HC Deb 14 January 1998 vol 304 cc347-50
Q6. Mr. Robathan

Has the Prime Minister ever given permission for Mrs. Regan to travel abroad with the Foreign Secretary at public expense?

The Prime Minister

All these things have been handled entirely in the ordinary way. When Conservative Members raise such issues, it only goes to show how little they have to say about anything of importance.

Mr. Chisholm

I welcome the Prime Minister's determination to modernise the welfare state, and I congratulate the Secretary of State for Social Security on her new deal for lone parents. Why on earth have both projects been torpedoed by cutting in-work and out-of-work benefits for lone parents? Will he now put those cuts into the comprehensive spending review of the social security budget, so that lone parents can take the risk of moving from welfare into work after April, and so that there may be a credible and consistent starting point for much-needed welfare reform?

The Prime Minister

I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about that issue, but we have put a substantial amount of money into helping lone parents off benefits and into work. Early indications of the way our programmes are working show that lone parents are desperately anxious to take the opportunity to get off benefits and into work, given that their incomes—bearing in mind how the benefit system works in relation to family credit—are likely to be far higher when they are in work than when they are on benefit.

Q7. Mr. Luff

In the light of the growing evidence of maladministration and possibly sharp practice during the counting of votes in the Welsh referendum, will the Prime Minister urgently order a judicial inquiry into what went on?

The Prime Minister

No, I will not, because there is no evidence whatever of impropriety. When Conservative Members put on a performance like the one this afternoon, all that they do is show why they are in opposition.

Mr. Miller

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most shameful statistics that we inherited was the fact that four out of 10 11-year-olds had failed to reach adequate standards of literacy and numeracy? Does he recall the enjoyable time that we had with children from Stanney high school, who participated in the summer literacy scheme? Does he agree that the success of that scheme supports the arguments coming from the Department for Education and Employment that we must return to the core values of literacy and numeracy in the curriculum for children up to 11 years old?

The Prime Minister

Yes. The literacy and numeracy programme is an extremely important part of the education reforms. As my hon. Friend points out, the fact that after 20 years of Conservative government, we ended up with 40 per cent. or more of 11-year-olds not up to the proper standard in literacy and numeracy is a disaster not just for them, but for the country. I remember well the visit of his constituents, who benefited from the Government's literacy programme in the summer. Once again, we hear serious issues being raised by Labour Members, and a whole lot of chatter and scorn from Conservative Members, who would not know a serious issue if it jumped up and hit them.

Q8. Mr. Bercow

May I say how delighted I am to see the Prime Minister here? Since the general election he has spent more time in the Seychelles than in the House of Commons.

Will the Prime Minister publish the rules on travel at public expense by Ministers' partners, as the ministerial code refers only to spouses? No waffle, no "I have to say", no "What is important is"—yes or no will do.

The Prime Minister

The code of practice has not changed in any way since the previous Government were in office.

I have reflected on the hon. Gentleman, as I knew that he would be asking a question today. The person of whom he reminds me most is a Mr. David Shaw. His hallmark, which the hon. Gentleman shares, was to be nasty and ineffectual in equal quantities. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker


Q9. Mr. Jim Murphy

After the previous question, I am sure we all wish that someone else spent less time in the House of Commons. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Second Reading of the Scotland Bill last evening was an historic event, not only because it witnessed the conversion of the Conservatives to devolution, and because it will strengthen the United Kingdom, not break it up, but because it gives to Scotland the Parliament that it has needed and been denied for 300 years?

The Prime Minister

Yes. It was a significant vote in two respects. It allows us to put well under way the proposals for a Scottish Parliament, which fulfils another pledge in our manifesto. It is interesting to note that the Conservatives, who told us before the election that devolution would wreck the constitution of the United Kingdom, did not even vote against the Bill's Second Reading.

Q10. Mr. Amess

Even though "Sorry, it ain't me, guv" seems to be the order of the day during Question Time under the new Labour Government, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will answer the following question. As the new Scottish Parliament is to be given the power to determine its health policy, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it should also be given the power to determine its policy on abortion?

The Prime Minister

No, I do not agree for the reasons that were given in the White Paper.

Dr. Palmer

On the day that the new Northern Ireland initiative became known, most newspapers led with the story of the Foreign Minister's marriage. Judging from the questions that we have heard from Opposition Members today, is it not astonishing that they appear to share that sense of priority?

The Prime Minister

It is, but Labour can speak from a lot of experience in opposition. The first true phase of opposition is when hon. Members have nothing to say about the really big issues so they run around on all the little ones. However, I am afraid that the public will find the Conservatives out in the end.