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London Underground

Q4. [16002] Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): What are his plans for the financing of London Underground; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: Our plans for the modernisation of the tube will unlock some £13 billion for investment and maintenance over the next 15 years. We believe that the public-private partnership is the best way to do that.

Richard Ottaway: I asked the Prime Minister what his plans were, not how he is getting on. Does he recall his manifesto pledge on the underground:

That was not in 2001. That was in 1997, and nothing has happened since then. Will the Prime Minister show his commitment to devolution, stop arguing with the mayor, and fully involve the Greater London Authority in working out what is best for London's long-suffering underground passengers?

The Prime Minister: We will proceed with the plans that we have. I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is probably in a worse position than any other Member of this House to raise the issue of the tube. If we are quoting what people said in 1997, let me quote what he said in July of that year. He referred to the

and asked the Government to


Q5. [16003] Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Will the Prime Minister confirm that, of the 416,000 stakeholder pensions that have been sold to date, a miserable 1 per cent. have been sold to the target group?

The Prime Minister: It is important, as we have said, that the stakeholder pensioner group is expanded, but as a result of the reforms that we have introduced, for the first time, many of the people in that group will have access to low-cost pensions; otherwise, they would simply have no access to pensions at all.

Q6. [16004] Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): In the light of repeated statements by senior United States politicians and officials, including President Bush,

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suggesting that countries other than Afghanistan may become targets for the United States, will the Prime Minister confirm that he will not support the extension of military action to countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Somalia or Yemen?

The Prime Minister: First of all, it might be helpful to quote what President Bush actually said. He said:

I totally agree with those sentiments. I have always said that this operation will have two phases. The first is in Afghanistan and our military action is focused there. The second is to take in a deliberative and considered way what action we can against international terrorism in all its forms. That has been the position from the beginning. It is the position of myself, the American Administration and everybody else in the international coalition, and that remains the case.

Q7. [16005] Bob Russell (Colchester): While I acknowledge that equality of opportunity for our young people is something that you support—[Hon. Members: "He supports."] While that is something that he supports, is the Prime Minister aware that funding for young people in our sixth-form colleges is approximately 30 per cent. less than that provided for young people attending sixth forms in schools? I acknowledge that that problem arises from the formula created by the last Conservative Government, which provides roughly £1,000 a year less, but when will he increase the funding to the same level?

The Prime Minister: What we can say is this: we recognise that there is a gap between the way in which schools and sixth-form and further education colleges are funded. It is for that reason that an increase of, I think, about 12 per cent. in real terms, will be going to further education colleges. It is also for that reason that we have changed the way in which funding is provided to sixth forms in schools, sixth-form colleges and further education colleges, through the Learning and Skills Council. What we need to do, without in any way penalising sixth forms in schools, is to lift up the funding that is given specifically to sixth-form and further education colleges.

Q8. [16006] Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the significant additional funds given to Swindon schools under this Labour Government, it is wrong that areas with better exam results, such Chingford and Woodford Green, get £1,000 more per student than Swindon schools? Will he take steps to ensure that that inequality is addressed, not in two years' time, but in next year's settlement?

The Prime Minister: I think that what I can promise my hon. Friend is that we will make sure that Swindon gets the extra resources that are, of course, going to schools up and down this country. I understand the arguments about the standard spending assessment and

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how it is calculated. She will know that the Government are consulting on that now. I think that it is probably wise not to say anything more at this stage.

Q9. [16007] Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Does the Prime Minister think that the transportation of nuclear fuel and the production of nuclear power are more or less safe in Britain following the terrorist outrages of 11 September? What conclusion does he draw?

The Prime Minister: The conclusion that I draw is that the very strict regulations covering the transportation of nuclear waste should continue. They are, and have been, in force and are very carefully monitored. I do not believe that there is any increased terrorist threat in this respect.

Q10. [16008] Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time that pensioners were rewarded for saving, and got a guaranteed income and guaranteed increases? Does he think that pensioners in households that receive £200 every winter for the rest of this Parliament will agree that that is a cock-eyed way of increasing pensions?

The Prime Minister: I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) will remember that those words were used to describe, I think, the minimum income guarantee and the winter fuel allowance, but that was wrong. What was announced yesterday for pensioners is in addition to the £200 winter fuel allowance and the free TV licences for the over-75s. Almost 5.5 million pensioners will benefit from the new pension credit, and there is also the minimum income guarantee. All this is about creating a stronger and fairer country, particularly for those people who have reached the end of their working lives and who need some security in their old age.

Q11. [16009] Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Will the Prime Minister give a personal guarantee that there will be no change in the sovereignty of the people or the territory of Gibraltar without the self-determination of the people of Gibraltar?

The Prime Minister: We stick absolutely by the 1969 resolution, which makes it clear that there should not be a change in the constitutional status of Gibraltar without the consent of the people there. I strongly believe that the Brussels process—which was, after all, started under the previous Conservative Government—which allows Britain and Spain to discuss these issues sensibly, should go forward. It would be very unfortunate if it did not do so. I also believe—I say this frankly to the people of Gibraltar—that it would be better if the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the Gibraltar Government participated in that process.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): My right hon. Friend spoke last week of missed opportunities in Europe. Does he agree that a European constitution which defined the rights of the nation states as well as the duties of the European Union, and which placed subsidiarity at

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the head of that text, would place a road block in the way of those who want a European superstate and reassure those who see Britain and Europe's future together?

The Prime Minister: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that an important part of the debate on the future of Europe is to try to draw up a proper list of the competencies of the European Union. It is also important to ensure that when Europe needs to co-operate more effectively, it can do so, and to identify areas in which Europe may decide to do less. What was interesting about the paper prepared by France and Germany at the end of last week was that there was widespread acknowledgement across Europe that there may well be areas in which we need to work more closely together—for example, the single market, immigration and asylum, organised crime, and defence policy. There are, however, other areas—notably those relating to the regulation of the European Union—in which it is important that we take powers back from Brussels to the nation states.

Q12. [16010] Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Seeing that it is now clear that taxes are going to have to rise, will the Prime Minister give an assurance that the zero rate on children's food and on clothes will be maintained?

The Prime Minister: They are fine ones to be telling us about VAT being extended. We have made those commitments quite clear, and they remain our commitments. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have to address this issue. If we believe that more resources are needed for health care, there are only three sources for those resources: general taxation, specific taxation such as social insurance, or forcing people to pay for private medical care. At some point, Conservative Members are going to have to say where they stand on this issue, and not simply in internal memorandums in the Opposition Treasury team.

Q13. [16011] Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Following the sad decision in the case of the terminally ill woman, Diane Pretty, who was told that the law would not allow her to die with dignity at the time of her choosing, does the Prime Minister think that it is time for a review of the Suicide Act 1961?

The Prime Minister: I am not in favour of reviewing that legislation. I understand the strong feelings it arouses, but this is a matter of conscience for hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am afraid that I am not in favour of amending the Act. I am sorry to give my hon. Friend the reply he does not want, but that is what I believe.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Is the Prime Minister prepared to meet me later today to discuss yesterday's announcement by BAE Systems of 1,669 redundancies, a thousand of which are at Woodford on the periphery of my constituency? BAE Systems—British Aerospace that was—is ending regional jet production in this country. That is serious; the job losses in my constituency are serious. Are the Government prepared to consider what might be done to assist in this serious situation?

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The Prime Minister: First, let me express my sympathy for the hon. Gentleman's constituents who are affected by the announcement. I understand that, later today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will make announcements on how we

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can achieve the right rapid reaction response to job losses such as those in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. As for meeting me, I do not know whether that can be done today, but I am happy for us to meet as soon as we possibly can.

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