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Ms Lynne : Has the Secretary of State any plans to speak to members of Rochdale council to explain to them the cut in the safer cities grant ? Does he intend to take the opportunity of congratulating Rochdale council on finding the money to keep the scheme going, and also to provide extra funding for special constables to patrol areas on Rochdale estates ?
Mr. Wardle : The hon. Lady knows that the safer cities project in Rochdale was for a four-year term, and that it was intended that a local partnership should take the project on after that four-year term. That has been the pattern with the first 20 projects in phase 1 of our safer cities programme. It is working effectively in Rochdale, and the metropolitan borough council will have a close involvement in the continued partnership. Two safer cities project staff will be seconded from the Home Office to guide it.
Mr. Dickens : Does my hon. Friend understand that many people in the north-west would like prisoners who are sentenced to five years actually to serve five years--cutting out all the remission, rehabilitation, and parole --and, if they misbehave, to be given extra years ? Then we shall get to grips with law and order.
Mr. Wardle : My hon. Friend, as usual, makes his point most effectively. He will also be mindful of the fact that since the Criminal Justice Act 1991, prisoners will be serving more of the sentences given to them by the courts.
Mr. Lewis : Will the Minister inquire into the case this week in which a firearm that was used in a heinous crime in Greater Manchester was returned to its rightful owner ? I have mentioned the subject in the House on a number of occasions since eight legally held firearms were stolen about two years ago, three of which have now been responsible for three murders and two serious woundings.
Column 392There seems to me to be a case for a fresh examination of what happens to those firearms when they have been recovered.
Mr. Wardle : The firearm was stolen. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, it was stolen two or three years ago. Obviously, the House will share the regret at the tragic deaths and serious injuries that stolen firearms have caused. However, the chief constable of Greater Manchester satisfied himself that their owner had the proper certificate and had kept them in a proper and secure place and that they should be returned to him.
Mr. Maclean : The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill contains provisions that will reinforce a new civil procedure for removing squatters from premises. In addition, I have tabled amendments to the Bill which will increase the protection given by the Criminal Law Act 1977 to displaced residential occupiers and protect intending occupiers of property that is unlawfully occupied.
Madam Speaker : Order. Just a word of caution, which I have uttered before. Committees of the House are autonomous. They do their work upstairs, and only when the results of their deliberations are reported to the House are these matters discussed on the Floor. I remind Back Benchers of that, but it seems that Ministers, too, need occasional reminding.
Mr. Gerrard : Does the Minister really believe that his proposal to allow landlords to use violence for the purpose of evicting people will aid law and order ? Will he accept responsibility when someone, whether a bailiff, a squatter or a tenant being illegally evicted, is seriously injured or killed as a direct result of his legislation ?
Mr. Maclean : The House will find it quite unacceptable that, at present, a person whose house has been stolen by squatters cannot even break the window of the back door to get into his own premises, as such action is considered to be violence. That is nonsense, which we are removing.
Mr. Hendry : Does my hon. Friend agree that, in tackling squatting, prevention is better than cure ? Is not it the case that inept, inefficient and incompetent Labour authorities up and down the country are sitting on tens of thousands of empty council houses and that if those houses were made available to tenants they would not be available for squatting ?
Column 393authorities that have thousands of empty properties, other people whose houses are taken over should not have a right to get them back.
Mr. Milburn : How can the Government possibly justify cutting funding for drugs education when, currently, just four in 10 school children have access to that vital advice ? Why does not the Minister realise that being tough on law and order means taking action to prevent crime as well as imposing stiffer sentences ?
Mr. Maclean : In the replies to questions Nos. 1 and 4 I laid out the elements of the Government's prevention strategy, a great deal of which is concerned with crime prevention. Last week, the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made a speech entitled "Drugs : the need for action"--four pages of waffle against the Government, with three miserable paragraphs at the end. How much money will the hon. Gentleman spend ? The last of the big spenders would provide £4 million to deal with the drugs problem. We spend £4 million every three days. But the hon. Gentleman will not be allowed even to keep his £4 million promise, as his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) will say that he did not make the promise of the Floor of the House.
Sir Peter Fry : Does my hon. Friend agree that the estimated level of drug-related crime is now so high that it makes nonsense of the complaint from Labour Members that crime is a result of unemployment or social deprivation ? Does he agree that drugs constitute the main factor driving the crime figures up ?
Mr. Maclean : Of course there is drug-related crime. No one seeks to deny or exaggerate that. The important point is that we have the strategy for dealing with it at all levels through the drugs prevention initiative ; massive spending on the safer cities programme ; the toughest penalties in Europe ; tough action by the police and customs ; drugs education in the national curriculum ; and all the other action that the Government are taking. Those add up to more than £500 million a year worth of action on all aspects of the fight against drugs.
Mr. Maclean : The Government continue to support the provision of approved bail and probation hostels in the west midlands, as elsewhere, where those meet the needs of sentencers in a cost-effective way and within the requirements of national standards.
Column 394Conservative Members have been complaining about people being released on bail when, in the west midlands, it is proposed to close two much-needed bail hostels and save £200,000, thus depriving the courts of the ability to choose appropriate accommodation for people who need it ?
Mr. Maclean : What people will find extraordinary is that the west midlands has nine bail hostels. If the hon. Gentleman had told me that those were at 100 per cent. capacity I should be more concerned about his point. If we remove the two smallest hostels, we would remove only 15 per cent. of capacity. Given that there is at least 20 per cent. surplus capacity, the hon. Gentleman has not a leg to stand on.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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.
Mr. McFall : Now that the Minister for open government has given an entirely new meaning to the phrase, "lying in state", does the Prime Minister agree that the democratic process is undermined if Ministers imply that concealing the truth from the House is acceptable ? Does he accept that it is a lie that the former Prime Minister, Lord Callaghan, ever lied to this House ? If so, will he apologise to the former distinguished Prime Minister for that slur ?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman may regret, on reflection, the way in which he phrased his question-- [Interruption.] If hon. Members do not regret it, I believe that they should. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that it is not the case now, nor has it been in the past, that Ministers willingly mislead this House, and no one has suggested that that is the case.
Mr. Thompson : Bearing in mind the fact that, last night, the IRA launched yet another vicious terrorist attack endangering the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians, were not the Opposition, at exactly same time, voting against the very measure which our security forces need to combat this evil ? Are not the Opposition soft on terrorism and soft on crime ?
The Prime Minister : I believe that the attack that was launched yesterday on Heathrow airport by the IRA will receive and deserve universal condemnation. It was an unjustifiable attack and will make no difference whatever to the search for peace in Northern Ireland. But I believe that it should lead to every part of this House uniting on firm action against terrorism.
Mr. John Smith : With the issue of Ministers telling the truth now a matter of public debate, does the Prime Minister appreciate that what most undermines the credibility of his Administration is the blatant deception practised at the last election when the Conservative party promised to cut taxes ? Since then, they have imposed the largest tax increase in Britain's peacetime history.
The Prime Minister : I shall turn directly to that point, but I must say that I am extremely surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should pursue that matter on the day after a mortar attack at Heathrow and on the very day on which the Cabinet has been considering sending more troops to Bosnia to deal with an international problem. [Interruption.] I have made the point. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think that these things do not matter. I think that people throughout the country will take a different view. [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : On the specific point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, taxation rose precisely because we kept our promises to protect the elderly, the vulnerable and the sick through the long recession. The recession lasted longer than we or other forecasters had imagined, and in order to sustain policy and bring down interest rates it was necessary to close borrowing. That was a responsible attitude. It was the right attitude. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman understood the first thing about economics, he would support it, not attack it.
The Prime Minister : I have made it perfectly clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman why it was necessary to raise taxation, although we had hoped not to do so. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to consider taxes, he might look at the more recent figures of council taxes which show clearly how much more expensive Labour authorities and Liberal authorities are than Conservative authorities. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman would comment on that.
Mr. John Smith : Having regard to the Prime Minister's feeble excuse for breaking his promise at the election, does he not remember telling the Los Angeles Times in his celebrated interview last year :
"I said [to colleagues] the day after we won the election . . . Within the next 12 months the government will be the most unpopular we have seen for a long time.'"
He went on to say, "I was staggeringly prescient." Will the Prime Minister explain how he could know about the state of the economy the day after the election but not know before polling day ?
The Prime Minister : I shall go back further than that for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I made it absolutely clear on the day that I became Chancellor of the Exchequer that we would take whatever action was necessary to restrain inflation and put the economy on secure and steady growth. We have done that, including maintaining monetary policy with interest rates at a high level right through the election, because it was in the
Column 396interests of the British economy to do so. That is responsible government. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not understand that.
Lady Olga Maitland : With the council elections approaching, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that what council tax payers want are efficient services at the lowest possible cost ? Does he agree that it is the Conservative councils who deliver this, not the Labour councils and not the Liberal councils, such as the one that I have in Surrey ?
The Prime Minister : I not only agree with my hon. Friend ; it is what the statistics now becoming available on council tax charges show. At present, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning announced yesterday, Conservative councils that have now declared their council taxes come out, on average, at £129 less than Labour councils and £73 less than Liberal councils. It is clear who costs one more in the shires--it is Labour. It is clear who costs one more in the mets--it is Labour. It is clear who costs one more in London--it is Labour. No matter where one looks, Labour councils and--so as not to disappoint the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown)--Liberal councils, cost one more.
Mr.Marshall : Is the Prime Minister aware that his recent morale- boosting visit to Scotland has resulted in his party achieving a record low in the polls of 13 per cent? Does he appreciate why the Scots are once more uttering the refrain :
"Will ye no' come back again"
and again, and again ?
The Prime Minister : I know from private visits what a magnificent place the Duxford museum is. I can well understand the pride of my right hon. Friend in having it in his constituency. I hope that I may be able to pay an official visit at some time in the future.
Sir Anthony Grant : Will my right hon. Friend note that the United States air force flew from Duxford during the last war with much loss of life and, in particular, flew on the D-day operation ? Will he give his support to the American air museum being created there, either by
Column 397visiting Duxford or by inviting the Americans concerned to visit him ? It would be extremely good for Anglo- American relations.
The Prime Minister : I should like to visit Duxford again. I shall take an opportunity to do so and to look at the museum's plans. My hon. Friend is entirely right about the significant contribution of the US air force to the D-day landings. We have a continual debt of gratitude to them. It is right that we should celebrate the 50th anniversary and remember the heroism of the troops and the sacrifices that they made so that we can enjoy the liberties that we exercise in the House.
Mr. Hughes : In that case, given that one of the most obvious implications of the Government's policies for health services in London is that they plan to run down the hospital that the Prime Minister described as the flagship, and that the main building--a state of the art building costing £140 million--will never come into use, in all seriousness will the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State take a little extra time to listen to a proposal that keeps both Guy's and St. Thomas's as hospitals, saves the taxpayer money, reduces embarrassment and, above all, saves patients' lives ?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows that the changes to the health service in London are long overdue ; they have been long sought by many people. We have won support inside and outside the health service for tackling that particular problem, not least from Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. As for the problems of Guy's and St. Thomas's, the hon. Gentleman will know that the clinicians at both hospitals believe that patient care will be improved by concentrating services on one site, not two. It is not just the Government's view, but that of the doctors involved. Thanks to the determination to embrace change, the Guy's and St Thomas's trust will have a secure future and its buildings, old and new, will be used fully, effectively and appropriately in the best interests of patients, medical teaching and research.
Column 398companies ? Pavements are uprooted, roads closed and businesses disrupted all with the objective of getting doubtful television programmes into our homes. Is it not time that we found a better way of organising these matters ?
The Prime Minister : I recognise the concerns of my hon. Friend. Of course it is important that all those with the right to undertake street works should keep disruption to a minimum. He will know that there are duties to do so written into the terms of the licence issued by the Department of Trade and Industry. My hon. Friend will also know that in those areas where cables are laid, about one quarter of all homes subsequently decide to participate in cable television. That has led to investment across the United Kingdom of well over £1 billion.
Mr. Jones : Will the Prime Minister find time today to check on a transcript of the "Today" programme earlier this week, when his right hon. and learned Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, suggested that he would not be Prime Minister after November, or after the autumn ? If that is the case, will he make sure that his right hon. and learned Friend is incorrect, as he is such a good asset to us in the Labour party?
Mr. Bellingham : Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), does my right hon. Friend agree that the IRA-Sinn Fein must now be treated with complete contempt ? Does he further agree that unless it signs the declaration tomorrow, it should forfeit its opportunity to be part of it ?
The Prime Minister : I think that every hon. Member of the House will have nothing but contempt for the IRA's behaviour. With the attacks that it has made, both in Northern Ireland and at Heathrow yesterday, it has demonstrated again its disregard for human life and for opinion on both sides of the community. I believe that my hon. Friend misunderstands the long-term purpose and import of the declaration that I signed with the Taoiseach in December. It sets out a series of principles on which we hope and intend to try to build a permanent peace for Northern Ireland.
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