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Dr. Clark: During the course of his busy day, does my right hon. Friend ever pause to reflect on how easily little bits of bad news can push major items of good news out of the headlines? In congratulating my right hon. Friend on his continuing achievements in Northern Ireland, may I ask whether he agrees with me that the end of 1994 will be remembered not for the media's obsession at the present time, but for the achievements in Northern Ireland, which have brought stability, hope and peace beyond our wildest expectations?
Column 753I do believe that we have now entered a fresh phase of the peace process in Northern Ireland, as I set out in my speech in Belfast last week. As I saw for myself across the community in Belfast last week, there is enthusiastic support in Northern Ireland for the progress that has been made and appreciation and understanding of what still needs to be done. But there is greater hope that peace may now be permanently achievable than we have seen at any time in the last quarter of a century.
Mrs. Fyfe: Will the Prime Minister investigate the affair of Healthcare International at Clydebank and tell us why more than £30 million of public money has been put into creating a private hospital and what will now happen to rescue that hospital? Will he guarantee that any such rescue effort will not be at the expense of NHS hospitals in Glasgow and the west of Scotland?
The Prime Minister: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will examine carefully what the hon. Lady has said. As the hon. Lady will know, year on year, the resources available to the health service in each part of the United Kingdom have increased, as have the number of patients treated and the quality of service offered by the NHS, and we intend that that will continue.
Sir Thomas Arnold: I invite my right hon. Friend to use the time between now and the start of the intergovernmental conference in 1996 to persuade our partners in the European Community to adopt a moderate rather than ambitious agenda. Does he agree that a stately minuet would be preferable to the rain dance that he described in his celebrated article in The Economist one year ago?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend sets out my view with great clarity. It will be necessary in 1996 to look carefully at changes that have occurred. I do not personally believe that there is a great appetite across the European Union for dramatic changes. We will have to wait to see what is placed on the agenda, but my judgment is that changes deserve to be modest and should be no more.
Mr. Bryan Davies: Does the Prime Minister accept that it is not sleaze but his party's basic values that have been exposed? Is it not the case that, now that public service is set at naught and the marketplace rules, Conservative Back Benchers are operating in that marketplace?
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman examined improvements across the range of public services over the past 15 years, he would realise that his remarks are utterly and totally misguided. Service to the public is what matters. Where that can best be provided in the private
Column 754sector, it should be. Where it remains in the public sector, we have done more to improve service than any previous Government.
Mr. Pawsey: Does my right hon. Friend agree that choice and diversity are essential if we are to continue improving the nation's schools? Will he reconfirm yet again his support for grammar schools, grant -maintained schools, the assisted places scheme and city technology colleges? Can he tell the House how many children are being educated in those schools?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend's point follows on rather well from the previous question. Education is a service to the public and now offers more choice at a higher standard than previously. It does so as a direct result of the policies that we have followed. Giving parents more choice and more information on which to base their choice is a fundamental part of our policy will remain so. That means that we need more grant- maintained schools and CTCs. I cannot immediately tell my hon. Friend how many pupils are attending those schools but I will do so in writing. Something like 1 million parents have benefited from those schemes, and many more will do so in future.
Mr. Barron: When I was first elected to the House, I believed that I was elected to perform a public service. Will the right hon. Gentleman make a comprehensive statement at 3.30 pm, to ensure that other Conservative Members believe that we are here to give public service and not for self- service?
The Prime Minister: Clearly the hon. Gentleman was not listening a few moments ago. I set out clearly our determination to improve all services that must remain in the public sector, as many must. I commend to the hon. Gentleman my speech at the chartermark awards a few days ago, which he would find of some interest.
Mr. Waterson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who have something to contribute to public life should be encouraged to serve on public bodies? Has not the obsession with sleaze reached absurd heights when the Labour party accuses General Sir Peter de la Billie re and the Duke of Kent of being Tory placemen on public bodies?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) is entirely right in pointing to the fatuous nonsense that appeared in a Labour pamphlet published last week. There is a serious debate to be held about public service and non-departmental bodies but it cannot be held by claiming that General Sir Peter de la Billie re and the
Column 755Duke of Kent were placed on quangos because of donations that they made to the Conservative party. Where there are issues, let us look at them.
Let us look also at the large number of Labour party members who serve on quangos. I have here a long list of members of quangos, all good Tory placemen: Mr. Bill Morris, Mr. Jack Jones, Mr. Harry Irwin, Lord Plant, Eric Hammond, Hugh Scanlon, Reg Bottini, Lord Cocks, Baroness Blackstone, Lord Barnett. I shall spare the House the rest of the list.
Ms Lynne: Given the Prime Minister's avowed intention to maintain the highest standards in public life, will he reassure the House that the disgraceful tactics used by the Government to crush the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will not be used again when disabled persons' legislation comes before the House in future?
anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people. We have done so. We have received more than 1,000 responses to that document. We are examining those carefully and, as soon as we have finished that, we will make an appropriate announcement.
Mr. Thomason: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the creation of 1,000 additional jobs by Rover at the Longbridge plant on the edge of my constituency is a demonstration of good Government policy and superb local management, and will he support it?
The Prime Minister: All extra jobs are worth while and we have had a lot recently. Unemployment has fallen by more than 400,000, partly as a result of growth in the economy, partly because of the increased competitiveness and partly because of the sort of investment in this country that would not take place if the policies of the Opposition parties had been followed. We now have output rising at 3.5 per cent., inflation at a 27-year low, unemployment
Column 756down by 400,000 and business confidence at a high level. I look forward to more jobs being created in my hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere.
Mr. Tyler: When, this time last week, the Prime Minister answered my question about making his Administration a sleaze-free zone, why did he not admit to the House that he had had an inquiry for three weeks into the behaviour of members of his party? Why did he not come clean with the House at that stage, instead of waiting for newspaper revelations to force that information out of him?
Mr. Peter Bottomley: Is not the point about public appointments that, if we had not had denationalisation, the Government would still be left appointing their own placemen to run half of British industry? Has not one of the great gains of having a Conservative Government for the past 15 years been that we have got rid of most of those appointments and that we do not need to have trade unionists on every board in the country?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. It is also entirely to right to say that we need people who are public spirited to serve on non-departmental public bodies. That is the case and it has been for a long time. [Interruption.] Perhaps I may remind hon. Members who shouted out, "They are all Tories" of a Labour party national executive committee advice note published recently? It reads as follows:
"Labour Party members may take up places on non-elected authorities and use them as a platform for our campaigning". It goes on:
"Members accepting appointments of this kind should inform Walworth Road so that the ... Shadow spokespeople and Head Office policy officers can maintain a network of contacts, informing appointees of Labour policy and collecting useful information in return."
That is the sleazy way in which the Labour party deals with non- departmental bodies.
Mr. Bill Michie: Why are the Prime Minister and his Government spending so much time chasing would-be or wishful job seekers, instead of concentrating on his right hon. and hon. Friends who have too many paid jobs?
The Prime Minister: We are seeking to put as many people as we possibly can who are at present without jobs and unemployed--whom the hon. Gentleman claims that he cares about--back into work. The job seeker's allowance seeks to play its own part in doing that. It is a necessary innovation; I welcome it, and I believe that it will be very successful.
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