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1993 - PMQT 2nd November 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 2nd November 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 November.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Is the Prime Minister aware that early next month Mrs. Margaret Humphreys will become the first British citizen outside the royal family to be awarded the prestigious Order of Australia medal for her work in rehabilitating victims of the British child migrants scheme? In recognition of that award, will the Prime Minister set up an independent public inquiry into the operation of the scheme until 1967 and the resulting appalling treatment of vast numbers of British children? In view of his professed commitment to open government, will the Prime Minister end the disgraceful Government cover-up of the issue once and for all?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly happy to congratulate Mrs. Humphreys on her award. I was not aware that that was the case, but I give her my warmest congratulations. As the hon. Gentleman will know--for I am aware that he has taken a great interest in the matter--the migration schemes to Australia and other countries were run at the time by respected national voluntary bodies. The Government's concern now is to ensure that former child migrants who want to make contact with their families are able to do so. Any concern about the treatment of the children in another country is essentially a matter for the authorities in that country.

Dame Jill Knight : In the light of the broadcast by Gerry Adams last week and the offence that it caused to a great number of people, will my right hon. Friend consider whether the arrangements for the broadcasting on our television screens of self-confessed terrorists and supporters of mass murderers should be revised?

The Prime Minister : Many people felt that the incident to which my hon. Friend refers stretched the present guidelines to the limit and perhaps beyond. That is a matter that perhaps we should examine.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister agree that, while it must be right for both parents to contribute properly to the maintenance of their children, the Child Support Agency is causing widespread anxiety and dismay by imposing a rigid and inflexible financial formula that often ignores the realities of people's lives? Will he institute an immediate review of the operation of the Child Support Act 1991?

The Prime Minister : The whole House recognises the need for both parents to contribute to the bringing up of their children--that is not a point of dispute between myself and the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The purpose of the Child Support Agency is to ensure that fathers who desert their children face up to their responsibilities. I know of the concerns that have been raised about that matter and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is examining them.

Mr. John Smith : Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, in any examination of the system, account is taken of the fact that the formula appears to disregard a property settlement, which provides a home for children, and also the cost of exercising access? Should not those factors, at the least, be taken into account and will they be encompassed in any further considerations of the operation of the Child Support Act?

The Prime Minister : There are a number of matters to be considered, including the maintenance formula to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers. My right hon. Friend is aware, as I indicated a moment ago, of the concerns that have been raised and he will examine them.

Mr. John Smith : If further consideration is to be given, will the right hon. Gentleman look into what appears to be another possible fault in the system? Is it right that out of the £530 million that the agency is to raise in its first year, £480 million should go to the Treasury and only £50 million to the benefit of children? While recognising, of course, the legitimate interest of the taxpayer, does not that show a lack of balance in what is supposed to be a Child Support Act?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the main purpose of the Child Support Agency is to ensure that assistance is given by both parents towards their children. That is the purpose of the agency and that will continue to be its purpose in the future.

Mr. Lidington : In view of this morning's press comments about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards possible payments from the European social fund, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to make the Government's position clear?

The Prime Minister : I have seen suggestions in the press in recent weeks that sums due from the social fund would not be paid. Those reports are misguided. It is my expectation that the £300 million figure that has been mentioned in those press reports will be taken up by authorities within the calendar year.


Q2. Mr. Hoyle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hoyle : Is the Prime Minister aware that the imposition of a guillotine on the Railways Bill is an affront to democracy-- [Interruption.] --which has caused disquiet not only on Opposition Benches, but on his Benches, too, because it will curtail discussion of vital subjects such as pensions, railcards, and British Rail's bid for franchises? Does not he realise that it will be seen by the public as a cheap, gerrymandering attempt to get an unpopular measure, which was introduced by his Government, through the House when it could have been debated fully in the two weeks up to the Queen's Speech?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for a long time and I congratulate him on keeping a straight face while he asked that question. When the arrangements for consideration of Lords amendments to the Railways Bill were announced, no one suggested that the two days proposed were insufficient. The majority of the amendments that have been brought from another place are uncontroversial, many of them demonstrate the Government's positive responses to the points made in the Lords and all aspects of the proposals have been discussed exhaustively at all stages.

The hon. Gentleman neglected to mention that so far there have been more than 186 hours of debate, including 130 hours in this House alone--hardly a negation of democracy.


Q3. Mr. Brandreth : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Brandreth : May I thank my right hon. Friend for his personal involvement in encouraging the Maryland bank of North America to bring its European headquarters to the city of Chester and with it the prospect of 1,000 new jobs for my constituents? Does my right hon. Friend agree that employment and employment prospects must now go to the top of the European agenda and that the British approach gets the right results--less regulation means more jobs?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about the relationship between regulation and jobs. The greater the extent to which we can reduce both regulation from Brussels and domestic regulation, the greater will be the likelihood of increasing the number of jobs in the United Kingdom. I am delighted at the excellent news from Chester and I congratulate my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Ministry for Industry on their part in obtaining that institution.

Mr. Galloway : Will the Prime Minister find time today to call for the court reports referred to in early-day motion 2534, standing in my name and that of other hon. Members, on the torture of a British citizen, Sulaiman Al-Adsani, by Sheikh Jabar Al-Sabah, a member of the Kuwaiti royal house? That matter is now to go before the courts in Kuwait. The torture, which consisted of the burning of 25 per cent. of the body of that British citizen and of his being held repeatedly under water in a swimming pool that was floating with dead bodies and being pistol-whipped and brutally beaten, is a serious matter. Given that the Al-Sabah family business was reinstated to power at the point of British arms and at much British sacrifice, does the Prime Minister think that it would be a worthwhile subject of discussion between him and the Government of Kuwait?

The Prime Minister : My understanding is that the matter is being dealt with by the courts of Kuwait, but in the light of what the hon. Gentleman has said, I shall look at the information available to us.


Q4. Mr. Hawkins : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hawkins : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his desire to get back to basics in education? Does he agree that it is essential to keep A-levels as a beacon of excellence at the top of secondary education, to concentrate on reading and writing in primary schools and to ensure that there is strong discipline in schools?

The Prime Minister : I want to see us get back to basics in education, as in other subjects. We want to hear a good deal more of common sense and traditional values and rather less of the fashionable views that have so often offended parents and damaged education. I know that many teachers are concerned about the problem of discipline in schools and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education wishes to discuss with teachers what action can be taken.

Mr. Stevenson : In view of the collapse of the Government's policy on law and order, which has led to rocketing crime figures and equally record prison populations, does the Prime Minister agree with Mr. Derek Lewis that a return to that Victorian value, the prison ship, would be regrettable?

The Prime Minister : There is an internal contradiction in the hon. Gentleman's question. If he is right and our policy has collapsed, we would not be catching villains and our prisons would not be crowded. He should listen to what the chairman of the Police Federation said just eight days ago :

"There has been a lot of comment about prison in the last few days One fact is clear. Society must be protected from the small but vociferous minority who put two fingers up to the criminal justice system. They are cautioned or bailed simply to be let out again and to reoffend and reoffend again These criminals should be behind bars. By locking them up they will be unable to ruin other people's lives."

Those are my views as well.


Q6. Sir Peter Tapsell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Sir Peter Tapsell : May I urge my right hon. Friend to be sceptical about the siren voices predictably suggesting to him and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a major contribution can be made towards reducing the public sector borrowing requirement by relying on the future growth of our economy? That is the fairy gold school of economics, greatly beloved by Opposition politicians all over the world. Does he agree that it is important that, on Budget day, it should be seen that we are making an immediate, substantial and steady movement towards a reduction of our fiscal deficit?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about the need to make a steady and consistent move to reduce our fiscal deficit. We have been looking at the range of Government expenditure to find out whether it is necessary; if it is, whether it is being spent effectively; and whether there is waste that we can cut. Those are propositions behind which all my right hon. and hon. Friends can unite, in stark contrast to the Opposition, who would throw taxpayers' money at every problem. There will be a series of ways to reduce the fiscal deficit : withholding public expenditure is one; and growth and other factors will make a contribution.


Q7. Mr. O'Hara : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. O'Hara : Yesterday in the House, the Government failed to refute a figure in a Department of Transport working paper of £1.15 billion extra subsidy that would be needed for British Rail after privatisation. That is considerably in excess of the sum that would be raised were VAT imposed on domestic fuel bills at a rate of 8 per cent. next year. Will the Prime Minister apologise to pensioners who will be shivering through next winter when he tells them that they will be contributing to the placing of not one more train on our rail tracks or one more passenger on those trains, but to a semblance of profitability in a sham of privatised railways?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is talking total nonsense, as the House will have expected of him. We have made it clear on a number of occasions that we are looking at assistance to help vulnerable people with their heating costs during the winter. I remind the hon. Gentleman that matters such as special cold weather payments were never raised, provided or thought about by previous Governments.