HC Deb 22 July 1996 vol 282 cc4-6
3. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what arrangements are in place for the co-ordination of Government business during the summer recess. [36748]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

The arrangements currently in place will continue to be operated throughout the summer recess.

Mr. Hughes

Well, that is a consolation. Is it not true that, a year after the Deputy Prime Minister's appointment as the co-ordinator of Government business, he has no more chance of co-ordinating business now than when he started? In fact, he cannot even co-ordinate Ministers to sing to the same tune. The Paymaster General has resigned over a disagreement with the Government on Europe. Is it not true that Government policy is still the same muddle and the same mess? The Government have at least four views on Europe: this year, next year, some time and never. It is a shambles.

The Deputy Prime Minister

It is refreshing to hear that there are four views in the Conservative party on this matter. My experience with the Liberal Democrats is that they have more than 20 views on every matter or policy—it depends on the time of day and the part of the country that one is in.

Mr. Wilkinson

As it is likely that the European Court of Justice will rule against the United Kingdom and require imposition of the working time directive during the summer recess, would it not be better for Her Majesty's Government to come to the House in advance of that with contingency plans by which we can maintain our social chapter opt-out in this sphere and not have it imposed on us?

The Deputy Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to clarify the position. As he and the House will know, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister secured an opt-out from the social chapter during the Maastricht negotiations. My right hon. Friend intends to make it absolutely clear to his colleagues in the European Union that that negotiation and deal must be honoured. The fact is that my right hon. Friend will take up the matter during the intergovernmental conference, and that we are determined that it will be put right.

Mr. Skinner

In view of the fact that Ministers will not be answering questions during the parliamentary recess, does not that mean that, by and large, Ministers—including the Prime Minister—will be more available to meet people outside the House and to pick up money on the side? Therefore, according to the market-force philosophy, if Ministers are more available to meet the public and important business people—who are gaining patronage and power, and probably knighthoods and all the rest of it—does it not follow that their price should fall? What is the price of Ministers who resign? Would not it follow that a Minister who has just resigned from the Government should get a better price than a Deputy Prime Minister who is a failure?

The Deputy Prime Minister

The whole House will welcome the interest of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in market economics. He has given me an opportunity to reflect on the fact that, fairly recently, to meet the leader of the Labour party, one had to pay £430 a head to go to the Savoy hotel. It has been suggested in some national newspapers that it is rather more expensive to meet my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. but I think that the relative difference between the figures is a reflection of the quality of the two individuals.

Mr. Thurnham

Will the Deputy Prime Minister bear in mind the need to continue co-ordinating Government policies to help restore Manchester's bomb-damaged city centre, and, in particular, to cover the extra costs of policing to maintain the very necessary security cordon?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend shares the House's deep interest in the opportunity that, tragically, has now been presented to our great city of Manchester. I have given an assurance that, on behalf of the Government, I shall do all that I properly and reasonably can. The announcement that we are to hold an international competition to attract the most exciting designs for the rebuilding of Manchester has attracted widespread public support from all political sectors and from the entire community. I am delighted that I should have had some small part to play in that.

Mr. Prescott

Given the Deputy Prime Minister's extraordinary powers of presentation and co-ordination—which today enabled him to announce on television the resignation of a Minister before the Minister had even handed in his resignation to the Prime Minister—can the Mystic Meg of the Tory party tell the House whether anyone else will resign in the next 24 hours? Now that the Paymaster General has resigned, does not the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) that that resignation shows that the Tory party is constitutionally unable to row together—in other words, that the Government are deeply divided and totally unfit to govern, and that it is time that they went?

The Deputy Prime Minister

It is quite quaint that the right hon. Gentleman should raise issues of membership of the Cabinet, the shadow Cabinet, the Government— or whatever it may be—on the very eve of the point at which a prominent member of the Labour party is to be kicked off the shadow Cabinet because she had the effrontery to follow the precedent set by her own leader.

Dr. Spink

In view of the excellent news that we have heard today about funding for the millennium from business, will my right hon. Friend ensure that all good news—on jobs, on interest rates and on inflation—during the summer recess is disseminated effectively to the country?

The Deputy Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right on both counts. The economy is now moving into one of the most exciting expansionary phases that any of us can remember, and that good news—in jobs and in other opportunities—will increasingly flow through into people's pockets.

As for the announcement that I was able to make today, I am sure that the whole House will welcome the fact that five major city institutions—Barclays, National Westminster, Midland, Lloyds and Abbey National—have today authorised me to say that they will be supporting the millennium festival at Greenwich. They are as determined as I am that there will be a clear statement in the festival about the pre-eminence of the City of London as a world financial centre in this and the next century.

Back to
Forward to