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United Nations

Q3.[50299] Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): When he last met President Clinton to

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discuss matters relating to the funding of peacekeeping operations and human rights programmes currently being undertaken by the United Nations.

The Prime Minister: We attach great importance to the proper funding of all United Nations operations. We have made clear to our United States colleagues our view that the United States should pay its arrears and future contributions promptly, in full and without conditions. I welcome President Clinton's commitment, in his State of the Union Address, to solving the problem of the US arrears.

Dr. Godman: May I remind the Prime Minister that some of the world's poorest countries are owed money by the United Nations for their peacekeeping work, and that that is a direct result of Congress's obdurate refusal to sanction the payment of the $1.1 billion that is owed by America to the UN? When will European leaders--including the Prime Minister--stand up to those people on Capitol Hill? Should they not be told, "You must pay up, or risk losing your voting rights"? That may be easier for me to say than the Prime Minister, but someone must tell the Americans that they must pay up in the interests of millions of people in poor countries.

The Prime Minister: I am delighted to say that, among my many and varied responsibilities, responsibility for the American Congress is not one, and I am thankful for that most of the time. We have done everything that we can. We have constantly pressed the United States but, to be fair to President Clinton, he agrees that the US should pay its arrears. As my hon. Friend implied, the problem is with the US Congress.

We must keep up the pressure on America to pay its arrears and to make its contributions. It is in all our interests internationally that the US stays engaged. We shall make progress as fast as we can--[Interruption.] Perhaps the anti-American tendency on the Conservative Back Benches will allow me to continue. We shall make progress as fast as we can, but Britain is not able to make the US pay its contributions.

Engagements

Q4.[50300] Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs): The Prime Minister has just confirmed to the House that the Government guarantee their cash spending plans for the next three years. If, as most economists expect, economic growth and revenues are lower than the Chancellor has forecast, will the Government increase borrowing or taxation?

The Prime Minister: We are entirely confident in our assumptions. I assume that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the additional spending that we have proposed.

Mr. Flight indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is in favour of that. I remind the House that, just before the election, he said:


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    That may be his desire, but it is not the desire of the overwhelming majority of the British people.

    Q5.[50301]

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): Before entering the House, I was a full-time NHS general practitioner. One of the main complaints that I received from doctors, nurses and patients was that the treatment available depended more on where people lived than on what was wrong with them. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that the wide-ranging changes proposed for the NHS will end the postcode care lottery once and for all?

The Prime Minister: Yes. We have put a substantial amount of extra money into the national health service to give it the investment that it needs, coupled with the reform that it also needs. One of those reforms is to get rid of the Tory internal market and to devote those resources to health care. Another is to end the two-tier nature of the health service.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will today announce that we shall agree to the main recommendation in the third report of the Medical Workforce Standing Advisory Committee that the annual intake of students to medical schools in the United Kingdom should be increased by 1,000. He told the Select Committee on Health that the, as yet unvalidated, figures for June show a further fall in waiting lists of 20,000. I hope that people will now realise that the national health service has the future that it needs and deserves under the new Labour Government.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): There is growing consensus among independent forecasters, whom the Prime Minister has just tried to brush aside, that the Chancellor's growth forecasts are optimistic. In the light of that, does not the Government's decision, which the right hon. Gentleman has just confirmed, to lock themselves into spending increases of £110 billion--it is their total loss of control of the social security budget to which we are opposed--look increasingly like a reckless gamble with jobs and prosperity?

The Prime Minister: I said that it was odd that the Opposition change policy in a day. They have now changed it in 10 minutes. Now the right hon. Gentleman is against the spending proposals. All the 44 independent forecasts show that, on any of those forecasts, we would meet our golden rules. Under this Government, we shall have a current account in surplus, as opposed to deficit under the Tories. We shall get the debt to GDP ratio down and, as opposed to the £27 billion of borrowing that we inherited from him, we shall have cut that to near zero.

Mr. Hague: The Prime Minister also knows that the budget will not be in balance at any point of the economic cycle, according to the Chancellor's forecasts; that the Treasury now admits that its forecasts are more optimistic than the average of 27 leading City forecasters; that the new president of the Confederation of British Industries says that we are heading for higher taxes--[Interruption.] They like listening to the CBI when it suits them but not when it does not suit them. Salomon Brothers Investment bank says:


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    Ernst and Young says that the Chancellor's plans will make it impossible to cut interest rates in the next 18 months. Does the Prime Minister remember that one of his early pledges was to keep interest rates as low as possible? Does he now realise that he has made that impossible, and is that not yet another early pledge that he has abandoned early?

The Prime Minister: No, I do not agree with that at all. First, the actual forecasts upon which our figures are based are the low end of the forecast. They are entirely and precisely in line with the CBI forecast on growth. As for interest rates going up, yes, they have had to go up since the election because we inherited an economy with inflation back in the system and heading for the days that we had under the Conservatives of 15 per cent. interest rates and boom and bust.

The right hon. Gentleman failed to answer the questions on spending. Perhaps he will now answer this question when he rises to the Dispatch Box. For over a year, the Tories have failed to tell us whether they support the independence of the Bank of England or oppose it, and whether they would have raised interest rates at all since the election. Perhaps, in the interests of debate, we can now have an answer to those questions.

Mr. Hague: The Prime Minister, in one of those bland assertions that he makes at the Dispatch Box, says that the Government forecasts are at the low end of the range of forecasts. Fortunately, I have the Treasury figures here. The Chancellor has forecast growth of between 1¾ and 2¼ per cent. in 1999. The average of the independent forecasters is 1.7 below the low end of the Chancellor's forecast and the exact opposite of what the Prime Minister has just asserted to be the truth, as is so often the case.

The truth is that he said he would cut welfare bills but they are now going up by £37 billion. He said that he would be prudent with the nation's finances and he is now gambling with them. He said that he would keep inflation on target and he has missed the target in 13 months out of 14. He said that there would be no tax increases at all and there have been 17 tax increases. What was meant to be early about the early pledges except the breaking of them?

The Prime Minister: As usual, we got not a single answer out of the right hon. Gentleman on any of the points that were put to him. As I explained to him a moment or two ago, our forecasts are actually based on the low end of the Treasury forecast, and are entirely consistent with all the independent forecasts. Furthermore, as a result of the forecasts--[Interruption.] Perhaps, instead of throwing bits of paper at me, he might try to work out where the Conservative party stands on some of the policy issues that face us. We have presented our spending plans based on our forecasts. We believe that they are right and prudent. They will give us current account surpluses, as I explained, and they will reduce the debt to GDP ratio of the economy.

Why can we not get an answer from the right hon. Gentleman on where he stands? Does he think that there should be more spending or less? Come on! He does not know where he stands on monetary policy or on the Bank of England, and he does not know whether the spending plans are too little, too much or about right. He and his party have still not worked out why they lost the last

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election. They lost it because people want additional expenditure on schools and hospitals. They now know that we will provide that money for schools and hospitals, whereas the Conservative party would take it away.

Q6.[50302] Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): At the end of the first full academic year of the new Labour Government, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in praising our teachers, many of whom are dealing with very difficult behaviour in the classroom--for example, throwing bits of paper across the desk? In addition to the welcome resources that the new Labour Government have made available, is there not a need to reinvigorate and re-energise our teachers if we are to meet the education goals that we have set ourselves?

The Prime Minister: The Government's purpose is to put an additional £19 billion over three years into education, but precisely in exchange for reform. I welcome the tremendous work done by many of our teachers throughout the country, but we need reform in the standards, in local education authorities, in literacy and numeracy, in higher education and in the teaching profession itself.

We shall work with the teaching profession and others in the education system to get the reforms through. The deal offered by the Government of substantial additional money in exchange for reform gives our children the best chance of a decent future that they have had for decades.

Q7.[50303] Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk): The Prime Minister has said that he expects his Ministers to be purer than pure. In the light of press reports and his own deep personal knowledge of the business dealings and career of the Paymaster General, does he believe that the Paymaster General is indeed purer than pure?

The Prime Minister: Every time that the Conservatives have made an allegation, it has been proved to be worthless. That has been the case every single time. The latest was a series of allegations that were investigated by the relevant Committee, which said that no action should be taken. I well understand why the hon. Gentleman raises such issues--it is because he has absolutely nothing to say about the serious issues of the day.

Q8.[50304] Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): For too long, too many people with disabilities have been denied their full rights and privileges. For that reason, I hope that the whole House will welcome the publication of the White Paper, "Promoting disabled people's rights". Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that rapid progress on those issues will be a high priority, thus fulfilling the Government's commitment to creating a society of opportunity for all our citizens?

The Prime Minister: I can give the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks. Yesterday, we published a White Paper

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setting out our proposals for the role and functions of the Disability Rights Commission, to which we are committed. The establishment of the commission should be seen alongside the other measures that we have taken to help those disabled people who want to work to get off benefit and into work. Contrary to Conservative Members, we believe that it is right to give those disabled people the chance to get off benefit and into work if they wish to take it. Alongside the Disability Rights Commission, it offers a far better deal for the disabled than was ever offered by the previous Government.

Q9.[50305] Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): We now know from the comprehensive spending review that the cost of cutting numbers in primary school classes will be £620 million, while the saving from abolishing the assisted places scheme will be only £100 million by the relevant time. Is it not time that the Government dropped the pretence that abolishing assisted places had anything to do with meeting new Labour pledges, but everything to do with fanning true Labour prejudice?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is one of the "wants more money" ones. He want more money and would spend another £100 million on assisted places. It is difficult to keep up with Conservative Members.

Abolishing assisted places was right for two reasons. First, I do not think that it is right for the state to subsidise private education; people are entitled to pay for it if that is what they want. Secondly, we have been able to make a start because of the £100 million. From this September, 100,000 young people--five, six and seven-year-olds--will be taught in classes under 30 who, without our policy, would not be. We developed that policy. It is clear from the remarks of the hon. Gentleman and of the Leader of the Opposition that they would oppose it. I hope that the parents of those 100,000 children know that.

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): As the Prime Minister knows, I am a campaigner with Age Concern on age discrimination. Would he like to tell the House what the Government have done to improve the lot of older people--unlike the Conservative party, which has started to sack its older staff? Surely even Asda does better than that.

The Prime Minister: We do not believe in sacking people on the grounds of their age. I am sorry that the Conservative party has done so--I should have thought that it could do with some wiser heads round the place. We have announced our extra help for pensioners on low incomes and for all pensioners with their fuel bills, free eye tests and concessionary travel. It is a start in helping not only the poorest pensioners, but all elderly people. The type of society that we want to see is one in which retired people are given the chances and benefits to which anyone who has paid their taxes throughout their life and done their work should be entitled. Under this Government, they are getting those chances.

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