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.
As the proud father of three daughters, I am sure that the entire House will share my deep concern for the more than 270 Nigerian schoolgirls held captive in that country. Their only so-called crime is that they aspired to receive an education. Will my right hon. Friend set out for the House the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that we help to ensure their release as soon as possible?
I know that my hon. Friend speaks for the whole House—and, indeed, the whole country. I am the father of two young daughters, and my reaction is exactly the same as my hon. Friend’s and of every father and mother in this land and in the world: this is an act of pure evil, which has united people across the planet to stand with Nigeria to help find these children and return them to their parents.
The Foreign Secretary and the British Government have made repeated offers of help to the Nigerian Government since the girls were seized. I shall be speaking to the Nigerian President this afternoon and will say again that Britain stands ready to provide any assistance, working closely with the US, as immediately as we can. We already have a British military training team in Nigeria, and the Foreign Office has counter-terrorism experts. We should be proud of the role we play in that country where British aid helps to educate 800,000 Nigerian children, including 600,000 girls. We should be clear that this is not just a Nigerian issue: it is a global issue. There are extreme Islamists around the world who are against education, against progress and against equality—and we must fight them and take them on wherever they are.
On our proposal for three-year tenancies in the private sector, will the Prime Minister tell us when he expects to make the inevitable journey from saying that they represent dangerous Venezuelan-style thinking to saying that they are actually quite a good idea?
I have not had the time to study the rent control proposals, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be able to lay them out for the House. Let me be clear about my view. If there is an opportunity to find longer-term tenancy agreements to give greater stability—a proposal made at last year’s Conservative conference—I am sure we can work together. If, however, the proposal is for rent controls that have been tried all over the world, including in Britain, and have been shown to fail, I think it would be a very bad idea.
Even by the right hon. Gentleman’s standards, this is a pretty quick U-turn. Last week, the chairman of the Conservative party—I know the right hon. Gentleman does not have a briefing on this, but perhaps he can listen to the question—was saying this was all back to Venezuela and that it is completely wrong, but the Community Secretary has supported these proposals. The question is how are we going to make it happen?
Actually, I have got some very good briefing on these proposals—from Labour MPs. Here they are. Let us start with Labour’s Housing Minister. You would think she would support Labour’s policy. She says:
“I do not think it will work in practice”.
“We don’t want to return to rent controls because the rental sector is meeting a demand for housing.”
There we are—the authentic voice of Bennism.
Then we come to the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, a Labour MP, Mr Betts. He said this:
“We concluded that rent control was not feasible.”
So there we have a Labour policy, completely unclear about what it is; but the one thing that is clear is that Labour MPs do not back it.
Order. I know it has to be said every week, but I will very happily say it again. However long it takes—a very simple exercise in democracy; the lesson should be learned—the question will be heard and the answer will be heard. It is incredibly simple.
All the right hon. Gentleman shows is that he has no idea about this incredibly important issue facing our country. Let me explain it to him. There are 9 million people renting in this country. Our proposal is that there should be fixed three-year tenancies as the norm for those people with predictable rent changes. Right? That is the proposal. Many people across this country think that for the first time this is a party addressing the issue they face, so will he explain what is wrong with going from one-year tenancies with unpredictable rent rises to three-year tenancies with predictable rents? Why has the Conservative party given up on millions of people who are Generation Rent.
We want to build more houses so we have a better rental sector with more affordable rents. But as I said in my very first answer, if this is about finding new tenancies that give long-term security on a voluntary basis, yes. If it is about mandating rent controls from the centre and destroying the housing market, no. The problem I have with so many of the right hon. Gentleman’s policies is that they all come from the same place—
Thank you very much. Len—they come from the Unite union. Unite said, “Renationalise the railways.” The right hon. Gentleman wants to renationalise the railways. Unite says, “Let’s have old-style rent controls.” He wants old-style rent controls. The problem with rent controls is their policies are for rent, their candidates are for lent and their leader is for rent. That is the problem.
The Prime Minister will be as encouraged as I am that unemployment in my constituency is down by almost a third since the last election. However, the future for almost 1,000 workers related to Eggborough power station in my constituency is less certain. Will he meet me to ensure that we have a future for this very important asset in my constituency?
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this. What he says about the fall in unemployment, which we are now seeing right across our country, is welcome. In fact, employment is growing fastest not in the south-east but in Wales, which shows that the recovery is increasingly more broadly based. I know about the problems at Eggborough power station, and the demand there for further action, as has been agreed at Drax. I am very happy to discuss that with him and see what can be done.
I have two world-class hospitals in my constituency. The Secretary of State for Health has decided that Hammersmith will lose its A and E this year and Charing Cross will be demolished, losing all consultant emergency services, including A and E, and the country’s best stroke unit. Will the Prime Minister stop his Health Secretary putting my constituents’ lives at risk?
What we are doing in north-west London is ensuring that the NHS gets more money. It will be getting £2.4 billion this year—£74 million more than the year before. Let us remember that his own party’s policy was to cut the NHS, as is happening now in Wales. The changes that are being made in north-west London are backed by clinicians and local people. We want to see our NHS improve, as it is under this Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the policies of the UK Independence party are based on fear—fear of the world and fear of foreigners? As a great trading nation, we should embrace the world. If anyone comes to my constituency and goes to the hospital, the nursing homes, the farms or the building sites, they will see the great contribution that is being made to our communities and to the growth of our economy by fellow EU citizens.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that Britain has benefited from being an economy that is open to investment and open to people coming who want to contribute and work hard here. I agree with what he says about UKIP: so much of its view seems to be that we do not have a bright future in this country. I absolutely believe that we do. If we get our deficit down and our economy growing and we invest in apprenticeships, we will show that we can be one of the success stories of the 21st century. We are making progress and that is the way to challenge its world view.
There is deep concern in the British business and scientific communities about the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer. The deal would have an impact for decades to come on British jobs, British investment, British exports and British science. The Business Secretary said yesterday that he is “not ruling out intervention”. What type of intervention is under consideration by Government?
I absolutely agree with what the Business Secretary said yesterday, but let me be clear that the most important intervention we can make is to back British jobs, British science, British research and development, British medicines and British technology. That is why I asked the Cabinet Secretary and my Ministers to engage with both companies right from the start of this process, and I make no apology for that, because we know what happens when you do not engage. If you stand back and just say you are opposed to everything, you get abject surrender and no guarantees for Britain. We are fighting for British science, and it is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to play politics rather than backing the national interest.
It is good to hear that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with the Business Secretary. The Business Secretary said this:
“One of the Government’s options would be to consider using our public interest test powers.”—[Hansard, 6 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 23.]
There needs to be a proper assessment of this bid, and yesterday the Business Secretary said that he was open to doing that. It could be done straight away, through this House, and we on the Labour Benches would support making that happen. Will the Prime Minister agree to do it?
The assessment that I want is from the Business Department on this deal or indeed, because there is not now an actual offer on the table, any subsequent offer. I will judge all these things on whether they expand British jobs, British investment and British science. Let me just make this point, because I worry that it may be lost in this debate. We all know that the right hon. Gentleman thinks he is extremely clever—we all know that—but he may have missed this point. Britain benefits massively from being open to investment. Nissan is now producing more cars than the whole of Italy. Jaguar Land Rover, under Indian ownership, has created 9,000 jobs in the west midlands since I became Prime Minister. Vodafone and indeed AstraZeneca have benefited from that backing of an open country to go out and build and buy businesses around the world. There is more inward investment in Britain today than the rest of the EU combined. Let us not put that at risk.
The right hon. Gentleman does not understand. This is simply about something very straightforward—having an independent assessment of this bid and whether it is in the national interest. I will ask him the question again as it matters to people right across this country. Is he ruling out, or ruling in, using the public interest test on this takeover? We could make it happen. His Business Secretary could make it happen, and we would support it. If he does not take action now, and the bid goes through without a proper assessment, everyone will know that he was cheerleading for this bid, not championing British science and British industry.
I think it is deeply sad that the Leader of the Opposition makes accusations about cheerleading when the Government were getting stuck in to help British science, British investment and British jobs. Does it not tell us everything that, given the choice of doing the right thing for the national interest and working with the Government or making short-term political points, that is what he chooses to do? We might ask why the public interest test was changed in the first place. It happened when they were sitting in the Treasury. Yes, they wrote the rules, they sold the gold and they saw manufacturing in our country decline by one half. We will never take lectures from the people who wrecked our economy.
We are spending in excess of 2% and we are one of the only countries in Europe to do that. The Greeks, I believe, are spending more than 2% but, if I can put it this way, not all on things that are useful for all of NATO. We should continue to make sure we fulfil all our commitments on defence spending.
Will the Prime Minister urgently meet again with me and fellow MPs to find a way forward on consultant-led maternity services to be run by the university hospital in Stoke-on-Trent?
The hon. Lady has asked me about this question in the past. I was keen to ensure that despite all the difficulties at the Mid-Staffordshire hospital there was an opportunity to see whether it might be possible for the long term to have consultant-led maternity services. People who live in our major towns, such as Stafford, want to be able to have their babies locally. It is vital that we do that and I am regularly updated by my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy. I would be happy to meet him and a delegation of Staffordshire MPs if it is necessary to talk further about this point.
Last week, Boston Consulting Group published research that found that Britain is the No. 1 competitive manufacturing country in the whole of western Europe and number four globally behind China, the United States and South Korea. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is just the sort of company we should be keeping and further evidence that our strategy to rebalance the UK economy towards manufacturing and the west midlands and other regions is working?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she says, because for the first time in almost a decade all three main sectors of the economy—manufacturing, services and construction—have grown by at least 3% over the past year. That is further evidence that the economic plan is working. Manufacturing is important in itself and it is also important because so much of it is tradeable. We want to see Britain export more, make more and invest more. The moves made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget in terms of investment allowances and backing UK Trade & Investment are dedicated to that angle. As I said earlier, we must also remain an open economy, which will encourage people to invest in our manufacturing base.
Later this week, the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia will take place in Northern Ireland. The Tour de France is also coming to Yorkshire. Such world-class sporting events allow us to showcase our region, boost tourism and grow the local economy. Does the Prime Minister agree that as we seek to build a more prosperous and better future for all our people in Northern Ireland it is vital that the suffering and hurt of the victims is never forgotten and that whether it happened one year ago, 10 years ago or 42 years ago, justice must be pursued and the police must be allowed to follow the evidence wherever it may lead?
First, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of these great sporting events—both the one he mentioned in Northern Ireland and, of course, the Tour de France, which will be starting in Leeds. That will be a great moment for Yorkshire and for the whole United Kingdom. We should do all we can to promote these events, although we should perhaps draw the line at appearing in lycra at either of them.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue about terrorist victims. We discussed recently the important issue of trying to ensure greater assistance from Libya over Semtex that is still being found in Northern Ireland as we speak today. As for his other remarks, we should be proud of the fact that a free country has an independent judiciary, an independent legal system and an independent police service and that they decide who to arrest, who to question and who to charge. That is how it must remain.
Dementia is one of the biggest challenges facing our country. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Alzheimer’s Society and Public Health England on launching a major new campaign through Dementia Friends to raise awareness and to challenge stigma? Given that 50,000 people quit their jobs to care for people with dementia, will he ensure that there is a new dementia strategy at the end of this year—the current one ends this year—so that we can ensure that people with dementia receive the support they need?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for raising this issue. We have turned the zero on No. 10 into the dementia flower today to help to boost the importance of raising awareness of this issue and of encouraging more people to train as Dementia Friends. I will look at what he says about the strategy. As he knows, it is about investing in research and science, where we have doubled the budget for dementia. It is about dementia-friendly communities and also making sure that our hospitals and care homes treat people with dementia better. We will carry forward all those, and I will perhaps write to him about the update to the strategy.
Some 100,000 people are already dead in Syria and others are dying while we are here today. They need help desperately. We have talked about humanitarian help, but we have not crossed borders. What on earth are we doing about it?
The right hon. Lady is right to raise this. The answer to what are we doing about it is that Britain is the second largest bilateral aid donor in terms of humanitarian aid going into Syria, so we are helping to feed, clothe and house people in Turkey, in
Lebanon, in Jordan and elsewhere. She raises the important point about getting aid into Syria. More is being done on that, but it is extremely difficult because of the security situation. We will continue to do what we can.
As we mark the centenary of the first world war, it is a national disgrace that the graves of Victoria Cross winners lie crumbling and derelict. As a patron of the Victoria Cross Trust, may I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on pledging £100,000 to help to restore some of those graves, and The Sun newspaper on highlighting this campaign? As the Government have pledged to match fund every penny raised by the Victoria Cross Trust, will the Prime Minister join me in urging people to go on line, to donate and to ensure that we have fitting memorials for the bravest of the brave.
I certainly join my hon. Friend, who is a patron of the Victoria Cross Trust, for the hard work that is being done. The Sun newspaper did a good job in highlighting the importance of this issue. As my hon. Friend mentioned, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has announced £100,000 of funding for the Victoria Cross Trust. This should go to restoring the graves of Victoria Cross recipients.
We also have a programme for letting local authorities put down paving stones for people who won Victoria Crosses in their area, and we are looking at many other ways to commemorate this absolutely vital anniversary. The most important thing we are doing is the huge multimillion pound investment going to the Imperial War museum, which is opening this summer and to which I take my children. It brings the first world war to life in an extraordinary way, and that is at the heart of our important commemorations.
As the hon. Lady knows, we have discretionary housing payments for exactly this sort of case, and the money has been topped up, so there is no reason for people to be disadvantaged in the way she suggests.
AstraZeneca is Macclesfield’s largest employer with 2,000 employees, so I share constituents’ concerns about Pfizer’s proposed bid. I welcome the steps taken by the Government to secure initial commitments from the company if it succeeds. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what further steps are being taken to strengthen those commitments and to safeguard highly skilled manufacturing jobs in Macclesfield?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s remarks. There are 2,000 people employed by AstraZeneca in his constituency, and he is quite right to speak up for them. Our entire approach is based on trying to secure the best possible deal in terms of jobs, investment and science, and that is why I believe it was absolutely right to ask the Cabinet Secretary to engage with Pfizer, just as we are engaging with AstraZeneca. I find it extraordinary that we have been criticised for this. Of course, there is no offer on the table, but the commitments that have been made so far are encouraging in terms of completing the Cambridge campus and making sure that 20% of the combined companies’ total research and development work force is in the UK going forward—and they specifically mention substantial commercial manufacturing facilities in Macclesfield. The company also goes on to say that because of the patent box that we have introduced, it would look at manufacturing more in the UK. But let me absolutely clear: I am not satisfied; I want more, but the way to get more is to engage, not to stand up and play party politics.
On a number of occasions the Prime Minister has raised the important issue of awareness of mental health, and I thank him for that, but can he explain why, since 2011, there has been a 30% drop in the number of mental health beds in the NHS, and is it really right that mental health patients are having to travel up to 200 miles to access a bed?
What matters in our NHS is the quality of provision and parity of esteem between physical health and mental health. This Government have not solved every problem, but we have put proper parity of esteem into the NHS constitution and the NHS mandate. We have also put in proper targets for some of the talking therapies that are absolutely vital in mental health. Measuring the output of our NHS purely by the number of beds is not a sensible approach.
The Government are making a substantial investment in renewing and expanding the nation’s infrastructure. There is, however, a real need to get more young people into engineering so that we will have the long-term skills base for these projects. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this Government will do all they can to inspire the next generation of engineers?
I absolutely back what my hon. Friend says. I know he has been campaigning very hard to get the HS2 academy to go to Milton Keynes, because there is a vital bit of skills work that needs to be done. [Interruption.] I am sure there will be a lot of competition. The key thing about these investments, whether it is Crossrail, the Olympics or HS2, is to plan in advance for the skills that we are going to need so that we can fill the jobs with British people leaving school and college wanting to take on those skills. Today the Chancellor and the Minister for Schools have launched the “Your Life, Your Choice” campaign, which is all about encouraging young people to get into STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—and to stay in STEM subjects, because there is a massive fall-off from GCSE to A-level, particularly in physics among young women, and we need to encourage them to go on studying.
I am delighted to see that the Prime Minister is wearing his dementia friends badge today. He will congratulate the Alzheimer’s Society on its commitment to get 1 million dementia friends over the next year, but will he also today commit personally to putting an end to the scandal of 15-minute visits, low wages and zero-hours contracts for the dedicated home carers who look after people with dementia in our country?
First, let me praise the right hon. Lady for her work on dementia and the amount of work she has done to spread awareness about this. The 15-minute working times is an issue for local councils. My local council has just decided to stop these 15-minute visits because it does not believe people can really get any meaningful work done, but this is a matter for councils. We are the first Government to have a proper review on zero-hours contracts. We are very unhappy about those with exclusivity clauses that do not allow people to work elsewhere. As important as those things are, it is as important to make sure that our care system has got people inside it who are really caring and understanding about the problems of dementia. The right hon. Lady and I have both been through the very short dementia friend training course, and I do not know about her, but I think I am ready for a refresher.
With 1.3% growth in manufacturing in the last quarter and some strong performances from my local firms such as Renishaw, Dairy Crest, Lister Communications, Lister Shearing and others, largely through innovation, does the Prime Minister agree that one key element of the long-term economic plan is the need further to strengthen our skills base so that those firms can continue to grow, work hard for Britain, and generate exports?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A key part of the long-term plan is to rebalance our economy away from purely the south-east and also towards manufacturing exports and investment. I know that he has been playing his part by running a festival for manufacturing and engineering in Stroud. This is really important, because one of the things we have to do is inspire a new generation to think of these careers and think of the subjects they should be studying in school and at university to open up these careers for them.
Last Thursday, the European Union ban on the import of Indian mangos took effect. As a result, hundreds of businesses in Leicester and throughout the UK will suffer millions of pounds of losses. There was no consultation with this House and no vote by British Ministers. Next week, the Prime Minister will have his first conversation with the new Indian Prime Minister. Will he do his best to reverse this ban so that we can keep our special relationship with India, which his predecessors and he have worked so hard to maintain, and have our delicious mangos once again?
I know how much the right hon. Gentleman cares about this issue, so much so that he delivered a tray of mangos to No. 10 Downing street—missing the deadline, I might add, so that they could safely be consumed by the people inside. I am very grateful for that.
This is a very serious issue. The European Commission has to consider it on the basis of the science and the evidence. There are concerns about cross-contamination of British crops and interests, so we have to make sure that that is got right. I understand how strongly the right hon. Gentleman and the Indian community in this country feel. Indeed, I look forward to discussing the issue with the new Indian Prime Minister.
Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Vitsoe, the world-class furniture manufacturer, on its decision to locate its manufacturing facility in Leamington and on the jobs that will create? I am proud the decision was based in part on our community’s rich industrial heritage. Will the Prime Minister also pay tribute to local businesses that have created jobs and reduced the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Warwick and Leamington by a remarkable 54% since May 2010?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the decline in unemployment in his constituency, which is incredibly marked at 54%. I note what he says about furniture factories, because those are the sorts of businesses that were going offshore. What we are seeing in our country is a slow trend—but I want to encourage it—of reshoring and getting businesses to come back to, and invest and expand in, Britain. We must do everything we can to encourage that by keeping their taxes down, keeping national insurance down, cutting national insurance for young people, training more apprentices and investing in infrastructure. That is what we will do so that there are many more success stories like that mentioned by my hon. Friend.
Let me look at this individual case, because we made a specific exemption from the spare room subsidy for people who were serving overseas. If the spare room subsidy exemption does not apply in this case, there is of course the provision of the discretionary housing payment, which is another way of dealing with this, and I would hope that Scunthorpe borough council would take up that offer.
I call Mr Simon Burns. [Hon. Members: “More!”] There will indeed be more, which is why we must hear the right hon. Gentleman and then, at my request, others. We are concerned also, I am sure, about others.
The Prime Minister will be aware that last week the service sector grew at its fastest level this year, with the ensuing creation of jobs. Does he agree that that demonstrates that we must stick with the long-term economic plan, because it is working? I trust my right hon. Friend has enough time to answer the question in full.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have to stick to the long-term economic plan and deliver it. For my right hon. Friend to be called at 12.33 pm on a Wednesday shows that if you stick at anything, you can win.
I have always practised that philosophy myself: however long it takes, we are going to get through them.
The Prime Minister will know that recently it has gone into the public domain that more than 365 people in Northern Ireland were given the royal prerogative of mercy, despite 10 years of files being lost. Will he give a commitment that those names will be made public? After all, if the Queen takes the time to sign 365 names, surely the public and particularly the victims have the right to know.
I would say to the hon. Lady, who I know takes a very close interest in these issues in Northern Ireland, that difficult decisions were taken, principally by the previous Government at the time of the various agreements, which involved very difficult choices—hard choices—that had to be made in order to try to build the platform for peace and reconciliation. I am very happy to look at her specific point and see whether there is anything I can do to reassure her in a letter, but I do not want to unpick decisions taken at a difficult time to try to give us the peace that we enjoy today.
The chief medical officer warned last month that we are misusing antibiotics to such an extent that we risk returning, in just a matter of years, to a 19th-century environment where routine operations carry a grave risk of death. A couple of days ago, the World Health Organisation issued a similar warning, saying that we are hurtling towards the post-antibiotic age. On that basis, it is surely madness to continue to allow so many antibiotics to be used on our factory farms—about half the total use in this country—when we know that that contributes to resistance.
My hon. Friend raises an extremely serious problem, which is global in its nature and could have unbelievably bad consequences in terms of anti-microbial resistance leading to quite minor ailments not being properly treatable. One of the problems is that the way research is done currently by pharmaceutical companies is not necessarily bringing forward new antibiotics in the way that we need or solving this problem. I have met the chief medical officer to discuss this. There are a number of steps that we can take here in the UK and working with other countries, and I hope to say something about it soon.
As I said, the more we can do to strengthen the assurances we are given, the better. But the only way to get assurances is by engaging and getting stuck in with those companies, which is what we have been doing, and I find it extraordinary that the Labour party chooses to criticise us for that.
Last but not least, I call Dr Julian Huppert.
In its letter to me, Pfizer mentions the patent box as a positive reason for wanting to invest in Britain and for examining whether it could increase manufacturing in Britain. Of course, because of the way the patent box works, you only get the low-tax benefit if you make your investments and do research in the UK, and then exploit that research by manufacturing in the UK. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should be incredibly hard-headed about this. It is an advantage that Britain is a low-tax country. We used to stand in this House of Commons and bemoan the fact that companies were leaving because of our high taxes. They now want to come here because of our tax system. I agree with the Business Secretary that that is not enough; we want the investment, the jobs and the research that comes with that competitive tax system.