Previous Section Index Home Page

The IMF said that the UK

[Interruption.] That was the managing director of the IMF. It also said:

I could go through the others. The OECD said that the "fiscal stimulus" has "cushioned the downturn."

It comes down to this: if we had taken the right hon. Gentleman's advice, there would have been no action and unemployment would have risen much faster. If we had taken his advice, the 200,000 small businesses that have benefited would not have done so. If we had taken his advice, we would be back to the '90s mortgage misery with repossessions. The Conservative party got wrong every decision on the recession and the recovery.

Mr. Cameron: The fact is that the Chancellor is now taking our advice. He said that we can get growth only when we deal with the deficit. The Prime Minister tells us about his Fiscal Responsibility Bill, but it is completely feeble. What is required is not an Act of Parliament, but an act of political will-an act of courage. The man whom the Prime Minister appointed to the Bank of England said this about fiscal responsibility Acts. They are, he said,

Is not the reason for the lack of faith in the Government's plans that the Prime Minister is so personally incapable of admitting what everyone knows to be true: that there is a need for cuts to be made? On Sunday, he said that public spending will rise by 0.8 per cent. in real terms each year. Given that everybody knows that cuts in departmental spending are necessary, was that not just completely disingenuous?

The Prime Minister: The person who was misleading the public was the right hon. Gentleman on Monday, about a married couples allowance. He said one thing on Monday morning, something different on Monday afternoon and something different on Monday evening, and then the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who floated the policy, the former leader of the Conservative party, said that he had a private assurance of £4.9 billion being spent. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to reduce the deficit, presumably he does not want to spend £4.9 billion on a married couples allowance. If he wishes to reduce the deficit, presumably he will go ahead with the national insurance tax rise that we are proposing. If he wishes to reduce the deficit, he will not go ahead with his inheritance tax proposal, which he now says is his only pledge. We are reducing the deficit with a plan that includes tax rises, departmental cuts and protecting front-line services. The Conservatives would be cutting education services, police services and the main services in the country. Their policies are a change-a change back to the economics of the 1980s. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I just say to Members on both sides that we are not on the hustings now?

6 Jan 2010 : Column 164

Mr. Cameron: I wish we were. I wish this Prime Minister had the courage to call the election so we could get on with it. I have to say, what a lot of desperate rubbish from the Prime Minister. I thought that he might mention marriage, so let me say this to him. The difference between me and the Prime Minister is this: when I lean across and say, "I love you, darling," I really mean it. The only divorce that has taken place is between this Prime Minister and reality. Let us take his claim that spending is going up by 0.8 per cent. Is not the only way that he can make that claim by excluding capital spending, which he is actually cutting in half? Is that not completely disingenuous?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman talks about love and marriage, when he is the person who cannot give a straight answer on the married couples allowance: he cannot say, "I do," or "I don't," when it comes to the married couples allowance. As for the public, will he give us a straight answer now? Does his deficit reduction plan include £4.9 billion to be spent on the married couples allowance, £1.5 billion to be spent on inheritance tax and not going ahead with the national insurance rise? That is why everybody says that there is a £34 billion gap in his proposals. He cannot go round the country promising everything to everyone. He has got to face up to the facts: his policies are fit only for opposition, not for government.

Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister wants to turn this around and make it Prime Minister's questions, he should get on and call the election. Then there would be all the time in the world to kiss and make up.

The fact is that this Government are now deeply divided. Everyone knows that the Chancellor wanted to reduce the deficit more quickly. Everyone knows that the Business Secretary goes around the country privately attacking the PBR as a complete failure. Perhaps the Prime Minister could name one Back Bencher on the Labour side who stood up and spoke for his Fiscal Responsibility Bill last night. Not a single one. Does he not understand that a divided party without a proper plan is putting Britain's recovery at risk? Is that not the height of irresponsibility, and why is he always incapable of doing the right thing?

The Prime Minister: Let me just give another example for the right hon. Gentleman. Last night he was asked, "Are you committed to education maintenance allowances?" What was his answer?

He then said:

Is this an Opposition party ready for government? It should go back to the drawing board and think again.

Mr. Cameron: The fact is that the appalling state of the public finances and the Prime Minister's complete inability to have a proper plan show the great truth of British politics. He has had two years to demonstrate some leadership, and he has completely failed to do so. He cannot convince business or the financial markets, and he cannot even convince his own Chancellor. Is it any wonder that he ekes out his time as an unelected leader completely incapable of convincing the country?

6 Jan 2010 : Column 165

The Prime Minister: He is going to have to do better than that. He is going to have answer some questions on policy some time. He got it wrong on the nationalisation of Northern Rock, he got it wrong on the fiscal stimulus for the recovery, he got it wrong on helping the unemployed, he got it wrong on helping home owners, he got it wrong on small businesses. He got every issue of the recession wrong. Nobody will trust him, not just on married couples allowance but on the economy at all.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): A year on from the devastating conflict in Gaza, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead, the siege continues. Humanitarian relief is hard to come by, and Gaza lies shattered. Although there were undoubtedly war crimes on both sides, does my right hon. Friend agree that what is now happening is the collective punishment of 1 million people? Will he now make urgent representations to ease the siege on Gaza as a critical step towards a peace settlement in that region?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and she speaks for many people. We must not forget the people of Gaza. I have raised with Prime Minister Netanyahu the speed at which aid and humanitarian assistance can get into Gaza, and we are pressing the Israeli Government to do more to get more aid in. I will look at exactly the points that my hon. Friend has made and see what more we can do in this new year. In the end, this will require a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinian state that gives Israel security and Palestine a viable economic state that it can manage. In the meantime, we must avoid unnecessary suffering.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I also add my own expressions of profound sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the brave British soldiers who have lost their lives serving in Afghanistan since the House last sat: Corporal Simon Hornby, Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard, Lance Corporal Christopher Roney, Lance Corporal Tommy Brown, Rifleman Aidan Howell, Sapper David Watson and Private Robert Hayes.

I would also like to pay my own tribute to David Taylor, who sadly died during the Christmas recess. I was once one of the MEPs for his area, and he had a reputation then-and always has had-as an outstanding constituency MP and someone who always spoke his own mind. My heart goes out to his wife Pam and his four daughters.

Last weekend, the Prime Minister said that he was all in favour of aspiration. Could he explain to us exactly what is aspirational about a tax system that he has created in which the poorest 20 per cent. pay more from their income in tax than the richest 20 per cent.?

The Prime Minister: It was because of all these things that we introduced the tax credit system, which is the means by which we take people out of poverty. We reward work for people who are in work, and for people who pay income tax it removes their liability by giving them tax credits instead. It is the means by which we bring greater justice, take people out of poverty and make work pay, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will continue to support the tax credit system, which is an essential part of our tax and benefits system in this country.

6 Jan 2010 : Column 166

Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister talks about justice. He has not delivered justice or fairness in the tax system. He is the one who scrapped the 10p tax rate. It is his rules that allow a City banker to pay less tax on capital gains than a cleaner pays on wages. He is about to hit millions of average earners with higher national insurance bills. Where is the fairness, where is the aspiration, in any of that?

The Prime Minister: The aspiration is helping people into jobs, giving people the chance to earn a decent living, and ensuring that the tax system is fair.

Presumably the hon. Gentleman will now support our 50 per cent. tax on the bonuses of the banks. Presumably he will support the raising of the top rate of tax to 50 per cent. Presumably he will support the removal of pension tax reliefs, which we are carrying out as very much part of the deficit reduction plan. What we have tried to do is ensure that in these difficult times, as we make changes, the burden is shared fairly, which means that those with the broadest shoulders must pay more. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that.

Q2. [308856] Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I wish to pay my personal tribute to David Taylor.My I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to my concern about apprentices aged over 26 at Stoke on Trent college, which is conducting urgent talks with the aim of securing the funds that are needed for them to continue their training? In the light of the recent National Audit Office report on former coal mining areas, will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to do all that he can to ensure that the Learning and Skills Council, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the regional development agency, and the Department for Work and Pensions work closely with the college to find a solution, so that all apprentices can receive full funding?

The Prime Minister: It is our intention, even in these difficult times when companies may not be in a position to keep apprentices on, to find alternative sources of employment for them and ensure that the colleges can continue to train them. However, I will examine the specific issue that my hon. Friend has raised. As for the coalfields regeneration programme, the National Audit Office's recommendations have been acted on, and funds from the programme have already been allocated. Stoke-on-Trent has received £3 million, more than half a million pounds of which has been committed to projects that will provide training for individuals.

I hope that my hon. Friend will find some of the answers to her questions in the decisions that have already been made, but I will look into the apprentices question. In 1997 there were 70,000 apprentices, and there are now a quarter of a million. No Government have done more to revive the apprenticeship, and we will not allow the number of apprenticeships to fall during this recession.

Q3. [308857] Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Given that 29 per cent. of jobs in Croydon are in the public sector, I am very worried about Government plans to move public sector jobs out of the south-east. In response to a question in the House, the Chancellor
6 Jan 2010 : Column 167
kindly said that there might be "compensatory steps". Has the Prime Minister any positive views on what those compensatory steps might be?

The Prime Minister: I know that the immigration department in Croydon is in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Obviously, we are looking into how we can reallocate some jobs that are currently in the south-east in a way that will both save money and spread employment across the country. The Lyons review suggested that 20,000 jobs be reallocated. That has already happened, and we are considering what more we can do. However, I think the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the work of the London Development Agency and the work that is done in London are a means by which we ensure that jobs are created in London. We are always thinking about what we can do to create more jobs in this capital city.

Q4. [308858] Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): Cancer treatment waits have been effectively eliminated for my constituents because our NHS doctors and nurses have met exacting cancer care targets. Today, Macmillan Cancer Support reported that because more people are surviving cancer-which is excellent news-they are more prone to health problems when their treatment ends, and need practical advice. What can my right hon. Friend do to ensure that they receive that advice and help?

The Prime Minister: The Macmillan work is something that is very special in our country, and very much appreciated. I believe that because of the advances that we are making in cancer care-particularly if cancer is detected early and people are able to go through the screening process-many lives that would otherwise be lost are being saved.

I appreciate that considerable aftercare is necessary even after many years, and I am determined that we will continue to support it. However, I believe that the best way in which we can help to deal with the cancer problems in our country is to ensure that we do not lose the two-week guarantee that patients can see a specialist immediately, and that we move towards a guarantee that they will be diagnosed and given the answers within only seven days. That requires money, and it requires determination to spend the money in the right place. We are determined to do that, and I hope that no party seeks to abolish it.

Q5. [308859] Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Given that technology is vital in allowing us to stay one step ahead of the terrorist threat, why have the Government cut spending on defence research by 23 per cent. over the past three years? Is not grasping at a couple of scanners and yet another review a case of too little, too late?

The Prime Minister: We have increased spending on security from £1 billion in 2001 to more than £3 billion, and we have increased counter-terrorism capability massively in this country as a result of making the right decisions. We have doubled the number of security staff, we have doubled the number of police who are associated with counter-terrorism work, and we are introducing the e-borders system, which is a means by which we can catch those people who are coming into this country.
6 Jan 2010 : Column 168
I do not think that any Government have done more to increase the counter-terrorism capability in this country, and that is right, because our first duty is the security of our citizens.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Given the somewhat disappointing finish to the Copenhagen conference, what action will my right hon. Friend be taking in order to keep up the momentum on this absolutely vital task of tackling climate change?

The Prime Minister: For the first time, the world was able to agree that we should not have a climate change policy that did not address the problems of rising temperatures, and the 2 per cent. limit was agreed by all countries. We also have agreement that countries will notify what they will do by 2020, and they have got to do so by 31 January. We are obviously pressing for countries to be in a position where they can reduce the amount of gigatonnes in carbon and greenhouse gas emissions from about the mid-50s in 2020 to the mid-40s. There has been greater transparency achieved, with every country agreeing to report what it is doing, but we have not yet got the international treaty that we need, and we have not yet got the announcement from all countries that they support the 50 per cent. reduction by 2050. That is work that is still to be done. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must now talk to all those countries that were reluctant to come into these talks with a view to getting a treaty to persuade them that a treaty is necessary. I think that she will see further announcements in the next few days about what we are going to do.

Q6. [308860] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Bearing in mind the failure of Copenhagen and the current weather cycle, which clearly indicates a cooling trend- [ Laughter. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The more noise, the less progress we make. I want to reach other Back Benchers.

Ann Winterton: Will the Prime Minister reconsider the proposed wasteful expenditure of £100 billion on offshore wind farms, which will be incapable of delivering sufficient energy but will result in excessively exorbitant charges for electricity users?

The Prime Minister: The idea that the Conservative party could take a lead on climate change when they cannot even convince their own Back Benchers of what is necessary- [ Laughter. ] The Conservatives cannot make up their minds about nuclear. We are now the leading power in the world for offshore wind. We will soon be making announcements that will make it clear that massive numbers of jobs will come as a result of offshore wind. That is the right policy if we are going to have 15 per cent. renewables by 2020. I cannot understand where the Conservatives' energy policy comes from. If they take out nuclear and they take out offshore wind-and every Conservative local authority is opposing onshore wind as well-they have no policy whatsoever.

Next Section Index Home Page