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1995 - PMQT 26th January 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 26th January 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Spellar: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Spellar: Does the Prime Minister think that Cedric Brown of British Gas is worth his huge pay increase--yes or no?

The Prime Minister: I think that is a matter for the shareholders.

Sir Anthony Grant: Is my right hon. Friend aware that since his answer in this House on Tuesday, public bewilderment and, indeed, outrage over the fate of Private Clegg has increased? Will he give the House an assurance that he and his Ministers will do all in their power to bring this injustice to a speedy end?

The Prime Minister: I set out the position in the House on Tuesday and how that should be developed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have to consider any new evidence put to him and decide first whether that is sufficient to warrant a further reference to the Court of Appeal. In the meantime, the proper procedures--which I outlined at length on Tuesday and, with my hon. Friend's permission, will not repeat --have now begun.

Mr. Blair: What does it tell us about the Prime Minister's Government when his Secretary of State for Social Security says that Ministers should be paid more-- [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members may agree with that, but precious few people in the country do. [Interruption.] There they are--the Tory yobboes. What does it tell us when the Secretary of State for Social Security says that Ministers should be paid more--

Mr. David Shaw: Your pay has doubled. What about barristers and wives' earnings?

Madam Speaker: Order. I have called the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) to order on many occasions before. I shall not be so lenient in future.

Mr. Blair: What does it tell us, when the Prime Minister's Secretary of State for Social Security says that Ministers should be paid more and that Back-Bench Members of Parliament should have more directorships and consultancies, while at the self-same time the same Social Security Minister is introducing a law that will savage mortgage protection for the unemployed?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is taking a very puritanical view, in view of the number of special interests that so many of his right hon. and hon. Friends have, including a number of his hon. Friends on the Front Bench. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, there is a proper procedure for setting ministerial salaries and the salaries of Members of this House. It is based on a widely accepted formula, it has been approved by this House and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is entirely happy with that formula.

Mr. Blair: Is it sensible to cut mortgage protection when home owners are already facing rising interest rates and cuts in mortgage tax relief? Do the Prime Minister and his party not understand that we shall never build a strong and prosperous Britain by deliberately passing laws designed to make our people weak and insecure?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has obviously forgotten the policy commitments of his own party. For example, in view of what he has just said, he may have forgotten that on MIRAS--mortgage interest relief at source--one of the Labour party's own policy groups threatened to abolish the allowance entirely. The right hon. Gentleman clearly belongs to that species of politician which believes that the facts are for bending whenever convenient. With regard to mortgages, the right hon. Gentleman should be aware that the drop in mortgages from their peak, as a result of our economic policies-- [Interruption.] The drop in costs from their peak since interest rates have been falling is £140 a week. If the policies on borrowing and spending that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind were carried out, mortgages would go straight back up by £140 a week.

Mrs. Roe: Does my right hon. Friend welcome the fairer and more reasonable approach that we shall now receive from the Child Support Act 1991, the purpose of which was never in doubt, but the application of which caused very considerable concerns?

The Prime Minister: There has never been any doubt about the principle that parents should support their own children, provided that they are able to do so. That principle is accepted widely in this House and beyond. The changes that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has now put in place will enable the agency to work in the manner that we would all wish to see.


Q2. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

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

Mr. MacShane: The Prime Minister is well known as a fan of the Commonwealth and a supporter of India. He will therefore know Gandhi's dictum that there is enough in the world for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed. I have that written here; if I give it to the Prime Minister framed, will he put it on the wall in the boardroom of No. 10 Downing Street?

The Prime Minister: I think that everyone who heard that intervention, and the millions who may have watched it on television, will form their own judgment of its value.


Q3. Mr. Luff: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

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

Mr. Luff: Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Worcester Royal Infirmary trust on the significant improvement in the health care that it is delivering in my constituency? That is a tribute to the health care reforms, to the resources that the Government are making available and to the dedication and professionalism of all the trust's staff. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to continue those improvements is by the early construction of a new district general hospital, using the private finance initiative?

The Prime Minister: I am very pleased to hear from my hon. Friend about the excellent health services provided in Worcester. That is mirrored in many places across the country. Private finance certainly offers a cost- effective way of funding new hospitals and new developments. It is entirely right to explore that.

Mr. Radice: As there is not to be a statement to the House today, will the Prime Minister confirm that the White Paper on the civil service proposes a civil service code and an independent appeals system and that it keeps open the Government's mind about whether those should be backed by statute? Does he agree that the Government's adoption of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee's constitutional agenda is a vindication of the Select Committee system?

The Prime Minister: I think that there is very wide support for the Select Committee system across the House and beyond it. The White Paper will command the very broad respect and support of hon. Members across the House on the points that the hon. Gentleman mentioned and on several others.


Q4. Mr. Colvin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

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

Mr. Colvin: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are about to place orders for support helicopters for the Royal Air Force? As the two contenders--the Boeing Chinook and the Westland EH101--meet the specifications required by the Ministry of Defence, does he agree that a mixed fleet solution would best provide for the needs of our armed forces and also be best for British industry as it would improve the already good prospects for the sale of the Westland EH101 helicopter in overseas markets both in its civil version and in the many military versions that will become available?

The Prime Minister: Negotiations with the companies concerned in relation to support helicopters are still continuing. I hope that we will be able to make a decision as soon as possible, but all the information upon which to base that decision is not yet available. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear in the past the potential advantages of a mixed fleet to meet the Army's requirements for support helicopters. Of course, that will be borne carefully in mind when we are in a position to make a final decision.


Q5. Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

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

Mr. Campbell-Savours: In so far as it is now over six months since The Sunday Times exposed the illegal activities of the so-called noble Lord Archer, Conservative peer--insider-dealing activities in Anglia shares--and in so far as it is quite clear that it is utterly impossible successfully to prosecute what we all know to be criminal activity, is there now going to be a review of the law in this area? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the last part of his question. He must not use that language and thus associate this House and all of us with what he has just said. I must ask him to withdraw it or rephrase it, please. [Interruption.] Order. Leave it to me. Will the hon. Gentleman please rephrase what he has just said?

Mr. Campbell-Savours: As against what?

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has associated all of us in this House. I heard it very clearly myself. I ask the hon. Gentleman to rephrase. I heard the words very clearly. [Interruption.] Order. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a moment to reflect. I am sure that he will do as I ask.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I always defer to you, Madam Speaker, as you would know. I refer to what many believe to be criminal activity, but in my view it is unacceptable activity.

Madam Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make those criticisms, I must now ask him to withdraw his remarks and to put them in an orderly substantive motion. I am asking him to rephrase what he has just said; otherwise I must ask him to leave this House for the remainder of this day's sitting.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I believe that it is criminal activity, and I will leave. I will leave the Chamber voluntarily.

Madam Speaker: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Butcher: Is my right hon. Friend prepared to widen the remit of the Nolan committee to examine sleaze in the media? Does he not find it unacceptable that three television executives, Mr. Greg Dyke, Mr. Barry Cox and Mr. Melvyn Bragg, should pretend to be objective in setting the agenda while they bankrolled the leadership campaign for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)? As First Lord of the Treasury-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Sit down. I have just brought one hon. Gentleman to order and dealt with him. I intend to do the same in future with any Member who behaves in that way. There are perfectly respectable ways of putting questions in this House. I will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to do that; otherwise he must now sit down.

Mr. Butcher: I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Speaker, but there may be a distinction between what I am asserting and what the gentleman-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I will determine whether there is a distinction. The hon. Gentleman can put a substantive motion on the Order Paper if he is going to assert that. Will the hon. Gentleman re-think his question, or shall I call someone else?

Mr. Butcher: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the standards now being asserted as required of Members of this House on the sleaze question should also be applied to those in the media who may seek to influence events by means which should not be in their repertoire?

The Prime Minister: I think, Madam Speaker, that there would be a general wish for high standards in every aspect of public life, whether those concerned are elected or not.


Q6. Mr. Olner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

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

Mr. Olner: Is the Prime Minister aware of the strong public feelings in regard to the animal welfare movement, especially in connection with the live transportation of animals for slaughter? Will he talk to his colleagues about giving parliamentary time to my private Member's Bill, which seeks to make the practice unlawful? Does he agree that it is far better for our excellent British livestock to be exported on the hook than to endure the treacherous and hazardous journeys on the hoof to which they are currently subjected?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will recall that I made precisely the same point about the preference for export on the hook rather than on the hoof three or four Question Times ago. Beyond that, as he will know, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is making considerable progress, especially on veal crates in Europe. I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend clearly has the hon. Gentleman's support.


Q7. Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

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

Mr. Hawkins: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important thing in local government is high standards of competence? Does he also agree that the gaff has been blown on the Labour party's activities in local government by the McKinstry memorandum?

The Prime Minister: That was certainly an enlightening document to read, and I hope that it will have wide circulation. When the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) asked a question some time ago he said that if we wanted to know how Labour would look in government we should look at how it runs local councils.


Q8. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 January.

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

Mr. Mullin: Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the conversion of many of his Conservative colleagues to an interest in miscarriages of justice? Will he also join me in hoping that that interest will extend to people who are not members of the Parachute Regiment, such as the three innocent people in the 18th year of their sentences for the Carl Bridgewater murder?

The Prime Minister: I do not propose to comment on the particular case; I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that it has been examined from time to time. On a more general point, I assure him that my hon. Friends are as concerned as he is to ensure that justice is faithfully and truthfully carried out.