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1994 - PMQT 28th June 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 28th June 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Gillan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 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.

Mrs. Gillan : Will my right hon. Friend forgive me for injecting a little ray of sunshine so early in today's proceedings by drawing his attention to the economic forecast published this morning by the Treasury, which shows prospects of steady growth coupled with low inflation? Does he agree that that highlights the success of our economic policies and further shows that the policies of the Labour party, with their limitless public spending, would damage the economy, damage jobs and damage our businesses?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right to be cheerful about the forecast this morning. Growth is higher and inflation is lower. We now have a clear chance of sustainable growth with low inflation for the period ahead.

That is extremely good news for the British economy. It is a chance that lies ahead of us and we have no intention of letting it slip.

Mrs. Beckett : Does the Prime Minister agree with what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said in Barcelona yesterday--that in Spain family ties are stronger and there is a greater spirit of local community than in Britain?

The Prime Minister : I do not have the same knowledge of Spain as my right hon. Friend has, but I can say that my right hon. Friend made an excellent speech in Spain yesterday--an excellent and serious speech and one of a series that have been made by my right hon. Friends, addressing problems of concern to everyone in this country.

Mrs. Beckett : As the Prime Minister has in effect endorsed the Chief Secretary's speech, I must presume that he agrees. After 15 years of Conservative Government, if family life in Britain is undermined, why does the Prime Minister think that that is the case?

The Prime Minister : All my right hon. Friends are concerned about the role of the family and how to maintain it. For us, family values and family life are central not only to our national life but to the existence of each and every person in this country. What my right hon. Friend has made clear and is self-evidently the case-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I will have order in this House.

The Prime Minister : What my right hon. Friend has made clear--I think that this is the kind of matter that we ought to be able to discuss without the sort of interpretation that the right hon. Lady puts on it--is that there are many areas of family life which are not the concern of Government and in which the Government are not the best arbiter. We have a responsibility for providing some vital services such as education, health and others, but the reality is that the essence of family life lies within the family itself. My right hon. Friend was right to draw attention to that.

Mrs. Beckett : It seems to me that the Prime Minister has yet again endorsed what the Chief Secretary said. I shall put to him for the second time what I put to him a moment ago. Why does he feel that family life and the spirit of community in Britain have been undermined in the 15 years his Government have been in power? I remind him of what he said in Los Angeles last year. He said : "We have been here for 14 years. There is no one else to blame for anything else that has gone wrong."

Is not that the most truthful thing that he has said in years?

The Prime Minister : I think that the right hon. Lady has perhaps not read my right hon. Friend's speech in full. If she had..

Mrs. Beckett indicated assent.

The Prime Minister : Well, I would be surprised if she had read it, but, if she says she has, she clearly did not understand it. If she had read it, she would no doubt have seen the rest of my right hon. Friend's speech. He made an excellent case for free trade, deregulation and economic policies which encourage innovation and self-respect. He made the point clearly that only if we do that can we sustain the genuine services necessary to sustain the family and those in genuine need. I note the right hon. Lady's strong support for the welfare state. Perhaps she will set out the areas that she would seek to improve, and how she would propose to finance that improvement.


Q2. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 June.

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

Mr. Gill : My right hon. Friend will appreciate the difficulty that there will be in justifying an increase in Britain's contribution to the European Community budget at a time when our defence budget is being drastically pruned. Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the existing difficulties in explaining why soldiers, sailors and airmen are being made redundant at the same time as people working in the black economy continue to live at the expense of the taxpayers, drawing benefits to which they are neither entitled nor have earned?

The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's concern to stamp out social security fraud, and that is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has stepped up the fight against it. We are looking, for example, at the possibility of introducing personalised cards as one of the methods of ensuring that we minimise and, I hope, eradicate social security fraud against the taxpayer.

As far as the first half of my hon. Friend's question is concerned, he will no doubt be aware of the agreement that I reached in Edinburgh on the future financing of the Community, which set clear and rigorous limits, not for the traditional five years of an agreement but for seven years of an agreement, and at a lower rate of increase than in the past. It also safeguarded the British rebate which was at some risk from our European partners. That was money which we had to fight hard to keep. I might add that, had we not had a veto, we might not have been able to keep that money.

Mr. Ashdown : Given the present economic situation, is the Prime Minister opposed to further steps to increase the independence of the Bank of England?

The Prime Minister : I have made my view clear that I am not at this moment in favour of further steps to increase the independence of the Bank of England.

Sir Cranley Onslow : If the signalmen's strike is not settled soon, will my right hon. Friend consider making a ministerial broadcast on the subject--however much it might embarrass the Opposition to find someone willing to accept the right of reply?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has finally broken cover on the subject of the strike, even though the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) has been notably silent. The hon. Gentleman has said that he supports the strike, and so do 40 of his Back-Bench colleagues. It will be interesting to see whether any of the leadership contenders do the same. After all, 40 votes are 40 votes.


Q3. Mr. Hoon : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 June.

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

Mr. Hoon : Is the Prime Minister reminded of the career of Frederick Augustus of York, who lost his job as commander in chief following a disastrous European campaign? Is not the Prime Minister's problem that he is neither up with those who make and shape European policy, and is too often down with those who would have Britain leave the European Union? Is not it the case that the Government's policy, like the grand old Duke of York, staggers from one crisis to the next and fails to protect Britain's longer-term interests?

The Prime Minister : I think that, from a party that would abandon the veto, talk of protecting Britain's long-term interests will sound pretty hollow to most people in this country. The Opposition's European policy is to find out what the others want and then agree with it so that they can claim not to be in a minority. I have been able to discover not one area of originality in their European policy. We have set out and will continue to set out our own vision of how Europe should develop. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) will be surprised at the echo, right across Europe, of the nature of the European Community which we wish to develop.


Q4. Mr. Duncan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 June.

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

Mr. Duncan : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming yesterday's announcement that parental choice will be extended by allowing the expansion of popular schools and grammar schools? Is he further aware that, despite their blurred rhetoric, the Opposition are still committed to the abolition of grant-maintained schools, hate grammar schools, and would deny parents the choice to which they are entitled?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, the Opposition dislike choice of almost any sort--they have a difficult choice to make in the next few weeks. Yesterday's announcement is excellent news for parents, giving them more choice and letting good schools grow. I regret the fact that the Opposition have such a negative education policy--the abolition of grant- maintained schools ; the abolition of training and enterprise councils; the abolition of the assisted places scheme; the abolition of teacher training reform ; and the abolition of performance tables. They would abolish everything that would provide more information for parents and a better education for children. However much they may dislike it, they should remember how they cut education budgets when they were in Government. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) came into Government because her predecessor declined to make cuts. She came into Government to cut.

Dr. Godman : The Prime Minister knows of the derailment of a train in Greenock on Saturday night. The driver--a young man from Glasgow--and a young lad from Greenock were killed instantly. They were murdered by murderous individuals who placed concrete slabs on the line. Since then, two copycat incidents have taken place in Cumbernauld and Duddingston, fortunately with no loss of life. Will the Prime Minister and his Transport Ministers assure the House today that Railtrack will do everything in its power to eliminate such murderous behaviour? Will they assure us that the safety and school liaison units will not be reduced, as some people fear, but given an enhanced educational role to reduce, if not eliminate, such terrible acts against train crews and passengers?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing my condolences to the family of the driver, Mr. McKee, and to Mr. Nicol, the passenger, who were so tragically killed. As the hon. Gentleman said, it appears to be an act of mindless vandalism that has resulted in the death of two entirely innocent people. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Strathclyde police are conducting an inquiry into the incident and treating it as murder. In addition, Railtrack and British Rail are conducting a joint investigation. The Health and Safety Executive inspector has already visited the site and the railway inspectorate is working alongside in the investigation. We will do all that we can to eliminate the possibility of such incidents in future and bring to book those responsible for this one.


Q5. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 June.

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

Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is no coincidence that, as soon as the chattering classes start to talk up the possibility of a future Labour Government, trade union militants start to rear their ugly heads? Does not the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers strike provide a timely reminder of what has always happened under Labour Governments and what would happen under a future Labour Government? Does my right hon. Friend agree that what the House really wants to know is where Bambi stands on the rail strike?

Hon. Members : Where is he?

The Prime Minister : I am prepared to take responsibility for the opinion of many people, but not for that of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). He must answer for himself, when and if he returns to the House. [Interruption.] I think that most people will have noticed that the contenders for the leadership of the Labour party, although addressing every conference that presents itself up and down the country, will not be addressing the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers conference. One of them is sponsored by it. They seem happy to take its money, but unwilling to address it.

Mr. Jack Thompson : The Prime Minister is very keen to express his views on choice, and especially on market testing. Will he consider market testing his Government by having an election?

The Prime Minister : Certainly, in 1996 or 1997--and we shall win it.