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1995 - PMQT 19th January 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 19th January 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. French: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 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. French: Is my right hon. Friend aware of evidence of another type of sleaze in public life, namely, local councils making substantial grants to quasi-charitable organisations which then use some of the money received to produce party-political propaganda in support of those who have made the grants? Does he have measures to stop councils misusing public funds in that way when at the same time they complain of shortage of funds for other purposes?

The Prime Minister: We all want to see a very high standard of propriety in councils and assemblies at all levels. I read with some interest the views of an ex-Labour councillor set out clearly this morning. He referred to

"a mean-minded cocktail of political correctness, bureaucracy, intervention and abuse of public money."

The council in question was Islington.

Mr. Blair: Now that the Conservative Euro-rebels have published a public manifesto with a settled position on Europe which would effectively mean Britain's withdrawal from Europe, can the Prime Minister tell us whether there is any honest basis on which they can now return to the Tory Whip? If so, what is it?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman seeks to gloss over the fact that many views similar to those expressed by my hon. Friends are held by a large number of his hon. Friends, not least just below the Gangway and not least a little behind him. There are many and varied views on European policy in all political parties and right across the country. I believe that the policy that I have sketched out will carry with it the support of the overwhelming majority of the people in the country. In the next few months we will spell out not only what is not acceptable in the intergovernmental conference but what we wish to achieve in the IGC in 1996. I believe that the position that we will take will command the overwhelming majority of people both in the House and beyond it.

Mr. Blair: Are we to take it from that, that the right hon. Gentleman will not even repudiate their views? After all, he is the person [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. We have little enough time at Prime Minister's Question Time without everyone making a row.

Mr. Blair: The right hon. Gentleman should remember that he withdrew the Whip from the Conservative rebels. Is not his problem the fact that he has one side of the Conservative party that is hostile to Europe, with its friends in the Cabinet, and the other side, with its friends in the Cabinet, which is favourable to Europe, and he is in the middle, never making up his mind? Does he not realise that that schism in his ranks will continue until he makes up his mind, and that the damage will continue, not merely to his Conservative party or the other Conservative party, but to Britain and its interests in Europe?

The Prime Minister: Would the right hon. Gentleman care to remind the House how many policies he has changed during the past 10 days? I do not know whether he claims to have changed them, or whether he just parked them in the usual spot and they magically disappeared. If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about unity on Europe, I suggest that he tries to unify his colleagues below the Gangway and those behind him.

As a man who claims to be consistent, the right hon. Gentleman should explain to the House why, in his 1983 manifesto, he wanted us to withdraw from the European Community, and why he now wants to become a federalist, handing powers in one direction to the European Union and in another direction away from this House to regional assemblies that no one wants-- yet another policy that he talks about, but does not understand and has not thought through. If he has made up his mind on anything, when will he tell anyone precisely what that mind is?


Q2. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 January.

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

Mr. Shaw: Will my right hon. Friend consider his responsibilities to that vulnerable group in our society who consider that they should have share options when others should not, the right to send their children to grant-maintained schools when others should not, and the benefit of their business friends receiving large pay increases to pay for their leadership elections when others should not? Does he not think that it is a duty of this Government to expose such hypocrisy?

The Prime Minister: I am more tolerant than my hon. Friend and I would like to help them. I will suggest a slogan that absolutely and exactly fits their present position: "Do as I say, not as I do."

Mr. Beith: While the right hon. Gentleman has fresh in his mind the experience of being saved from defeat by the votes of the Ulster Unionists, will he reflect on the possibility that, before very long, he may need those same votes on some purely English matter? Does that mean that he has excluded from his consultations the possibility of setting up a Northern Ireland Assembly with devolved powers, which would create a North Belfast question equivalent to the so-called West Lothian question, or does he admit that those constitutional niceties are what he uses as a pretext to deny more control over their own affairs to the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister: Sometimes I despair of the right hon. Gentleman. He clearly does not understand the difference between a tax-gathering Parliament in Edinburgh and the re-introduction of a non-tax-gathering local government assembly in Northern Ireland--no wonder his party has been in opposition for 75 years.

Mr. Sykes: Is the Prime Minister aware that another subversive group of Labour Members today called for a devolved assembly in Yorkshire? While we do not mind if Lancashire breaks away, may I assure my right hon. Friend that we in Yorkshire are proud of the United Kingdom and all we want is our ridings back?

The Prime Minister: I was not aware of that new ramification in Opposition policy this morning, but my hon. Friend should not despair because they will have changed it by tomorrow.


Q3. Mr. Spellar: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 January.

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

Mr. Spellar: The Prime Minister has just said, "Do not do as I do; do as I say". Does he recall that on Tuesday, he said, "We know who pays the Labour party"? He is right, because the figures are published. Will he now give a straight answer on whether he will publish the figures for donations to the Tory party, particularly foreign donations--yes or no?

The Prime Minister: On the day that foreign or any donors have 70 per cent. of the votes that determine our policy, the answer would be yes. But our policy is determined by our party, not in devil's pacts with trade union leaders to get the leader of the Labour party out of a difficult position on clause IV or any other subject.

Mrs. Lait: Should the reckless proposals by several of the Opposition parties to set up a Scottish Parliament ever be carried out, does my right hon. Friend agree that the number of hon. Members from Scotland should be reviewed down from the current 72 to 45, as set out in the 1707 treaty of Union? Would he care to nominate those hon. Members whose constituencies should disappear?

The Prime Minister: It is very tempting but perhaps not a matter for me. My hon. Friend, however, has powerful support for what she says.

"After devolution, the position of Scottish hon. Members would be untenable."--[ Official Report , 14 November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 157.] "it would be wrong for those from Scotland to seek to interfere in English domestic affairs after that watershed has been reached."--[ Official Report , 1 February 1977; Vol. 195, c. 457.]

Before the hon. Gentleman at the back of Chamber shouts, may I tell the House that the words that I have just used are a quote from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. We could all hear what is being asked if hon. Members were a little less noisy. Question 4 has been called. The Prime Minister.


Q4. Mr. Fraser: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 January.

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

Mr. Fraser: Given the concern about negative equity and repossessions, has the Prime Minister noticed that the average cost of repaying a mortgage is to rise by £3.50 a week; residential rents are rising at twice the rate of inflation; and his Government have cut the housing associations' development programme by 45 per cent.? How does paying more for housing and getting less fit in with his new vision?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman, who has a great knowledge of housing, should cast his mind back a little further. He will have noticed that the average cost of a mortgage over the past couple of years or so has fallen by £140 a month as a result of changes in interest rates brought about by the Government's policies. He should also know that half a million extra people became home owners for the first time in the past year. I am afraid that he is behind on his facts and wrong.

Mr. Butterfill: Which particular clause of the treaty of Rome gives members of the European Parliament jurisdiction over British industrial policy, particularly nationalisation? Is it clause 4, or am I confusing it with some other document?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt about the advantage of British control over British industrial policy, as we can see by the growth of exports, which grow month after month, and the fact that we now have the most broadly based, secure pattern for growth with modest inflation that we have seen in this country for very many years. That is evident in the growth figures; evident in the drop in unemployment and it is evident from the fact that that has been happening not for the occasional month but month, after month after month, after month and people cannot deny that.

Mr. Prescott: What about Maples?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman, fresh from his recent searches, should search again the unemployment statistics to see how they come together and then apologise to those civil servants whom he accused of fiddling them some months ago.


Q5. Mr. Eric Clarke: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 January.

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

Mr. Clarke: Is the Prime Minister aware that the proposed Assembly for Northern Ireland is accepted by the whole of the House? Once that Assembly is formed, will the people who represent Northern Ireland constituencies be allowed to vote on every issue before the House?

The Prime Minister: No one is devolving to the Northern Ireland Assembly tax-- [Hon. Members:-- "Answer the question"] I am explaining to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) why his question is based on a mistaken belief. No one is devolving to the Northern Ireland Assembly tax-gathering powers or exclusive control over education or health. The Opposition are trying to hide the fact that their policies would inexorably lead to the break up of the United Kingdom whereas our policies are determined to maintain the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hendry: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, yesterday, the former leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) voted against the Government on the fisheries motion? Can my right hon. Friend enlighten the House on the rules of corporate responsibility as they affect European Commissioners? Is it in order for the right hon. Member for Islwyn to undermine his fellow Commissioners?

Madam Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) is a Member of this House and the way he votes has nothing to do with ministerial responsibility.

Mr. Hendry rose --

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman can put another question, which I will accept, but ministerial responsibility must enter into it.

Mr. Hendry: Will my right hon. Friend advise the House on the role of corporate responsibility among European Commissioners to see whether it is in order for them to vote not only to undermine their colleagues but their wives as well?

The Prime Minister rose --

Madam Speaker: Order. I had to give Prime Minister's questions an extra minute because the Prime Minister did not start until 3.16 pm, but it was hardly worth my while. Time is up.