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The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): The World Bank is supporting Chad and Cameroon to build a pipeline to take Chad's oil to the Atlantic coast. Chad and Cameroon are both very poor countries. We believe that the World Bank's involvement in the project will help to ensure that measures will be taken to protect the environment and that the benefits of the development will reach the poor.
Mr. Chaytor: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that, in the long-term, it is far less likely that the exploitation of fossil fuels will bring prosperity to countries such as Chad and Cameroon, and that the World Bank should consider more seriously the development of renewable energy, the potential for which those countries have in abundance? Can she assure the House that she will use her influence at the board of the World Bank to give greater attention to renewable energy projects in future?
Clare Short: No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend. I agree that renewable energy--solar energy--is very important for the future of humanity and will bring benefits to countries with lots of sun. Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it has substantial oil reserves. Of course Chad must be allowed to exploit those oil reserves, and the World Bank's involvement will ensure that that is done responsibly and that the poor benefit from that. That must be right. I support renewable energy, but Chad has a right to exploit its oil.
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): Will the Secretary of State tell the House what contribution the Prime Minister's initiative group at the Department for International Development makes to the proposed Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline project? [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. Conversations are much too noisy. The House must come to order. I cannot hear, neither can Ministers. Secretary of State, did you hear the question correctly? Will the hon. Gentleman repeat the question? [Interruption.] Order. We cannot hear. Repeat the question.
Mr. Wells: Will the Secretary of State tell the House what contribution the Prime Minister's initiative group at the Department for International Development makes to the proposed Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline project?
Clare Short: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's initiative involves working with the private sector to use information technology in various countries, especially those in Africa, to improve teacher education to meet our primary education objective and to ensure that an educated group of people has access to the new technologies. It is too soon to say whether Chad will benefit, but we are currently reviewing whether we can drive that forward and which countries will benefit. I am very hopeful that Rwanda will benefit, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will share my pleasure at that.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): A mechanism for international emergency relief already exists under the co-ordination of the United Nations. We are supporting the strengthening of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Our strategy paper on that work is available in the Library. The emergency relief operations of my Department are widely recognised as one of the most effective in the international system. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. Before I call Mr. Bruce, I remind hon. Members that I have asked them to cease noisy conversations. I cannot hear, neither can the Secretary of State. Will hon. Members have quiet conversations, if they have any at all? They are here to listen to questions and answers, not to have conversations among themselves.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but she will be aware that, during the Mozambique crisis, I contacted her office on behalf of helicopter companies in Aberdeen. Her staff gave a quick and efficient response. I have no complaints about that, but the helicopter companies said that their response could have been greater if there were stand-by arrangements between the Government and private companies, such as themselves, for emergency provision. Is there any possibility that that could be further explored so that we can get the right people, with the right equipment, in the right place and, I entirely accept, at the right price?
Clare Short: We have stand-by arrangements with health professionals, logisticians, former military people, firefighters and all sorts of people who, overnight, will drop everything to go out to an emergency. Britain should be very proud of them. It is not wise to send helicopters from northern Europe to southern Africa if they can be hired in southern Africa. That is what we did, because it was cheaper and quicker. It was the right thing to do.
Today marks the centenary of the passage of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, which established a unique and strong relationship between our countries. I am delighted that we will mark that occasion tomorrow. It testifies to the remarkable and close bonds between our two great countries.
Kali Mountford: Does my right hon. Friend recall meeting GPs from the primary care group in my constituency last week? Was he impressed, as I was, by their great success and the real changes that they are now able to achieve for patients as they move towards trust status? Is not the last thing that GPs and their patients need a return to the divisive two-tier system that we inherited from the Tories?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The primary care groups have replaced the vastly discredited two-tier system, but more than that, as a result of the additional money that we are able to get into the health service, both primary care services and acute hospital services will be increased. We now know from the Conservative party that it would take £1 billion out of the national health service. That is why every time the issue turns to substance and policy, the Conservatives have nothing to say.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): I join the Prime Minister in his tribute to Australia and ask him to join me in welcoming to the Palace of Westminster five Australian Prime Ministers, including the current Prime Minister, Mr. Howard. On the centenary of the passing of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, will he join me in celebrating the close links between Britain and Australia and the sacrifice made by the people of Australia in upholding freedom and democracy in two world wars? Does he share the hope that the ties between our two great countries will be as strong throughout the next hundred years as they have been over the past hundred?
The Prime Minister: I am delighted to join in those sentiments. At my meeting with the Australian Prime Minister yesterday, we agreed that we should establish here a proper and fitting war memorial to those American service men and women who lost their lives-- [Hon. Members: "Australian!"] Forgive me: Australian service men and women. [Interruption.] Forgive me. Well, there were many good allies in those conflicts.
Mr. Hague: Australians are straightforward people, so let me ask the Prime Minister a straightforward question. Does he remember announcing a new Government policy last Friday, to a chorus of derision--something that he must be getting used to these days? In what was billed as a major announcement, he said that drunken and violent thugs would be picked up by the police, taken to a cashpoint and asked to pay an on-the-spot fine. Can he tell the House which person in the Government came up with that brilliant idea?
The Prime Minister: The essence of the proposal of course is that--[Interruption.] The essence of the proposal is that there should be summary justice for disorderly conduct and that there should be--[Interruption.] I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman; he should just listen. There should be on-the-spot fines for those people who engage in disorderly conduct. It is correct that it may be better to do that by fixed penalty notice, but summary justice, on the spot, is the essence of the proposal. Perhaps when the right hon. Gentleman gets to his feet, he will say whether, if we introduce the proposal for summary fixed penalty notices, he will support it.
Mr. Hague: If there were a fixed penalty notice for evading the question, the right hon. Gentleman would be bankrupt by now. The shadow Home Secretary has said that we are happy to look at the principle of using more fixed penalty notices, but what we want to know about is last Friday's announcement, copiously leaked to the press as usual, of
Whose idea was this? It could not have been the Home Office civil servants', because they said that they knew nothing about it. It could not have been the Home Office Ministers', because they called it an "ill judged metaphor". It could not have been the police's idea, because they said it was "ludicrous" and "unworkable". Could it have been anyone in the Labour party? Hands up anyone who thought of it. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister is on his own, again. Who in the Government came up with the obviously fatuous idea of getting drunken criminals to form orderly queues at cashpoints around the country?
The Prime Minister: On-the-spot fines--[Interruption.] Let us get the right hon. Gentleman off what he likes to talk about, and get him on to the substance. Was he saying a moment or two ago that if we introduce fixed penalty notices on the spot for disorderly conduct, he will support that?
Mr. Hague: Actually, I was asking the Prime Minister a question, to which he does not give the answer. I am happy to give the answer, as I have about fixed penalty notices. I will be happy to give the answers about Government policy in the future, which he will not give
Three years ago, the Prime Minister announced, with another fanfare, the introduction of child curfew orders as another way in which Labour would fight youth crime. Will he tell the House, three years on, how many child curfew orders have been implemented?
The Prime Minister: The child curfew orders and the anti-social behaviour orders were part of a Government strategy to deal with unruly behaviour. They are being used, and we want to see them being used more. However, I take it from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said that he will support on-the-spot fines. [Interruption.] The issue for people out there, when there are people drunk in the street, kicking in their gates, and engaging in drunken disorderly conduct, is whether the police will be given the powers that they need.
Yesterday we proposed measures on football hooliganism. Let me again challenge the right hon. Gentleman. Today the House of Lords Conservative party said that it would not support those measures. Will he or will he not back us on disorderly conduct and football hooligans--yes or no?
Mr. Hague: We called for the Prime Minister to deal with football hooliganism two years ago. Just because he did nothing and has mismanaged the parliamentary timetable does not mean that he can get legislation through in a matter of hours.
What is the answer to the question that we asked the Prime Minister? It is a nice, easy number. It is probably in his folder, if he had a PIN number to get to it. It is a nice, easy number, the number of child curfew orders implemented: zero. Was that what the right hon. Gentleman meant by zero tolerance when he talked about it at the last election? It is yet another gimmick. With violent crime rising--and his gimmicks have done nothing to address it--would it not be a good idea to make violent criminals serve their sentences? Will the right hon. Gentleman now give the House the figure for the number of people convicted of grievous bodily harm and released early, before their normal parole date, by the Home Secretary?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, that proposal was supported by his party. On football hooliganism, we now know today--[Interruption.] The Tories do not like to talk about the substance of the policy. On football hooliganism, we now know today that the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to support the measures going through the House of Lords. Let me tell the House also that we have introduced a measure whereby, for breaches of community service orders, benefit is lost. The Opposition oppose that as well. They also oppose the fines on illegal trafficking in illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. As for their record on crime, many people in the country remember that it was under the Conservatives that crime doubled. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to be taken seriously on crime, let him stand at this Dispatch Box--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Maybe he should give us a few answers to some
Mr. Hague: I will stand at the right hon. Gentleman's Dispatch Box and be taken seriously on crime, which he never will. We will support tougher measures on crime going through the House, but we will subject them to proper parliamentary scrutiny, which he has never favoured. The number of people--a figure which, again, he has not given--released early who have committed grievous bodily harm is now 1,654, many of whom have offended again. Three years into the Government--[Interruption.]
Mr. Hague: Three years into the Government, is it not the truth that they are failing to deal with the real issues, such as crime, because they are so busy with leak and counter-leak, spin and counter-spin, and doing each other down in the press. Is not the fact that the Prime Minister spends his time clutching for another empty headline with a cashpoint announcement instead of getting a grip on his divided and shambolic Government a sure sign of weakness and failure of leadership?
The Prime Minister: Let us deal with "spin rather than substance". I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not raise today the record number of jobs created by inward investment in this country; the 1 million extra jobs since the election--not spin, substance; the new hospital building programme--not spin, substance; the building work for up to 11,000 schools--not spin, but substance; today's £1 billion programme for science--not spin, but substance; the minimum wage; paid holidays; the right to union representation; the new deal; the working families tax credit--all substance. The truth is, when the debate turns to policy, we will see who is standing.
Q2. Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): One of the things that I hope that my right hon. Friend will do today is have a look at the petition with 70,000 signatures gathered in Glasgow in support of Govan shipyard. There are voices this morning saying that the future for our yard is bleak. Does my right hon. Friend have any encouraging things to say to the men and women in that yard who have campaigned so hard and so long to save its future?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend will recognise that the Ministry of Defence receives the bids tomorrow and will consider them carefully. Other United Kingdom warship orders are coming up, and Scotland can expect to benefit from them, too. For example, it is probable that a type 45 destroyer, first of class, will be assembled and launched on the Clyde. In addition, the Government have
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): While I acknowledge the welcome level of investment that has been recorded today, what does the Prime Minister make of the opinion that was expressed to him and the Foreign Office by our ambassador in Japan? The ambassador said that there is a perception among Japanese business men that, unless this country gets firmly on track for membership of the euro, additional future investment will entail unnecessary costs and doubts. Does the Prime Minister agree with his ambassador's analysis?
The Prime Minister: Before I answer that question, I shall refer to a question that the right hon. Gentleman asked last week and to which I promised an answer. He asked whether the health action zone money had been cut. I have examined the matter carefully. Five different streams of money go to health action zones. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that one had been reduced. However, the other four have been substantially increased, and there will be an overall increase of 37 per cent. in health action zone funding.
On inward investment, it is extremely important to hold to the policy that we have set out. It is, in principle, for Britain to be part of a successful single currency, while recognising that, in practice, the economic conditions must be fulfilled. That remains our policy. To rule out the euro altogether would be absolutely disastrous for British jobs and inward investment, leading to an immediate loss of jobs and investment. That is why Conservative policy is the surest way I know to lose jobs.
Mr. Kennedy: On health action zones, the Prime Minister is right about the 37 per cent., but the point of last week's question was that the 37 per cent. increase is a decrease when compared with what the Treasury proposed initially. It will still result in cuts. That is the heart of the matter.
The Prime Minister: No, because it is a "prepare and decide" policy. Depending on the economic conditions, membership of a successful single currency would be good for British jobs, mortgages and industry. However, membership must depend on the economic tests for the simple reason that if the conditions were not met, membership would not have the beneficial impact that we have discussed. The majority of those who are in favour of our joining the euro in principle recognise that joining now would not be right. It is therefore important to keep to the "prepare and decide" policy, the "in principle" commitment and the tests. We must do that because it is
Q3. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): Now that the Home Office accepts that it costs more to police rural areas, can my right hon. Friend assure the residents of rural Staffordshire that Staffordshire police will get more money? Does my right hon. Friend agree that wherever people live in Britain, they should be entitled to a police service that is consistently good?
The Prime Minister: I note that my hon. Friend's force will get an additional 83 officers from the 5,000 extra national recruits in the next two years. I also note that recorded crime has fallen in my hon. Friend's area by 3.3 per cent. The comprehensive spending review is coming up shortly. The extra resources that we are able to invest in the police show the importance that the Government attach to investing in our essential public services--schools, hospitals, law and order and transport. All those investments would be put at risk by the Conservative party's policy, which would mean that, whatever the economic circumstances, tax cuts always come first. When we undertake the comprehensive spending review, the choice will be simple: it will be between investment in the future and a stable economy on one side and an unstable economy and cuts in investment on the other.
Q4. Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the illegal arms in the Provisional IRA dumps recently inspected by the two international inspectors are now secure and unavailable for use? When will they be put beyond use on a permanent basis, as required by statute, and when will the arrangements be made to deal with the remaining dumps?
The Prime Minister: It is important that this was a confidence-building measure. It is not the end of the decommissioning process, as I said on the day the measure was announced. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that we have a chance in Northern Ireland, with an inclusive Executive now and with a Government who are able to represent all parts of the community, to take the process forward. We know that the confidence-building measure is not the full decommissioning that we need. However, it is a significant step along the way to a more peaceful future for people in Northern Ireland. I believe that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and in the whole of the United Kingdom will welcome it.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced an allocation of £658,000 for the Royal Bolton hospital to build a dedicated eye operating theatre. That is in addition to a doubling, under the Government, of intensive care beds and a significant increase in capacity of the accident and emergency department. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been invited to Bolton to open one or all of these facilities. May I say on my 60th birthday what a wonderful present it would be if he accepted the invitation? I promise to pay for the plaque.
The Prime Minister: That does not seem to be an offer that I can refuse. I am delighted that that investment is going into my hon. Friend's constituency. Every accident and emergency department throughout the country that needs it is being refurbished. In addition, there is the largest hospital-building programme since the war. [Interruption.] Before the Tories start shouting out, I might add that when we came to office not one hospital was being built under their programme.
That is the substance, and the difference. We are making an investment in the national health service. The Leader of the Opposition's economic policy means that he would have to cut that investment. Over the past two weeks we have not yet had an answer to explain how the Tories can spend an extra £1 billion on private medical insurance and still keep to the spending plans that we have set out.
Q5. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Labour Governments are famous for soaking the rich, but with exorbitant petrol taxes the Government are guilty of milking the poor. The car is not a luxury in rural constituencies such as Ribble Valley; it is a necessity. The Prime Minister tells us that the tax is all being earmarked for public services. However, there is a VAT element on higher petrol prices that has given the Chancellor of the Exchequer a windfall VAT tax. Why cannot that tax now be returned to the motorist? When will the Prime Minister stop caning the motorist?
The Prime Minister: I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the Government he supported who introduced the fuel duty escalator. In the past year, less than 2p of the 18p per litre rise in the price of petrol has been fuel duty. The hon. Gentleman is an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, is he not? When the Leader of the Opposition was asked another substance question--another policy question--about whether he would take off any of the petrol duty, he said that he would not because
It is true that there was a fuel duty escalator, and in the first two years that increased the price of petrol. We did it for the reasons that I have explained, to get rid of the huge deficit that we inherited from the Conservatives. In the past year, however, the increased price has been the result of rises in the price of oil. Until the Leader of the Opposition is prepared to put his party's policies in order, we will take no lessons from him about these matters.
Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South): Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the £1 billion investment in science that was announced today, a radical improvement for our national science base which was reduced to impoverishment under the Tories? Further, is he aware that north-west senior scientists, academics, politicians and industrialists are meeting this Friday in Manchester to put, in partnership, the north-west right at the front of the biotech revolution? Will he take a personal interest in the North-West Science and Daresbury
The Prime Minister: That is right. I gather that the principal of the university of Manchester has welcomed today's announcement. It is a major investment in science in this country. We do it to ensure not merely that we are educating our people properly, but that we can carry on being the number one place to do business in the whole of Europe. I quote from what the US consultants said just a few weeks ago when asked to look into this:
Q6. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): As a precaution, may I ask the Prime Minister if he would be kind enough to answer the specific question that I am about to ask, rather than the question that he hopes I am going to ask? Is he aware that, today in mid-Essex--I am not interested in the rest of the country--1,600 more people are on a hospital waiting list than on 2 May 1997? Can he explain to my constituents and to me why, in mid-Essex, there has not been a single day since 2 May 1997 when hospital waiting lists have been lower than when the Conservative Government left office?
The Prime Minister: I will not respond to the hon. Gentleman about the detail of his own constituency because I do not know it, but I will make sure that I get the response. However, if we are to reduce hospital waiting lists--of course, the in-patient lists have come down nationally by 100,000--we have to make an investment in more nurses, doctors and facilities in the health service. [Interruption.] It is no use the hon. Gentleman shaking his head: he is against that extra investment in the health service. He is going to go into the next election--[Interruption.] Oh, yes. I am afraid that at some point Conservative Members are going to have to answer a few questions on policy. If they go into the next election holding to their tax guarantee, then, as my predecessor, the former leader of the hon. Gentleman's party, said, the only way that their tax policy can be made to add up is swingeing cuts in education and health. That
On the question of the programme for the intergovernmental conference, may I ask the Prime Minister if, when he last met the leaders of Austria, Finland, the Irish Republic and Sweden, they discussed the European Union's rapid reaction force? If they did hold such a discussion, did he receive assurances from the leaders of those neutral countries that they would support the setting up of such a force?
The Prime Minister: Yes, we did discuss that and they are supportive of setting up the rapid reaction force. Of course, we have to be very careful of the sensitivities of non-NATO EU member countries, but the whole purpose of the force is to allow us that greater facility to deal with situations that may arise on the doorstep of the European Union, where it is important that European Union member countries co-operate. In defence policy, the work that has been done by the Government in co-operation with other Governments is a classic example of how a positive, constructive attitude in Europe yields the best results for Europe and for the country.
Q7. Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): So that the Bill on football hooliganism can receive swift passage and proper parliamentary scrutiny, will the Prime Minister agree today to drop from his legislative programme his Bill to restrict trial by jury?
The Prime Minister: No, I certainly will not. Both those matters go to the heart of the law and order debate on policy. The mode of trial legislation was recommended by a royal commission, it is supported by the Lord Chief Justice, it will hugely increase the efficiency of the criminal justice system and we will be able to use some of the money thus saved in front-line policing.
Two weeks ago the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) demanded that we introduce emergency legislation on football hooligans and said that he would give it fair passage. We now know what he means by parliamentary scrutiny of every line, dot and comma. Having called for that emergency legislation, he is not prepared to bring people in the House of Lords into line to get it through. What the country should know is that he is standing in the way of policy measures on football hooligans, community service orders--how can he oppose the idea of people having a penalty levied against them if they breach a community service order?--mode of trial, and fines on illegal traffickers. Those measures will deliver decent law and order in this country.