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The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): This morning, I met Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, and I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Wilkinson: Does the Prime Minister believe that, following the sacking of Mr. Bob Kiley, the chairman of London Transport, by the Transport Secretary yesterday, there is strong evidence that the sacking of distinguished chairmen who have the temerity to utter unpalatable truths to the Government is becoming something of a habit? Should not we have a debate on the future of the London underground, which is of grave concern to the travelling public? At least we might then have the chance of reinstating the chairman.
The Prime Minister: No, because what is important is that money and investment go into the tube as quickly as possible. If we had suspended the negotiations on the public-private partnership, there would have been a delay of about two years. That is why every other member of the board was going to resign unless Mr. Kiley withdrew his threat.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley): Does my right hon. Friend agree with the charity Cancer BACUP that pain has no place with someone living with cancer or dying from cancer? Does he agree that it is important to ensure that all the professions in the health and voluntary sectors believe that it should be eliminated? Would he sign the freedom from pain charter to give it the importance that it deserves?
The Prime Minister: I certainly agree with the principle set out in the charter. The additional £600 million going into the treatment of cancer in the next few years will result not just in patients being seen and treated more quickly, but in about 1,000 extra cancer
The Prime Minister: Before I answer the right hon. Gentleman's question, as this is his last Prime Minister's Question Time I want to say that Members on both sides of the House wish him well and good luck for the future. We shall all miss his wit and humouralthough I may not, as I was the object of most of it. Anyway, we wish him well in the future.
Mr. Hague: I thank the Prime Minister for his remarks about me. Debating with him at the Dispatch Box has been exciting, fascinating, fun, an enormous challenge and, from my point of view, wholly unproductive in every sense. I am told that in my time at the Dispatch Box I have asked the Prime Minister 1,118 direct questions, but no one has counted the direct answersit may not take long.
The Prime Minister: I confess that I never thought the right hon. Gentleman was that keen on our annual reports when we did publish thembut what we do, of course, is publish all the results of the things we have done during the year, and the things we have not done, as well. Those are the things about which the right hon. Gentleman has asked me in the more than 1,000 questions that he has asked from the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Hague: "Where is it?" is indeed the question. As the Prime Minister has abandoned the annual report as a way of holding the Government to account, what about the traditional way of holding the Government to account? What about Ministers[Interruption.] Labour Members must understand that Governments must be held to account between elections as well as at elections.
What about Ministers taking responsibility? The Government's introduction of AS-levels has made schoolchildren's lives a misery, added to the burden on teachers and led to the extraordinary circumstances in which the Government cannot even guarantee that the results will be published on time. Which Minister will take responsibility for that?
No annual report, and no Minister willing to take responsibilitylet us try another form of accountability. The Prime Minister has said that he accepts the need for a proper inquiry into the foot and mouth disaster. Does he agree that a proper inquiry must be a public inquiry?
The Prime Minister: I do not agree that it must be a public tribunal inquiry, for the reasons given by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which said that it was sensible to have a different type of inquiry in order to produce an inquiry more quickly. We will have that inquiry, and we will publish the results. But we have also said, again in line with what the royal college has said, that it is better to have the inquiry after we have eradicated the disease, which must remain our No. 1 priority.
So, there is no annual report, no Minister will take responsibility for a fiasco, and no public inquiry will be held into foot and mouth despite all past precedent. Perhaps the Prime Minister will at least agree to accountability to the House after this week's vote in the House. Will he now listen to Members in all parts of the House, and adopt the proposal that Select Committee members should not be appointed by the Whips or by any party managers?
I simply point out that it is funny that in the 18 years of Conservative government, when the right hon. Gentleman was in office, all these great designs to reform Parliament never saw the light of day.
Mr. Hague: My 1,123rd and final question is on the same theme of accountability. May I ask the Prime Minister about what he and I know to be the casethat allowing one Prime Minister's Question Time a week is not an adequate way of holding the Prime Minister of our country to account? Members of all parties should have
The Prime Minister: In respect of holding the Government to account, let me point out that over the four years that I have been Prime Minister I have answered questions in the House for longer than either of my two predecessors, and made more statements.
In respect of accountability, of course we as a Government are held to account. We are held to account in the House, where, for example, the number of ministerial statements has, I think, been far in excess of the number under the previous Government, and we are held to account by the British people. We were held to account by them on 7 June. We were returned with this majority as a result of that general election.
We will indeed miss the right hon. Gentleman's wit and humour. I hope that he is not retiring to the Back Benches as they are getting rather overcrowded at the moment. I would have thought that there was every role for him, for example as shadow Foreign Secretary. If the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) were to win, he could come here and tell us about the virtues of the single currency and the rapid reaction force. Alternatively, if the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) were elected, he could come here and tell us what a dreadful idea it was and how the country would have none of it. In any event, whatever the right hon. Gentleman does, we wish him well.
The Prime Minister: I entirely understand my hon. Friend's concern and I will make sure that the relevant Minister sees him today. I understand the deep concern that there is over the issue in Dover. Therefore, it is entirely right that it be discussed with him properly.
Mr. Kennedy: I think that public empathy out there probably cares. We associate ourselves with the good wishes that have been properly expressed by the Prime Minister to the outgoing leader of the Conservative party. We wish him well and commiserate with his successor, whoever it will be.
The Prime Minister: I will explain exactly why. Mr. Kiley was appointed chairman of London Transport in order to negotiate what he wanted, within the outlines of the public-private partnership, and he came back a couple of weeks ago and said that he was unable to do so. The dispute with Mr. Kiley, and, indeed, with Ken Livingstone, is not about the running of the tube as such; it is about the financing of it. We are putting billions of pounds of investment from the general British taxpayer into the underground, the largest ever investment that has been made, and we need to make sure that there is value for money and that taxpayers' money is properly used. I understand entirely why Mr. Kiley and Mr. Livingstone want to take the money and spend it as they wish, but we have a duty on behalf of the taxpayer to get value for money and that is what we will do.
Mr. Kennedy: Is not the real lesson of the episode that the Prime Minister fails to understand in his second term that power devolved is not power retained? Would it not make more sense to allow the elected representatives, of whom Ken Livingstone is obviously a primary example, to make decisions, whether they be on the London underground, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, Bob Kiley, or for that matter the Select Committees of the House of Commons? To let go once in a while would be a very good reflection for the Prime Minister over the forthcoming summer recess.
The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Devolving the running and management of the underground is of course precisely what the devolution to the Mayor is all about, but the financing of it coming from the general British taxpayer is billions of pounds. We know that the real problem on the tube is financing the construction, the track and tunnelling.The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he is simply wrong. That is the problem that the tube has. We need investment in the capacity of the tube, and it is extraordinary that the Liberal Democrats do not want any private sector involvement in the financing of the system when that plainly offers the best value for money. We are doing this because although the running and management of the tube will, of course, be for the Mayor and Transport for London, when it involves general British taxpayers' moneynot just from London but across the rest of countrythe Treasury has a duty to ensure that it is properly spent, and we will discharge that duty on behalf of the taxpayer.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): I know that the House will join me in my heartfelt concern for Peter Falconio's family while he is missing in the Northern Territory of Australia. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking the Australian police, the Aborigine trackers and the people of Australia who are helping in the search for Peter? Will he also join me in asking anyone who has any evidence of where Peter might bepossibly people coming home from their holiday in the Northern
The Prime Minister: I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. We extend our sympathy and concern to Peter's family, who must be desperately worried. We have been in touch with the Australian high commission. As my hon. Friend said, the Australian police are doing everything they can to assist, and of course I join her in asking anyone with any information to come forward and speak to the proper authorities.
Q2.  Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): Why do the Prime Minister and the Government persist in forcing local councils to build up to 165 new waste incinerators at the expense of far more environmentally sustainable recycling plants? For example, my constituents will be the victims of pollution from such a plant in Wrexham, which is just across the border from my constituency. Under the Prime Minister's devolution arrangements, my constituents have no powers of representation for objection at local level, and it is causing great anger.
The Prime Minister: Incineration has been used by Governments for many years. In fact, it is the last method that we wish to use. First, we want to reduce waste and, secondly, we want to improve recycling. That is why we are putting substantial additional investmentfrom memory, about £160 millioninto improving recycling. Thirdly, there will be situations in which we have to incinerate. Although we regret that and wish to avoid it where we can, it is not realistic to think that we can deal with all the waste we have in any other way.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): In his meetings with the President of the United States, will the Prime Minister make it clear to him that his presidential pronouncements about his commitment to cleaning up the environment and making the world safe for democracy have done nothing but strike fear into the hearts of my constituents? Will he make it abundantly clear that they value the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States but would wish for rather more understandable commitment on the part of the President to those two issues?
The Prime Minister: We remain committed to the Kyoto protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We have achieved reductions of about 14 per cent. on the 1990 levels, and we will carry on doing a great deal more to meet the targets set out. We have a disagreement with the United States over this, as we have said on many occasions. We are in a position to ratify the Kyoto protocol but America does not agree with that. It is important, however, that the United States Administration have agreed that the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important and right, and we are now debating the means of achieving that. I hope that we can continue the dialogue with them so that we can bridge the gap and make the discussions on this important issue succeed.
How will the Prime Minister square the TUC, or for that matter the Labour party, to his plans for involving the private sector in the public services? Is not such involvement antithetical to socialism?
The Prime Minister: I understand that the hon. Gentleman is giving me a lesson in party management. May I say how much we welcome his contribution, as the person responsible for the Conservative leadership election, to our political debate? Of course there will be an interesting and lively debate on public service reform, but that is what politics is about, and I am confident that we shall win that debate.
Q4.  Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Could my right hon. Friend find time to visit the Metropolitan police training centre in my constituency to meet some of the excellent new recruits with which the training centre is now bursting at the seams? Will he also give my constituents an assurance that when those police officers leave the training school, my constituents will see a real increase in police numbers on the streets of Hendon?
The Prime Minister: There is, I think, a record increasecertainly the best increase for many yearsin the number of recruits entering training in the Metropolitan police. The numbers are increasing again, after 10 years of declining, and we shall in the next few years hit our target of having the largest number of police officers that this country has seen. I pay tribute not only to those who have been recently recruited but to serving officers in the Metropolitan police area who do such an excellent job protecting our citizens.
Q5.  Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam): Is the Prime Minister aware that the annual general meeting of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence is being picketed today by multiple sclerosis sufferers who are angry at a two-year delay in obtaining a decision on drugs that can make a difference to their lives? Does he accept that the institute's foot dragging has cost hundreds of MS sufferers their health and condemned them to irreversible disability?
The Prime Minister: I accept entirely the frustration that people have at the delay. However, I also tell the hon. Gentleman that in a decision of this nature, which affects thousands of people suffering from MS, it is important that all the information is tested and got right. The national institute will make known its deliberations when it can; that is up to it. It is an extremely important decision to get right and has huge consequences not only for MS sufferers but for the whole of the national health service.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle): May I place on recordI know that I am speaking for the vast majority of people in Northern Irelandour deep gratitude to the Prime Minister for the enormous energy, commitment and work that he is putting into resolving our current crisis? In so doing, he has revealed that he sees that problem as the
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for those kind comments. I do not begrudge any of the time that we spend on this peace process, first, because it is so important and, secondly, because I believe that there is a chance of resolving the issues and implementing the Good Friday agreement in full, which is what everyone wishes to see. The two Governments are in agreement that it is the right package and that it covers all the outstanding issues. We believe that the package will be a fair and reasonable one that should recommend itself to all political parties. We need only look at the middle east peace process to see what happens when we stop moving forward in such processes. I believe that the package offers us the chance to overcome the remaining obstacles and give people in Northern Ireland the future that they deserve.
Q6.  Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Why are the Government so reluctant to award a long-term franchise for the east coast main line to GNER, which is generally thought to have done a good job? Is it not clear that short-term franchise extensions will stifle rather than encourage much-needed investment? It is not only Bob Kiley who is out of favour: what was the point of asking a rail expert such as Sir Alastair Morton how to improve the railway only to ignore his advice?
The Prime Minister: I think that being lectured by a Conservative on railway privatisation is a little bit much. It is important that we have different ways of dealing with the franchises. Some franchises may be short, while others may be longer. That is sensible, because it gives us the flexibility that we require. As for GNER and the east coast main line, that decision will be taken shortly.
Q7.  Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), who referred to Wrexham in his question. I would like to point out to him and to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that Wrexham council has recently appointed a recycling officer. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that that is fully in accordance with his policy, the Labour policy, which is to re-use and to recycle?
The Prime Minister: Yes, it is indeed in line with Government policy. As I explained a moment or two ago, we are increasing the funding available for recycling. That will significantly increase the amount of recycling that takes place, giving us a considerably better record than the Conservative party.
Q8.  Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): When there is an inquiry into foot and mouth diseasebe it public or privatecould the Prime Minister ensure that one of its terms of reference is to look at the effect of the disease on non-farming businesses? My constituency has probably lost out more than most, in
The Prime Minister: The impact on the non-farming industry is extremely important too. That is why it is necessary to take all possible measures to try to stamp out the disease, as we have done. It remains extremely important that all parts of the farming community take the relevant biosecurity measures in terms of disinfection. The way in which the disease is still being spread is essentially through farm-to-farm movements or agricultural trade vehicles. We have given every assistance we can so that people know the measures they have to take, but the only way to make sure that we use these summer months to eradicate the disease is if the biosecurity measures are in place and followed.
Q9.  Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Will my right hon. Friend assure council tenants in Birmingham that if they do not wish to change their landlord, the Government will honour their commitments to bring their homes up to a decent standard by 2010? Will he ensure also that necessary resources will be made available as, under current financial predictions, the necessary resources are not being made available?
The Prime Minister: First, people have the right to vote on the system they wish. Secondly, we are substantially increasing investment in housing: over the next three years or so, it will rise to somewhere in the region of £4 billion. I am aware that there are always greater demands for money, but we must put money into the health service, schools, the police and other things. We are doing what we can on housing in my hon. Friend's area and others. In respect of the proposals, it is for her constituents and others to vote upon them.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the success of his personnel policies? He sacked his Foreign Secretary, who is now a runaway success as Leader of the House. He sacked the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and now they have been restored and are held even higher in the public esteem. Yesterday, he sacked Mr. Bob Kiley whoobviously, at this ratewill stop the privatisation of the tube. Can the Prime Minister deny that he is power mad,
The Prime Minister: Since the hon. Gentleman has congratulated me on my personnel changes, perhaps I can congratulate him on his; not least in respect of himself. I gather he said that he wished to have nothing whatever to do with the Westminster Parliament, since it was inconsistent with Scottish nationalism; yet, lo and behold, here he is, popping up and asking me questionsbut then, that type of double standard is nothing new from the Scottish National party.
Q10.  Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the plight in India of Ian Stillmanformerly of Readinga charity worker who is disabled, who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison because he was in a taxi in which cannabis was later discovered? What representations can Ministers make to the Government of India to help secure the release of Ian Stillman?
The Prime Minister: We are indeed aware of Mr. Stillman's case. We are making representations and are in touch with the Indian authorities. I assure my hon. Friend that we will keep this case closely under review and that we will be in close consultation throughout with the appropriate authorities.
Q11.  Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Does the Prime Minister believe that there will be a downturn in the British economy over the next two to three years? If so, how will the Government fund their promises on education, health and the police?
The Prime Minister: We are confident that we can fund those programmes as the money for them has been set aside. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as a result of the successful management of the economy by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, our public finances are in a very healthy state. Therefore, unlike the Conservatives, who want to cut investment we can put money into schools, hospitals, transport and the police.
The other reason that we have managed to run the economy successfully is that we have avoided the age-old Conservative problem of[Hon. Members: "Boom and Bust."] No doubt, Mr. Speaker, you will call time shortly, so, as the two Ronnies would say, "It's goodbye from Mr. Boom, and goodbye from Mr. Bust."