In a parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend Ian Lucas yesterday, the Government said:
“we remain very concerned by continuing reports of Rwandan support for the M23 rebels”—[Hansard, 15 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 74W.]— who are killing, maiming and raping in eastern Congo. Why then did the Government Chief Whip authorise the payment of £16 million of British taxpayers’ money to Rwanda, as his parting shot on his last day as International Development Secretary?
First, may I wish the hon. Gentleman happy birthday for yesterday? He was seen celebrating it, and I would like to join in that— [ Interruption. ] I am sorry I was not invited.
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. I am clear: Rwanda has been, and continues to be, a success story of a country that has gone from genocide and disaster to being a role model for development and lifting people out of poverty in Africa. I am proud of the fact that the last Government, and this Government, have continued to invest in that success. But I am equally clear that we should be very frank and firm with President Kagame and the Rwandan regime that we do not accept that they should be supporting militias in the Congo or elsewhere. I have raised that issue personally with the President, but I continue to believe that investing in Rwanda’s success, as one of those countries in Africa that is showing that the cycle of poverty can be broken and that conditions for its people can be improved, is something we are right to do.
Today, unemployment figures show a reduction of 62,000 in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who were out of work in the three months to August, and that employment is now at its highest level since records began in 1971. I am sure the Prime Minister will want to commend this Government’s economic policies to the whole House, rather than having more borrowing and spending from the Opposition.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. What we need is a rebalancing of the economy. We need growth in our private sector, and it is notable that we have a million new private sector jobs since the last election. That has more than made up for the job losses in the public sector. There is more we need to do to tackle youth and long-term unemployment, but today’s figures should be welcomed.
I have insisted on a specific carve-out from the new personal independence payment for limbless ex-servicemen, and they will be separately looked after through the Ministry of Defence.
The House agrees that negative campaigning deliberately designed to scare vulnerable people demeans politics. A campaign to “Save Our Hospital” when the hospital is not closing is possibly the worst example that I have ever seen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour’s campaign in Corby and east Northamptonshire is an absolute disgrace?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Labour MP after Labour MP is trooping up to Corby and claiming that the hospital is not safe when they know that that it is simply not true. The local newspaper is now backing up the fact that the hospital is being invested in by this Government, because unlike the party opposite—[ Interruption. ] Yes, Ed Balls is over there on the Opposition Benches. You know what? He is going to stay there for a very, very long time. The reason he will stay there is the reason why this country is in a mess—it is because of the borrowing, the spending and the debt that he delivered. His answer is more borrowing, more spending and more debt, so he should get himself comfortable.
Why will the Prime Minister not—[ Interruption. ] I am over here. Why will the Prime Minister not publish all the texts, e-mails and other forms of correspondence between himself and his office and Rebekah Brooks, Andy Coulson and News International, so that we can judge whether they are relevant? Is it because they are too salacious and embarrassing for the Prime Minister? [ Interruption. ] I would not smile if I was him; when the truth comes out, he will not be smiling. Or will he not publish the correspondence because there is one rule for him and another for the rest of us?
Mr Speaker, before answering this question, I would like hon. Members to recall that the hon. Gentleman stood up in the House and read out a whole lot of Leveson information that was under embargo and that he was not meant to read out, much of which about me turned out to be untrue, and he has never apologised. Do you know what? Until he apologises, I am not going to answer his questions—[ Interruption. ]
Order. I hope the House will have the self-restraint and courtesy to hear Mr Bebb.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Employment levels in Wales have increased by 40,000 in the last quarter, not least because of the contribution of self-employment. Will the Prime Minister therefore join me in welcoming the extension of the new enterprise allowance, which has already resulted in the creation of more than 8,000 new businesses?
I will certainly join my hon. Friend in that. This is an important announcement, because the new enterprise allowance gives people who become unemployed the chance to set up their own business and enterprise. Under the current rules, people must wait three months before being able to access that programme, but under our plans, they will be able to access it from day one of becoming unemployed. I want to see many more new businesses started up in our country to build on the record of last year, when more businesses were established in Britain than in any year in our recent history.
“all too often, when you put the questions to the Minister, the answer is pretty much a ‘not me guv’ shrug of the shoulders…There is a serious accountability problem with our political system.”
Which of his Cabinet Ministers will take responsibility for the fiasco of the west coast main line?
Returning to the Trident issue, has the Prime Minister looked at the severe cost pressures facing defence at the very moment the Trident replacement has to be paid for? Joint strike fighter airplanes, Type 26 frigates, unmanned aircraft and Army vehicles all need paying for at much the same time. This has to come out of the defence budget, and austerity will be with us for some time yet, so will he keep an open mind about how exactly to replace our nuclear deterrent?
All the things that my hon. Friend lists are programmes that are fully funded and will be properly invested in, because, as he well knows—because he played a major role in it—the Government have sorted out the defence budget. Having carefully considered the issue of the nuclear deterrent, I do not believe that we would save money by adopting an alternative nuclear deterrent posture. Also, if we are to have a nuclear deterrent, it makes sense to ensure we have something that is credible and believable, otherwise there is no point in having one at all.
There are record levels of support for the British Union. The Prime Minister will know that according to a recent poll only 7% of the populace of Northern Ireland want a united Ireland, and that only rises to 32% in 20 years, if the question is asked then. Does he agree that, following the agreement he signed up to this week to ensure that a single, decisive question is asked on the Scottish and British Union, it is now up to him and the House to unite in a campaign to maintain, sustain and support the Union, and keep MacNeil and Wishart with us forever?
I am delighted to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question in the most positive way I can. I am pleased that we have reached an agreement with the Scottish Government to have a single, simple question in a referendum that must be held before the end of 2014, so that we can put beyond doubt the future of the United Kingdom. I hope that everyone will vote to keep the UK together. I know that it will have cross-party support, and I hope that politicians of all parties will agree to share platforms. I have always wanted to share a platform with Ian Paisley. Maybe I will get my chance.
Recently, a lap-dancing club in Ampthill, a rural market town in my constituency, has been granted a licence. The one thing that residents of Mid Bedfordshire have learned is that it does not matter whether it is a Wembley-sized incinerator or a lap-dancing club in a beautiful market town, the wishes of local people have absolutely no weight in planning law. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time we amended planning law, so that, when catastrophic applications come forward that blight the environment people live in and which greatly distress them, their views and voice are heard?
My hon. Friend speaks for many people about the frustration that the planning system can sometimes deliver. I would make two points about where we are making progress. First, we have changed the licensing laws to give the planners greater power to alter licences, and I believe that that can apply to the sorts of premises to which she refers. Secondly, of course, under our plans, people can write neighbourhood plans, which give far greater control to residents over the shape of their future community. I encourage her, however, to take up the specific issue with the Department for Communities and Local Government, to see whether there is more that we can do.
I thank both Front Benches for their tributes to Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes, who were murdered in Greater Manchester recently. On the theme of policing, as the House has heard, the Home Office admits that nearly 7,000 front-line police personnel have now disappeared from our system. The Prime Minister promised that that would not be the case, and the public do not want it, so will he give a straightforward answer to what I think will be my last question to him in the House and give a commitment that there will be no more cuts to policing in England and Wales, whatever happens in the budgetary process?
Of course, no one wants to prejudge the wisdom of the Greater Manchester electorate, but I wish the hon. Gentleman well, if he is successful. I make to him the point that I hope the chief constable of his own force will make to him. It was made very effectively when Chief Constable Fahy of Greater Manchester police said that
“the effectiveness of policing cannot be measured by the number of officers…but by reductions in crime”.
Crime in Greater Manchester is down 12%. We need to recognise that there are difficult decisions. Frankly, the Labour party was committed to even greater cuts in police budgets than we have delivered. The key is this: can we crack down on paperwork, can we help get the police out on the beat, can we help them do the job they do and can we cut crime? The answer, in this case, is, “Yes, we can.”
May I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to Malcolm Wicks, whose memorial service is at Croydon minster this Friday? He was an outstanding local MP, a thoughtful, decent man and a good friend. Is not one way in which we can honour his memory to continue to improve our national health service, so that more and more people beat cancer and do not have their lives so tragically cut short?
My hon. Friend speaks for the whole House in what he says about Malcolm Wicks. I understand that he often used to drive Malcolm home to Croydon after the vote—I think Malcolm referred to his car as “the cab”. The fare apparently was a bottle of wine at Christmas time—we will make sure the Inland Revenue lays off that, but it was a very good arrangement between Members.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: one of the greatest things we can do to remember Malcolm is to ensure the continued success of the cancer drugs fund, which has helped over 20,000 people, and make sure that people can get urgent treatments, as well as urgent drugs.
As I said, I do not want an in/out referendum, because I am not happy with us leaving the European Union, but I am not happy with the status quo either. I think what the vast majority of this country wants is a new settlement with Europe and then that settlement being put to fresh consent. That is what will be going in our manifesto, and I think it will get a ringing endorsement from the British people.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is this. The IMF report out this week shows that the structural deficit in 2007, at the height of the boom, was 5% of our GDP, or £73 billion. The shadow Chancellor said there was no structural deficit. I think this really demonstrates just how little Labour has learnt. We have talked about our plans for the British economy—how we are going to help it compete and succeed. We know Labour’s plans for this weekend: to go on a giant march with its trade union paymasters. That is how the Leader of the Opposition is going to be spending his weekend—on the most lucrative sponsored walk in history.