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Southern Africa

7. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): What assessment she has made of the impact of the measures announced in the comprehensive spending review on aid to community development in southern Africa. [51326]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short): We are reviewing our programmes in southern Africa to ensure that they deliver poverty reduction and sustainable development. Community involvement is essential to ensure that services meet the needs of poor people. Total expenditure in the region will be about £70 million this year.

Helen Jackson: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Like my colleagues, I congratulate her and the

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Government on reversing the decline in aid spending that took place under the previous Government. I understand that she has recently visited Mozambique, which is of course one of the poorest nations in southern Africa. Does she plan--and if so, how--to increase the percentage of aid that goes to local, community-based projects in such countries, which help the people there?

Clare Short: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Yes, I have just visited Mozambique. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, where 65 per cent. of people live on the equivalent of less than half a dollar a day. The World bank reckons that living on a dollar a day is abject poverty. It is incredible that, despite Mozambique suffering everything monstrous that history can throw at a country, the people and the Government at all levels are determined to make progress--and are making it. I am very optimistic about likely progress in Mozambique. We are likely to treble our programme over the next few years from the extra resources made available, and we shall work with the Mozambique Government and local communities to involve all in improving health, education, economic management, enterprise development and crop-growing. There is lovely land in Mozambique, but much of it is under-used. Government systems and local communities need to work together to sustain progress in Mozambique.

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked--

Engagements

Q1.[51350] Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 29 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further such meetings later today.

Mr. Cunliffe: Does my right hon. Friend agree that legislation to abolish the cruel hunting of animals with dogs for human entertainment will never be accepted by the committed anti-democratic Members of Parliament on the Opposition Benches? Will he assure me that he will find ways in which to honour his and our party's pledge to accommodate a Bill similar to that promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) so that, once and for all, we can abolish the despicable, barbaric practice of hunting animals with dogs?

The Prime Minister: Hon. Members have made clear their view, with a very large majority indeed in favour of banning hunting. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester--[Hon. Members: "Right honourable?"] My apologies; no doubt he will be in due course, but not quite yet. Of course, the private Member's Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) failed through the action of its opponents, not the Government. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has discussed with him and others ways in which we can make progress on this issue. I cannot, of course, speculate about the next Session, although the Government's

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priority will be to ensure both that our full legislative programme is intact and that we honour our manifesto commitments.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): If the Prime Minister's welfare reforms are going as well as he has always said, why did he sack the Secretary of State for Social Security and provoke the resignation of the Minister for Welfare Reform?

The Prime Minister: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that welfare reform will continue as we have set out in our Green Paper. Indeed, we have accomplished more welfare reform in our 15 months in office than the Conservatives did in 15 years. Of course, most of that reform has been opposed by his party.

Mr. Hague: Is it not time for the Prime Minister to drop the pretence and admit that his programme of welfare reform in the past year has been an abject failure? Did he call in the former Secretary of State on Monday and say, "Congratulations on your numerous successes. You are fired."? Did he call in the former Minister for Welfare Reform and say, "You are so important to the Government in this Department that it is time you moved to another one."? Is not the truth that he has lost one of the few men of principle in his Government, whose name he has traded on and whose reputation he has used as a substitute for action? Is it not a fact that that Minister found that he did not have sufficient authority to act, demonstrating that, on this subject, the Prime Minister has been talk, talk, talk without a clue as to what to do?

The Prime Minister: Let us deal with the facts, Madam Speaker. In relation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), I have the greatest respect for him--but I must decide who is in the Cabinet. The decision as to who is in the Cabinet is mine alone.

In respect of the specifics, over the past 15 months, we have reformed student finance; brought in proposals to reform legal aid; changed lone parent benefits; introduced £3.5 billion for young people getting off benefit and into work; proposed a fundamental reform of the Child Support Agency; and put together the first ever comprehensive strategy on benefit fraud. Each of those actions--plus the working families tax credit and the action to get disabled people off benefit and into work--has been opposed by the Opposition. They still will not say--perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will do so now--whether there is a single part of the welfare budget that they propose cutting. Perhaps he will do it now.

Mr. Hague: It is my job to ask the questions and the right hon. Gentleman's job to answer them. He talks about his respect for the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). Other Ministers must be hoping that, by this time next year, he has not developed the same respect for them. He talks about the importance of welfare reform, but no new Minister for Welfare Reform has even been appointed.

Will the annual report of the Government, to be published today, tell the real story of the last year--that welfare bills are higher than a year ago; that waiting lists are higher; that class sizes are higher; that taxes are higher; that interest rates are higher; that inflation is higher; that exports are falling; that unemployment

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is rising; that output is stagnating--[Interruption.] Labour Members had better listen to this list because it will haunt them. Exports are falling; unemployment is rising; output is stagnating; industry is on the brink of recession; agriculture is in recession and the cronies are in clover. When will the Prime Minister stop his power struggles with the Chancellor and tackle the real problems of this country?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman accused me of not giving any specifics, but I have just given him a long list of our specific reforms. We have had two weeks since the comprehensive spending review. He still does not tell us whether he is in favour of more spending or less. We have given him a list of the social security changes. He still does not tell us whether there is a single one of those that he supports or opposes--indeed, he still will not tell us whether he supports the independence of the Bank of England or not, whether he supports any interest rate rises or not or whether he supports the minimum wage or not. He is all very well at the level of generality, but when it comes to specifics, he is Mr. Vague.

We will put through the annual report detailing the changes that we have made. Above all, we shall show how the extra money that we are getting to schools and hospitals will give this country the public services it wants. People can then contrast that record of achievement with the 18 failed Conservative years that the right hon. Gentleman supported.

Q2.[51351] Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East): Given that 14 of the 20 most deprived council areas in Britain are in London, can the Prime Minister understand the concern among teachers and providers of social services at press speculation that the Government are considering switching £500 million of Government grant from London to tackle poverty elsewhere? Can he give the House an undertaking that will set that concern at rest by making it clear that poverty elsewhere will be tackled out of new resources that have been set aside, and will not involve taking resources from some of the poorest boroughs in Britain in London?

The Prime Minister: There are no such proposals to cut hundreds of millions of pounds from the education budget--or, indeed, any other sum from any other service--in London. There are always such scares before the negotiations on standard spending assessments. The Government recognise that it costs more to provide services in London than in most of the rest of the country, and that there are many deeply deprived areas of London. We are determined to let nothing get in the way of our getting those extra resources that we have provided to the schools and hospitals. My hon. Friend will be aware that what some of the most deprived areas in London and elsewhere need is the new deal for tackling unemployment, the new deal for communities, the extra money for housing and the extra help for education, which will lift the standards and spirits of people living in the inner city of London.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil): The Prime Minister talks about specifics. May I ask him a very specific question on the central issue of welfare reform? When the outgoing Minister for Welfare Reform, who resigned on

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Monday, told his colleagues that the Chancellor was opposed to compulsory second-tier stakeholder pensions, was he right?

The Prime Minister: We have made it clear several times that our welfare proposals on pensions will be published later, in the autumn. As I said a moment or two ago, who goes in the Cabinet, no matter how much respect I have for them, is in the end a matter for me as Prime Minister, and me alone.

Mr. Ashdown: This is nothing to do with who goes in the Cabinet: it concerns whether we are to have genuine welfare reform policies. If the Prime Minister adopts the proposal to which I referred, this Opposition party will support it. Why do the Government not realise that there is only one viable, affordable way of ending pensioner poverty: to ensure that those in work contribute to the funding of their own retirement by using this new and innovative scheme? If the Government do not grasp that nettle on welfare reform, how on earth will they grasp the others?

The Prime Minister: We are grasping that nettle. That is why we will publish our proposals in the autumn, at which time we can debate them. I have just listed some of the areas of welfare reform that we have engaged with over the past year. They are fundamental areas of reform: tackling unemployment; lone parents; student finance; and legal aid. We have more reform proposals coming up on asylum, on the working families tax credit and on other matters, but so far the right hon. Gentleman's party has opposed every single one of our proposals, and the Conservative party, which says that it is in general in favour of cutting social security, is not prepared to name one specific item that it would support changing. In those circumstances, people would prefer to stick with the strategy that we have proposed.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Has the Prime Minister seen the tribute paid this morning to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), saying that he has served his country and his party remarkably well as a Welsh Office Minister? Is he aware that the Welsh group of Labour Members is bewildered and unhappy about the decision to sack him? What is the Prime Minister's assessment of the value of my hon. Friend's work as a Welsh Office Minister?

The Prime Minister: Of course I value the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) has done. I understand the fact that when people leave the Government, for whatever reason, they may feel concerned about it, but I, as Prime Minister, have to decide who should serve in the Government, and in what position. That has always been the case with Prime Ministers, and it will continue to be the case with me.

Q3.[51352] Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Is the Prime Minister aware that, earlier this year in the Keith Joseph memorial lecture, the former Minister for Welfare Reform said that 1998 would be a year to remember in welfare reform and added, "Watch this space."? Was he referring to a sacking or a resignation?

The Prime Minister: I have already listed the areas that we have reformed. Let me now list the areas that are

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set out in the Green Paper on welfare reform that we shall carry through over the next year: new proposals on disability living allowance; fundamental reform of incapacity benefit; a minimum income guarantee for pensioners; a single work-focused gateway into the benefit system; asylum and legal aid reform. These are proposals for welfare reform. The hon. Gentleman can shout about it as much as he likes but the truth is that we are reforming the welfare state, and we are doing it in the teeth of opposition from the Conservatives.

Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Halesowen and Rowley Regis): The Prime Minister knows that certain sectors of industry have been somewhat critical of the strength of the pound recently. Despite that, some sectors of industry are by their own efforts achieving high exports. I am thinking in particular of a company in my constituency which for the third time has won the Queen's award for export achievement. In 1997-98, Griffin-Woodhouse increased its exports by more than 50 per cent. through the efforts of staff ranging from the managing director down to the people on the shop floor--a great team effort.

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend's firm. Although we of course understand the difficulties for manufacturers with the strength of the pound at the moment, the Conservative policy of perpetual devaluation is not the answer to Britain's manufacturing problems. Yes, we have had to raise interest rates since the election. They have gone up to 7.5 per cent., but let us never forget where they were under the Conservative party: interest rates were at 15 per cent. for a year or more and there was a 7 per cent. fall in manufacturing output. The Conservatives were the party of boom and bust, and we are not going back to that.

Q4.[51353] Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): I was interested in the Prime Minister's answer to the previous question. He will be aware that in recent weeks the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken to berating business men for the productivity gap in British business, as if the deteriorating state of the economy is nothing to do with him. The Prime Minister will also be aware that future productivity is a function of investment today and the prospects for investment in this country are declining rapidly, as recent surveys have shown. For instance, the Institute of Management--

Madam Speaker: Order. We want no for instances; we want questions at Question Time.

Mr. Norman: Will the Prime Minister comment on recent surveys of business confidence that have shown that business confidence is plummeting to an all-time low and that export prospects, as shown by Dun and Bradstreet, are at their lowest level for 10 years? Is this what the Prime Minister had in mind when he said that the Labour party--

Madam Speaker: Order. I require the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.

The Prime Minister: It is important that we come through this period without returning to the boom-and-bust policies that did so much damage to British industry and investment over a long period.

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We have to avoid the situation that we had in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which the Government whom the hon. Gentleman used to support put us into. Of course I understand the difficulties caused by the strong pound in certain sectors of manufacturing, but productivity is an issue in British industry. Devaluation is not the answer to all British industry's problems. As for productivity, I suggest that he concentrates a bit on that at Conservative central office.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Whereas the Prime Minister's power to appoint and dismiss members of the Cabinet has always been totally unchallenged, and rightly so, will the Prime Minister give the House an absolute assurance that he will not promote the Liberal leader, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), from a Cabinet consultative committee, about which I asked last year, to the full Cabinet post that he has been longing for, having failed to get elected?

The Prime Minister: I think I shall stick with the conventions that I outlined a moment or two ago.

Hon. Members: Oh!

Mr. Hague: I think that we would all have welcomed a straighter answer to that question. Where in the Labour manifesto did it say that a Labour Government would make it more expensive for council tenants to exercise their right to buy their homes?

The Prime Minister: I assume that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the proposals on the right to buy, where we have restricted that right in terms of the amount of expenditure. The reason, of course, is precisely to save money on the benefit bills.

Mr. Hague: Clearly that idea was not in the Labour manifesto. What we object to is cuts in help for people who are trying to be independent of the state--[Interruption.]--while the Government spend billions more on making people dependent on the state. Before the election, the Labour party went out of its way to stress its support for the right to buy. In "New Labour--New Britain", a useful little book, in answer to the question,


why did it say,


    "No, we fully support the right to buy."?

Why has the Prime Minister now gone back on that right to buy? Thousands of people will now find it more difficult to buy their homes. They have been hit hard and they do not know why--they are not even friends of the Chancellor. Is the Prime Minister going to guarantee no further reductions during this Parliament?

The Prime Minister: Now the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we have got to guarantee no cuts--that is his cry. It is pathetic to see such opportunism on the part of the Opposition. For two weeks, he has opposed in general the increases in spending, yet he has supported every one in particular, and asked for more money. He has opposed the social security spending in general, yet he has opposed any measure to improve the situation in particular. His position is one of hypocrisy and opportunism, and typical.

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Mr. Hague: Is it not thoroughly pathetic for a Prime Minister to parade himself before the election as a friend of tenants who wanted to buy their home, and then to leave thousands of people wondering today whether they can still do so? Are they not entitled to feel deceived by that utter hypocrisy?

The Prime Minister: They are actually still being given very considerable taxpayers' help in discounts. I repeat my question--and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us now: is there a single item of the social security budget that he would cut?

Mr. Hague: The Prime Minister answers the questions; I ask them.

The Prime Minister: I appreciate the fact that it is I who answer the questions and the right hon. Gentleman who asks them, but, perhaps he will answer, just this once. He has been in power as Leader of the Opposition for 15 months, so surely he can tell us whether there is one spending proposal that he opposes or one social security spending cut that he would make. Can he not at least give some leadership to his party?

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): It is quite fun getting used to the sound of my own voice again. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the delight that will be felt on the Government Benches about the fact that, for the first time since 1995, there has been a downturn in the number of people waiting for hospital treatment? Given that that is something about which the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow health spokesperson have been banging on for some time, has my right hon. Friend received a message of congratulation from them? Has our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health received a message of congratulation from either of those people? If not, is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister either surprised or dismayed?

The Prime Minister: I am certainly not surprised. Waiting lists are now coming down for the first time in years, and class sizes will start to fall for the first time from September. The Conservatives used to say that that was the test of whether we were serious about schools and hospitals, but we have not heard much from them since we started to deliver on those promises.

Q5.[51354] Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Did the Prime Minister have time yesterday to read the extremely gloomy economic forecast in the Financial Times, which said that small businesses in the north-east are getting smaller every day? Does he agree that for workers in the north-east, size is, indeed, everything?

The Prime Minister: I appreciate the difficulties experienced by some companies when there is an economic downturn, but, as I said to the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), we have a simple choice--we can go through the economic cycle and return from the boom to bust that we had under the Conservatives, or we can take the measures that promote monetary stability and allow us to reduce interest rates in the long term. The hon. Lady should remember that long-term interest rates have fallen since this Government were elected. We have taken measures to cut the Budget deficit that we inherited from her Government.

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In addition, we shall tackle the problems of productivity to which the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells referred by investing in education, skills, the transport infrastructure, technology and science, which this country needs. I understand the difficulties experienced by some firms at the moment, but the worst thing for them would be a return to the recession-led days of the Conservatives.

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): What policies will the Government develop to assist those council tenants who exercised their right to buy during the Conservative years only to find, to their dismay, that they had purchased defective dwellings that were not designated defective and who are now stuck in crumbling homes which they have absolutely no chance of selling?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that matter. The programme that we have implemented for housing will give those people at least some help with the problems caused them by the Conservative Government.

Q6.[51355] Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Why does the Prime Minister's White Paper on immigration and asylum fail to deal with the huge problem of the tens of thousands of people in this country who have lost all their immigration appeals and should no longer be here, who have gone to ground and are at addresses that are not known to the authorities and who are effectively a huge burden on the taxpayer? I appreciate that the problem has existed for a long time. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I am being honest. Is the Prime Minister prepared to act on that? Will they be deported or given an amnesty? What will be done?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should be congratulated on realising that the problem has been going on for a long time. We inherited a backlog of more than 30,000 cases concerning people who have been here for five years or more. We have to try to deal with that as best we can by ensuring that we set up a new system in which we spend resources on dealing with cases quickly rather than allowing a backlog to build up over a long period.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned asylum, because the measures proposed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will dramatically reduce the costs of asylum. If we continued operating under the Conservatives' proposals, we would be spending roughly double the amount. Yet again, the Conservatives say that they want reduced spending but oppose our proposals to reduce it.

Q7.[51356] Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth): My right hon. Friend will be aware that those of us involved in working with local partnerships to develop the new deal very much welcome this week's announcement of help for homeless young people to have early access to the new deal. Does he agree that that will give many thousands of young people hope for the future for the first time in a long time?

The Prime Minister: The initiative set out by the social exclusion unit should cut the numbers of people sleeping rough, by two thirds in three years. The essential elements of that are to try to ensure that we give people a roof over their head so that they can then get a job if

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they are given the right help with skills, and also to try to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place. That is precisely the type of strategy, which operates across Government Departments, that has been advanced by this Government but was wholly lacking under the previous Administration.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): May I remind the Prime Minister of one of his welfare reforms that he has not mentioned this afternoon--the benefit integrity project? During the next five weeks, three of my constituents with disabilities will, quite separately, go through the appeals procedure, because in the past few weeks they have lost the benefit that allows them to drive a Motability car. If, while the Prime Minister is sitting by his pool in Italy, he were to write a postcard to send to those people, what would he write on it?

The Prime Minister: The benefit integrity project exists to ensure that those who are entitled to benefit get it but that those who are not entitled do not, and there is an appeals procedure that the hon. Lady's constituents can use. Yet again, we have a proposal that is designed to try to curb the rising costs of welfare, and the hon. Lady's question shows that, although the Conservatives say that they are in favour of welfare reform, they oppose every specific measure to do it. I also remind her that the benefit integrity project was introduced by the Government in which she served.

Q8.[51357] Ms Helen Southworth (Warrington, South): The Prime Minister is aware that, in the community of Warrington, people have raised £1 million in the past three months to build a peace centre. It is a place where younger people, living in areas that have been affected by the troubles in Northern Ireland, in southern Ireland and in England, will be able to meet, build some bridges, break down some barriers and make some friendships in an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding.

Madam Speaker: Order. Members should read the latest Modernisation Committee report before calling those words out. Continue.

Ms Southworth: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for your support on this crucial issue. I am asking my right hon. Friend for his support for people in communities all across these islands who dare to believe that the future can be different from the past.

The Prime Minister: We have, of course, given a lot of support to projects right across the islands which, as my hon. Friend says, promote the cause of peace. The Warrington peace centre and the Tim Parry exchange are two especially worthwhile projects. They show, above all else, that the progress that we are making in Northern Ireland, difficult though it is, is supported by people not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom. They deserve, and will get, the better future that we are prepared to give them.

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