Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will want to join me in offering our condolences to the families and friends of those people who lost their lives in the appalling terrorist attack in Nairobi, and in particular the six British nationals who lost their lives. This was a despicable attack, and it demonstrates how we must continue to do all we can to defeat international terrorism.
I am sure the House will also want to join me in paying tribute to PC Andrew Duncan, who died on
On a happier note, I am sure the House will wish to congratulate Professor Peter Higgs, who is sharing this year’s Nobel prize for physics. This is a richly deserved recognition of his lifetime of research and a tribute the UK’s world-leading universities, where this research was carried out.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and, in addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I associate myself and my constituents entirely with the tribute that the Prime Minister made to the victims of terrorism in Nairobi and to PC Andrew Duncan and, of course, offer our congratulations to Professor Higgs?
Can the Prime Minister confirm that less than a third of families in Britain will benefit from his marriage tax break?
What I can confirm is that all married couples paying basic rate tax will benefit from this move. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman why I think this is important: it is not about the money; it is about the message. I think marriage is a great institution and I think we should support it, including through the income tax system.
With the disappearance of the minimum practice income guarantee, many doctors’ surgeries serving remote rural areas such as the one in Slaidburn in my constituency face death not by a thousand cuts, but perhaps by one cut. They serve many elderly residents and a number of children who do not have access to great public transport to go into neighbouring Clitheroe. Will the Prime Minister investigate this issue and ensure that my constituents will not be isolated and will continue to receive the excellent service that they do now from their doctors’ surgery?
I will look carefully at the case the hon. Gentleman makes. I, too, represent a large rural constituency where there are still small practices. It is the case, however, that many more doctors’ surgeries are offering many more services with practice nurses and other assistance given to patients. We want to see that growing, not least to make sure that people can go to GP surgeries rather than accident and emergency units if it is a GP that they need, but I will look at the specific point that he makes.
I join the Prime Minister in sending my condolences to the friends and families of the British nationals murdered in Nairobi and of all those killed in that cowardly act. It was a heinous act of terrorism and reminds us of the importance of combating terrorism at home and around the world.
I also join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to PC Andrew Duncan, whose death is a terrible tragedy and a reminder of the bravery shown by our brave policemen and women day in, day out, on our behalf. I send my condolences to his family and friends.
On a completely different note, I join the Prime Minister in celebrating the tremendous achievement of Peter Higgs in winning the Nobel prize for physics. He is a great British scientist. And while we are about it, Mr Speaker, I wish the Prime Minister happy birthday.
On Monday, the Prime Minister said:
“There’s a certain amount you can do freezing prices” of energy, while the Chancellor said in his conference speech that it was something out of “Das Kapital”. Can the Prime Minister tell us: is freezing energy prices a good idea or a communist plot?
I will leave the communist plots to him.
First, let me thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks; of course, there is nothing I would rather do on my birthday than this. What this Government are doing is legislating to put people on to the lowest energy tariffs; I think that that is a real step forward. I have to say on this issue, however, that just promising a freeze is classic case of him saying one thing and doing another. Month after month, he stood at this Dispatch Box as Energy Secretary, producing policy after policy, regulation after regulation and target after target, all of which put energy prices up.
What is clear from that answer is that the Prime Minister has no answer on Labour’s energy price freeze, and what is clear is that it will not happen under him, but would happen under a Labour Government.
The Prime Minister mentioned his policy on tariffs. He said that it would put everyone on the cheapest energy tariff. Can he explain why at least 90% of the country will gain no benefit from his policy?
First of all, let us deal with Labour’s new energy policy. Let us spend a little bit of time on it. First of all, let us examine the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is committed to a new decarbonisation target that would add £125 to the bills of everyone in the country. Perhaps he would like to mention that when he next gets to his feet.
The right hon. Gentleman also did not mention the fact that, just 12 hours after making his pledge, he said that he might not be able to fulfil it because of international wholesale gas prices. Is it not the case that what he is promising is a price increase before a promise, a broken promise, and then a price increase after a promise? One price increase, one broken promise and another price increase: that sounds like every Labour Government since the war.
What is clear is that the Prime Minister is floundering around, and has no answer to Labour’s energy price freeze. He did not even defend his own policy, which will not benefit 90% of the country. He has no idea. He says that he wants to bring energy prices down; can he confirm that energy prices have gone up by £300 since he became Prime Minister?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman first of all that energy prices doubled under Labour. Electricity prices went up by 50%. And let me make this point to him: there is one thing that Governments cannot control, and that is the international wholesale price of gas.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman would like to live in some sort of Marxist universe in which it is possible to control all these things, but he needs a basic lesson in economics. Perhaps he should remember what Labour’s own industry Minister said. This is what was said by a Labour Minister who sat with him in the last Government:
“in an effort to appeal to tribal socialism and a minority in the country, he has put at risk millions of jobs. He has put a sign up over the country, don’t invest here”.
That is the new left-wing Labour party.
I suggest that the Prime Minister should go away after Prime Minister’s Question Time and try to work out his position on the energy price freeze. Initially, he said that the policy was “nuts”. Then, on Monday, he said that it “struck a chord”, and that freezing energy prices could make a difference. He has no idea what he thinks about this policy.
Why are energy prices so high? Once again, the Prime Minister did not answer the question. Let me remind him of the words of a previous Leader of the Opposition, who said that when the gas prices go up, they will rush to pass the costs on to us, and yet when the gas prices are coming down, we wait a very long time before we see anything coming through on our bills. It was the Prime Minister who said that. Why has he changed his mind?
What we need is a more competitive energy market so that consumers benefit. What the right hon. Gentleman seems to be suffering from is complete amnesia over the fact that he used to be the Energy Secretary. Let me remind him of one of the first actions that this Government took. We inherited from him an energy policy that would have added £179 to every single bill because of his renewable heat initiative, and we cancelled it.
While we are dealing with quotations, let us have a guess at who said this:
“to deal with the problem of climate change, energy bills are likely to rise.”
Who said that? Does anyone know? It was the last Energy Secretary, who stood here and pushed up prices again and again and again. Everyone wants low prices. We will get them by dealing with the causes of the high prices, rather than by means of a gimmick that collapsed after 12 hours.
The Prime Minister says that he wants low prices, but prices are going up on his watch. That is the reality.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that while his energy policy, his so-called cheapest tariff policy, benefits almost no one—a fact that he did not deny—a 20-month freeze in bills would save money for 27 million households and 2.4 million businesses across the country?
The problem is that 12 hours later the right hon. Gentleman said that he might not be able to keep his promise. This is not a policy; it is a gimmick, and the reason it is a gimmick is that he is in favour of a decarbonisation target that would add £125 to everyone’s bills. It is obvious why he wants to talk about the cost of living: it is because he does not have an economic policy any more. He told us over and over again that if we cut spending we damage public services. Now even the BBC disagrees with that. And he told us over and over again that if we cut spending the economy will not grow. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor says keep going. Let me tell the House the best birthday present I could have: the shadow Chancellor staying in the shadow Cabinet.
The Prime Minister said something very interesting: he said he does not want to talk about an economic policy; he wants to talk about the cost of living. Doesn’t that say it all? He does not realise that an economic policy is about the cost of living and what hundreds of thousands—millions—of families are facing in this country. Whatever we may say about him, he is true to form. We have a cost of living crisis in this country, and energy bills are rising, and he supports the energy companies, not the consumer. We have a Prime Minister who always stands up for the wrong people.
We know what the right hon. Gentleman’s cost of living policy is: more spending, more borrowing and more debt, which would lead to higher taxes and higher mortgage rates. That is the double whammy that would hit every family in this country. Not only have I got the birthday present of the shadow Chancellor staying in post—and, incidentally, also the birthday present of the shadow Health Secretary staying in post—but I also have this special birthday treat, which is that the shadow Chancellor yesterday revealed the Opposition’s election campaign: he said it all depended on the two of them together as—I am not making this quote up—they would win because of their “experience”, their “track record” and their “credibility”. That is like the captain of the Titanic running on his safety record.
Millions of people have chosen to collect their pensions and benefits at the post office using a Post Office card account. That contract is due to expire in 18 months’ time. It is vital for these people and the future of rural post offices that either the Post Office card account or a similar Post Office product continues after 2015. I hope the Government will ensure that it does.
The Post Office card account has been a great bonus for many people. I think it has really helped not only our post offices, but particularly elderly people who have access to those sorts of accounts, and I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend says.
We are intervening in the mortgage market because banks are failing to provide mortgages so young people can get on to the housing ladder. We are also intervening by putting everyone on the lowest energy tariff, but what the Leader of the Opposition cannot control, although he would like to, is international gas prices. He needs a basic lesson in economics, and it sounds like the hon. Gentleman does, too.
Industrial chemicals, herbicides and plant food are used in a variety of diet pills that are banned for human use but are widely advertised on the internet for such use. Does my right hon. Friend agree that action needs urgently to be taken to prevent the importation of these substances in capsule form, which can only be planned for human consumption?
There have been some extremely serious cases of young people in particular suffering from such medications that can be ordered on the internet. I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend says about whether further legislative or regulatory action can be taken in order to protect people from substances that may be safe in other circumstances, but should not be marketed in this way.
We are putting in more support for children. We are providing the child care offer now not just for four-year-olds and three-year-olds, but for two-year-olds. We have introduced for the first time a pupil premium, so children from the poorest homes are going to get more money following them into schools. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Frankly, he should be sitting there in shame at the OECD report that came out yesterday that showed that after a lifetime in education under Labour our young people are bottom of the league in terms of results. That is what he should be focused on.
May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the recent report by Imperial college about the detrimental effects on health of aircraft noise? Will he make sure that when the Government look at and decide on the Davies commission’s report on aviation in the south-east, health and environmental considerations are paramount?
My right hon. Friend has not had the chance to speak from the Back Benches in the way that he just has, and I look forward to hearing many other contributions from him—he brings a huge amount to this House. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of environmental noise, and I can tell him that it will be included in the report by Howard Davies and he will be making a speech about the issue soon.
What has happened since I became Prime Minister is that the number of workless households has gone down to its lowest level and the number of households claiming benefit has gone down. While we are at it, if the hon. Lady looks at what is actually happening in the north-west, she will see that since the election 18,000 more people are in employment; 45,000 more people are employed in the private sector; unemployment has fallen in the north-west by 7,000 since the election; and, as I said, the number of workless households has gone down by 26,000. She should be talking up her region instead of talking it down.
When I woke up this morning and heard that the BBC was reporting that you can cut public spending and make public services better, I thought I had died and gone to heaven for a moment. This is worth looking at and it is one of the many pillars of Labour’s policy that has collapsed today. The Opposition thought that public spending cuts would lead to a lack of economic growth, but the International Monetary Fund has shown them that that is wrong. They thought that public spending cuts would lead to worse services, but the BBC—let us praise the BBC for once—has told them that that is wrong. That is what has happened today.
We are helping working parents with child care, and that is what the tax relief on child care that this Government will be introducing will be all about.
In January, my constituents Ross and Clare Simons were tragically killed when they were hit by a driver who had more than 10 previous convictions for dangerous driving and was disqualified from driving at the time. He received a sentence of just over 10 years for his crime. More than 8,000 people in Kingswood have signed a petition, “Justice for Ross and Clare”, calling for the law to be changed so that drivers convicted of dangerous driving while disqualified should receive tougher sentences. Will the Prime Minister receive the petition at Downing street? Does he agree that the law in this area should be looked at?
I will certainly look at the petition that my hon. Friend talks about, and I would like to join him by offering my condolences to the friends and families of Ross and Clare.
This is the most appalling crime: someone with 10 previous convictions, as my hon. Friend says, and who was disqualified at the time driving dangerously and killing two people, snuffing out their lives. The sentence was 10 years. As I understand it, the maximum sentence available for a crime like this is 14 years. The Government have introduced a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, so we are looking at this whole area. I can also tell him that the Justice Secretary has asked the Sentencing Council to review the sentencing guidelines for serious driving offences, and we should look at this specific case in the light of that.
I want to see people’s energy bills come down. That is why we are legislating to put people on the lowest tariff; that is why we will go through to see what regulations and rules, put in place by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Energy Secretary, we can change to keep bills down; and that is why we need a competitive market. But simply making promises that you admit the next day you cannot meet is not proper politics.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. What we heard at Labour’s conference is that Labour will put up taxes on some of Britain’s biggest and most successful businesses. Labour’s message to business is, “Don’t invest here, don’t bring the jobs here, don’t expand here—go somewhere else. We want to fight some petty socialist campaign against successful big business.” That is absolutely wrong for our economy.