HC Deb 21 October 1998 vol 317 cc1277-80
Q5. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Does the Prime Minister accept that one of the hard lessons that we had to learn in opposition was that statements made on a wet night in Dudley, as a former Chancellor put it, can come back to haunt one? If so, will he agree to make available the services of a Government statistician to help the Opposition to understand the implications of the shadow Chancellor promising to cut spending and shadow departmental Ministers promising to increase it—or does he think that they will never reach the required standards of numeracy?

The Prime Minister

It is certainly correct that the Government will hold firm to our spending plans next year. After this Question Time, it is unclear whether the Opposition are in favour of or against the spending plans, or whether they are going to ballot their members to find out; but whatever twists and turns the Opposition engage in, this spending is right. It is an investment in this country's future, and the worst thing that we could do would be to cancel it at the present time.

Q6. Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the great British millennium dome, the showcase for British culture, will not be sponsored by a great big American fast food corporation, which would probably try to reduce it to a large McDome and fries?

The Prime Minister

I do not quite know what the hon. Gentleman means by that, but it is important that we get sponsorship for the dome. That is in line with what hon. Members have continually been saying—the more private sponsorship we can get, the better. I am sure that the dome is going to be a tremendous success, and I look forward to welcoming the hon. Gentleman there.

Q7. Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

At one of my constituency surgeries, two brothers and a sister told me that they had recently met for the first time. The two brothers were sent to an orphanage while their parents were still alive and were shipped to Australia when they were nine and 12 years old. They were then separated and sent to institutions where they experienced hardship and abuse. They were among 10,000 children sent on a Government-approved child migrant scheme which continued until the late 1960s. These children were sent without parental approval and were told that their families were dead.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming and paying tribute to the work of the Child Migrants Trust and in welcoming the report by the Select Committee on Health which was published just before the summer recess? Will he ensure that the Government will do all they possibly can to give immediate and full access to the former child migrants and their representatives, so that, before age takes its toll, some may at long last find the families that they lost so long ago?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware of my hon. Friend's interest in this subject and of her campaigning work. I am also very much aware of the heartache that is caused when families are unable to trace their relatives. The Department of Health has made some £200,000 in grants available to the Child Migrants Trust. As my hon. Friend knows, the trust and other bodies work very hard on behalf of former child migrants. The Department of Health will consider very carefully any future applications to the trust, and the Government will consider what else we can do to assist families to trace their relatives.

Q8. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Does the Prime Minister appreciate the fact that, despite the wonderful summer that we had in Dorset, the tourist industry is doing very badly? Given that hoteliers face the prospect of ever higher interest rates, a high pound, increased costs of regulation and an economic downturn, does the Prime Minister believe that they should go out of business now—or should they wait for the flood of new customers experiencing the enforced leisure that his downturn at Downing street is going to bring about?

The Prime Minister

I would simply point out the facts. Interest rates are coming down, in case the hon. Gentleman has not noticed the reduction, and the pound is now below the level that we inherited. As I have often said, I do not believe that the answer to all industry's problems is perpetual devaluation. That game was tried by the Conservatives for 20 years, and it did not yield long-term benefits. The hon. Gentleman should at least applaud the efforts being made by this Government to improve training and skills within the tourist industry—making the industry a high value-added industry is giving it the best future that it can have.

Q9. Mr. Ian Pearson (Dudley, South)

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden), will my right hon. Friend stress personally to BMW the importance that the Government attach to Rover's forward investment programme and the need for the replacements of the 200 and 400 series vehicles to be manufactured in the west midlands? Does he agree that, given the launch of the new Rover R75 and Jaguar S-type, 1,000 new jobs on Merseyside and major investment plans by Nissan, Toyota and Honda, we should be talking up the British motor industry, not talking it down as the Conservatives do? After all, their policies were directly responsible for the loss of 1 million manufacturing jobs and interest rates of 15 per cent. for a year.

The Prime Minister

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. We must balance the problems at Rover Longbridge, which we have to try to tackle, with what is actually a continuing success story in the British car industry. If production has risen by 4 per cent. in the past six months, that is something of which we can be proud. It is expanding, but it can expand in today's highly competitive market only if the investment and the skills are there. The work force is willing, and I know that BMW management want to make that commitment. By management and unions working together—and we will help in any way proper for a Government to help—we will get the investment and the rise in productivity that we need at Rover Longbridge so that the future of the plant can be secured.

Madam Speaker

Thank you. Time is up.

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