Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1995 - PMQT 12th January 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th January 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Colin Shepherd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. 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. Shepherd: Is the Prime Minister aware that his firm stance on the integrity of the United Kingdom is widely appreciated? Does he agree that if English Members of Parliament were unable to vote on Scottish issues, our constituents would want to know why Scottish Members of Parliament could vote on English matters which affect them?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises a question that has been raised in the House on many occasions when devolution has been discussed in the past. There has never been a satisfactory answer to that question and, indeed, there is no satisfactory answer to it. If certain matters were devolved to a Parliament in any part of the kingdom and that Parliament were to have exclusive responsibility for them, then Members of Parliament from that part of the United Kingdom could not vote in this House on those issues affecting other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Blair: If devolution is such a dangerous proposal, why did the right hon. Gentleman and his party stand on such a policy in the 1974 election?

The Prime Minister: Our party does not stand on such a policy. It is dangerous and, as I have indicated, I believe that the nature of devolution, with a tax-raising Assembly, will play Scot against Scot, Scot against Briton in other parts of the United Kingdom; leave Scotland as the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom and leave Scotland losing inward investment--and Wales, too, were it to have such an Assembly; and were Scottish Members of Parliament given the right to deal with, for example, education and health in Scotland, it would not be proper for Scottish Members of Parliament to come to this House and vote on education and health in so far as England and other parts of the United Kingdom are concerned.

Mr. Blair: The Prime Minister says that he did not stand on such a policy. Let me read from the Conservative party manifesto of 1974. This is what the manifesto said-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Would the right hon. Gentleman paraphrase, please, and not quote directly?

Mr. Blair: That manifesto said that "devolution is our policy" and that it was the opposite of centralism. It said that it would free Scotland from the rigours of centralisation and went on to say that it was the opposite also of separatism. If it was right in 1974, surely after this passage of time it is right now.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is being very defensive --and with good reason. He should look more carefully at those proposals. He will find that there was no proposal for taxation-raising powers for that Assembly and no executive power for that Assembly. He might also be aware, in terms of this Government, that I was not even in the House then. Every single aspect of what he now proposes will lead inexorably to circumstances in which the United Kingdom itself might break up. He can have an absolute guarantee that the Government will oppose his proposals lock, stock and barrel from this day forward.

Mr. Blair: What is more, it was actually called in this manifesto a "Scottish Assembly". Is not the truth that the Prime Minister's anger is synthetic and that after 15 years of Conservative Government, 15 years of centralisation and the quango state and 15 years of anything and everything being run by unaccountable bodies stuffed with Tory placemen, it is time to bring government closer to the people it serves?

The Prime Minister: I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, whose latest sound bite is the quango state--

Mr. Blair: It is.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman says that it is his latest sound bite; indeed, it is. When he uttered it first last week, in the same paragraph he proposed extra quangos. Labour's so-called "quango count" includes grant-maintained schools and self-governing hospitals. In any event, the number of non-departmental governing bodies that the right hon. Gentleman calls quangos has fallen by 35 per cent. during the passage of this Government.

The right hon. Gentleman seeks to hide the fact that he cannot answer any of the questions on devolution that we have put to him. He cannot explain why the Scots should be more highly taxed than anybody else. He cannot answer the West Lothian question. Indeed, he does not even understand what the West Lothian question is. Until he can find credible answers to that, it is no good his going back a quarter of a century and digging up, in a mistaken way, old policies. He knows that he is wrong. He is on the defensive and he cannot win this argument for his policies are damaging to the United Kingdom.

Sir Cranley Onslow: If my right hon. Friend heard the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) rabbiting on the "Today" programme this morning about regional government for England, did it occur to him that it might be time for the House to have another look at the unfair electoral quota system which results in serious under-representation of the English electorate?

The Prime Minister: I did not have the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) on the "Today" programme or, indeed, to his hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) who, I believe, was on morning television on the same subject. I did read the transcripts and I noticed that the hon. Gentlemen were unable to answer any of the questions that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has found himself unable to answer. What is undoubtedly the case is that if there were regional Parliaments with policies devolved to them, there would be bound to be an effect, unless the constitution was gerrymandered, on the number of Members of Parliament in this House from the parts of the United Kingdom that had such a Parliament with devolved tax-raising powers. That is the game that the right hon. Gentleman is playing and he is doing it because he is running scared of the Scottish Nationalists.


Q2. Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 January.

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

Mr. Kirkwood: With the Prime Minister, quite rightly, being convinced of the merits of the concept of subsidiarity in the context of the European Union and of Northern Ireland, why does he set his face against using the self-same principles for the governance of Scotland when, in the 1992 general election in Scotland, 75 per cent. of the electorate voted for parties favouring a system of greater legislative control over Scotland's own affairs?

The Prime Minister: The difference between the United Kingdom and Europe is that the United Kingdom is a single national institution--a national state. Europe and the United Kingdom-- [Interruption.] Europe is not a national state. We are a single Government entity; we have been since 1707. I will not set us on a path where that may be broken up. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that would be in the interests of Scotland, I suggest that he examines the matter more carefully, for he will find that it is not in the interests of Scotland and not in the interests of the individual Scot.

Mr. Viggers: Has my right hon. Friend had time during his busy day to contemplate the identifiable Government expenditure on the different individuals within the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, which in England is £3,290 per head and in Scotland 20 per cent. higher at £3,968? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Labour party proposals for devolution were to be carried through, it would inevitably lead to a questioning of that subsidy, which is well understood at the moment? Therefore, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, is right when he accuses some Labour politicians of infantile incompetence, but wrong when he restricts his comments to Members of the European Parliament.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a sound and important point. We are a single United Kingdom. I wish us to remain as a single United Kingdom so that we may direct our public expenditure across a single United Kingdom to the areas that most need it. That is what we have traditionally done. That is what I wish us to continue to seek to do. What concerns me is that for party political reasons a proposal is now being put forward by the Labour party which will unsettle those traditional arrangements and set one part of the United Kingdom against another.


Q3. Mr. Gerrard: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 January.

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

Mr. Gerrard: Does the Prime Minister recall that just over a year ago the Minister for Transport in London promised that the travelcard would be protected not only in name and form but in price in real terms? With people in London facing fare rises this week of up to 11 per cent. and the cost of travelcards going up by two or three times the rate of inflation, how does the Prime Minister justify that promise being broken?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should have a look at the policies on transport right across London, including the travelcard. He will find that the Government have a better record for keeping their promises on transport and other matters than any previous Government. I suggest that he looks right across the range at those promises that have been kept and the improvement in transport facilities that are available. What will damage transport facilities is--

Mr. Tony Banks: Privatisation.

The Prime Minister: Not privatisation, as the hon. Gentleman says. That has been the cry on every single privatisation that we have had and every single privatisation has improved the service.

Mr. Booth: Is the Prime Minister aware that for every £1 spent on private schools coming through charitable status, £1.30 is given out through bursaries and scholarships by those schools? So, the Labour party's exercise is a vindictive, cynical manoeuvre.

The Prime Minister: Well, I do not have the slightest difficulty in agreeing with my hon. Friend about that. Labour Members talk about choice and diversity. They talk about the crusade for education. Their crusade seems to be to take away choice from as many people as they possibly can.


Q4. Mr. Canavan: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 January.

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

Mr. Canavan: Will the Prime Minister have another go at trying to justify his ridiculous claim that the idea of a Scottish Parliament is a form of dangerous teenage madness? Bearing in mind that the idea of a Scottish Parliament has been supported, even by prominent Tories, such as former Prime Ministers Douglas-Home and Heath, and by the current Secretaries of State for Defence and for Scotland, what is the Prime Minister going to do about those dangerous teenage madmen?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman needs to engage in some grown-up politics. He may, for example, ask his hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) whether he would agree with his remarks. The answer to his question is the one that I gave a few moments ago. There was not a proposition for a tax-raising Parliament with Executive powers, dividing responsibilities and tax-raising authority between different parts of the United Kingdom.

The Labour party's proposition will put Scotland significantly backwards in its economic prosperity; will lose inward investment to Scotland; will increase taxation in Scotland; and will set Scots against other parts of the United Kingdom and some Scots against other Scots. That is not a wise proposition. It is, as I have said, very unwise.

Dame Jill Knight: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Birmingham council women's unit has been wasting £300,000 per annum of ratepayers' money and that the head of that department has been suspended for many months on full pay of £44,000 per annum while she wasted a further £250,000 on an ill-judged housing scheme? As she has now been offered £11,000 to leave the council and to go away and keep quiet, does my right hon. Friend feel that that is a matter for the Audit Commission to consider in the light of its recent report?

The Prime Minister: I was not aware of that particular matter. As the Opposition so often talk about waste in local government and elsewhere, they might conceivably have raised it. I saw the Audit Commission report which made the point that too often local government services are provided by a dramatically over-staffed service indeed. It seems to me that too often local government cuts services instead of staff and then takes the easy option of blaming the Government for underfunding it when it has cut those services. The Audit Commission report makes that clear and I am delighted that it does so.