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1994 - PMQT 24th March 1994

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Dame Jill Knight : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 March.

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.

Dame Jill Knight : Does my right hon. Friend agree that qualified majority voting in the European Union should be considered strictly on its merits? Is not it right to argue robustly for a more democratic system and to fight our corner, instead of throwing away Britain's hand as the Opposition parties certainly would?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are strongly committed to enlargement of the Community and also to the long- term success of the European Union, but, to be successful, the countries of the Community must be responsive to the individuals and peoples in that Community.

As I told the House on Tuesday, I believe that we are right to argue vigorously for principles that are important both for Britain and for Europe's future, and that is what we are doing. We need a balanced decision that safeguards the rights of minorities. When we entered the Community, representatives of 30 per cent. of its population could be voted down : now the figure is 40 per cent. An automatic and unqualified extension to 27 would perpetuate that trend, and I believe that it should be checked now. In 1996, we need a proper, wholesale reform of the system.

Mr. John Smith : On that subject-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I call the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) to order.

Mr. John Smith : On that subject, can the Prime Minister explain why there is such confusion--as revealed in the press this morning--over the Government's policy on Europe? Is not it because the Prime Minister one day seeks to appease the anti-European faction in his party and on the succeeding day seeks to reassure the pro-European faction? Why is he, as usual, trying to face both ways?

The Prime Minister : If anyone had the faintest idea where the right hon. and learned Gentleman stands on this issue, he might be entitled to ask that--perhaps he will tell us.

It is absurd to suggest that arguing for better decision making in Europe, which is what I seek, is anything other than the right way to approach the negotiations. It is right to stand up for the principles that we think are correct. It is not thought anti-European when the Italians argue their case on milk quotas or when the French hold up the enlargement of the number of seats in the European Parliament for their interests. We are arguing for points of principle that we consider of importance, and we will continue to do so.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister realise that it cannot be responsible to put at risk the enlargement of the European Community by a damaging dispute, which is at most about four votes out of 90? Why does the Prime Minister not realise that he is putting at risk the accession of four countries that are friends of Britain and are net contributors to the budget?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the British Government were foremost in creating the opportunities for those countries to enter the Community and we are strong supporters of their entry. That does not mean that we must concede each and every aspect of the allied negotiations to ensure enlargement. I said on Tuesday, and I repeat now, that there is time to resolve qualified majority voting without any delay to enlargement. In Brussels, my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary described several possible avenues to a solution. So long as the political will is there, on the part of others as well as of the United Kingdom, the matter can be settled within a matter of days.

Mr. John Smith : Is not the truth of this whole affair that the right hon. Gentleman is more concerned to protect himself and his position from attacks within his own party than to fight for Britain's real and lasting interests in the European Union?

The Prime Minister : That is unworthy of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If that had been remotely true, I should not have stuck, as I did, to the importance of carrying the Maastricht treaty through the House despite the twists and turns of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has demonstrated yet again that the moment something from Europe, whatever it may be, is put to him, he concedes. He has conceded the ending of our national veto, a minimum wage costing £20 billion, a 35-hour week costing £20 billion and every big spending plan to come out of Brussels. Europe cannot afford that, and Britain could not afford the sort of policies that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would accept.

Sir Malcolm Thornton : In view of my right hon. Friend's recent and very welcome statement in favour of sport in schools, may I commend to him a report called "A Charter for Sport in Schools", which was launched this morning and which links sport firmly into the state of the health of the nation? May I also draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the fact that, for the first time, this links together national sporting bodies, teacher associations and the medical profession? Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to give the report all possible support?

Mr. Skinner : You can hit that one for six.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for his advice.

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of sport in schools, not least because not only is it a natural part of growing up for most youngsters but it instils a love of sport in people which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.


Q2. Ms Corston : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 March.

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

Ms Corston : On both 10 November 1992 and 4 February 1993, the Prime Minister told the House that claiming public interest immunity was a ministerial obligation which could not be waived. In view of today's statement by the Attorney-General that Ministers have a discretion whether to claim such immunity, will the Prime Minister now retract his statements?

The Prime Minister : I think that the hon. Lady may have been misled by some lunch-time news reports, supplemented by comments by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). Let me read to the House what my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said in his opening statement to the inquiry this morning. I quote : "Where documents or information fall into a class that has been recognised by the courts as attracting public interest immunity, the relevant Minister is under a duty to make a claim."

Mr. Mans : Given that unemployment is falling faster in this country than in any other European Union nation, is not the main lesson that other member nations can learn from us that deregulation of the market and the reduction of social costs encourage investment and create extra jobs?

The Prime Minister : I believe that that can be seen, not just in the position between the United Kingdom and other European nations but in the position between Europe as a whole and Japan, the United States or the Pacific basin. There is absolutely no doubt that a deregulated economy is likely to create more jobs and that an economy that does not pile too many social costs on employers is likely to have a higher proportion of its work force in proper work.


Q3. Mr. Barry Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 March.

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

Mr. Jones : Does the Prime Minister know that in my constituency the production of the corporate jet aircraft is in danger of being transferred, lock, stock and barrel, to an American production line? More than 900 highly skilled and valuable jobs to Wales in my constituency are at risk. What intervention will he make and what guarantee can he give? May I show him a model of the aircraft to remind him that it is the best of its kind in the world? If he believes in British manufacturing, what will he do to help the workers in my constituency?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the specific question that he raises this afternoon. I appreciate his efforts to keep those jobs in his constituency. I share that concern and so do the Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has pledged the full support of the Welsh Office and the Welsh Development Agency and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will shortly be visiting the parent company in the United States. In recent years, Wales has made tremendous achievements in attracting jobs. In the past decade, it has secured more than 11,000 inward investment projects guaranteeing 110,000 jobs. It is an excellent haven for inward investment and jobs and we will do all that we can to help retain those.

Mrs. Angela Knight : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the ultimate guarantee of Britain's national interest and sovereignty is the national veto, which the Liberal and Labour parties would abandon in their desire to allow Brussels to rule us?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree that the national veto, which is, of course, a separate matter from qualified majority voting, which we have been discussing, is an important matter. It has been conceded by the leader of the Liberal Democratic party and the Leader of the Opposition. He shakes his head, but he still has not read the socialist manifesto that he signed up to without reading and to which he is bound.


Q4. Mrs. Ray Michie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 March.

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

Mrs. Michie : On reflection, is the Prime Minister still not prepared to listen to the 1 million people who voted no to the Government's proposals for Scotland's water? Does he accept that the folk of Strathclyde sent a clear, dignified, civilised and democratic message not worthy of an abusive response and that his own Tory councillors in Scotland now advise that he and the Secretary of State for Scotland should take back the proposals and think again? If the Prime Minister wants his party to survive in Scotland, he should think again.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady will, I think, understand that neither the referendum nor the opinion poll was particularly relevant because neither suggested any alternative structure for the industry. The status quo is obviously not an option, because Strathclyde will not exist as a local authority. There is, therefore, a need for an alternative and it is clearly nonsense to think that each of the new single-tier local authorities could be a separate individual water authority. For that reason, I said that the referendum was an expensive stunt and I still believe it to have been so.


European Court --

Q5. Sir Teddy Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will raise at the next meeting of the European Council the extent to which European Court decisions are extending the powers of the European Union.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend raises a serious point. It is important that the Court does not extend its powers beyond those established in the treaty. We expect it to use its jurisdiction responsibly and impartially to uphold the rule of law in the Community. We need it to ensure that all member states play by the rules.

Sir Teddy Taylor : I appreciate that answer very much. Is not it worrying that the Commission is regularly using the Court as a means of stretching and extending EC powers, as we have seen recently on social legislation? Will my right hon. Friend find out from the Commission why on earth it announced last night that it will take action against us under the broadcasting directive, with particular reference to our national licensing system for overseas satellite stations? Should not we have less action and more unity of purpose to try to solve problems, instead of these foolish legal actions?

The Prime Minister : I gather that there is a complex interaction in what is happening. The Commission has announced that it is taking us to the European Court of Justice over the implementation of the broadcasting directive. The point at issue is that the Commission wants licensing to be organised in one way, while we think that it is best done in another. We have defended our position robustly since the opening of infraction proceedings and will continue to do so. I do not believe that the Commission is seeking to spread its activities through the actions of the Court in the way that my hon. Friend suggests, and it would certainly need to operate within the treaty rights that it has been given.