Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 18 February 1998.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North 1:39, 18 February 1998

If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 18 February.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later today, and in addition to my duties in the House, I shall attend a dinner in the City of London with Chancellor Kohl.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the first transfer of money from the assisted places scheme to cut class sizes in my constituency and in many others? Is that not an excellent example of Labour education policy? It is good for children, parents want it, teachers welcome it and the Tories oppose it.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

Primary school class sizes rose by more than 40 per cent, in the past 20 years. The additional money from phasing out the assisted places scheme is the first instalment to get class sizes down for five, six and seven-year-olds in Britain. It will mean that 100,000 children are in class sizes of under 30 who would otherwise not have been. It is an excellent example of how the education programme of the Government is working well for the children of Britain.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Leader of HM Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

I thank the Prime Minister for accepting the Opposition amendment in last night's debate on Iraq, supporting the Government's policy, but emphasizing the importance of clear objectives. Does he agree that the UN Secretary-General takes to Baghdad the strong support of the British people for the attempt at a peaceful solution to the present crisis; but does he also agree that that solution must ensure the enforcement of the UN mandate on weapons of mass destruction?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

Yes, I do agree with that. I am delighted—indeed, it is in no small measure due to British diplomatic efforts—that Kofi Annan can go to Baghdad with the full and united support of the five permanent members of the Security Council. We hope that his mission will succeed, but whether or not it does will depend, of course, on Saddam. However, we should be very clear that his mission is within these parameters: full compliance with the UN Security Council resolutions on weapons inspections; no inhibition or condition that prevents the inspectors from gaining full access to the sites that they need to inspect; nothing that undermines in any way the integrity of the weapons inspection process. Saddam agreed at the end of the Gulf war to let the inspectors do their work and destroy those weapons of mass destruction and he must and will be held to that agreement. Our resolve on that is right, and it is immovable.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Leader of HM Official Opposition, Leader of the Conservative Party

I am grateful for the Prime Minister's reply, and for his reaffirmation of the position. Will he also look carefully at the suggestion made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), that we should consider how we might best ease the hardship of innocent people in Iraq, if necessary by delivering aid directly under UN authority and bypassing the Iraqi regime?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

Yes, and I welcome very much the suggestion that was made by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), as well as the content of his speech, which I thought set out excellently both the problems that we face and the fact that the course that we are taking is the only viable solution.

Of course we want to do all that we can to relieve the suffering of the Iraqi people. Our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people; it is with the dictator Saddam Hussein. We shall support—indeed, have been vigorously promoting—the idea of increasing the oil-for-food programme. We shall ensure what could easily happen if Saddam Hussein wished it to—proper humanitarian aid going to his people. Of course that is right, and, at the same time as rightly taking a strong line against Saddam Hussein, we shall continue to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people.

Photo of Mr Dennis Turner Mr Dennis Turner Labour/Co-operative, Wolverhampton South East

Will the Prime Minister join me in celebrating this week of British beef? You yourself, Madam Speaker, graced us with your presence this lunchtime in celebrating wonderful cuts of beef—steaks, braised beef and boiled beef. Whatever hon. Members want today in the House of Commons, it is there—British beef. I invite all hon. Members to join me in celebrating this glorious week of British beef.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

Yes, I should be delighted to join that celebration.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

For the avoidance of doubt, I place on record what the Prime Minister already knows—that Liberal Democrats fully support the Government's position and the Prime Minister's comments on Iraq.

On a different point, can the Prime Minister confirm these two facts: first, that public finances are not in deficit, but in surplus; secondly, that national health service waiting lists are going not down, but up?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

It is correct that the January figures, as they often do, show a repayment of national debt, but we are still expecting a borrowing requirement— the Chancellor will obviously give details of that when he makes his Budget statement. I should say to the right hon. Gentleman that I believe it absolutely essential to keep a tight rein on public spending.

The right hon. Gentleman will know that waiting lists have been going up since March 1995; it is our pledge to get them down, and we shall get them down. In the meantime, we have put extra money into the NHS— £300 million more than the Conservative party promised. We shall carry on doing what we can to ensure that we get those waiting lists down

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Leader of the Liberal Democrats

It is precisely on that matter of doing what we can to get those waiting lists down that I think there is some doubt. I remind the Prime Minister that he fought the general election nine months ago on a card— [Interruption.] Hon. Members might like to listen for a moment. The card contained some early pledges, one of which was to bring down NHS waiting lists by 100,000— those were the Prime Minister's words, not mine. In the nine months since the election, NHS waiting lists have gone up by 1,000 a week. The question that some are asking is how long it takes before an early pledge becomes a broken promise.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

It will be met, as I have explained. In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats—I do not have the right hon. Gentleman's pledge card with me—pledged an extra £1.1 billion for the NHS over the first two years of government. Actually, this Government are putting in £1.5 billion. Of course, the moment that we do that, he says that he wants even more. I am afraid that not even in Liberal Democrat economics does 2 plus 2 make 10.

We must ensure that we keep within the tight public spending limits, as I shall not have us go back to the boom and bust that the Tories gave us, when we had record interest rates, record repossessions, record bankruptcies, interest rates at 15 per cent, for a year or more, and record national debt. That is the difference between this Government and the previous one. We shall meet our NHS pledge, and when we do, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will congratulate us on it.

Photo of Charlotte Atkins Charlotte Atkins Labour, Staffordshire Moorlands

Does the Prime Minister welcome the support from the Liberal Democrats for the Government's new deal programme? Is he puzzled by the fact that they do not support the windfall tax that funds it? On that basis, could he encourage a Liberal Democrat to become my bank manager?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I am puzzled, but I am not surprised. The Liberal Democrats support the welfare-to-work programme, but they disavow the means of achieving it. We cannot have one without the other. There is no point in willing the end unless one wills the means, and the present Government have willed both.