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  • >>Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): If he will list his official engagements

  • for Wednesday 16 September.

  • >>The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and

  • others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

  • >>Gordon Henderson: Seventy-five years ago, Spitfires and Hurricanes were flying over

  • Sittingbourne and Sheppey in the battle of Britain, defending our country from Hitler’s

  • aggression. It is particularly appropriate that the Royal Air Force protected the Isle

  • of Sheppey, because it is the birthplace of British aviation, something of which we islanders

  • are immensely proud. Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to those courageous

  • RAF airmen who helped to ensure the freedoms we enjoy today?

  • >>The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in doing that. There was a very

  • moving service in St Paul’s yesterday, where many of us were able to pay tribute to those

  • brave pilots, to the ground crews and to all those involved in what was not just an important

  • moment in British history, but a vital moment in world history as Britain stood alone as

  • the only thing that could stop Hitler and Nazism. It is a reminder of how proud we should

  • be of our armed forces then, today and always.

  • >>Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I want to thank all those who took part in an

  • enormous democratic exercise in this country, which concluded with me being elected as leader

  • of the Labour party and Leader of the Opposition. We can be very proud of the numbers of people

  • who engaged and took part in all those debates.

  • I have taken part in many events around the country and had conversations with many people

  • about what they thought of this place, our Parliament, our democracy and our conduct

  • within this place. Many told me that they thought Prime Minister’s question time was

  • too theatrical, that Parliament was out of touch and too theatrical, and that they wanted

  • things done differently, but above all they wanted their voice to be heard in Parliament.

  • So I thought, in my first Prime Minister’s Question Time, I would do it in a slightly

  • different way. I am sure the Prime Minister will absolutely welcome this, as he welcomed

  • the idea in 2005, but something seems to have happened to his memory during that period.

  • So I sent out an email to thousands of people and asked them what questions they would like

  • to put to the Prime Minister and I received 40,000 replies.

  • There is not time to ask 40,000 questions todayour rules limit us to sixso I would

  • like to start with the first one, which is about housing. Two-and-a-half thousand people

  • emailed me about the housing crisis in this country. I ask one from a woman called Marie,

  • who says, “What does the government intend to do about the chronic lack of affordable

  • housing and the extortionate rents charged by some private sector landlords in this country?”

  • >>The Prime Minister: First of all, let me congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his

  • resounding victory in the Labour leadership election. I welcome him to the Front Bench,

  • and to these exchanges. I am sure that there will be many strong disagreements between

  • us during our exchanges, but when we can work together in the national interest we should

  • do so, and I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his job.

  • If we are able to change Prime Minister’s Question Time and make it a more genuine exercise

  • in asking questions and answering questions, no one will be more delighted than me. Last

  • week, when we discussed a substantial issue with substantial questions and proper answers,

  • I felt that that was good for our House and good for our democracy, and so I welcomed

  • it.

  • Let me now answer, very directly, Marie’s question. We do need to see more affordable

  • housing in our country. We delivered 260,000 affordable housing units during the last Parliament,

  • and we built more council houses in our country than had been managed in the previous 13 years,

  • but I recognise that much more needs to be done. That means carrying on with our reform

  • of the planning system, and it means encouraging the building industry to come up with innovative

  • schemes like the starter homes scheme, but, above all, it means continuing to support

  • the aspirations of people to be able to afford their own homes, which is where schemes such

  • as Help to Buy come in. But I say this to the right hon. Gentleman: we will not get

  • Britain building unless we keep our economy going.

  • >>Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Prime Minister for that answer, and I thank him for his commitment

  • that we are going to try and do Prime Minister’s Question Time in a more adult way than we

  • have done it in the past.

  • The effects of Government policy on housing are obviously enormous, and the decision to

  • cut, for example, 1% of the rent levels in councils and in housing associations without

  • thinking about the funding issues that those authorities face is a serious one. I have

  • a question from Steven, who works for a housing association. He says that the cut in rents

  • will mean that the company that he works for will lose 150 jobs by next March because of

  • the loss of funding for that housing association to carry on with its repairs. Down the line,

  • that will mean worse conditions, worse maintenance, fewer people working there, and a greater

  • problem for people living in those properties. Does the Prime Minister not think it is time

  • to reconsider the question of the funding of the administration of housing, as well

  • as, of course, the massive gap of 100,000 units a year between what is needed and what

  • is being built?

  • >>The Prime Minister: What I would say to Steven, and to all those who are working in

  • housing associations and doing a good job, is that for years in our country there was

  • something of a merry-go-round. Rents went up, housing benefit went up, and so taxes

  • had to go up to pay for that. I think it was right in the Budget to cut the rents that

  • social tenants pay, not least because people who are working and not on housing benefit

  • will see a further increase in their take-home pay, and will be able to afford more things

  • in life.

  • I think it is vital, though, that we reform housing associations and make sure that they

  • are more efficient. They are a part of the public sector that has not been through efficiencies

  • and has not improved its performance, and I think it is about time that it did.

  • >>Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Prime Minister for that, but it leads me neatly on to what

  • happened yesterday, when the House sadly voted for proposals that will cost families who

  • are affected by the change in tax credits £1,300 per year. That is absolutely shameful.

  • I received more than 1,000 questions about tax credits. Paul, for example, asks this

  • very heartfelt question: “Why is the government taking tax credits away from families? We

  • need this money to survive and so our children don’t suffer. Paying rent and council tax

  • on a low income doesn’t leave you much. Tax credits play a vital role and more is

  • needed to stop us having to become reliant on food banks to survive.”

  • >>The Prime Minister: What we need is a country where work genuinely pays, and that is why

  • what our proposals do is reform welfare, but at the same time bring in a national living

  • wage which will mean that anyone on the lowest rate of pay will get a £20-a-week pay rise

  • next year. That is why the figures show that a family—[Interruption.] I thought that

  • this was the new Question Time. I am not sure that the message has fully hit home.

  • I do not want to blind the House with statistics, but I will give just two. First, after all

  • our changes, a family where one of whose members is on the minimum wage will be £2,400 better

  • off. Secondlyand I think this is really importantbetween 1998 and 2009, in-work

  • poverty went up by 20%, at the same time as in-work benefits rose from £6 billion to

  • £28 billion. The old way of doing things is not working, and we should not go back

  • to it. What we must do is tackle the causes of poverty: get people back to work, improve

  • our schools, improve childcare. Those are the ways in which we can create an economy

  • in which work pays and everyone is better off.

  • >>Jeremy Corbyn: The Institute for Fiscal Studies says there are 8 million people in

  • paid work eligible for benefits or tax credits. They are on average being compensated for

  • just 26% of their losses by the so-called national living wage that the Government have

  • introduced. So I ask a question from Claire, who says this: “How is changing the thresholds

  • of entitlement for tax credits going to help hard-working people or families? I work part-time;

  • my husband works full-time earning £25,000”—

  • they have five children—“This decrease in tax credits will see our income plummet.”

  • They ask a simple question: how is this fair?

  • >>The Prime Minister: The country has to live within its means and we were left an unaffordable

  • welfare system and a system where work did not pay. We see today the latest set of employment

  • statistics where the rate of employment in our country has yet again reached a record

  • highmore people in work, more people in full-time workand we are also seeing unemployment

  • fall in every region of the country except the south-east, and the sharpest falls are

  • in the north-west, the north-east and the west midlands. What we are doing is moving

  • from an economy with low wages, high tax and high welfare to an economy where we have higher

  • wages, lower taxes and less welfare. That is the right answer: an economy where work

  • pays, an economy where people can get on. Let us not go back to the days of unlimited

  • welfare. Labour’s position again today is to abolish the welfare cap; I say that a family

  • that chooses not to work should not be better off than one that chooses to work.

  • >>Jeremy Corbyn: Many people do not have that choice; many people live in a very difficult

  • situation and rely on the welfare state to survive. Surely all of us have a responsibility

  • to make sure that people can live properly and decently in modern Britain; that is surely

  • a decent, civil thing to do.

  • I received over 1,000 questions on the situation facing our mental health services and people

  • who suffer from mental health conditions. This is a very serious situation across the

  • whole country and I want to put to the Prime Minister a question that was put to me very

  • simply from Gail: “Do you think it is acceptable that the mental health services in this country

  • are on their knees at the present time?”

  • >>The Prime Minister: As I mentioned before the first question, there will be areas where

  • we can work together, and I believe this is one of them; we do need to do more to increase

  • mental health services in our country. We have made some important steps forward in

  • recent years. Mental health and physical health now have parity in the NHS constitution. We

  • have introduced for the first time waiting time targets for mental health services so

  • they are not seen as a Cinderella service, and of course we have made the commitment—a

  • commitment I hope the right hon. Gentleman will back, undoing previous Labour policyto

  • back the Stevens plan for an extra £8 billion into the NHS in this Parliament, which can

  • help to fund better mental health services, among other things. There are problems in

  • some mental health services and it is right that we make that commitment.

  • But I make this one point to the hon. Gentleman: we will not have a strong NHS unless we have

  • a strong economy, and if the Labour party is going to go down the route of unlimited

  • spending, unlimited borrowing and unlimited tax rates, printing money, they will wreck

  • the economic security of our country and the family security of every family in our country.

  • We will not be able to afford a strong NHS without a strong economy.

  • >>Jeremy Corbyn: May I take the Prime Minister back to the situation of mental health in

  • this country, which is very serious? I agree with him absolutely on parity of service,

  • and I hope the spending commitments are brought forward, rather than delayed to the end of

  • this Parliament, because the crisis is very serious. We know this from our constituents,

  • we know this from people we meet, we know this from the devastation that many faceand

  • indeed some have taken their own lives because of the devastation they face.

  • I ask a question from Angela, who is a mental health professional, so she knows exactly

  • what she is talking about. She says this: “Beds are unobtainable with the result that

  • people suffering serious mental health crises are either left without adequate care or alternatively

  • admitted to facilities many miles away from their homes, relatives and family support

  • systems. The situation is simply unacceptable.” What does the Prime Minister say to Angela

  • and people like her who work so hard in the mental health services, or people going through

  • a mental health crisis who may well be watching us today on Prime Minister’s Question Time

  • and want to know that we take their conditions seriously, and take seriously their need for

  • emergency beds and to be near their homes and support system, and that we as a society

  • take seriously their plight and are going to help them and care for them? What does

  • the Prime Minister say to Angela?

  • >>The Prime Minister: What I would say to Angela, and all those working in mental healthand

  • indeed all those suffering from mental health conditionsis that we need to do more as

  • a country to help tackle mental health. That is obviously about money into the health service,

  • which we will deliver, but it is also about changing the way the health service helps

  • those with mental health conditions. The right hon. Gentleman rightly talks about mental

  • health beds, and they are important, but frankly so is the service that people get when they

  • visit their GP. Many people going into their GP surgeries have mental health conditions,

  • but they are not treated for those conditions and do not get access to, for instance, the

  • cognitive behavioural therapies that are increasingly being made available. So my argument is, yes,

  • put in the resources, change the way the NHS works and change public attitudes to mental

  • healththat is vitalbut I say again that we will not be able to do any of those things

  • without the strong economy that we have built over these last five years.

  • >>Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The Isle of Wight zoo is having difficulty

  • importing a tiger. She was cruelly treated in a circus and has now been kept in isolation

  • for nearly two years, despite Belgium being wholly free from rabies. Will my right hon.

  • Friend assist in breaking through this bureaucratic logjam?

  • >>The Prime Minister: I will certainly do anything I can to help my—[Interruption.]

  • >>Mr Speaker: Order. I want to hear about the tiger.

  • >>The Prime Minister: I want to hear about the tiger, and we will help those at the Department

  • for Environment, Food and Rural AffairsAnimal and Plant Health Agency, because they

  • are the ones who are working on this. I had a constituency case exactly like this, when

  • the Cotswold Wildlife Park wanted to bring in a rhino. I intervened, and I am delighted

  • to say that the Cotswold Wildlife Park named the rhino Nancy, in honour of my daughter.

  • Nancy has been breeding ever since she arrived in Burford, and I hope that the tiger will

  • be just as effective.

  • >>Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): May I begin by congratulating the new leader of the Labour

  • party? We in the Scottish National party look forward to working with him to oppose Tory

  • austerity, and we hope that Labour MPs will join him and us in opposing Trident when the

  • time comes. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] One year ago to the day, the Prime Minister made

  • a vow to the people of Scotland. Promises were made to deliver home rule and an arrangement

  • as near to federalism as possible. However, the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, now

  • says that the UK Government are

  • falling short on the delivery of the recommendations of the Smith Commission on Scottish devolution”.

  • When will the Prime Minister deliver on the promises that he made to the people of Scotland?

  • >>The Prime Minister: We have delivered on all the promises that we made—[Interruption.]

  • We said that we would introduce a Scotland Bill, and we introduced a Scotland Bill. We

  • said that there would be unprecedented devolution on taxes, and there has been unprecedented

  • devolution on taxes. We said that we would provide those welfare powers, and we have

  • given those welfare powers. The question now for the SNP is this: when are you going to

  • stop talking about processes and start telling us what taxes you are going to put up? What

  • welfare changes are you going to make? Or, when it comes to talking about the issues,

  • are you frit?

  • >>Angus Robertson: That is very interesting. Whatever happened to the new style of PMQs?

  • One of the architects of the vow says that it is not being fully delivered, as does the

  • Scottish Trades Union Congress. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Carers

  • Scotland and Enable Scotland all say that not enough welfare powers are being devolved.

  • Only 9% of people in Scotland believe that the vow has been delivered, and not one amendment

  • to the Scotland Bill has been accepted by the Government. Tory bluster and condescension

  • will not go down well in Scotland. So, for the second time, may I ask the Prime Minister

  • to tell us, in his new style of answering at Prime Minister’s questions, when he will

  • deliver on the promises that were made to the people of Scotland?

  • >>The Prime Minister: Of course this is going to take a bit of getting used to, but let

  • me try to answer the right hon. Gentleman very calmly. What I notice from his question

  • is that he has not given me one single example of where the vow was not delivered. If he

  • can point to a tax we promised to devolve but have not devolved, I would accept it.

  • If he can point to a welfare change we promised to devolve but did not devolve, I would accept

  • it. He has not done those things. All he is doing is continuing an argument about process,

  • because he does not want to talk about the substance. You give me a listsorry, he

  • should give me a listof the things that were promised and were not delivered, and

  • then we can have a very reasonable conversation. Until then, it is all bluster from the SNP.

  • >>Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): The Prime Minister has a lot to be pleased with Corby forthat

  • is Corby, not Corbyn. Not only did Corby help him back into No. 10, but it gave to him and

  • the world the DVD case, which was designed and first produced in the town. This week,

  • we continue that entrepreneurial spirit, with our bid for a new enterprise zone being submitted.