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1994 - PMQT 27th October 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 27th October 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 October.

The Prime Minister (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. Cunningham: Can the Prime Minister end speculation in today's London Evening Standard naming an individual as the person who either tipped the Prime Minister off or acted as the intermediary in allegations against Ministers?

The Prime Minister: As I have said on a previous occasion, the person concerned came to see me privately and in good faith. I have no intention of offering a name. The note of my meeting with my informant has been passed, as I told the House the other day, to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the name is known to her. It is for her to decide how to proceed, and I understand that she has now passed the papers to the Metropolitan police.

Mr. David Howell: Does my right hon. Friend accept that his decision to set up an independent and powerful committee to inquire into the conduct of public life is warmly welcomed? Does he also accept that certain areas of conduct should be reserved to the House to look after? Will he therefore continue to resist most strongly the immature and inexperienced proposal of the Leader of the Opposition that the Select Committee on Privileges should meet in public, which would create a lynch trial kangaroo court atmosphere that every democrat should abhor?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend speaks with great knowledge of these matters, and I share the opinion that he has expressed.

As for the committee that I have established, I have made it clear to the House that I am not prepared to see confidence in elected or unelected public servants undermined by the public parading of unsubstantiated slurs and innuendo. It is precisely for that reason that I have set up the committee on the conduct of public life. I look to Opposition Members, who, I understand, support the initiative, to join me in ensuring that the committee is able to work successfully. I also look to them to ensure the ending of the continual peddling of gossip and rumour.

Mr. Blair: Now that today we have another report by the Cabinet Secretary exonerating another Minister, can we make ourselves clear about the basis on which the Prime Minister is running the Government? A week ago, he said that there were unsubstantiated allegations against his Trade Minister and insisted that he stayed. A few days later, there were allegations that were supposed to be unfounded, as he called them, and he insisted that the Minister concerned went. Now there are new unsubstantiated allegations against the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and he stays. What is the basis on which the Prime Minister decides to retain or dismiss his Ministers--the truth of the allegations or merely the number of them?

The Prime Minister: I had understood that when the right hon. Gentleman became leader of the Labour party we were going to see a new style in politics. I had not expected to see the right hon. Gentleman step down into the gutters of public life quite so soon. Let me make it clear to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman--I set out my position concerning my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) and for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) in my statement to the House the other day and I have nothing further to say. As for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, the examination shows that there is nothing for them to answer to, and the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) should be ashamed of using the privilege of the House to raise those matters in this way.

Mr. Blair: As the Prime Minister knows perfectly well, I have not said that I agree with the allegations against anyone. The idea that, after the resignation of two Ministers in a week, the Opposition should not be entitled to ask questions, is absurd. Cannot the Prime Minister see that the problem will not be resolved unless he understands that the Butler reports are plainly inadequate as, on his own admission, Sir Robin Butler is not able to see the person making the complaints, Mr. Al Fayed, he has forbidden the Nolan committee to look at the allegations, the Privileges Committee is deadlocked because Conservative Members want it to sit in private-- [Interruption.] I repeat, because Conservative Members want to sit in private. The Prime Minister will take a grip on the problem only when he understands that there has to be a proper method of investigating Mr. Al Fayed's allegations that has the public's confidence, which means an open, full investigation in public view.

The Prime Minister: Now there is no doubt. We now know where we are with the right hon. Gentleman and we know precisely what way he plans to play his politics. The right hon. Gentleman says to the House that he does not believe that the allegations are substantiated, yet he is still prepared to peddle them in here. The whole House will have noticed that he is prepared to peddle them. There is only one thing stopping the Privileges Committee from proceeding: the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends will not attend that Committee, which is wholly against all precedent in the House. The right hon. Gentleman is a lawyer; he knows that investigations take place in private and when those matters are over, debate takes place in public. He would change that for his own party advantage. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened, he would have heard that the documents relating to Mr. Al Fayed's allegations were passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions and have now been passed by her, after examination, to the Metropolitan police for examination. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman cannot imagine that I shall add to that.

Mr. Blair: With all due respect, the Prime Minister is not being asked to add to it. It is not me; it is-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I must have some order in the House.

Mr. Blair: It was not I, but the Prime Minister who dismissed two Ministers. Furthermore, the normal procedure in courts of law is that hearings are held in public. No Opposition Members are saying whether the allegations are true or false--merely that they should be investigated. Why will the Prime Minister not allow the investigations to be held in public?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman says that the matters may not be true and may be unsubstantiated gossip; yet he wants them peddled in public so that people's reputations-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I shall have order from both sides of the House.

The Prime Minister: Despite the fact that the right hon. Gentleman does not believe the allegations and does not believe that there is anything substantial in them, he still wants to see them examined in public. People will ask for what party political reason he wants to see them established in public. If that is to be the new, clean politics, let us have the old, dirty politics from Labour that we have been used to.

Mr. Sumberg: Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read the report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution from traffic? Does it not dictate an urgent review of the roads programme, and in particular the abandonment of the disastrous M62 relief road which has caused so much damage in my constituency?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend, with the ingenuity that we have come to expect of him, has continued his campaign of concern about the M62. I think that the report by the Royal Commission on environmental pollution is a useful one, and we shall be studying it closely. It contains many very helpful things--although there are some parts of it which are uncosted and which would be better for having been costed.

Mr. Ashdown: Will the Prime Minister confirm that the two Ministers who have been forced to resign from the Government in the past week will receive £3,500 each in redundancy payments for their pains?

The Prime Minister: As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman voted for the legislation which requires that.

Mr. Walker: Does my right hon. Friend-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Back Benchers are as entitled as Front Benchers to a little quiet in this House.

Mr. Walker: Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many of us believe that there is a deliberate campaign, based on unfounded allegations, to discredit this Government and him? Is he aware that one of the advantages of Select Committees sitting in private, when required, is that their discussions cannot be debated on the Floor of the House before the reports have been fully submitted and details of all the evidence made available?

The Prime Minister: It has been well understood for many years in this House that Select Committees, when carrying out investigations, sit under the cloak of parliamentary privilege. That is one reason why they have decided for many years to investigate matters in private. Of course, when the investigations are completed, it is right that the report should be published--and it will be. It is also right that the report should be debated--and it will be. All our predecessors in this House have always agreed, in the interests of natural justice, that those Committees should meet and examine matters in private.


Q2. Mr. Raynsford: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 October.

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

Mr. Raynsford: As the Prime Minister confirmed on Tuesday, and again just a few moments ago, that a note of the approaches made to his office by agents of Mr. Al Fayed had been passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and now to the Metropolitan police, does he feel that it would be proper for the Conservative party to repay the £250,000 that it has received from Mr. Al Fayed?

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman has lived up to his reputation.


Q3. Mr. Spring: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 October.

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

Mr. Spring: Is my right hon. Friend aware of just how welcome the new strategy to combat drugs is to thousands of concerned parents throughout the country? Does he agree that the way to tackle this issue most effectively is in local communities, to destroy the cancer of drug abuse which has tragically blighted the lives of so many young people across the industrialised world?

The Prime Minister: I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about the appalling damage that is done to young people by drugs, and I know how much he has done in his constituency to tackle the problem. Including the costs of police and education time, we spend in total about £500 million a year on tackling drug abuse. I entirely agree that we need to ensure that those resources, and indeed all efforts, are deployed as effectively as possible. We believe that that will best be done by implementing the proposals in the report by my right hon. Friend the Lord President and by making sure that action is taken in schools and by the drug action teams.

Mr. Salmond: The Prime Minister has achieved a welcome success from his policy in Northern Ireland, which has hinged on the principle of consent--the right of people in the north of Ireland to determine their own future. For the avoidance of any doubt, will he confirm that he also believes in the right of self-determination for the Scottish nation?

The Prime Minister: Every nation has always had that right. The hon. Gentleman is clearly talking about a tax-raising devolved Parliament in Scotland, and he well knows my view about that. I am sure that he would benefit from reading the speeches that I made during the 1992 election campaign; if he had done so, he would not have needed to ask his question.