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The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has recently met local organisations involved in combating urban poverty in Bradford, Doncaster and Hull. He also chairs the new deal for communities MPs' forum, which was attended by representatives of the Bristol and Salford new deal for community partnerships when it met last month.
Mr. Bailey: Does the Minister agree that combating urban poverty involves not just improving income, but improving opportunity and the environment, and reducing crime? In my local authority of Sandwell, the new deal in the community has found employment for 150 people and secured training places for a further 600. By working with the police, it has also reduced burglaries by 50 per cent. Will the Minister apply the example of the Sandwell partnership to new deal projects in other areas of the country, and consider extending the Sandwell project to other parts of my constituency?
Mrs. Roche: I certainly agree that in tackling poverty it is important to adopt minimum standards, or floor targets, which I describe as the social equivalent of the minimum wage. My hon. Friend is also right to say that, through the new deal for communities, some excellent work is being carried out in Sandwell by the local college and the police. I congratulate him on that work, and we will of course want to learn from such good practice.
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): Does my hon. Friend agree that in dealing with urban poverty, it is crucial both to create jobs and to get people to existing jobs? Has she seen the recent report that highlights the importance of the bus service in getting people to their jobs, and to college opportunities? Will she persuade the Government to pay far greater attention to providing more buses and creating a better bus service?
Mrs. Roche: My right hon. Friend is right. We know that there is a correlation between transport, jobs and unemployment, and that is precisely why the social exclusion unit is producing a report on that very subject.
Michael Fabricant: The Minister may think that it is time to move on, but I am not sure that the country does, so when will he answer the question? When will the ministerial code deal with those who lie to the House?
Mr. Leslie: Jonathan Aitken, Neil Hamilton, Jeffrey ArcherI am trying to remember the names. Perhaps my mind is a little jaded by the history of Conservative Administrations. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that the ministerial code of conduct is a strong document that ensures high standards of conduct from Ministers. I am proud of it. The hon. Gentleman should read it, and the amendments that are being made to it.
Mr. Rammell: Does the Prime Minister share my concern at the acute shortage of affordable homes and homes for rent in London and the south-east? Will he therefore ensure that the desperate need for extra housing investment is addressed in the forthcoming spending review? Does he agree that through such extra investment and by building on the fact that we have already reversed the disastrous cuts in housing investment that took place under the Conservative Government, we will demonstrate more clearly than ever the utterly hollow sham represented by the words "caring Conservatism"?
The Prime Minister: I am pleased to say that over the next couple of years, as a result of the additional investment, investment in housing will amount to some £4 billion, compared with about £1.6 billion when we came to office. As important as anything else has been the starter homes initiative for key workers in London, which will help about 4,500 of them. However, I entirely
The Prime Minister: Of course head teachers have the power to exclude pupils who are causing a problem in their schools. We have tried to bear down on unnecessary exclusions, but the right of head teachers to exclude pupils is necessary.
Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister speaks of excluding children, but in 1998 he gave appeals panels the power to overrule head teachers' decisions to exclude those involved in drug taking or dealing. Worse than that, the Prime Minister made it clear in that legislation that head teachers had to listen and respond to the directions of the Secretary of State. The present Secretary of State has said that excluding pupils for drugs offences was
The Prime Minister: We know very well that the numbers of pupils who take drugs is a serious issue in our schools, but it is nonsense to suggest that we are saying that head teachers should not have the power to exclude pupils who are taking drugs. What is more, the work that we have been doing in schools on drug education and on ensuring that those who are dealing in drugs are properly punished bears comparison with anything that the previous Government did. In fact, over the past few years, we have invested more money in drugs education in our school, whereas the previous Government cut the amount of money available.
Mr. Duncan Smith: As everpromises, but never the answer. Drug taking in schools has risen by nearly a third since the present Government have been in power, all because they undermined head teachers. Linked to that, assaults on teachers have risen fivefold since the Government came to power. Is it not a fact that schools are more drug-infested and more violence-ridden as a direct result of the way in which the Government have undermined the discipline of teachers and head teachers?
The Prime Minister: That is a pathetic attempt to exploit an issue which everybody knows is a serious issue in schools. It is nonsense to suggest that we have been lenient with people assaulting teachers in schools. We have made it clear that they should be subject to the severest penalties. As for drug taking in schools, if the Government were responsible, how does the right hon. Gentleman account for the fact that when the Conservatives were in power, crime doubled and drug taking at every level increased? We have taken measures to ensure that head teachers have the power to exclude, but we are also trying to deal with the causes of drug
Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the rising tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed area of Kashmir, which are in danger of developing into a full-scale war, or even a nuclear confrontation. What steps will he and the British Government take to defuse that extremely dangerous and potentially lethal situation?
The Prime Minister: The situation is indeed grave and serious and the dangers inherent in it cannot be stressed enough. India and Pakistan are currently confronting each other, and I urge the leadership of both countries to pause and reflect before taking action that could plunge not just their countries but the wider region into conflict, with implications for the whole world. We are in constant touch with both countries and other allies, and we will do everything that we possibly can to try to calm the tension and remove the source of conflict.
My own view is that it is essential in the end that Pakistan should stop support for any form of terrorism in Kashmir or anywhere else in the region and, at the same time, that India should be prepared to offer a proper system of dialogue to resolve all issues between the two countries, including disputes over Kashmir. That is the only way we will resolve the issue in the long term. In the short term, I urge both countries to reflect carefully on the moves on which they may embark.
On a different issue, does he agree with his former policy director, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), who this week signed a parliamentary motion that puts forward his view that the five economic tests for sterling's entry into the single currency have already been met?
Mr. Kennedy: Then here is the ideal opportunity for the Prime Minister to clarify what the Government's policy actually is. Given the conflicting signals over the past week coming from the Treasury and No. 10, has the Prime Minister ruled out introducing legislation in the Queen's Speech this autumn to enable a single currency referendum?
The Prime Minister: The position is entirely clear, as it always has been. We believe that if the economic tests are met and passedthat assessment has to be made before June 2003we will put the issue to people in a referendum. That is clear, and it is different from the policy of the Conservative party, which is against the single currency for good, for ever and at any point in time,
Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our condolences to Ken and Libby Osborne, whose son Joshua was tragically killed by their child minder, Linda Bayfield. Will the Prime Minister instigate an urgent review of the laws that protect our children from abusive child minders and nannies and, in particular, give parents the right of access to serious complaints that have been made against child minders? In the case of Ken and Libby Osborne, that would have saved their son Joshua, who would still be with us.
The Prime Minister: I extend my sympathy to Mr. and Mrs. Osborne on the tragic death of their child. The Department for Education and Skills is looking at how the regulation of child care and child minders can be strengthened. However, no decisions have yet been taken. This case obviously illustrates the need for such a review.
Q2.  Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I know that the Prime Minister is aware of the crisis in the coal industry, including the threat to Betws colliery in my constituency. Will he tell us when the Government intend to make an announcement about an extension to the existing coal subsidy regime, which is currently set to expire on 23 July?
The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman says, we are considering that now. I should point out that I think Betws colliery has already received nearly £3 million under the operating aid scheme, and I think a further £1 million, or slightly more, is likely to be approved by the European Union shortly.
The operating aid scheme has brought benefits to the coal industrysome £140 million has been paid out under itbut we must review it, and we are reviewing it. I cannot say exactly when the decision will be made, but it will obviously be made before the deadline that we set.
Q3.  Nick Harvey (North Devon): What assessment have the Government made of recent reports of confirmed outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in South Korea and, indeed, in southern Japan? One case was less than 20 miles from a principal World cup stadium.
Given that rural Britain is still reeling from the impact of foot and mouth disease last year, what steps will the Government take to ensure that the thousands of Britons travelling to the World cup, as supporters and as journalists covering not just England matches but all matches taking place in those two countries, do not inadvertently bring the virus back to the United Kingdom through British airports?
The Prime Minister: Obviously we will consider what measures are necessary, but it is important to recognise that strict measures are already in place as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak that occurred here. While we must of course take any reasonable precaution, we must also ensure that we are not over-restrictive or unnecessarily bureaucratic.
Q4.  Ian Lucas (Wrexham): After Potters Bar, safety on the railways is at the forefront of all our minds. British Rail was forced to sell off its track maintenance operations in 1993. Does the Prime Minister agree that the use of sub-contracted maintenance workers since then makes it more difficult for us to create a railway that is truly safe?
The Prime Minister: I think that the Lord Cullen recommendations give the answer. Lord Cullen recommended certain changes which are being implemented now. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has also asked for work to be done by the Health and Safety Commission.
I do not think that the use of contractors and sub-contractors always means that a lower standard of safety is adhered to, but it does mean we should ensure that the proper checks are made to establish that safety standards are being adhered to. That is, of course, the very reason for Lord Cullen's recommendations.
Q5.  Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Why, according to the Institute for Management Development, has Britain fallen from ninth to 19th in the world competitiveness league since Labour took office?
Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, the same report makes it clear that Britain will have a better growth record than any other major economy anywhere in the world. I thank him for giving me an opportunity to raise the issue of the economy. Britain now has the lowest inflation and the lowest interest rates for 40 years. Britain now has the lowest unemployment for nearly 30 years. Britain has cut long-term unemployment massively, and I pleased to say that Britain's economy is set to grow more than any comparable economy this year.
Q6.  Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): The Prime Minister will know that heroin is one of the biggest problems facing former mining constituencies such as his and mine. Is he surprised, given his earlier remarks about primary school education, that Rhondda Cynon Taff county borough council, which is run by Plaid Cymru, still refuses to fund primary school education on drugs,
The Prime Minister: It is important that we take action in relation to this problem. First, we must make sure that there is proper investment in drugs treatment and in drugs education. That is what we are doing. We must also make sure that those who engage in peddling drugs are dealt with severely. That is why the changes in the criminal justice system and the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which is being opposed by the Conservatives, are just as important as drug treatment and prevention.
The Prime Minister: The issue of elections and referendums has obviously been dealt with through the Home Office in the past. However, all decisions are Cabinet decisions. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know anything particular, he can ask us.
Mr. Duncan Smith: On 8 June 2001, in a Downing street press noticeissued, no doubt, by the Prime Ministerhe made it clear that responsibility for referendums and elections was transferred to the newly created Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Last year, therefore, the Prime Minister put the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions in charge of referendums. When the Transport Secretary said that legislation on the euro referendum would be announced on the day of the next Queen's Speech, was he telling the truth?
The Prime Minister: First, the Home Office did indeed introduce the legislation on elections and referendums. Secondly, of course local elections are governed by the DTLR. As for what the Secretary of State has said, the position in relation to the euro referendum is exactly as I set it out a moment ago.
Mr. Duncan Smith: That is clear, then. It is marvellous that when the Transport Secretary goes on failing to tell the truth, the Prime Minister runs to his defence. When it appears that there is a glimmer of truth in what the Transport Secretary says, the Prime Minister dumps on him. Perhaps the Prime Minister could now answer the question. The Transport Secretary, the man in charge of referendums who will organise the legislation, said that on the day of the next Queen's Speech there would be legislation on the euro referendum. Was he telling the truthyes or no?
The Prime Minister: The position in relation to the referendum is clear. If the economic tests are passed, we put the matter to the people in a referendum. What is more, those tests have to be met, or passed, or assessed
Q7.  Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): The Highways Agency made public commitments to environmental improvements before its operations in the capital were transferred to Transport for London. Those commitments have not been honoured. Four years ago, after the M11 link road was built through my constituency, I was promised, in writing, £1 million for environmental improvements to Leyton and Wanstead. That promise has not been fulfilled. Will the Prime Minister look into the matter so that trust can be restored in the word of Government agencies?
The Prime Minister: This is another case of a transferred obligation, as I gather that Transport for London is now responsible for compensation schemes. It has received about £20 million for doing so, but I will certainly look into my hon. Friend's point.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): The Prime Minister made some remarks in the past week with which I agreed. I refer to his science policy announcement on Monday, when he said that he would take further action to protect the science base and support scientists. Will the right hon. Gentleman back that up by making sure that we can in practice prevent animal rights activists from stopping legal research, and encourage trials of genetically modified crops to find out what their impact is? Does he recognise that problems of facilities and academic pay in the universities will create tensions for big research laboratories, which may well go to the United States. There is a big agenda here. Will the Prime Minister follow his good words with action?
The Prime Minister: The work that we have done already in trying to protect companies, such as Huntingdon Life Sciences, has been important, and we need to make it quite clear that those people who want to protest should do so legitimately and lawfully. What they should not do is disrupt legitimate business and prevent research, because people may be totally opposed to GM crops, but at least we should know the facts, based on research.
I will be making it clear tomorrow as well that, of course, we want to continue the support for science. We have already increased its funding very significantly, both in the public sector and in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, but I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that we carry on that work. The science base
Q8.  Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the complaints of people who are intimidatedor who, more often than not, feel intimidatedby the collections of young people on street corners are echoed by the young people themselves, who would much rather have somewhere else to go and something else to do? Will he take the opportunity of the comprehensive spending review to invest heavily in the youth service, which has been a Cinderella service, and in facilities for young people throughout the country?
The Prime Minister: We are doing two things: first, we are investing more money in youth services, and secondly, we are also investing in the new Connexions service which offers young people the prospect of proper career advice and development, which is vitally important for them. But my hon. Friend is right: at the same time as we bear down heavily on street crime and make sure that people who are repeat offenders are not constantly bailed, and so forth, we have to invest in programmes, such as sure start, and education, making sure that the youth services are properly funded so that young people have something to do and somewhere to go, rather than hanging about on street corners, creating mischief.
The Prime Minister: That has been dealt with by my right hon. Friend and me. What this indicates, yet again, is the utter inability of the Conservatives to deal with any policy issue. It is fascinatingis it not?that just once at this Prime Minister's Question Time have I been asked a serious policy question from the Conservative partyand that was from someone who does not agree with his party's leadership.
Q9.  Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): In light of the reports of a college placing creationism and evolution on the same terms, does the Prime Minister agree that the national curriculum should be clarified to prevent the two being presented as scientific equivalents? Does he also agree that it is better to draw a clear line now, rather than later, to deal with the consequences of those teachers who abuse their position?
The Prime Minister: We must be careful of exaggerating the issue of creationism in schools. I say to my hon. Friend that the national curriculum already provides certain safeguards. Of course those safeguards are kept under review, but I am hesitant myself about saying that those particular issues should be dealt with if it is the case, as I believe, that the school in question is a good school, providing a good service for its pupils.
The Prime Minister: I do not believe that he would have said that at all. I would simply point out to the hon. Gentleman that, if he looks at some of the local election results, he will see that we saw off the Liberal Democrats in many areas of the country.
Q11.  Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): May I raise the question of Gibraltar? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] Does the Prime Minister recall the prayer that says, "God grant me the courage to change the things which I can, the patience to accept those things that I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference"? Should not that be applied in relation to the Government's policy on Gibraltar? The fact is that we cannot change Spain's position, so is it not time that we concluded those abortive and foolhardy talks and robustly defended the right of the people of Gibraltar to enjoy access throughout Europe and to promote their economy unhindered by Spain?
The Prime Minister: Opposition Members cheer, but they should know that the Brussels process in which we are engaged began in 1984 and has been carried forward in good faith by the Government. It has been carried forward for a very simple reason: there is a dispute over Gibraltar and it has many ramifications within the European Union, for this country as well as for Spain. It is important that we try to resolve it, but we have made it clear throughout that the final say has to rest with the people of Gibraltar. We have conducted the talks in good faith and we will continue to do so.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): As the Prime Minister very sensibly expects strong support for his policy against terrorism, and as there is no commitment in the Good Friday agreement to granting an amnesty to terrorists on the run, can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an absolute assurance that he has no such intention?
The Prime Minister: What I can say is that we will look at the issue very carefullyas we said; there is a real issue as regards people on the run who have been either charged or convicted of offences, and circumstances where those who have been convicted and served their time are now out on the prisoner release scheme. We are well aware of the sensitivities regarding that issue in Northern Ireland and we hope that we can find a way forward that meets those sensitivities but that deals with a genuine probleman anomaly in the system.
Q13.  Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Newcastle-under-Lyme Labour borough council on its work with the Labour Government and the Labour county council in attracting thousands of new jobs to former coal mining areas in my constituency? Furthermore, does he agree that the effective partnerships that we are forging
The Prime Minister: It is true that massive investment is going into the former coal mining areas. That has of course created many, many jobs; indeed, there are 1.5 million extra jobs in the economy as a whole. All that investment was opposed by the so-called new party of the vulnerable.
Q14.  Pete Wishart (North Tayside): As a fellow musician, the Prime Minister, I am sure, appreciates the contribution of the creative industries of the United Kingdom. He will therefore be aware that massive losses have been incurred by some of the major record companies in the UK. What are he and his Government going to do about the real issues of music piracy and copyright infringement that pose a great threat to the UK music industry?
The Prime Minister: I do not describe myself as a musician, but in respect of record companies, we have tightened the law in this countryit has also been tightened internationally. Many of the laws against piracy have to be dealt with internationallyas we are trying to doand although I understand the frustration experienced by the record companies, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the result of the technology that is now available makes that very difficult.
Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): In answer to an earlier question, my right hon. Friend re-emphasised the Government's commitment to increasing investment in science and engineering. In that context, does he share my disappointment that in a recent survey of 16-year-old school leavers neither scientist nor engineer figured in the top ten career choices of girls?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that many young people do not see science as a good career. One of the best things that we can do is to show by what is happening in science todayin particular the extraordinary spin-offs between scientific endeavour and the commercial worldwhat huge opportunities there are for our young people. I hope that the investment and the priority given to science by the Government will play a part in that. If young people knew, for example, that in the Cambridge area alone there were some 60,000 high-tech, well-paid jobs as a result of co-operation between science and the academic world, we should have a lot more people going into science.
Q15.  Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): If the Prime Minister believes that questions in the House about whether a Minister has told the truth are not important matters for the House, may I ask that he take advice from his mentors and come back next week with a different answer?
The Prime Minister: Of course it is important that Ministers tell the truth. I was simply saying that the issue had been dealt with comprehensively by the Secretary of State. I was saying also that it was typical of the Conservative party that it wants to personalise every issue rather than deal with policy issues, which are the real stuff of politics.