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1995 - PMQT 14th February 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th February 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Ray Michie: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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.

Mrs. Michie: Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that a single currency was a constitutional issue. Last Thursday, the Chancellor said that it was not. Will the right hon. Gentleman now tell us who is right?

The Prime Minister: I have told the hon. Lady, I think, directly, and many people in the House precisely what the position is as far as a single currency is concerned, and I have also told people exactly how we propose to approach it. There will be no single currency involving the United Kingdom in 1996 or 1997. When and if it arises at a later stage, whether 1999 or thereafter, we will examine both the economic implications and the other implications, and we will then make a judgment on the national interest.

Mr. Nigel Evans: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government are determined to protect the country from terrorism, drug smugglers and a tidal wave of economic refugees into this country?

The Prime Minister: I should say to my hon. Friend that in recent years we have seen a very welcome improvement in race relations in this country and I do not wish to see that put at risk in any way. Raising fears about immigration tends to put that at risk. For that reason, I am entirely determined to maintain our fair but firm immigration policies, and that means that we shall retain our border controls.

Mr. Blair: Following the Prime Minister's welcome commitment last Thursday to reducing inequality, may we now put it to the test? As the national electricity grid is an absolute monopoly subject to no competition, will the right hon. Gentleman act against the excesses of the few regional electricity chiefs who stand to make £50 million out of share options on the back of it?

The Prime Minister: I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I find much of his opposition to share options rather synthetic since a good deal of his leadership campaign was financed out of the proceeds of share options.

Mr. Blair: So the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to do nothing on that. Let me now put this to him: as there still remain about 1 million long-term unemployed and the Government are proposing a £50 million cut in help to the unemployed, will he therefore act in respect of that?

The Prime Minister: I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not respond to the earlier point. As for his general concerns about poverty, perhaps I can help him by filling in some of the facts that he overlooks. As he will know, and as there are ample statistics to show, the vast majority of people are better off. Average income has risen by more than one third since 1979, the average income of all economic groups and family types has risen, vulnerable groups have been protected and average incomes are up by more than 10 per cent. for poorer pensioners, and up for the unemployed as well as for those in full-time work. Those are the results of the Government's actions, and they exceed by far the results achieved by any previous Government.

Mr. Blair: So the Prime Minister is prepared to do nothing about that either. Whatever he says about reducing inequality, he will do nothing about greed at the top and nothing about protecting the unemployed at the bottom. Are the British people not right to conclude, therefore, that his commitment to reducing inequality will be seen in time as just one more easily made, easily broken Tory promise?

The Prime Minister: I look forward to the day when the right hon. Gentleman listens to the answer before continuing with his question. As "Social Trends" is a publication often cited by Opposition Members, perhaps they will take notice of the information available in the latest edition, which states that the income of recently retired pensioners has increased by just over a half in real terms since 1981, and the real income after tax of a lone parent on the lowest decile of female earnings and with two children rose by 50 per cent. between 1981 and 1993. Why do we never hear about the reality of what has happened rather than the accusations without base which come from the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Marlow: If European institutions produce measures to dismantle our external immigration controls, and those measures are subsequently supported by the European Court, how will my right hon. Friend maintain our external controls?

The Prime Minister: As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) a moment or so ago, we believe in our right to maintain controls. My predecessor set out our determination and received a solemn declaration to that effect some time ago. Let me make it clear that we shall argue strongly for the maintenance of that position and shall take whatever steps are necessary to that end. I will tell my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) about that declaration: it was solemnly entered into by all the Heads of Government of the other European countries. They pledged their word, and I intend that they will keep it.


Q2. Mr. Cousins: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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

Mr. Cousins: Is the Prime Minister aware that, following the Government's deal with Trafalgar House to kill off Northern Electric this morning, the resulting free-for-all in electricity companies has caused electricity shares to rise by 10 per cent. in a Valentine's day orgy on the stock exchange, while there has been a Valentine's day massacre of job security in the north? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Confederation of British Industry that growing unfairness in society affects not only jobs but competition and business?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman will have observed over the last couple of years, competition in business has been creating jobs, not losing them, which is why unemployment has dropped by more than half a million.

Mr. Foulkes: Rubbish.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has apparently not noticed the drop of half a million in unemployment, so I will tell him that it has dropped right across Scotland, which he cares about, as well as in England, in Wales and in Northern Ireland. If the hon. Gentleman has not understood even that, I can understand why he is on the Opposition Benches--because he understands nothing.


Q3. Lady Olga Maitland: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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

Lady Olga Maitland: Has my right hon. Friend seen the report that tourism in Northern Ireland has doubled since the ceasefire was announced? Does he agree that that reflects in an important way the outcome of the peace process?

The Prime Minister: I am aware of the remarkable increases in tourism. There have also been remarkable changes in the life styles of the people in Northern Ireland and in the success of large and small businesses in Northern Ireland. I believe that those are results of the ceasefire, which I hope we shall be able to turn into a permanent peace.


Q4. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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

Mr. Cunningham: Does the Prime Minister recall that last Thursday in the House he gave an undertaking to commit the Government to fighting injustice and inequality? Will he now, as a first step, take the opportunity to reintroduce wages councils and, as a second step, abolish the jobseeker's allowance?

The Prime Minister: I will not give the hon. Gentleman that undertaking, because I do not believe that wages councils acted in the interests of people who were low paid. I believe that they kept a lot of people out of work who might otherwise have been in work. I accept that the Government have a responsibility to help the poor, and we have sought to do that. That is why extra help of more than £1 billion since 1988, over and above inflation, has been provided to help low-income families. That is the point that I invite the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends to concentrate upon.


Q5. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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

Mr. Arnold: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the decision of the parents of pupils at 88 schools in Kent who voted overwhelmingly for the schools to become grant maintained? Will he congratulate those Kentish parents on their choice? Does he welcome the fact that they had the choice in the first place--a choice exercised by the Leader of the Opposition and a number of Labour Back Benchers--or does he consider that choice to be wicked?

The Prime Minister: I believe that every parent should have the right to choose what is best for his or her children, and I have no criticism of any parent who does so. I simply ask that all parents should have the same choice.


Q6. Mr. Watson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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

Mr. Watson: What does the Prime Minister suggest that I could do to help my constituent, Jane Pepper, who gave up a secure job in the civil service last year to attend an access course for university? She secured three offers of places, but is now having to give them up because she loses £5,000 as a result of the Government's penny pinching in cutting the mature students' allowance. Leaving aside the waffle that the Prime Minister usually gives us, what advice can he give to Jane Pepper and the thousands of other people who missed out on higher education the first time around and are now having the door slammed in their faces again?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows that the number of people going on to further and higher education has increased dramatically. When the hon. Gentleman's party left office, one in eight of our children went to university. The figure is now one in three, and it is increasing.


Q7. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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

Mr. Marshall: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the rather disappointing performance of the English cricketers in Australia illustrates the need for more competitive sport in our schools?

The Prime Minister: I should certainly like to see more competitive sport in our schools, and we intend to ensure that there is more. Beyond that, we must ensure that there is a much better sports environment through the clubs, so that there is a proper throughput from school to club level and to more senior levels in sport. I intend to do what I can to bring that about.


Q8. Ms Jowell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 February.

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

Ms Jowell: Is the Prime Minister aware that last week a senior manager at Guy's hospital in London had to telephone 24 hospitals to arrange cover for patients needing acute and intensive care beds? Does he accept that patients' lives are at risk because of the shortage of beds in London? Will he instruct the Secretary of State for Health that no further bed closures should be allowed?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Lady had wished me to comment on that, no doubt she would have given me earlier notice of the question. Often enough, there have been cases in which a direct answer could have been given if information had been provided, and often enough I have examined matters subsequently and found them to be a touch different from what had been suggested on the Floor of the House. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will have heard what the hon. Lady had to say.

Mr. Michael Brown: Is not the situation with regard to the single currency quite straightforward--that if my right hon. Friend remains Prime Minister we will not have a single currency, but if the Leader of the Opposition becomes Prime Minister we will?

The Prime Minister: As I have indicated to my hon. Friend on previous occasions, I will make a judgment on what I believe the national interest demands. If it demands no, I will say no.