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11 Dec 2002 : Column 249continued
Q4.  Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): What assessment he has made of health and social services in Oxfordshire.
The Prime Minister: Clearly, Oxfordshire is benefiting from the substantial investment in health and social services. For 200203, Oxfordshire has received more than #445 million, an increase of more than #41 million on last year's allocation. As for social services, the funding this year is #86 million. Local health and social services managers are working together, including pooling budgets, to find solutions to current issues.
Dr. Harris: Is the right hon. Gentleman happy that in each of the past six years of his Government the most vulnerable users of social services have suffered cuts, and now all the strategic authorities in the southern region are projecting a mid-year deficit of #230 million? What should the new growth money this year be spent onpaying off deficits or new front-line services? It cannot be both.
The Prime Minister: The integrity of the services is the primary concern, butI thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to say thisduring the past few years Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS trust has had
Q6.  Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): What is the Prime Minister's understanding of the meaning of the expression Xblind trust"?
The Prime Minister: Again, as I said, these issues have been canvassed extensively and answered many times before, and I have nothing to add to the answers that have already been given.
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): Does the Prime Minister recall that under both Tory and Labour Governments, I have argued that the press need to distinguish between politicians and their families and that failure to do so will lead to a great lack of willingness among ordinary people in all political parties to put their names forward for public office? When people such as Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail and a member of the Press Complaints Commission board, surround themselves and their own families with a wall of privacy and yet seek to attack the families of other people, they present themselves as both cowardly and irresponsible.
The Prime Minister: The freedom of the press is and always must be paramount, but I would simply hope that people who have a personal agenda are open with their readers about it.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): The National Association of Pension Funds says today that the rate of closure of occupational pension funds has doubled in the past year. Why?
The Prime Minister: Because companies have found themselves, for the reasons of economic slowdown that he knows about, in difficulty. I think that the association also said today in the same interview that 70 per cent. of those schemes are still open and taking new members.
Mr. Duncan Smith: One of the reasons that the Prime Minister did not mention as to why the schemes have closed is the Government's #25 billion pension tax. Over the lifetime of this Parliament, that will raise #40 billion from pension schemes. That is what is damaging pension fundsit is the single most important reason. Does he now agree with his own Downing street economics adviser, who said recently that there is a lack of vision in the Government's pension policy?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a pensions Green Paper is being issued next week that will deal many of those issues. As for the question of pensions and the changes in advanced tax credit, he will
Mr. Duncan Smith: There has been a Green Paper or a consultation on pensions almost every single month over the past five years. Surely, what we need from the Government are funded pensions and less dependence on means tests. However, under the Government, despite what they have said, funded pensions are collapsing, and by next year 60 per cent. of all pensioners will be on means-tested benefits. Is that not an indictment of the Government's policy over the past five years?
The Prime Minister: What the right hon. Gentleman is actually referring to is the pension credit, which will help many pensioners who have made savings but are on lower incomes. It is important that we ensure that those people have more money. [Interruption.] Let us be very clear: the Conservative party is opposed to the pension credit. That is obvious. We should let every pensioner in this country know that when the pension credit helps them and gives them a better income, helping some to the tune of #20 a week, the Conservative party is opposed to them getting it.
Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough): Is the Prime Minister aware that my constituency has the lowest GDP of any constituency in the UK? It also has the highest level of disability, with more than one in three households having at least one disabled person. Yet, under the old formula funding system, Barnsley health authority was the worst-funded health authority in the old Trent region, and it is now also one of the worst-funded authorities in the new Yorkshire region. Can he reassure the House that, under the new system that is shortly to be announced, Barnsley will at long last get its fair share of health authority resources?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend knows that Barnsley, like all other authorities, will get a real-terms increase. I know that he would also want to say that, partly through the Government's measures, unemployment is much lower and many children have been lifted out of poverty as a result of child benefit measures and the working families tax credit. There is also a big investment in regeneration in the area. I agree with my hon. Friend that much more remains to be done, but I hope that he agrees with me that funding in Barnsley and the surrounding areas is infinitely better now than six years ago.
Q7.  Ann Winterton (Congleton): Will the Prime Minister amend the European Communities Act 1972 to reclaim for the House control over British waters and thus prevent the imminent eradication of not only the Scottish white fish fleet but the United Kingdom white fish fleet, which is staging a major demonstration of protest on the Tyne today?
The Prime Minister: I believe that the Conservative Government of the time were right to pass that legislation because the abolition of the common fisheries policyI understand that that is now the Conservative party's official policyis not the answer to the problem.
As the recent scientific report found, there is a huge problem with fishing stocks because they are being depleted rapidly. The only way in which to deal with that is to come together with the industry and consider the necessary changes to tackle the difficult problem. To suggest, as the Leader of the Opposition did in a letter to me today, that there is an easy solution of withdrawing from the common fisheries policy, is cruelly to deceive those working in the fisheries industry.
Q8.  Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester): My right hon. Friend will know that a ship carrying Scud missiles from North Korea to the Yemen has been intercepted by Spanish armed forces. What investigations has he undertaken into that disturbing incident?
The Prime Minister: We are talking to our allies and to the Yemeni Government about that. It is a serious issue. If ballistic missiles are being exported from North Korea, that shows the danger that we face from weapons of mass destruction and their proliferation. I emphasise to hon. Members that I believe that the threat is formidable, and that it confronts the security and stability of our world. It is important to investigate and deal with the incident. If it is true that ballistic missiles are being exported, we must keep up the pressure on North Korea to change its ways. Exporting such technology is an unacceptable threat to our security.
Q9.  Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Given that only 23 out of 378 private finance initiative projects have been examined independently for value for money, and given that the professional fees for the Treasury building PFI project exceed #25 millionthe National Audit Office was unaware of thatdoes the Prime Minister agree with the Labour party conference and the Institute for Public Policy Research that the time has come for a full review of value for money in the PFI?
The Prime Minister: The Tory party is now against PFI too, is it? [Interruption.] I certainly will answer. We are absolutely committed to the PFI programme. School buildings and hospitals are being built around the country as a result of it. That is absolutely right. [Interruption.] It has been a useful session of Prime Minister's questions. We have another dividing line. Money is going to each Conservative constituency through the PFI, but Conservative Members want it taken out.
Q10.  Mr. John MacDougall (Central Fife): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the many police forces throughout the country that have contributed to the seizure of drugs? Does he acknowledge that the drugs culture and its resourcing contribute to the sort of atrocities that we sadly
The Prime Minister: It is important that we deal with the supply both from abroad and within this country. My hon. Friend will know that the Scottish Executive have committed almost #130 million more to fighting the drugs trade in Scotland. We are also taking measures in Afghanistan and around the world to defeat the drugs trade. That will be a long and steady business. I would emphasise that most of the heroin in this country comes in from Afghanistan, and that is an important reason for us to stay in Afghanistan and help to rebuild that nation, so that its farming community can make its living gainfully, not through the export of drugs.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Is the Prime Minister aware that last year, under the 30-year rule, a civil service document was released which stated that in the context of the wider United Kingdom interest in Europe, fishermen must be regarded as expendable? That has been demonstrated many times by successive Administrations over the past 30 years. With so much at stake in so many coastal communities around the country at this time, and with some of the fish stockssuch as haddockthat are set for draconian cuts remaining in a healthy state, will the Prime Minister undertake to raise this matter at the Copenhagen summit and personally lobby other Community leaders in the run-up to the Fisheries Council, to demonstrate that he does not regard this industry as expendable?
The Prime Minister: Whatever the position of previous Governments may have been, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not ours. What is more, we have already raised the issue, and we raise it continually. I have raised it personally with the Commissioner and with other European leaders. As I said to a member of the Conservative party a short time ago, there is a serious problem because of the depletion of fishing stocks, as the hon. Gentleman must know, and there is no answer other than to sit down with the industry, having got the best deal that we can out of Europe, and work out how we help the industry through this difficult time. It cannot be right, however, to withdraw from the common fisheries policy, which would make the position even worse, or to try to pretend to people that there is a simple solution, because there simply is not.
Q11.  Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): My right hon. Friend will recall that the decision to take the Diamond project away from Daresbury laboratory and place it at Oxford caused great concern in my constituency and across the whole of the north-west. The Prime Minister challenged us at the time to come forward with a world-leading science project that could be carried out at Daresbury. The Daresbury and north-west science group proposed the fourth generation light source project. I am pleased to tell the Prime Minister that this project has now completed its international peer group review and has been given the green light to proceed. The only thing standing in its way is the
The Prime Minister: I am sure that we will listen very carefully to the representations that my hon. Friend has made. I know the concern that the Daresbury decision caused, but my hon. Friend will understand that we view Daresbury as a very important part of the future for science in the north-west. We have allocated additional funds to Daresbury on that basis, and I hope very much that we can offer him good news on that.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Will the Prime Minister promise to study carefully the views of sound and sensible trade unions such as Unison, which have expressed serious concern about the effect on jobs and prosperity in Britain if we join the single currency? Will he at least give us an assurance that if we have a referendum that says no to the single currency, he will accept that as the decision for the foreseeable future and not return repeatedly to hold several more referendums, as has been the case in other European states?
The Prime Minister: I somehow thought that the hon. Gentleman might get round to the single currency. Obviously, the position of the Government remains as it is, which is that the five tests have to be passed for a referendum to be held. We have to conduct those tests before June 2003. I am not going to say any more to the hon. Gentleman on that subject. Of course, we will listen to the views of the Unison-Conservative party allianceor, at least, certain parts of itwith interest. The vast majority of people in this country believe that this is a decision that should be taken not on the ground of dogmathat is, that we should never join the single currencybut on the basis of what is good for British jobs, industry and investment.