May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on launching a fundamental review of all Government spending, just as Conservative-controlled Basildon is currently doing? Does he agree that it is the responsibility of Government to ensure the best possible value for every pound of taxpayers' money that is spent?
As my hon. Friend so often reminds the House, where Basildon leads others tend to follow.
I welcome yesterday's statement by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The Government spend over £250 billion a year of taxpayers' money. I believe that it is necessary to look very closely at the way in which that money is spent and at where it is spent and to ensure that we obtain the best possible value for every pound that is spent. It is for that reason that we are conducting the review.
Does the Prime Minister recall the promise that he made during the election campaign only 10 months ago? He said that the Government had no plans and no need to extend the scope of value added tax. Does he stand by those words?
The Prime Minister made just that promise to the British people when he needed their votes. Why will not he make it now?
At the time of the election, the Prime Minister and all his colleagues promised no change in VAT, no other new taxes or charges and no cuts in the public spending plans that they had put before the British people. Is not it clear from the Prime Minister's refusal to answer a simple question that all his promises had a sell-by date of 9 April?
Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the article by Robert Fisk in yesterday's edition of The Independent which describes systematic rape in Bosnia? Has not the time come for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal, so that those responsbile for the perpetration of such foul crimes can be brought to justice? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to ensure that, under the authority of the United Nations and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, such a tribunal is established as quickly as possible?
Is the Prime Minister aware that unemployment in my constituency, in the once-prosperous city of Nottingham, is now higher than in any Scottish or Welsh constituency, having risen by 44 per cent. between 1990 and 1992? With three out of 10 males now unemployed, when does the right hon. Gentleman expect unemployment to start to fall?
I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman's concern about unemployment, but I would respect it more if he did not support policies that would deliberately put people out of work—[Interruption.]—rather than back into work. He and his party have consistently argued for a national minimum wage and even the Fabian Society has recognised that
an inescapable part of a
national minimum wage
policy is increased unemployment.
Perhaps that is another policy which the Labour Front Bench could ditch.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the British Government support the Owen-Vance peace plan and that they will continue to keep up their pressure on the warring parties to comply with that plan? In the meantime, will he confirm British support for the humanitarian aid now going to Bosnia?
Yes. I confirm both points. The Government's policy is fully to support the Owen-Vance peace plan, which was developed out of the conference that I chaired in London last August. We also wish to maintain the conditions in which our forces can support the United Nations humanitarian effort, without which many thousands of people alive today would otherwise have been dead. But we believe it to be necessary to increase the pressure on the parties to help seek a solution. The United Kingdom has put forward proposals for tightening the operation of sanctions across the Danube and for increasing the isolation of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs if their aggression persists. I hope that that policy will be supported throughout the European Community and the United Nations.
Will the Prime Minister find time today to examine the effects of land contamination on job creation? In particular, will he examine the position of the Woolwich Arsenal site, which once employed 80,000 people in a single factory, but which now lies derelict in an area where male unemployment tops 62 per cent? Will he give a categorical assurance that, as the contamination was caused by the Ministry of Defence, the Government will meet the full cost of decontamination on that site and the neighbouring Thamesmead area?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the great teaching profession clearly welcomes higher standards through the national curriculum, but appears to be flinching from achieving them through standard assessment tests? Does he further agree that it is vital, above all in the interests of our nation and our children, that the tests go ahead without delay?
I believe that we need national tests to raise standards and it is our intention that they shall go ahead. They are and remain a vital part of the national curriculum. Children need them, parents want them and I expect teachers to supervise them.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will meet the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food shortly to discuss his disgraceful betrayal of British farmers with the proposed cuts in hill livestock compensatory allowances—despite the promise, fewer than 18 months ago, that they were safe in his hands?
I meet my right hon. Friend many times a week, but, regardless of the cut in HLCAs to which the hon. Gentleman refers, hill farmers' incomes will be between £60 million and £70 million higher as a result of increased sheep premiums, the green pound devaluation and other market factors.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while any convert to conservatism is always welcome, if that conversion is coupled with a continuing opposition to British Rail privatisation, grant-maintained schools, GP fund-holding practices and compulsory competitive tendering, it shows that the conversion is insubstantial and entirely unreal? Is not that now the position of the Leader of the Opposition?
I welcome all conversions to conservatism, especially death-bed conversions—but they must be genuine conversions, not conversions that use the language of conservatism but remain wedded to the instincts and policies of socialism. Until the right hon. and learned Gentleman formally drops his commitment to clause 4, his opposition to privatisation and his idiotic proposal for a windfall tax, no one will take his conversion seriously.
When my right hon. Friend is considering new measures to help the unemployed, especially the long-term unemployed, will he give careful consideration to the idea of relaxing the social security rules that affect availability for work, so that it is possible for people to do more than 24 hours a week of voluntary work and more than 21 hours a week of educational study—to their benefit and that of the country?
We have looked and are looking at a range of measures that might encourage people back into work. I cannot give my hon. Friend a particular undertaking on the point that he makes, but we are looking at a range of ways to assist.
The Prime Minister's record is not a good one. Since he came to office in 1990, more than 1 million people have joined the unemployed queues and more than 100,000 training places have been lost. Is this the vision of Opportunity Britain, or is it a sign of the growing army of jobless whose lives have been wasted by the Government?
What we have sought to do and are doing is to put in place the economic circumstances that will create genuine and lasting jobs. That is why we have cut inflation to its lowest level for six years, brought interest rates down to their lowest for 15 years and put in place the most comprehensive training programme ever seen in this country. That is the only way to secure long-term, permanent jobs—not the quick fixes so beloved of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.