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Prime Minister

Volume 210: debated on Thursday 25 June 1992

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 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.

Is the Prime Minister aware of reports that dentists in Huntingdon are to refuse to treat any new patients, including children, under the national health service because of Government cuts in funding? How will the Prime Minister explain to his constituents that, despite repeated excuses, the Government are failing to give the NHS the level of resources necessary to enable it to provide a first-class level of treatment for all?

There is no question of anyone needing to go without a national health service dentist in Huntingdon. Dentists in Cambridgeshire have more patients than the national average because of population growth. A recruitment campaign for dentists has been planned for some time and will go ahead in September. If necessary, the local family health services authority will seek agreement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to employ salaried dentists. Four dentists are already interested in such appointments. If people have any trouble finding dentists, they should go to their family health services authority, which should be able to help.

May I wish my right hon. Friend well in the United Kingdom presidency of the European Community? Will he ensure that Ministers work hard in the coming months to explain the immense benefits of the Maastricht treaty to the interests of this country—[Interruption.] which will become clearer over time? If that work is successful, it will help to diminish some of the grotesque xenophobia and hysteria of recent weeks.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, the Maastricht agreement was made within the negotiating terms agree by the House, was subsequently endorsed by the House and was agreed at a general election. The Second Reading of the Bill has been approved, it remains Government policy and in due course we shall carry it through.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government now support the extension of Mr. Delors' term of office as president of the European Commission?

It is a matter that will be discussed at the weekend. There is, as I understand it, likely to be only one candidate. If that is Mr. Delors, we shall support him.

Since I take it that that answer is as far as the Prime Minister's reserves of courage are liable to go towards the answer yes, will he give Mr. Delors the Opposition's congratulations—[Interruption] and tell Mr. Delors that we confidently expect him to continue to implement policies which are necessary for this country, are supported by the Labour party and are anathema to Tory Back Benchers?

I am not entirely sure that the right hon. Gentleman carried all his Friend's with him.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the recent survey that showed that 91 per cent. of British exporters reported either good or very good orders for the first three months of this year? Does he agree that the efforts made by British exporters will lead the way to recovery?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Last month's export figures were extremely good. They were up 6 per cent. by value and 4½ per cent. by volume. I think that that shows the extent to which our competitiveness has increasingly enabled us to penetrate export markets which were previously not open to us.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.

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

When will the Prime Minister stop going on about his wonderful citizens charter which, so far as I can see, has had only one effect until now, which is that British Rail passengers can keep their tickets? At a much more serious level, pregnant women cannot keep their jobs. What good is a charter which does not allow women to be pregnant without being punished for it?

If the hon. Gentleman cared to read the whole range of citizens charters that we have produced, he would realise that it is a far wider-ranging initiative than he has begun to understand. It puts the consumer and not the producer first, and it will remain right at the heart of Government policy throughout the rest of this decade.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the remarks that he made on Tuesday, when he said that there would be another debate in the House on the Maastricht Bill before Third Reading? May I recommend the attitude of one of his predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who allowed a free vote of the House in similar circumstances when he was piloting the European Communities legislation through the House? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that would be an excellent way to test the water before we come to voting on the Maastricht Bill?

I was not a Member of the House at that moment, and I am not entirely sure that I recall that free vote. The House has now debated and voted on the Maastricht agreement on three occasions. As I indicated a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), we contested the general election on that proposition—a general election at which all my hon. Friends were returned on a manifesto to which they all subscribed. The Maastricht treaty was negotiated in good faith by all member states. I have no intention of breaking the word of the British Government that was given on that occasion; nor do I have any intention of compromising what we agreed on that occasion and wrecking this country's reputation for plain and honest dealing and good faith. In due course, therefore, I shall be inviting my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Government and the Bill.

The Government have devoted many millions of pounds and many millions of copies to telling people about the glories of the parents charter and the patients charter. Will the Prime Minister tell the House how many millions of pounds and how many millions of copies have been devoted to telling the British people about the Maastricht treaty?

From memory, I think that the House spent 30 hours debating it before we even went to Maastricht. I do not think that there is any doubt about the realities of what the treaty stands for in the minds of the British people. They knew that at the election, and they supported it at the election.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Secretary of State for Employment on her triumph in Luxembourg yesterday? It is good news for pay packets, good news for jobs and good news for investment. Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that it shows that the best way to fight for British interests is to negotiate strongly, but with a reputation as a country which keeps the agreements that we make and ratifies the treaties that we sign?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I wholeheartedly agree with him. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment achieved an outcome at yesterday's Economic and Social Council which meets every one of the United Kingdom's most crucial objectives. She has preserved the flexibility which employers and employees in the United Kingdom enjoy and which is one of our greatest assets. I must tell the House, however, that the directive is still not—and may not be—agreed in the European Community. In any event, it is still our case, irrespective of the negotiating triumph by my right hon. Friend yesterday, that the treaty base under which it has been brought forward is wrong and that if it is passed we may still challenge it in the European Court.



To ask the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet representatives of London's homeless.

I have no plans to do so at present, but my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment regularly meets representatives of the voluntary organisations in London who work with homeless people.

Does the Prime Minister realise that the 25 million sq ft of empty offices in London and still more under construction are an insult to the 2,000 people who sleep on the streets of the capital city every night and to the 18,000 people living in hostels? When will the Government direct the construction industry to build houses for rent for those who need them, rather than speculative office blocks to lie idle for the benefit of property speculators? This is a crucial matter and the right hon. Gentleman stands condemned by those who are forced to sleep on the streets at night.

The hon. Gentleman, standing in a glass house, should be careful where he throws his bricks. Of the top 10 authorities with empty properties, six are Labour controlled and none is Conservative controlled. If the hon. Gentleman were really concerned, he would be putting pressure on Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, Hackney, Knowsley and Newcastle upon Tyne. He might then get homeless people back into accommodation.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that homelessness in London is the result of decades of rent control, which Conservative rule got rid of, and of incompetence by high-spending Labour councils?

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is scope for the private rented sector to grow and to provide low-cost flexible accommodation. The hostility of the Labour party over the years has cramped that growth and prevented that property becoming available for people who needed it. We have consistently sought to expand the privately rented sector, most recently with our proposed tax exemptions to help people who want to rent a room to do so. I hope that Opposition Members will support that policy.



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.

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

May I invite the Prime Minister to make time in his busy schedule to visit my constituency to see for himself why Larne is the second busiest ferry port in the United Kingdom and to hear from the people there why he should use his influence to persuade the European Commission that Larne, Belfast, Stranraer and Dumfries be recognised as Euro-routes to and from Northern Ireland?

I should be happy to take up that invitation from the hon. Gentleman. Northern Ireland is well served by its ports and I am confident that they will continue to provide the routes for most of the Province's business and tourist traffic to Great Britain and onwards to Europe. They have performed magnificently in the past and I believe that they will continue to do so, and to grow, in the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what matters most to people is the amount that the Government take in tax from their wage packets? Bearing that in mind, may I ask him to confirm that he has no plans to follow the tax policies advocated by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) which, even in the view of many Labour Members, contributed greatly to the Opposition's defeat?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Our policies of low taxation and low inflation were clearly what the electorate wanted at the last general election. I am aware of the dispute about why the Opposition lost the election, and I am sorry to note that for the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) the honeymoon is over before the marriage has begun.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 June.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware of the National Children's Home report issued this week, which shows that each day in Scotland 41,000 families on income support cannot afford to buy food, that 500 families are now housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and that the city of Glasgow has the highest infant mortality rate in Europe? If the Prime Minister really believes in the family, does he share my disgust at that situation and my desire for urgent action?

The definition used by the National Children's Home for "poverty" was misleading, as the hon. Gentleman will know. He will also know that this year's uprating of income support was substantially higher than the retail prices index. The definition used by the National Children's Home defines someone as poor if he or she spends less than half the national average spending per head. The hon. Gentleman will realise that that measure of poverty excludes a Greek spending the average in Greece, while a richer person in the United Kingdom spending less than half the national average is classed as poor. That definition does not stand up to examination.

Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to declassify as much material as possible dating from before the second world war before it is all released in Moscow and Washington?

I am sure that my right hon. Friends will have heard my hon. Friend's advice.