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Mr. Gow : What objections does my right hon. Friend have to conferring traditional powers on the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland, and to setting up a regional council for the Province, as promised in our 1979 manifesto?
Mr. Tom King : I should like to hear the attitude of those who might take part in such an activity. That is why I have asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to work with me on establishing views on this and other approaches, to see which might attract the support of people in Northern Ireland.
Mr. McGrady : Does the Minister recall that of the nine causes of civil unrest that were found by the Scarman tribunal, seven were laid at the door of local government in Northern Ireland? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the history of local government in Northern Ireland since that time with regard to fair employment and participation of minority parties in local government shows that local government in Northern Ireland has a very long way to go before powers can be restored to it?
Mr Tom King : Of course I understand that. Some of the behaviour of some councils reinforces what the hon. Gentleman says. At the same time, we have sought to address those areas of grievance, whether in housing or electoral law arrangements. I am sure that my hon. Friend
Column 1027the Under-Secretary would not envisage changes unless they were accompanied by adequate safeguards to ensure that there could not be malpractices.
13. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consultations he has had recently with the Government of the Irish Republic on cross-border security ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Tom King : I discussed security co-operation with members of the Irish Government at a meeting of the intergovernmental conference on 8 February. A copy of the joint statement issued afterwards has been placed in the Library of the House.
Mr. Bellingham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that although cross -border co-operation is improving the whole time, there is still some way to go? When my right hon. Friend next meets his counterpart in the Irish Republic will he raise the question of hot pursuit across the border by both forces, and look at that issue seriously? Surely it will play a major part in the fight against terrorism?
Mr. King : My hon. Friend may be aware of two events that took place yesterday--first, a substantial find of mortar bombs made by the Garda Siochana and also, sad to say, the tragic murder last night of two soldiers on the edge of Londonderry. I hope that I speak on behalf of the whole House in expressing our deep sympathy to the families of those young soldiers who were brutally murdered. Those two incidents clearly bring home to me the vital importance of co-operation, so that wherever terrorists may be, we can effectively bring the security forces to bear, to bring the terrorists to justice.
Mr. John D. Taylor : As the railway line across the border is now generally closed due to lack of security, has that matter been discussed with the Republic of Ireland Government? As the Northern Ireland authorities are improving security in that region, have the Dublin Government decided on any initiative to improve security on the railway line?
Mr. King : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, disruption to the railway line was, unfortunately, caused within Northern Ireland. We are certainly concerned. One recognises that the attack by the terrorists, which jeopardises or threatens to jeopardise the jobs of a number of people and disadvantages many local people who depend on the railway line in one sense or another, emphasises the importance of co-operation between us.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be presenting the north-east business man of the year awards.
Mr. Duffy : Is the Prime Minister aware that my constituents, who are flanked by the two filthiest rivers in Britain--the Don and the Rother- -are increasingly worried about their drinking water, and are soon to be saddled with a large-scale, opencast mining operation? They ask me why the Secretary of State for the Environment continues to focus on profits and ownership in basic services such as water and energy instead of addressing growing threats to the quality of their lives.
The Prime Minister : Drinking water for the hon. Gentleman's constituency is supplied by the Yorkshire water authority's grid system, which takes water from the river Derwent near York that is piped into South Yorkshire. That is a high-quality supply which regularly meets EC drinking water directive standards. As to the rivers that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, they are in that 10 per cent. of rivers that are of neither good nor fair quality, and some are bad. About £25 million will be spent on improving a 63 km stretch of the River Don, so that it will be capable of supporting coarse fish life. Improvements to the remainder of the Rother will be made through the extension of sewage treatment works' capacity, which should enable the Rother to be upgraded to class 2 quality. If no profits were made, there would be no investment in public services. Someone has to make profits, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be very grateful that many private sector businesses make profits, to supply the nationalised industries with the means of improving the quality of water.
Mr. Onslow : Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the report of the Environment Select Committee on toxic waste highlights many shortcomings going back over many years, particularly at local level, it fails to emphasise that the Government have brought forward proposals for major legislation that will deal with those matters? May we expect that legislation in the next Session of Parliament?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend is right. In the Select Committee's report, there is a list of waste consultative documents and of the technical proposals that have been made--in particular, a major paper of 1986--and several waste management technical advice papers published since 1986. My right hon. Friend will also be aware that we announced last November proposals on precisely how we would update Labour's Control of Pollution Act 1974 and deal with some of the local authority problems that he rightly highlights. They are autonomous local authorities and are responsible for waste disposal, but the law needs amending. The drafting is well in hand, and I hope that that legislation will come forward in the next parliamentary year.
Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole House will be relieved at the discovery of the explosives and weapons in north Yorkshire earlier this week, and also strongly agrees with the decision to make no change in planned programmes? Such changes would be concessions to the kind of beings who caused the atrocities in County Tyrone on Tuesday and who killed the soldiers in Derry last night.
Will the Prime Minister please tell us who will have to foot the bill for the extra £5 million that must be found for the Channel link?
The Prime Minister : Of course we shall go ahead with the plans for conferences. We are all immensely grateful to the police and security services which enable the free speech of democracy to go ahead.
With regard to the British Rail link, I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has dropped a couple of noughts somewhere. It is much more likely to be £500 million, but it is Government policy that the users of the new line should pay for the full costs, including environmental costs.
Mr. Kinnock : I only hope that my errors will have the same effect of increasing finance as did the Prime Minister's errors. In view of the confusion that followed BR's statement, and as many people who are directly affected by the rail development are confused and dismayed, exactly what is the Prime Minister's view of what proportions of the extra cost should be found from the public purse?
The Prime Minister : I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would listen to my replies. I made it quite clear that it is Goverment policy that the users of the new line, rather than the generality of taxpayers, should pay the full costs, including environmental costs. The alternative methods, whether they be aircraft or ferries, are not subsidised.
Mr. Coombs : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the proposed National Health Service reforms are not a prelude to privatisation, and will leave the service free for those who need it and give a better service for consumers? In view of the huge extra resources that have been put into the Health Service by this Government, does she agree that the campaign of disinformation and half-truths that has been embarked on by several National Health Service unions and, to a certain extent, even by the British Medical Association, unduly alarms patients and shows scant regard for professional responsibilities?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no question of privatising the National Health Service, nor could there ever be any question of privatising the service. We do not and should not pay for the service at the point of use. It remains a national Health Service. We are anxious that the enormous amount of money that is spent on it should give the best value. After all, the average family of four now spends in taxation about £34 a week on keeping the Health Service going. That is a great deal more than when Labour was in power, because we are a great deal more prosperous now. We therefore have a service which is a great deal better.
Also, the proposals will give a good deal more choice, including choice for patients to change their doctor more easily if they wish to do so. It will give more choice and more responsibility in hospitals to doctors and nurses.
Mr. Turner : It has been almost a decade since the Prime Minister stood at the portals of No. 10 and uttered the beautiful words of St. Francis of Assisi. In view of the massive divisions that still exist between the rich and poor and the north and south, and in view of the poverty and
Column 1030hopelessness among our people, will she now concede that her Right-wing ideological experiment with Britain has failed?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is looking very well on it, isn't he? Extremely well. So, indeed, are all the Opposition Members. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the standards of living of people in this country have gone up beyond all recognition, as has the standard of social services everywhere. That is something that he should be very pleased about when he remembers the terrible circumstances and strikes that beset us in 1978-79, which helped to turn out the Labour party and put in the best Government that we have had for many a long year.
Mr. Curry : Is my right hon. Friend aware that high-speed rail links are operating or are being built in France, Germany, Italy and Spain and are planned in Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands? What would be the economic cost to Britain of not being part of an integrated high-speed rail service, particularly for those parts of Britain that are not in the south-east and especially in view of the creation of a single market in Europe?
The Prime Minister : I know that my hon. Friend is a great enthusiast, as I am, for the effective operation of the single market, but, as we had only some 24 hours ago the proposals for a single high-speed rail link and as that will have to go through the private Bill procedure, when all representations can then be made, to go further now would be a little premature.
May I just point out that the railway links from all the main commercial centres into London are already in place and could well carry more freight than they do at present without extra provision?
Dr. Owen : In view of the urgent need to attract more capital investment in road and rail, particularly private investment, would the Prime Minister consider launching an infrastructure bond with tax concessions to get the investment that is urgently needed?
The Prime Minister : No. We are already attracting a good deal more private investment, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. The Channel tunnel is being built totally by private investment as is the Dartford bridge. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes would be a subsidy, and at the moment we are getting the extra investment without that. There is a good deal more scope for private investment in road and rail.
Mr. Heath : Reverting to the fast link, will my right hon. Friend reconsider the decision that she has just announced? Is she aware that the extra £500 million that British Rail has now undertaken to spend relates to the protection of the environment, whether in the weald of Kent or in the gardens and homes of people in the London boroughs? As the Government and the Prime Minister herself, in particular, have set the protection of the environment at the top of their objectives, it is right that this should be met out of Treasury funds and not solely by the commuters of Kent. Moreover, is it not true that
Column 1031wherever else the environment is protected, for example on the motorways, it is not the user who pays, as the cost is met from general expenditure on roads? This should, therefore, be a comparable example. I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider the whole situation.
The Prime Minister : I have enunciated correctly the general principle. We do not subsidise the airways to the continent ; we do not subsidise the ferries to the continent. One could say, in fact, that motorists perhaps pay more in road tax than is spent on roads. We believe that British Rail will consult the private sector over ways of offsetting the extra cost. At the worst, it is British Rail's view that the extra costs do not render the project unviable.
Mr. Boateng : Does the Prime Minister agree with the Select Committee on the Environment that more resources should be applied to Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution? If so, will she tell the Secretary of State or do we have to wait for another duff briefing?
The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman looks at the report very carefully he will see at the back a whole list of measures that we have been taking for many years and the way in which we have been steadily improving the amount spent on the environment, which is way above what was previously spent. Of course, I understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. He knows full well that we have to amend Labour's Control of Pollution Act 1974 and the arrangements made then. That is very much a need. The hon. Gentleman is aware that many of the problems lie with local authorities. We shall consider his suggestion carefully, but I must tell him that most of the legislation is already being prepared and that we hope to bring it to the House next year.
Mr. Squire : At the risk of repetition, I welcome my right hon. Friend's earlier answer on toxic waste. Against the background of improving the standard of our rivers and of air pollution, will my right hon. Friend undertake to look closely at the unanimous report of the Select Committee which details problems going back to 1974, and in particular to adopt all or almost all of the radical solutions contained in that report so that in that area, too, we may set an example to the rest of the Community?
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Yes, the quality of our rivers is generally improving. Indeed, 90 per cent. of our rivers are of good or fair quality compared with only 75 per cent. of rivers in the European Community. As my hon. Friend knows, we have major programmes to improve the quality of sewage disposal and major environmental programmes in which a considerable amount of capital is being invested. As my hon. Friend knows, we have announced certain proposals in the House last November, and a major consultation paper came out on 29 January. We will consider everything that has been said because I recognise that the Committee spent a great deal of time on this. I think that my hon. Friend will be the first to compliment the witnesses from the Department of the Environment who gave such excellent evidence to the Committee. We will consider the report and come forward with a detailed reply.
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