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1994 - PMQT 20th January 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 20th January 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Oppenheim : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 January.

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

Mr. Oppenheim : Will the Prime Minister join me in paying tribute to the courage of British troops who have fought so bravely for their country, particularly in Iraq? Does my right hon. Friend share the widespread sense of revulsion in the country at the behaviour of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) in going to Iraq and saluting the man responsible for perpetrating such unspeakable and appalling atrocities against his own people and also at the actions of other Opposition Members who, by their actions, have given succour to terrorists?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend and I believe that the whole House will think that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) was foolish in his action. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has inflicted suffering on the Shias and the marsh Arabs, is oppressing the Kurds and denying basic human rights, has victimised British citizens and is failing to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions. There is, frankly, nothing to be said for him and nothing should be said for him, by any Member of the House.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the huge tax increases to be imposed this year and next year will check economic recovery?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had taken the trouble to listen to my right hon. and learned Friend, he would have heard him say that the recovery is now

"strong enough not to be stopped".

I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of the facts. The economy has now grown more than 2 per cent. in 12 months and has grown for six successive quarters. Retail sales have grown 4 per cent. in the last year and car production, manufacturing output and export volumes are all up. With low inflation and low interest rates, there is no doubt whatsoever that recovery is under way.

Mr. John Smith : I note that the Prime Minister does not deny that the Chancellor said that the tax increases would check economic recovery. Does not he understand that, as new tax codes arrive in homes all over Britain, people are now seeing the full impact of those increases on their personal standards of living? Why cannot the Prime Minister understand that increases equivalent to 7p on income tax are bound to hit family budgets for six?

The Prime Minister : I reiterate to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the economy is growing stronger daily. It is growing and it will continue to grow.

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman could remind the House where tax rates stood when he left office. Investment income was taxed at 98 per cent., top-rate income tax was 83 per cent., corporation tax was 52 per cent. and the basic rate was 33 per cent. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is in no position to talk about taxing, either in the past or today. He complains about the spending reductions made in the public expenditure round. Would he keep those reductions? Would he tax to restore them?

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister recall saying, during the general election campaign,

"Greater taxation would kill recovery stone dead"?

If that was true then, why is not it true now--or is this just one of the many things that the Prime Minister finds it easy to forget ever having mentioned?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to discuss the question of forgetting things, let me point out that he may have forgotten the words of Lord Desai, whom he sacked for telling the truth. Lord Desai said :

"It is good for the Labour party to have debate about alternatives, competing policy mixes, provided that no one thinks that adopting them or not will make the slightest difference to the actual reality."

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has no economic policy whatever and he cannot hide behind that for ever.

Dame Jill Knight : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deplorable for a woman holding the post of headmistress to deny her pupils the chance of seeing one of the greatest English plays ever written by the greatest English playwright, on the ground that it depicts heterosexual love? Will my right hon. Friend join me in deploring that example of political correctness?

The Prime Minister : I think that my hon. Friend has spoken for not only the majority of people in the House, but the majority of people in the country. As for the wider question of politically correct ideology, there is no doubt that it is widely unpopular among parents, who want schools to teach their children the basics of English language, English history and all the subjects that will equip them for a proper adulthood.

Mr. Ashdown : On the subject of listening-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I want some order in the House before we make any further progress.

Mr. Ashdown rose-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I shall have to start naming Members--[Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear!"]--on both sides of the House. This is an abuse of very precious time.

Mr. Ashdown : On the subject of listening to the Chancellor, did the Prime Minister by any chance hear him say on radio this morning that he did not recognise the difference between spending and investment? Could that be the reason why Britain consistently languishes near the bottom of the class of the 22 advanced countries when it comes to investing in education and our future?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman clearly failed to understand what my right hon. and learned Friend had to say this morning. If he examined the text more carefully, he might be able to ask a more credible question on another occasion.

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, despite the professional whingers, the vast majority of people want to see more deregulation, unnecessary regulation ripped up and bossy bureaucracy banned and that they want unnecessary form-filling for the sake of form- filling to be a thing of the past?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right, not just for people but also, of course, for business and for many voluntary bodies as well. There is no doubt that the growth of regulation, from the European Community, from this House and from local government, has grown outrageously over the last 25 years and it is necessary to get rid of the regulations. If I had the support of the Opposition in doing that I should be delighted, for we will be introducing a Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill which will produce the biggest bonfire of unnecessary regulations that the House has ever seen. We will see then which Lobby Labour Members are in.


Q2. Mr. Mike O'Brien : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 January.

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

Mr. O'Brien : As parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the criticisms of his Police and Magistrates Courts Bill from the police, chief constables and former Home Secretaries such as Lords Whitelaw and Carr, who say that the Bill comes dangerously close to politicising the police? Will he now seek all-party agreement on the Bill and stop introducing things such as the Sheehy report and the Bill which, in the face of rising crime, are undermining police morale?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will have to do better than that if he wishes to keep his new job. One of the aims of the reforms is to put a much greater breadth of experience on to police authorities and, as the hon. Gentleman may know, the intention is to bring the experience of many leading members of the community--head teachers, business men, doctors and others--on to police authorities. The police welcome that and they also welcome the increased individual authority given to chief constables, neither of which points was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gale : Will my right hon. Friend join me in applauding today's launch of the guaranteed pensioners income bond? Will he accept that the 30 per cent. of my constituents in Thanet, North who are over the retirement age will welcome the Government's recognition of those who have worked hard all their lives, not to be a burden on the state but to be able to provide for their old age themselves?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The new bond will be widely welcomed because it will give pensioners a guaranteed return on their savings month in, month out. The other essential element, especially for people on fixed incomes and those who are retired, is to ensure that the value of their savings is not eroded by inflation. By keeping inflation low, we are helping every pensioner on a fixed income. Not since 1946 has there been such a successful period for inflation as the last 12 months and we intend to keep inflation at a very low level.


Q3. Mr. Betts : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 January.

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

Mr. Betts : Does the Prime Minister accept that, in pursuing its disgraceful housing sales policy which disadvantaged so many people in housing need, Westminster council must have annually reported that policy to the Government in its housing investment programme submission? Does he agree that the Government must specifically have approved all the subsidies for the cash incentive scheme under which Westminster emptied its houses and that the Government must also have given a specific consent to the disposal of all properties for which a general consent did not exist under the Housing Act 1985? Will the Prime Minister therefore give a clear and comprehensive statement to the House of what knowledge his Government had of those policies and what specific approvals his Ministers and his officials gave to that council to enable those policies to be put into practice?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly is in some dispute with his Front Bench about Labour policy. The hon. Gentleman refers to the disgraceful policy of selling council houses. For much of the past two years, Opposition Front Bench spokesmen have been trying to pretend that they are in favour of selling council houses. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister must be heard. [Interruption.] Order. I shall not proceed until there is some order in the House.

The Prime Minister : As I was saying a moment ago, the hon. Gentleman had better be clear about whether his party is in favour of selling council houses or not, for there is a great difference between what he said and what spokesmen on the Front Bench have been saying. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of people in the country are home owners today because we gave them the freedom to be so, and that policy is undoubtedly correct.