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EC Regulations (Competition)

5. Sir Roger Moate: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what priority he gives to representations from United Kingdom industries in assessing EC regulations which affect competition policy. [9983]

Mr. Freeman: Business views are central to our assessment of the impact that proposed Economic Community regulations have on United Kingdom competitiveness.

Sir Roger Moate: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, under competition policy, the European Community is due to review the block exemption for the tied house arrangement between British brewers and public houses? More than 27,000 tenanted and leased houses are covered by that tie. Is my right hon. Friend further aware that any threat to the tied arrangement--which, in theory, could end in 1997--could undermine the existence of many thousands of British pubs? Is it not time to say that Brussels has no business interfering in British public house arrangements? We should say that now robustly, before we get involved in consultations which threaten those arrangements, and we must confirm that Britain has no intention of ending those arrangements in 1997 or at any other time.

Mr. Freeman: The President of the Board of Trade has responsibility in that area and I am sure that he will look after the interests of the brewing industry as well as those of the entire United Kingdom industry.

I am glad that the Commission has adopted new guidelines for issuing new directives, which include proper consultation with the industry and with businesses affected before the directives are introduced.

Water Companies (Charter Marks)

7. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many water companies have received charter marks; and if he will make a statement. [9985]

Mr. Willetts: Five water companies have won charter marks: Anglian Water, Severn Trent Water and Wessex Water in 1992 and Welsh Water and South Staffordshire Water in 1993.

Mr. O'Brien: In view of the appalling record of water companies in providing services to their customers and the fact that people in Yorkshire have suffered more than many others, will the Minister assure me that Yorkshire

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Water will not qualify for a charter mark and that others, such as Severn Trent Water, should have their charter marks withdrawn because of the appalling service to their customers?

Mr. Willetts: Water companies will have the opportunity to apply for charter marks in 1996, but, in order to win one, they will have to show that they have maintained the highest quality of service to customers. If they have not managed to achieve that, they certainly will not receive a charter mark.

Mr. Congdon: Does my hon. Friend agree that after years of neglect in the public sector, water companies have taken the opportunity of massive capital investment to improve infrastructure and water quality? Will he give particular credit to Thames Water, which has invested £2 billion in the past five years to improve water for Londoners?

Mr. Willetts: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. It is revealing to compare the conspicuously dry summer of 1995, when there were 53 drought orders, with the previous hot summer of 1976, when there were 136 drought orders. That is a testament to the improvement in the quality of service after privatisation.

Ministerial Responsibilities

8. Mr. Grocott: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what recent representations he has received about his responsibilities. [9986]

The Deputy Prime Minister: None, other than from Opposition Members.

Mr. Grocott: In view of the Deputy Prime Minister's welcome initiative in raising the subject of law and order at the weekend, will he confirm that in 1979, under the last Labour Government, the number of offences was 2,540,000 and that in 1994, after 15 years of Tory government, the figure was 5,040,000? In the Deputy Prime Minister's own language, clearly villains love Tory Governments. As Britain was unarguably a much safer place in the 1970s, will he devote his energy and attention to answering a simple question to which we all need an answer: why has crime rocketed under the Tories?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should be fully aware that recorded crime shows the largest ever fall in a two-year period. That is in no small measure the result of legislation introduced by the Government in the teeth of Labour opposition.

Mr. Jenkin: May I make representations to my right hon. Friend about his responsibilities and suggest that his job will be far easier if he continues making the Opposition angry by pointing out how they have obstructed the Government's law and order policies at every twist and turn?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely what I did and the result is to send the Opposition into mayhem. They thought that they would get away with repeated one-off

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opposition until someone added their comments together, to show that they have consistently resisted the Government's policies to deal with rising crime.

Mr. Winnick: Are not some of my colleagues being rather naive when they criticise the Deputy Prime Minister for his remarks yesterday? Is it not quite clear there is no lie, no innuendo and no smear that the Government will not use to get re-elected? Does not the Deputy Prime Minister see the difference between the Cabinet Minister who resigned on principle over Westland and walked out of a Cabinet meeting and the same Cabinet Minister who today is quite happy in the political sewers using every possible political smear against any proposal?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so upset, but the truth is often inconvenient.

Dr. Spink: In advising the Government on their future policies, will my right hon. Friend encourage them to avoid Labour's greatest hypocrisy--the adoption of the social chapter and the minimum wage, which would destroy jobs and businesses?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If I remember correctly, the deputy leader of the Labour party said that any fool knows that a minimum wage will cost jobs. Coming out of the mouth of the deputy leader, that seems a pretty accurate description of the position.

Mr. Mandelson: Following the Deputy Prime Minister's descent into the campaign gutter yesterday and the recent reining-in of the Secretary of State for Scotland after his misuse of civil servants and public funds in his campaigning against Labour in Scotland, will the Deputy Prime Minister give an undertaking this afternoon that those abuses will not be allowed to continue as the Tories' lies and smears against Labour mount as the election approaches--as inevitably they will?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I know that the leader of the Labour party talks only to the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), but I did not realise that the right hon. Gentleman would send the hon. Member for Hartlepool here to eclipse his own deputy leader--a most extraordinary situation. I must say to the hon. Gentleman, whose electioneering techniques have been the subject of great interest on both sides of the House, that nobody has brought more professional skill to the debasement of British public life than the hon. Member for Hartlepool.

Mr. Lidington: May I ask my right hon. Friend to arrange an early and thorough presentation of Government education policy, to make it clear that, although this Government have always supported the principle of setting and streaming in schools, that is in marked contrast to the policy adopted by Labour Members, who have often denigrated and condemned that approach?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter because I understand that it is to be the subject of a major speech by the leader of the Labour party tonight, in which he will advocate something called accelerated learning--which, in any other

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language, is streaming. The leader of the Labour party gave his views, or at least what were his views, in June last year. He said--

Hon. Members: Order. Reading.

Madam Speaker: Order. I will decide whether the Minister is in order.

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is not just what the Minister has to say, Madam Speaker--

Madam Speaker: Order. As far as I am concerned, it is what the Minister has to say at the Dispatch Box today.

The Deputy Prime Minister: This is what the leader of the Labour party had to say--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Order. There can be no points of order during questions and the hon. Gentleman is aware of that.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The House must know that the views of the leader of the Labour party on streaming are of major interest to the House. He said--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The Minister was asked a question and he is attempting to answer. [Hon. Members: "It was out of order."] It is for me to determine whether the question was in or out of order, and it was in order. The Minister will answer it.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful, Madam Speaker. The leader of the Labour party said on 23 June 1995:

Yet tonight, that is to be the major theme of a major speech. That is not so much a case of accelerated learning as one of accelerated hypocrisy.

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