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1992 - PMQT 7th July 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 7th July 1992. Tony Newton deputised for John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McMaster : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 July.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the economic summit in Munich.

Mr. McMaster : Will the Leader of the House guarantee not to guillotine the Maastricht Bill when it returns to the House for debate ?

Mr. Newton : The Leader of the House will guarantee that the Government will consider all matters carefully before deciding how to proceed.

Mr. James Hill : Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should pass as quickly as possible legislation dealing with imitation firearms ? Is he aware that they are becoming a serious problem for the public, because one can suffer as much trauma and be robbed just as effectively with an imitation firearm as with a real one ?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend's concern is shared in many quarters. The Home Secretary is on the Bench beside me and will have heard what has been said.

Dr. John Cunningham : Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the Government's moratorium on stamp duty for house purchase has been a success?

Mr. Newton : I believe that the arrangements brought forward by my right hon. Friend and other colleagues at the turn of the year have materially assisted in reducing the number of repossessions and in bringing about an improvement in the housing market compared with what the position would have been. Frankly, I would find the hon. Gentleman's answer more credible but for the fact that his hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), I understand speaking for the Opposition, described the suspension of stamp duty at the time as a racket and a gimmick.

Dr. Cunningham : If it has been of material benefit to the housing industry, is it not a fact that when we are in the depths of the worst recession for 60 years, with confidence at an all-time low and the building and construction industry in disarray, this is the last moment to remove any incentive from the desperately needful building sector? As the Government have still not used up all the money that they allocated for the scheme, why will they not concentrate the relief on transactions up to £100,000, thus helping the lower end of the market and first-time buyers? That would be a sensible step to take in the depths of the present awful recession.

Mr. Newton : The aim of the scheme was to bring forward transactions that might otherwise have been delayed. I believe that it has made an important contribution in doing just that.


Hastings and Rye

Q2. Mrs. Lait : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Hastings and Rye.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and hopes to include the south-east among them.

Mrs. Lait : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I welcome the opportunity of my right hon. Friend visiting Hastings and Rye and hope that he will leave plenty of time to come down the road affectionately known as the snail trail. Will he also visit the Conquest hospital, which is operated by the Hastings and Rother trust, which took its first out- patients yesterday and will take its first in-patients on 20 July? Does he agree that this is another indication that only Conservative health policies deliver health care to the nation?

Mr. Newton : I am sure that, if he is able to visit my hon. Friend's constituency, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will wish to join her in welcoming the opening of the new hospital--and, indeed, in looking forward to phase 2, which is currently under consideration by the regional health authority.


Engagements

Q3. Mr. Denham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Denham : Does the Leader of the House agree that high-rise tower blocks are entirely unsuitable as homes for young children? Does he, like me, regret that, over the past few years, the number of young children trapped in Southampton tower blocks has risen two and a half times, and that hundreds of children will never have a decent home? Does he accept that Southampton council has a lower-than-average number of vacancies and that the number of children who are trapped in a high-rise hell is a direct result of Government policies? Can he offer those children any hope and what action will he take to ensure that they have a chance to live in a house with a garden?

Mr. Newton : The Government have a range of policies designed to improve the supply of rented accommodation. They are channelling £6 billion into housing associations over the next two years to provide more than 150,000 new homes for rent and low-cost purchase by 1995-96. I very much hope that that will help to solve Southampton's problems, given that the local authority wishes to participate.

Dr. Hampson : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing feeling on both sides of the House that the county hall site would be ideal for the London school of economics? Would it not be poignantly symbolic if the Prime Minister, while he is President of the European Council, assisted in the development on the Thames of a great European university on a scale to rival anything on offer in Paris, rather than allowing a fine building to become a second-rate hotel for Japanese package tours?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will know that the disposal of county hall is a matter for the London residuary body. It is now up to the LSE to put firm proposals to that body.


Q4. Mr. Cohen : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Cohen : The Lord President will know that I shall be presenting my Homicide (Defence of Provocation) Bill today. Does he agree that a woman who acts in desperation after suffering sustained domestic violence ought to have recourse to a mitigating plea of provocation? Is not the present law--which has gaoled women such as Sara Thornton and Kiranjit Ahluwalia-- unjust, and should it not be changed?

Mr. Newton : I understand the concern that is felt about the matter, not least because of my past social services responsibilities. I am not sure that the solution is as easy as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I certainly undertake to bear his points in mind, along with my right hon. Friends.

Mr. Ward : Is my right hon. Friend aware that thousands of fishermen are demonstrating outside the House today, largely because they fear that the conservation measures required by the EC--which are being dealt with in the House--will not be observed by their counterparts on the other side of the Channel? That has happened many times in the past. Will the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food look again at ways of preserving our fishing industry?

Mr. Newton : I assure my hon. Friend that it is no part of the British Government's purpose to introduce what I take to be sensible measures to promote the conservation of fish stocks and the long-term future of the industry, only to see those measures destroyed by the actions of others. My right hon. Friend the Minister will take every possible step to ensure that that does not happen.


European Community

Q5. Mr. Spearing : To ask the Prime Minister what approaches have been received by Her Majesty's Government concerning reallocation of powers currently the responsibility of the Council of Ministers of the European Community.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

The treaty on European union enshrines in Community law the principle of subsidiarity, but the Community should act only when objectives cannot be achieved at the level of individual member states acting alone. The principle should be applied strictly to existing as well as to future legislation. It calls for urgent work on the procedural and practical steps to implement the principle and invites the Commission and the Council to report to the next European Council in Edinburgh. The treaty contains a presumption of action at the national level.

Mr. Spearing : Yes, but that is answering a question that was not asked. So what is new? Is this not about the possible repatriation of powers? Is it not a fact that President Major as well as President Delors have been in favour of that, or have mooted the possibility? In respect of the President of the Commission, why is it that the Commission must always call the shots? Would it not be an advantage if it reacted only to requests from the Council of Ministers or the Heads of Government and therefore made the whole outfit more intergovernmental than it is already?

Mr. Newton : With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that my answer did address the question that he asked. The plenary session between the United Kingdom presidency and the Commission last week, which I attended, very much addressed precisely that question. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that plans are in hand to undertake a review of existing legislation before the Edinburgh summit at the end of the year.

Sir Peter Tapsell : Did my right hon. Friend see certain scholarly articles that were published over the weekend drawing attention to the fact that the word "subsidiarity" is derived from the Latin word "subsidium" which, apparently, is a term of Roman Catholic dogma and that the Roman interpretation of that word is quite different from the Anglican?

Mr. Newton : Coming from a somewhat mixed religious background, I do not intend to allow myself to be caught up in ecclesiastical controversy.


Engagements

Q6. Mr. Eastham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Eastham : Two weeks ago one of my hon. Friends with a London constituency raised with the Prime Minister the question of the housing crisis. The Prime Minister proceeded to attack local authorities, including Manchester--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Question !

Mr. Eastham : Why don't you shut up? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. It may be very amusing, but it is a great waste of time when we are nearly at 3.30. Can we hear the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) in silence now?

Mr. Eastham : In responding, the Prime Minister proceeded to attack local authorities, including Manchester, and said that we had empty properties. May I point out to the Leader of the House that we have hundreds of empty properties in Manchester that are dangerous and unlettable but that central Government are not allowing Manchester to borrow money to make those properties habitable? Is it not time that the Government got their spending priorities right and accepted their responsibilities, which clearly they are failing to do now?

Mr. Newton : The Government have clearly accepted their responsibilities, with the arrangements that they have made concerning approvals for capital expenditure. I hope that Manchester will look carefully at the policy that leads to so many houses being empty.

Dame Jill Knight : Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Prime Minister the level of public concern over the fact that a professional drug courier should have been protected from police action by hospital staff? Does he agree that drugs constitute an appalling danger, particularly to young people, and that the police ought to be helped, not hindered, in their fight against drugs?

Mr. Newton : Again, I think that my hon. Friend raises a point which will be of concern to other hon. Members. I have seen reports of the case. Clearly, as I think all hon. Members will agree, it is important to balance a patient's right to medical confidentiality against the safety of the community at large, but this is a very complex area. I understand that the chief executive of the North Staffordshire health authority is seeking an urgent meeting with the chief constable to discuss the confidentiality issue and agree clearer lines of communication.


Q7. Mr. Garrett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Garrett : Last year 69,000 families had their homes repossessed. At the moment, 290,000 borrowers are more than six months in arrears with their mortgage repayments. The Government's mortgage rescue scheme has so far managed to rescue 12 home buyers. When will the Government make a serious attempt to help home buyers and borrowers who are in difficulties?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Council of Mortgage Lenders has estimated that as a result of the action taken at the turn of the year some 55,000 repossessions will be prevented this year, and that the Halifax building society reckons that its repossessions are down by about 40 per cent. over the latest six months compared with the last six months of last year. That is substantial progress which has helped many tens of thousands of families.