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1994 - PMQT 21st June 1994

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Robathan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 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. Robathan : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the real concern throughout the country caused by the continuing reduction in our defence capabilities, as illustrated yesterday by the leak about the defence costs study? Can he reassure his hon. Friends that he will never allow the growth of expenditure on social security to undermine our national security?

The Prime Minister : I can reassure my hon. Friend that the "Front Line First" programme will do nothing to reduce the fighting effectiveness of our armed forces or our ability to undertake defence commitments. I assure him that our commitment to effective front-line forces remains undiminished. The purpose of the "Front Line First" study is to ensure that money spent on defence administration and support is kept to a minimum. That is a sensible aim, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will join me in achieving it.

Mrs. Beckett : Will the Prime Minister confirm that a member of his staff attended a crucial meeting of the Railtrack board last weekend?

The Prime Minister : A member of my policy unit attended a meeting in Whitehall, at the invitation of the Department of Transport, in order to inform me. The negotiations are between Railtrack and the unions. As the right hon. Lady raises the question, perhaps she will now take the opportunity, at the third time of asking, to condemn the strike.

Mrs. Beckett rose

Hon. Members : Answer.

Mrs. Beckett rose -- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House will come to order.

Mrs. Beckett : I think that we can take that answer as a yes, so we now know that the Department of Transport interfered in the negotiations, although it said that it had not, and that the Prime Minister's office meddled in the negotiations, although it said that it would not. Does not it stand out a mile that the dispute would not be happening if the negotiations had not been sabotaged by the Government?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Lady is being ludicrous. The policy unit attends meetings throughout Whitehall, with a watching brief. It takes no part in negotiations that, as the chairman of Railtrack has made clear, are between him and the unions. However much the right hon. Lady tries, she cannot hide the fact that she will not condemn a strike that puts hundreds of thousands of commuters at risk, when hundreds of thousands of other public service workers have settled for pay increases, far below 3 per cent., which can be afforded. As ever, she is the strikers' friend.

Mrs. Beckett : What is completely clear is that no one wants this strike-- [Interruption.] --except, perhaps, Conservative Members-- least of all rail staff and commuters. Is not it crystal clear that it is happening only because the Government interfered? Yet again, the Prime Minister has caused what he now condemns. Yet again, the Government are saying one thing and doing another. Is not that why nobody can believe a word they say?

The Prime Minister : This has happened because there is an 11 per cent. wage demand which, by implication, the right hon. Lady would accept. Even now, her condemnation is limply to say that nobody wants this strike; she will not condemn it. She would, presumably, end it by meeting the demand. She backs that extra spending. I remind her that last week, she criticised tax increases. A week later, she calls for more public spending. How would she pay for the settlement--by raising taxes, by increasing public expenditure? The hypocrisy in this case rests with the Opposition. The right hon. Lady still will not condemn the strike. To quote her, that is twice she has refused to answer on condemning the strike. Will she now condemn it, yes or no?


Q2. Mrs. Gillan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 June.

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

Mrs. Gillan : Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 40 per cent. of those recently arrested as part of Operation Bumblebee were on bail? Does not that underline how wise our Government are in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must settle down.

Mrs. Gillan : It will not have escaped the House that the Opposition find law and order so funny. How wise the Government were to crack down on bail bandits in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. As three out of five burglaries are committed by people who are under 21, perhaps the Opposition would care to explain why they oppose policies against juvenile offenders so consistently. Is not that proof that the Labour party is Fagin's friend?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend has shown with the figures she has used, there is no doubt that far too many people have been abusing the right to bail. Once the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill becomes law, a person who is charged with a serious offence committed on bail will lose the right to bail. That is entirely right. If that person is then convicted, the court can reflect the fact that the offence was committed while the person was on bail. Operation Bumblebee has been a huge success. It has shown that by targeting crime, one can bring it down. What is equally encouraging is that the last quarter's crime figures show crime down by 9 per cent.

Mr. Ashdown : Does not the atrocity in Loughinisland over the weekend prove that when it comes to evil, there is nothing to chose between the murderers on one side of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland and the murderers on the other? I remind the Prime Minister, once again, that the gunmen thrive when a political vacuum exists. Will he confirm that he understands the importance, when he meets the Irish Prime Minister in Corfu on Friday, of regaining, again, the initiative for peace through political progress in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt that the murder of six people in Loughinisland on Saturday evening was a vicious and depraved act of brutality. Whether it is so-called Loyalists murdering Catholics or the IRA murdering Loyalists, it is equally indefensible by any possible measure. The right hon. Gentleman is right to stress the need for political movement and political settlement. I am in constant contact both with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland and with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. I will certainly discuss the matter further with the Taoiseach when we meet over the weekend.

Mr. Hicks : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the inherent reticence and tolerance of the people of Devon and Cornwall is becoming increasingly exasperated by the inability or refusal of the Government to do anything to alleviate the growing water charges in the area? Does my right hon. Friend recall that it was 12 months ago that he personally said that he would look at this situation? When can we expect some positive news on that front?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend will be aware that it is for the Director General of the Office of Water Services to determine-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members would do well to wait. It is for the Director General of Ofwat to determine the new price limits and he is in the process of doing so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has published advice on quality matters. That will assist the director general in setting new price limits. We are looking, as I have said, to see what can be done with requirements made under European Community directives to reduce the impact in the west country. We have already found and announced, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) should have known, ways in which to hold down the cost of some of the directives. Other ways are still being examined.


Q3. Mr. Nigel Griffiths : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 June.

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

Mr. Griffiths : Why does the Prime Minister permit water disconnections in England and Wales, but not in Scotland?

The Prime Minister : Is the hon. Gentleman asking for water disconnections in Scotland?


Q4. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 June.

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

Mr. Townsend : Does my right hon. Friend agree that since "Options for Change" was prepared, the world has become more turbulent and less certain? Bearing in mind the fact that the French, who have roughly similar international defence commitments, have recently agreed to up their defence budget, would my right hon. Friend be prepared to look at the planned defence cut of £1 billion in 1996?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend will know, in cash, the French spend broadly the same as we do, although, of course, they have a conscript army in France as compared with the professional Army that we have in the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, through the "Front Line First" defence costs study, we aim to maximise the proportion of defence resources allocated to the front line. I believe that that is the right way in which to determine our defence expenditure, unlike the Opposition, who scream "cuts", but would halve defence expenditure and would, no doubt, if they had the opportunity, also scrap our nuclear capacity.


Q5. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 June.

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

Mr. Michie : Is the Prime Minister aware that, next week, on 30 June, a delegation of health workers and friends, supported by Sheffield Members of Parliament, will be protesting about the closure of the Royal Hallamshire hospital accident and emergency unit in Sheffield? As this is a matter of life and death, will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will not wash his hands of that issue, but tell the quangos, which his Government have set up, to stop paying high salaries to bureaucrats and to pay for services for the people?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows of the increased resources that have gone into services for the people. I do not have to hand the details of the particular case that he has in mind, but I have no doubt that, now he has raised it, my right hon. Friend will examine it.

Mr. David Howell : Reverting to the horrific killings in Northern Ireland and bearing in mind that there has been some talk lately of a return to internment, does my right hon. Friend recognise, before considering that drastic solution, that there is an opportunity for a concerted and greatly enhanced security drive and for a strengthening of legal and intelligence resources applied against terrorism? If that is done on both sides of the border--in Dublin, and in Belfast and London--we have a chance of beating the terrorism, without which there will be no political solution.

The Prime Minister : As my right hon. Friend knows, the power of internment remains on the statute book, but would be used only in very special circumstances. Co-operation on security and intelligence matters has improved dramatically over the past few years. It is a matter of constant discussion between the British Government and the Irish Government so that we can ensure that whatever further improvements can be made will be made and precisely for the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend.


Q6. Mr. Welsh : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 June.

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

Mr. Welsh : Is the Prime Minister aware that Scottish Tories are revolting? [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] Led by the Scottish Office Minister responsible for industry, they are scared that percentage levels of VAT on domestic fuel will soon be higher than Tory poll ratings in Scotland. Will the Prime Minister now listen to the voices speaking in his direction? Will the message to the Prime Minister from the revolting Tories meet with any success?

The Prime Minister : I am not sure that I see it as the hon. Gentleman does. As he is clearly concerned about the position in Scotland, I remind him that the figures that emerged yesterday in Scotland from Locate in Scotland, the inward investment bureau, show that Scotland attracted more inward investment in the last financial year than at any time since 1981. Ninety-five projects are planned, worth almost £600 million creating 7,700 jobs and safeguarding 3,000 others. That has happened under a Conservative Government in this country improving the quality of opportunity for people in Scotland, whatever gloss the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) may care to put on it.