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Engagements

Volume 175: debated on Thursday 5 July 1990

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I have been asked to reply—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is hosting the NATO summit meeting. This evening, she will be attending a dinner for NATO given by Her Majesty the Queen.

Order. The Leader of the House has every right to answer questions for the Prime Minister.

Speaking as one Welshman to another, does my right hon. and learned Friend share with me—and, I hope, the whole House—a feeling of pride at the way in which the English football team conducted itself over the past three weeks? Does he agree that it deserves the warmest congratulations and good wishes of the whole House for its next game on Saturday?

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House share the sense of pride expressed by my hon. Friend. The English team has got further in this contest than ever before on foreign soil. Even more important is that the team's quality of play and behaviour has been a great credit to the nation. We are proud of that as well. We certainly wish the team well in the match on Saturday.

I at least agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in saying that the lads done magnificent.

Will yesterday's decision by the Cabinet mean that people will pay lower poll taxes next year?

There has been no consideration by the Cabinet of the matter raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The review of the operation of the community charge is well advanced. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the outcome of the review will be announced at the end of the month. It is a great deal further advanced than any review undertaken by the Labour party of its proposals. The Opposition have gone through every gamut in the book—one tax, two taxes, local income taxes and capital valuation taxes—and have finally arrived back where they started, with rating system of the type that they used to condemn as discredited, as we condemn it now. We look forward to hearing the Opposition's proposals in a year's time. Our own proposals will be brought forward at the proper time and in the proper way.

I rather believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is being kept in the dark on this subject, as he is on others. Perhaps he can answer a question from his fellow Conservatives. Is he aware that senior Conservative councillors have said, through their associations and very publicly, that next year in order to be

"realistic and reflect the true costs of providing local services",
the Government's grant should be at least £2.9 billion higher simply to meet inflation? Can he tell them how £2.5 billion will do the job? Which set of Tories have got it wrong—the Tories in local government who have to deal with the realities, or the Tories in the Cabinet who have to deal with the Prime Minister?

A huge range of speculative figures are being published in the press. The figures on which the Government decide will be vouchsafed to the House in due course in the ordinary way when the grant proposals are announced in the ordinary way. The country continues to wait for an answer from the Labour party as to what it proposes to put in place of the rating system.

Perhaps the deputy Prime Minister at least knows this much—that the poll tax is of itself regressive, unfair, very expensive and incapable of reform. Can he tell us whether anything decided by the Cabinet yesterday changes anything in that?

The review, which is still taking place, is of the operation and not the structure of the tax. What the country is still waiting to know is what the Opposition propose in relation to the rating system. If the Opposition still agree, as they originally did, that domestic rates are unfair and discredited, why do they propose to return to them?

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Does my right hon. and learned Friend share my view that the commendable performance of Mr. Bobby Robson and his team in showing that we are at least the third or fourth most successful footballing nation in the world has been severely tarnished by the behaviour of many so-called supporters in Brighton and elsewhere yesterday? Does he agree that they should be severely punished, with prison sentences?

Once again, the whole House is bound to agree with my hon. Friend that the disappointment of yesterday's result cannot afford any justification for the kind of wanton violence and hooliganism that took place in Brighton and elsewhere last night. Especially regrettable was the willingness to damage cars because they had been made in Germany. We welcome the prompt police action in relation to such misconduct. It should certainly be dealt with effectively.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to emphasise his support for the commitment of all the parties in Northern Ireland represented in the House to dialogue and partnership in the moves toward genuine power-sharing in Northern Ireland? Will he tell the House what new road blocks have been erected today, who is responsible for erecting them and what he is doing to remove those obstacles so as to ensure that that partnership can continue?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that topic is to be debated within a few minutes of the conclusion of business questions. The whole House wishes to see progress along the lines that he described at the beginning of his question. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be addressing himself to the matter later in the afternoon.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is entirely fitting that the Prime Minister should be hosting today's NATO summit, as it was her resolution which ensured that, when the Soviet Union increased its armaments in Europe, they were matched armament for armament? Does he further agree that the only people who do not understand that that is why the Soviet Union came to the negotiating table are the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the parliamentary Labour party?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am astonished that even one member of the Labour party expressed astonishment or dismay at the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was hosting the meeting. It is an entirely appropriate place for the Prime Minister of this nation at a time of such importance.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

I have been asked to reply.

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

If there is a ballot on whether a hospital should acquire self-governing status, and if the majority say no, is there any chance that the people who voted will get their way and be able to exercise that choice?

Hospitals which are to achieve self-governing status will achieve that status in line with arrangements approved by the House and designed to improve standards of performance in those hospitals for the sake of those who work there and the patients who go there.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that leasehold reform in this country is long overdue —especially reform that would allow individual flats to carry their own freehold rather than be tied to a leasehold? Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that such a reform would complete the home ownership revolution which has occurred under this Government by permitting people in inner cities to own their own homes?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the merit in extending opportunities for home ownership. He will know that the leasehold system has been the subject of many proposals over many years. We are about to undertake a detailed evaluation of the working of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987. It would be premature to contemplate any particular changes until that study is completed.

Irrespective of any welcome devolution to an assembly in Ulster, this House will still have some legislative powers with respect to Ulster. Will the deputy Prime Minister therefore ensure that all such legislation is made properly by a Bill, thus ending the temporary, contingent and offhand manner in which the House has handled Northern Ireland affairs? It would also end the grotesque mistake that I discovered this morning, whereby a person moving from London to Belfast was refused income support because

"England pays under Act of Parliament whereas Northern Ireland pays under Order in Council."

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the system for legislation in respect of Northern Ireland has been in its present form for some time. The question that he raised has been asked on a number of previous occasions. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to address it during this afternoon's debate.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make it crystal clear to the Romanian Government that there can be no economic aid from this country or from anywhere else until there is a sign of genuine democracy in that country? Does he agree that the arrest of Mr. Leon Nico and two others about three weeks ago contrasts very strangely with the marauding club-wielding miners who were praised but not prosecuted, that that constitutes evidence that there is no rule of law and no justice in Romania, and that, until there is, there can be no proper democracy in that country?

Again, I think that the whole House will share my hon. Friend's concern about the fact that there is still, as I understand it, no news about the three student leaders to whom he referred. He is certainly right in commending the proposition that we should continue to withhold aid except on humanitarian grounds until there is real progress towards democracy and economic freedom, in particular including respect for human rights and the rule of law.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that last night, following a cash crisis, at a meeting held in secret without proper consultation, it was decided to close one in 10 of the beds at King's College hospital in south London? When the Prime Minister said that the national health service was safe in her hands, did she mean 90 per cent. rounded to the nearest 100?

I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the arrangements that were made last night were designed to prevent the kind of short-term shortfall in revenue that has occurred in the past, and to provide for a sensible and sustainable pattern of health provision within the health authority's area.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 July.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that under this Government 15 out of 15 taxpayers have enjoyed lower rates of tax, that a man on average earnings now pays £1,000 per year less tax than in 1979, and that 15 out of 15 taxpayers can look forward to lower tax rates under this Government?

I am glad to confirm what my hon. Friend has said. Under this Government, there has been progress not only in the direction of steadily reducing taxes on income, but towards the abolition of borrowing, with a movement towards the repayment of Government debt and a substantial expansion of real spending programmes as a result of the real growth that we have been able to achieve.

I have a conundrum about the poll tax with which the deputy Prime Minister may be able to help me. How can it be fair that the good folk of Wolverhampton have to put £47 each into the safety net while the citizens of Wandsworth take £116 out?

The arrangements for the distribution of the safety net in relation to the community charge are in line with those approved by Parliament. I have a conundrum for the hon. Gentleman. When is the country likely to know what kind of arrangements the Labour party would put in place?