Today I challenged Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister on the Lib Dems broken promises and the backing of Tories policies. In particular I challenged Nick Clegg on Lib Dem support of the Bedroom Tax, the tax cut for millionaires and voting last night against letting local people have more control over their health services. PMQs can be viewed here.
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I join the Deputy Prime Minister in paying tribute to Sapper Adam Moralee from 32 Engineer Regiment. We honour his bravery and service, but above all send our deepest condolences to this family and friends who mourn him.
I join the Deputy Prime Minister, too, in congratulating our Paralympic medal winners, and wish all Team GB the best of luck in the rest of the games.
At the last general election, the Deputy Prime Minister said that local people should have more control over their health services. Will he explain to the House and the public why last night he voted against that?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Actually, we voted for measures that will ensure that there is local consultation. [Interruption.] I am intrigued by the right hon. and learned Lady’s line of inquiry given the Labour party’s record on the NHS. We do not need to go any further than what is happening in Wales, where the NHS has not met its target since 2009. It was the Labour party in government that entered into a succession of sweetheart deals, with the covert privatisation of large parts of our NHS. I really do not think that, after the Francis report and all the other revelations of what happened in the NHS under Labour, it has much to stand on.
Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman is even prepared to justify what he voted on last night. The truth is that the Health Secretary broke the law that gave local people a say, so decided to change the law. The Lib Dems could have stepped in and stopped it, but oh no, here is what they did instead. First, they said that they were against the change, then they put down an amendment, then they sold out to the Tories—and the Tories got their way again. Is there any logic to how the Lib Dems vote other than self-interest?
The Deputy Prime Minister: This from a party that spent £250 million on sweetheart deals for the private sector, which led to operations and procedures that did not help a single patient; a party that now rants and rails against competition in the NHS, but actually introduced it; a party that suffers from collective amnesia about the terrible suffering of the patients in Mid Staffordshire and other parts of the NHS mismanaged by it.
Ms Harman: Hospitals are under threat and they want a say. People will remember what the Deputy Prime Minister has said in the House today.
At their spring conference last week, Lib Dem Ministers were falling over themselves to denounce Government policies, and even their own departmental colleagues, describing them variously as “unfair”, “absurd” and “hated”, yet they keep supporting them. Take the bedroom tax. The right hon. Gentleman’s own party president says that the bedroom tax is wrong, unnecessary and causing misery, but they voted for it. Now they say they want to abolish it. Are they for the bedroom tax or against it? Which is it?
The Deputy Prime Minister: There are 1.7 million people on the housing waiting lists in our country and there are 1.5 million spare bedrooms. That is a problem that we inherited, like so many problems, from the Labour party. We are trying to sort out the mess that it created. If it is incapable of taking any responsibility or expressing any apology for the mess that it has created, why should we take any of the right hon. and learned Lady’s questions seriously at all?
Ms Harman: The Liberal Democrats are for the bedroom tax—only Labour will scrap it. The Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury said that cutting the top rate of tax would be “cloud cuckoo land”. If the Lib Dems were against this tax cut, why did they vote for it?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Guess what the top rate of tax was under Labour. Anybody? Was it 50p or 45p? Anybody? It was 40p for 13 years, and now the right hon. and learned Lady is complaining that it is 5p higher. Honestly, if she is going to try to make consistency a virtue, how about this? This week, the Labour party has been talking about the need to give young people job opportunities. Last week, it tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill which would tell half a million young people on level 2 apprenticeships that they are no longer apprentices. Worse than that, it issued a report a few months ago that said that hundreds of thousands of youngsters on level 2 apprenticeships are—get this—dead weight. What a kick in the teeth for the young people we should be helping on to apprenticeships.
Ms Harman: We will have a bankers’ bonus tax for youth jobs because youth unemployment has doubled—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. and learned Lady. When both principals have been at the Dispatch Box, there has been far too much noise. People ought to be able to hear the questions and answers. Whether or not Members respect each other, they ought to respect the public.
Ms Harman: Long-term youth unemployment has doubled under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government. With so many people struggling to make ends meet and many even driven to relying on food banks, it is an absolute disgrace that the Lib Dems voted through a tax cut for the richest.
On Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister shared with us everything that he loves about Britain. He loves his cup of tea, he loves the shipping forecast and he loves flip-flops—not so much footwear for the Deputy Prime Minister, but certainly a way of life. With his broken promises and posturing, does he not realise that he might love Britain, but Britain does not love him back?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The punchline was a long time in the delivery and it was not really worth waiting for. I know that the right hon. and learned Lady does not want the facts to get in the way of a pre-prepared joke, but how about this? Youth unemployment is lower now than when we came into office. In her last year in office, 1 million more people were in relative poverty than there are now; half a million more children were in relative poverty than there are now; 150,000 more people were unemployed than there are now; and 25,000 more young people were unemployed. What we know is that Labour is the party of a 40p top tax rate, of sweetheart deals for the private sector in the NHS and of Fred Goodwin—and now they are the party against apprenticeships.
Ms Harman: What the Deputy Prime Minister has shown is that he is siding with the Tories and is totally out of touch. Whatever was said last weekend, no one is going to be fooled by the Lib Dems’ phoney rows with the Tories when week in, week out they are justifying policies at the Dispatch Box and trotting through the Lobby with the Tories. They used to talk about two parties coming together in the national interest; now they are two parties bound together by a mutual terror of the electorate.