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1995 - PMQT 10th January 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 10th January 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Ms Corston: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 January.

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.

Ms Corston: Does the Prime Minister agree that it is totally unacceptable for the Government or for any individual Minister to hide behind Britain's laudable ban of the veal crate system while turning a blind eye to the annual export of hundreds of thousands of calves, knowing full well that they will spend their short lives in wooden boxes in the dark?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has done more than most people in this country to try to change the laws right across Europe to deal with veal. Both he and I would like to see less trade in live animals and more in carcase form. But, as the hon. Lady will know, there is a long tradition of Agriculture Ministers having farming interests, which they rightly stand back from when they are Agriculture Ministers. What the hon. Lady did not mention was that my right hon. Friend's farm is managed on a day-to-day basis by a farm management company headed by a Labour Front-Bench spokesman in the House of Lords.


Q2. Mr. David Evans: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 January.

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

Mr. Evans: Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members want to wish him and his family a very happy and prosperous new year? Is it the Conservative party that wants to put VAT on school fees, split up the United Kingdom with devolution plans, or nationalise utilities under clause IV, or is it the lot opposite, led by Bambi, with his 60 quid-a-week haircut, who sends his son to a grant-maintained school when his party want to abolish them? Is there anything more dishonourable than that? I do not think so. [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister: I can tell, Madam Speaker, that this is going to be an uncontroversial Session of Parliament. My hon. Friend leads us in that direction. Clearly, the policy-making activities of the principal opposition party are running into some difficulties at the moment. I do not think that many people are quite sure who these days is forming Labour policy on education, health, energy and other subjects. The closer one examines Labour policy, the more it falls apart. My hon. Friend should not object to that; he should lie back and enjoy it.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister agree that any attempt by the rail regulator under privatisation to cut through-ticketing, with the result that people may have to travel 50 miles to get a train ticket, would be utterly unacceptable, and will he, if necessary, intervene to stop such an attempt?

The Prime Minister: As the Secretary of State for Transport said the other day, and as I am happy to reaffirm, we have repeatedly made clear our commitment to maintaining through-ticketing.

Through-ticketing should continue to be available from a wide range of outlets, to meet passengers' needs. The regulator, like other regulators, is by law independent, but the Secretary of State has powers to give him guidance under the Railways Act 1993. The regulator is bound to take account of such guidance, but at this stage, prior to the issue of a consultation document, the question of guidance is entirely premature.

Mr. Blair: If the Prime Minister has no power to prevent the regulator from introducing such an arrangement--what he has described is merely guidance--will he undertake that if the regulator makes such proposals he will direct the franchising director not to offer a franchise to any of the 25 companies unless it offers a complete through-ticket service?

The Prime Minister: As I have told the right hon. Gentleman, I am at least as committed to through-ticketing as he is. He is trying yet again to have it both ways. The Labour party complains routinely that the Government should have more powers over the regulator, but if we had such direct powers it would complain about Government interference, as it did during the rail strike.

Mr. Blair: I shall tell the Government what we complain of--the railway system being sold off instead of being used as a proper public service. If the Prime Minister cannot guarantee through-ticketing, and if he is prepared to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on a privatisation that people do not want, when the public rightly fear that it will be used to produce the same pay excesses as exist in other privatised utilities, why does he not accept, as this country does, that our party's campaign to halt the privatisation is right, and that the railways should be retained as a proper integrated public service?

The Prime Minister: If privatisation is as bad as the right hon. Gentleman says, why will he not commit himself to renationalisation of British Rail? After 50 years of nationalisation, is he really satisfied with the present rail service? Can he name any time at which the service was satisfactory? If not, why does he oppose changes that will make it satisfactory? The Labour party has opposed every privatisation. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman what Labour said about other privatisations. It said that British Airways would be

"the pantomime horse of capitalism if it is anything at all".

British Airways is the most efficient airline in the world. I have a stack of similar quotations for the right hon. Gentleman, about every privatisation. Privatisation works; we are privatising rail and there will be a better service.

Mr. Dover: What hope can the Prime Minister give to the oppressed people of Chechnya, in view of the determination of President Dudayev and of the Chechnen people?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that anyone doubts that a tragedy has been taking place in Chechnya in recent weeks. Chechnya is indisputably part of the Russian Federation, and the long-standing revolt that has taken place there under local leadership has posed serious problems. I share my hon. Friend's implicit concern about the way in which the problem has been handled in recent weeks and about the bombardment that has led to so many civilian casualties. As with other allies, we have expressed our concerns directly to the Russian Government. Most recently, the Foreign Secretary saw the Russian ambassador this morning.


Q3. Mr. Beith: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 January.

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

Mr. Beith: Under this Government, can any Cabinet Minister claim that he is responsible only for the policy of his Department and not for its operational failings, however many there are and however many have been preceded by warnings from those in a position to know that things are going wrong? Is not good government about running things properly? What will happen to Ministers who have proved not to have done that?

The Prime Minister: The Secretary of State concerned is responsible for the policy of a Department, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made clear in the illustration to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. Operational matters fall into a different category, as has been the case for many years. The right hon. Gentleman is clearly referring to recent gaol escapes, and he will know that during the past 20 or 30 years there have been a large number of incidents under Governments of both major parties, and also a Government involving the Liberal party. Such incidents have occurred without making necessary the resignation of the appropriate Secretary of State.


Q4. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 January.

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

Mr. Townsend: Recalling that neither my right hon. Friend nor myself voted for the Second Reading of the War Crimes Act 1991, and noting that the funding for the special war crimes unit at New Scotland Yard is to be wound up at the end of March, will my right hon. Friend consider drawing stumps on the whole grisly business? It must be perfectly obvious that not a single person will ever be successfully prosecuted under that expensive Act.

The Prime Minister: It was recognised from the outset that the police investigations into serious crimes which were committed a long time ago would be difficult. I understand that the police investigations will be completed by the end of March this year. The decision therefore on whether or not to prosecute will be made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who will be advised by the Director of Public Prosecutions. I prefer to await that advice before saying more.

Mr. Janner: Does the Prime Minister agree that, in the matter of war crimes, we are talking about personal involvement in mass murder? As the House has repeatedly approved the principle in the War Crimes Act, will he confirm that if--but only if--there is sufficient evidence against individuals of complicity in that murder, they will be prosecuted no matter how long they have managed to evade justice?

The Prime Minister: I think that that was implicit in the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) a moment ago, when I made clear that a decision on whether or not to prosecute will not be a political decision. The decision will be made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General upon the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions.


Q5. Mr. Colin Shepherd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 January.

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

Mr. Shepherd: Does my right hon. Friend agree that a full range of educational opportunity is of the utmost importance to the citizens of this country? Is not it clear from the utterances of the past few days that the old, nasty Labour party is waiting to leap out, given half a chance?

The Prime Minister: I am not altogether sure that it has not already leapt out during the past few days. We have seen the quickest U-turn in history about a tax on school fees, the education spokesman unfortunately not being told what the education policies really are; and Opposition spokesmen in open disagreement about a graduate tax and a range of other totally and utterly vindictive education policies. Those policies will show everyone where the Labour party stands on equality of choice, opportunity and freedom.


Q6. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 January.

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

Mr. O'Brien: Is the Prime Minister aware of the concern that has been expressed by many fire service authorities about reductions in their expenditure, which may bring about a danger to property and to life? May I warn him of the situation in West Yorkshire? There has been a £3.2 million cut in expenditure, which could mean a reduction of 116 firefighters in West Yorkshire. Will the Prime Minister take action to ensure that we have continuity of service which will help in the protection of property and life in West Yorkshire in particular, and across the country in general?

The Prime Minister: Of course the fire service is immensely important. Of course we will make a judgment that we believe will ensure that it can be adequately available to all people who are likely to need it. I am not immediately familiar with the particular circumstances of West Yorkshire. It would be surprising were I to be so. I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend to look particularly at that in the light of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Kynoch: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposal for a Scottish Parliament put forward by the Labour party must inevitably lead to higher taxes and costs for businesses, particularly in Scotland? Does he further agree that if that is so, it will inevitably be the first stage on the slippery slope towards the break-up of the United Kingdom--something which the Labour party seems to be intent on achieving?

The Prime Minister: I fully understand the many people in Scotland and, indeed, in Wales, who believe that a tax-raising assembly may be of assistance to them. I passionately believe, in their interests, that that is a mistaken judgment. I do not believe that the degree of investment that has gone into Scotland and Wales would continue if those investing there had the unique advantage of being more highly taxed than people in other parts of the United Kingdom. I see a great danger of businesses uprooting themselves and moving away from Scotland.

I have seen no answers yet to the West Lothian question, which the Leader of the Opposition apparently failed to understand when he was asked about it at a press conference yesterday. I have no doubt that the sort of devolution proposed by the Labour party would do immense damage, first to the people of Scotland, secondly to the people of Wales--although they would apparently have a lesser form of devolution--and above all to everyone throughout the United Kingdom.