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Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 5 June 1990

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

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. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

As this is World Environment Day, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the United Nations award to her? Is not it a fact that my right hon. Friend's recent decision to limit CO2 emissions in 2005 to the present levels will represent about a 30 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions from the projected levels? Surely this will mean substantial sacrifices on the part of energy consumers.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, I welcome the award as a recognition of the lead that the Government have taken on environmental matters. We have put forward a target time of 2005 so that we can get down the CO2 emissions during that year to where they are this year. That is a realistic target and one which I think will become a world consensus. I am very glad that the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has endorsed that as a realistic target and believes that in 15 years' time we shall have better science on which to make further decisions.

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that she spoke for the whole country recently when she said that the poll tax had been a huge mistake?

The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken—I never said any such thing. I am very sorry to disappoint him, but he should not believe everything he reads in the newspapers.

I am sad that the reports that there was some common sense breaking out in Downing street have been slightly exaggerated. Is the Prime Minister aware that the costs of administering poll tax are huge? Is she aware that there is chaos in many areas about the collection of the poll tax? Does she appreciate that poll tax capping will inflict crippling losses, especially on children's education? When all those things are true, is not it obvious that the only thing wrong with her saying that the poll tax is a huge mistake is that it was a gross understatement?

The right hon. Gentleman never conditions his supplementary questions to my previous replies; perhaps that is beyond his capacity to think on his feet. With regard to the collection of the community charge, the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers will be aware that we accelerated the taxpayer's contribution, the revenue support grant, to local authorities so that they got virtually three months' grant in place of the two months that they otherwise would have got. That gives them a considerable advantage in cash terms so that if they put it on deposit they have a good extra amount to tide them over any difficulties.

Perhaps the right hon. Lady will condition herself to the reality that all over the country, under Conservative and Labour councils, people are saying, "This poll tax is costing us much more than the rates ever did. Where is the sense, prudence and fairness in that?" Is not it clear that such a tax is doomed, as it deserves to be, along with the Government who invented it?

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the community charge, especially as he lives in Ealing, where, having had a Labour council, there is a very high community charge. But who is the right hon. Gentleman to talk? We looked at the Labour party's document, having heard Labour's director of campaigns and communications promise on 4 April that the next major policy statement by the Labour party would be on 23 and 24 May. We were told:

"In that will be contained our fully worked out alternative to the poll tax."
What did we see when we got that document? We found a list of principles followed by the statement:
"The practical means by which we achieve these aims and principles are set out in a background paper."
There is no background paper. The Labour party does not have a clue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the astonishment and dismay of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House at the decision of the unelected Chamber on the War Crimes Bill? Will she bear it in mind that Australia, Canada and the United States, three countries with legal systems not dissimilar to ours and which do not take second place to us in regard to human rights, legislated on this long ago? Will she weigh very carefully in coming to any decision on this grave matter the words in the conclusion of the Hetherington-Chalmers report that to take no action against such monstrous crimes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] I am quoting——

will taint the United Kingdom with the slur of becoming a haven for war criminals? Is not it clear that the only moral conclusion to be reached is that the Bill must be introduced in another Session?

Of course I recognise the extremely strong feelings, because of the hideous nature of the crimes. We shall be considering carefully the implications of the result of the debate in another place and how best to proceed, bearing in mind the size of the majority in this House on a free vote. It may be that the House itself will wish to discuss the matter, in which case I am sure that that will be pursued through my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her Government are presiding over record levels of homelessness, high mortgage costs, high rent increases and the complete collapse of the private rented sector? What does she intend to do about that?

The Government are also presiding over a record number of homes. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that considerable proposals have been made and money allocated to reduce homelessness. It was recently announced that £250 million would be devoted to it, with considerable increases in the money being made available in the coming two years, from £985 million to £1,700 million, to the Housing Corporation and housing associations to build more houses suitable for those and other people.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the success of inward investment in Britain. She has no doubt noted that 41 per cent. of American investment and 38 per cent. of Japanese investment in Europe comes to Britain. Does she agree that if the Labour party put the unions back in the saddle, overtaxed everyone and increased public expenditure that new investment would end and Britain would become the sick man of Europe, as it was in 1979?

I agree with my hon. Friend that a record amount of inward investment in the Community comes to this country from the United States, Japan and other countries. Part of the reason for that is the kind of free enterprise economy that we run and our excellent record on enterprise, production and manufacturing investment. All those things would go if the Labour party ever put into practice its policy document, which goes back to the failed policies of the past.

Does the Prime Minister agree with the very sensible views of Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the West German Foreign Minister, who said that NATO will have to change and evolve to become the keystone of a new pan-European defence structure if the long-term stability and security of Europe is to be maintained?

They are not new or sudden. I shall be speaking to a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers at Turnberry on Thursday and there will also be a NATO summit in this country in June-July to do just that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it would be inappropriate for the Government to respond to the illegal action of France in banning British beef imports by a similar illegal action of our own, it is perfectly reasonable for British consumers to use their purchasing power to boycott French goods, inluding the appalling French Golden Delicious apples?

I understand my hon. Friend's strong feelings, but I must tell him that the Commission has been extremely good and quick in its action. It is quite illegal to ban exports from this country to Germany or France and the Commission is taking action. The special veterinary committee of the Community has agreed that Britain has taken all action possible and that British beef is safe.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does the Prime Minister agree that at a time of low morale in the teaching profession and teacher shortages it is a tragedy that Barnsley metropolitan borough council is having to sack teachers and close its music teaching centre, thereby depriving local children of tuition in music, simply as a result of her Government's arbitrary and artificial poll tax capping?

That is not the cause, and it is absolute nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to say that. Local authorities such as mine whose education record is unbeaten have managed to do it with a low community charge. They manage things very well with the co-operation of their teaching staff and exhibit excellent local authority management.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

Will my right hon. Friend note that I had British beef for lunch? [Interruption.]

Will she convey the congratulations of my farmers to the EEC Commission on its prompt action on the illegal ban imposed by certain EEC countries which is based on pure commercial interests? Will she confirm that all the independent scientific and medical evidence shows that it is perfectly safe to eat British beef? Does she agree that the decision by Northumberland county council to ban beef, which was withdrawn within two days, was an utter disgrace?

I thank my hon. Friend for his meaty question. I entirely agree that the Commission has acted quickly, in response to the ban, which it regards as illegal. I agree that the special committee of veterinary experts attached to the Community has approved of everything that we have done in taking every possible measure in pursuit of the recommendations of the Southwood and Tyrrell committees and that British beef is safe. I also agree that those who have banned British beef have done so more to protect their farmers than for anything else. I will gladly pass on my hon. Friend's remarks.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 June.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

I thank the Prime Minister for her reply. I hope that she enjoys the rest of her day and that she has a pleasant night's sleep in a warm bed. Is she aware that this is National Housing Week? What will she do for those of my constituents who do not even have a home to go to tonight?

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman precisely what has been done. I understand that just over 1,000 people sometimes sleep out rough in London. Some of them have other problems such as being mentally retarded, or have genuine problems and are genuine social cases. Others are not. During the lifetime of the Government, a great many hostel places have been built. There are now more than 21,000 hostel places in London, including some 3,000 emergency places and direct access beds. We have already just allocated another—[Interruption.]

They do not like to hear the facts, Mr. Speaker. Some £250 million will be spent over the next two years to provide nearly 15,000 extra lettings. The new housing association hostels will be allocated another £100 million, all to help with the problem of the homeless. There are far more council flats empty in London than there are people homeless on London streets.