First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 6th May 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon 3:23 pm, 6th May 1992

Our target is to raise standards, widen choice and open up opportunity for hundreds of thousands of children. We shall have a lengthy debate over many days. My right hon. Friend will be returning to this issue.

We also want more choice for local authority tenants and leaseholders. Under a new housing and urban development Bill, local authority tenants will be able to join a rent-to-mortgage scheme. They will have the chance to buy a share in their homes, with mortgage payments no greater than their rent. It should help tenants whose current income is not quite enough for them to benefit under existing right-to-buy legislation. In addition, right to repair will be extended. Leaseholders of flats will have new rights either to buy the freehold collectively or to extend their leases.

The Bill will also implement our manifesto commitment to create a new urban regeneration agency. Too much land still lies idle, especially in our inner cities. Idle land means lost hopes, lost opportunities and lost chances for people living there. The agency will bring vacant and derelict property back into use. It will bring more jobs, more wealth and more hope to our urban areas.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will introduce legislation to create a single national lottery. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be raised to foster the arts, to encourage sport and to sustain our voluntary bodies. It will provide funding on a hitherto unprecedented scale. It will improve massively our arts and sports facilities. It will help to preserve our heritage and perhaps create new buildings for us to hand on to our children. It will help support the network of voluntary bodies of which this country can be so proud, and with which it is uniquely blessed.

During the next few weeks the House will debate the legislation that is needed to implement the agreement that we reached at Maastricht. At Maastricht, my right hon. Friends and 1 argued successfully for policies debated and agreed by the House. The House endorsed the results on our return.

Shortly after the debate on the Maastricht Bill we shall take on the presidency of the European Community. We face issues that are vital to the health of the Community and the interests of this country: completion of the single market, continued reform of the common agricultural policy, negotiation of the Community's future finances and the first steps towards the Community's enlargement. These are far-reaching objectives and their achievement will involve hard negotiation—negotiation in which, as President, this country will take the lead. I can assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley that we shall continue to argue strongly for our national interests as well as for the interests of the Community as a whole. I agree with him that for the Community to succeed it must stay in tune with the democratic wishes of its citizens. The Community must adapt to those wishes across Europe.

It will fall to the United Kingdom also to manage the Community's relations with the rest of the world. No task is more important than developing our relationship with the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. The west is now helping them on an unprecedented scale. Britain has led in successfully promoting Russian membership of the International Monetary Fund. We have won support for a stabilisation fund. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has played a crucial role in negotiating these measures to help the Russian reforms succeed.

The survival of fledgling democracy in the east must be the top foreign affairs priority of those of us in the west. It is partly for that reason that Britain has championed the enlargement of the Community. Austria, Finland and Sweden have already applied. I hope that they will join by 1995, and Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia by the year 2000.

One crucial element over the coming year will be European security. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will enlarge on that issue later in the debate. We start with a system of defence that is built upon the continuing American presence in Europe. The Gulf war showed how crucial that presence is to the defence of our common interests.