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Mr. John Marshall : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this Sunday about 60,000 shops will be open, many of them selling goods illegally? May I have an assurance that during the discussions my right hon. Friend will not give the "Keep Sunday Special" campaign a right of veto over Government policy?
Mrs. Rumbold : I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall give no one the right of veto over Government policy. It is a matter for the Government to decide and we are consulting to ensure that what ensues carries broad support throughout the country.
Mr. Randall : Is the Minister aware that there is concern about the extent of the law-breaking that is taking place? Is she aware also that recent court rulings have seriously weakened the enforcement powers of local authorities and
Column 401have made enforcement extremely risky? Will the right hon. Lady have a word with the Attorney-General with a view to encouraging him to use his extensive powers to restore law and order? I ask the right hon. Lady to do this without delay.
Mrs. Rumbold : I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments. I am interested also to know whether the Labour party is moving towards some change in the Sunday trading laws. It is clear to me that the hon. Gentleman shares my view that matters need to be resolved and that the law must not continue to be broken. We must have a sensible resolution of these matters which is enforceable.
12. Mr. Teddy Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has been notified of any directives stemming from the EC which are designed to affect the way in which Her Majesty's Government controls and manages its admission and immigration policies.
Mr. Peter Lloyd : I have not been notified of any such directive, though we are considering with our EC colleagues an intergovernmental convention on external frontiers. We have made the importance of our immigration frontier controls clear to our EC partners.
Mr. Taylor : Does my hon. Friend agree that a convention on the mutual recognition of visas could have devastating consequences on the ability of the United Kingdom Government to control entry into this country? Given the great importance of that, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful if hon. Members were told what was involved in the convention and had an opportunity to discuss it and vote on it before the Government agree to undermine our control of visitors?
Mr. Lloyd : The House will have an opportunity to know what is in the convention before the Government sign it. I emphasise that it deals not with entry for settlement but with short-term visitors. We are insisting on the safeguards that are necessary to ensure that our frontier controls are as effective as we know that they should be.
Mr. Darling : The Minister must know that there is a spate of proposals from Europe which will have a radical effect on frontier controls in Europe--including, possibly, the United Kingdom. More than that, the proposals will radically affect the right of certain people living in Europe, including the United Kingdom, to move around the EEC after 1992. Does he agree that a statement by the Home Secretary is essential and that there should be a debate in Government time so that all of us can have a chance to express our concerns and views before the Government reach a deal in secret on any intergovernmental convention or enter into any secret deals as a result of Trevi or Schengen discussions? Will the Minister give the undertaking for which I have asked? If he does not, he can be assured that there will be a great deal of concern both inside and outside the House.
Column 402Gentleman is quite right--there are a number of issues under consideration. They deal with the visitors from outside the Community, not those coming for settlement, and with easier movement of those from the minorities settled in EC countries who wish to move around the Community. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, and even his noisy hon. Friends, would support that.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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 have further meetings later today.
Mr. Banks : Did the Prime Minister see the article in yesterday's Daily Mirror stating that the scanner used on the prince at the Royal Berkshire hospital was bought from the proceeds of jumble sales and sponsored walks? Is the Prime Minister aware that the ambulance which brought the prince to London was from a service that is actually breaking down in Greater London and that Great Ormond Street hospital, which looked after the prince so well, is turning away sick children because of the pressures on its services and has been kept open only by public begging? What sort of society is it that can find all the money in the world for weapons of death and destruction, but when it comes to keeping hospital wards open and buying vital medical equipment, has to use sponsored runs, flag days and jumble sales?
The Prime Minister : I am sure that the whole House and the country will join the hon. Gentleman in sending best wishes to Prince William. We all hope that he will make a full recovery as speedily as possible.
The Government found £33,000 million for the national health service, which is four times as much in cash terms as any previous Government have ever found. The private collections and private donations which go towards providing equipment such as scanners show, above all that the people of this country, including the Conservative party--in fact, often led by those in the Conservative party--care sufficiently for the national health service to cherish it and provide extra resources for it.
Column 403Mr. Gill : My right hon. Friend is aware of the tremendous support among Conservative Members for his views on economic and monetary union-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Gill : Is my right hon. Friend aware that those same views, clearly articulated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on the "Today" programme this week, command the support of the majority of British voters, as evidenced by a recent opinion poll showing that 63 per cent. oppose the single currency?
The Prime Minister : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right about that. It is becoming increasingly recognised in this country and the Community that moves towards economic and monetary union which did not reflect proper convergence would be damaging, not only for this country, but for the whole of the Economic Community. That has been our position since the beginning of the negotiations and it remains our position, together with our constant intention to preserve the prerogatives of this House.
Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister tell us what in concrete terms he intends to do to ensure that further harm does not come to small businesses as a result of the high interest rates being imposed upon them?
The Prime Minister : The principal damage and difficulty that small firms have faced in recent years has been the collapse of demand not only in Britain but abroad as a result of a general downturn in trade and inflationary problems. Inflation is now falling rapidly, and that is a matter of the greatest concrete concern to small businesses, as they have repeatedly testified.
Mr. Kinnock : It is obvious from that answer that the Prime Minister is not going to do anything in concrete terms. Is it not obvious that high interest rates are the policy of the Government and that the banks' behaviour is the result of financial deregulation, also the policy of the Government? Why does not the Prime Minister change the policies, as he should, or will he remain the betrayer of small businesses?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman, having other things on his mind, has clearly not noticed that inflation is falling rapidly and that interest rates have fallen by 3.5 per cent. in recent months. That will make a dramatic difference to individuals' prospects and, most particularly, to prospects for small and large firms.
Mr. Kinnock : Small businesses which used to have arrangements to pay 3 per cent. above base rate on their overdraft facilities are now paying as much as 17 per cent.-- [Interruption.] Oh yes, they are. Conservative Members should talk to some of the people who run the businesses which are paying that kind of money. How can such huge charges contribute to fighting inflation or to sustaining the small business sector?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the gasp of frank disbelief at what he said a few moments ago. I hope that he will provide clear illustrations, not an isolated example, of what he has just said. What is necessary for the future health of Britain is, first, to ensure that we bring inflation down to a low level ; secondly, to keep it there ; and, thirdly, so as to ensure that that happens, never again to have a Labour Government.
Sir John Wheeler : Has my right hon. Friend had time today to read about the dreadful events taking place in Labour-controlled Hackney-- [Interruption.] --where council officials have been racketeering on the backs of the homeless and illegally renting out properties? [Interruption.] Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a scandal, and will he condemn the empty properties that Hackney, Lambeth, Islington and Liverpool have that could be brought into use?
The Prime Minister : In so far as I could hear the question over the chanting from Opposition Members, I believe that it concerned Hackney borough council. Anyone who wanted an example of the Labour party in power could only have seen it in recent years in local government in places such as Hackney, and I do not believe that they will have liked what they have seen. Labour repeatedly feigns concern for the homeless, but Hackney has more than 2,000 properties empty.
Mr. Kirkwood : Reverting to the important question of a single European currency, has the Prime Minister yet had a chance to study the important speech made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) last night? Am I right in thinking that the Prime Minister's personal opinion is that a single currency may be a good thing eventually, but not yet and not for the foreseeable future? Does he not think that that "yes-maybe" approach to the question is now so hedged about and qualified as to be almost devoid of any meaning? When will he come to the House and tell the country what he thinks is the right course of action for Britain to take in this fundamentally important economic issue?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly has not been listening over the past two years, because we have done it repeatedly. We have made it plain to the House and to our European partners that we cannot accept any changes to the treaty of Rome which would bind us to a single currency or a single monetary policy without a separate decision by this party, by this Government and by this Parliament.
Mr. Nicholson : Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member who represents the constituency where I was educated--the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)--on exercising his right of parental choice under the Education Reform Act 1988--
Column 405and would it not help if more senior members of the Opposition parties joined Conservatives in supporting parental freedom of choice?
The Prime Minister : I am always pleased to see support for Conservative reforms, especially from Labour Front Benchers. I wish that they would not say one thing in opposition and practise something else in there own lives.
Mrs. Adams : The question that I am going to put to the Prime Minister is a simple one and it has been put to him twice at Prime Minister's questions in the past few weeks, but he has refused to answer it. Following his last refusal, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy)--
Mrs. Adams : Is the Prime Minister aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen wrote to him putting that question yet again? He is still awaiting a reply. Will the Prime Minister answer today, because the question deserves a serious answer-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : When the Conservative party has won the next general election, the hon. Lady will see, and will perhaps have learnt by then, that no Government at any stage give categorical assurances--none have, and none will. But I can say to the hon. Lady that we have no present plans whatsoever to increase value added tax.
Mr. Moss : Has my right hon. Friend had time to read a report published yesterday by the respected City firm, Goldman Sachs, which concludes that a minimum wage policy would destroy jobs, increase inflation and lead to a
Column 406reduction in output? Does he agree that it is totally irresponsible of the Labour party to continue peddling that policy?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I have seen that report and it shares the views of the Government, the Fabian Society and many others. A minimum wage would have devastating effects for people. It would encourage others to seek to raise the general level of wages. It would raise inflation and unemployment, and a National Institute estimate-- [Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen, because this would affect people and their jobs, about whom they claim to care. The institute estimates that a statutory minimum wage would raise price levels by 3.5 per cent. at the end of three years, and would reduce the level of gross domestic product by 0.5 per cent. That is the likely cost of a Labour Government.
The Prime Minister rose-- [ Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] I was unable to hear the hon. Gentleman's question over the noise being made by Opposition Members. If you, Mr. Speaker, will allow the hon. Gentleman to repeat his question, I shall endeavour to respond to it.
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