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The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [65830] Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 10 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 meetings later today.

Fiona Mactaggart: Is the Prime Minister aware that the lack of affordable housing in the south-east is not only causing us difficulties in delivering our public service commitments but causing despair to decent families? Will he use the comprehensive spending review to increase the supply of affordable housing in London and the south-east?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt that that is a serious issue. We have to ensure that we retain the green belt, and since we came to office some 30,000 hectares have been added to it. We must retain the existing 60:40 split between brownfield and greenfield developments, which we increased. We also have to make sure that there is more affordable housing in London and the south-east. That is one of the issues that the comprehensive spending review will address on Monday, and that is permissible only because of the extra investment that we are putting into our public services. As has been made clear, most recently yesterday, that investment is opposed by the Conservative party.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Why should anyone now have confidence in the Government's new drugs policy when the Prime Minister's own drugs tsar has resigned, saying that it is all wrong?

The Prime Minister: Perhaps for this reason: the change proposed by the Home Secretary, which he will give details of later, is supported by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which includes many senior police officers, by the Home Affairs Committee, which includes Conservative MPs, by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which is the association of chief constables, and by the Metropolitan police. It is clear that there will be differences of opinion on all sides, and it would be absurd to say that everybody is of the same view. If the right hon. Gentleman listened to the arguments, he would find that they are supported by all the people whom I have just listed.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I notice that the Prime Minister failed to say why Keith Hellawell, his drugs tsar, who has now resigned, said that the policy was wrong. It is worth

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reminding everyone that the Prime Minister said of Keith Hellawell, believing that he was a very good man, that he had

When Mr. Hellawell resigned today he said something very important. He said that the change is

Will the Prime Minister answer this very simple question? When the public have to choose between the Home Secretary and the Government's drugs tsar, who does he think they ought to choose?

The Prime Minister: Keith Hellawell's work on issues such as drugs education and spending on treatment, which has doubled in recent years, has been extremely important. The right hon. Gentleman says that this is a question of preferring Keith Hellawell's views to those of the Home Secretary, but my point is that one could ask whether it is a question of preferring Keith Hellawell's views to those of the Association of Chief Police Officers or the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which are experts in this field.

I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that we have a sensible argument about the matter. There are differences of view between people in the police service. There are differences of view locally, in areas such as Lambeth, as the right hon. Gentleman discovered for himself yesterday. There are also differences of view within the political parties. There will be some on the Government Benches who disagree with the change of policy, and some on the Opposition Benches who disagree with the right hon. Gentleman's position. I suggest that we debate the policy itself, rather than simply scoring points.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I could not agree with the Prime Minister more about the need to have a proper debate, but we can hardly have a proper debate when the Home Secretary, without disclosing any evidence whatever, comes to the House and tells us that the law is to be changed. Worse than that, the Prime Minister knows that his Home Secretary bases that change on the Lambeth experiment. If the Prime Minister listened to the radio today, he will know that people who work on the Stockwell Park estate say:

If the Prime Minister wants that debate, perhaps he can answer this question: if he were the parent of a 16-year-old living on that estate, would he want that kind of message going out to children there?

The Prime Minister: In relation to Lambeth, as I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman a moment or two ago, there will be differences of opinion. I think that he found that himself. The independent Police Foundation poll found most people in Lambeth in favour, but of course there will be people against the change.

Since the Lambeth experiment started, there have been more arrests, for example, for class A drug dealing. Street crime has fallen since the experiment began. When the right hon. Gentleman says that the Home Secretary presents the proposals without any consultation at all, let me repeat that he asked for advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The council has given

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him the advice, and he has decided to take it. It is therefore absurd to say that the Home Secretary is taking this step without any support whatever.

Let me make it clear that, under the proposals, the possession of cannabis remains a criminal offence; dealing remains a criminal offence, with the full weight of the law; and the power to arrest remains. However, where the police think it right, reclassification allows them to focus on hard drug dealing and drug dealing of any description, including of cannabis. That is why the proposals are supported by the chief police officers and the Metropolitan police.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): Last week the Prime Minister outlined the results of the G8 summit in Canada, which included a substantial initiative to remove weapons of mass destruction—chemical and otherwise—from the face of the globe. Can my right hon. Friend outline to the House what the British contribution to that most worthwhile and essential initiative will be?

The Prime Minister: Very roughly, we will be allocating about $750 million to that programme over the next 10 years. We are currently allocating about $51 million to it. That allows us to clean up facilities—nuclear facilities, or chemical or biological weapons facilities. The important point is not merely the environmental benefits, but stopping such weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong, and possibly terrorist, hands. It is an important programme, and I thank my hon. Friend for his support.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): Applications this year from Scottish students to attend university are up by 5.5 per cent. The equivalent increase in applications from students in England is up by only 0.5 per cent. How does the Prime Minister explain that difference?

The Prime Minister: In fact, since we introduced student fees, applications are significantly up, by more than 0.5 per cent. Of course the right hon. Gentleman can argue that we could provide tuition free, but he knows that under the Scottish experiment, people do pay at the end—indeed, everyone pays.

Mr. Kennedy: Not only have tuition fees been abolished in the Scottish context but, in addition, grants have been reintroduced for students from poorer backgrounds. In England, students face the prospect of ever-rising levels of debt. Will the Prime Minister deny this week's reports that, in the light of that evidence, the Government are considering increasing the level of fees that some students in England will have to pay? Given the evidence available, such a policy would be totally unacceptable.

The Prime Minister: First, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he and his colleagues said that numbers of applications for universities in England and Wales would fall as result of tuition fees, but they have not—they have risen. Secondly, let me point out to him that we are putting more money into universities, but it is important to recognise that we will never be able to go back to the old grant system—not with the numbers of people who are going through universities. Moreover,

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he is wrong to say that all people from poorer backgrounds pay tuition fees—more than 40 per cent. of them are exempt from tuition fees.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North): Given that the air travel industry throughout the world suffered a great loss of business after 11 September last year, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the management and staff at Glasgow airport in my constituency, where business has increased by 5.7 per cent. in that period? Will he thank them for their hard work and investment and for holding their nerve during that time?

The Prime Minister: That is a tough one, but I am going to answer it. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says and congratulate the staff at Glasgow airport on the excellent service that they provide.

Q2. [65831] Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The Prime Minister will no doubt recall the statement made in November 1998 by Lord Robertson, who committed the Government to the purchase of 232 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. May I invite the Prime Minister to tell the House that there is no truth in today's press reports that the Government are to renege on that commitment, and that they will purchase all 232 Eurofighter aircraft?

The Prime Minister: There is no change in our commitment to the Eurofighter.

Q3. [65832] Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): Last month, the Scottish Council Foundation issued a report showing that if Glasgow is to reach the Scottish average for the percentage of its population in employment, an additional 40,000 jobs are required to be created in the city. Can the Prime Minister assure the House that in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review, the Government will place continued priority on reaching full employment for all, especially in areas of special need such as Glasgow?

The Prime Minister: Obviously, there are still pockets of very high unemployment in my hon. Friend's constituency and in others, and we will continue to address them in the comprehensive spending review and elsewhere. However, I think she will agree that the measures that have produced one and a quarter million extra jobs in the British economy have been achieved through a combination of low interest rates, low inflation and the new deal for the long-term unemployed, which has given hundreds of thousands of people the chance to get decent work for the first time in their lives. Again I point out that the new deal was of course opposed by the Conservative party.

Q4. [65833] Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating my constituents in Shetland, who succeeded in raising more than £20,000 in six weeks for the purchase, operation and training of a drugs detector sniffer dog, a resource that is now much appreciated by police on the islands who are combating a growing hard drugs problem? Can I ask him to intervene with the senior management of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, who have demonstrated a very poor attitude towards that

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community initiative, refused to allow local officers to use it, and insisted that our ports in Shetland can be covered by dogs based in Manchester?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to congratulate the hon. Gentleman's constituents on what they have done. As for the second part of his question, if he will forgive me I do not know the details of the matter, so I shall have to write to him about it.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): This morning, ASW, which has steel mills in Cardiff and in Sheerness in my constituency, went into receivership. President Bush's steel tariff proposals may have been the last straw for UK banks in respect of our overdraft facility for ASW. Does the Prime Minister think that the World Trade Organisation has the systems in place to react more speedily—within days, rather than months—on this issue, because that announcement has had a profound and devastating impact on my community today?

The Prime Minister: Let me first express my sympathy to my hon. Friend's constituents. We greatly regret that ASW Holdings plc has applied for receivership. As my hon. Friend knows, meetings took place with him, Ministers, the company and others to try to avoid the situation. Unfortunately, that did not happen but we shall do everything possible to help those employed by the company.

We have made clear our reasons for disagreeing with the decision made by the United States, and I hope that the WTO rules against it. I understand my hon. Friend's desire to speed up the processes; that can be considered in the context of the negotiations that will continue later this year. However, even in the light of the exclusions for some of our companies, the decision is regrettable. I do not believe that it is in the interests of people here or of the US steel industry.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Last week, the Prime Minister told the House that new restrictions on care homes

Of the 246 new rules that the Government are imposing, how many will take effect by 2007?

The Prime Minister: From memory, I said that provisions for matters such as widening rooms and bathing would take effect in 2007, and that those were the regulations about which people were complaining. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's comments. On our information, my remarks last week were accurate.

The main issue is care home fees. Again, I point out that we are increasing social services spending by 6 per cent. in real terms. Some of that money will go to care homes, yet the right hon. Gentleman is opposed to all that spending.

Mr. Duncan Smith: I know that the Pope is meant to be infallible, but I did not realise that that applied to the Prime Minister. He said of the regulations that they

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Now that we know there are fewer care homes, perhaps the Prime Minister would like to answer another question. Since he came to power, how many more elderly people are receiving care in their own homes?

The Prime Minister: First, I said that the provisions that related to matters about which people were complaining, such as widening rooms, would not take effect until 2007. That is my understanding.

Also on care homes, I speak again from memory, I believe that around 40,000 extra people are receiving care in their homes. It is therefore true that there has been a net loss of some 17,000 care beds and that the number of people who receive care in their homes has increased by 43,000.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister should ensure that he surrounds himself with friends before taking people's advice. The number of people who receive care at home has fallen by 80,000 since he took office. If elderly people cannot get places in care homes and they are not being looked after at home, does he agree that the message from the Government is, "Fend for yourself"?

The Prime Minister: No, I do not accept that. I am afraid that we disagree about the figures. However, it is obvious that if people need more care, whether in care homes or in their own homes, we need to invest in provision for that. Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor committed themselves to opposing the extra money for investment in health and education. The right hon. Gentleman started by believing that he would go for compassionate Conservatism, but he has reverted to the proposals for cuts—precisely the same position adopted by the Conservatives in the previous Parliament. Indeed, after their public spending announcements yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman must be the only known disciple of Hagueism.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Stockton's drugs action team? It has more than 800 young people in treatment, 500 of whom are testing clean and 200 of whom are testing clean permanently. However, we have a problem with chaotic drug users—people who are spending more than £45 a day by stealing from anybody. Those people are outside the loop. Does he think that it is time we gave serious consideration to allowing supervised prescriptions of heroin so that we can break the link with the drug dealers and also get those young people into a system of support?

The Prime Minister: I hear what my hon. Friend says. The most important thing is to ensure that persistent drug abusers are getting treatment. That is precisely why we have radically increased provision. What is happening in her constituency is happening in other constituencies too. Indeed, we have a target to increase dramatically the number of drug users who are receiving treatment in the

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next few years. I also believe, however, that drug treatment and testing orders are a further important innovation. In the areas where they have been piloted—more than 6,000 have been granted—they mean that people who may go to prison, and are criminals, are faced with a choice: they may either have drug treatment or they will go to prison.

I think that we have got to increase the level of treatment available, increase arrest referral schemes in police custody suites and increase the testing of people in relation to drugs so that we can ensure that people who are criminals and are committing criminal offences are given a clear choice: they can either take the treatment to get off the drugs or they will face the consequences, which may well include custody.

Q5. [65834] Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): The secondary schools in the constituencies represented by the five Education Ministers receive 20 per cent. more funding than the schools in my Wiltshire constituency. That gap has widened since 1997. Given that the Prime Minister and his Ministers have consistently assured the House that they are looking at that problem, when can Wiltshire schoolchildren expect to receive a fair slice of the funding cake?

The Prime Minister: First, there is an increase of more than £11 million to the Wiltshire LEA on last year, so that is the good news, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that he and his hon. Friends had better wake up to what happened yesterday. His shadow Chancellor and his leader said that the answer was not money. Indeed, they wanted to cut the amount going to education. I am afraid that they are in a lot of trouble. Every Conservative Member who gets up from now on and asks for more money for schools, hospitals, transport or crime will, I am afraid, have to go down under the category of rebel.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): While the rain has been falling throughout the UK this week, the sun has been shining in Formby, where for the first time, we have been organising an arts festival. The festival has been made possible through lottery funding, and I know that many other constituencies throughout the UK have received similar funding to celebrate Britishness and community in this year of jubilee. What other measures can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that this is not a one-off event and that the sun keeps shining on that part of the world?

The Prime Minister: Interesting requests come to Prime Ministers. The unfortunate thing about bank holidays marking particular events is that if we were to grant every request for a bank holiday that was made to us, very few people would be at work at any point in time. Of course, we try to make provision for sensible bank holidays, and I point out to my hon. Friend and to her constituents who are enjoying the sunshine that, as a result of the Government's signing up to the social chapter, we have paid holidays for the first time in this country as of right rather than at the discretion of the employer.

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Q6. [65835] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): In a parliamentary reply on 11 June, I was told:

In a further reply on 1 July, I was then told:

Why has there been a change in policy and what specific guarantee has the Prime Minister received that rail freight services will be restored in respect of 100 freight trains going in each direction each week by September? He assured the House that that would happen.

The Prime Minister: Of course the French have a responsibility for this matter, but it is very much in our interest to help them to discharge that responsibility. I would have thought that the hon. Lady supported the moves to tighten security and achieve the September deadline for restoring the freight service to its proper position. It is not a question of either us or the French doing this; we have to do it together, and that is what we will do.

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