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Local Authority Services

14. Sir Fergus Montgomery: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to meet representatives of the GMB to discuss the provision of local authority services. [15500]

Mr. Gummer: None.

Sir Fergus Montgomery: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the General Municipal Boilermakers Union has waged a sustained campaign against compulsory competitive tendering? Does he further agree that the fact that that union is one of the paymasters of the Labour party should strike terror into the heart of every council tax payer in the country?

Mr. Gummer: There is no doubt that the Labour party in local government is much more interested in the dictates of the unions that represent local government workers than in the needs of the community of electors. There have been recent examples of that union attempting to stop contracting out to protect its closed-shop practices, and there are other similar examples all over the country. The union is supported by the Labour party--and by the Labour leadership--because it puts money into Labour's pockets.

Mr. Betts: When the Minister meets representatives of the union to talk about CCT, will he discuss the waste of money on housing management CCT, particularly in the city of Sheffield? In Sheffield, the authority had to spend £900,000 and not one firm tendered for the work in

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question. The last firm to withdraw said that it would not bid because it could not improve on the services provided by Sheffield city council. Is it not time that the Minister allowed local authorities to spend money on providing houses for people in need, rather than wasting money on the outdated dogma that he espouses?

Mr. Gummer: All over the country, tenants have found that management has improved, even where they have not gone over to private enterprise, because for the first time, owing to CCT, local authorities are asking them what they want. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) and the Labour party hate CCT as it means that their paymasters have to compete for jobs instead of taking them from the local authorities run by him and his lackeys.

Air Quality

15. Dr. Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent discussions he has had with Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution regarding air quality. [15501]

Mr. Clappison: My ministerial colleagues and I regularly meet officers of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution to discuss issues of importance regarding air quality.

Dr. Spink: I welcome the new duty that is to be placed on local authorities to assess air quality and make improvement plans. I invite my hon. Friend to visit Castle Point to encourage the local borough council to provide additional air quality monitoring equipment in Benfleet, so that a better balance of air quality monitoring may be achieved in Castle Point.

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend's point is well made. Last year, under the Environment Act 1995, the greatest progress towards achieving clean air was made since the Clean Air Act 1956. Local authorities have an important part to play in that strategy. I know that my hon. Friend will take a close interest in the progress made at Benfleet and the rest of the country towards the higher environmental standards, including clean air, that the Government seek.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Ms Eagle: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 February. [15516]

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 meetings in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Ms Eagle: Will the Prime Minister explain to the House whether he knew of the £6.2 million rescue package put together by ex-Tory Cabinet Minister Lord Younger last October to save the hon. Member for

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Bromsgrove (Mr. Thomason) from being disqualified as a Member of Parliament? Did the Prime Minister approve of the deal?

The Prime Minister: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman--[Interruption.] I have to say to the hon. Lady--forgive me for that slip--that that is not a matter for me, and it was not a matter of which I was aware.

Mr. Pickles: In his busy schedule, has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to study the book by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)? What lessons does he draw from it for his own Government--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking a question about lessons to be drawn by the Government and hon. Members should listen.

Mr. Pickles: May I draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the suggestion in the book that, under a Labour Government, each newly married couple would receive £5,000? Is he aware that the last time that that proposal was seriously made was in Germany under the Third Reich? Does he agree that, in seeking a role model for his own leader, the hon. Gentleman has bypassed domestic role models and seeks the concept of "Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuhrer"?

The Prime Minister: I have not read the book, but it clearly sounds an extremely good buy, even if I have to purchase it myself. I am not sure that the book will do a good deal of good for the hon. Gentleman who wrote it. If he has the influence on Labour party policy that many of us believe, I hope that everybody will take the opportunity of reading the book.

Mr. Blair: The Prime Minister knows that we have supported the Government wholeheartedly in the peace process and will continue to do so. In view of the damaging speculation, will he clarify whether any deal was offered to the Government last night, as has been suggested?

The Prime Minister: I made it clear last night--and I have made it clear on earlier occasions--that I have no intention of doing any deal with any party on any occasion if the price of that deal is any given action by the Government in relation to the Northern Ireland peace process. I appreciate the support that I have had, across the House, on that process. To many Members of the House, the process has been seen as being above politics in many ways, which I believe is right. I am not in the market for deals now or in the future, and I think that every hon. Member is aware of that.

Mr. Blair: I am grateful for that reply. I hope that the Prime Minister will, therefore, deplore any briefing that was given last night about deals being offered to the Government. Does he agree that the issue of Northern Ireland and other issues of intense party controversy are best kept entirely separate in future?

The Prime Minister: I entirely agree that those matters are separate and, as I said a moment ago, there are no deals and there will be no deals, and I think everyone is aware of that.

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Mr. Skinner: The DUP?

The Prime Minister: There is no deal with any political party in the House--not with the Democratic Unionist party, not with the Ulster Unionists, not with the Social Democratic and Labour party. No deal--not now, not yesterday, not tomorrow, not at all--on this process.

Mr. John Greenway: Will my right hon. Friend continue to give priority to increasing the number of police officers available for beat duty, especially in rural areas? Does he agree that those officers should be full time, that the fight against crime requires total dedication and commitment from our police and that part-time officers are no substitute?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend about the tremendous reassurance that is given to people by seeing police officers on the beat. He will be aware that we have provided funding in this year's public expenditure round that gives chief constables the resources to put a further 5,000 police officers on the beat.

Having said that, I also believe that those who serve part time in the police force do a very good service for their community, as do special constables. My hon. Friend is entirely right, however, that the public feel deeply reassured by seeing more full-time, fully trained police officers on the beat. That is what we want; we have provided resources to obtain it.

Mr. Ashdown: On GMTV on Sunday, the Defence Secretary said that he believed that a European single currency in Europe is very likely. Does the Prime Minister agree?

The Prime Minister: May I, first, in a spirit of cross-party good will, wish the right hon. Gentleman a happy birthday? I cannot promise that this good will will always last.

I think that many countries in Europe believe that a single currency would be good for Europe and that it will take place: it may, at some stage in the future. I believe that the time scales currently set out cannot safely be met.

Mr. Jacques Arnold: When my right hon. Friend goes to the intergovernmental conference, will he ask his Spanish counterpart how he explains to the young people of Spain, one third of whom are unemployed, why their jobs should be sacrificed on the altar of the social chapter?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend directs that question especially at my Spanish colleague, but it might equally be directed at several of my colleagues elsewhere in Europe. Throughout Europe, countries that have signed the social chapter and that have many social provisions that would be included in the social chapter, were this country foolish enough to sign it, have higher unemployment, including youth unemployment, than we have in this country--and, in many cases, far higher unemployment. That is why we believe that it would be quite wrong, in the interests not only of competitiveness but of having people in work, especially young people, to

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sign it. We will not, and it is one of the dividing lines between the policy of the Government and that of the principal Opposition parties.

Q2. Mr. Bill Michie: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 February. [15517]

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

Mr. Michie: Does the Prime Minister think it is right that last night's vote on the conduct of two Ministers was won only because the two Ministers concerned decided to vote to exonerate themselves?

The Prime Minister: I know that the hon. Gentleman has always taken a great interest in matters relating to Iraq. He demanded an immediate ceasefire and peace conference before Saddam Hussein had been defeated in the war, so he takes a great interest in this matter.

If the Government had been defeated by one or two votes last night, the hon. Gentleman would have said, "Everything is proved; all must change." Unfortunately for him, the House did not vote to defeat the Government last night. If he reads the debate that took place in the House of Lords--where perhaps a more dispassionate view was taken on many issues--he will see that five Law Lords said unequivocally that they agreed with the legal advice given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

On that basis, I look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) withdraw the remarks that he has made repeatedly in the past three years. Until he does so, the Government will not be able to take seriously a single word that he utters.

Sir Peter Hordern: Will my right hon. Friend consider publishing a White Paper giving the history of defence equipment sales over the past 30 years or so? Is it not correct that the first super salesman at the Ministry of Defence was Mr. Ray Brown, who was appointed by Lord Healey? Did not Lord Callaghan, as Prime Minister, introduce the Chevaline missile without telling half of his Cabinet or the House? He would certainly never have told the Leader of the Opposition or the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who were members of CND.

The Prime Minister: It is just possible that the reason why he would not tell them was given by my right hon. Friend at the end of his remarks. What happened under previous Governments is a matter of record. It is also a matter of record that this Government sold no hard armaments to Iraq and that the previous Labour Government provided many to Argentina. That is a matter of record, not speculation.

Q3. Ms Roseanna Cunningham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 February. [15518]

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

Ms Cunningham: I wonder whether the Prime Minister noticed the demonstration that took place in

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Edinburgh on Saturday against swingeing Government education cuts. Some 40,000 people--parents, teachers and children--marched in protest against those cuts. That is the equivalent of about 500,000 people marching on the streets of London. Is the Prime Minister aware that his Minister at the Scottish Office said that he would have joined the demonstration if he had been in Edinburgh? If the Prime Minister had been in Scotland at the weekend, would he have joined the demonstration also--bearing it in mind that the slashing of local government budgets means that he would not be guaranteed police protection?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady knows that more resources are made available year after year for education in all parts of the United Kingdom. She knows also that the proportion of public expenditure per head of population throughout Scotland is far higher than that throughout the whole of England and Wales. It is only smaller than that in Northern Ireland, where very special circumstances prevail. Of course, the hon. Lady is also in favour of an extra tax in order to provide more money and an extra imposition of £6 per week for every family in Scotland as a result of policies that she supports.

Q4. Mr. Whittingdale: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 February. [15519]

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

Mr. Whittingdale: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the ending of the IRA ceasefire makes it even more important that the prevention of terrorism Act be renewed? Does he agree that that measure should be supported by all parties in the House and that to abstain, rather than to vote against it--which now appears to be the policy of the Labour party--is not sufficient and will do nothing to help in the war against terrorism?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the Labour party for the bipartisan approach that it has adopted: I repeat that point yet again. I was very pleased to hear from the shadow Home Secretary that the Opposition do not intend to oppose the Bill. I hope that, on reflection, they will be prepared to go a little further and support us on that Bill. It would be helpful were the Opposition to do so, but that is a matter that they must consider. I can say only that, on that Bill, I would especially welcome their support in the Lobby.

Q5. Dr. Wright: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 February. [15520]

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

Dr. Wright: After yesterday's events, what advice would the Prime Minister give to a civil servant who is asked by a Minister consistently, deliberately and designedly to mislead the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not the case and that there is a code of conduct for civil servants, which they follow. That has been, is and will continue to be the case.

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