Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Challenging David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions


Today I challenged David Cameron at PMQs on housing and child benefit. Since the Prime Minister came to power the percentage of people owning their own homes has fallen. He has also failed on his promise that for every social home sold another would be built.


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Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): We all agree about the importance of home ownership, and the Prime Minister has said that he is going to increase it. Can he tell us whether, since he became Prime Minister in 2010, the percentage of people owning their own home has gone up or down?

The Prime Minister: It has been a very challenging time for people to buy their own homes, but what we are responsible for is almost 100,000 people being able to buy their own homes because of the right to buy and Help to Buy—two schemes opposed by Labour.

Ms Harman: The answer is that since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister the percentage of people who own their own home has fallen. He mentioned his plan to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. He has promised that, under this new scheme, sold off properties will be replaced on a one-for-one basis. He promised that on council homes in the last Parliament. Can he remind us whether he kept that promise?

The Prime Minister: If the right hon. and learned Lady is complaining about home ownership, will she confirm that she will support the extension of the right to buy to housing associations? Will she support that approach? [Interruption.] There we are. There we have it: a landmark manifesto commitment—let us expand the right to buy to housing associations—but, as ever, the enemies of aspiration in the Labour party will not support it.

Ms Harman: We support more people owning their own homes, which is not what happened in the last five years, during which the right hon. Gentleman has been Prime Minister. We support more people having an affordable home as well, but that did not happen in the last five years, when he has been Prime Minister, either. He promised that for every council home sold another one would be built. That did not happen: for every 10 sold, only one has been built. Less affordable housing means that people have to be in more expensive private rented accommodation, which means a higher housing benefit bill. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that for every affordable home sold and not replaced, the housing benefit bill goes up?

The Prime Minister: We built more council homes in the last five years than were built under 13 years of the previous Labour Government. I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that she cannot ask these questions about supporting home ownership unless she answers the simple question: will you back housing association tenants being able to buy their homes—yes or no?

Ms Harman: The Prime Minister broke his promise on the replacement—one for one—of affordable council homes. He broke that promise, and as a result housing benefit has gone up. At the same time, he says he wants to take £12 billion out of welfare, so where is it coming from? Earlier this week, his spokesperson confirmed that the Government would not make any changes to child benefit, and that is a commitment for the whole of this Parliament. Will he confirm that now?

The Prime Minister: We made very clear our position on child benefit in the election, and I confirm that again at the Dispatch Box. Let us be clear—absolutely no 

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answer from the Labour party about housing association tenants. We are clear: housing association tenants should have the right to buy. We can now see that the new Labour backing of aspiration after the election has lasted three weeks. That is how long they have given to aspiration. Let me give the right hon. and learned Lady another chance. We say housing association tenants get the right to buy. What does she say?

Ms Harman: The Prime Minister’s commitment not to cut child benefit during the course of this Parliament has not even lasted a few days. That is what his spokesperson said, and he has not been committed to it. Will he tell us about another issue of importance to families, which is whether he is going to rule out further cuts to working families tax credits?

The Prime Minister: Again, we have said we are freezing tax credits in the next two years because we need to get the deficit down and we want to keep people’s taxes down. But is it not interesting that, for the whole of the last Parliament, Labour Members came here and opposed every single spending reduction, every single welfare saving, and they have learned absolutely nothing. Labour is still the party of more spending, more welfare, more debt. It is extraordinary: of the two people responsible for this great policy of theirs, one of them lost the election and the other one lost his seat—the messengers have gone, but the message is still the same.

Ms Harman: The Prime Minister promised £12 billion of welfare cuts, and I am asking where those welfare cuts are coming from. Before an election, it is about promises; now they are in Downing Street, it is about the delivery. The Prime Minister spent the last five years saying everything that was wrong was because of the previous Prime Minister. Well, he cannot do that for the next five years because the last Prime Minister was him. I hope he will bear in mind, when things go wrong over the next five years, there is no one responsible but him.

The Prime Minister: First, we are still clearing up the mess the right hon. and learned Lady’s Government left behind. She asked for an example of a welfare cut; let me give her one. We think we should cut the welfare cap from £26,000 per household to £23,000 per household. In her speech in reply to the Gracious Speech, it sounded like she was going to come out and support that. Let us see how Labour is going to approach this: will you support a cut in the welfare cap?

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