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The Prime Minister:
I hope that all parties in this House will support the development of wind turbines, both offshore and onshore. That is the only way to meet our target for renewable resources, if it is going to be as high as the European Commission proposes it to
be. I believe that there is a duty on all parties in all areas of the country to consider the development of wind turbines.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): The House has noticed the Prime Ministers remarkable transformation in the past few weeks from Stalin to Mr. Bean [ Laughter ] creating chaos out of order, rather than order out of chaos. But amidst the administrative bungling and even the sleaze, does he not accept that the most damaging remark over the past week came from the services chiefs, when they accused him of wilfully neglecting the safety and welfare of the young men and women who serve in our armed forces?
The Prime Minister: At every point in the job that I am in, I will do everything in my power to defend and protect the security of our armed forces. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the defence budget is rising every year and will continue to rise, and that when we came into power the defence budget in Britain was the fifth largest in the world. It is now the second largest in the world. As for housing, we are spending £5 billion over the next 10 years on armed services accommodation, more than at any point in the history of the armed forces [ Interruption. ]
Dr. Cable: We know about the defence budget, because the Prime Minister signed £5 billion-worth of cheques for the Iraq war, but is not the truth at the end of it that the troops lack adequate equipment, adequate medical care and adequate accommodation? Is not the underlying truth that where the armed forces are concerned, fundamentally, the Prime Minister is not interested and does not care?
The Prime Minister: The chief of the armed services gave a briefing last week, saying that we were better equipped than ever before. That is why we have not only invested the money from the defence budget but, in order to meet the urgent operational requirements of our armed forces, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, invested an additional £6.6 billion above the defence budgets that have been announced. Whether it be for tanks, helicopters, night vision equipment, specific help for individual members of the armed forces in contacting their relatives or accommodation at home, we will continue to do everything in our power to help our armed forces do their duty.
Q2.  Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): In my local authority, the £300 million plus Building Schools for the Future programme is considered vital to accelerate the improvement of educational standards in the borough. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that none of the money earmarked for that programme will be diverted to pay for schools providing surplus places in areas where they are not needed?
The Prime Minister:
I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the debate that is now being held in the House between those who want to spend the £4.5 billion that has been allocated on Building Schools for
the Future, which would renovate existing secondary schools and then primary schools, and those who want to divert the money from promises already made to secondary schools into building additional academies beyond the 400 that have been provided for. I believe that existing schools, to which commitments have been made, should have the investment made within them. This affects almost every constituency in the country, and perhaps the Conservative party should think again.
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman[Hon. Members: He is not.] As he will know, the Bank of England will make funds available in certain circumstances at the behest of the Treasury, by its agreement. That is what happened in relation to Northern Rock. I again ask Opposition Members to think again. They said at the beginning that they were overwhelmingly in favour of putting the money into Northern Rock. Last week, they said that they were against it. I believe that the weight of opinion in the country is that it was the right decision to save that company.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that there have been allegations from Members on this side of the House that a lot of the problems relating to binge drinking stem from supermarkets selling alcohol at too cheap a rate. The Licensed Victuallers Association now has documentary proof that certain supermarkets are selling alcohol at the cost of production. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning our supermarkets for selling alcohol so cheaply?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend might know that, last Wednesday, we held a seminar with members of the retail industry and also with people from the production industrythe brewing industry and the drinks industryand people who are concerned about what is happening as a result of binge drinking. One of the concerns that was raised was the price of alcohol. Another was the special promotions that were being done by the supermarkets. Another was the intensive advertising by supermarkets, which is encouraging young people in particular to buy substantial quantities of drink. We also looked at whether the drinks industry could run promotion campaigns to educate young people about the dangers of binge drinking. We will be publishing a paper suggesting changes in the next few weeks.
Q4.  Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): In the face of the recent crises that have beset the Prime Minister, particularly this last one, he has told us that he learned about them only at the last possible moment. Why does he think that members of his Governmentand, indeed, of the party that he purports to leadare apparently so intent on keeping him in the dark?
The Prime Minister:
When we have acted, whether it be on terrorism, on foot and mouth or on floods, we have acted when it has been necessary to do so and
never refused to act. On party political issues, I will tell the House what I said yesterday: I first knew about this on Saturday evening, and I acted immediately.
Q5.  Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): North-East Derbyshire has seen a massive rise in youth employment and training since 1997. What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that all young people, especially those who have dropped out of all formal education, are given exactly the same opportunities?
The Prime Minister: I believe that it is right that every teenager should have some training so that they can get jobs for which they are employable. That is why, when we bring forward our measures to expand apprenticeships, to raise the education leaving age for people in part-time or full-time training or education to 18, and to increase the amount of funding for the new deal to enable it to help young people, I hope that there will be all-party support for those measures.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): As he wanted so much, and for so long, to be Prime Minister, has the right hon. Gentleman been reflecting on the advice of an earlier, more successful, dealer in gold, King Midas, who warned that we should be careful what we wished for, as we might receive it in a poisoned chalice? Or is he planning to pass the chalice to his charming deputy?
The Prime Minister: I have had debates across the House with the hon. Gentleman over the years, and he has always been very generous in his comments to me until now. I hope that we can continue to agree that this job is an important job, and I will do it to the best of my ability.
Q6.  Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister congratulate the UK world skills team, including Jonathan Bourne, who achieved the medallion of excellence and works for a building company in my constituency? Does that success in the skills Olympics and the Governments massive expansion of apprenticeships and quality training indicate that in future young people will be able to fill the 600,000 vacancies in our economy and also improve not only their skills, but their job prospects as well?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I congratulate the company in her constituency and its workers who have done so well. The skills Olympics will be held in Britain. We are determined that, at that point, we will have increased the number of apprenticeships, as my hon. Friend says, so that we can meet the vacancies that exist in our economy. There are 600,000 vacancies at the moment and I want young British apprentices to get the chance to fill them.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Prime Minister may be aware of the recently launched Take Tourism Seriously campaign, but do the Government take tourism seriously? If so, why have they further cut the budget of VisitBritain by £17 million over the next three years?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman will know that over the past few years, particularly when there have been difficulties, we have put more money into tourism to help the tourist industry flourish. I think that he can see that the numbers of people coming to this countrydespite some of the difficulties we have had with terrorism and foot and mouthreflect the intensity of the advertising, and we will continue to do that.
Q7.  Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): Will the Prime Minister congratulate Kevin Rudd, the new Labour Prime Minister in Australia, on his recent sweeping election victory and particularly on his speedy decision to ratify the Kyoto protocol? In view of this weeks UN report calling for an 80 per cent. cut in CO2 emissions, will Britain and Australia now stand shoulder to shoulder in the war against climate change?
The Prime Minister: I have had the privilege of being able to congratulate Mr. Rudd on his election as the Prime Minister of Australia and I have also phoned the outgoing Prime Minister, Mr. Howard, to thank him for his work in the international community over the past 12 years. Mr. Rudd has announced that he is going to sign the Kyoto treaty immediately, which is in line with what we have done, and he has said that he will lead the way with us in seeking a post-2012 Kyoto agreement. I look forward to working with him against Conservative policies.
Q8.  Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Given that there are many constituencies like my own, which incorporates west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, where last year five times as many properties were sold to second-home buyers as to first-time buyers, does the Prime Minister really think that it helps to give further millions in capital gains tax cuts to the wealthy to buy and have their second homes when many thousands of local families are desperate for and cannot afford their first?
The Prime Minister: But surely the answer is to build more homes, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support the plans that we have set down to raise the amount of house building in this country to 240,000 houses a year and to build 3 million homes by 2020. I know that building more homes is not a popular policy in the Conservative party, but to get affordable housing in every constituency, we need to build more homes. That is what we will do.
Q9.  Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions on changes to the 16-hour rule that will allow young people on jobseekers allowance into full-time training? That will allow institutions such as the South Birmingham college construction centre, which has a waiting list of 2,000, to get people on to training and then into employment.
The Prime Minister:
We are trying to remove every barrier to young people getting the chance of both training and jobs. Given the creation of educational maintenance allowances in addition to the removal of
that aspect of the 16-hour rule, I still hope that all parties in the House will support our belief that every young person should have the chance to get at least some education until 18. The difference between us is that we believe in opportunity for all until 18 while the Opposition believe in opportunity just for some.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): The Prime Minister told us that his decision not to call an election had nothing to do with the polls. He also told us that his change of policy on death duties had nothing to do with Conservative party policy, so why should we believe his account of the dodgy donors?
The Prime Minister: Because I do what is in the best interests of the country, and am prepared, with my colleagues, to make difficult decisions even when it is uncomfortable to do so. I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that during the year we have made difficult decisions, such as those on public sector pay, to get the rate of inflation down. That is why we, unlike many other countries, can look forward to stability and growth.
Q10.  Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): An increase in the number of apprenticeships is a key component of increasing the competitiveness of the United Kingdom economy, but some young people may be deterred from taking them up because of the very low rates paid by some employers. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Low Pay Commission to investigate whether there is any evidence that young people are being deterred, and if there is, will he extend the minimum wage regulations to cover all apprenticeships?
The Prime Minister: I will certainly ask the Low Pay Commission to examine the matter. Although it is independent, it will examine matters relating to the employment of young people as well as the elderly. I believe that our decision to create a minimum wage in this country is one of the biggest decisions by the Labour Government over the past 10 years.
Since we came to power we have increased the number of apprenticeships from 50,000 to 250,000. [Interruption.] The Conservative party does not like hearing about the successes with apprenticeships. The number will rise to 500,000 over 10 years. That is what the future of our country is based on. We will look at the remuneration and the education and training of young people, so that we can have the best training in the world.
Q11.  Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): After the fire on the Thistle Alpha offshore platform on Sunday, the Scottish First Minister said that health and safety should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Well, theres a surprise. Would it not be better to concentrate on increasing the prosecution rate and the penalties for those in breach of health and safety legislation for the whole United Kingdom than to pick political fights?
The Prime Minister: As an Aberdeen Member, my hon. Friend has taken a big interest in the matter, and as she knows, a private Members Bill concerned with those very issues has been before the House during the past year.
With the expansion of the oil industry over the past 30 years, we have taken health and safety issues very seriously. I believe that whenever incidents have raised questions we have acted immediatelyand that is true of all Governments. I understand that proposals are on the table for an extension of the health and safety legislation in this area and for more intensive and higher standards, and I believe that the proper place in which to consider such matters is this United Kingdom Parliament.
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): It would appear that Baroness Jay was aware of the illegal nature of Mr. Abrahamss donations to the Labour party long before the Prime Minister himself. Can the Prime Minister tell us which of his Cabinet colleagues shared her knowledge at the relevant time, or is it sub judice?
The Prime Minister: That is not, I believe, what Baroness Jay said, but the hon. Gentlemans question will be a matter for the inquiry, which will examine all issues relating to this matter. Surely the right thing to do when a problem arises is to investigate it in detail, deal with it, change the procedures if necessary and, if necessary, reform political party fundingwhich we are prepared to do.
Q12.  Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): The whole country, apart from the Opposition, will be pleased with what the Prime Minister has told us today about the inquiries that he intends to bring about. [Interruption.]
Mr. Purchase: Equally, the whole country would wish the terms of that inquiry to be widened, and perhaps to fill four or five Panorama programmes with the audit trail of the Ashcroft money. Will the Prime Minister do that?
The Prime Minister: We agreed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 as a matter of consensus. There was a consensus in 2000 about the things that needed to be done. I hope that we can proceed to make reformsincluding reforms relating to donations from third-party agencies and the timing of donations involving local political financeby agreement, and I hope that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) will change his mind about running away from the party talks that were involved in solving this problem.
The Prime Minister:
The Leader of the House has made it absolutely clear that the criteria on which she judged donations[Hon. Members: When?] I am
explaining this. The criteria were whether the people giving donations were known to her campaign team or were registered with the Labour party. There is not an iota of evidence to suggest that at any time until Saturday the Leader of the House knew that the donation was being given by a third party.
Q13.  Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the Government have done a great deal for pupils with special educational needs up to the age of 16, there is still a real challenge post-16, and particularly post-18, for young people with severe special educational needs, mental health problems and disability? When will we do more for that group, their carers and their families?
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