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1994 - PMQT 1st March 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 1st March 1994. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mudie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

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 in the United States for a series of meetings, including some with President Clinton and the United Nations Secretary-General.

Mr. Mudie : Is the Lord President aware that more than £1 billion of taxpayers' money spent to persuade people to take out personal pensions ended up in the pockets of salesmen through commissions? Is he also aware that more than 300,000 men and women are losing benefit because of bad advice? Given that growing scandal, is not there a case for urgent Government action, or is this, once again, something for which the Government will take no responsibility?

Mr. Newton : I do not regard the fact that some 5 million people have taken out personal pensions, which will significantly improve their prospects in retirement, as anything like a scandal. The hon. Gentleman will know that some of the advice that has been given is currently under examination, which is entirely right. I know of no reason to justify his accusation.


Q2. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the obvious success of the Prime Minister's visit to the United States? Does he recall that Sir Winston Churchill variously described the temperature of our special relationship with the United States as normal and blazing? What is the temperature now?

Mr. Newton : I can best describe the relationship as very cordial indeed. It is a long-standing relationship based on shared interests, as has been confirmed at a joint press conference which my right hon. Friend and the President held within the past hour or so. Their discussions have covered a wide range of international issues, including Bosnia, Russia and the world economy. The President's support for the joint declaration on Northern Ireland was particularly welcome. The visit is confirmation that we have a continuing, strong, all-round relationship with the United States.

Mrs. Beckett : When the President of the Board of Trade has need of legal advice, to whom does the Leader of the House suggest he turns?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has been advised, quite properly, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and made the position entirely clear in his evidence to the Scott inquiry yesterday.

Mrs. Beckett : Is not the position of the Attorney-General as the Government's chief legal adviser becoming increasingly untenable as Ministers seem to use him as a scapegoat to save their own skins?

Mr. Newton : The concern of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade was clearly an anxiety that people might misrepresent him in exactly the way that the right hon. Lady is now seeking to do. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General's advice on public interest immunity has remained consistent and, of course, he is due to give evidence to the inquiry.

Mrs. Beckett : Does not the Leader of the House realise that what sticks in the throat of the British public is that, having secretly sold arms to Saddam Hussein, which were used against British troops, Ministers were prepared to see innocent men go to gaol to cover up their conspiracy and that is what people cannot stomach?

Mr. Newton : Let me remind the right hon. Lady what was written in a letter to The Times as long ago as 12 November 1992 :

"Public interest immunity cannot be waived by either the prosecution or the Ministers. It was for the judge to decide whether the interests of justice in ensuring a fair trial for the defendants outweighed those considerations of public interests referred to in the certificates. There was no question of anyone attempting to suppress evidence".

That letter was written by counsel for one of the accused.

Mrs. Peacock : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Department of Health action on safari holidays for young offenders?

Mr. Newton : Yes, indeed I shall. There is a widespread view that those overseas trips were inappropriate. We are all concerned to see effective, proper treatment and deterrents for young offenders and the statement this afternoon will help bring that about.


Q3. Mr. Janner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Janner : When the Prime Minister returns from his visit to the United States, will he be kind enough to look personally into the case of my constituent Paul Kenney, who did not return from his journey to Portugal, but was found dead on a beach? Will he please consult his colleague the Prime Minister of Portugal, who has not had the common decency to tell the parents, or me as their representative, why this lad died, how he died, whether he was murdered or why the parents could not find the body for a month? If the right hon. Gentleman agrees that it is the Government's duty to look after ordinary citizens when they travel abroad, will he please start raising merry hell about this case?

Mr. Newton : I am conscious of the hon. Gentleman's understandable concern for his late constituent and I have of course looked at the Adjournment debate he had not long ago. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that during his visit to Portugal on 24 and 25 February, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised the case with the Portuguese Foreign Minister and I hope that that was helpful.

Sir Roger Moate : Will my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Secretary, personally do their utmost to ensure the success of the negotiations, which are at a critical point, on Norwegian entry into the European Community? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be quite outrageous if the unreasonable demand by the Spanish Government for a few thousand tonnes of Norwegian cod were to prevent the entry into the Community of one of our closest friends and a fine European country?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend knows very well that it has been a prime objective of the British Government to bring about enlargement of the Community and the progress that has been made is one of our significant achievements over the past couple of years. On some reports I have seen today, progress has been rather greater so far in respect of Sweden and Finland ; apparently, there remains some way to go, but we shall wish to see negotiations with all four applicants successfully negotiated.


Q4. Mr. Gunnell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Gunnell : The right hon. and noble Baroness Thatcher missed one Prime Minister's Question Time in 12 ; the present Prime Minister has missed one in eight. Whatever the importance of the present visit, does not that frequent absence devalue his accountability to the House? Why is he more anxious to answer questions in Pittsburgh than in Parliament?

Mr. Newton : I must say to the hon. Gentleman, whom I usually regard as among the more reasonable of those on the Opposition Benches, that I reject out of hand the suggestion that he has made. I think that my right hon. Friend's achievement in various international negotiations both in Europe and on the wider scene are among the main achievements that he has put forward on behalf of the Government.

Mr. Garnier : While my right hon. Friend is in the United States, will he be given an opportunity to tell the people, as opposed to the President of the United States, of the true nature, history and habits of the IRA?

Mr. Newton : I have already referred to the very welcome support of the President for the joint declaration. I hope that that in itself will have an effect on some strands of opinion in the United States which may perhaps have failed to appreciate the true nature of the IRA.


Q5. Mr. Mandelson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Mandelson : Does the Lord President of the Council agree that, with unemployment still up around the 3 million level, with many young and long-term unemployed in that number, jobs remain the biggest single issue facing the country? In the light of that, will the Lord President of the Council respond positively to the important initiative taken today by the Trades Union Congress to work in co-operation with all political parties on policies to get unemployment down?

Mr. Newton : I welcome any kind of co-operation by the TUC or, indeed, anybody else, in the interests of maintaining the recovery from recession, which is the secure basis for the jobs that the hon. Gentleman wants to see. If I may say so, it will not be served by the Labour party's support for a minimum wage, a 35-hour week and many new burdens on business.


Q6. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Lady Olga Maitland : May I convey to my right hon. Friend the House's full support for the Downing street declaration on Northern Ireland? Has my right hon. Friend been able to take note of the survey that took place over the weekend in the Irish Republic which showed that the vast majority of the people there call on the IRA-Sinn Fein to renounce violence?

Mr. Newton : I do very much agree with my hon. Friend and am grateful for her words. As she knows, the Government are making every effort to seek peace in Northern Ireland. It is heartening to note that some 94 per cent. of people questioned in the Irish marketing survey agreed with calls on the IRA and Sinn Fein to renounce violence. I am sure that that corresponds with the overwhelming wish in this country and, indeed, many others. I hope that their leaders will take note.


Q7. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Evans : Is the Lord President of the Council aware that if the highly efficient borough of St. Helens received the same level of revenue support grant as the boroughs of Wandsworth and Westminster it would not be required to charge its citizens one single penny in council tax? Does he feel that there might be a whiff of scandal and corruption in that?

Mr. Newton : No, I do not.

Mr. Fabricant : While condemning the appalling massacre in Hebron, does my right hon. Friend agree with me that that was the work of a lone madman and that, for the sake of the 300 million people who live in that area, it should not in any way impede the peace process?

Mr. Newton : Like, I am sure, everyone on both sides of the House, I share the horror at the massacre of innocent Palestinians in Hebron on 25 February. I am sure that the whole House would once again want to send its condolences to those who were affected and their families. I accept entirely and agree with my hon. Friend that the massacre must not be allowed to jeopardise the peace process. The British Government will certainly do everything that they can to see that it does not.


Q8. Mr. Jim Cunningham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Cunningham : Does the Lord President recall that, referring to the setting up of the Scott inquiry, the Prime Minister said that no restrictions would be placed on its terms of reference? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that ex-employees of Matrix Churchill and their representatives have been denied the right to give evidence to the inquiry, and that Lord Justice Scott has said that he will consider the matter if the Government and the Prime Minister agree? What is the Lord President going to do about it?

Mr. Newton : I think that it is generally true to say that the procedures of the inquiry are for Lord Justice Scott to consider and operate. Obviously, if there were perceived to be problems and if representations were made to the Government about difficulties that they could do something about, those difficulties would be considered extremely carefully.


Q9. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Riddick : Is my right hon. Friend aware of any Government Department that hands out special green forms to job applicants who are related to politicians--forms that receive preferential treatment--and pink forms to everyone else? Is he aware that that disgraceful form of nepotism is being practised by Labour-controlled Monklands council? Will he join me in urging condemnation of the practice by the local Member of Parliament--the Leader of the Opposition, who has been strangely silent on the subject?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend may feel surprised that his question has been reached. He has raised a very interesting point; I might speculate that the absence of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) arose from nervousness that the question might be reached.