Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to pay some brief tributes. Captain Richard Holloway of the Royal Engineers was tragically killed after being engaged by enemy fire in Afghanistan on
I know that the sudden death this morning of Paul Goggins, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, will have shocked everyone across the House. He was a kind, brilliant man who believed profoundly in public service. He cared deeply about the welfare of children and the importance of social work, and he brought his own clear experience to bear as an MP and Minister. He did vital work as a Northern Ireland Minister, playing a quiet but essential role in delivering the devolution of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland, particularly at the Hillsborough castle talks. He was liked and admired across the House and always treated everyone, in whatever circumstances, with respect. He will be greatly missed, and we send our condolences to his wife Wyn, his children and his family.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I am sure the House will want to be associated with my right hon. Friend’s comments. In particular, Paul Goggins was a good and decent man, and I know that he will be sorely missed on both sides of the House.
Yesterday, the British Chambers of Commerce found that manufacturing exports and services were growing strongly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows that, even though more work needs to be done, it is crucial that the Government stick to their long-term economic plan?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments, including those about Paul Goggins.
It is a welcome report from the British Chambers of Commerce, but there is still a lot more work to do: we must continue to reduce the deficit, create economic growth and get more people into work. There should not be one ounce of complacency, but the report did find that manufacturing balances were at an all-time high, that exports were up and that services were growing strongly. If we stick to this plan, we can see this country rise, and our people rise with it too.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Richard Holloway of the Royal Engineers, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. His death, just two days before Christmas, is a reminder of the risks being taken on our behalf every day by members of our armed forces. He showed the utmost courage and bravery, and all our sympathies are with his family and friends. I also join the right hon. Gentleman in sending condolences to the families of the victims of the US helicopter crash in Norfolk.
I want to pay tribute to our friend and colleague, Paul Goggins. He was one of the kindest, most decent people in the House, and he was someone of the deepest principle. It shone throughout his career, as social worker, councillor, MP and Minister, and it is a measure of the man and his ability that he earned the respect, trust and affection of all sides in Northern Ireland. The Labour party has lost one of its own and one of its best. Our deepest condolences go to his wife, Wyn, to his children, Matthew, Theresa and Dominic, and indeed to his whole family.
The whole country will be concerned about the price being paid by those in communities affected by the floods and storms. I pay tribute to the work of the emergency services. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the number of people affected and on what action is being taken now to ensure areas that could be affected by further flooding have all the necessary support?
The flooding provides an extremely difficult situation for those affected. We should remember that seven people have lost their lives since this began. The right hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the emergency services, to the Environment Agency workers, to the flood wardens and to the many neighbours and individuals who showed great bravery, courage and spirit over the Christmas period in helping neighbours and friends.
As the situation is ongoing, let me bring the House up to date with the latest detail. There are currently 104 flood warnings in place across the whole of England and Wales. That means, sadly, that more flooding is expected and that immediate action is required. There are also 186 flood alerts, which means even further flooding is possible beyond what we expect to happen more rapidly. Although the weather has improved, river and groundwater levels remain so high that further flooding could come at relatively short notice. There are a number of particular concerns, including Dorset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somerset and Oxfordshire. Given these ongoing threats, which could last for several days to come, I urge members of the public to keep following the advice of the emergency services and the Environment Agency in those areas at risk. At a national level, we have co-ordinated this response via Cobra, which will continue to meet under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs until the threat has passed.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. I know he and the Environment Secretary will keep us updated. He will recognise that some people felt that the response was, at times, too slow. In particular, will he explain whether it has become clear why it took so long for some of the energy distribution companies to restore power to homes over the Christmas period? What steps does he believe can be taken to ensure that that kind of thing does not happen again?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: in all these circumstances, no matter how good the preparation, there are always lessons to learn—and there are lessons to learn on this occasion. On the positive side, the Environment Agency warning service worked better than it has in the past and the flood defences protected up to a million homes over the December and Christmas period, but there are some negatives, too, and we need to learn lessons from them. In particular, some of the energy companies did not have enough people available over the holiday period for an emergency response, which I saw for myself in Kent. We need to learn those lessons, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy will lead this exercise. The Energy Secretary is already looking at the levels of compensation and at the preparedness and speed of response from energy companies. I would, however, welcome hearing from Members of all constituencies affected by the flooding what they saw on the ground about the lessons that could be learned so that we can ensure that preparedness is even better on a future occasion.
Given the scale of risk exposed by these floods and the expected impact of climate change, will the Prime Minister also commit to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs providing a report by the end of this month, providing a full assessment of the future capability of our flood defences and flood response agencies and of whether the investment plans in place are equal to the need for events of this kind?
I am very happy to make that commitment. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, in this current four-year period, we are spending £2.3 billion, compared with £2.1 billion in the previous period. The money is going into flood defences. As I said, in the early December flooding, about 800,000 homes were protected by previous flood defence work and over the Christmas period a further 200,000 houses were affected. Whenever there is flooding, it makes sense to look again at the proposals in the programme for flood defence work and to see what more can be done. In addition to
Government money, we are keen to lever in more private sector and local authority money, which is now possible under the arrangements. I am happy to commit, as the right hon. Gentleman asked for, to the Environment Secretary coming back to report to the House on the level of expenditure in the years going ahead.
Further to the Prime Minister’s remarks on the recent flooding, will he join me in paying tribute to Bournemouth borough council and Dorset emergency services, as well as local residents, in dealing with two evacuations in my constituency, one of which, owing to the River Stour bursting its banks, is still ongoing? Given the changing weather patterns we are experiencing, what more can be done in the long term towards improving river and sea defences?
As my hon. Friend knows, 290 homes have been flooded so far in Bournemouth and the Dorset area. I agree with him that the work of the emergency services and the Environment Agency has been excellent. Many local authorities, including my own, have developed very good plans and carried them out very competently. However, not every authority is doing so well, and there will be lessons to be learnt.
As for the Bournemouth and Poole area, about £14 million will be invested over the next five years under the Bournemouth beach management scheme. That should protect about 2,500 properties by 2018-2019, but I should be interested to hear from my hon. Friend what more he thinks can be done.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the majority of new housing benefit claimants are in work. He will also be aware that private sector landlords are increasingly refusing to take tenants who are on benefit, or are evicting them. What does he say to hard-working families who face losing their homes because of his housing benefit cuts?
What we say to hard-working families is, “We are cutting your taxes.” In April this year, we will raise to £10,000 the amount of money that people can earn before they start paying income tax, and I think that that will make a big difference. For instance, someone earning the minimum wage and working a 40-hour week will see his or her tax bill fall by two thirds.
However, we must take action to deal with the housing benefit bill. Housing benefit now accounts for £23 billion of Government spending. When we came to office, some families in London were receiving housing benefit payments of £60,000, £70,000 or £80,000. [Hon. Members: “How many?”] Members shout “How many?” Frankly, one was too many, and that is why we have capped housing benefit.
If the Government decided to mitigate the scale of the cuts that they plan for the next Parliament, can my right hon. Friend tell me how I would explain to the students in Meon Valley receiving personal, social, health and economic education why they should make every effort to spend within their means to avoid taking on debt, but it is quite all right for the Government to ignore the same advice?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. We have made difficult decisions to get the deficit down and to get the country back on track: difficult decisions in terms of departmental spending, and also welfare. The Labour party is now back where it started: Labour Members are saying that they want to mitigate the level of cuts, and therefore they want to spend more, they want to borrow more and they want to tax more. We may be at the beginning of a new year, but they have gone completely back to where they were three years ago.
Does the Prime Minister recognise the concern of families and communities about the impact of fixed odds betting terminals, gaming machines on which people can gamble up to £300 a minute on our high streets?
I absolutely share the concern about that issue, and I welcome the fact that we shall be debating it in the House today. There are problems in the betting and gaming industry, and we need to look at them. I think it is worth listening to the advice of the right hon. Gentleman’s own shadow Minister who said
“I accept the argument that empirical evidence is needed before making” any changes,
However, this is a problem, and it does need to be looked at. We have a review under way. We are clearing up a situation that was put in place under the last Government, but I think that if we work together, we can probably sort it out.
The Gambling Act 2005 limited the number of machines to four per betting shop, but it did not go nearly far enough. More action should have been taken. The Prime Minister asked about evidence. Local communities from Fareham to Liverpool are saying that these machines are causing problems for families and communities. Local communities believe that they already have the evidence. Should they not be given the power to decide whether or not they want these machines?
The right hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable point, but let me first deal with the facts. The first fact is that fixed odds betting terminals were introduced in 2001 after the Labour Government had relaxed gambling regulations. The second fact is that there are fewer of these machines now than there were when Labour was in office. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s last point, councils already have powers to tackle the issue, and I believe that they should make full use of those powers. I am not arguing that that is “job done”—there may well be more to do— but we have a review under way. This is an issue for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. If the right hon. Gentleman has ideas, I ask him to put them into the review, but, as I said earlier, he may want to listen to his own shadow Minister, who, as recently as November, said
There seems to be something of a change here, but if the right hon. Gentleman has extra evidence, he should put it into our review, and I think that we can then sort the matter out.
Our ideas are in today’s motion, and if the Prime Minister wants to vote for it, we would be very happy for him to do so. He says there are already powers in place, but the Mayor of London and the Conservative head of the Local Government Association have said that local authorities do not have the power to limit the number of machines. One in three calls to the gambling helpline are about these machines and they are clustered in deprived areas. For example, there are 348 in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country: Newham. Can the Prime Minister at least give us a timetable for when the Government will decide whether to act?
We will be reporting in the spring as a result of the review that is under way, and I think it is important that we get to grips with this. There is something of a pattern. We had the problem of 24-hour drinking, and that needed to be changed and mitigated and we have done that. We have the problems created by the deregulation of betting and gaming, which the right hon. Gentleman is raising today and we need to sort that out. We have also had problems, of course, in the banking industry and elsewhere that we have sorted out, so, as I said, if he wants to—[Interruption.] As I said, if he wants to input ideas into that review, I think that is the right way forward.
May I pay tribute to Paul Goggins and say how much he will be missed in this House?
My right hon. Friend is on the record as saying he would very much like to see the A64 on the future roads list. Can he ensure that the present economy, which is very buoyant in north Yorkshire, is not held back by congestion and poor safety on that road? Will he join me to ensure that on his future visits he can travel much faster and in much greater safety on the A64?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. The quality and capacity of the road system in Yorkshire has been, and is, a major issue. The Government have taken some important steps to help, but I know there is more work to be done. I know the Chancellor was listening carefully to what she had to say and I am sure we can look carefully at this for the future roads programme.
The hon. Gentleman shouts “CBI”, and this is what the CBI had to say about it:
“further gold plating of EU rules can only cost jobs.”
Then we have the Recruitment and Employment Federation. It said this:
“These arrangements were agreed following consultation between the last Labour Government, business and the unions…Is the Labour party really saying they want to deny British temps the option of permanent employment?”
The Institute of Directors has, of course, added to that by saying—[Interruption.] It is very clear, Mr Speaker: Opposition Members want to know what we think about this, and this is what the IOD thinks:
“It’s a bad idea all round…The initial response to this from employers would be to employ fewer people on higher wages”.
What a great start to the new year: let us come up with an idea to increase unemployment! Only Labour could come up with an idea like that.
There is considerable interest from businesses in the maritime and marine sector wishing to relocate to Portsmouth to make use of its facilities and skilled work force. What can the Government do to send a clear message to entrepreneurs that Portsmouth is open for businesses and to facilitate businesses moving to, and expanding, there?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. There are two specific things we can do to help Portsmouth at this time. The first is the Portsmouth and Southampton city deal, which we should put in place, that will bring jobs and investment. Secondly, we should emphasise the fact that the massive programme of modernising the Royal Navy, with the aircraft carriers, the Type 45s and the future frigates, will by and large be based in Portsmouth, creating jobs and making sure it remains one of the most important homes for the Royal Navy. But my hon. Friend is absolutely right: added to that there is a future in Portsmouth in other marine industries and commercial and private sector industries, and we should do everything we can to encourage business to locate there.
I would also like to pay my sympathies to Paul Goggins’s family; he was a lovely, lovely man. The Government have cut £1.8 billion from the social care budget, which means nearly half a million fewer people are eligible for social care. With home care charges up £740 a year since 2010 and the Government’s care cap nothing more than a care con, why is the Prime Minister not being honest with older people about the real care costs they will face under this Government?
Of course, difficult decisions have had to be taken right across Government spending, but if we look at health and social care, we can see that we have protected the health budget so that it is going up in real terms, and we have put some of that health budget—up to £3 billion—into social care to help local authorities. We now want to get local authorities and local health services working even more closely together to deal with the problems of blocked beds and to ensure that there are care packages for people when they leave hospital. We can really see the benefits in the areas of the country where this is working, and we want to make that happen right across the country.
Mr Speaker, our excellent local enterprise partnership estimates that Buckinghamshire has a £12 billion economy, with nearly 30,000 registered businesses and the European head offices of more than 700 foreign companies. They need the security of long-term economic policies. Given that our economic growth has clearly returned, will the Prime Minister assure me that, unlike the Labour party, he will not gamble with those companies’ future and that he will stick steadfastly to his tried and tested long-term economic policies?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what she says. There is a vibrant economy right across the Thames valley, including in Buckinghamshire, and that is going to be based on sticking to our long-term economic plan. What is particularly important for the companies that she has mentioned is to keep our rates of corporate tax low so that we attract businesses into the country and ensure that companies want to have their headquarters here. That is the right answer, rather than the answer of the Labour party, which is to put up corporation tax and to put a “Closed” sign over the British economy.
The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair; I think we are making progress on this very difficult issue. At the G8, we raised the importance of having international rules on tax reporting and of more countries working together on that. Huge progress has been made, not least in the European Union, where countries such as Luxembourg and Austria, which have always held out against this exchange of information, are now taking part for the first time. The OECD work is also going ahead apace, and that is partly because Britain has put its full efforts behind this vital work.
Paul Goggins was a decent, humble man and, in my experience, one of the most effective and fair Ministers the House has seen. He will be very sadly missed.
The Prime Minister will know that the science is clear that the extreme weather conditions affecting our communities, including around the Kent estuary in Westmorland, are at least in part a destructive and inevitable consequence of climate change. Given that he has said that this should be the “greenest Government ever”, will he now agree to support the carbon reduction targets so that we can take real action to protect people and property?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we are seeing more abnormal weather events. Colleagues across the House can argue about whether that is linked to climate change or not; I very much suspect that it is. The point is that, whatever one’s view, it makes sense to invest in flood defences and mitigation and to get information out better, and we should do all of those things. As for carbon reduction targets, this Government are committed to them and we worked with the last Government to put the Climate Change Act 2008 into place. That would not have happened without our support. We also have the green investment bank up and running in Edinburgh, and we are going to be investing billions of pounds in important green projects.
Government cuts have closed the police cells in Bassetlaw, and I now discover that the police are having to patrol villages using public transport. If the police are waiting at a bus stop, having arrested someone, should they go upstairs, should they go downstairs, or should they not make the arrest at all?
The first thing to say to the hon. Gentleman is that he did not mention the fact that recorded crime in the Bassetlaw community safety partnership area is down by 27% under this Government. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Yes, 27%. What is noticeable is that every single Opposition Member is getting up and complaining about the need to make reductions in departmental spending. Frankly, this is like “Back to the Future”—we are back to where we were three years ago, when we said, “You’ve got to make difficult decisions. You’ve got to make some cuts. You’ve got to get the deficit down” and they lived in total denial. They are back to where they were three years ago. It may be the new year, but it is the same old Labour party.
The royal pardon granted to Alan Turing two weeks ago has finally meant justice for this national hero. May I thank the Prime Minister, the Justice Secretary and everyone over the years who has paved the way to bring this about? May I invite the Prime Minister to visit Bletchley Park in my constituency to see for himself Alan Turing’s remarkable achievements?
I absolutely back what my hon. Friend has said. It is excellent news that a royal prerogative mercy, which is very rarely granted, has been granted in this very special case. I would be delighted to visit his constituency to go to Bletchley Park. One of my wife’s family worked there during the war and speaks incredibly highly of what Alan Turing was like and what he was like to work with. Historians can argue about the degree, but there is no doubt that the work done in my hon. Friend’s constituency was vital to winning the war.
Before Christmas, I was contacted by a seriously ill constituent who is waiting for a kidney transplant. He needs five-hour dialysis sessions three times a week, yet in the Prime Minister’s Britain he has been told by the jobcentre that he is fit for work. On Monday, the Chancellor promised to take £12 billion more from the welfare budget. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that there will be no further cuts to benefits for the sick and disabled?
First, on the specific issue of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, if he wants to write to me about the individual case, I would be happy to look at that. In terms of making sure that dialysis machines are available and the expertise is available, we are putting more money into the NHS, even though the advice from the Labour party was to cut. The reason we have been able to put more money into the health service is because we have taken tough and difficult decisions about welfare. It is because we have put a cap on the amount of money a family can get that we have been able to invest in our health service; because we have put a cap on housing benefit—not giving £60,000 or £70,000 to some families—we have invested in our health service. We want to see more dignity, more security and more stability in the lives of Britain’s families, and we are making choices consistent with that.
Soaring car sales—they are back to pre-crisis levels—have helped supply chain companies such as Sertec in Coleshill in my constituency to create manufacturing jobs; 200 have been created in the past year, and a further 400 are planned. Does the Prime Minister agree that that shows that we are successfully rebalancing the economy and that we need to stay the course with policies that are clearly working?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. I went with him to the opening of the new Ocado warehouse in his constituency, which has generated hundreds of jobs and, as he says, is going to be vital for the supply chain in his constituency. What these businesses want to see is a consistent economic policy: keeping interest rates down; getting the deficit down; cutting taxes for hard-working people; helping businesses to take more people on; and investing in education, in skills and in controlling welfare. Those are the elements of our long-term plan, and that is what we will stick to.
Two months ago, I asked the Prime Minister whether Tory Councillor Abdul Aziz, who was suspended by the Labour party, should return to Pakistan, given the arrest warrant out for him in connection to a brutal killing. Councillor Aziz attended the Prime Minister’s party in October as an invited guest. So why is the Prime Minister still hiding on whether he thinks Councillor Aziz should return to face justice?
I will make two points to the hon. Gentleman, and I have written to him this morning. The first is this—[Interruption.] He will be interested to hear. The first is that the allegations he mentions are disputed and are currently subject to legal action, so I am limited in what I can say. But what he failed to mention to the House the last time he raised this is that the allegations date from the time when Mr Aziz was a Labour councillor. I am informed that during his time as a Labour councillor the Labour party did absolutely nothing about these allegations. So perhaps next time the hon. Gentleman stands up and asks a question in the House of Commons he will give us the full facts.
May I associate myself with the tributes to Paul Goggins? His work on the reform of the law on child neglect will go on. Last year, one of my constituents, 23-year-old Christopher Scott, died as a result of taking the so-called legal high AMT—alpha-methyltryptamine. Will my right hon. Friend support my calls and those of the coroner and Christopher’s family to ensure that this dangerous drug and others like it are outlawed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. First, let me offer my condolences to his constituent’s family. As he knows with the rules that we have, hundreds of legal highs have already been banned, and our temporary drug orders allow us to outlaw substances within days of them coming on the market. However, we are not complacent and we have asked the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs to renew our definitions of controlled drugs to ensure that we capture these newly emerging substances when there is evidence of harm. There is more work to be done here, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is absolutely on it.
May I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in paying warm tribute to Paul Goggins? He was a fine, decent and honourable man who was a great friend to Northern Ireland and all its people. He will be sadly missed not only in this House but throughout Northern Ireland. We offer our sincere condolences to his wife and family at this difficult time.
I commend the Prime Minister and welcome the fact that he has made a commitment on the triple-lock guarantee for pensioners if he is returned as Prime Minister in the next Parliament in 2015. Will he clarify whether he will commit to retaining the winter fuel allowance under its current eligibility thresholds and as a universal benefit?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about Paul Goggins.
On the issue of pensions, it is important to recognise that we are able to make a commitment to the triple lock, which has been important in this Parliament, only because we are committed to raising the pension age to 66, then 67 and so on. That means that the pension increase is affordable. We made a very clear pledge about pensioner benefits for this Parliament, and I am proud of the fact that we are fulfilling it. We will set out our plans in the next manifesto. I caution people about the belief that somehow not paying, for instance, the winter fuel allowance or the other benefits to those, for instance, paying tax at 40p, saves money—you save a very small amount of money. Yes of course we will set out our plans in the manifesto, but it is absolutely vital that we say to Britain’s pensioners, “You have worked hard and done the right thing, and we want to give you dignity and security in old age.” The triple lock makes that possible.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that at Thrunton in my constituency, there has been a large fire of waste carpet burning since
I will certainly look in even more detail at the issues my right hon. Friend raises. I understand the concern that it is causing him and his constituents. My understanding is that environmental concerns, particularly that waste might run off and pollute local water supplies, have hampered the efforts to extinguish the fire. I understand that the local recovery group is meeting later this week to see what more can be done to remove the waste, and I am happy to intervene on my right hon. Friend’s behalf to ensure that that makes progress.
The calls for this debate show a mounting frustration among those wanting Scotland’s separation from the rest of the United Kingdom, because they know they are losing the argument. They are losing the argument about jobs and investment. They have completely lost the argument about the future of the pound sterling, and they are losing the argument about Europe. Yes of course there should be a debate, but it is a debate among the people in Scotland. The leader of the “in” campaign should debate with the leader of the “out” campaign. Of course the hon. Gentleman, as the lackey of Alex Salmond, wants to change the terms of the debate, but I am not falling for that one.
In the 13 years before 2010, there was net migration of nearly 4 million people to the UK, mostly to England, and in many cases as a result of work permits issued by the then Government. Will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that this Government will keep in place their cap on the number of workers from outside the European Union, and encourage employers to give a chance to talented young people here?
I can give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. We should keep the cap on economic migrants from outside the European Union. We should continue with all the action that we are taking to make sure that people who come here do so to work and not to claim, but I think what we need to do next is recognise that the best immigration policy is to have not only strong border controls but an education approach that educates our young people for jobs in our country and a welfare system that encourages them to take those jobs. There are three sides to the argument: it is about immigration, education and welfare, and the Government have a plan for all three.
Could I agree with the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] It is genuinely absurd that the leader of the no campaign in Scotland cannot get a debate with the leader of the yes campaign in Scotland, and that the leader of the yes campaign in Scotland demands a debate with somebody who does not have a vote. [Interruption.] In these circumstances, does the Prime Minister agree with me that, in politics as in shipbuilding, empty vessels make the most noise?
I accept every part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I well remember when he came to Question Time not with an empty vessel but with a model of the vessel that he wanted to be built near his constituency, and I am proud that the Government are building that vessel and, indeed, another one like it. I humbly accept that, while I am sure there are many people in Scotland who would like to hear me talk about this issue, my appeal does not stretch to every single part. The key point that he is making is absolutely right: the reason the yes campaign head and the no campaign head cannot seem to get a debate is that those who want to break up the United Kingdom know that they are losing the argument, so they want to change the question. It is the oldest trick in the book, and we can all see it coming.
The right hon. Gentleman will have to raise his point of order after the statement.