Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Falkirk Wheel

Q5. [20070] Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): Whether he intends to visit the Falkirk wheel.

The Prime Minister: I have no immediate plans to do so—my apologies. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must hear about the Falkirk wheel.

The Prime Minister: I have now found the right place, Mr. Speaker.

I understand that this innovative project in Falkirk will be officially opened next year by Her Majesty the Queen. However, at present I have no immediate plans to visit it.

Mr. Joyce: May I thank my right hon. Friend for his recognition of the project? Does he recognise that the full economic benefit of it will be felt in central Scotland only if the related agencies that are helping British Waterways identify ways of generating real jobs along the canal and at the wheel site over the coming years?

The Prime Minister: As a result of the partnership between the public and private sectors, the millennium link will improve enormously the quality of services in the local area. More than that—my hon. Friend is right—it will bring jobs into the area as well. That is yet another example of how, with some help with money from the public sector or the lottery, plus the involvement of the private sector, we can provide jobs and decent investment for the future.

12 Dec 2001 : Column 835


Q6. [20071] Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): Does the Prime Minister consider it fairer to raise national insurance contributions or to increase income tax properly to fund the national health service?

The Prime Minister: Decisions on how to fund the NHS will be made in the Budget, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We have commitments not to raise the basic or higher rates of income tax. I know that that is not the view of the Liberal Democrats, who want a top rate of tax of, I think, 50 per cent. I believe that the money that we have put into the NHS over the past few years exceeds enormously any sum that was ever asked for by the Liberal Democrats. We can always be sure that no matter how much money we put in, no matter how generous my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is and no matter what the comprehensive spending review delivers for the health service, one group of people—the Liberal Democrats—will tell us that it is not enough.

Q7. [20072] Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): My right hon. Friend will have seen the chief medical officer's report on the dangers of alcohol misuse and the increased incidence of death from cirrhosis. While, of course, substantial sums have been invested in practical measures on preventive health care, does that not highlight the need for a widespread public awareness campaign on the dangers of alcohol misuse, especially in relation to binge drinking and young people?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that the dangers of substance abuse are not limited to drugs. Alcohol abuse is a serious problem and it is for that reason that the Government are increasing substantially the amount of money going into education and awareness, particularly among young people, of the dangers, not merely of drug abuse but alcohol abuse as well. I therefore entirely support what he said.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): This weekend, the Prime Minister will sign up to the European arrest warrant at the European summit. Is he aware that the final proposals have not been debated by the House because the English text was not available to the Select Committee on European Scrutiny this week? Is he aware that under the text as reported, a British citizen can be deported to another EU state for an offence that is not a crime in this country; that the normal protections against wrongful arrest will be denied him or her; and that, once deported, they can face charges in the receiving state of any other nature whatsoever?

The Prime Minister: I understand that it is being debated. Of course, there will be many opportunities to debate it. [Hon. Members: "When?"] There will be many opportunities, not least in the Extradition Bill. So there will be many opportunities to debate that. On the substance of the issue, however, I profoundly disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is manifestly in this country's interest to have a fast-track procedure for extraditing people to this country from other European countries. Of course, we already have a European convention on extradition, but this will simplify the

12 Dec 2001 : Column 836

procedure enormously and it is in our interests. At the moment, some extradition cases allow organised criminals in particular to get away with stringing out proceedings for long periods. I may be wrong, but I regret to say that there is one problem with the proposal for a large part of the Conservative party; it has got the word "Europe" in it.

Q8. [20073] Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British Harry Potter movie has now broken all box office records in the United Kingdom and the United States? Does he agree that the renaissance of the British film industry is a great compliment, both to those who work in it and to his cultural and fiscal policy since coming to office?

The Prime Minister: I can tell my right hon. Friend that no one has done more to promote the interests of the British film industry than he has, over a long period. Partly as a result of his work, the Chancellor introduced fiscal measures that have released about £100 million for the British film industry. One reason for it being a success story today is the policies that we have pursued, which he did so much to promote.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley): Prime Minister, your Government's local government White Paper announces the intention to remove the municipal trading ban on local authorities. Can the right hon. Gentleman justify that to the many small businesses of this country that pay taxes, business rates and VAT and will find themselves competing against local authority units that do not pay taxes—in fact, they are assisted by taxes paid—and will not pay business rates, will not have to make a profit and will have their overheads covered by local authorities?

The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. If better value for money is given by public authorities, it should be open to local authorities to contract with them. Just as I disagree with the idea of private—bad; public—good, I disagree with the position that I think the hon. Gentleman takes: public—bad; private—good. It is sensible to make sure that local authorities have the power to get the best deal for the people in their area.

Q9. [20074] Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the NHS in Hendon, where unfortunately waiting lists for hospital treatment still remain too long, in part because of the under- performance of Barnet general hospital. I welcome the increase of more than 10 per cent. in health spending for our health authority, which has just been announced for next year. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the necessary resources will be directed towards addressing the shortcomings at Barnet hospital and continuing the build-up of services at Edgware community hospital, which was closed by the Tories and re-opened under Labour?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that waiting lists still remain too high. Although waiting lists are down in his area, there are still people waiting too long. As a result of the extra money, we are able to reduce waiting lists. We can do more as that extra investment goes in, matched by reform. It is now true that about 70 per cent. of those who get their operation on the NHS get it within three months. There are still far too many

12 Dec 2001 : Column 837

people waiting longer than that, but over time, we will get that investment in, matched by reform. My hon. Friend is right that the central difficulty for the Conservative party, and the difference between us, is that we believe in that money going in, and they would take it out.

Q10. [20076] Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): The Prime Minister's reforms to the ministerial code are very welcome. Important policy issues should be announced and debated in the House. Does he accept that that reform, and those proposed by the Leader of the House, would do little to tackle the deeply held cynicism of many voters about politics and politicians? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the root of the problem lies with us all in the House, including the Prime Minister, and that, instead of for ever changing the structure of Parliament, what we need is more forensic questioning and fuller answers, less point scoring—[Interruption.] and fewer bogus statistics and ritual rants against the last Conservative Government? [Interruption.]

12 Dec 2001 : Column 838

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are over-running now.

The Prime Minister: I agree that we need more forensic questioning. To deal with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, it is important to recognise that cynicism about politics does not help any party in the House. Even though there are huge disagreements over, for example, the future of the national health service, if the public were able to see the genuine debate going on between those with different views about the NHS, or between those with different views on, for example, the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan, or on tax and spending, and if there were greater concentration on those debates and people were able to see them happening, they would realise that despite much of what passes for news about what happens in politics, in fact political debate is alive and thriving, and long may it continue to do so. Yes, it is the responsibility of Government and Government Back Benchers to promote that; it is also the responsibility of the hon. Gentleman and his side.

12 Dec 2001 : Column 839

Next Section

IndexHome Page