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1994 - PMQT 15th March 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 15th March 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Ms Eagle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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.

Ms Eagle : On top of all the tax increases that he will impose in April, how can the Prime Minister justify the new insurance premium tax, which will hit hardest those who live in areas of high crime, such as my constituency? Is not the truth that, while Labour is tough on crime and on the causes of crime, the right hon. Gentleman's Government are tough just on the victims of crime?

The Prime Minister : We seek to be tough on the people who perpetrate crime. I believe that that should be the ambition of every hon. Member. We have raised taxes for the reasons that I have previously set out in the House, and we have chosen to spread the load in the way that we think is most appropriate. Those are the measures that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor set out. If the hon. Lady opposes tax increases, I trust that she will indicate where she would cut expenditure.

Mr. Dicks : In the light of the mortar attacks at Heathrow airport, which is in my constituency, will my right hon. Friend tell the IRA that there is no place for it at the peace table, and will he institute a shoot- to-kill policy in Northern Ireland to enable the security forces to eliminate all IRA terrorists in the Province?

The Prime Minister : The attacks on Heathrow airport demonstrated once again the IRA's callous disregard for the safety of ordinary members of the public and its disregard for the words that its own members utter from time to time. The whole House will regard the IRA's action as totally despicable. It is certainly the case that it cannot bomb its way back to the negotiating table, either now or at any stage in the future. However, I am not sure that I can endorse the particular measure that my hon. Friend proposes.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister think it satisfactory that, in the space of a single year, the amount spent on cars by health service trusts has increased by 65 per cent. to a total of nearly £25 million?

The Prime Minister : One of the purposes of health service trusts is to enable their managers-- [Interruption.] If hon. Members listen, they will get their answer. One of the purposes of trusts is to enable managers, across the whole range of their activities, to determine how best to use the resources at their disposal. The growth in the number of trusts, the improvement in services and the rise in the number of patients treated demonstrate the trusts' increasing success.

Mr. John Smith : Perhaps we should test the situation by individual examples. Is the Prime Minister aware that the St. James's University hospital trust has increased its car bill by more than 200 per cent. and that in the case of Kingston hospital the increase is 250 per cent? Is that the Government's order of priorities? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that most people in the country want to see money spent on patients and not on cars?

The Prime Minister : The overall priority, on which the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be best advised to concentrate, is whether more patients are being treated, either in individual hospitals or in hospitals in general. I cannot carry in my head the details of individual expenditure in every health authority, and neither can the right hon. and learned Gentleman. What I can say is that it is right to devolve responsibility rather than to centralise it, as he would do, and that it is right to take action administratively to increase and improve the patient service that is offered. More patients are being treated and they are being treated better, with a wider range of operations and treatment than ever before.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister understand that hardly a day goes by without further evidence of waste and inefficiency in the health service, introduced as a result of the Government's changes? Does not he appreciate that, whatever he can or cannot hold in his head, it is the daily experience of both patients and staff that the health service is being undermined by this gross misallocation of priorities?

The Prime Minister : I do not recall the right hon. and learned Gentleman ever mentioning any of the inefficiencies in expenditure that occurred prior to these reforms. He was perfectly prepared to condone them at that stage ; we are trying to put them right. That is the reason for the changed management structure and devolvement of responsibility. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's question shows that he remains an unreconstructed centralist and is unwilling to trust people with devolved responsibilities.

Mr. Sykes : To turn to far more important matters, is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread pleasure and relief in Scarborough, Whitby and other seaside resorts following the Government's action yesterday to curb the rising tide of benefit hostels on our English coasts?

The Prime Minister : It is certainly true that that is the case in Yorkshire, but the problem is in Blackpool, Bournemouth and many other parts of the country as well. My hon. Friend and many of my other hon. Friends have campaigned extremely hard to have it solved. I believe that the announcement made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State yesterday will be welcomed by hoteliers, residents and taxpayers who feel that they have been taken for a ride for too long. Not only will it prevent the problem spreading, but the licensing scheme that we are examining may also deal with the problem that currently exists.


Q2. Mr. Alton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Mr. Alton : With only 3 per cent. of people north and south of the Irish border expressing any support for the pursuit of violence, does not the Prime Minister believe that this vindicates the patient approach that he has taken towards the pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland? In that context, does not he believe that he should raise with the Taoiseach the use of the political defence as a way of justifying murder and terrorism and as an argument against extradition in the Irish courts? Will he also consider the possibility of the creation of an interlocutor or mediator to pursue the course of peace in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the support that he has consistently given to our attempts to secure peace in Northern Ireland. I agree with him that the extradition arrangements need to be strengthened. That is why I welcome, in particular, the new Irish extradition Bill which will make the arrangements between our countries more logical and more straightforward.

As I indicated a moment ago, on the hon. Gentleman's first point there will be no negotiations with Sinn Fein before a permanent end to the IRA's violence. I do not intend that we should be shifted from our present course. I believe that it has the overwhelming support of people in the island of Ireland and that it has huge support both in this country and abroad. The Taoiseach and I intend to press ahead with our talks in the hope that we will be able to find a peaceful future for Ireland.


Q3. Dr. Liam Fox : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Dr. Fox : Does my right hon. Friend agree that British interests in Europe have always been better represented by Conservatives than by socialists or Liberals? Will he assure the House that the protection of British interests in Europe will lie at the heart of our position in the current negotiations on the widening of Europe and on qualified majority voting?

The Prime Minister : I do believe that it is important that this country plays a full part in the European community and exercises its influence both on behalf of the people in this country and on behalf of Europe as whole. We have sought for a long time to have enlargement, and we are very much in favour of it. The negotiations are very nearly complete. The present discussions between the Twelve are about the institutional changes that will accompany the enlargement. Like many other states, we attach importance to qualified majority voting, but I think that it is right to consider very carefully the effect on QMV of an increase in membership. What we need to ensure is that democratic legitimacy and the rights of minorities are sustained within the European Union. That is what my right hon. Friend will be seeking to do in his negotiations.


Q4. Mr. Miller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Mr. Miller : Does the Prime Minister agree that the short-term policies of banks and financial institutions undermine the recovery of manufacturing companies such as Rover? Does that reflect a lack of confidence in his Government, or is it nothing to do with him?

The Prime Minister : I think that the hon. Gentleman will see from most of the statistics now being produced that manufacturing industry is in fact recovering and it is recovering rather well. It is increasingly-- [Interruption.] There is no point in the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) waving his finger. If he will give me time, I shall get to his question if he can bear to be patient for a second. Banks are seeking to provide resources for appropriate lending. The question of lending to Rover is of course something that Rover pursues with its own bankers and not with anyone else. [Interruption.] It is interesting to see that the hon. Gentleman would have Government Ministers determine individual bank loans to individual companies. I am pleased to see another indication of the centralism that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was attempting to shrug off a moment ago.


Q5. Mr. Roger Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Mr. Evans : Given the importance of the construction industry to the economy as a whole, does my right hon. Friend agree that the latest figures for private orders are excellent news for British firms and British jobs?

The Prime Minister : Construction orders are now at a very high level ; higher than they have been for some years. New housing starts are still up and I trust that they will continue. Confidence is growing and a large part of this is, of course, related directly to the economic policies that enabled us to reduce interest rates--I am perfectly happy to accept responsibility for that.


Q6. Mr. Simpson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Mr. Simpson : Is the Prime Minister aware that last year in Nottingham, 1,090 households faced repossession and that, in the same year, the city was allowed to build a grand total of only 12 houses for rent? Is there any practical advice and help that the Prime Minister is able to offer to the 99 per cent. of households caught in the terrible truth between his rhetoric and repossession, or is it yet another matter that is not of his concern?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that, as the economy recovers and interest rates have fallen, the number of repossessions is also falling and falling quite distinctly. What of course is also necessary in providing rented accommodation is that local authorities, notably Labour local authorities, should fill up the property that they have and not leave large numbers of voids and empties in many parts of the country.


Q7. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend accept the need to reduce public borrowing? Is he aware that Ealing Conservative council has now repaid £75 million of the £158 million borrowed between 1986 and 1990 by the then Labour council, and that Birmingham, Hackney and Manchester have debts higher than many third world countries? [Interruption.] All Labour-controlled councils.

Hon. Members : Name them.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friends are tempting me to name them, but I fear that it would take up the rest of today's Question Time and all of Thursday's. I congratulate Ealing on reducing its debt. However, my hon. Friend was being characteristically generous in naming only three Labour authorities. He could have named substantially more. I know that the Labour party has a lot to say to us from time to time about third world debt. It is about time that it did something about fourth-rate Labour authorities that build up debts as large as, if not larger than, third world debt itself.