Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 25th May 2005.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 11:30 am, 25th May 2005

Many people in my constituency asked me during the election campaign whether, in the event of the rejection of the European Union constitution treaty in a referendum in any member state of the European Union, the treaty would be dead and buried. The French Prime Minister has apparently indicated to the French people that that would be the case. Will the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom give me an assurance that, in the event of such a rejection by any country, including the United Kingdom, there would be no immaculate resurrection of that treaty in any circumstances?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

No. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that, before any constitutional treaty is ratified by the UK, there will be a referendum on it. If any country were to vote no—so far, no country has done so, and we should not speculate too much about what might happen in the next few days—there would have to be a discussion in the European Council to decide on the way forward. There is really nothing else to say at this point in time.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

Does the Prime Minister accept that the methods used by the Government over the past couple of years to resolve the political crisis in Northern Ireland have played a substantive part in getting us to where we are now, in terms of placing the community under the dictates of the IRA army council and the extremes of Unionism and republicanism? Furthermore, is he aware of the tremendous downfall in public confidence in the provision of health and educational facilities in Northern Ireland? In these circumstances, how can he justify the appointment of the first part-time Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, however worthy and able that right hon. Gentleman might be?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

That is a little unfair to my right hon. Friend Mr. Hain, to be frank. He is obviously devoting his time to Northern Ireland, as are his Ministers. I do not think that the problem in Northern Ireland is the one that my hon. Friend Mr. McGrady describes. The fact is that there are only two ways forward. One is inclusive of Sinn Fein, and for that to happen, there has to be a complete end to all forms of paramilitary or criminal activity, as the Good Friday agreement indicates. Alternatively, there is a way forward without Sinn Fein, which would depend on my hon. Friend's party. Those are the only two ways forward, I am afraid. I can only facilitate; I cannot actually order parties to do anything. My own view is that it would be far better to find an inclusive way forward, and I continue to think that, but that cannot be done on any other basis than the proper implementation of the Good Friday agreement, which involves the cessation of all forms of activity contrary to law.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

The UK's fiscal position has deteriorated dramatically from a 1.2 per cent. surplus in 1999 to a 3.4 per cent. deficit in 2004. It is the responsibility of any sensible Government to attempt to reduce such a deficit. How is the Prime Minister going to do that?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I am not going to do it by taking the advice of the Conservative party, that is for sure. It would mean cuts in front-line services, and I simply do not agree with that.

If we compare this Government's fiscal record with that of the last Government, the comparison looks extremely good for this Government. The fact is that we have a strong economy: we have probably had the strongest economy in the G7 over the past few years. We have high levels of growth, low levels of unemployment, low mortgage rates and low inflation. The hon. Gentleman should compare and contrast. I know that he was not a member of the Government, or even a Member of Parliament, at the time of the last Conservative Administration, but if he casts his mind back to that time he will remember the 10 per cent. interest rates for four years, the 3 million unemployed and the two recessions. That is one reason why he is sitting over there and not over here.

Photo of Paul Farrelly Paul Farrelly Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Obviously we all welcomed the Prime Minister's efforts with the aid package for MG Rover at Longbridge. Leoni Wiring, which was once the biggest employer in my constituency, has been decimated by Rover's demise. Because of that and other manufacturing job losses, areas such as north Staffordshire are in urgent need of regeneration. Can the Prime Minister reassure me that no regeneration projects in Staffordshire or the rest of the west midlands will suffer because of the priority given to the MG Rover package—particularly in respect of the allocation of European funds—and that all our regeneration projects in the west midlands will be treated and appraised with the same priority as before?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

I totally understand my hon. Friend's concern. I assure him that the recent decision that I gather was made by the west midlands programme monitoring committee to devote additional appraisal resources to the current MG Rover situation should not and will not have an adverse impact on other projects in the region. A number of those projects still await either planning permission or confirmation of their match funding and therefore are not ready to proceed to a full offer of European grant, but I assure my hon. Friend that as soon as they are ready to go ahead with the relevant funds and planning approvals in place, they will do so.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

In view of the publication of the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission yesterday, which exposed once again the deep and continuing involvement of the Provisional IRA and others in paramilitarism and all forms of criminality, can the Prime Minister make it absolutely clear that there will be no question of having terrorists, or their front men or apologists, in the Government of any part of the United Kingdom?

I welcomed the Prime Minister's remarks about finding a way forward without Sinn Fein. May I urge him to take on board the election results that showed clearly that that is the overwhelming desire of all democratic and peace-loving people in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

As I said a moment ago, we have not been able to reconstitute the Executive in Northern Ireland precisely because it has to be absolutely clear that there must be an end to all forms of unlawful, illegal activity, paramilitary or otherwise. That is clear. That is the reason for the impasse.

As for the hon. Gentleman's second point, I know he will accept and understand that that depends not on the views of the Unionist community but on the views of the nationalist and republican community. What we must do is bring the situation to a point at which either it is clear that there cannot and will not ever be a resolution of the problem in respect of the republican movement, or the problem is resolved—and it can be resolved in only one way. If the republicans want to get into government, there must be an end to all of it. That is the whole basis of the Good Friday agreement.

As I said a moment ago, I can only tell people what the situation is. It is for them to make their decision: for the republicans, for the hon. Gentleman, for the SDLP and others. The one benefit of the peace process over the past eight years has been that it is now crystal clear what is the issue and how it is to be resolved. The only question is whether it can be resolved.

Photo of Louise Ellman Louise Ellman Labour, Liverpool, Riverside

A recent Department for Transport safety poster depicts a child saying

"Hit at 40 mph there's a 80 per cent. chance I'll die, hit at 30 mph there's a 80 per cent. chance I'll live."

Why, then, do the Government propose to reduce the penalties for breaking the 30 mph speed limit?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

My understanding is that the current proposals are to double the maximum points and increase the fines for the worst speeding offences. We have purposely not suggested reducing the points or fines for people who speed in the lowest zones, the 20 mph zones.

Obviously this must be considered carefully as the road safety Bill proceeds, but it is worth pointing out that some 10,000 fewer people are killed and seriously injured on our roads each year than was the case between 1994 and 1998. The challenge now is for us to increase that by the same amount by 2010. I understand my hon. Friend's points and I am sure that they will be considered carefully as the Bill proceeds, but the whole purpose of the Bill is to introduce common sense to the system and to protect, in particular, our children from serious injury or death.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

Are the treaty terms under which the UK receives its rebate from the EU budget non-negotiable—yes or no?

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister

We have made it absolutely clear that the rebate remains. It remained in 1999. We negotiated successfully then. We will negotiate successfully again.