HC Deb 10 September 2003 vol 410 cc323-30
Q3. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside)

Antisocial behaviour, often fuelled by under-age drinking, continues to blight many of our areas. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the police to take tougher action to combat drinking on our streets, particularly by juveniles?

The Prime Minister

The provisions of the Licensing Act 2003, which I think come into effect today, will give the police additional powers in respect of the abuse of alcohol, and in particular in respect of cracking down on antisocial behaviour caused by alcohol. These measures, along with the other measures in the legislation that we are introducing on antisocial behaviour, give the police hugely important additional powers in dealing with what is, in many constituencies up and down the country, the single biggest issue of concern to people.

Q4. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

Given that the Prime Minister has a copy of the Intelligence and Security Committee report, what reason does he give for not publishing it today?

The Prime Minister

The proper procedure is that the Intelligence and Security Committee present the report to me tomorrow. That is the right way of doing it, and it should be done in accordance with the procedure that we laid out. It would be quite wrong of us to do it in any other way.

Q5. Mr. lain Luke (Dundee, East)

Prime Minister you are an outstanding example of a Scot who has benefited from coming south to study at one of the UK's most prestigious universities. Will you accept that concern exists that the top-up fees proposal will deter Scots from following suit, and create a golden triangle of research-based universities in the south-east, to the great disadvantage of universities throughout the UK? Recent polls have shown that 80 per cent. of people are opposed to the proposal. Will my right hon. Friend now think again?

The Prime Minister

What surely is important is that universities get additional access to funds, either from the taxpayer or through a contribution from students once they graduate. It is also important that we widen access so that more and more people go to university. We have said that we want half of all school leavers in this country to go to university, but we cannot do that unless we extend the funds available to universities. That is precisely why it is important that we proceed with the reforms that we have set out. It would be disastrous to adopt, for example, the policies of the Conservative party, which would mean 100,000 fewer students going to university every year.

Mr. lain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

In public, the Government say that the European constitution is just a tidying-up exercise. In private, we know that the Prime Minister has said that it is absolutely fundamental and will define the relationship between Britain and the rest of Europe for generations. Which of these two faces of the Government should we believe?

The Prime Minister

Of course the outcome of the convention is absolutely fundamental, which is why it is right that we secured the positions on foreign policy, defence and tax that preserve Britain's identity as a nation state, at the same time as making the changes necessary so that Europe at 25 can govern itself and operate effectively. That is why the draft constitution for Europe is good for Europe and for Britain, and essential if we are to make enlargement work and secure British interests.

Mr. Duncan Smith

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said that if the European constitution were about fundamental change, he would hold a referendum. He has told his Cabinet in secret that it is absolutely fundamental. So where is the referendum?

The Prime Minister

The outcome of the constitution, of course, is fundamental, which is why it is important that we have secured the positions that we set out. What I said to the right hon. Gentleman was that if we ended up in a situation where we were giving up, for example, our right to set our own tax rates, it would be appalling; but we are not. The right hon. Gentleman is opposed to any constitution in Europe at all and would veto it. We see that that is what the Conservatives nod their heads to. Let us try the old game with him: there are 25 Governments in Europe, some Labour, some Conservative. Name me one that is in favour of his position.

Mr. Duncan Smith

What is absolutely clear is that the Prime Minister says one thing to his Cabinet and another thing to everyone else. Whether it is the Kelly tragedy or the TUC speech that he never actually delivered—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House must allow the Leader of the Opposition to speak. [Interruption.] Mr. King, you must be quiet.

Mr. Duncan Smith

They do not want to hear it because it is true. Whether it is the Kelly tragedy, las night's TUC speech that he did not actually deliver or the deliberate deceit about the European constitution, is it not true, now as ever, that no one will ever believe a word that the Prime Minister says any more?

The Prime Minister

In relation to the European constitution, I note that the right hon. Gentleman could not tell us a single other Government who support his position. So that the country understands, his position would mean that he would go to the conference in Italy in a few weeks and veto the whole thing. No one else would support him and the Conservatives would then get to where they want to be: saying that Britain should get out of the EU. That is their game; it is what they want.

On trust, the additional jobs in our economy are important, as are the lowest inflation and mortgage rates. The fact that we have the lowest long-term unemployment in this country for more than 30 years is important, as is the fact that we have 25,000 extra teachers and 50,000 extra nurses. Also, the fact that every single aspect of NHS waiting is better than in 1997 is important. That is what we were elected to do and what we will continue to do.

Phil Sawford (Kettering)

I welcome the publication of the Green Paper "Every Child Matters", which seeks to address the problems, issues and failures highlighted in the Laming report. I welcome also the proposal for a children's commissioner. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that sufficient parliamentary time is available to get this measure through as quickly as possible? Will he ensure also that there are clear lines of accountability for the welfare of our children in the future?

The Prime Minister

I think that the proposals that we set out in the Green Paper on children will help enormously. I know that my hon. Friend would want to put the proposals for the children's commissioner alongside the other measures that the Government are taking to help some of the most disadvantaged children in our country. The sure start programme has, I believe, been enormously successful along with additional child benefit, the working families tax credit, free nursery education and more child care places for many families in the most disadvantaged parts of our country. Step by step we are trying to create a situation in which no child is denied the opportunity to make the most of their abilities, but that can be done only if we keep the investment going through to our local communities.

>Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Given that the Prime Minister is one of the few people left in Britain who does not think that the September 2002 dossier was sexed up—

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

He had an e-mail from Gilligan!

Richard Ottaway

Can the Prime Minister explain how inserting chemical and biological material into battlefield mortar shells or small calibre weaponry poses a threat to the region or the stability of the world?

The Prime Minister

First, in respect of allegations about the dossier, perhaps it would be right to wait for the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee report tomorrow and, indeed, the Hutton inquiry report at a later time. In respect of the Conservatives' position, however, their opportunism on the issue of Iraq is absolutely unbelievable. Here they are, yet as I recall it, they as a political party were urging me to take action against Saddam. The right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) was urging that long before the dossier even came along. Now they go around the country saying that we were duped and misled by this terrible Prime Minister who got us into the situation of conflict. What they should learn over time is that, if they want to be an effective Opposition-never mind an effective Government—a little less opportunism would be a good idea.

Q7. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

The Prime Minister will he aware of my one-and-a-half hour Adjournment debate this afternoon on seaside town regeneration, and I hope that he finds time in his busy schedule to attend it. Failing that, will he support the calls for a dedicated Minister to be responsible for seaside town regeneration? Will he also support the call for ring-fenced funding for seaside regeneration similar to the amounts given to coal, steel, rural and inner city communities?

The Prime Minister

Actually, I am aware of my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate—it is on the Order Paper. It is worth pointing out to my hon. Friend that, for the first time, we are making sure that seaside towns, some of which may be relatively prosperous, but many of which have real pockets of deprivation and poverty, are eligible for assistance. My hon. Friend will know that there are two communities in the area that he represents which have had hundreds of thousands of pounds of funding, and we obviously want to do anything more that we can to assist them. The fact that these seaside towns are now recognised as suitable for the new deal for the regeneration of local communities shows that we recognise that although, as I said, there is prosperity among parts of our seaside communities, there is also a great deal of poverty and deprivation.

Q8. Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)

Why are the Government currently borrowing at the rate of £35 billion a year, when only four months ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the figure was £24 billion?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman should wait for the pre-Budget report for the figures, but if he looks at the debt:GDP ratio, it is a darn sight better than it was when his Government were in power. I seem to recall that he was a Minister in the previous Conservative Government when interest rates were between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent., 3 million people were unemployed, and borrowing reached £80 billion. Whoever else can give us lessons on prudent finance, it is certainly not the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for the relative lack of interest on the part of the British people in the European Union is the widespread belief that it is effectively the fiefdom of the political elite? In addition to other good reasons for holding a referendum on the new constitution, would not such a move instil greater interest among the British people in EU matters and effectively show them that their views really do matter on these vital issues?

The Prime Minister

I think that my hon. Friend should have a little more faith in our parliamentary debates to deal with the issues. In joining with the Conservatives and calling for a referendum, he should bear in mind the fact that Ted Heath did not have a referendum when he took us into the European Community, nor did Margaret Thatcher on the Single European Act, nor did John Major on Maastricht. I repeat that if there were a change in the fundamental nature of our constitution, a referendum would be right, but there is not. My hon. Friend should realise that Opposition Members who call for a referendum want it as the first step in a two-step process to get us out of Europe—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, they do—[Interruption]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It seems that every time the Prime Minister stands, some hon. Members want to shout. That will not be allowed and I will not tolerate it.

The Prime Minister

I was merely pointing out gently that the Conservative party proposal—which we will not follow as a Government, which is why I comment on it—is a two-stage process, first to paralyse Europe and then to withdraw. That would be a disaster for our country.

Q9. Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

For each of the past six years under Labour, the tax burden has been higher than the one that it inherited. In the interests of the British taxpayer, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to rule out further increases in national insurance contributions in this Parliament?

The Prime Minister

First, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the Conservative Government as a whole, he will see that the tax burden was higher than at present in most of the years for which Mrs. Thatcher was in office, at least. Secondly, I make no apologies for raising national insurance. It was a difficult decision, but it was the right decision because it allows us to put extra investment into our national health service. If the Conservatives oppose that tax increase, perhaps they would say how they would fund the extra investment in the health service that is delivering better cancer care, better cardiac care and reduced waiting lists.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Denby Poultry Products factory in my constituency has been at the centre of a massive meat fraud conspiracy that released tonnes of condemned poultry waste to shops, hospitals and schools? Will he take urgent action on failings in the meat inspection system and the legislative framework identified by Amber Valley council officers and Derbyshire police, and will he congratulate them on their persistence in pursuing the case over several years and securing the convictions of six men involved in that appalling conspiracy?

The Prime Minister

I agree. My hon. Friend makes an extremely import ant point about the importing and exporting of illegal meat products. That is the reason why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Customs and Excise have been working hard on the issue. I assure her that we will continue to take every possible action to stamp the practice out.

Q10. Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

As the Prime Minister has ruled out a referendum on the European constitution, despite the fact that it is absolutely fundamental—as he said today—will he give a complete undertaking that if the other place rejects the proposals, he will not apply the Parliament Act?

The Prime Minister

We will maintain the position that we have set out because we believe it to be right. I repeat that the outcome of the constitution process is, of course, absolutely fundamental, but it is the right outcome for us. If we were to give any of our main positions away—on foreign policy, defence or tax—it would be a different matter. But we are not going to do that. We are going to secure every single one of those red lines. We have already principally done so in the outcome of the Convention and we will do it again at the intergovernmental conference. The hon. Gentleman and others should be honest about their position. They want to veto the European constitution, which would end up paralysing progress in Europe, as the first step to getting Britain out. That is a position that we as a Government will not adopt.

Ql 1. [128512] Tony Cunningham (Workington)

I have several successful manufacturing companies in my constituency, including New Balance, which produces world-class athletics shoes, and M-Sport, which produces the very successful Ford rallying car that recently won world championship rallies in Finland and Greece. However, some manufacturing companies are struggling. What more can the Government do to help and support our manufacturing industry?

The Prime Minister

It is true that the manufacturing sector in our country has been through difficult times, as has the manufacturing sector in the major countries round the world. Indeed, manufacturing output has fallen by 1.5 per cent. in the US, 2 per cent. in Germany and 3.5 per cent. in Italy, so obviously the situation is not confined to us. I have to say, however, that the most recent figures on manufacturing output show an upturn. The most important thing is to carry on with the investment in the measures that will improve skills and productivity, and science and technology, and with the research and development tax credits introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Above all else, we must maintain our economy's stability because, in the end, manufacturing—like any other part of our economy—depends on that stability in order to make progress.

Q12. Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

Three years ago, the Government stated unequivocally that they would veto any attempt to incorporate the European charter of fundamental rights in EU law. Yesterday, the Government said that they would horse-trade on incorporation at the intergovernmental conference. Given that history, what confidence can the British people have that the remaining so-called "red-lined" areas—defence, foreign policy and taxation—will not be sold out in the same way, either at the IGC or later?

The Prime Minister

We made it clear that we will not sell out the issue of the European charter on fundamental rights. There is no way that that should extend the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In my view, that position will be secured at the IGC that is coming up. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members that, overall, this constitution is right. If we expand Europe from 15 members to 25, we must have a more effective and efficient way of working. If we simply sit there and say no to everything coming out of Europe—to extensions of qualified majority voting even when that is in our interests, to the first involvement of national Parliaments, or to a full-time President of the Council which will hugely strengthen the nation state—we will not advance this country's interests, but betray them.

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