education Minister refuses to answer questions on it, and the Government rush out proposals on it daily. Is it not the most sensible thing for the Prime Minister to go away, think again and come up with a better proposal?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman has absolutely no idea what he would put in its place. He supported a graduate tax, which his shadow Chancellor does not back. He was the person who wrote the manifesto suggesting the Browne review. He is just demonstrating complete political opportunism- [ Interruption. ] Yes, total opportunism. He is behaving like a student politician and, frankly, that is all he will ever be.

Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party

Mr Speaker, I was a student politician, but I was not hanging around with people who were throwing bread rolls and wrecking restaurants. Is it not the truth that all the Prime Minister can offer us is "you've never had it so good" on planet Cameron? What does he have against young people? He has taken away the child trust fund; he is abolishing the education maintenance allowance; he is scrapping the future jobs fund; and now he is trebling tuition fees. Is not the truth that he is pulling away the ladder because he does not understand the lives of ordinary people up and down this country?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

The fact is that if you introduce a graduate tax, you are going to be taxing people on £6,000, £7,000 and £9,000. Where is the fairness in that? The truth of the matter is that we examined a graduate tax and we know it does not work; the right hon. Gentleman's party examined a graduate tax and knows it does not work; the Liberal Democrats had a look at a graduate tax and they know it does not work. The only reason he is backing it is because it gives him a political opportunity. I know what it is like: you can sit there for year after year; you see a political opportunity, but you will never be a party of Government. [Interruption.]

Photo of Chris Kelly Chris Kelly Conservative, Dudley South

The Prime Minister may be aware that a young constituent of mine, Connor Rankine-Christ, was stabbed in an unprovoked attack at the weekend and has been battling to overcome life-threatening injuries this week. The suspect was released on bail just 24 hours after the attack, which has understandably upset and worried the victim's family. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the courts should still be able to remand individuals in custody in the most serious cases where there is a risk that the defendant will cause injury by reoffending?

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right: the courts must have this power. If they believe that someone is dangerous and could offend again, it is absolutely right that that person is not given bail. That happens under our system and it should go on happening under our system.