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13. Mr. Mans: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to encourage more local authorities to transfer their housing stock to alternative landlords. [29784]

Mr. Clappison: Our successful voluntary housing transfer programme will continue with help for the poorer estates in the form of the estates renewal challenge fund.

Mr. Mans: Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the Conservative group on Wyre borough council, which initiated the scheme that resulted in Wyre borough's entire housing stock being successfully transferred to the Wyre housing association after a successful ballot which revealed that the local Labour party was hopelessly split on the issue?

Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The group deserves congratulations, because the scheme will benefit tenants in the form of repairs, improvements and rent guarantees. However, it is not only on Wyre borough council that there seems to be a split in the Opposition ranks. Local housing companies offer an important opportunity to attract private finance, but an attack on such companies, in the form of amendments to the Housing Bill, seems to have been mounted by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen in another place--at least, they sought to mount an attack until the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) put them under a curfew. We wait to see whether this is an example of old Labour being put under a curfew alongside 10-year-olds, 16-year-olds or whoever else Labour plans to treat in this way.

Ms Walley: Is the Minister aware that former National Coal Board homes in my constituency were sold to private landlords--to such companies as Banana Bliss--who are now asking tenants to pay rent increases ranging from £28 to £50? Can he justify that? Can he provide us with guarantees on rent control in the light of the Spath Holme court case? What guarantees will there be for tenants of privately rented properties?

Mr. Clappison: There is a rent guarantee in the case of transfers to housing associations or local housing companies, and tenants are aware of the situation. In all cases, the transfer is subject to tenants' approval, and a large majority of tenants--as in the case of Wyre--have given their approval.

Mr. Thurnham: Does the Minister agree that it is deplorable how many council houses are left empty and boarded up? Should not they be sold off to landlords who would make the effort to let them--thereby housing the homeless?

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Mr. Clappison: There is a problem with some empty council stock. The performance of some councils, under certain political control, falls well below that of the best performance in other cases. If those councils--some of which are in east London, such as Hackney--could put their houses in order, they could provide housing for many more tenants.

Mr. Raynsford: Does the Minister recall that the Walterton and Elgin tenants in Westminster rightly sought to transfer their homes out of the control of Westminster city council, and that they are now replacing the asbestos-ridden slums of Westminster with decent quality housing for local people? Why are the Government therefore making it impossible for any organisation led by tenants to be registered as an approved social landlord in future? Why are they making impossible the very transfers they supposedly support?

Mr. Clappison: Because, in the type of organisations with which we are concerned, it is very important that no single group, whether the council or tenants, should have such a majority. It is important that tenants should be represented. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the advantages that tenants across the country have taken through tenant management organisation to have a say in the running of their own estates. Those are reforms that we put in place, often opposed by the Labour party.

Regional Government (Yorkshire)

14. Mr. Riddick: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about regional government in Yorkshire. [29785]

Mr. Curry: Local authorities in Yorkshire and Humberside have informed me of their proposals to establish a regional assembly of local councils.

Mr. Riddick: Is my hon. Friend aware that the leader of my local, Labour-controlled council of Kirklees has admitted that the proposal to which my hon. Friend has referred is designed to be the forerunner of a full-blown regional assembly in the unlikely and unhappy event of a Labour Government being elected? Does he agree that the very last thing that Yorkshire folk want is more Government regulation, more politicians interfering and a new Labour white rose tax?

Mr. Curry: I note that there is a large number of putative leaders of this regional assembly among Yorkshire Labour leaders. What a local authority decides to do within its existing powers and within its existing budget is entirely up to it. I am entirely opposed to the creation of a new tier of unwanted, unnecessary and bureaucratic local government, which will no doubt demand more power and more money. Such a structure would not create one extra job, educate one more pupil or export one additional item. It would be an utter waste of time, and I hope that such a silly idea will not be pursued.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Is it not the case that if there had been regional government in Yorkshire, it would have handled the Yorkshire water crisis a lot better than did the Government?

Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman is normally very sensible, and many of his suggestions contain a grain of common sense, but this one is inherently implausible.

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Mr. Michael Brown: May I tell my hon. Friend that, after spending 17 years in this place trying to get rid of the wretched county of Humberside, and succeeding, the last thing that we want is Humberside--let alone a Greater Yorkshire or Humberside--in the form of regional government?

Mr. Curry: I agree with my hon. Friend. I noted that he celebrated the demise of Humberside, as did the local authorities and people of Yorkshire, who had never found it responsive to their needs. The last thing that anyone wants is a surrogate Humberside under a new name and with even more pretensions.

Westminster City Council

17. Mr. Ainger: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what guidance he has given to local authorities following the publication of Mr. John Magill's inquiry into Westminster city council. [29788]

Mr. Curry: None.

Mr. Ainger: Does that answer mean that the Minister believes that no other local authority in the country would sink to the depths of Westminster city council, which the auditor has found acted unlawfully, through its own wilful misconduct? Does he believe that, by acting as it did, and by removing the prospect of homes from the homeless while costing the ratepayers of Westminster £31.6 million, although the council may not have been acting illegally in his terms, its actions were morally wrong?

Mr. Curry: My answer meant that the problem arose within Westminster city council, that the report was addressed to Westminster city council, and that it is up to Westminster to sort it out.



Q1. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June. [29799]

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Prentice: Does the Prime Minister agree that Camelot's profits of £1 million a week, and the bonuses of £100,000 being paid to the directors, are simply unacceptable? Why can we not have a non-profit making lottery, as is generally the case in Europe? When shall we start giving money to good causes instead of lining the pockets of fat cats?

The Prime Minister: Camelot's post-tax profits are less than 1p in the pound. Camelot has been extraordinarily successful, and the hon. Gentleman ought to be pleased about that, because his constituency has so far received £1.7 million in grants from the Sports Council, the Arts Council and the National Lottery

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Charities Board. The more profitable Camelot is, the more money will be available in grants for the hon. Gentleman's constituents and others.

Mr. David Hunt: Does my right hon. Friend agree that although last night's decision on a partial lifting of the beef ban is a welcome move in the right direction, what we need is a clear framework for a total lifting of the ban?

The Prime Minister: I agree. Yesterday's decision was a further step towards getting the ban lifted, and I am grateful to the Commission and to the increased number of member states that gave their support. We now look to the Commission to live up to its responsibilities and, by following normal procedures, lift the ban on beef derivatives. Of course, we seek not only a lifting of the ban on derivatives but a framework for a lifting of the whole ban--a ban that is not scientifically justified.

Mr. Blair: I join the Prime Minister in welcoming the lifting of the ban on derivatives, but is the clear framework for lifting the whole ban that he seeks to achieve before the Florence summit to include a time scale--a time by which the ban is to be lifted?

The Prime Minister: What we seek, what we are discussing with the Commission, and what my right hon. and learned Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are discussing with their colleagues in Europe, is a clear and staged process towards the complete lifting of the beef ban, based on science rather than on the irrational argument that has sustained the ban thus far. We have put our ideas to the Commission, and they are now under negotiation. At this stage, I do not wish to go into the details of the negotiation; I do not believe that it would be productive or in the interests of the beef industry to do so. We are looking for a proper framework that will allow a staged complete lifting of the ban, commencing as speedily as possible.

Mr. Blair: I do not expect the Prime Minister to expose his hand on the precise time scale, but will a time scale be part of the negotiation, or not? Is that to form part of the framework, or not? Obviously the issue is when the ban will be lifted, so if a time scale is not to be part of the negotiation, what is the Prime Minister's expectation? Are we talking about months, the end of the year or a longer time scale?

The Prime Minister: I said that it would be a staged lifting. We are certainly looking for the beginning of the staged lifting at an early date, but it will be dependent on events that are yet to be discussed with the European Union. It would not be in the interests of the agriculture industry for me to go into the details at this stage, although it is tempting. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and I appreciate that we are talking about the livelihoods of 650,000 people who are involved in the beef industry in this country, many more who are involved in the beef industry across Europe and, indeed, the basis of the European internal market. All that has been put at risk by the unjustified action of other member states. We want the ban to be lifted; we are discussing that in detail. As soon as I have more to report to the House, I shall do so.

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Mr. Blair: I am not clear whether the time scale is to form part of the negotiation. We know that the cost of just the 30-month cattle slaughter policy is about £2.5 billion over the next few years and that there will be additional costs because of other measures. Will the refunding of that cost--at present only about 25 or 30 per cent. is to be refunded--be part of the clear framework that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking?

The Prime Minister: No. A refunding mechanism for the costs of slaughter has been in place for some time. We are not discussing that matter with the European Union. I am concerned about getting the ban lifted. The ban is not justified and ought to be lifted. On the basis of the science available, what the World Health Organisation has said and the information that we have already made available to our colleagues, there is not in my judgment--or in the judgment of many independent judges--a justification for the ban to continue. I am primarily concerned, as I have said, about the health and future of the British beef industry. That is the matter under negotiation with our European partners.

Mr. Batiste: My right hon. Friend will be aware of the disastrous loss earlier today of the first Ariane 5 space rocket. While it is still too early to be sure of the reasons for that loss, will he take the opportunity to confirm the Government's support for the international collaboration that keeps so many fine British companies at the forefront of international science and technology?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend says, no one is quite certain what happened in the distressing loss of the Ariane rocket. I have not had the opportunity, in the few minutes since the information came through, to determine precisely the scale of British involvement. My recollection is that our involvement in Ariane 5 is relatively modest, although I think that we sponsored one of the satellites on board which would have been lost. Certainly, whatever may have happened, there is a future for co-operation with our colleagues in Europe on that and other matters.

Mr. Ashdown: The Prime Minister's policy of declaring war on Europe has resulted in the partial lifting of a ban that everybody expected to be lifted completely even before the policy was adopted. Is it not perfectly clear that nothing has been achieved by that foolish policy that could not have been achieved without it? The cost to Britain has been lost respect and lost influence abroad, and a campaign by his Back Benchers and the press at home of ugly, petty xenophobia, which insults and demeans us all.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is just being plain silly. No one, as he so absurdly put it, has declared war on Europe. What I said when I announced the policy at this Dispatch Box was that we were not getting the co-operation in discussion on the important issue--important to the right hon. Gentleman's constituents as well as to mine--that we had a right to expect as members of the European Union. If good will is not shown to us, people must not expect us to show it in return. I am determined that the matter be properly and speedily examined so that we may, first, get a lifting of the beef derivatives ban, which now looks probable in the

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very short term, and then a framework for a lifting of the complete ban. Exaggerated comments such as the right hon. Gentleman has just made achieve exactly what he accuses my hon. Friends of doing.

Mr. Butterfill: Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his election as Prime Minister of Israel? Does he agree that, following the recent welcome discussions with Yasser Arafat and, given flexibility, good will and mutual understanding on both sides, there is no reason why the peace process should not continue?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to congratulate Mr. Netanyahu on his election. The United Kingdom has a better relationship with the state of Israel today than at any stage in the history of that state. I know that the new Prime Minister is determined that that will continue, and so am I. Since his election, the Israeli Prime Minister has made it clear publicly that he wants to continue the peace process and to honour the agreements that Israel has already reached. I welcome those objectives. The House may wish to know that I have already been in touch with the new Prime Minister and invited him to the United Kingdom.

Q2. Mrs. Roche: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June. [29800]

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

Mrs. Roche: I am sure that the Prime Minister will share my delight that one of last Saturday's jackpot winners is a resident of Hornsey and Wood Green. Will he encourage Camelot to give a fair share of its profits to good causes? Will he also admit that the Government were wrong to set up the lottery in such a way and that the pay of Camelot directors is another example of taking from the many and giving to the few?

The Prime Minister: Of course I congratulate the hon. Lady's constituent and those bodies within her constituency that have benefited from the lottery. However, perhaps she has forgotten that Camelot was awarded a licence by the regulator because it convinced the regulator that it could deliver the maximum sum of money for good causes. That is the purpose of the lottery and Camelot has achieved it spectacularly well. It also makes substantial donations to charity.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Does my right hon. Friend accept that, as the hon. Member for Macclesfield, I am very proud of the borough of Macclesfield and its achievement in the recent local elections? Will my right hon. Friend accept an invitation from me and the leader of the council, Councillor Mrs. Margaret Duddy, to visit Macclesfield, where he will receive a warm welcome for the principled leadership that he is giving the Government

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and the Conservative party, and where he will see how a well-run and accountable local authority is warmly and very well supported by its local electorate?

The Prime Minister: From what my hon. Friend tells us, Macclesfield is a example to us all. I certainly would be very happy to visit Macclesfield at an appropriate time, but I hope that my hon. Friend will not pin me down to a date.

Q3. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June. [29802]

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

Mr. MacShane: Has the Prime Minister read reports that 77 Republican Congressmen voted to support President Clinton's move significantly to raise the minimum wage in the United States? As America has the best job creation record in the world, why will he not send Treasury Ministers to see their Republican colleagues to learn how a statutory minimum wage goes hand in hand with fair play and good job creation?

The Prime Minister: There are very few similarities between the structure in the United States to create jobs and the policies that those on the Opposition Front Bench advocate, which would destroy jobs. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see job creation, he can see it here in the United Kingdom. He will not see it in those countries nearby that have a minimum wage and adhere to the social chapter.

Q4. Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June. [29803]

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

Sir Michael Neubert: Does my right hon. Friend agree that people who talk tough about fighting crime must understand that we need support measures to act tough? How can any party that opposes our proposals to set up secure training centres for juvenile criminals be taken seriously when talking about curbing juvenile crime?

The Prime Minister: I very much regret that our proposals for dealing with juvenile criminals did not receive the support of the Opposition, and I am sure that the electorate will have noticed it. I suppose that Labour's recent proposals for curfews will be adopted for a short while by some Labour Members, but will be ditched after a decent interval. I am not sure that those proposals are workable, as I believe the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has suggested. I believe that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) has made some more scathing comments about the policy.

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