HC Deb 25 June 1997 vol 296 cc843-6
Q9. Mr. Thompson

As the Prime Minister basks in his great mandate for the Labour party, has he noticed the proportionally greater mandate received by the Unionist party in Northern Ireland, where we received 13 seats out of 18 and more than 50 per cent. of the votes? It is a mandate opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, opposed to the framework document and opposed to sitting down with IRA-Sinn Fein with guns on the table, under the table and outside the door. Does the Prime Minister respect that mandate, and will he acknowledge it? [3893]

The Prime Minister

Of course I acknowledge the Unionist party's mandate. After Prime Minister's questions, I shall make a statement on how we try to achieve a lasting political settlement in Northern Ireland. It is very difficult, and difficult decisions have to be taken there; but I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands that, just as I respect the good faith with which he carries out his work, we are trying in good faith to ensure that we get the lasting political settlement that we want. I hope that we can do that on a basis that is satisfactory to his position as well as to everyone else's.

Q10. Mr. Hanson

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong links between social disorder and vandalism, and high levels of subsequent crime in many of our neighbourhoods and estates? Does he agree that the need to tackle crime is extremely important, but that to do so we must pledge ourselves to zero tolerance of vandalism and social disorder on many of our estates? Will he give that pledge today to the House? [3894]

The Prime Minister

I can certainly give that pledge on both those elements.

First, it is essential that we provide hope and opportunity for young people who are unemployed, which is why the windfall tax and the welfare-to-work programme are so important. If we cannot achieve that aim in that way, those young people will simply be left where they are, without the hope and opportunity that they need.

Secondly, with that opportunity comes responsibility. The Crime and Disorder Bill which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is to introduce will contain measures that crack down on juvenile offending and anti-social behaviour. It is precisely the right balance of rights and duties which the overwhelming majority of people in this country want.

Q11. Mr. Rendel

Following his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), can the Prime Minister confirm that, if savings are made this year by one Department, they will be allocated to another Department, even if that means that the receiving Department's ceiling is thereby exceeded? [3895]

The Prime Minister

No. As I made clear to the right hon. Member for Yeovil, the overall control total and the departmental limits will stay. As the right hon. Gentleman noted, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear in Denver that if, for example, we can get social security bills down, there can be greater investment in education. We do not take a ridiculous view on the matter, but it is important to keep the limits in place because of the enormous problems that we will inherit.

Mr. Fabian Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the estimated annual cost of prescription fraud recently uncovered by the Department of Health amounts to more than £100 million, equivalent to 14,500 heart bypass operations or 22,000 hip replacements? Will he ensure that there is speedy action to crack down on such fraud, in particular by introducing a criminal offence of evading payment?

The Prime Minister

I totally agree with what my hon. Friend says about prescription fraud. It is costing the national health service tens of millions of pounds every year. That is why we have taken action. The precise nature of the action and the sanctions that will be applied are being considered by my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary. If people defraud the system, they are committing a criminal offence, and the law should be properly applied. Although it is important that we make sure of the right provision in the health service, it is equally important that we bear down heavily on any attempt to defraud the system.

Q12. Mr. Lansley

Will the Prime Minister make a decision and say now that no pensioner who currently receives free prescriptions will be asked to pay for them by his Government? [3896]

The Prime Minister

I went through that matter last week with the Leader of the Opposition's predecessor. The review will be carried out. We are not getting into the business of ruling in or ruling out every single thing. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman wait for the outcome of the review, before attacking us. I suggest that he also bear in mind the fact that the party of charges in the health service is his party—[Interruption.] If the Opposition want a debate about it, 1 point out that that party removed free eye tests, put up dental charges and increased prescription charges 953 per cent. in real terms. We do not need lessons from the Conservative party.

Ms Oona King

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow suffers the worst problem of overcrowded housing in the country, with cases of 14 people living in two bedrooms? That represents a level of deprivation that many hon. Members on these green Benches would not imagine existed in Britain in 1997. Will my right hon. Friend outline the measures that the Government will take to alleviate that appalling and fundamental problem?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the problems that many people face in the inner cities. That is precisely why we have introduced programmes to tackle long-term unemployment and inner-city regeneration programmes—including the release of capital receipts and other measures that will help people to find work. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not think that this is a problem, but I assure them that it is. It should be the fundamental objective of any Government to try to alleviate poverty among the most disadvantaged in our society. We are doing that through our programmes on education, unemployment and housing and through a range of other measures that will help those people.

Q13. Dr. Tonge

In view of recent press reports, which quote Government sources, about the inevitability of a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport and in view of the on-going public inquiry, which is costing many millions of pounds, will the Prime Minister tell us the Government's position regarding a fifth terminal? [3897]

The Prime Minister

The position is that we have always said that we will await the outcome of the inquiry—[Interruption.] That is not just our position; it was also the position adopted by the previous Government. It is really the only sensible thing to do. If an inquiry is established to determine whether planning consent should be given, it is only sensible that one should await the outcome of that inquiry before making a decision. That is not extraordinary; it is plain common sense.