Prime Minister’s Question – Tax credits, Government support for the steel industry & disabled people’s human rights

Jeremy Corbyn: I know that the Prime Minister will absolutely welcome my first few questions, because they return to his favourite subject: tax credits. Yesterday, one of his Back Benchers said

“too many people will be adversely affected. Something must give. For those of us proud enough to call ourselves compassionate Conservatives, it must not be the backs of the working families we purport to serve.”

Where was she wrong?

The Prime Minister: The tax credit changes are part of a package that includes a higher national living wage and tax reductions, and I think that is the right approach for our country. Let us make work pay, let us allow people to earn more, let us cut their taxes, and let us make welfare affordable. I am delighted that once again this measure passed the House of Commons last night with a big majority.

Jeremy Corbyn: If the Prime Minister is keen on tax credits helping people into work, I have got a question for him from Lisette, who says:

“A lot of people are setting up their own businesses as self-employed especially in rural areas where job vacancies are limited and pay is often low; tax credits help them until their business becomes established.”

Cutting tax credits damages her life opportunities and the life opportunities of anyone she might employ. Does the Prime Minister not see the value of giving support to people trying to improve their lives rather than cutting their ability to survive properly?

The Prime Minister: Of course we want to help the self-employed on low incomes, and that is why the people on the lowest incomes will continue to receive the child tax credit at £2,730. But there are other things we are doing to help the self-employed. We are cutting income tax—that helps the self-employed. We are introducing the employment allowance to cut the national insurance budget for the self-employed—that helps. Above all what we are doing is creating an economy with 2 million more people in work—an economy that is growing, wages that are rising, and inflation that is at zero. All these questions on tax credits in a way come back to the same point, which is how you build a strong and secure economy. You do not do it on the back of a massive deficit and an ever-increasing debt, which is what Labour left us with.

Jeremy Corbyn: This is all very strange, because the Prime Minister seems to have changed his mind on this subject in rather a large way. John emailed me to say:

“The Prime Minister solemnly declared on National television shortly before the last”—[Interruption]— yes, solemnly, and I am solemn as well— “shortly before the last general election that tax credits would not be affected.”

Is there any reason why this change has come about or any reason why we should believe the Prime Minister on any assurances he gives in relation to tax credits?

The Prime Minister: What we said before the election is that we would reduce welfare by £12 billion as part of getting the deficit down, part of getting the economy growing, and part of creating 2 million jobs. That is what happened at the election, and we are keeping our promises by delivering that stronger economy. The hon. Gentleman talks about something strange happening. Something quite strange did happen last night: we had a vote on tax credits and the deputy leader of the Labour party did not turn up. Can he explain that strange outing?

Jeremy Corbyn: If the Prime Minister cannot answer now on tax credits and the devastation that is causing—[Interruption.Thank you—and the devastation that the cuts are causing to many people’s lives, can I ask him to deal with another subject, namely the steel industry? Does he appreciate the devastating effects that the Government’s non-intervention in the steel industry are having on so many people? I have got a question from a maintenance fitter at the Tata steelworks in Scunthorpe. He is helping to produce steel for Network Rail and many companies that were exporting it. He wants to know what the Prime Minister is going to do “to support the steel industry and its workers facing redundancy.”

Is it not time to walk the walk rather than talk the talk about an industrial strategy?

The Prime Minister: We do want to help our steel industry, and we recognise—[Interruption.] Well, I will set out exactly how we will help the steel industry. It is in a very difficult situation. World prices have collapsed by more than half, and the surplus capacity in the world is more than 50 times the UK output, but our plan is to take action in four vital areas—in procurement, in energy costs, in unfair competition and dumping, and in tax and Government support. [Interruption.Opposition Members are asking, “What have you done so far?” Well, let me take one example. We changed the procurement rules so that it was easier to source UK steel. That is why Crossrail—26 miles of tunnels, the biggest construction project anywhere in Europe—is being completed using almost exclusively British steel. That did not happen under the last Labour Government; it does happen now.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is not the real problem that the Government do not actually have an industrial strategy to protect this country’s most important industries? If they had, they would not have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this House three times in the last eight days. Thousands of jobs have already gone or are at risk in Redcar, Scunthorpe, Rotherham, Motherwell, Cambuslang, Wrexham and across the west midlands. Is it not time for concrete action today so that there is Government intervention and support for our steel industry and so that we have a viable steel industry for the long term, which this country desperately needs?

The Prime Minister: We do want a strong and viable steel industry, and that means taking action across all the areas that I mentioned. Let me mention another one: energy costs. We have already put £50 million into cutting energy costs, and our plans will mean hundreds of millions of pounds extra to cut them.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): You put them up!

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the Prime Minister. Mr Blenkinsop, a statesman-like demeanour is what I would hope for from someone who has served with distinction in the Opposition Whips Office. Calm yourself or take a sedative.

The Prime Minister: On energy, we will save hundreds of millions of pounds. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that last week in the House of Lords the Labour party voted to add to energy bills by opposing the measures we are taking on wind power. So, yes, we do have a strategy; we do have a plan and we should be working across the parties to deliver it. I met the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and neighbouring MPs back in November last year to make sure we could take all the action necessary, and across each of these areas that is exactly what we will do.

Jeremy Corbyn: Well, the Prime Minister met those Members to discuss the issue 11 months ago, but he has yet to go to the European Union to discuss how the British Government could intervene to protect our industry.

The final question I want to put to the Prime Minister comes from Louis. This is deeply embarrassing to all of us in this House and, indeed, to this country as a whole. He writes:

“The United Kingdom is currently being investigated by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because of allegations of ‘grave and systematic’ violations of disabled people’s human rights.”

This is very sad news indeed, but it is even sadder that we need to be investigated because of violations that have occurred. Will the Prime Minister commit to co-operate fully with the inquiry and publish in full the Government’s response to it, so that we can ensure that people with disabilities are treated properly and legally and given full respect by and opportunities in our society?

The Prime Minister: First, let me take up the hon. Gentleman on the point he made about intervention in Europe. We have been doing this for months, making sure that there is proper action against dumping in the European Union. We have taken the cases to the European Commission and will continue to do so.

On the issue of helping disabled people in our country, tens of thousands more disabled people have got into work under this Government. Because of legislation passed by a previous Conservative Government, we have some of the strongest equality legislation anywhere in the world when it comes to disability. Of course I will look at any United Nations investigation, but sometimes when you look at these investigations you find that they are not necessarily all they are originally cracked up to be. There are many disabled people in our world who do not have any of the rights or any of the support that they get here in Britain, and I think we should be proud of what we do as we co-operate with this report.