|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Clarke : It is not the central plank of the proposals, although it is an important one. I intend to give details of the programme for GP practice budgets tomorrow. That will be the first time we invite general practitioners seriously to decide whether they are interested in proceeding with it. I cannot believe that general practitioners in Wales will be more backward than their English colleagues in considering the advantages of the scheme. The more go-ahead practices which are anxious to develop services for their patients that the GP wishes to provide will be interested in the proposals I shall be putting forward.
Dame Jill Knight : Did not the BMA spend some £3 million of its own money on peddling what it has now admitted to be misinformation? In his talks with the BMA was my right hon. and learned Friend able to suggest that it should now spend a further sum on setting the record straight?
Mr. Clarke : Certainly the BMA spent a great deal of money--at least £3 million. It is now organising a fundraising campaign to replenish its war chest, but I do not think that it intends to go in for the same advertising again. That advertising campaign has virtually ceased. I think that that is because the BMA has decided to improve
Column 838the climate and get down to sensible and constructive discussions that we have been trying to encourage throughout
Mr. Robin Cook : In this new friendly atmosphere with the BMA, will the Secretary of State listen to the concern that it has expressed today about the 45 patients who have been transferred from the Freeman hospital in Newcastle to the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester simply because it is cheaper? Is he aware that there is spare capacity at Wythenshawe only because it has run out of money to treat its own patients? How can he possibly justify shipping patients halfway across England to a hospital with an even longer waiting list? Does that not reveal the dangers of a Bill that puts the price of contracts before the patients' choice?
Mr. Clarke : The hon. Gentleman refers to the unreformed National Health Service. The hon. Gentleman has discovered that quite a lot of patients move around the country, and sometimes have to travel considerable distances. They do so because patients and doctors are prepared to allow patients to travel to a better or quicker service. The Bill seeks to extend that opportunity to patients who are willing to travel for a better and cheaper service. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is talking about a nationally arranged service where the location of services is decided by the supra-national committee. If he is not, I shall look at the 45 cases, but I am quite sure that the consultants or doctors in charge of those patients decided to move them to somewhere where good quality service was quickly available. But it is quite wrong to seek to intervene in that politically.
Mrs. Mahon : Will not indicative drugs budgets and GP practice budgets deter GPs from sending women for infertility treatment and from taking on women who are already receiving expensive infertility treatment? Will that not add to a very human tragedy for many couples?
Mrs. Bottomley : The introduction of prescribing budgets is a sensible way of containing the costs of prescribing and ensuring that prescribing practices continue to develop. Dramatic advances have been made in infertility treatment. Many of the treatments are very costly and are available in increasing numbers of centres throughout the country. We see no reason to believe that it will not be possible for women to continue to benefit from those remarkable new initiatives.
Column 839Mrs. Bottomley : Yes, Sir.
Ms. Harman : Does not the Minister's earlier answer show that she is unaware that Lady Warnock described provision of fertility services within the National Health Service as "haphazard and unsatisfactory"? Is it not unacceptable that whether a childless couple can have the child that they long for depends on where they live and how much money they have? When will the Government act on the Warnock proposal, which does not need legislation, to improve fertility services throughout the National Health Service?
Mrs. Bottomley : Since the Labour party was in Government, there has been an increase from 661 to 746 in obstetrics and gynaecology consultants, who provide better and higher quality services. The local district health authority must decide the priorities of various services. The district health authority in the constituency of the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) has chosen to have a new hospital costing £21 million and has increased day cases by 25 per cent. and in-patients by 10 per cent. It is clear that choices must be made in the Health Service, but there is much greater provision for infertility treatment of all kinds throughout the country.
Mr. Conway : Although I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend cannot visit Shrewsbury, is she aware of the long connection between that town and the armed forces, particularly the light infantry depot that is based there and the military headquarters of the west midlands? Is she aware that the personal determination and compassion that she had to demonstrate in order that a statement on the uprating of war widows' pensions could be made was warmly welcomed in Shrewsbury? She is to be congratulated on that move in policy.
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Hon. Members recognise the very special debt that we owe war widows. Their case is unique and distinctive, and I am glad that we have been able to offer them extra help, which hon. Members learned of yesterday.
Mr. Grocott : Will the Prime Minister think again about visiting Shrewsbury when she has had the opportunity of going to shire hall and hearing from county councillors across the political spectrum--from Church leaders, teachers, pupils and parents--about the overwhelming opposition to the establishment of a city technology college? If £8 million of public money is available for education, will she spend it not on the few but ensure that it is spent on buildings, equipment and books for the benefit of all the children in the town?
The Prime Minister : City technology colleges are a great new opportunity for young people from all backgrounds and ethnic groupings. Whenever they are opened, they prove very popular with teachers, pupils and parents alike.
Mr. Adley : Has my right hon. Friend visited the signal box outside Shrewsbury station? Is she aware that it is one of an enormous number of listed buildings that British Rail is expected to maintain as part of its normal operations? Does she agree that looking after listed buildings and running its own police force imposes an unfair burden on an industry that must compete on unfair terms with the road transport industry?
The Prime Minister : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one this morning at which I joined the task force of Westminster residents, which is designed to improve and protect the environment in Westminster. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. McFall : What does the Prime Minister have to offer the 48,000 people who are two months or more behind with their mortgage repayments and face a bleak Christmas as a result of the Government's incompetent economic management? Does she tell them to put their faith in her enterprise culture, or does she agree that an equally realistic approach is to post a letter to Santa?
The Prime Minister : The latest figures that we have about people behind with mortgage payments and in difficulties show that in the first half of this year--the latest full half-year--only one tenth of 1 per cent. of mortgage holders are in serious difficulty. That means that the overwhelming majority are enjoying the benefits of home ownership.
Mr. Rowe : My right hon. Friend will be aware that a great deal of help is given by the Government to overseas countries through the Overseas Development Administration joint funding arrangement. One of the countries that is not eligible for the assistance is Vietnam. In view of the tremendous need to help that country rebuild its economy to make a home for the boat people, is my right hon. Friend prepared to change that rule?
The Prime Minister : We are giving some help to Vietnam in connection with the return of some of the Vietnamese boat people. If we were to consider giving any more help, it should be done, in the first instance, through that scheme to help those returning to that country.
Mr. Kinnock : What excuse has the Prime Minister for giving instructions that in the middle of the night armed riot police should raid children, women and men, shove them in caged lorries and forcibly deport them to the country from which they have fled?
The Prime Minister : I understand from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that they were not armed police. May I also point out that at the international conference on Indo-Chinese refugees in Geneva in June, the international community agreed that refugees would be resettled in other countries and that those who did not
Column 841qualify as refugees would not be resettled and should return to Vietnam. Therefore, we returned some of those--as the right hon. Gentleman knows--to Vietnam. The people in Hong Kong could not go on taking any more. Many other countries nearby have pushed away the Vietnamese boat people but we have not. Those who are refugees--and there are 13,000 of them--will not be returned. However, it is perfectly in order to return illegal immigrants to their country of origin.
Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister is trying to defend the indefensible. Does she realise that she is the only person in the whole shameful episode who cannot make the excuse, "I was only obeying orders"? She was the person giving the orders and the orders are tyrannical.
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman's remarks are feeble and nonsense. Illegal immigrants have to be returned to their country of origin. It is the custom of international law that such illegal immigrants are received back. The people of Hong Kong were suffering greatly from having some 57,000 Vietnamese boat people there, and more and more would come when the season came for them to leave Vietnam. It is perfectly in order to return them and those countries that are protesting at their return would do better if they offered to take some of them.
Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister telling us that she is prepared to see day after day and night after night the scenes that people have witnessed in those Hong Kong camps so that she can avoid her responsibility for looking after the welfare of people who are now being returned to poverty and oppression?
The Prime Minister : It is to help clear the camps where conditions are not good, where fighting sometimes breaks out and where there is disease. Those who are refugees will not be returned home. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we have to put back about 30,000 Chinese immigrants over the border each year. He cannot go on inflicting his anger on the people of Hong Kong and expect them to-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Wells : Is it not true that the alternative to repatriation to Vietnam is the continuation for many years--something nine, 12 or 13 years- -of families living in temporary and appalling prisoner of war camps in which the children of the Vietnamese families would have to grow up? Is it not more humane to let them return to their country and resume their lives?
The Prime Minister : Yes. It is much better and, as I said in reply to an earlier question, we are giving some money to the Vietnamese Government so that those people can be resettled in the villages from which they came. Our ambassador is monitoring what happens and sooner or later, we hope to be able to involve the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, although the refugees, as such, are not being returned to Vietnam.
Column 842her Government's actions last night in Hong Kong? Apart from the use of riot police at the dead of night and the blanket of secrecy, we must consider the appeal tribunals which condemned people to return to the hands of a Communist Government. Those people have no rights to attend the tribunals, no rights to legal representation, no rights to judicial review and no rights even to know why decisions have been taken against them. Does the Prime Minister think that that is a good example to set to the Chinese Government, to whom we shall hand over the safety of our citizens after 1997?
The Prime Minister : Each person who comes in is interviewed to see whether he is a genuine refugee. He has a right of appeal and the British Council report shows how excellent is the system that we operate. There are some 13,000 refugees. The countries that have shown anger about this matter have not yet even agreed to take any of the 13,000 for whom we still seek to find a home. It is impossible for the people of Hong Kong to take more and more of the Vietnamese boat people, many of whom are pushed away from other countries and it is impossible for them to continue to live in camps in what is already an overcrowded island. It is perfectly in order, as I said, through the Geneva conference to return those people to Vietnam and to give the Vietnamese Government some money to resettle them.
The Prime Minister : I am satisfied with the present arrangements. I know that my hon. Friend has long been a strong champion of tourism, which is one of Britain's fastest growing industries. Last year alone it brought in over £6 billion from overseas tourists to this country. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being fortunate in representing a constituency that is, deservedly, one of Britain's leading tourist attractions.
Mr. Gregory : In view of the importance of tourism to the United Kingdom economy, as it is the fastest growth industry in Britain and brings in some £19 billion--although it is always derided by the Labour party as a candyfloss industry in a Mickey Mouse world--will my right hon. Friend confirm that responsibility for tourism is at present split between Ministries in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? As tourists from abroad look on us as Great Britain, will my right hon. Friend re- examine the possibility of appointing a Minister with overall responsibility for that important industry?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, those who live in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland prefer the responsibilities to be with the territorial Ministers, but I must point out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is the Minister who is responsible for tourism for Great Britain as a whole, as well as for England in particular. That arrangement best suits most people in these islands.
Dr. Godman : Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that the Scottish tourist industry and the Scottish tourist bodies will retain their autonomy, given the importance of the industry to many areas and islands of Scotland?
Column 843The Prime Minister : I believe that the responsibilities are set out in the Development of Tourism Act 1969 and we have no plans to change it.
Mrs. Roe : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the agreement in principle by Transport Ministers to liberalise European air transport will bring tremendous benefit to tourists and all consumers? Is not that the sort of measure with which the Community should be involving itself, rather than trying to impose on its members such contentious proposals as the social charter?
The Prime Minister : Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend is quite right. It was very good news when last week the European Community agreed to deregulate air fares, which means that we shall get very much cheaper air fares to Europe. Hitherto, it has cost much more per mile to travel by air to Europe than to the United States. We have been working for several years to try to secure deregulation. In the past we had to do it by bilateral arrangement-- it was Britain and the Netherlands that were keen on deregulation--but now the principle has been extended and will apply much more widely. That will help tourism and bring pleasure to many people who will now be able to fly more cheaply to European countries.
Ms. Short : Is the Prime Minister aware that most people in Britain think that our country is now too unequal and too divided? Does she know that the combined effect of all her tax and benefit changes is that the bottom 50 per cent. of families have lost £8.50 per week whereas the top 10 per cent. have gained nearly £40 per week? Will she now, as many families look forward to a bleak Christmas, promise to increase pensions and child benefit and introduce a national minimum wage so that everyone who lives in this country can share in its wealth?
The Prime Minister : No, I do not agree with the hon. Lady's figures. She is well aware that people of all income groups--whether on social security benefits or earnings and those receiving treatment from the Health Service or in education--have benefited under this Government. All the benefits have gone up. In the last part of the hon. Lady's question she referred to increases for pensioners at Christmas. A Labour Government cancelled the Christmas bonus for two years in succession. Under Conservative Governments pensioners continue to receive their Christmas bonus.
|Next Section (Debates)