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Ministerial Visit (North Ayrshire)

Q10. [29163] Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): When he next expects to visit north Ayrshire.

The Prime Minister: I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Donohoe: I am extremely sorry to hear that. My right hon. Friend would have been taken to meet some industrialists, especially those in the electronics industry, with which there are genuine problems. Much investment is going to Ireland because of the difference between corporation tax in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, where it is 10 per cent. Although the Chancellor has given

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start-up much encouragement in this country, corporation tax remains at 30 per cent. for the rest of industry. Will my right hon. Friend do something about that?

The Prime Minister: Again, I am sure that the Chancellor has heard that representation. However, we have made changes in corporation tax since coming to power; we have cut the rate from 33 per cent. to 30 per cent. Although that is high when compared with Ireland, I hope that my hon. Friend realises that there has recently been substantial inward investment in his part of Scotland. We have much more to do to attract more inward investment there, but I hope that he agrees that it is not all doom and gloom. Many good contracts, including a recent contract for £4 million in his constituency, give us hope for the future.


Q11. [29165] Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester): Conservative-controlled Worcester city council appears reluctant to use antisocial behaviour orders in the fight against yob culture. Does my right hon. Friend believe that that lack of political willingness is part of the reason why such tools are not used in the fight against crime and antisocial behaviour in cities such as Worcester?

The Prime Minister: There has been some reluctance to use them, but we must also consider their use critically and whether we can streamline their application. For example, I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is examining interim orders and methods of cutting the bureaucracy involved in obtaining such orders. Many people's problems are not the heavy crimes that hit the headlines every day, but continuing antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour orders constitute one mechamism, but not the only one, for defeating it. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must do more, and that is precisely why we are reviewing the matter and will take further action.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Will the Prime Minister now accept that the Saville inquiry has served only to reopen deep wounds that should have been allowed to heal? Is he aware that, while the IRA's adjutant in Londonderry 30 years ago today struts around this place and raises a foreign flag in this House, the former soldiers of the Parachute Regiment stand accused by a stream of pro-IRA propaganda films on television that have served to pollute the atmosphere in which the Saville inquiry is being held? Surely the £66 million—not £52 million, as he told my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) last week—that the Government have spent on lining the lawyers' pockets would have been better spent helping the families of those who were bombed at Omagh.

The Prime Minister: First, I do not agree that the wounds had healed; one of the reasons for having the inquiry was that they had not done so. I believe, for the reasons that I gave at the time, that it was right to have that inquiry. As for the more general position on Northern Ireland, I am sorry that the Conservatives are now effectively taking the view that they do not support the process that we have painfully tried to construct there. Whatever the difficulties involved in that process, it is a

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lot better than what we had before; real progress is being made in Northern Ireland. This is a classic situation in which, if people opt for circumstances in which everything is perfect, we will simply go back to the days when nothing was working, or perfect, at all. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I believe that the peace process is right, and that the decision that we took on the inquiry is right; I stick by both of them.

Q13. [29167] Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): My right hon. Friend is known to care for, and provide assistance to, the mining communities, and that is welcome in those communities, is he aware of our concerns about under-achievement in education and the need for greater social care for those who are chronically sick with emphysema and bronchitis? Will he make further inquiries so that we can have the care in the mining communities that we wish to obtain from the Government?

The Prime Minister: First, I thank my hon. Friend for his acknowledgment that we have put a substantial amount of investment into the mining communities. I have seen for myself that that has given many of those communities a new lease of life and sense of hope. He is right to make the point about payments of compensation to people with emphysema, and so on. We are doing everything that we possibly can to speed those payments up. The problem that we have had throughout is that each case has to be individually assessed. We are, however, looking at further ways of speeding up the process, and hundreds of millions of pounds have now been paid out.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): Is the Prime Minister aware that, later this year, the whole world will hear the evidence against Slobodan Milosevic in an open court, but that the United States proposes to try the terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden behind closed doors in a military court? Will the right hon. Gentleman seek to persuade President Bush that justice for the victims of 11 September should be seen to be done?

The Prime Minister: A decision has not yet been taken about how these people should be tried. Over the past few weeks, we have seen some very unfair reporting in relation to exactly what has happened to the detainees, and in relation to the American position more generally. I ask the hon. Gentleman to remember that this situation arose out of thousands of people being killed in cold blood on the streets of America. The exact status of the detainees has not yet been decided, but it is not the case that they are being mistreated. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross are now based at the camp and are visiting the detainees; they will make a full report to the United States Government. I ask that—in respect of this issue, as of others—people wait until a decision has been taken before they attack it.

Q14. [29168] Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): Will my right hon. Friend join me and other hon. Members in supporting No Smoking day, and set an example to the whole nation by joining the campaign to ban smoking in all rooms in the House where we meet?

The Prime Minister: Fortunately, I am not responsible for what happens in the various Rooms of the House—

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that is a matter for the House itself, I am pleased to say. In respect of the campaign against smoking, the one thing that we should be clear about is that the dangers and health risks of smoking are now absolutely clear. So the point that my hon. Friend makes in general is right, but I am afraid that her particular point is a matter for the House.

Q15. [29169] Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): Is the Prime Minister aware that 16 doctors wrote to me from Herefordshire's local medical committee and Leominster primary care trust to say that they cannot get their patients

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admitted to hospital because there are not enough beds? Is he aware that this will get worse when the new hospital opens, as there will be even fewer beds?

The Prime Minister: I do not doubt that there are real problems with the number of doctors, nurses and beds, but we shall not take lessons from a Conservative party who savaged the number of beds in the health service when it was in power. I hope that the hon. Gentleman gives his constituents this reply: the only way to get those extra doctors, nurses and beds is to invest in the national health service—not privatise it, which is the Tory plan.

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Point of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter arises out of the operation of the Data Protection Act 1998, which I believe can fundamentally affect the work of Members of Parliament in representing their constituents.

On Monday of this week, I received a telephone call from a Government Department indicating that before it could reply to a letter that I had sent to it on behalf of a constituent, it required a consent form from my constituent. My constituent had written on behalf of her profoundly deaf daughter, for whom she is the carer and whose interests I have sought to represent over 18 years.

That is just one of a significant number of incidents when Government Departments, agencies and other organisations—I am thinking particularly of Consignia—have sought to deny Members information, sheltering behind the Data Protection Act. On behalf of Back-Bench Members, whose interests you, Mr. Speaker, have continuously sought to protect, would you please seek an urgent meeting with the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth France, to clarify fully and finally the manner in which Members of Parliament may be, could be and should be properly allowed to represent their constituents' interests?

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