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1995 - PMQT 17th January 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 17th January 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Winnick: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 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.

Mr. Winnick: Why has the Prime Minister refused to allow the Nolan committee to look into the way in which political parties are funded? Is it because that committee would soon discover the underhand and shabby way in which the Tory party collects a lot of its money and how knighthoods and peerages are given to many of those who make the largest donations to the Tory party? Surely it is disgraceful that the Conservative party should carry on in that manner in this day and age.

The Prime Minister: There is a disgrace in party funding. The hon. Gentleman is right--yes, indeed. The disgrace in party funding is the Labour party's dependence on trade unions, which buy direct influence over that party's votes. We have seen that many times in the past and we shall see it again with clause IV, as the old, unreconstructed Labour party comes to the rescue of the new Labour party.

Mr. Brooke: Does my right hon. Friend recall that after the country gave up paying danegeld the policy was resumed under King Ethelred the Unready?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend always adds a touch of erudition to these occasions. I suspect that he has in mind the precise point that I touched upon just a moment ago--he who pays the piper calls the tune, and we know who pays the Labour party.

Mr. Blair: On 10 January, the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's Question Time that he was as committed to maintaining the existing through-ticketing service on British Rail as I was. Tomorrow the House will have a chance to vote on a motion opposing any reduction in through ticketing. Will the Prime Minister therefore support that motion?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman knows what the Rail Regulator said last week. The regulator made the position perfectly clear: he is now considering the responses to his own consultation document. He said:

"Privatisation and restructuring of the railways are intended to improve service to customers and stimulate innovation. In looking at any new proposals to replace British Rail's current arrangements, I shall want to be satisfied that they are likely to achieve those objectives."

I agree entirely and I shall wait to see what proposals the regulator makes.

Mr. Blair: But the question is: what is the Prime Minister's own position? The Secretary of State for Transport said that any reduction in existing through-ticketing services was unacceptable. Will that therefore be the Government's position in the consultation, which the regulator has said may mean a significant reduction in service? Will the Government tell the regulator that that would be unacceptable? And if the regulator ignores the Prime Minister's view, what will the right hon. Gentleman do?

The Prime Minister: I set out the Government's position precisely, just a moment ago. If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to my first answer, he might not have asked his second question. If the right hon. Gentleman were, time after time, to hear the Government say precisely what would be the outcome of consultations before the consultation was completed, and when the consultation was being undertaken by a regulator, he would accuse us of abusing the position of the regulator and not listening to the consultation.

I repeat for the right hon. Gentleman: I shall want to be satisfied that the outcome of the consultation generally improves the service that is available to people on through ticketing and other matters. That is the purpose of privatisation. I am not satisfied at present with the service that British Rail has offered for many years, and I intend to see it improved. That is what privatisation will achieve.

Mr. Blair: Is it not the case, therefore, that last week the Prime Minister was saying that he was committed to maintaining the existing service and that now he will not say that he is committed to doing so? [Interruption.] He has just been given two chances to do so, and he has not said it.

Is not this the problem with privatisation? When the public see £700 million being spent up to now on privatisation, cuts in timetable, cuts in services, and now a possible cut in through ticketing, is it any wonder that they do not want British Rail broken up and sold off but want it maintained as a publicly owned, publicly accountable transport service?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has an unsuspected sense of humour. I had not imagined, after the turn and turn about in his transport policy on British Rail in the past few days, that he would have had the brass neck to suggest to us, incorrectly, that we had changed the position that we have taken on through ticketing. Our position is precisely as we stated it at the beginning. We have made it perfectly clear what we expect at the end of the process. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, we have not changed our policy on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, as he has done through a range of his own spokesmen on the Front Bench, past and present, and his press spokesman.

Mr. Hicks: In view of the disappointing performances by our English test cricketers in recent years and the contribution that cricket makes to our national society, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an urgent need to establish a cricket academy in this country and that it is a suitable project for consideration for funding by the Millennium Commission?

The Prime Minister: On the latter point, there is no reason why, if a suitable project were put forward, it could not be considered by the Millennium Commission or, indeed, I would think, in terms of the resources from the national lottery, by the Sports Council. As regards the general proposition, my hon. Friend knows my concern about team sports generally and my desire that they should be given much more importance in the school curriculum. We intend to pursue that.


Q2. Mr. Darling: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.

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

Mr. Darling: The Prime Minister will recall his great triumph last year when he installed Monsieur Santer as President of the European Commission. In the light of what Mr. Santer had to say today on the subject of European integration, does the Prime Minister still believe that Monsieur Santer is the right man for the right job at the right time, or is the right hon. Gentleman guilty of yet another gross error of judgment?

The Prime Minister: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read all 34 pages of Mr. Santer's speech. [Interruption.] It is obvious from the hon. Gentleman's face that he has read the Press Association extract and nothing more. As for the best men for the job, we shall judge the new Commission by its performance and by its efficiency in carrying out the tasks assigned to it. As I have said before and I repeat now, I believe that the high tide of federalism in Europe is past, and I believe that that will be apparent in the forthcoming intergovernmental conference.

Mr. Marland: Is my right hon. Friend aware that in 1974 the Conservative Government banned the export of live animals for slaughter but the Labour Government of 1975 lifted the ban? How does my right hon. Friend think that that squares with the squawking that we hear from Opposition Members, given that the Opposition agriculture spokesman was a member of the Government who lifted that ban?

The Prime Minister: The straight answer to my hon. Friend is that I was not aware of the duplicity of the Opposition's position on that subject --although I suppose that in view of their position on so many other matters, I would have been wise to look back and see what their agriculture spokesman had done in the past. Surely the right approach for all people concerned about the welfare of animals is to raise standards of animal welfare across the European Union, which is what we are seeking to do. We lead from the front in negotiations on the subject and we intend to continue to do so to seek the best standards of animal welfare, not just in the United Kingdom where they are already better than anywhere else in the European Union, but right across the European Union.


Q3. Mr. Chidgey: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.

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

Mr. Chidgey: Is the Prime Minister aware that a recent survey by Eagle Star showed that there were more burglaries committed in Britain than in any other country in Europe? If so, will he now admit that the failure of his policies to tackle crime have placed this country not at the heart of Europe but on the far margins of lawlessness and disorder?

The Prime Minister: I sometimes wonder whether there is any piece of silliness that the Liberal party will not adopt to make a party point. Everyone in the House is concerned to see crime cut. The crime statistics, for the first time in not just two or three years but 30 to 40 years, are now beginning to fall. I have seen no support from the hon. Gentleman or his colleagues on the Liberal Benches for the vast range of measures that we have taken in recent years to combat and punish crime. When the hon. Gentleman comes into the Lobby to support the fight against crime I will listen to what he has to say at Prime Minister's Question Time on the subject of crime.


Q4. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.

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

Mr. Bellingham: Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister find time today to consider West Midlands Travel which, under Labour, was a sleepy nationalised industry but which, under the Tories, has been a privatised success story and is about to be floated on the stock market? Is it not good news that all the employees will receive free shares and the directors, who include the former Labour transport spokesman, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), will make large profits on their share options?

The Prime Minister: I suppose that that is another indication this week that it is best to be a former Labour transport spokesman than a current Labour transport spokesman. I welcome the flotation; I hope that it is a great success and that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) does well out of it. The privatisation of the bus services has proved immensely successful for bus service users and will continue to do so-- [Interruption.] Labour Members who shout "Rubbish" had better take up the matter with the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East.

Mr. Barnes: Why are the Government involved in a massive exercise to kill off the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill by introducing their own limited and restricted measure in the House ahead of discussions on that measure? The provision is required by the 10 per cent. of people in this country who suffer from disabilities and has massive support inside and outside the House.

The Prime Minister: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the Bill that he is seeking to dismiss. That "limited" Bill carries rights for disabled people when they are unfairly discriminated against in employment. It gives them the right to complain to an industrial tribunal when they feel that unlawful discrimination has occurred. It requires those providing goods and services to ensure that they are accessible and it provides for a conciliation service, a national disability council and measures to combat discrimination in transport and education sectors. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a limited Bill, I think that he has limited capacity to understand what is in the Government's legislation.


Q5. Sir Peter Tapsell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.

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

Sir Peter Tapsell: Is my right hon. Friend aware how greatly he heartened most people in this country when he stated on television on 8 January that at the intergovernmental conference in 1996 he would not agree to any constitutional change which impacted on the sovereignty of this Parliament? Does that not contrast--with striking historical force--with the renewed admission by the Leader of the Opposition in Brussels on 10 January that a Labour Government would agree to further reductions in British parliamentary and national sovereignty?

The Prime Minister: I repeat that I believe that it would be a departure to make further constitutional changes. I was quite clear about that in my policy when I set it out a week or so ago. I am rather surprised by what the Leader of the Opposition had to say about handing more powers to the European Parliament in view of the low opinion that he expressed recently of some Members of that Parliament.