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1994 - PMQT 14th June 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th June 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 June.

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.

Mr. McAllion : The family of Andrew de Vries, the British citizen gunned down in Texas earlier this year, has been campaigning for a federal investigation into the misconduct of the homicide inquiry by the local authorities in Houston. So far, it has uncovered many inconsistencies and blatant lies in the flawed official version of events. Will the Prime Minister now overrule the Foreign Office which, until now, has steadfastly refused any Government support for the family's campaign? Does he accept that if he, too, chooses to ignore the massive injustice inflicted on that British citizen travelling under the protection of a British passport, many people will conclude that those who travel under that passport in future will do so at their own risk, as they will receive no protection whatever from the British Government when they face the direst emergencies in a foreign land?

The Prime Minister : That was a very tragic death in unusual circumstances and I should like to add my sympathy to Mr. de Vries's parents and friends. It was an appalling incident and I know that the hon. Gentleman has given a great deal of help and comfort to the family. The trial was conducted according to Texan law and procedures and the grand jury decided not to proceed with an indictment. I believe that the best way forward at present is for Mr. de Vries's parents to put their points to their US legal representatives and be guided by the advice that they receive from them. I will certainly ensure that the hon. Gentleman and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. de Vries, are kept fully informed of any information that may come to the Government. We shall offer any advice that we can, but I do not think that it is for us to campaign. Advising is a different matter.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth : Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning tomorrow's strike by railway signalmen, which will bring misery and inconvenience to millions of people trying to get to work or go on their holidays? Does he agree that those running for the Labour party leadership should condemn that selfish action with equal vigour?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the strike is unnecessary and very much regret that it is taking place. I hope that, even at this late stage, it will be possible for the two sides to negotiate on the package that is there to be discussed. If the strike is to go ahead, I assure my hon. Friend that action has been taken by the relevant Department to ensure that a substantial amount of parking space will be available in London to enable as many people as possible to continue with their normal work.

Mrs. Beckett : Can the Prime Minister confirm that it is still his intention to increase VAT on gas and electricity from 8 per cent. to 17.5 per cent?

The Prime Minister : It is very interesting that the right hon. Lady does not want to discuss the question of a strike. [Interruption.] I think that the whole country will have noticed that that is the case and will probably understand precisely why. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has any changes in taxation plans, he will announce them in the usual way at the usual time.

Mrs. Beckett : Is not it the case that next year, with VAT up-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mrs. Beckett : Is not it the case that next year, with VAT up and tax allowances--including mortgage interest relief--cut, people will be paying more VAT, more national insurance and more income tax and, as a result, a typical British family who are paying £500 more tax this year will be paying £800 more tax next year?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Lady is so concerned about tax, perhaps she would like to make clear, as she indicated that she would a day or so ago, what her own tax proposals are. Does she want to raise higher taxes-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order and listen not only to questions, but to answers.

The Prime Minister : Does the right hon. Lady want to raise taxes for those people earning more than £60,000, like the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), or for those people earning more than £50,000, like the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), or for those people earning more than £40,000, like the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone)? Those are matters that the right hon. Lady ought to make clear to the House, if she is interested in taxation. She cannot hide from the results of her policies and her promises.

Mrs. Beckett : I can certainly tell the Prime Minister that we will vote against any such increase in VAT, but is not it still more evidence of the Government's sheer dishonesty that they are speaking about tax cuts at a time when the only things in the pipeline are tax increases for every British family? Does not the Conservative party realise that it is that sheer deception and dishonesty which have led directly to the biggest defeat suffered by the Conservative party in any national election?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Lady knows very well that day after day she and her hon. Friends make promises, with no indication of how those promises will be paid for. The shadow Chancellor then denies that there are promises. The right hon. Lady never indicates what the impact of her own promises and her own policies are. As the Government, we have to make decisions and carry them through ; she makes promises and runs away from them.

Mr. Brazier : Will my right hon. Friend give his personal attention to the threatened prosecution of a number of Falklands war veterans? Is not it wrong that a civilian court should hear a case, not to do with something that happened in a prisoner-of-war camp or a safe area, but arising from allegations about what happened in the heat of battle? We expect a great deal of our young soldiers and may have to ask it again of them one day. May I ask my right hon. Friend to give instructions to the Director of Public Prosecutions that that case should be speedily discontinued, in the public interest?

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister : I understand the strong feelings set out by my hon. Friend and the strong feelings of many people, but I do not think that it is an advisable principle for the Government to seek to instruct the DPP in that fashion. I do not think that that principle would be regarded as proper, whatever the circumstances.

Mr. Ashdown rose

Mr. Skinner : Yesterday's man. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I know that Members are pleased to see each other, but this is going over the top. I want to hear Mr. Ashdown.

Mr. Ashdown : I am glad that the Prime Minister agrees that these 15 minutes of Prime Minister's Question Time need to be reformed to make them more intelligible to us and make them more like what the British people say they would like to see, but will he now tell us what specific proposals he has for the House to consider?

The Prime Minister : As I have indicated to the House before, I believe that there is a widespread feeling that these 15 minutes could be more productively used, but I am conscious that on this occasion the Prime Minister of the day-- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer the question."] I will come directly to the point as to my personal view. Let me make another point first. I believe that it is right for the Prime Minister of the day to be here to respond to whatever questions may be put to him by Members. If the right hon. Gentleman asks for my personal view on the subject, I believe that it would be more appropriate if contemporary questions were tabled the night before, so that the Prime Minister of the day can deal with relevant matters.

I am prepared to answer whatever questions, in whatever fashion, may be put to me. However, I believe that there is a view among people in the country that we should be discussing more relevant matters than is sometimes the case during some of the exchanges that take place during Prime Minister's questions.

Mr. Nicholls : Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to study the survey by Manpower, which shows that job prospects are now at their best for the past four years? Is not the reason for that in large measure that we have not allowed the European Community to dictate our labour market policies? Is not it quite shameful that Labour Members of both this Parliament and the European Parliament are committed to destroying the very policies that have brought about that success?

The Prime Minister : Thankfully, unemployment has been falling for the past 15 months--by some 300,000--and I believe that that trend will continue, unlike in other countries in Europe. The significant difference between us and them is that we do not have the additional costs on employment that prevent so many people on the continent from finding jobs. Some 20 million people across Europe are unemployed ; only in this country has there been a significant drop in the unemployment level.

Madam Speaker : I call Mr. Robert Ainsworth. He is not here. Therefore, I call Mr. James Hill.

Mr. James Hill : This is an unusual event, but I am fortunate to be called. Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the extensive canvassing over the past two weeks, the issues raised were not education or the national health service, but the ways in which we could protect the public through our police and defence forces? Should not the Treasury team make that a priority and put more money into the police and defence forces as and when it becomes available?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that my right hon. Friends at the Treasury will have heard my hon. Friend's plea. There is no doubt about the concern about crime that is felt throughout the country. We are seeking to deal with that concern through legislation and other means and we shall continue to do so. The matter cannot readily be solved at the stroke of a legislative pen. However, it does require legislation and that is being provided, together with other areas of assistance to improve the fight against crime.


Q4. Mr. Keith Hill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 June.

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

Mr. Hill : If the Prime Minister can recall life before Labour's triumph last Sunday, does he remember telling television viewers last Wednesday that we were through the recession and that he was glad that the rich had become richer? Can he explain why, in my south London constituency, unemployment is higher than it was 12 months ago? What comfort can he offer my unemployed constituents who have become poorer?

The Prime Minister : I do not think that even the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be in any doubt about the fact that the recession is over and we are back in mature growth. They would also have noticed the falls in inflation, in interest rates and in unemployment throughout the country. I very much hope that that fall in unemployment will soon extend to Streatham, an area which I know extremely well. The hon. Gentleman, who also knows it well, will be aware that the policies of inner London councils in recent years have forced many employers out of inner London. That is one significant reason why, for many years, unemployment in areas such as Streatham has been higher than it otherwise would be. If the hon. Gentleman is proud of Lambeth council, I would be very surprised.


Q5. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 June.

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

Mr. Bruce : Is my right hon. Friend aware that despite large job losses in the Ministry of Defence, unemployment in my constituency fell 10 per cent. in the last quarter? Is not that a tribute to my constituents' positive action on job creation and to their refusal to take strike action? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the enemy of full employment is the strike, and that pious words on "Panorama" about full employment come ill from people who refused to cross picket lines just a few days previously?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. Actions speak louder than words and, thus far, we have seen that Opposition Members will not cross a picket line although they are prepared to talk about unemployment. [Interruption.] I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman, as ever, say that the Opposition are on the side of the strikers, whatever the circumstances may be. I hope that the whole country noted that. The reality is that strikes are outmoded and unnecessary and they penalise innocent bystanders. I regret that the Opposition were prepared to do that last week and are prepared to do so in respect of tomorrow's strike as well.