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1994 - PMQT 11th January 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th January 1994. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Denham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

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 NATO summit in Brussels.

Mr. Denham : Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a certain amount of confusion about the precise nature of the "back to basics" policy? Will he confirm that honesty is one of the "back to basics" values? If it is, why did the Conservatives promise at the last general election not to put up tax and then impose £10 per family per week?

Mr. Newton : Our concern as a Government is with good standards in education, strengthening the fight against crime and, not least, ensuring a sound economic foundation on which all other objectives must rest. Our policy on taxation and in all economic matters is directed towards that end and it is manifestly bringing about the growth that people want to see.

Dr. Michael Clark : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the barometers of the British economy is the housing industry? Does he therefore share my satisfaction-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. It is good to start the new year in good humour, but I should like to hear the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark).

Dr. Michael Clarke : Does my right hon. Friend therefore share my satisfaction with the figures revealed yesterday, which show that private sector housing starts are on the increase?

Mr. Newton : I do indeed share my hon. Friend's pleasure in those figures. Private sector housing starts increased significantly in November, as in the previous month. Indeed, in November they were the highest since October 1989, and 42 per cent. higher than a year earlier. That is very good news and it shows the benefits of the policies to which I referred a few moments ago.

Mr. John Smith : Is it not now abundantly clear that "back to basics", a slogan which was devised to get the Prime Minister through the Tory party conference, has spectacularly backfired on a Government who are now in hopeless confusion and disarray about what it means, particularly when applied to themselves?

Mr. Newton : I have already made it clear, in answer to the first question asked of me this afternoon, that our concern is with raising standards in education, strengthening the fight against crime and, above all, strengthening the British economy. Those are objectives which the British people support and want to see achieved, and they know that they would not get them from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. John Smith : Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that the problem is that the current definitions are so markedly different from the moralistic speeches of Minister after Minister at the Tory party conference? Does he recollect the Home Secretary saying to the conference that the distinction between right and wrong had to be sharpened instead of blurred? Why is it all so different now?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was absolutely right to make that point in the context of the fight against crime, which the House will debate later today. The objectives of what the Government are seeking to bring about remain and will remain as I have stated them and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set them out at that conference.

Mr. John Smith : Does the right hon. Gentleman not yet appreciate that what the British people dislike intensely is the hypocrisy of double standards which "back to basics" has now become? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us and the public why there should be one set of rules for the the people and another set of rules for Ministers and Tory Members of Parliament?

Mr. Newton : What I think that the British people most dislike is the hypocrisy of a party which talks like that and then opposes every move to raise educational standards and every move to fight crime, and which pursues policies which could only damage Britain's economy.

Mr. Matthew Banks : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Britain continues to maintain a flexible and responsive approach to military action in Bosnia? Does he agree that, until recently, Britain has been entirely right to resist premature calls for air strikes in the region, which would have led to extreme danger for our troops on the ground who were sent there to police a United Nations ceasefire, not to take part in guerrilla warfare?

Mr. Newton : I can say that, after some very fruitful meetings in Brussels this morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in speaking there, has made it clear that we will be drawing up plans to help UNPROFOR to bring in a Netherlands contingent to replace the Canadians in Srebrenica and has also agreed to examine how Tuzla airport can be opened, with the intention that it should serve as a conduit for humanitarian relief. My right hon. Friend has also made it clear that if it is necessary to use air power to achieve those objectives, we would be willing to do so.


Q2. Mr. Connarty : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Connarty : Does the Leader of the House now think that morality is very important also in public life? Is he aware that, in the Forth valley enterprise area, thanks to the diligent investigation by the local paper, The Falkirk Herald, it has been revealed that £2 million in grants from the enterprise board has gone to people who sit on the board? In fact, just recently, the secretary of the board resigned after an investigation by Scottish Television. There are allegations of training grants to companies that had no trainees and allegations of the register of companies' interests being falsified, and there is still £50,000 missing. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that appointees who have a self interest to pursue will not look after the public interest and that running the country by quangos, as the Government have tried to do, will lead to corruption inevitably?

Mr. Newton : In view of some of the things that have emerged about, for example, Labour local authorities, I think that that is a curious charge for the hon. Gentleman to make, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will examine anything that needs to be examined in the light of that or any other event of that kind.

Mr. Waterson : Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the Dun and Bradstreet report, which shows increased business confidence in trading conditions at the moment? Does he agree that that augurs well for the future of the British economy in the next 12 months?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The survey published today shows that United Kingdom businesses are more confident about trading conditions in the current quarter, with well over half forecasting higher profits and nearly a third expecting to take on more staff. That shows the benefits of the policy of low interest rates and low inflation which the Government have successfully been pursuing.


Q3. Mr. Eric Clarke : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Clarke : I wish you, Madam Speaker, and the rest of the House, a happy new year. Will the Leader of the House make it a happy new year for the disabled miners who are at home and worried because of the lack of guarantees for the future of the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation, a worthwhile organisation which looks after them and their families? If the Leader of the House wants a moral crusade, I would name that one.

Mr. Newton : First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes for the new year, which I much appreciate. With regard to the substantive thrust of his question, he will of course have an opportunity before long to raise that and any other point during discussions on the Coal Industry Bill. I will of course draw them to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Nicholls : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the remarks of Tom Donnett, a Liberal county councillor in Somerset, who has described villagers whose views he disapproves of as being no better than yids, nignogs, eyeties and Pakis? Does not my right hon. Friend find a curious distinction that the Liberal Democrat party leader in his appearances in the House adopts a tone of self-righteous pomposity while harbouring people within his party whose views would not be tolerated in the National Front?

Mr. Newton : In line with the good wishes for the new year, I had better say that my hon. Friend might say that, but I cannot possibly comment. I understand that the remarks have been referred to the Commission for Racial Equality. Perhaps we shall see not only what the commission has to say, but in due course what the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and his party have to say.


Q4. Ms Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Ms Hoey : Will the Leader of the House urge the Prime Minister, in what will obviously be a review of his "back to basics" policy, to consider a "back to basics" in foreign policy? Does he agree that part of that should be a basic understanding that aggression should not be rewarded? Does he further agree that it is crucial that the siege of Sarajevo be lifted and that the Government call for immediate air strikes to take out the artillery surrounding that city?

Mr. Newton : Without for one moment accepting the suggestion in the first half of the hon. Lady's question, I think that the need with these policies is to get on and ensure that they are effective, which is what we seek to do. On the second part, with reference to Bosnia--the hon. Lady mentioned particularly Sarajevo--I referred earlier to another couple of issues : the position at Srebrenica and the position at the airport at Tuzla. I think that the hon. Lady would be well advised to read full reports of the understandings that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has reached with our allies in Brussels today about further action in those areas.

Mr. Dickens : Concentrating still on important matters, does my right hon. Friend welcome the improvement in the balance of trade figures announced yesterday?

Mr. Newton rose--  [Hon. Members :-- "Come on."] I was caught out by my hon. Friend's unaccustomed brevity, but I am grateful both for his brevity and for the good point that he raised. I am delighted to see the improvement in the balance of trade of something like £500 million in October, with exports outside the European Community up by some 12 per cent. on a year ago. It is further convincing evidence of the success of our policies. I look forward, although without much expectation, to the Opposition congratulating not only British industry and British workers but the Government on the conditions that have helped to bring that about.


Q5. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Skinner : Will the Government be demanding of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) that he repay the £50,000 that he got out of his housing fiddle on the second council house in Westminster? How can the Government justify bailing out the firm owned by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) at £200,000 when thousands of firms in Britain have gone to the wall and millions of people have been made redundant? Why does not the right hon. Gentleman demand that the hon. Member for City of Chester foots the bill himself?

Mr. Newton : I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has said in recent days. I imagine that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) appreciates that the position of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) is exactly the same as that which would arise with any other company which does not succeed. Neither the company nor my hon. Friend has been treated differently from any other company or any other individual in similar circumstances.