Previous Section Home Page

Column 332

13. Mr. Nigel Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he is taking to remove unnecessary liquor licensing regulations.     [18367]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: A number of measures are under consideration, and we have made provision to allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays through legislation which is currently completing its passage through Parliament.

Mr. Marshall: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proposed changes in Sunday licensing are very popular, especially with the tourist trade? Does he accept, however, that certain licensing magistrates are making the award of children's certificates very difficult, and will he continue to keep the position under review?

Mr. Forsyth: I have received representations from a number of hon. Members suggesting that the procedures to ensure--in accordance with the intentions of Parliament--that licences are available to allow children to go to into public houses where appropriate conditions exist are being frustrated by magistrates who are attaching onerous and unnecessary requirements to such licences. I am very concerned about those representations, and have asked Home Office officials to monitor what is happening.

If there is evidence of widespread attempts to frustrate the wishes of Parliament, we will not hesitate to act. It is early days; the new procedures have been in place only since the beginning of the year. I hope that it will be recognised that the granting of children's licences was a very popular move, and was supported in all quarters of the House.

Mr. Nigel Evans: The country has 65,000 pubs, which are visited by 12.5 million people every week. We also have many millions of visitors, who find the great British pub extremely attractive. What they--and I--find less attractive and quaint is the 11 pm chucking-out time.

Will my right hon. Friend take into account experiences on the continent, and consider measures which will allow people to drink after 11 pm without being forced to pay entrance fees in clubs? Could local licensing be introduced, so that any disruption to people living near pubs could be minimised but benefits to those who want to drink legitimately after 11 pm could be maximised?

Mr. Forsyth: My hon. Friend asks me to consider further liberalisation of licensing hours in respect of late-night opening. A number of concerns have been expressed about the opportunities for disruption, noise and disorder that that would create in certain communities; on the other hand, we have received representations from people who argue that it would be possible to allow local discretion for later opening. The matter is currently under consideration, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be able to reach a conclusion shortly. If we decided to take any further deregulatory steps, they would of course be subject to consultation.

Mr. Bermingham: Does the Minister agree that the time has really come when we should consider the question of children in public houses, restaurants and other such places? In a modern civilised world, is it not time to follow the continental fashion, so that families can eat, drink, play and enjoy themselves together, without petty restrictions?

Column 333

Mr. Forsyth: That is precisely what the Government have done in introducing the new children's licences, although concern has been expressed about the policy's implementation by local magistrates. I agree, however, with the basic thrust of the hon. Gentleman's comments that the licensing laws should exist only in so far as they are required to provide necessary protections. If unnecessary or over- bureaucratic provisions exist in the rules, they should be swept away. That is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's deregulation initiative is about, and that is why we are about that business in the Home Office.

Immigration Officers

14. Mr. Simon Coombs: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the quality of the welcome offered to visitors to the United Kingdom by immigration officers at airports and sea ports.     [18368]

Mr. Nicholas Baker: A substantial and independently managed survey conducted at the end of 1992 found that most passengers compared our control favourably with that of other countries, both in speed and efficiency, and in the courtesy shown by immigration officers. Of those interviewed, 97 per cent. said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their treatment at immigration control.

Mr. Coombs: I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the quality of the welcome at airports and sea ports is extremely important for the UK tourism industry. In that context, what more can he do to reduce the length of queues, especially at London Heathrow airport at peak times, and to encourage officials to smile at visitors?

Mr. Baker: We are doing a great deal, leaving aside any instruction particularly to smile, and always observing the duty of the Immigration Service to maintain firm and fair immigration control. We are continually monitoring the queues at the major airports that my hon. Friend mentioned. We have had a quality of service initiative to lead to improvements of various types. We have introduced fast-track channels for business and first-class passengers. In time for the summer season, we are introducing earlier shifts at terminals where delays can occur because of bunching of early-morning flights. My hon. Friend will also want to know that we have a scheme for authorised tour groups of expedited clearance organised by the Immigration Service.



Q1. Mr. Evennett: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 20 April.     [18384]

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. Evennett: Did my right hon. Friend see last night's Labour party political broadcast? Can he confirm that, contrary to the information in that broadcast, under his Government since 1992 expenditure on education,

Column 334

health and law and order has been substantially increased? Would he care to comment on that deplorable use of television to mislead the public?

The Prime Minister: In answer to my hon. Friend's direct question, no, I did not see the Labour party political broadcast last night. I was much better occupied meeting health authority chairmen to discuss the success of our health reforms, but I do understand from the substantial publicity generated that it contained a number of inaccuracies.

Over recent days, the Labour party has claimed that council tax is lower in Labour areas. It must know that, on a fair comparison of like for like and band for band, that is not true. Band for band, Labour councils cost more in each and every band. The Labour party must know that spending on health has gone up, spending on education has gone up, and spending on the police has gone up, contrary to what it has led people to believe. The new Labour party has had a lot to say about trust, so I hope that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) will withdraw the inaccuracies from the broadcast last night. If I may quote him, he has reached "a defining moment".

Mr. Blair: On the Tories, truth and tax, will the Prime Minister confirm as a matter of fact that, having fought the election on a pledge to cut tax year on year, as a result of the 20 new taxes since he was re- elected, the average family is £800 a year worse off? Is that true or false--yes or no?

The Prime Minister: The answer is that the right hon. Gentleman's figures are wrong. The House will have noticed that he has not taken the opportunity to withdraw the blatant untruths that he and his right hon. Friends have been peddling in recent days. He knows that those things are factually inaccurate. He continues to repeat them. He appears at press conferences where they are repeated. On that basis, if he had any trust, he is throwing it away.

Mr. Blair: Let the country be the judge then. It is right, is it not, that on 27 March 1992, days before the general election, the Prime Minister pledged specifically that he would not extend value added tax? When the Labour party said that he would, we were accused of dishonesty and scaremongering. It is true, is it not, that at the very next Budget after that election, he extended VAT to fuel and power? Who told the truth then? Was it the Labour party which warned that the Tories would extend VAT or was it the Conservatives who promised that they would not?

The Prime Minister: On matters of fact, within the last 48 hours, on matters readily determinable, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have told untruths and repeated those untruths. I set it out before the last election that I wished to see tax reduced. That was my position and it remains my position. When it is prudent to do so, we shall return to tax cutting. On that occasion, I hope that we will have the support of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. As to the earlier point, I repeat that within the last two days, the Opposition have stated repeatedly facts which they must know to be untrue. Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw them?

Mr. King: On behalf of this House and our country, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister convey to the President of the United States and to the people of the United States our deepest sympathy for the terrible terrorist outrage that they have experienced? Will he

Column 335

assure the President that any assistance that we can give through intelligence or other sources to help bring to justice those responsible for that outrage will be given? Will he reaffirm to the President our welcome for his firm assertion that terrorism must be fought from whatever quarter it may come?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. It is hard to convey the depth of feeling that everyone will have in their hearts about the hideous act of barbarism and terrorism that occurred in Oklahoma and the misery and death that it has caused. I have been in touch with President Clinton and I have expressed our profound sympathy to him, to that country and to the bereaved and injured. I told the President that we are ready to help in any way we can and, as events will show, we are assisting.

Mr. Ashdown: I am sure that the whole House will support what the Prime Minister has just said. On the subject of cuts, will the Prime Minister accept that, as schools face the crisis caused by the Government's cutting of education funding across the country this year, they will be perplexed to understand why the Government have increased the funding on education quangos from less than £3 million in 1987 to more than £98 million this year? Why is that?

The Prime Minister: We have increased funding on education right across the board, consistently year after year. That is why more than 50 per cent. extra has been spent on every pupil up and down the country since we came into office. That is why more than 50 per cent. more is spent on school books and it is why there are far more people in classrooms helping the teachers. It is why children are getting far better education results and why more of our youngsters are going on to university; it is because we have given a priority to education at primary level, secondary level, specialist level and university level, and will continue to do so.

Mr. Allason: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the light of the appalling tragedy at Oklahoma and the terrorist incident at Yokohama, it would be absolute folly to reduce expenditure or in any way to cut back on security and intelligence?

The Prime Minister: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the vital importance of security and intelligence and the important priority that we have given it. In addition, of course, to the appalling attack that we saw in Oklahoma, it was also a day on which we saw terrorist attacks in Spain and possibly also in Japan.

Q2. Mr. Janner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 April.     [18386]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Janner: As we all join in sympathy with the mourners and sufferers in the unspeakable terrorist outrage in Oklahoma, will the Prime Minister please consult the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary about the ways in which international terrorists are abusing our laws on asylum and sanctuary? Notorious criminals such as Ganouchi, who are seeking to escape justice in their own countries, are turning Britain into a well- known haven for terrorists. As international terrorists

Column 336

know no boundaries and no frontiers and as no one knows where they will strike next, please will the Prime Minister give that matter absolute priority?

The Prime Minister: I reject the suggestion that this country is in any way a haven for terrorists, but I share with the hon. and learned Gentleman the importance of dealing with the problem. We attach a very high priority to countering any activity in the United Kingdom by international terrorist groups, and I can confirm to the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are at the moment looking into the law on asylum, with the intention of making improvements and bringing them before the House. I hope that we will have widespread support across the Floor of the House for the measures against terrorism. I look forward to seeing the hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends in our Lobby on that particular matter. It is a matter to which we attach the very greatest importance.

Mr. John Townend: Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the general public that there is no need for local authorities to dismiss teachers? Their income is not hypothecated. If they have to make savings, they can make them across the whole range of local government services. They could get rid of administrators or social workers, or stop printing political newspapers.

The Prime Minister: As I have indicated to the House on previous occasions, we regard education as a priority for the Government. It will remain a priority. I believe that within local authority budgets, and education budgets in particular, the classroom teacher should remain the priority.

Q3. Mr. Purchase: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 April.     [18387]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Purchase: If the support grant settlement that applied to Westminster Tory council were applied to English authorities generally, would not 95 per cent. of Labour councils have no rate increase this year? Is the Prime Minister aware that, by contrast with Westminster's inflated grant, Wolverhampton has lost £8 million in grant and has had to make £7 million of cuts in its budget? Is not it time that the Prime Minister stopped taxing by stealth, came clean and put the formula correctly to the people of England?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is repeating yet more unsubstantiated and inaccurate Labour smears, as I will now demonstrate. The grant is determined by an objective formula which takes into-- [Interruption.] What the hon. Gentleman does not know is that the previous Labour Government were more generous to Westminster as compared with, say, Liverpool, than the present Conservative Government. In 1978, they assessed Westminster's need per head at 49 per cent. more than Liverpool, compared with 42 per cent. more this year. The hon. Gentleman did not know that, because he just picked up the latest smear from Transport House. He should check his facts and withdraw.

Column 337

Mr. Peter Bottomley: May I ask my right hon. Friend to make sure that we do not allow-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. We must hear the question.

Mr. Bottomley: May I ask my right hon. Friend to make sure that we do not allow the north American habit of paid political advertising on television? It might lead to an extension of the kind of broadcast that was shown last night, which demonstrated that the person who authorised it is unprincipled, untrustworthy and should not be allowed to control public expenditure. He cannot tell an increase from a decrease.

The Prime Minister: I certainly share that view about paid political broadcasting on television. I think that very few people would wish to see that. What we really saw last night was that behind the high-flown language of new Labour lies the gutter politics of old Labour. That is the case. It has always been the case and it is now becoming obvious.

Q4. Mr. Illsley: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 April.     [18388]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Column 338

Mr. Illsley: First, let me assure the Prime Minister that this question does not come from Transport House. Does he realise that, if Barnsley local authority received the same amount of Government grant per head as Westminster council, it would not have any need to levy a council tax at all and could re-pay each council tax payer a staggering £867 each, rather than having to face council tax capping, which will mean sacking teachers and increasing still further some of the largest class sizes in the country? Why should children in my constituency have to suffer to subsidise a corrupt council?

The Prime Minister: If every council in the country had the same grant as Tower Hamlets, they could make a bigger reduction than they could for Westminster.

Mr. Rowe: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Liberal-Labour coalition, which now tries to control Kent county council, discovered at its recent meeting that it had underspent by £17 million, yet nevertheless flatly refused to fund the teachers' pay increase? Is that not a cynical abuse of the children in our schools for party political purposes?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a fair point that could be echoed by many of my other hon. Friends who are unfortunate enough to have either Labour or Liberal Democrat councils.

Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page