HC Deb 07 February 2001 vol 362 cc924-8
Q4. Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Does the Prime Minister accept that the poorest pensioners in our society today are those who are entitled to the minimum income guarantee, but who fail to claim it?

The Prime Minister

Of course it is true that people who are entitled to the minimum income guarantee but who do not claim it are in poverty. We have introduced it and hundreds of thousands of people claim it. We are mounting a campaign now to increase the take-up, and those pensioners, like all the other pensioners, will get the benefit of the winter allowance of £200 and, if they are over 75, of free television licences. I say to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that we can always do more, but we have to do more within the resources that we have. We have many claims on those resources and, at some point, the Liberal Democrats must come to the realisation that there is a limit to the amount of money that any Government can spend.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that setting universities free of all Government regulation would mean lower teaching quality, spiralling student costs and top-up fees through the back door?

The Prime Minister

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. I should perhaps educate some Conservative Members about their policy. The position that they will take at the election is to cut—[Interruption.] They shake their heads, but I have not even said what it is yet. Their spending cuts to fund their tax plans include £1.3 billion taken out of public provision for universities, which will mean a rocketing tuition fee for any student. They have no way of paying for that policy and that is yet another reason why people will not vote for them at the election.

Q5. Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I thank the Prime Minister for his letter today about the Krishna Maharaj case. Although I understand that he has necessarily reproduced much of the Florida state case, may I ask him to go forward on the point that he made about doing all that can be done?

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, in Germany, a similar case cost $1 million for its national to be able to get his case properly represented at federal level and state level? I am not asking the Prime Minister to say yes or no today to such an approach, but will he encourage his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—perhaps also the Home Office in view of Mr. Maharaj's possible repatriation—and Law Officers to meet the Bar Council human rights people and others working for Krishna Maharaj to make sure that his sentence was justified and that, if any more can properly be done, it will be considered?

The Prime Minister

We will of course do anything that we can and should properly do in relation to this case. I understand that representatives of the Foreign Office will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, and I shall ask them to contact him to arrange the meeting. We can then take whatever meetings are appropriate from there. I also understand that representatives of the Foreign Office previously met Mr. Maharaj's lawyer, and consular officials will of course be happy to set up another meeting with his legal team. As I say, subject to what is proper, we shall do what we can in respect of this case.

Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East)

Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in welcoming this week's opening of the second runway at Manchester airport, which is now able to handle 40 million passengers a year? Does he agree that, once the new capacity is fully utilised, it could help to reduce the increasing pressures on London's airports as well as create thousands of new jobs in my constituency and throughout the north-west?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree. Opening the second runway is important for jobs in the area and for business, not only in the north-west but throughout the United Kingdom. I am delighted to congratulate all those who worked on the project.

Q6. Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton)

Does the Prime Minister accept that the task of restoring public confidence in public life is as important in this Parliament as it was in the last? In view of the widespread perception that political honours are sold to party contributors on a scale unknown since Lloyd George's time, will the right hon. Gentleman fulfil his promise to clean up politics?

The Prime Minister

We accept the duty to ensure that our political life is clean, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's statement about political honours.

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

When outlining the Government's public expenditure plans, does my right hon. Friend believe that it is essential to explain their funding to the people of the country? Does he also believe that every other party that presents plans should be able to provide similar explanations and that any party that does not is unfit to govern?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly ensure that any proposals that we make as a Government are properly costed. That is the right way to go about it. On the Conservative party, I could not put it better—[Interruption.] We have noted some sensitivity from Conservative Members on a certain subject. Earlier this week, the Conservative health spokeswoman, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), said: A party that cannot realistically say how it intends to foot such a substantial bill is not fit to govern."—[Official Report, 5 February 2001; Vol. 362, c. 740.] I agree.

Q7. Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

The Prime Minister knows that the inquiry into a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport ended nearly two years ago, lasted more than four years and cost approximately £12 million. When can my constituents and people throughout south-west London expect to see the inspector's report, which is public property for which they paid? When will the Government tackle the environmental damage caused by unrestricted growth of air transport?

The Prime Minister

The inquiry is due to report on the latter point. It is important to realise that, although the inquiry has taken a long time—no one is surprised about that—and it will take time for us to consider the details of the report, as soon as we have done that we shall publish it and our response.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read an article in today's edition of The Guardian, which questions the probity of a bookmaker who funds an election campaign for a political party while running a book on the election outcome? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when a top politician accepts £5 million to act as a glorified bookie's runner, we need a steward's inquiry?

The Prime Minister

I notice that the company took a different view from the individual about the outcome of the election. However, my hon. Friend makes a serious point. It is no wonder that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) espouses his policy on the euro; the money that the Conservative party receives is conditional on retaining that policy. The donor sets out stipulations for future Conservative party leaders. There are 5 million reasons why it will not change its policy.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

The Prime Minister will know about the release this morning of Stephen Downing after serving 27 years in jail. The counsel for the Crown admitted in court that the conviction was unsafe. Will the Prime Minister pay tribute to Stephen Downing's family and the editor of the Matlock Mercury, who have stood by him steadfastly throughout the campaign? There have been several delays in the case. Will the Prime Minister ensure that Departments address expeditiously any future action that they may need to take?

The Prime Minister

Obviously, I have not had an opportunity to study the judgment itself, although I know of the case. I also know that the hon. Gentleman has campaigned long on this issue and has asked me about it before. I would simply say to him that of course I am happy to pay tribute both to the work of the family on behalf of Mr. Downing and to the Matlock Mercury editor, who has championed the cause. I am only pleased that, after such a long time, this case is finally at en end.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

Does the Prime Minister agree that the thousands of jobs lost last week in British manufacturing underline the monumental folly of any policy that would keep Britain out of the euro? The Tories may keep their pound, but how many thousands of British jobs would be lost as a result?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that, as I said a moment ago, ruling out the euro would indeed mean an immediate loss of jobs in Britain. There is absolutely no doubt about that, which is why the decision should be taken on economic grounds. However, there is another thing that would put jobs at risk in this country—a return to Tory boom and bust. We know how that started last time: with promises of Tory tax cuts that ended up in high interest rates, tax rises and spending cuts. That is what they did before, and that is what they would do again.

Q8. Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

When will the Prime Minister end the scandal of English subsidies for Scottish benefits?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman and I will have to disagree on that matter. At least we can agree on one thing: he has an honest policy for the euro. He wants to rule it out for ever, and that is the policy that he wants to push on his party.