Does my right hon. Friend agree that the disposable income of 10 million mortgage payers is affected by two factors—income tax and interest rates? Is he aware that the Labour party will put up both—a double whammy?
My hon. Friend is quite right. We have brought down interest rates and we are determined to keep them low. We believe that the Labour party would do precisely the reverse. An average of 10 independent City forecasts shows that interest rates would rise by 2½ per cent. immediately if there were to be such a disaster as a Labour Government. That is Labour's message to home owners—more taxes and higher interest rates.
Has the Prime Minister seen the report from Mr. Graham Jackson, consultant cardiologist at Guy's trust hospital, who says:
seriously ill heart—
patients on a list to come in but, by the time their turn comes, the contract has run out and the trust administrator says there are no funds till the next financial year"?
Does not the Prime Minister agree that such a system, which puts cash before care, betrays the fundamental principle of the national health service?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is no system that puts cash before care. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that we have provided more additional resources in this Parliament than he was even prepared to promise in his last election manifesto.
But does not Dr. Jackson have a powerful point when he says that the new system—[Interruption] This is a man working in the system. Does not he have a powerful point when he says:
The new system is run by accountants … who don't have to sit across the table from the patient and say cannot treat you'
until the new financial year? Will the Prime Minister recognise now that it is tragically wrong for treatment for seriously ill people to be determined by money rather than medical need?
The view that the right hon. Gentleman attributes to that surgeon is certainly not shared by, among others, Nye Bevan's nephew. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government's role in health is twofold: first, to provide the resources and, secondly, to make them work better for patients. The resources are at a record level, as the right hon. Gentleman must concede, and the new system is making sure that the resources work better for patients. There is no other way to improve health care and there is no doubt that the new system, across a range of treatment, is improving health care.
In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, perhaps he will tell us two things: how much extra would he provide for health, and where does health come in Labour's order of priorities? Labour has a long list of priorities: a £3 billion pledge on pensions —presumably health comes after that; health presumably comes after Labour's billion recovery programme and it presumably comes after Labour's £8 billion housing pledge. What else does it come after? The right hon. Gentleman's priorities do not add up and he knows it. The right hon. Gentleman cannot put a cost on his compassion, for it is bogus.
Since the Government came to power, my Pendle constituency has gained two new enterprise zones which are bursting at the seams, one new motorway and a brand new community hospital. Currently, 55 per cent. of employment is in manufacturing—the highest level in the country. Modesty prevents my asking my right hon. Friend what message he will send to the electorate of Pendle in the coming election. However, what message will he send to the electorate in the whole of the north-west?
I will certainly reiterate fully the message that I delivered when I visited the north-west a few days ago. The future and prosperity of the north-west are best served by a Government who are determined to keep inflation down, who want to keep taxes down—and will not let interest rates rise as the Opposition would—and who recognise that the level of strikes is at its lowest for more than a century. In the north-west, we will continue to encourage domestic and inward investment and we will not discriminate against it.
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is so opposed to providing more power for parents in relation to schools. I note that it is the Liberal Democrats' policy to take power away from parents and governors and to give it to centralised bureaucrats, and that is precisely like the Labour party policy as in so many things.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise the dangers inherent in introducing unworkable proposals for devolution for Scotland? Does he accept that if such proposals were implemented, they would lead to a separatist, socialist, nationalist Scotland, enormous loss of jobs and the closure of military bases? The jobs that currently go to the military in the United Kingdom would be lost from factories in Scotland.
I believe that my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the risks of the devolution proposals which have previously been put before people. The Act of Union has served Scotland well and it has served England well. It has provided an essential cement for the whole of the United Kingdom. The devolution proposals that we have seen thus far would damage that union and separately damage Scotland, England and the whole of the United Kingdom. I understand the emotional pull that devolution has for people in Scotland, but I hope that every Scot will examine very carefully what it would mean in practice for Scotland and for the rest of the United Kingdom.
Has the Prime Minister seen the report on "World in Action" last night, which showed that one of his Ministers has been involved in smearing a private citizen? Does not this place give the Prime Minister the chance to show whether he is really against the smears that have been organised against the Labour party, or is he getting others to do his dirty work for him? Will he sack the Minister concerned?
Yes, Sir. The Community's budget is already £40 billion a year. The existing own resources ceiling has plenty of room for further expenditure without increased resources being committed. It is the Government's view that the Commission should be thinking of ways of saving taxpayers' money, not justifying fresh reasons for expending it. It cannot justify increased expenditure on the scale that it proposes, and we are not prepared to renegotiate in any way the present rebate to the United Kingdom.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the parents of Carly Reavill and everyone else know that he was misinformed on the circumstances concerning that child's tragic death? Will he accept that there is indeed an acute shortage of intensive care beds for children? Will he tell us precisely what action he intends to take so that never again will desperately sick children be turned away from hospitals which do not have the money to provide emergency treatment?
The hon. Gentleman will know, for he takes a close interest in this matter, that from next year, there is an extra £2·7 billion for the health service in its next budget, in a few day's time—up another 5 per cent., including efficiency gains. That is the most tangible way to demonstrate our concern for the health service and to continue to improve the service available to everyone in this country.
My right hon. Friend has been successful in building on the work of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in bringing the constitutional parties together. Will he accept that we are asking the Social Democratic and Labour party and the unionists to work more closely than parties normally do in Great Britain? Will he send a message to the Provisional IRA and the disloyalists that the mindless, aimless use of bullets and bombs will not be as successful as parliamentary debates and normal political election campaigns?
I believe that the whole House will share my hon. Friend's view on the latter matter. I warmly welcome the decision of the Northern Ireland political leaders to start their talks again. It gives a clear and very welcome signal to all the people in Northern Ireland of their determination to find a political solution. That is very much needed. It also gives a very clear signal to the terrorists that the people of Northern Ireland will not be bullied by guns, by bombs or by any other form of intimidation. That goes for everyone on the mainland as well.
As the restructuring of the armed services proceeds, the displaced and redundant service men will continue to be treated with the utmost care and sensitivity, as the Prime Minister is well aware. But if that policy is not extended to the displaced workers in the defence industries, does the Prime Minister accept that our high-tech base will be damaged, perhaps irreparably? Certainly, we can ask questions about the future of certain design teams and skilled and professional workers.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if he or my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment had a meeting with business leaders to discuss the policy of the minimum wage, they would tell both the House and the country what business leaders had to say about the damaging effect on jobs that such a minimum wage would have? Does my right hon. Friend think that the shadow spokesman on employment should do likewise?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The minimum wage policy has been condemned by everyone from The Guardian to Goldman Sachs. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is apparently the only person in the country who does not yet believe that the minimum wage would cost a substantial number of jobs if it were implemented. The only debate about the national minimum wage is not whether it would put people out of work but how many hundreds of thousands more people would be unemployed, wholly unnecessarily as a result of partisan dogma on the part of the Labour party.