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1994 - PMQT 24th February 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 24th February 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Connarty : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 February.

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. Connarty : I thank the Prime Minister for that interesting information. Is he aware that the independent living fund appears not to be working properly, and that only £500,000 out of the £4 million allocated is likely to be disbursed by the end of the financial year ? That means that £3.5 million will go back to the Treasury. If those figures continue for next year, £9.6 million out of £11 million will go back to the Treasury, and only £1.4 million will go to those who need it.

Can the Prime Minister confirm that the problem with the trigger mechanism is that a social service department must spend £200 per week on someone who is applying, and that 57 authorities have not submitted a single name ? Will he give an assurance that he will look seriously at that trigger so that the poorest and most disadvantaged in society are not denied the help that they require ?

The Prime Minister : The independent living fund exists to help people who face particular difficulties. If there is a mechanism that creates particular difficulties--I am not aware of the particular point that the hon. Gentleman raises--I will examine it, and see what the situation is.


Q2. Mr. Moss : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 February.

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

Mr. Moss : Does my right hon. Friend agree that schemes that attract private investment for public projects are enormously valuable? Will he join me in completely rejecting a scheme that was launched early this week which would leave all the risk on the back of the taxpayer? Is not it typical of Labour that its scheme is unbelievable, badly thought through and fundamentally dishonest?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly keen to see the public and the private sectors working closely together. That is desirable and attractive, and it is something which we have sought to do for some time with considerable success. It has to be made clear that if the private sector does get involved, it needs a degree of freedom and it ought not to be a way of effectively disguising what are, in reality, public expenditure increases.

Mr. John Smith : On Tuesday this week, the Prime Minister, in answering a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston), told the House that the net disposable income of people of all ranges of income had increased since 1979. The Prime Minister must know that that was not correct. Will he now withdraw that remark?

The Prime Minister : No, I shall not withdraw it. The latest edition of "Social Trends"-- [Hon. Members : Reading.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House is obviously not aware that Ministers may read from the Dispatch Box.

The Prime Minister : In fact, I was about to quote, as it might be helpful to the House if I do. The latest edition of "Social Trends" found that

"before housing costs, the real median income of the bottom fifth increased...between 1979 and 1990-1991".

Those figures, of course, were taken at the bottom of the recession before there was a distinct improvement in the economy and in the position of most people.

Mr. John Smith : Did the Prime Minister look at the publication issued by the Department of Social Security--by his own Government--which made it clear on page 1 that the real income of the bottom 10 per cent. decreased both before and after housing costs were taken into account? Which is correct--the Prime Minister's assertions or what his own Department has published?

The Prime Minister : I responded earlier by quoting what was actually said in "Social Trends". I will say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Since 1979, real incomes have gone up sharply for vulnerable groups ; more than 40 per cent. for pensioners ; up for the unemployed and up for those in work but on relatively low pay. There is an improvement in living standards at all levels, even among those who are the least well off.

Mr. John Smith : Can I take the Prime Minister to the precise point on which we are in dispute? Does he maintain that the real income of the bottom 10 per cent. of the population increased between 1979 and now?

The Prime Minister : I quoted to the right hon. and learned Gentleman-- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] I will answer the question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman put the question in his own way. I will answer the question in my own way. I refer him to "Social Trends", which relates to the original question. The figures for the poorest 20 per cent. relate to a time when we were in recession and mortgage rates were high. I stick to the points that I made a few moments ago.

Mr. Clappison : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the recent news that output investment continued to grow in the last quarter of 1993? Is not that clear and compelling evidence that, despite the efforts of the Labour party to create gloom, Britain is on the road to recovery and leading the rest of Europe out of recession?

The Prime Minister : There are very few people now who doubt the fact that the British economy has been growing for six or seven quarters, that we have a rate of growth at present larger than that of any comparable European Community country and that we are set to grow again throughout this year and through next year. Not only are we growing, but we are doing so with interest rates at a very low level--lower than they have been for very many years--and inflation also at a low level and likely to stay at a low level.


Q3. Mr. George Howarth : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 February.

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

Mr. Howarth : Is the Prime Minister aware that information supplied through parliamentary answers to me on 41 quangos shows that 127 members of those bodies are associated with firms that directly finance the Tory party? Can he tell me whether that is a highly unlikely statistical coincidence or yet another example of that lot over there getting their cronies' snouts in the trough?

The Prime Minister : I will tell the hon. Gentleman a little something about the membership of quangos. Perhaps I might mention some of the well-known contributors to the Conservative party and Tory supporters who are members of quangos. Margaret Hodge, for example, on the Local Government Commission ; Baroness Blackstone, for example ; Baroness Jay, for example. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is also on a quango--the British Film Institute. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : Not a single Government contributor or supporter among them.

Mrs. Roe : Has my right hon. Friend seen the figures published today that show that new car registrations are rising strongly? Is not that further evidence of continuing economic recovery and a return of consumer confidence?

The Prime Minister : I think that it is becoming more apparent that consumer confidence is returning, not just in the figures for car sales and car registrations, but in the figures for retail sales and in several other figures. The depth and spread of the recovery are certainly continuing. It is steady and I believe that it will continue to be steady and grow throughout this year.

Mr. Cryer : Does the Prime Minister accept that I am very proud to be a member of the unpaid board of governors of the British Film Institute? Will he comment on the lack of Government action in helping to finance and develop the British film industry which is a very important industry, not only for the cultural representation of this country but because it both creates employment here by making films and develops Britain's image abroad, which cascades down to British manufacturing industry ? Will he give a guarantee that he will support the industry in the future?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he does for the British film industry. [Hon. Members :- - "What about its future ?"] I shall come to that, if hon. Members will just relax. I am told that the hon. Gentleman does an excellent job on the board of the British Film Institute and that he has been appointed to it because of his personal abilities and not because of his political affiliations, as is the case with all appointments to such public bodies, without exception.

As regards the future of the British film industry, I am keen to see it thrive. One of the areas that will benefit significantly from the establishment of a lottery is the arts in general, a part of which I hope will be the British film industry. It is likely over the years that it will provide considerably more resources for the arts as a whole, and very probably the film industry as well, than even the most benevolent level of Government funding is likely to do, whatever Government we may have. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman and his fellow members of the British Film Institute will fully support it.

Sir Jim Spicer : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, all the former republics of the Soviet Union are entitled to be treated not as falling within the natural sphere of influence of Russia but as free and truly independent states?

The Prime Minister : Yes. I can certainly confirm that that is the case. We are seeking to develop diplomatic, commercial and trading relations with a large number of them. In the past few weeks, the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have been here to discuss trading opportunities, and my right hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign Office and other Departments have been in contact with a number of the other new republics.


Q4. Mr. William O'Brien : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 February.

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

Mr. O'Brien : Will the Prime Minister, during the course of the day, read the independent report, published today, on the murder of Jonathan Zito in December 1992? It condemns the community care programme under which the murderer was receiving treatment and from which he was discharged because of lack of resources. It also condemns the way that the Government have underfunded the social services programme in London. Less than an hour ago, I was talking to Jayne Zito, his widow, and she asked me to request the Prime Minister to meet her and explain to her why her husband should have been murdered because of lack of resources provided by the Government.

The Prime Minister : Everyone must be deeply sympathetic to the dreadful murder of Mr. Zito and the appalling effect that it has had on Mrs. Zito's subsequent life. No one will dispute that. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentlemen do me the courtesy of listening to the reply ? It was a dreadful incident and we must seek to learn what we can from it. It is significant that the report supports the principle of community care and specifically concludes that most mentally ill people, including those suffering from schizophrenia, are living safely in the community. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the principle of community care is widely accepted in each and every part of the House, and has been for a long time. He may be aware of the remarks of Professor Norman Sartorius who confirmed only yesterday that :

"Our recent developments in improving mental health services will ensure that the UK continues to lead the world in this area." I believe that to be the case, and we will continue to do that.

I will consider the hon. Gentleman's request, but it would perhaps have been better, if he were genuinely concerned, if he put the point to me privately and not in the way he has.


Q5. Mr. Ottaway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 February.

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

Mr. Ottaway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with retail sales up, productivity up and confidence in the small business sector sharply up, the last thing that British business needs is so-called "business plans", which are nothing but a failed Opposition policy that does nothing to help the British economy?

The Prime Minister : I certainly believe that what is most needed for the health of business is to ensure that we have a low inflation economy, the right business tax structure to encourage investment, and interest rates as low as we can keep them. Those are the ingredients which will encourage investment within this country, and from abroad, which continues at a high rate.