Jeremy Corbyn: I start by associating myself with the Prime Minister’s remarks about Michael Meacher. On behalf of the Labour party, his constituents and a much wider community, I express our condolences to his family. I spoke to them last night and asked them how they would like Michael to be remembered. They thought about it and sent me a very nice message, which I would like to read out, if I may, Mr Speaker. It is quite brief, but very poignant. As “Memories of Michael”, they provided this statement:
“When I was young…one of the things he frequently said to me was that people went into politics because they had principles and wanted to change things to make the world better, but that in order to get into power they would often compromise on their principles and that this could happen again and again until, if they eventually did get into power, they would have become so compromised that they would do nothing with it.”
Those of us who knew Michael knew him as a decent, hard-working, passionate and profound man. He represented his constituency with diligence and distinction for 45 years. He was a brilliant Environment Minister, as the Prime Minister pointed out, and he was totally committed to parliamentary democracy and to this Parliament holding Governments—all Governments—to account. He was also a lifelong campaigner against injustice and poverty. We remember Michael for all of those things. We express our condolences and we express our sympathies to his family at this very difficult time. His will be a hard act to follow, but we will do our best.
Following the events in the other place on Monday evening and the rather belated acceptance by the Prime Minister of the result there, can he now guarantee to the House and to the wider country that nobody will be worse off next year as a result of cuts to working tax credits?
The Prime Minister: What I can guarantee is that we remain committed to the vision of a high pay, low tax, lower welfare economy. We believe that the way to make sure that everyone is better off is to keep growing our economy, keep inflation low, keep cutting people’s taxes and introduce the national living wage. As for our changes, the Chancellor will set them out in the autumn statement.
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Prime Minister for that, but the question I asked was quite simply this: will he confirm, right now, that tax credit cuts will not make anyone worse off in April next year?
The Prime Minister: What we want is for people to be better off because we are cutting their taxes and increasing their pay, but the hon. Gentleman is going to have to be a little patient, because although these changes passed the House of Commons five times with ever-enlarging majorities, we will set out our new proposals in the autumn statement and he will be able to study them.
Jeremy Corbyn: This is the time when we ask questions to the Prime Minister on behalf of the people of this country—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, if I may continue. People are very worried about what is going to happen to them next April, so what exactly does the Prime Minister mean? He is considering it and there is an autumn statement coming up, but we thought he was committed to not cutting tax credits. Is he going to cut them or not? Are people going to be worse off or not in April next year? He must know the answer.
The Prime Minister: I want to make two points. First, we set out in our election manifesto that we were going to find £12 billion-worth of savings on welfare. [Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Order. There is too much noise in the Chamber. We need a bit of calm. The questions and the answers must be heard.
The Prime Minister: It is an important point because every penny we do not save on welfare means savings we have to find in the education budget, the policing budget or the health budget. My second point is that because of what has happened in the other place, we should of course have a debate about how to reform welfare and how to reduce its cost. I am happy to have that debate, but it is difficult to have it with the hon. Gentleman because he has opposed every single welfare change that has been made. He does not support the welfare cap; he does not support the cap on housing benefit; he does not think that any change to welfare is worth while. I have to say that if we want a strong economy, if we want growth and if we want to get rid of our deficit and secure our country, we need to reform welfare.
Jeremy Corbyn: What we are talking about are tax credits for people in work. The Prime Minister knows that; he understands that. He has lost the support of many people in this country who are actually quite sympathetic to his political project, and some of the newspapers that support him have now come out against him on this. He did commit himself to cuts of £12 billion in the welfare budget, but repeatedly refused to say whether tax credits would be part of that. In fact, he said that they would not be. Will he now give us the answer that we are trying to get today?
The Prime Minister: The answer will be in the autumn statement, when we set out our proposals, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman that it has come to quite a strange set of events when the House of Commons votes for something five times, when there is absolutely no rebellion among Conservative Members of Parliament or, indeed, among Conservative peers, and when the Labour party is left defending and depending on unelected peers in the House of Lords. We have a new alliance in British politics: the unelected and the unelectable.
Jeremy Corbyn: It is very interesting that the Prime Minister still refuses to answer the fundamental question. This is not a constitutional crisis; it is a crisis for 3 million families in this country who are very worried about what is going to happen next April.
Just before the last election, when asked on the BBC’s “World at One” whether he was going to cut tax credits, the former Chief Whip, now the Justice Secretary, said:“we are not going to cut them.”
Why did he say that?
The Prime Minister: What I said at the election was that the basic level of child tax credits would stay the same, and, at £2,780 per child, it has stayed exactly the same. However, the point is this: if we want to get our deficit down, if we want to secure our economy, if we want to keep on with secure growth, we need to make savings in welfare. Presumably, even with his deficit-denying, borrow-for-ever plan, the hon. Gentleman has to make some savings in public spending. If you do not save any money on welfare, you end up cutting the NHS, and you end up cutting police budgets even more deeply. Those are the truths. When is the hon. Gentleman going to stop his deficit denial, get off the fence, and tell us what he would do?
Jeremy Corbyn: Mr Speaker, I have—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Order. I said a moment ago that the answers needed to be heard; the questions need to be heard as well. The hon. Gentleman is going to ask his question, and it will be heard. If it takes longer, so be it.
Jeremy Corbyn: I have asked the Prime Minister five times whether or not people will be worse off next April if they receive working tax credits. He has still not been able to answer me, or, indeed, many others. May I put to him a question that I was sent by—[Interruption.] It may seem very amusing to Conservative Members.
I was sent this question by Karen. She wrote:
“Why is the Prime Minister punishing working families—I work full time and earn the ‘living wage’ within the public sector. The tax credit cuts will push me and my family into hardship.”
Can the Prime Minister give a cast-iron guarantee to Karen, and all the other families who are very worried about what will happen to their incomes next April? They are worried about how they will be able to make ends meet? He could give them the answer today, and I hope that he will. I ask him for the sixth time: please give us an answer to a very straightforward, very simple question.
The Prime Minister: What I would say to Karen is this: if she is on the living wage working in the public sector, next year, in April, she will benefit from being able to earn £11,000 before she pays any income tax at all—it was around £6,000 when I became Prime Minister. If she has children, she will benefit from 30 hours of childcare every week. That is something that has happened under this Government. But above all she will benefit because we have a growing economy, we have zero inflation, we have got 2 million more people in work, and we will train 3 million apprentices in this Parliament. That is the fact. The reason the Labour party lost the last election is that it was completely untrusted on the deficit, on debt and on a stable economy. Since then the deficit deniers have taken over the Labour party. That is what happened. When we look at their plans—borrowing forever, printing money, hiking up taxes—we see that it is working people like Karen who would pay the price.