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Q1. [46894] Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 1 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others and will have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Hoyle: Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Royal Ordnance's land mine clearance unit, which is in my constituency, on its good work and on all the good work that it has done in Angola, Mozambique, Kuwait and many other countries, especially with today being the birthday of the late Princess Diana? Would that not be the golden opportunity for us to ratify the Ottawa convention as quickly as possible?

The Prime Minister: I am glad to pay tribute to the mine clearance team of Royal Ordnance, and I know that everyone in the House will agree with that. We have already achieved much in advance of ratification of the treaty. The export ban and moratorium on use were put in place within three weeks of taking office. The United Kingdom stockpiles have been destroyed--450,000 mines, almost half our stocks, have already been destroyed--and we have already announced the doubling of aid funding for de-mining activities overseas. However, I can announce today also that we intend to publish a Bill

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next week to ratify the convention and, if legislation is completed in July, as we wish it to be, we will be among the first 40 nations to ratify, as indeed we promised to do.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Will the Prime Minister overrule his Foreign Secretary and allow Foreign Office officials to answer questions from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee?

The Prime Minister: No. I think that the Foreign Secretary is entirely right.

Mr. Lilley: The Prime Minister may affect to be unconcerned by this, but it is not just the Opposition who are concerned. This morning, the Labour Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said that the constitutional point is that

Is not the truth that that is precisely what his Government are attempting to do?

The Prime Minister: No. I do not accept that that is what we are doing at all. The code of practice on access to Government information, which was published by the Conservative Government, says in respect of information that should remain confidential:

Therefore, what we are doing is entirely in accordance with that code of practice and, as the inquiry is going to report within the next three or four weeks, I do not think that it is unreasonable to say that we should await its outcome.

Mr. Lilley: Is this not just another example of the contempt that the Government have for the House? Are they not a Government who make announcements outside the House, bypassing Parliament; who change the rules of Prime Minister's questions without consultation; and who now want to use inquiries behind closed doors to block scrutiny by Select Committees? Why is the Prime Minister riding roughshod over the unanimous opinion of 21 Chairmen of Select Committees? Is it not time that he listened to them and allowed Parliament to do its job?

The Prime Minister: No; and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would have read out that question irrespective of the answer that I gave him--[Interruption.] I read out the reasons for our decision from the code of practice on access to Government information. I do not think that it is at all unreasonable to say that we should wait three or four weeks. Furthermore, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the Foreign Secretary offered to allow the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to look at the telegrams, provided that confidentiality was respected. That offer was turned down. In those circumstances, I do not think that the Foreign Secretary or the Government have acted unreasonably.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Will the Prime Minister comment on reports of the shooting of civilians by members of the Indonesian security services accompanying the British ambassador and European

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Union envoys on their recent visit to East Timor? What implications might the shootings have for future British and European policy towards Indonesia and East Timor?

The Prime Minister: We are pressing the Indonesian authorities to ensure that there is a full investigation of the incident. We obviously regret very much the death of the demonstrator. We have also said that we want to ensure that local leaders are involved fully in the investigation. The incident makes a search for a solution to the status of East Timor all the more urgent. Our ambassador, with his Austrian and Luxembourg counterparts, has just visited as part of the European Union troika visit. Moreover, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), will shortly be meeting United Nations representatives in New York to re-emphasise our support for the UN process, which we hope will be successful.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil): Does the Prime Minister agree that the crisis in Kosovo has deepened dangerously in the past few days and now threatens to widen? Does he also agree that what is now needed is firm international action--which, despite the robust attitude of Britain and the United States, so far has not been forthcoming--and that, once again, the world is in danger of doing too little, too late?

The Prime Minister: I agree that that is a danger, which is precisely why we have been acting as we have. We hope that, over the next few days, there will be the right mixture of political and diplomatic initiatives. However, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation continues to review all options for military action, which we have not ruled out. I go further than that and say that we are prepared to use those options should political and diplomatic efforts fail.

Mr. Ashdown: Reviewing all options is what the Prime Minister was doing two weeks ago--three weeks ago. The situation has now become much worse. Will the Prime Minister agree now to two actions: first, that the international community--if we are to regain control of the situation--should put down its own firm plans for a solution in Kosovo, based on Kosovo's autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; and, secondly, that, although a United Nations Security Council resolution on the use of force is of course desirable, the necessity of a resolution will depend on the urgency of the situation and circumstances on the ground?

The Prime Minister: In respect of the plan, that is exactly what we are considering. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that, two weeks ago, I told him that we were reviewing all options. However, it is not as if nothing has happened between then and today. There have been intensive efforts--particularly by the United States, but also by Britain as president of the European Union--to find the right type of political and diplomatic initiative that works. Everyone understands that, if we use military action, it will be in a situation that is fraught with great danger and difficulty. As a matter of common sense, we must therefore make every effort we can to reach a political solution.

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In respect of the second point, we shall of course ensure that we have a proper legal base for any action that we take. However, all options remain available to us. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the situation is getting worse--which is why political and diplomatic efforts have, if anything, been redoubled in the past few days. Nevertheless, I do not think that we are wise to act until those political and diplomatic efforts have been exhausted. However, as I said, all military options remain available, and we will not hesitate to use them if it is necessary to do so.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Will the Prime Minister join me in expressing concern about the extremely large bonuses that the directors of Yorkshire Water have recently awarded themselves? Does he agree that they and the regulators have a public responsibility, which obviously goes wider than their first job of providing us all with a good, clean water supply?

The Prime Minister: They do have that responsibility, and I hope that they discharge it. One of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry published her Green Paper "A Fair Deal for Consumers" was precisely the public concern about these very large bonuses and pay increases. We are all happy if these things are earned, but, particularly when monopoly services are involved, it is important that the interests of the consumer and the public genuinely come first.

Q2. [46895] Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Before the election, the Prime Minister said:

The Prime Minister: I would answer yes to both those questions. Yes, I certainly believe that marriage is an important part of any stable, well-functioning society. It is precisely because we believe that and believe in the importance of family life that we are trying to introduce tax and benefit reforms that help it. In particular, it is one of the reasons why we believe, for example, in the working families tax credit, which helps low-income families, and in parental leave, which helps families juggle the responsibilities of work and family life. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman's party supported both those measures.

Q3. [46896] Mr. David Crausby (Bolton, North-East): In 1998, we celebrate two important political anniversaries. The first, of course, is that of the national health service, founded 50 years ago by a Labour Government. The second is that of value added tax, established 25 years ago by a Conservative Government. Will my right hon. Friend consider setting up a focus group to determine which of those events commands the most affection?

The Prime Minister: We have not yet received a request from the official Opposition for a celebration to mark the introduction of VAT, but we will give it a sympathetic hearing if such a request is made. Of course,

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it is precisely because we believe in a fairer tax system that one of the first acts of this Government, as promised, was to cut VAT on fuel.

Q4. [46897] Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Whenever a paedophile ex-offender is found somewhere to be housed and is then hounded out of town by a lynch mob, there is a very grave danger that such a person will exercise his technical freedom and end up doing unspeakable things to children in someone else's backyard. My constituents in Rutland have shown admirable restraint since learning that they might have Robert Oliver in their midst.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the responsible attitude that he has taken in this matter and to his constituents for the restraint that they have shown. I fully understand, as do all hon. Members, the concern at the prospect of having a paedophile housed in the local community, especially in a rural area such as Rutland.

On the future role of Wing Grange, the essential point is that no released offenders will at any time be housed at Wing Grange or anywhere else if they present a risk to the public that cannot be contained. Such arrangements will be kept under constant review. Much depends on the response of the individuals concerned, but perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that, in any event, there is no question of groups of paedophiles being housed together at Wing Grange, nor of any one paedophile being housed there indefinitely. I can further assure him that Wing Grange will take only offenders whose risk can be properly managed there now and in future.

I thank the hon. Gentleman again for the attitude that he has taken. It is an immensely difficult situation because, wherever such people go, there is bound to be an outcry in the constituency concerned. The way in which the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have handled the matter does them great credit.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): Has my right hon. Friend any last-minute appeal to those members of the Orange Order who are threatening to force their way along the Garvaghy road this weekend? If the march is part of an act of religious worship, surely the God they seek to worship would rather the march were in an isolated field than risk any further harm to a community that has endured so much.

The Prime Minister: This is obviously an extremely fraught situation. We shall do everything we can to bring

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it to a proper conclusion. Of course the rule of law must always be upheld. A whole series of procedures has to be gone through, but I very much hope that people on both sides can see that, in the new era that could happen in Northern Ireland, it is in their interests to make sure that it does and that all the problems and tensions are reduced so far as is humanly possible.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): A week ago, the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House that the number of English students applying to Scottish universities was up. Before tonight's debate on the subject, will he set the record straight and admit that what he said was the reverse of the truth?

The Prime Minister: I will set the record straight. The number of English applicants as a proportion of the total has indeed risen, and indeed the number of English entrants to Scottish universities is also set to rise, but it is true that, overall, for all Scottish education, there has been a fall.

Mr. Lilley: I asked the Prime Minister a straightforward question about the figures. Why could he not give a straightforward answer and admit that he was wrong? After all, the Prime Minister is not the Paymaster General. He cannot publish one figure in the official documents and then declare a different one to the House. Is it not time that he admitted that his policy has caused a decline and that what he said to the House last week was factually incorrect?

The Prime Minister: I have actually corrected what I said to the House last week, but what the right hon. Gentleman is saying--that the reason for the fall is the Government's policy--is wrong, because the actual proportion of English applicants to the total has risen, not fallen. If the right hon. Gentleman were right and the policy had caused a fall, one would expect the opposite to be the case, but it is not.

Mr. Lilley: The Prime Minister is reluctant to admit that he was misleading the House, but he got his facts wrong last week and he has got his policy wrong tonight. It is nonsense to make students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland applying to Scottish universities pay more in tuition fees than students from Germany, France and Spain. The universities have said that it is nonsense; the students have said that it is nonsense; all parties in the House have said that it is nonsense; the House of Lords has said that it is nonsense and the Prime Minister knows that the majority of Labour Members believe that it is nonsense. Is it not time that the Prime Minister was big enough to accept that he has made a mistake and change the policy before tonight's vote?

The Prime Minister: No. The reason for the policy, as I have explained several times, is that in Scotland there are normally four-year courses because students have highers rather than A-levels, so students go to university earlier. In England, courses are three years.

The right hon. Gentleman says that no one supports our policy. The Dearing committee recommendation was that Scottish students should not pay tuition fees in their fourth year at university because it is a different education system. If we did what the right hon. Gentleman and

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others want and granted four-year courses all the exemption from tuition fees, we would have to do that for the whole United Kingdom. The bill for that would be £27 million. That money would have to be taken out of higher education.

As a result of the changes that we are making in student finance, we shall get more students into university, we shall get more resources into front-line education and the cap on student numbers, which was introduced by the Conservative Government and means that no more than 30 per cent. of school leavers in the UK can ever go to university, can be lifted. That is why I accept that it is a tough and difficult decision, but it is the right one.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Tories campaigned in support of poverty pay by fighting to try to stop the Government's National Minimum Wage Bill? Does he hope, as I do, that the Tories will, for once, stick to their principles, and at the next election we shall campaign on having brought in a minimum wage--

Madam Speaker: Order. I must remind the hon. Lady and the House that the Prime Minister is responsible only for his Government's policies, not for the activities of the Opposition. If she could rephrase her question in some way, of course I will hear it. I am sure that the Prime Minister is already forming an answer in which he will enunciate his responsibility in terms of policy on these matters.

Ms Griffiths, this is your first question at Prime Minister's Question Time. Could you rephrase it in some way so that it is about matters for which the Prime Minister is responsible?

Jane Griffiths: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I stand corrected.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Conservative party--[Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend confirm that our policy is to support the poorest workers in this country?

Madam Speaker: Well done, that girl. Well done.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. The Government will continue to support the minimum wage. We look forward to hearing a position from the Conservative party.

Q5. [46898] Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester): Is the Prime Minister aware that his health advisory group has warned that, unless the number of medical students increases by about 1,000 a year, the national health service will be out of doctors by 2010? Is he concerned that the number of applications to study medicine is falling and that the number of doctors leaving the NHS is rising? What will he do about that?

The Prime Minister: That is precisely one of the issues that is being addressed by the comprehensive spending review. We shall announce the results shortly. The hon. Gentleman will know that medical students are exempt from the new provisions on student finance. This is about how to get more resources into the national health

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service. We have got more money in already, but I agree that we need to do more. That is what we shall be announcing in the next few weeks.

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all those who signed an innovative leasing deal this week which will bring £170 million of private investment and 4,500 jobs to Luton airport? The deal will keep the airport in public ownership, despite all the efforts of the previous Government to privatise it. Will my right hon. Friend look for ways of extending such public-private finance arrangements to other areas of the public sector that desperately need investment? When he is next asked whether he has wafted in from paradise, as I am sure that he often is, will he be able to answer honestly, "No, Luton airport"?

The Prime Minister: I am delighted at the news that my hon. Friend has announced. I pay tribute to the work that she has done in promoting the deal. I believe that partnership between public and private sectors is far the best way to go for such institutions. It gives them a far better future than the dogma of privatisation on which the previous Government insisted.

Q6. [46899] Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Will the Prime Minister find time to visit Kirkbymoorside in North Yorkshire to explain to the work force of Slingsby Aviation Ltd., many of whom have been made redundant this week, why the award-winning Firefly training aircraft, which is used by air forces throughout the world, including our own Royal Air Force and the United States of America air force, was not chosen to replace the aging Bulldog aircraft and lost out to an untried German alternative? We know that such decisions are not easy, but does he understand the anger of the local community, who question what sort of Government would put skilled British workers on the dole and export their jobs to Germany?

The Prime Minister: In respect of the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I simply point out that the Government whom he supported put rather a lot of skilled workers on the dole. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that such decisions are difficult. They are taken on objective commercial advice; we have to try to get the best deal. I shall write to him and set out in detail the reasons for the decision.

I understand the concerns of the work force; of course we are worried about that. All such things were considered extremely carefully before the decision was made. We will do all that we can to help with the problems that the company is experiencing.

Ms Beverley Hughes (Stretford and Urmston): Is my right hon. Friend aware that Aneurin Bevan launched the national health service from the now Trafford general hospital in my constituency and that, 50 years on, on 5 July, another Labour Secretary of State will visit the hospital and help to celebrate that achievement? Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the staff at that hospital and throughout the NHS for helping to sustain the NHS during those years, particularly the past 18 years of attacks by previous Governments? Will he assure my

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constituents that this Government have a deep commitment to a modern, excellent health service, which is available freely to everyone?

The Prime Minister: It was the proudest achievement of the Labour Government after the war to found the national health service in the teeth of Conservative party opposition. It will be our job as a new Labour Government to rebuild the NHS by securing both the investment and the reforms that it needs, so that we get a better service, delivered at good value for money, and maintain the principle of the NHS, opposed by the Conservatives, which allows people access to high-quality care, irrespective of their wealth.

Q7. [46900] Sir Archie Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell): Why has the Prime Minister spent so much time trying to define the third way? Were not 18 years in opposition long enough for the Labour party to produce a new political philosophy?

The Prime Minister: Actually, we did that. In case the right hon. Gentleman did not notice, it was quite successful last May.

Q8. [46901] Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): The Prime Minister will know that, on 1 May last year, Burnley and towns throughout the country inherited major public and private sector housing problems as a result of 18 years of neglect by the previous Tory Government. The Labour Government have started to tackle those problems by allowing the use of capital receipts. What further steps do the Government propose to take to enable us to solve the problems and provide people with decent housing as we approach the 21st century?

The Prime Minister: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in this field. In defiance of the Conservatives, we have made available an extra £900 million through the release of capital receipts. More than 50,000 new social

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lettings have been created in 1998-99. However, we want to do more, because it is important to provide investment, particularly for some of the worst aspects of the inner city, where we need better modern housing, jobs, better schools and better hospitals. That is precisely why we have embarked on an investment programme that will allow all areas of our country to have the future that they need and deserve.

Q9. [46902] Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Is the Prime Minister aware that, on Monday, a Dun and Bradstreet survey reported a 48 per cent. increase in the number of business failures in the eastern region of England compared to the last quarter? Does the Prime Minister understand that, while the Government sit complacently, the higher pound, higher interest rates and higher business taxes are hitting businesses and they are paying the price? He said that things could only get better, but they have got worse.

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that at all. We have made the decisions necessary to control inflation, which is important, and to get rid of the large budget deficit that we inherited from the previous Government. We made those decisions because, the last time a Government were confronted with such a situation--in the late 1980s and early 1990s--they failed to make the right decisions.

Mr. Lansley: Nonsense.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman says that it is nonsense, but in the early 1990s, we had interest rates of 15 per cent. and record numbers of repossessions, we lost 1 million manufacturing jobs and manufacturing output fell by 7 per cent. Those were the days of Tory boom and bust. That was the legacy of the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported. We shall not go back to those days. People remember them. They know what the Conservative Government did, they know what that meant to our public services, and they will never repeat that mistake.

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