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1995 - PMQT 24th January 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 24th January 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 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. Flynn: Was not top Tory John Maples right when he said that Tory Britain means the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor? Does the Prime Minister agree with his Chancellor that the orgy of unashamed greed of top salaries is justified? How does the Prime Minister explain that the wage of one boss of a privatised industry is worth the same amount of money as that received by 20 doctors or 100 nurses?

The Prime Minister: I have set out my views on board pay before and have made it clear that I do not agree with excessive and unjustified increases. No doubt the hon. Gentleman would agree. If he feels that the matter has been badly handled, he might discuss it with the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who declares an interest in a company that advises British Gas and North West Water.

Mr. Rathbone: When my right hon. Friend is making plans for the Tory manifesto for a Conservative victory at the next general election, will he pay particular attention to policies that touch on and support the encouragement of the family?

The Prime Minister: Yes. I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion. We are embarking on perhaps the widest examination of the policies that will be right, up to the next century and beyond it, that any party has undertaken for many years. I look forward to contributions from my hon. Friend and many others.

Mr. Blair: If the Prime Minister says that excessive pay awards are a matter for shareholders, and as the Government are the 40 per cent. shareholder in National Power and PowerGen, why will he not intervene?

The Prime Minister: I made it clear from the outset that, having put the company in private hands, we are not going to retain control over detailed decisions within the company. Recently, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends have been speaking about something that sounds much like the beginning of a pay policy.

Ms Church: Yes.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady says yes. I am pleased to hear that she says yes. The right hon. Gentleman had better decide whether the new Labour believes in the free market or in controls and the politics of envy. The truth is that the language is new, but the prejudices are familiar.

Mr. Blair: I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman what we believe in: public services run for the public and in the public interest. We can see whom the Tories represent. While they represent these excesses, the Labour party will speak up for the vast majority of ordinary people. People struggling to pay their bills and worried about their living standards are fed up with the same small group of people playing the boardroom equivalent of the national lottery and awarding themselves huge pay increases, hitting the jackpot week after week at the expense of the public.

The Prime Minister: Well, now we see it: the right hon. Gentleman is becoming a slave to grievance politics. I shall tell him who is concerned about public services--the people who put the services that did not serve the public well in private hands. The result is that prices are falling, investment is rising and consumers are getting better service now, in the private sector, than before. The Labour party's campaign shows just how unreconstructed and envious the Opposition still are. The right hon. Gentleman makes no reference to the improvements in services. All he is doing is milking prejudice and exposing the fact that the Labour party has not changed.

Mr. Robert Banks: Has my right hon. Friend seen today's most welcome reports confirming that the Samsung Heavy Industries Company from South Korea is to establish a manufacturing plant near Knaresborough in my constituency, ultimately providing up to 600 jobs? Does he agree that the United Kingdom beat off competition from eight European countries because our Government have managed the economy so well? We have an excellent infrastructure; more importantly, we have a brilliant work force in Yorkshire.

The Prime Minister: I am delighted to hear that Samsung has decided to invest in my hon. Friend's constituency. I am only sorry that we did not hear the same sort of support for inward investment when NEC went to Livingston and Black and Decker went to Sedgefield. The fact is that more inward investment is coming to this country than to any other in Europe because of the policies that we have followed, and because we will not accept the social chapter. People can see that the economy of this country is doing better than any other major economy in Europe. That means jobs for people in this country--jobs that would be lost by the policies followed by the Labour party.

Mr. Ashdown: Does the Prime Minister agree that the life sentence handed out to Private Lee Clegg, although required by the law, is nevertheless shamefully inappropriate, and that this is the moment for him to be released under licence, and the law changed?

The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is not for Ministers to comment on the actions of the court.

There are two points that I can make to the right hon. Gentleman about Private Clegg. The first is that there have been suggestions in recent days of fresh evidence that might cast doubt on Private Clegg's conviction. If so, that evidence should be provided to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He will then consider it and decide whether it is sufficient to refer to the Court of Appeal.

Secondly, after the recent decision, the question arises what should happen to Private Clegg now that his conviction has been upheld by the court. As the House will know, as for all life sentence prisoners there is a process to be gone through before a release date can be set. It will include consultations with the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, and it will take into account the nature of the offence. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that that process is undertaken both effectively and with due care.

Sir Donald Thompson: Does my right hon. Friend remember that when the Government banned veal crates and introduced the strictest regulations governing the transport of animals, and when they recently introduced welfare regulations covering the rearing of pigs, they did so hoping that Europe would soon follow? Will he persist in that policy?

The Prime Minister: We certainly will persist in that policy. We need a European-wide level of legislation if we are truly interested in animal welfare. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food pressed that issue in Brussels yesterday. He secured agreement yesterday to advance the review of European Union requirements, which was scheduled for 1997, and found that there was considerable sympathy for the aim of phasing out the veal crate. I believe that the writing is on the wall for that production system, and there is no one in Europe who can take more credit for that than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.


Q2. Mr. Battle: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 January.

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

Mr. Battle: As the Prime Minister and his Government hold the golden shares in the privatised water companies, why is he allowing Yorkshire Water to force people to have compulsory, expensive water metering, so that families, pensioners and the disabled pay the highest price for their water while Sir Gordon Jones and his directors hoard thousands of shares to themselves and skim off some £829,000 in boardroom remuneration?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my first answer, he would have known the answer about the golden share. What the hon. Gentleman illustrates, yet again, is that, whenever they can, the Opposition wish decisions to be taken by Labour Members of Parliament. They are in no sense interested in the private sector. They are not interested in putting decisions out to the private sector. [Hon. Members:-- "Sleaze."] Whatever they may say, they want centralisation and nothing but. [Hon. Members:-- "Sleaze."] Those Opposition Members who are chanting may well be directing their chants to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), but they need not chant at me.


Prime Ministerial Visits

Q3. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Prime Minister when he last visited the Ruislip-Northwood Parliamentary constituency.

The Prime Minister: I have not had the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Wilkinson: Had my right hon. Friend been able to visit the Ruislip-Northwood constituency since 28 November 1994, he would have found strong support from local people, backed by their local Member of Parliament, for the view that RAF Northolt, which is frequently used by Her Majesty's Ministers, should develop its services to the armed forces to the full. It welcomes the forthcoming arrival of the Queen's flight, but local residents would not approve of any extension of civil movements to RAF Northolt beyond those already permitted.

The Prime Minister: I congratulate my hon. Friend on one of the most effective pieces of coat-trailing that we have heard in the House for some time. I understand the points that he made and will draw them to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.


Taxation

Q4. Mr. Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister what was the tax burden on an average income family in 1991; and what is the estimated burden on a similar family in 1995.

The Prime Minister: The answer would depend on a number of factors, such as family size and expenditure pattern, which the hon. Gentleman does not specify, but I can tell him that real take-home pay after tax and inflation has risen by 4 per cent.--about £11 a week in today's prices --since 1991 for a one-earner family on average earnings and is expected to rise further next year.

Mr. Cohen: Despite the Prime Minister's manifesto assertion, "I believe in low taxes," since the previous general election an average family must pay an extra £15.50 a week in tax. Will he give the reason for that whacking increase, especially as public services have deteriorated or been privatised? Surely the Prime Minister should be referred to the Nolan committee for bringing manifesto commitments into disrepute.

The Prime Minister: Were that to be so, after that question the hon. Gentleman would have to join me, for he will know that the Labour party proposes to introduce--in addition to existing taxes--a windfall tax, a payroll tax, a health tax, an entertainment tax and a development tax. That is on top of the intricate piece of accountancy by the Liberal Democrats, on which I congratulate them, which suggests that Labour party plans would already add 5p to the standard rate of income tax. While we head for 20p, the Labour party heads for 30p.


Engagements

Q5. Mr. Legg: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 January.

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

Mr. Legg: Will my right hon. Friend please assure those of my constituents whose children are at grammar and independent schools that he has no plans to abolish the assisted places scheme or charitable status, or to stop selection? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the Opposition wish to abolish such schools, many of their spokesmen have benefited from them?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is quite right. A large number of what I believe are called, in current Labour terminology, "sensible" parents have evacuated their children from Labour-controlled education authorities and sent them elsewhere, including the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Members for Peckham (Ms Harman), for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and for Barking (Ms Hodge).

Mr. MacShane: Cheap.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman may say that it is cheap, but that is what they have done.


Indonesia

Q6. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to pay an official visit to Indonesia.

The Prime Minister: I have no current plans to do so.

Mr. Corbyn: As the Prime Minister has no plans to do visit Indonesia, will he convey to the Indonesian Government the British people's abhorrence of the illegal occupation of East Timor and the death of 200,000 East Timorese people at the hands of the Indonesian army? Will the right hon. Gentleman halt all British arms sales to Indonesia, which have been used to suppress and oppress the people there, and specifically ban the export of the Scorpion personnel carrier which can be used to kill and injure people in East Timor in order to maintain that illegal occupation?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have not recognised the Indonesian annexation of East Timor. That has been our position for a long time and we continue to support the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General to find a lasting solution to the problem. However, there is neither a European Union nor a United Nations embargo on arms sales to Indonesia; nor do I believe that one would be justified.