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Sir John Wheeler : The President of the Republic of Ireland visits Northern Ireland in her capacity as a private visitor. They are working visits. She seeks to initiate those visits herself or visits at the invitation of local bodies or groups, and she is received with courtesy on behalf of the Government.
Dr. Godman : In light of the recommendations contained in the Opsahl report concerning the need to examine measures that will help to bring about parity of esteem between the two traditions, have the Government any plans to examine such steps, either within a Bill of Rights or in some other form ?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : We have already introduced tangible measures to ensure that parity is obtained in employment matters. We have the toughest non-discrimination legislation in the whole of Europe. I have said that I would be perfectly willing to consider whatever may be proposed, so far as a Bill of Rights is concerned. The fundamental human right that has to be guaranteed above all others is the right to life, and that is what we are concentrating on. A great many people--I do not include
Column 1163the hon. Gentleman--who are keen on advancing a Bill of Rights are reluctant to condemn the violence that is being deployed for political purposes in this democracy.
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. Mackinlay : What instructions has the Prime Minister issued this week in connection with combating the appalling level of air pollution throughout the Thames valley and in every other urban area of the United Kingdom ? Can we be assured that it is Government policy that the polluters will pay and be prosecuted, rather than merely be given a ticking off and a prohibition notice ? Now is the time for action to combat air pollution.
The Prime Minister : Of course, it was a Conservative Government who established the first ever environment Department as long ago as 1970, and we take environmental matters very seriously. On air pollution, we have already agreed tight emission standards for new cars and lorries and we intend that they be rigidly enforced. We have taken the lead over the rest of Europe by introducing integrated pollution policies and we are determined to ensure that those are kept. We made it clear earlier this year in discussion documents that making the air cleaner is an important part of our policy and, where necessary, we will take action.
Mr. Marlow : Is a single European currency a commercial convenience, or does it mean single European interest rates, a single European economy, harmonised and high levels of European taxation and, effectively, a single European state ? And, if it is the latter, could my right hon. Friend tell the House that he is most unlikely ever to put it before the British people ? It would give a great deal of simple pleasure to a lot of simple people if he could say so.
The Prime Minister : I am always prepared to give some simple pleasure to my hon. Friend. As I have told the House on many occasions, a single currency would not be a practicable proposal, unless one had a proper and equally performing series of economies right across the area that would be governed by that currency. Without that, there would be the very practical difficulty that one would get large-scale structural unemployment and a massive demand for funds transferred from one part of the European Union to another. It is for that very practical reason that I do not believe that we are within many years of being able to consider a single currency.
Mrs. Beckett : But the meeting is tomorrow. Is the Prime Minister telling us that, having used the veto--so he said--to permit extensive consultations, he does not know whether any of the candidates are against the social chapter ?
The Prime Minister : I sometimes think that the right hon. Lady prepares her second and third questions before listening to the first answer. The second question bore no relationship to the answer which I just gave her, which I shall repeat. Since we are not partners to the protocol that governs that aspect of European policy, it does not matter to this country whether the new president does or does not support that.
Mrs. Beckett : The Prime Minister, as he will be well aware, has twice run away from answering the question. Is he reluctant to answer it because he knows that, in a triumph of personal diplomacy, he vetoed the appointment of one Conservative Prime Minister from a Benelux country who supports the social chapter, and will now support the candidacy of a Conservative Prime Minister from a Benelux country who supports the social chapter ?
The Prime Minister : Oh dear, oh dear. I fear that the right hon. Lady has shown the House too clearly that she does not have a scintilla of understanding of the European policies of each of the candidates whose name has been put forward for the presidency of the European Commission. There is a substantial difference between those policies that I vetoed last week and those that are followed by any of the candidates who remain in the ring at the moment.
The decision will be made on Friday and the right hon. Lady might then understand the distinction between the policies of a European Commission president whom I would not accept and those of a European Commission president whom I can accept.
Mr. Batiste : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the impending statement from the Secretary of State for Defence will be keenly awaited by many people who work in the defence contracting industry in Leeds and in many other parts of the country ? Can he confirm that "Front Line First" means enhancing the capabilities of our front-line troops by giving them the best available equipment to do the many jobs with which they are faced ?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend will be making a detailed statement about the matter in a few minutes and, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not anticipate that statement in detail. "Front Line First" was established to ensure precisely that we direct the resources available to the front line to maximise the fighting capacity and the cutting edge of the British armed forces.
Mr. Hain rose
Mr. Richards indicated assent .
Mr. Hain : Will the Prime Minister establish an inquiry into the way a member of his Cabinet, Lord Wakeham, and other leading Conservatives were in 1988 taken off selected Lloyd's syndicates which later suffered three years of catastrophic losses ? Were they the beneficiaries of insider information while millions of pounds of losses were dumped on ordinary Lloyd's investors ?
The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman has any information whatever to suggest impropriety, he should bring that information forward. Given the inferences that clearly underlie his question, under the privilege of Parliament most people would not regard it as the right way to raise that matter.
Mr. Mans : Has any member of my right hon. Friend's Cabinet in the past advocated the abolition of nuclear weapons while at the same time suggesting that they should be retained, or suggested that we should withdraw completely from the European Community while advocating a federal Europe with Britain inside it ? Have not all three contenders for the Labour leadership done all of those ?
Mr. Hughes : In that case, will the Prime Minister accept a short engagement to cross the river and explain to the people of Southwark, a borough with one of the highest levels of deprivation and unemployment in Britain, whether it is the Government's policy to narrow the gap between the richest and the poorest in Britain and increase public services before thinking of cutting taxes ? If so, when ?
Column 1166both to those in work on very low incomes and those out of work, he will see that there has been a significant improvement in recent years in the resources available to deal with those problems. He will know of the significant resources put particularly into inner-city areas of deprivation like Southwark over a large number of years. What does need to be done, and it requires the assistance of local authorities and others if we are to get to the root of the problem, is to ensure that those boroughs are also prepared to co-operate with bringing private capital into the area so that a joint approach of public and private capital can maximise the improvement for people who live in poor circumstances.
Mr. Wareing : Since the Tory Government came to power in 1979, this country has lost a considerable proportion of its manufacturing base, yet, alone among European Union Governments, this Government have benefited to the tune of £124 billion worth of North sea oil revenue. We can guess what the Germans and French would have done with that. What did the Tory Government do with it ?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman would, perhaps, be prepared to acknowledge in private that employment in manufacturing industry has been on a downward trend since the 1960s, whomsoever have been in Government. It has now stabilised. The manufacturing base at the moment is broadening, not narrowing. We now have the best economic circumstances, not just for exports but for growth and manufacturing, that we have had for the past 20 or 25 years. That is readily understood by everyone beyond the confines of the Labour party.
Mr. Bruce : It is common ground in the House that the civil service is full of people of ability, honesty and integrity. Yet we would all agree --indeed, civil servants would agree--that the high cost of government and grandiose waste in building projects, for instance, are not what we are looking for. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the White Paper published yesterday, "Continuity and Change", shows that we also need improvement and cost reductions ?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. We can take pride in the performance of the British civil service over many years. That is evident not only in this country but by the fact that a number of other countries have copied the British civil service system. It has high standards of integrity, and we are determined to maintain that integrity and impartiality while improving the service delivered through the civil service to the people of this country, who pay for it, and to us.
Mrs. Mahon : The Prime Minister will be aware that at the moment, no national health service patients can be placed in private health care systems or homes against their wishes if they or their relatives will incur a personal charge
Column 1167for that move. Will the Prime Minister give the House a guarantee that people will retain the right to free NHS care ?
The Prime Minister : I can certainly give the hon. Lady that guarantee : the right to national health service care free at the point of delivery is an integral part of the Government's policy, and will remain so.
Column 1168the 1980s, Britain's manufacturing productivity growth out-performed that of Germany, whereas the period when we were most out-performed by Germany was between 1974 and 1979 ? Does not that illustrate that the time when this country was in danger of slipping into a second rate, low productivity, low wage, skivvy economy, with Mickey Mouse jobs, was not under the present Government, but rather in the heroic days of Labour's industrial strategy ?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend has unearthed some interesting facts, which Opposition Members would do well to study. He is entirely right. The key to lasting prosperity and lasting jobs is to get the underlying economic conditions right, and then to keep them right. That is what we have done, and is what we propose to continue to do.
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