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1994 - PMQT 23rd June 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 23rd June 1994. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Quentin Davies : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I have been asked to reply.

This morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This afternoon, he is travelling to Corfu for the European Council. I understand that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is also in Corfu attending some kind of fringe meeting.

Mr. Davies : On the eve of the Corfu summit, does my right hon. Friend agree that Great Britain is leading the way in Europe in deregulation, privatisation, competitivity and growth, and, above all, the vital task of bringing down unemployment but that the Labour party would reverse all those things in very short order?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Those issues are very much at the top of the Corfu agenda as a result of the British Government's efforts to advance those causes in Europe over a long period of time. I am glad to say that the forthcoming German presidency will be pursuing the British objectives of competitiveness and deregulation in its policies towards Europe.

Mr. Nicholas Brown : Given that more than a million of our fellow citizens are on national health service waiting lists, can it really be the Secretary of State for Health's vision for the future to get rid of 50,000 hospital beds?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the effect of the Government's reforms on the health service has been greatly to increase the number of people treated and that NHS hospitals now treat 121 patients for every 100 treated before. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health drew attention to the possible continuation of those trends in future years, building on advances in treatment to treat yet more people.

Mr. Nicholas Brown : The Leader of the House has not really answered the question. Would it not be better to get rid of the waiting lists rather than getting rid of the hospital beds? Are not the cuts being driven by the Government's failure properly to manage public finances?

Mr. Newton : The changes are being driven by the Government's determination to get more patients treated more effectively with shorter waiting times, and the policies are succeeding ; if there is a failure, it is the failure of the Opposition to recognise the success of those policies.

Mr. Nicholas Brown : That will not do. We have had massive tax increases under the Conservatives since the last general election and the British people now face massive cuts in services. Why is it that in Tory Britain we have to pay a lot more to get a lot less?

Mr. Newton : The Government have consistently put additional resources in real terms into Britain's national health service. The result of those increased resources is an improving service treating more and more patients more effectively with shorter waiting times.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Can my right hon. Friend recall whether at any time in the past 15 years any Opposition Front-Bench spokesman has condemned any public sector strike?

Madam Speaker : Order. I gave a little homily only a few days ago, but I think I shall have to ask the Whips to hold weekend seminars to instruct Members on what Question Time is all about : it is to seek information on Government policies and to press for action.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether any public sector strike which would damage this country, and which has been condemned by the Government, has also been condemned by the Opposition? If not, should not the British public remember that at the next general election?

Mr. Newton : On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I can perhaps offer that the Whips will run a seminar on Corfu for the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) in the hope of getting from her the answer that we have conspicuously failed to get in the House.


Q2. Mr. Pickthall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Pickthall : Does the Leader of the House share the general pleasure that justice has been done in the case of Professor Tim Brighouse, who is to receive substantial damages from the Secretary of State for Education? Will he assure the House that not one penny of the damages or the costs will come from the taxpayer? Before his right hon. Friend leaves office shortly, will he urge him to apologise to all the other people involved in education whom he has gratuitously insulted over the past couple of years?

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend has straightforwardly apologised and agreed reparation for the remarks to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In my judgment, at least, the matter should be left there. It does not in any way affect my right hon. Friend's ability to advance the Government's very successful education policy.


Q3. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the Government's most successful policies is the right to buy, which has enabled more than 1.5 million former tenants to enjoy the benefits of owner-occupation? Is he further aware that over the past five years a further 250,000 homes have been privately let? Would it not be an excellent long-term investment if the Prime Minister exercised the right to buy No. 10 Downing Street?

Mr. Newton : I certainly share my hon. Friend's view that the right to buy has been a hugely successful policy over more than a decade now, together with the Government's successful policies to increase the amount of rented accommodation, and to tackle the problem of rough sleepers in London. As for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I do not know about the right to buy, but I am sure that he will exercise his right to extend the lease.


Q4. Mr. Mackinlay : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Mackinlay : Will the Lord President draw to the attention of the Prime Minister the problem--indeed, the scandal--of court cheats who have been instructed by judges to compensate the victims of their crimes, but who refuse to pay? Is he aware that about two thirds of victims who have had awards of compensation made in their favour against the criminal are not receiving a penny? Is it not time that the Government ceased to be mealy mouthed about the problem and took action to ensure that the victims get compensation and the courts pursue the criminal?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the general steps that the Government are taking to improve the detection of crime and the enforcement of the law. However, he made a slightly separate and very serious point, to which I shall respond appropriately. The right course is for me to invite the Home Secretary to examine the hon. Gentleman's remarks and to consider what response might be made.


Q5. Mr. Clappison : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Clappison : On the subject of the pursuit of the criminal, is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been a reduction of 16 per cent. in residential burglaries in the Metropolitan police area? Should not the good work of the police be supported by the courts handing down stiff prison sentences to house burglars? Is that not the message that we should be sending out, rather than arguing about whether prison works as the Opposition home affairs team do?

Mr. Newton : I whole-heartedly endorse the thoughts of my hon. Friend in terms of what needs to be done to continue and strengthen the fight against crime, not least burglaries. Happily, there are beginning to be some encouraging signs that the increase in crime is not irreversible. Alongside other things, there have been some welcome cases of a drop in the number of insurance claims--another sign of police success in the fight against crime.


Q6. Dr. Lynne Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Dr. Jones : Talking about fringe meetings, will the Lord President now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) and give the House a categorical assurance that not one penny of taxpayers' money will go to bail out the Secretary of State for Education, although Labour Members believe in the redistribution of wealth and would have no objection to the Cabinet having a whip round for their no doubt soon to be ex-colleague?

Mr. Newton : I have already commented on that and made it clear that it was a private matter.


Q7. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Sir Michael Neubert : Should we not pause to pay tribute to the astonishing turn of events that has brought the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Russia into a partnership for peace with NATO? Is there not a lesson to be drawn to the effect that our national security must be defended at all times by resolute and resourceful defence and that the best guarantee of that is a Conservative Government?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The agreement signed in Brussels yesterday is an important step forward and symbolises, if further symbolisation were needed, the changes that have been going on in the former Soviet Union and sets a new framework for peaceful co- operation between Russia and NATO. Russia is the 21st nation to sign the partnership for peace agreement. I agree with my hon. Friend that it illustrates the rewards that have come from the resolute stance that the Government have adopted.

Mr. Loyden : Will the Leader of the House remind the Prime Minister that the letter regarding MV Derbyshire that I sent to him about three weeks ago has not yet been answered? Does he agree that there is widespread concern in the House about the continuing absence of a Government response to questions and early-day motions on that matter? Will he convey to the Prime Minister the urgent need for a decision to be made so that the work now started can continue and, one hopes, result in a final exposition of the reasons why the MV Derbyshire sank?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman is probably aware of the position. As I said in business questions last week, I well understand the concern of those involved. The chief inspector of marine accidents is to request findings and results of the search from the International Transport Federation. On examination of that material, the chief inspector will advise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport whether there is justification for reopening the investigation. That measured way is the right way in which to proceed.


Q8. Mr. Brazier : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 June.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Brazier : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at a time when our regular armed forces are facing yet another round of reductions, many of us are deeply concerned that we may also be looking at a further substantial cut in the Territorial Army? Is it not true that the last two major conflicts in which we have been involved--the Falklands and the Gulf--both came from nowhere and both happened at short notice and without any warning? Surely the most cost-effective way of maintaining a reserve for the unexpected at a low level of cost is by maintaining strong, well-equipped and well-trained volunteer reserve forces.

Mr. Newton : The Government whole-heartedly agree with my hon. Friend about the need for increased use of the reserves and share the importance that he attaches to them. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has instituted a pilot scheme, under which he is addressing the possibility of bringing the reserve forces legislation up to date. On the wider issue, I can only repeat what my right hon. and learned Friend and others have said on a number of occasions : that the purpose of the exercise on which the Government are engaged is generally to ensure the maximum emphasis on our front-line forces, and the capabilities about which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) is concerned, and to ensure that we do not spend unnecessary amounts on support services at the expense of those front-line forces.

Mr. Tony Banks : Referring back to those soon to be ex-colleagues, does the Lord President believe that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) will still be leader of the Conservative party at Christmas and that he himself will still be in the Cabinet?

Mr. Newton : I have already referred to my expectation that my right hon. Friend will renew his lease, as I put it, on No.10 Downing street. On the other matters, I am always confident of my right hon. Friend's judgment.