HC Deb 13 March 1997 vol 292 cc493-6
Q3. Mr. Stewart

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 March. [18550]

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Stewart

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the policy of central Government control of non-domestic rates has yielded immense benefits to industry and commerce, especially to small companies? Does he also agree that placing decisions on business rates under local control would add billions to industrial costs in the United Kingdom, undermine our inward investment efforts and threaten the very existence of huge numbers of small firms throughout Britain?

The Prime Minister

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend is right about that. The non-domestic rate set by central Government for England and Wales has never risen faster than the rate of inflation, and in Scotland the rate has been reduced in real terms. That is in sharp distinction to what occurred when local authorities set the business rate, often by attempting to hold down the domestic rate and pile costs upon business. That is one of the significant reasons why so many companies were forced out of inner-city areas, leaving the problems that we have been attempting to deal with.

Mr. Blair

I have given you, Madam Speaker, and the Prime Minister notice of my question. Will the Prime Minister join me in recalling that it is a year to the day since the terrible events in Dunblane? We remember the little ones who died, and we grieve with their parents and their friends. They will not be lost to the nation's memory. We all say to the people of Dunblane that our thoughts and prayers are with them today and in the years to come.

One year ago, the House stood united in shock at the senseless and appalling tragedy in Dunblane. Today, whatever our differences are on any other matter, we are united again, this time in sorrow and in commemoration of those who died.

The Prime Minister

I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman has spoken for everyone in the House, and for millions beyond it. We all remember with great clarity the horror we felt when we heard of those appalling events. I remember visiting the school and the gymnasium with the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not believe that either of us will ever forget the scenes that we saw there; neither will anyone else who visited the school. Clearly, this will be a very difficult and emotional time for the bereaved and for the entire community of Dunblane. I am sure that the thoughts not only of the House but of the nation are with them today.

Mr. Harris

May I raise with my right hon. Friend another tragic matter—the loss of two fishing boats, the Westhaven, from Arbroath, and the Gorah Lass, from St. Ives in my constituency? Will he express the sympathy of all hon. Members to the relatives of the seven men who are feared dead? Will he also honour the debt that we all owe to the fishing industry, and ensure that the investigating authorities have the resources to conduct speedily and thoroughly the urgent task of investigating the cause of that double tragedy?

The Prime Minister

Seven fishermen have lost their lives this week, in two separate incidents. I am sure that the House will join my hon. Friend in extending every sympathy to the family and friends of those involved in those tragic accidents. I understand that both incidents are being investigated by the marine accidents investigation branch. I will attempt to ensure that that occurs as speedily and as comprehensively as possible, and of course the findings will in due course be made public.

Q4. Mr. Jamieson

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 March. [18551]

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Jamieson

Has the Prime Minister seen the written answer to me from the Secretary of State for Defence on 20 February 1997, which confirmed that most of the "British beef consumed by Her Majesty's armed forces is purchased from Spanish-speaking South American countries? Does he not think it more likely that the ban on British beef would be lifted by the European Union if it saw that the British Government were backing British beef?

The Prime Minister

I have not seen the particular answer to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I assure him that the British Government back British beef. That has been apparent in the resources that have been put into supporting the beef industry during the difficult past year or so.

Sir George Gardiner

My right hon. Friend will have read of the campaign being waged by the British section of the European Movement to persuade the voters to scrap the pound and to move towards a federal European state. In view of the vast sums being given by the European Commission to that movement, will he say how much British taxpayers' money is being laundered through the Commission for that rather dubious exercise?

The Prime Minister

I am not entirely sure that without notice I can give a figure to my—to the hon. Gentleman on that particular matter. I would add that, from all that I read and understand, there is quite a lot of money available to both sides of the argument.

Q5. Mr. Fraser

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 March. [18552]

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Fraser

As this is probably the last opportunity I shall have to ask the Prime Minister a question, may I, as one ex-Lambeth councillor to another, wish him a long and happy retirement? It might have been otherwise—because does he realise that when he was running a housing department in Lambeth, under a Labour Government, he started more municipal homes to rent in one year than every single housing authority in England and Wales is now starting in the current year, and that the shortfall is by no means made up by housing associations?

The Prime Minister

The reason for that, of course, was the dereliction and despair that I inherited from the Labour council, which had spent 30 years damaging the quality of life in Lambeth and has continued to do so whenever it has managed to persuade the people of Lambeth to re-elect it.

Mr. Dykes

If my right hon. Friend has the chance during his busy day, will he reconsider the strange question of the hon. Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner)—a man of unshakeable principles for many years, as we know—whose description of European Movement funding is a travesty of the truth? The sums involved are extremely modest compared with the millions spent by Sir James Goldsmith on his own campaign, which is triumphantly scoring 0.3 per cent. in the opinion polls?

The Prime Minister

I believe that my hon. Friend has made his point very clearly and forcefully.