This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.
The Chancellor said in his first Budget:
When we say that we are all in this together, we mean it.—[Hansard, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 167.]
When the Prime Minister and the Chancellor came up with such a vacuous soundbite, was it before they decided to give a £42,000 a year tax cut to millionaires, or before they attempted and failed to eliminate the deficit on the backs of the poorest?
The fact is that the hon. Gentleman cannot hide from the statistics that show that inequality is down, poverty is down, 3 million of the poorest people have been taken out of income tax altogether, and, most importantly, we have created jobs for tens of thousands of our fellow countrymen and women. Today, we see the unemployment statistics with a record number of people in work. In his constituency—I would have thought he would want to welcome this—the claimant count has fallen by 49% since the election. That is what has happened; that is how we are beating poverty.
When this Government took office, metal theft was rife, especially in the black country. This Government listened to the all-party group on combating metal theft, banned cash payments, and passed the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. Once my right hon. Friend has been returned for another term as Prime Minister, what more will he do to ensure that instances of this abhorrent crime reduce still further so that no more church roofs get horrendously damaged and no more trains get stopped in their tracks as a result of sheer greed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is an important line of crime that has been increasing, not least because of the value of this scrap metal. The roof on Witney church in my constituency has been stolen. We have made sure that scrap metal dealers are required to hold licences and councils can revoke a licence at any time. We have banned cash payments to purchase scrap metal, and we have provided £6 million of additional funding for a dedicated national metal theft taskforce. What I will do, if re-elected, is make sure the police continue to have the powers and the ability to crack down on this abhorrent crime.
What we did was we took the bureaucracy out of the NHS. We made two big decisions. Big decision No. 1 was to put more money in, and big decision No. 2 was to take the bureaucracy out. That is why we have 9,500 more doctors and 7,000 more nurses. I can see the shadow Chancellor chuckling. We know the shadow Chancellor wants to be in the kitchen Cabinet; he just does not know which kitchen to turn up to.
“I refuse to go back to the days when people had to wait for hours on end to be seen in A&E”.
Now we learn that the NHS will miss the four-hour A and E target for the whole of this year for the first time ever. Why did he break that promise?
Which of his kitchens did he pay for? I think we deserve an answer. I feel sorry for the Leader of the Opposition—he literally does not know where his next meal is coming from. [Hon. Members: “More.”] Oh, don’t worry, there is plenty more.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about accident and emergency. So far this year, 93.7% of people have been seen within the four hours. I want us to do better—we will bring together health and social care to make that happen—but we made a promise, which was that we would put £12.7 billion into the NHS. The Opposition said it was irresponsible; we invested in our health service.
Let me bring the right hon. Gentleman closer to home—genuinely, to his home in Doncaster. [Interruption.] This is the answer. Here are the cancer waiting times for his constituents: 95.2% of patients with suspected cancer were seen by a specialist within two weeks, and the target is 93%—target met; 97.9% of patients diagnosed with cancer began treatment within 30 days, and the target is 96%—target met; and 87% of patients began cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, and the target is 85%—target met. The fact is that on the NHS we have put in the investment, we increased the doctors and we increased the nurses. Frankly, if he cannot stand the heat, he had better get out of his second kitchen.
I think that was a long-winded way of saying the Prime Minister has broken his promises on the NHS. Now let us turn to another one of his promises. He promised “a bare-knuckle fight” to stop the closure of A and E and maternity units. He even did photo calls outside the hospitals whose units then closed. Why did he break the promise?
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised this issue, because at a previous Prime Minister’s questions he stood at the Dispatch Box and produced a list of, I believe, 27 hospitals, seven of which were shut under a Labour Government. That is how incompetent he is as Leader of the Opposition. Just imagine what a mess he would make if he was running the country.
Great, because I have a photo of the Prime Minister at Chase Farm hospital, and he said that
“if you call an election on November 1, we’ll stop the closure of services at this hospital on November 2”.
Then he closed the services. That is what happened on his watch.
Since the last election, the Prime Minister has broken his health service promises on waiting times, cancer treatment, A and E and top-down reorganisation. When he makes a whole series of new NHS promises, why on earth should anyone believe him?
I will tell you why people should believe us: because we have the strong economy that can deliver a strong NHS. We promised more money for our NHS—promise delivered; we promised more nurses for our NHS—promise delivered; we promised more doctors for our NHS—promise delivered; and we said that we would sort out mixed-sex wards and hospital-acquired infections—promise delivered. Is it not interesting that the right hon. Gentleman has asked five questions and there has not been one mention of the unemployment figures today? The right hon. Gentleman cannot bear the fact that the employment rate in our country is at a record level: there is a record number of people in work; there is a record number of women in work; there is a record number of vacancies. That is what this country is delivering—a strong economy that builds a strong NHS.
People are worse off and the NHS is worse off on the Prime Minister’s watch, and that is why working families cannot afford another five years of him. Everybody knows the NHS cannot survive another five years of this Government. The NHS was built by Labour, saved by Labour and will only be safe in the hands of the next Labour Government.
There is only one Government in the history of the NHS who have cut the NHS and it was the last Labour Government in the ’70s: they did it because they lost control of the economy. Every forecast the right hon. Gentleman has made about the economy has been wrong. He said there would be no jobs; we have record jobs. He said we would not cut the deficit; the deficit is down. He said there would not be growth; we have the strongest growth of any major western economy. He has made misjudgment after misjudgment on every single question. We talk about our long-term economic plan because it is about changing lives, it is about jobs, it is about livelihoods and it is about giving people the chance of security—that is what will be on the ballot paper in 50 days’ time, and they will never trust him with the future of our country.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the best prospect for the people of Scotland is to be a successful part of a growing United Kingdom, and that Alex Salmond’s mission to shake this House to its foundations will deny recovery, jobs and mortgages, and threaten both the UK and Scotland, which is why the people of Gordon are uniting to deny his return to this House?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that what the SNP wants is to break up our country. That is why it is so appalling that although the Leader of the Opposition has now said that he does not want a formal pact with the SNP, he will not rule out a confidence and Supply agreement. He will not rule out relying on the SNP in vote after vote after vote, making sure that it would get the advantage and people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be let down—[Interruption.] Yes, we rule it out. What I would say to the shadow Chancellor is that his boss threw both his kitchen sinks at the NHS and he still could not win. [Interruption.]
One in four patients is waiting more than a week for a GP appointment, and some in my constituency are waiting two weeks. A third cannot even get through on the phone, but 23% of London GPs are due to quit the NHS in the next five years. Will the Prime Minister take responsibility for the increasing crisis in GPs on his watch?
What I would say to the hon. Lady is that nationwide we have 1,000 more GPs in the NHS. In her constituency, there are eight more GPs compared with 2010, there are 317 more GPs in the London area, and the Royal College of General Practitioners, which has often criticised the Government, has said that there has never been a better time to go into general practice.
The black country economy in the west midlands has been one of the fastest growing local economies of any region in the United Kingdom over the last two years, with more investment in manufacturing, new high-skill jobs, more exports and better opportunities for local people in my constituency. Would the Prime Minister agree that as part of our long-term economic plan, the people in the black country can be proud of that industrial revival, and be confident in saying that things are made in the black country and sold around the world?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is a remarkable statistic that growth value added in the black country means that the area has grown faster than any other local enterprise partnership area in the entire country. Compare that with the so-called boom years of the 2000s, when private sector employment in the west midlands went down, not up, and it shows that we are seeing a genuinely national recovery. Huge credit must go to Jaguar Land Rover which, in the last five years, has tripled its turnover, doubled its sales and doubled its work force. Manufacturing in Britain is growing again, including in the west midlands, and we should be proud of that.
In January, John Smedley in Clay Cross announced that it was making 21 seamstresses redundant. It took nearly two months before someone from the Jobcentre Plus rapid response team went in to see those women. The response was unsympathetic, unhelpful and anything but rapid. What has happened to rapid response and why have those workers been so badly let down?
I agree with the hon. Lady: it is important that Jobcentre Plus is there to help employees when they are let go by their employers. That is what it is there for. Generally speaking, I hear very good reports of what it does. Of course, in her constituency, the claimant count has come down in the last year by 29%, so the overall economic picture is good. I will certainly look at the specific case and see if Jobcentre Plus needs a boost, but the fact is that jobs are being created and the vacancies are there. The hon. Lady talks about seamstresses, and we are actually seeing production in the garment industry being brought back onshore, which is very good news.
The unemployment count in Redditch at the end of the year had fallen to below 850 for the first time since 2005. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be catastrophic for the hard-working people of Redditch if that was undone by the Labour party?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Today’s figures are remarkable. We see employment up by 1.89 million since the election. We used to talk about creating 2 million private sector jobs; it is now 2.3 million private sector jobs. Another figure fresh out today is the youth claimant count, which is now at its lowest rate since the 1970s, 40 years ago. In Redditch, the claimant count has fallen by 63% since the election and the youth claimant is count down by 39% in the last year alone. The plan is working. It is not just dry and dusty statistics: this is about people getting a job, getting a livelihood, getting security. That is what we want to keep going.
The Prime Minister will be well aware of the hard work that went into the Smith agreement. He will be as disappointed as I am to see the front page of the Daily Record today showing four Scottish National party councillors burning that very agreement. Not only did they escape discipline; one of them was actually promoted. Are these the actions of a party that seeks to increase its representation in this place?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which is that the Smith process and the Smith agreement was about bringing together different political parties, which often disagree with each other quite violently on issues, to come to the right answer for the future of Scotland and the future of devolution. It was an excellent report. We are all committed to putting it in place, whoever is in government after the next election. It is disappointing that the SNP, which only wants to break up our country, will not stick to the promises it made.
Last June, I asked the Prime Minister if he was satisfied with police investigations into organised child sexual abuse. By November, the Home Secretary acknowledged that years ago there might have been a cover-up. This week, we learned that the Met itself has identified as many as 14 cover-ups. Now that we have a judge-led inquiry, is it not time we treated this scandal, in the words of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, as
“high level corruption of the most serious nature”?
It went to the very core of the British state.
My hon. Friend is right to say how serious this is. It is right that not only is there an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into what happened in the police force, but that a separate part of the Metropolitan police is carrying out an in-depth investigation, Operation Fairbank, into what happened. Added to that, we now have the overarching Justice Goddard review to look at institutional failings in discovering child sexual abuse. What I would say to my hon. Friend and others in the House who I know are very interested in this issue is that we will do everything we can to get to the bottom of what happened. Anyone who is worried about whether people will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act for coming forward with information should be reassured by the assurances that have been given by the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary. It is in everybody’s interest that we get absolutely to the bottom of what happened. If people should be punished for their failures, they should be.
When the Prime Minister answered the Leader of the Opposition, he was able to show that cancer waiting targets had been met in my right hon. Friend’s constituency. They obviously have a very effective Member of Parliament, but—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister is responsible for the national health service as a whole. He will be aware that nationally the 62-day wait for treatment for cancer patients after referral has been breached in each of the last four quarters. What does he have to say to the more than 5,000 cancer patients, including one in four people with bowel or lung cancer, who are waiting months before they get any treatment?
Everybody in this House, me included, knows people who have been affected by cancer and have died of cancer. This Government have put an enormous amount of effort, as previous ones have done—
I will answer the question. I will answer the question very directly, right? We have made sure—
Order. Members must hear the answer. I said it a moment ago to the other side. The Prime Minister must be heard.
We have made sure that half a million more people have been referred for cancer treatment, and as a result, cancer survival rates are going up. As well as looking at the national figures, it is worth while looking at constituency figures, and I have the right hon. Lady’s figures here—she is obviously a very effective MP too, because her area is meeting all three cancer targets. That is what is happening in Britain—more people referred, more resources going in, more people surviving, but more to be done—but let me remind her: this can only happen with a strong economy. It is when the Labour party wrecks the economy that it wrecks the health service.
My right hon. Friend has made the point that it is the economy that makes health service funding possible. What has happened to employment, inflation and the minimum wage over the last five years?
Yesterday, the announcement was made that the minimum wage should increase from £6.50 to £6.70, which is a real-terms increase. After the great Labour recession, we did not have increases in the minimum wage and it lost its value, but under this Government, it is going up. I can guarantee my hon. Friend that if we keep increasing the minimum wage at the rate it is being increased now, it will get to beyond £8 by the subsequent election. So Labour’s proposal for an £8 minimum wage will mean a cut in the minimum wage. It is like so many of its other policies, including its university tuition fees policy—as someone said today, the first example in political history where you get less for more.
My neighbour Helen was able to live in her own home for many years with degenerative multiple sclerosis because of the independent living fund, until sadly she died. How can the Prime Minister and the Government morally justify taking away the fund from the most disabled people in our communities, so that they might end up being institutionalised, not independent?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have devolved the funding for the independent living fund, but we have also maintained the vital disability benefits, such as the disability living allowance, which has been uprated every year in line with inflation.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that our long-term economic plan is doing an outstanding job in my constituency? Unemployment now stands at 269, making it the best performance of any constituency in the country. Will he join me in thanking the firms that I visited last week in Thame that are running fantastic apprenticeship schemes, and the young people joining them?
I will certainly do that. I am delighted that unemployment is so low in my hon. Friend’s constituency. The latest figures show that the UK’s employment rate has seen the largest rise of any G7 country over the past year. Today, there are nearly 1 million fewer people on the main out-of-work benefits and nearly 2 million more people in work in our country. More young people have got into work in the UK over the past year than in the rest of the European Union put together. Those are the benefits of having a long-term economic plan, sticking to a long-term economic plan and ignoring the hopeless advice from the Labour party.
Despite the Prime Minister’s fine words and rhetoric, his Government’s cost of living crisis has hammered many families in the north-east. Tens of thousands of public sector jobs have been butchered; we have the highest unemployment level in the UK; we have weekly earnings £71 less than the national average; and our life expectancy is 10 years less than anywhere else in the country. Is it not time that the Prime Minister showed some guts and apologised to the people of the north-east?
Let us look at what has happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The claimant count has fallen in the last year by 28%, or more than a quarter, and in the last year alone—not over the whole Government—the youth claimant count has fallen by 32%. I thought this was the party that said how important it was to get young people off the dole and into work. That is what the Government have done. Unemployment has fallen in every region of the UK. In the north-east, it has fallen by 21,000 over the last year. That is what is happening. We are creating jobs, generating growth and taking the poorest people out of tax altogether—3 million nationwide. [Interruption.] Labour Members say, “Calm down”. I cannot calm down when I see the success that our long-term economic plan is generating. We have 50 days to make sure that the people who delivered this plan can go on delivering it, instead of the people who would wreck it.
On that theme, BAE Systems, which manufactures world-beating military jets, announced that it is to set up a training academy in the Ribble Valley, upskilling the current work force and bringing on new talent via its ambitious apprenticeship scheme. Will the Prime Minister welcome the £15.6 million investment in this training academy, and when it opens next year, will he visit the Samlesbury site in his continuing capacity as the Prime Minister of our great country?
I am very grateful for the invitation. I was at BAE’s other main site in the north-west, the Warton site, last week as part of the celebration of national apprenticeship week. I was looking at the training and the skills being delivered there. It is hiring 440 apprentices this year, which is a record for BAE Systems which is doing very well under this Government. This is vital work. We have delivered 2 million apprentices in this Parliament and we aim to deliver 3 million in the next Parliament. These manufacturing apprenticeships are particularly vital. So yes, I will certainly take up my right hon. Friend’s invitation to come and open this excellent academy.
Last Saturday, the Prime Minister spoke at the unveiling of the magnificent Mahatma Gandhi statue in Parliament square. I observed him in deep conversation with Arun Jaitley, the Indian Finance Minister, and Amitabh Bachchan, the country’s greatest actor. Which man offered him the best advice for the next election? Was it the person who presented a budget that will affect a sixth of humanity, or an actor whose acting tips might well help the Prime Minister in the TV debates?
I am very grateful that the right hon. Gentleman was able to attend that beautiful ceremony around the superb statute. There was a great turnout of Members of Parliament, schoolchildren and others to see the extraordinary statue. I think it is quite right that Mahatma Gandhi stands there alongside Churchill and Mandela in such an important square for our nation. As for the advice I was given, those were private conversations, so I shall not delve too far into them. All I will say is that the new Indian Government and the reforms they are making, opening up the Indian economy, will make sure that the relationship between our countries becomes stronger still.
Just over a fortnight ago, the Secretary of State for Transport visited Wolverhampton and reached a conclusion that I and almost every resident has reached: that the station is desperately in need of an upgrade. Locally, Centro, working with developer, Neptune, has come up with an innovative deal, bringing £80 million and 1,300 jobs, to make sure that we continue investment in the city. Will my right hon. Friend use his offices, along with the DFT, to ensure not only that Wolverhampton gets a station, but that we increase the industrial renaissance in the west midlands that we have seen over the last five years?
First, let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the incredibly hard work he has put in to campaign for that station. I can tell him that, following the visit of the Secretary of State for Transport, £13.5 million has been secured through the local transport and growth deal to fund the project. It is because of my hon. Friend’s hard work that it is going ahead. It is essential that Wolverhampton benefits from good road, rail and other infrastructure connections so that it can benefit from the growth we are seeing in our country.
The Prime Minister has a record of looking the other way when it comes to allegations of wrongdoing in his own team. He did it with Andy Coulson and he is doing it now with Grant Shapps. Can the Prime Minister explain why he has been so quick to rule out an investigation into his own party’s chairman?
I would have thought that with all the things happening in the part of the world that the hon. Lady represents, she could have come up with a better question. My right hon. Friend has acknowledged that he made a mistake, but his entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests was correct. I think the hon. Lady is barking up the wrong tree. While I am here, let me say that I am sure she will want to welcome the fact that the claimant count in her constituency has fallen by 54% since the last election.
I want to thank the Prime Minister for steering this country in the past five years through economic waters never seen before, caused by the previous Labour Government. Does he agree that 765,000 people starting up their businesses since 2010, the highest quota since the 1980s, is a good thing—unlike the Labour party, when it caused the collapse in the labour market?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some 95% of the jobs that have been created over the last year have been created for employees in businesses, but we have also seen a big increase in entrepreneurism and business start-ups in our country, lighting the fires of enterprise. That is vital, because those individuals will go on to build great companies, build our industrial base, and provide the jobs of the future. Yes, my hon. Friend is right: so often in the House we talk about our growing economy, and never hear one word of regret from the people who crashed the car in the first place.
This week it was revealed that a second criminal inquiry into a former Member of this House, Sir Cyril Smith, had been closed down by senior police officers, and I believe that there are other examples of cover-ups which are yet to be revealed. Notwithstanding the reassurances from the Home Secretary, will the Prime Minister please give a cast-iron guarantee that former public officials with knowledge of the cover-ups are given full whistleblower protections?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, which I think comes down to three separate questions. There is concern about whether people will be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. In terms of people giving evidence to the Goddard review, Justice Goddard is perfectly able to ask the Attorney-General—as has happened in the case of all previous commissions of inquiry of this type—to make sure that no one can incriminate themselves when they give evidence, and I am sure that that will happen. In terms of giving evidence to the IPCC inquiry, the Home Secretary has given very clear guidance. And in terms of disclosure to the press, the Attorney-General said very recently that it was highly unlikely that it would ever be in the public interest for someone who revealed wrongdoing to be subject to prosecution. I am absolutely clear about the fact that I do not want anyone to be prosecuted for uncovering wrongdoing in such a way, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that in the spirit in which it was meant.