HC Deb 19 January 2000 vol 342 cc842-4
Q3. Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk)

Is the Prime Minister aware that every independent analyst and the House of Commons Library show that the so-called £21 billion health spending increase is, in real terms, £6.3 billion? If we used the Government's double and treble counting for the Prime Minister's age, on his next birthday he would turn 93 instead of 47, and on the following birthday he would enter the "Guinness Book of Records". In view of the crisis in the health service, perhaps a bit of straight talk and simple truth on those figures is warranted for the British people.

The Prime Minister

The £21 billion is £21 billion extra. I am sorry to have to point this out, but the one group of people who cannot complain about the amount of money going to the health service is the Conservative party. Let me educate the hon. Gentleman about his own policy. The Conservatives guarantee that they will cut taxes irrespective of the economic circumstances. There is no way that they can implement that policy while increasing spending on the health service. That is why they have never pledged to increase spending on the health service by the amount that we have pledged in this comprehensive spending review. That is no part of their guarantee. If the hon. Gentleman wants extra spending on the NHS, he should take a leaf out of others' book and start crossing the Floor.

Q4. Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

After the years of damaging Tory failure and isolation in Europe, does the Prime Minister welcome the publication today of Neil Kinnock's programme of radical action to overhaul the European Commission? If so, will he take a lead among European Union member states to make sure that we back tough action to clean up Europe and bring the Commission into the 21st century?

The Prime Minister

The programme will make substantial differences to the way in which the Commission is run and to its accountability, transparency and efficiency. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am sorry if Conservative Members do not support that, but it is after all what both Governments—this Government and the previous Government—were calling for over many years. Now that it has been delivered, the least that we can do is to acknowledge it.

Q5. Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

The Prime Minister will know that the continuing crisis in agriculture is hitting all sectors. Specifically, does he want the pig industry—both farming and processing—to survive? To that end, will he back Agriculture Ministers' efforts to remove from the pig industry the cost of the BSE crisis? The pig industry faces the cost of regulations relating to a crisis in whose creation it played no part.

The Prime Minister

I understand the difficulties of the pig industry. The problems, although very bad in some other countries, are especially bad in this country. We shall look and are looking for ways in which to reduce the cost and burden of regulation on the farming industry. However, some of the regulations have been introduced for animal welfare reasons, for example, the regulations on tethering animals, which were passed with cross-party consent in the previous Parliament, although they have been implemented universally only more recently. All those matters have to be seen against a background of real difficulties which are outside our control and have to do with loss of market share. We shall consider every means possible to help the pig industry, but most consumers would not thank us if we reduced animal welfare standards.

Q6. Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

Does my right hon. Friend share my distress at the activities of carpetbaggers who deprive building societies of funds that they might otherwise have used to provide resources for affordable housing? Does he agree that borrowing members of building societies are as important as saving members? Does he agree with the Select Committee that urged swift legislation on the matter?

The Prime Minister

The Government recognise the variety and choice that societies bring to the savings and loans market. On entering office, we acted promptly to increase the turnout threshold on conversion votes from 20 per cent. to 50 per cent. Only a society's board can propose conversion, which requires the support of 75 per cent. of saving members on a 50 per cent. turnout, and 50 per cent. of borrowing members who vote. Those are high thresholds, which have been reinforced by our action, but it is right that they are high. The current balance is correct.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

The Prime Minister will know that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is one of the few police forces to have had the honour of being awarded the title "Royal". What precedent is there for removing such an award, and is not its removal regarded as a sign of dishonour? Nothing the Government say or do can dishonour the RUC and the men who have served in it, but they can dishonour and are dishonouring themselves.

The Prime Minister

There is no dishonour intended to the RUC: its officers have given their lives and shown outstanding bravery for many years. We are trying to ensure that Northern Ireland has a police service that is capable of attracting support from all sides of the community, so that it can police better. For that very reason, the Good Friday agreement provided for an independent commission, which has been headed by a former Northern Ireland Minister in the Conservative Government, to look closely into the issues. I do not want to pre-empt the statement that is to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, except to say that our desire in making any changes is not to devalue in any shape or form the enormous contribution made by the RUC, but to ensure that we get a police service in Northern Ireland that can attract people from all communities and enjoy the confidence of people from all communities, because we believe that that is an important part of a better future in Northern Ireland.

Q7. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the draft regulations on part-time workers published on Monday by the Department of Trade and Industry will be welcomed by the CBI, the TUC and part-time workers—in fact, everyone but the Conservatives, who do not appear to like the fact that the regulations emanate from Europe and that they give workers rights? Will he assure the House that he will consider carefully ways in which the rights to fair pay, holiday entitlement and training opportunities that are offered to part-time workers can be extended to casual workers?

The Prime Minister

We will certainly consider the point that my hon. Friend makes about casual workers. The purpose of the new regulations is to ensure that part-time workers get a proper deal. That is part of ensuring that we have a labour market in which there are certain basic standards in place. The minimum wage is one such standard. The fact that we are introducing proper rights for part-time workers and the fact that people will have for the first time the right to paid holiday entitlement are all basic, decent rights. They are all things that the Conservatives are committed to scrapping. That shows only how entirely out of touch they are.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Time is up.

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