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1 Apr 2009 : Column 907

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Charities that work abroad, such as Oxfam and International Service, face the same pressures on fundraising as charities that work in the UK. However, they have an additional pressure because the money that they spend abroad has fallen in value by 20 or 25 per cent. as a result of the change in the value of the pound. Will my right hon. Friend speak to the Department for International Development, and other British Departments of State that fund international charities, to see what additional help can be provided to ensure that those charities’ Government-funded programmes of work continue at the same level as was originally anticipated?

Mr. Byrne: I will, of course, have those conversations on my hon. Friend’s behalf. It is important that we do not just talk about how we can strengthen the role of charities and other groups in delivering international aid, but that we back that with concrete plans to increase funding. That is why so many on the Labour Benches are proud of our commitment to increase overseas aid, despite the difficulties that our economy faces.

Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): It is hard enough to run a voluntary organisation, but now really important community organisations such as churches and sports clubs are facing huge increases in their water bills as a result of new surface water drainage charges. Some clubs are reporting tenfold increases in their bills. It is extraordinary that those changes should have been made without any impact assessment. Surely the one thing that the Government must do in these times is avoid making things even harder for people trying to help their communities. Will they step in now and impose a moratorium on the changes, at least until an impact assessment is done? That would be real help now.

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for that advice. I understand that Brian Moore in The Daily Telegraph has been leading a campaign on that exact issue, for which I commend him. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are determined to make sure that there is specific, targeted, focused help for organisations that are facing new pressures, such as a decline in income and a step up in demand for their services. That is why we put £42 million of help on the table in January. Where there are additional pressures and Government action could help, we will, of course, have those conversations with my colleagues across Government.

Public Services

4. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to maintain the public services for which his Department is responsible during the recession. [267961]

6. Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to maintain the public services for which his Department is responsible during the recession. [267963]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Liam Byrne): The Government do not believe in cutting back during a downturn. That
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is why public net investment will rise from £30 billion in 2007 to £40 billion in 2009-10. It is why, in the Cabinet Office, we are providing extra funding to support charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises and the communities that they help.

Mrs. Hodgson: Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that the public sector needs to be more creative, more ingenious and, most importantly, greener to help us to fight our way out of the recession? If he does agree, would he consider working with Smith Electric Vehicles in my constituency in order to achieve that?

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend will also know that my constituency, Birmingham, Hodge Hill, is home to LDV, which is pioneering new products in the electric vehicles market. She can rest assured that that is a mission to which I am also passionately committed.

Mr. Devine: As my right hon. Friend knows, during the 1980s I worked as part of a primary care psychiatric team. I watched doctors prescribing antidepressants and Valium when they could have prescribed a job—if there had been jobs, people would not have been near the health service. Will he assure me that we do not believe that high unemployment is a price worth paying and that we will invest to ensure that we will not abandon a generation to Valium, videos and vodka?

Mr. Byrne: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why, in contrast to the early 1980s, when public net investment fell in real terms from about £16 billion to just £11 billion, we will take precisely the opposite course of action. One cannot cut one’s way out of a recession; one can only grow one’s way out of a recession. That is why this Government are committed to increasing investment, strengthening public services and doing everything possible to help those coming out of work. We do not believe that unemployment is a price worth paying, unlike the Conservative party.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): As my right hon. Friend rightly defends the importance of public service, does he agree that the new guiding principle should be that no one employed from the public purse should earn more than the salary of the Prime Minister?

Mr. Byrne: It is vital that public sector pay is constrained. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has pioneered three-year pay deals, and why it is particularly important that those leaders at the top of public life show an example. The Prime Minister announced yesterday that for the senior civil service and the judiciary we will not accept the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body and we will abate increases this year to 1.5 per cent. It is important for Ministers, in particular, to show restraint, which is why Ministers will not be taking a pay rise either in their ministerial pay or in their pay as Members of this House.

Civil Service

5. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What plans the Government have to create additional jobs in the civil service during the recession. [267962]

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The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Tom Watson): The Government are committed to helping people and businesses as we fight through the economic downturn. Our priority is to support people back into work. In the hon. Gentleman’s own area of interest, the civil service is playing its part. For example, the Department for Work and Pensions is recruiting 6,000 more front-line staff in Jobcentre Plus.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. When he is looking at civil service recruitment, will he consider the fact that every Government Department pays its disabled employees less than its non-disabled employees? The Home Office, which is the worst offender, pays disabled employees a third less than their non-disabled counterparts. Will he take action to stamp out that discrimination?

Mr. Watson: As I say, I know that the hon. Gentleman has a personal interest in this area. The record on recruitment for civil servants with disabilities is a good one. We have doubled the number of civil servants claiming to be disabled since 2001. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point and I will take a look at it.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will be aware that civil and public service workers are just as concerned about their jobs as those in the private sector. Can he assure the House that he will continue to invest in the public services of this country and will not pander to the millionaires’ club who would cut inheritance tax?

Mr. Watson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will not pursue policies that benefit the few, not the many. Indeed, this month the Conservatives committed to removing the equivalent of 3,400 police officers from the Home Office budget, taking away £3 billion-worth of critical infrastructure investment that supports our workers through difficult times, and slashing the budget of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, which would threaten apprenticeships. There is only one minute to go until the end of April fools’ day, but the real tragedy is that the Conservatives are serious about that.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [267916] Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 1 April.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): This morning, on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, I welcomed President Obama and the First Lady to Downing street.

This afternoon I will be meeting President Medvedev of Russia, Prime Minister Singh, Prime Minister Aso of Japan, and the President of China. Tonight, the G20 leaders will meet in the first session of the G20 summit. I am proud that our country is hosting the G20 meeting.

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Mr. Garnier: The Prime Minister and his noble Friend Lord Myners have now had 24 hours to consider whether they can confirm what Lord Myners said to the Treasury Committee about Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension arrangements. Does the Prime Minister understand that his Ministers are now held in public ridicule and contempt, and is it not time that at least one of them resigned?

The Prime Minister: I see that the hon. and learned Gentleman has risen to the occasion today. Lord Myners has made it very clear that he was told of something that he was led to believe was a contractual obligation but was a discretionary matter. That is the issue that UK Financial Investments Ltd is taking up with the Royal Bank of Scotland; that is the basis on which we are considering legal action; and that is the basis on which UKFI will use its votes in the annual general meeting to promote legal action.

Q2. [267917] Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): The Prime Minister knows that many unfortunate people in this country have been negligently poisoned in the workplace through exposure to asbestos. Every time that their right to compensation has been challenged in the courts by employers, it has been this Labour Government who have stood by them and helped them. What does he intend to do about the thousands of predominantly working-class pleural plaques sufferers who have been robbed of their compensation by unjust decisions in the law courts?

The Prime Minister: Asbestosis is a terrible disease, and all those who suffer from it deserve the best of help from the public authorities. It is right that we look again at this as a result of legal actions that have been taken about the obligations of insurance companies. The Justice Secretary will make a statement on this when we return after Easter.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): On behalf of all Conservative Members, I join the Prime Minister in welcoming President Obama and the First Lady, and all the other Presidents and Prime Ministers, to our country this week.

Before turning to the G20, may I ask the Prime Minister about the issue of MPs’ expenses? [ Interruption. ] MPs may groan, but frankly I am fed up with our politics being dragged through the mud. We need a solution that is transparent, costs less than the current arrangements, and restores faith in the political process. Is it not the case that we cannot wait for another review, and that this needs to be agreed now? So instead of another review, will the Prime Minister agree to an urgent meeting between the main party leaders so that we can sort this out once and for all?

The Prime Minister: I agree and have said on many occasions that this whole system has to be reformed and improved. I think that there is common ground in this House that it brings no repute to MPs if we are continually having to deal with these issues. We have made some changes, by the will of the House, to the way that expenses are documented, to the way that the Green Book is organised, and to the way that people are obliged to account for their expenditures of money. Both the parties agreed that the Committee on Standards in Public Life could do a good job in looking at these
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issues. Of course I am happy to meet the leaders of the Opposition parties to discuss this, but to restore public confidence in the matter the Committee will have to complete its review as well, and I have asked it to speed up that review so that it is completed as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cameron: Frankly, the problem is that we do not need another review. Let us be clear: this is exactly what happened last time. The Prime Minister supported a review, he sent it a letter and when it came up with conclusions, he did not vote for them. [Hon. Members: “Nor did you.”] I did vote for them. The public are sick and tired of this situation, and it requires political leadership. That means political leaders making decisions, which means the Prime Minister, the leader of the Liberals and me. I ask the Prime Minister again: will he have that meeting of party leaders so that we can sort this out? May we have it, instead of a review, not in six months’ time, not in a year’s time, but right now?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman wrote his question before he heard my first answer. I said I was quite happy to meet him and the leader of the Liberal party to discuss these issues, but he has to remember that if we in this House are to command public confidence for what we do, we need to satisfy the Committee on Standards in Public Life as well as ourselves. The whole purpose of the discussions we have had in recent years is to take MPs’ pay out of politics, so that it is not MPs who are held responsible for the original recommendations on pay, or for voting for them. I believe that we have to satisfy more than ourselves on the standards we apply in public life. Yes, I am prepared to talk to the right hon. Gentleman, but he should agree to what was agreed before: that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should continue to review this issue and report as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cameron: The problem is that we can all hear the rustling of the long grass.

Let me turn to the G20. At the last meeting of the G20 in Washington, the leaders signed up to an important pledge on free trade, but as the CBI said, there were

but that

What assurances can the Prime Minister give us that this time it really will be different?

The Prime Minister: The significance of the G20 meeting is that the world is coming together to discuss detailed proposals on trade and other issues to deal with the problems of the day. I do not think we have had a situation before where Russia, China, India, Argentina, Brazil, all the European countries, Japan and America have come together to see whether we can agree shared policies. In 1929 we had the Wall street crash, and in 1945 we had the first meeting of world leaders that was successful in discussing the issues. We are not going to wait for 16 years; we are taking action now.

On the specifics of trade, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we have pushed hard in the last few months to get a trade deal round the world. We were
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pushing before Christmas, under President Bush, so that an agreement could be reached. The problem that is still outstanding—it will help the discussion if I explain it—is that India wanted assurances about a special safeguard mechanism if there were to be a surge of imports. America wanted an assurance that sectoral agreements would be in line with the general agreement that was to be signed on world trade. The American Administration asked us, as they are a new Administration, for some time in the next few weeks to review their position. Given that they are a new Administration, we have to understand that they will want to look at their position, but I am hopeful about that. I am pressing them on this matter, as I did when I talked to President Obama on the phone yesterday before I met him today. The World Trade Organisation needs an answer, and we need to move forward.

What we will achieve at the summit is this: first of all, we will name and shame countries— [ Interruption. ] Well, Mr. Speaker— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister speak. [ Interruption. ] Order. It is always the case that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition get leeway. Let the Prime Minister speak.

The Prime Minister: First, we will name and shame countries that are not prepared to abide by the standards that we are setting. Secondly, we will want to provide trade credits for the future so that we can see world trade expanding by supporting it with at least £100 billion of credit, and thirdly, we will push very hard so that the differences that exist, which other countries have resolved, can also be resolved in America and India.

Mr. Cameron: I am grateful for the Prime Minister’s answer, but the fact is that the naming and shaming process was actually agreed in Washington in November at the G20 meeting. Since then, the World Bank has produced a paper stating that 17 of the 20 countries involved have actually implemented measures that have restricted trade. Everyone understands that the new American Administration need time, but clearly the biggest boost for the world economy would be the completion of the Doha trade round, so does the Prime Minister agree with me that the greatest success for the G20 would be to set a credible pathway and a credible timetable to a full Doha agreement?

The Prime Minister: That is one of the things we are trying to achieve, but I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he cannot avoid the difficult questions about this G20. We are in the midst of the biggest fiscal stimulus that the world has ever seen, and only the Conservative party seems to be opposing it. We are in the midst of the biggest cuts in interest rates that the world has seen and we are restructuring our banking system. Yes, I agree that trade is important, and that is why I have pushed for it very hard, but I think he understood that when I said that America wanted some time to consider the position that was a barrier to getting an agreement immediately. We will push forward on trade, but we will also push forward on the other measures that are necessary for an economic recovery. I just repeat that nobody coming to London has a policy of doing nothing.

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