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1994 - PMQT 21st April 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 21st April 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Ward : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 April.

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. Ward : Will my right hon. Friend unreservedly condemn the continuing attacks on the civilian population of Gorazde by the Serbs, and particularly the outrageous attacks on the hospital there? Does he agree that we must have more effective action by both NATO and the United Nations to protect the UN safe areas?

The Prime Minister : I believe that my hon. Friend speaks for most people in this country. These attacks have rightly been condemned by European, Russian and American leaders alike. NATO should help the United Nations to give stronger protection to the safe areas, and I hope that the additional troops committed to UNPROFOR and the necessary funds will be made available as soon as possible. The United Kingdom is pressing for a rapid and united NATO response to the Secretary-General's request for further assistance. That must be based on a thorough military appraisal. We shall also be studying the proposals made by President Clinton last night ; but we must keep the objectives of a negotiated settlement clearly in view, while showing that attacks on UNPROFOR or safe areas will meet with a strong response.

Mr. John Smith : Would it not have been much better if the Government had properly consulted the D-day veterans in the first place instead of paying £62,000 to a public relations company for what turned out to be very bad advice ?

The Prime Minister : I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman enables me to set the record straight on what is happening. Many people will have been concerned over some of the things that they have read, and it is right to tell the House the present position.

The first discussions with the veterans organisations, including the Royal British Legion, took place in February 1993. The main focus of the programme will be in Portsmouth and Normandy over the weekend of 4 to 6 June. The Archbishop of Canterbury will lead an open air service of remembrance attended by Heads of State and Government from the allied countries that took part in the Normandy landings. There will be similar services in Normandy the following day-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister has been asked a question and he is answering it.

The Prime Minister : I am aware of the great interest in the matter, and it will be of interest to the House and others if I set the record straight. There will be similar services in Normandy the following day, including services of commemoration at the British cemetery and a march past of veterans. Many veterans will be able to attend those events and other ceremonies in Normandy, Portsmouth and right across the United Kingdom. Beyond that, many hundreds of events are still being planned, but the present programme includes church services in towns and villages around the country, parades and marches past by veterans and exhibitions illustrating local involvement in the events of 50 years ago.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not appreciate that the difficulties have arisen about the so-called civilian side of this anniversary? Does he accept that one way in which the Government could avoid constantly getting things so badly wrong is to consult more widely? In the case of genuinely national events, ought that not be on a cross-party basis? Will that be the approach to the VE-day anniversary next year?

The Prime Minister : It is a genuinely national event, and a genuinely cross-party event in every sense. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will take part in the events to which I referred a moment ago. Let me explain to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House why there is a civilian aspect. Although his colleagues groan, that is the question that he asked. As well as commemorating the bravery and sacrifice of those who took part in the Normandy campaign, we also wish to remember the immense efforts made by the whole civilian population leading up to D-day and beyond. That is why we want the commemorations to involve all generations, including our children. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will share my concern that so few of the present generation understand precisely what happened on that occasion and the fact that we would not have the freedom of speech that we enjoy in the House but for that.

Mr. John Smith : Bearing in mind the difficulties that have arisen over D-day, but also bearing in mind the fact that the second world war involved the sacrifice by people of all persuasions, will the right hon. Gentleman now undertake that in the planning of the VE-day anniversary there will be genuine cross-party involvement, including the involvement of all parties in this House? Can he give us that undertaking today?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely right; it is both cross-party and non-party. Neither on this occasion nor on any future occasions will there be any partisan involvement in the celebrations. That is the right way to approach this event; it was the right way to deal with previous commemorations and it will be the right way in future. There is no difference between the right hon. and learned Gentleman and me on that point.

Mr. Leigh : Did my right hon. Friend notice that yesterday Mr. Jacques Delors declared his intention to render worthless any concessions won by Britain on majority voting rights in the Council of Ministers; in particular, his statement that it was a political declaration not a legal text? He said that he could declare that a reasonable period had been exhausted and that it would last only for another two years, thus driving a coach and horses through any concessions we gained. Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, echo his predecessor in replying to Mr. Jacques Delors no, no, no, especially as my right hon. Friend does not have Lord Howe beside him?

The Prime Minister : What the President of the Commission said yesterday was that the decision commits member states to act in accordance with the declaration. I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Council decision taken as part of the Ioannina agreement is legally binding on the Council. If my hon. Friend finds that not satisfactory, he might also listen to other Foreign Ministers. For example, the German Foreign Minister said :

"Germany itself would regard the decision as binding on the Council".

He had no doubt that all other member states of the Union would fully respect the procedures foreseen. That is what we will expect and that is what will happen.


Q2. Mr. Gapes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 April.

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

Mr. Gapes : In view of the serious problem in the health service in London--the cuts, the closures and the increased waiting lists--will the Prime Minister give some hope to my constituents in Ilford who face great problems at the King George hospital? Will he instruct the Secretary of State for Health today to stop immediately any further closures, cuts, reductions or staff losses throughout London?

The Prime Minister : Since the hon. Gentleman mentions Ilford, I might just mention the capital expenditure on the Redbridge healthcare NHS trust £58 million hospital at Goodmayes, the biggest capital development in the region last year ; the work under way on the Forest healthcare NHS trust £10 million new wing for Whipps Cross hospital, and the great expansion in primary health care right across London. The hon. Gentleman is not very well informed about his own constituency.

Dame Jill Knight : On the question of D-day, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that thousands of people outside the House believe that once we have paid tribute in dignity to the heroism of those who died, it is entirely appropriate that joy should be experienced with enthusiasm to celebrate the fact that the sacrifices made gave us deliverance from the most inhuman and wicked dictatorship that the modern world has ever known?

The Prime Minister : I think that my hon. Friend speaks for many people when she says that after one has dealt with the specific matter of commemoration on D-day, millions of people in Britain will wish to give thanks in one form or another in some form of thanksgiving ceremony for the fact that we have the freedoms today that we take for granted.


Q3. Mr. Rendel : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 April.

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

Mr. Rendel : Will the Prime Minister confirm that his party, unlike the Liberal Democrats, believes that band for band is the best way to compare council tax levels between different authorities? Will he further confirm that on that basis Hampshire is the most efficient English county council?

The Prime Minister : From memory, I think that Hampshire has had the biggest increases in council tax anywhere across the country. However the hon. Gentleman may care to phrase it, if he looks at matters on a like-for-like basis he will find that Conservative-controlled councils are noticeably cheaper than Liberal Democrat-controlled councils and even less expensive than Labour-controlled councils.


Q4. Dr. Spink : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 April.

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

Dr. Spink : Can my right hon. Friend tell the House when he was last asked a question on unemployment by the Leader of the Opposition? Does the length of time have something to do with the fact that unemployment has been falling month after month after month, so that there are now a quarter of a million fewer people unemployed than there were a year ago?

The Prime Minister : It certainly is some time since the right hon. and learned Gentleman last mentioned it. I cannot be precisely sure when it was. I do not believe that he has asked such a question since his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) said that unemployment would go up month after month after month after month.

Mr. Clapham : Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning the blackmail tactics used by British Coal to coerce the miners at Tower colliery into accepting its closure? Is the Minister aware that, with the closure of Tower colliery, only 16 collieries are now operating under British Coal management, and the men at those collieries face an uncertain future, as do their families? Will the Prime Minister therefore tell the House today, giving a commitment to those men and their families, that he will adopt for the next four years the redundancy package that British Coal has been operating and which closes on 30 April, so that the miners at those 16 collieries will have a fall-back position if the private venture fails?

The Prime Minister : With regard to British Coal's decision to withdraw its closure proposal, as I understand it, the men at Tower colliery sought further discussions with the corporation at which they indicated that they did not wish to oppose the closure proposal. That is my understanding of what has happened and I am pleased that such an agreement was eventually reached.


Q5. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 April.

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

Mr. Carrington : What action would my right hon. Friend take over a local authority that has debts of £356 million, more than Gambia, and is being sued for fraud by a bank because of its illegal activities on the money markets and the bank is demanding £20 million in compensation; a council which, through its waste and corruption has cost the council tax payers of Hammersmith and Fulham £250 each and in a local authority which has the third worst record of collecting rents in the country?

The Prime Minister : The people of Hammersmith and Fulham will have the opportunity to make their own decisions on 5 May. In view of what my hon. Friend has said, they would be very well advised to vote for a Conservative council.


Q6. Mr. Hutton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 April.

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

Mr. Hutton : Are the biggest tax increases in modern British history that will take effect this month the result of the Government's incompetence in handling the economy or simply their lack of honesty in dealing with the British public at the previous general election?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly has not been attending many Question Times over the past few months or he would know that the tax increases were necessary in order to get public finances in better shape, to get Government borrowing down and to ensure that we can sustain a low interest rate level which is helping us in getting back in growth. He will know that, as a result, we now have a growth pattern that is twice as high as any of our main European competitors, that we have inflation at under 3 per cent., that we have exports running at record levels, that we have a stable exchange rate and that we are poised for a long period of sustained, non-inflationary growth--a prospect which this country has sought for many years and which now lies there as a result of the policies that this Government have followed.