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1993 - PMQT 25th May 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 25th May 1993. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mandelson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 May.

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 unveiling of a memorial statue to Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke by Her Majesty the Queen, as is, I understand, the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition.

Mr. Mandelson : Given that a system of charging for hospital beds would be a tax under which the longer one was ill the more one would have to pay, and given that it would destroy at a stroke the principle of a national health service free at the time of need and point of use, will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance today that the Government will never force NHS patients to pay charges for NHS beds?

Mr. Newton : I can best point the hon. Gentleman to what was said in our manifesto : that need, not ability to pay, is and will remain the basis on which care is offered to all in the NHS. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Ministers said in an interview in one of this morning's newspapers, we shall honour our pledges both in the spirit and the letter.

Madam Speaker : Mr. Patrick Nicholls.

Mr. Newton : While I am at it, may I just say-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I apologise. I had not appreciated that the Leader of the House had not completed his reply.

Mr. Newton : That is entirely understandable, Madam Speaker. I simply wanted to add that it was good to see the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) back from his triumph in masterminding the loss of Labour's deposit in Newbury.


Q2. Mr. Nicholls : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 May.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Nicholls : Now that the Maastricht Bill has received its Third Reading, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity, and indeed every opportunity, to tell the people of Britain that the Maastricht treaty is a move away from federalism, not a move towards it? It is the Liberal and Labour parties which are self-confessedly federalist and the Conservative party which is not. Is not this a treaty which gives us the opportunity to co-operate with other nation states, to the benefit of this country, which has always been the policy of the Conservative party?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. By enshrining subsidiarity and co-operation between states, the Maastricht treaty will move us to a much less centralised Europe. That is a major achievement and a great gain from the British point of view. As for the Labour party, it has, to my recollection, had seven different policies on Europe in the time that I have been in the House and the Opposition appeared to be changing their minds again even last week.

Mrs. Beckett : The Lord President quoted the Prime Minister on the manifesto pledges of the Conservative party. Does he recall the pledge not to increase national insurance contributions--broken? Does he recall the pledge to maintain mortgage interest relief--broken? How does he square all that with what the Prime Minister said yesterday?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend made the position absolutely clear in his answer last week, in setting out the Government's intentions to review public expenditure against the background of the pledges that we have made and the need to protect the most vulnerable. If the right hon. Lady disagrees with that, perhaps she would care to tell us whether she is disowning, in his absence, her right hon. and learned Friend's statement that we should be prepared to re-examine everything and that he has not ruled anything out.

Mrs. Beckett : The Leader of the House and his party kept talking about taking tough decisions. When will the Government take the tough decision to admit even the smallest share of the blame for the state to which this country has been reduced--never mind the price the Government are asking the British people to pay?

Mr. Newton : When it comes to talking about the price that the British people must pay, the hon. Lady must count as some kind of expert. I have been looking back at something said by her hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) some time ago :

"I will not take lessons in Left wing unity from Margaret Beckett. She was the person who went into the 1976 Labour government to implement the cuts over which I had resigned."

[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members must resume their seats.

Mrs. Beckett : The Lord President knows full well that the Government went into the general election campaign promising tax cuts and public expenditure increases. Is not the most fundamental problem that Britain faces today the fact that it has a Government whose dishonesty is exceeded only by their incompetence?

Mr. Newton : What I know is that the Government are approaching their difficult task in a responsible and considered way and that they are not going to get into the position that led the right hon. Lady into the problem that I have just quoted--the IMF coming here telling the Government what to do.

Mr. Butterfill : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government's priorities in the European Community will, in the foreseeable future, be to secure the entry to the Community of our former partners in the European Free Trade Association, notably the Scandinavian countries and Austria, and to facilitate the arrangements that the Community makes with the countries of eastern and central Europe?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have a number of important tasks in the Community, including carrying forward the concept of subsidiarity. Among the most important tasks and among those on which we have made the most gains in recent months is that of enlargement, to embrace exactly the countries to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Ashdown : Can the right hon. Gentleman categorically assure the House that no Government agency was involved in any way in coaching witnesses from Walter Somers before they appeared before the Select Committee looking into the Iraqi gun affair?

Mr. Newton : The right hon. Gentleman well knows that all these matters are the subject of an inquiry by Lord Justice Scott. The most appropriate course for Ministers and other hon. Members is to allow that inquiry to conduct its proceedings properly.

Mr. Duncan Smith : Does my right hon. Friend agree that last week's Audit Commission report on the chronic mismanagement, waste and incompetence of Lambeth council painted a grim picture of Labour in control of councils? Does he further agree that it is a bit rich when the deputy Leader of the Opposition talks about the Government displaying incompetence and dishonesty when Labour has a record like that?

Mr. Newton : I was indeed pretty horrified to hear details of that Audit Commission report on Lambeth council, although not entirely surprised in view of its socialist record of incompetence and waste, which is well known on both sides of the House. It reminded me, once again, of that immortal quote from Tribune last May :

"Ineffectual or rotten Labour councils have been a feature of political life for as long as anyone can remember."


Q3. Mr. Gordon Prentice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 May.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Prentice : Is the Lord President aware that the first passenger train that ran in England between Liverpool and Manchester achieved a top speed of 29 mph? That was in 1829. Is not it disgraceful that 164 years ago a train could achieve a higher speed than the train currently running between Nelson and Colne in my constituency? Is the Lord President further aware that I have a letter from the chairman of British Rail which says that the 20 mph speed restriction will be permanent because of cuts in Government funding?

Mr. Newton : Somewhat to my surprise--I had not anticipated that the hon. Gentleman would seek to be so helpful--that seems to be the best argument I have heard for some time for the rapid passage of the Railways Bill, which is before the House today.


Q4. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 May.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Fabricant : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that subsidiarity can be applied retrospectively as well as prospectively and that that means that any European legislation which has been laid before the House and which we have had to rubber stamp since 1986 can--if it meets the subsidiarity test--be either amended or swept aside?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend is right. The Commission is reviewing existing European Community law. At the Edinburgh Council it presented some 32 examples of legislation which should be either withdrawn, amended or re- examined, or further proposals that should not be pursued. That review is continuing and a full report is scheduled for the European Council in December this year. It is our intention that those items to which subsidiarity applies should be amended or repealed.

Mr. Sheldon : In regard to the Government's intention to reduce the budget deficit, we have heard from Minister after Minister that nothing is ruled out, yet we have heard nothing about increasing the higher rate of tax. Should not that be ruled in?

Mr. Newton : It is not only from Ministers that we have heard that. As I reminded the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), that is what the Leader of the Opposition is saying, too. That is the sensible way in which to approach these matters and that is the way in which the Government are approaching them.


Overseas Aid

Q5. Mr. Luff : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the relative importance of trade and aid in assisting the economic development of the poorest nations.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

Worldwide trade liberalisation and measures to encourage the private sector are critical for developing countries, but many countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, will continue to need concessional finance for the foreseeable future. Further debt reduction along the lines of the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in Trinidad in 1990 will also be required for the poorest, most heavily indebted countries.

Mr. Luff : I thank my right hon. Friend warmly for what he has just said. Does he agree that the major objective of our aid policy should be to encourage the promotion of private sector enterprises in the developing world? In that context, will he pay tribute to the work of the Commonwealth Development Corporation? Does he further agree that we have a fine record as a Government for fighting for free trade, which brings advantages to the developed and the developing world? Can he give an assurance that that fine record will be enhanced at the G7 summit in Tokyo in July this year?

Mr. Newton : Certainly I acknowledge, as I think the whole House would, the leading role that my right hon. Friend and other colleagues have played in advancing the cause of free trade and the successful outcome to the GATT round. My hon. Friend is also right about the part played by the Commonwealth Development Corporation which is the main instrument in our aid programme for the direct promotion of private investment in developing countries. As it happens, United Kingdom direct private investment in developing countries was estimated to be some £3 billion in 1991. That is half the overall total for the whole European Community. It is a record of which we can be proud.

Mr. Worthington : If the Minister is in favour of free trade, when will we abandon the practice of demanding that developing countries drop their import tariffs and when will we stop dumping subsidised CAP food on them?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have always taken the view that trade is as important as aid in advancing the circumstances of developing countries. I think he will agree that we have a better record than many in promoting those objectives.