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1995 - PMQT 16th March 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 16th March 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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. Shaw: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the evidence of Labour councillors personally benefiting from fraud, corruption, nepotism and inefficiency is such that people should be informed about it before they vote in the local government elections?

The Prime Minister: I have no doubt that there are many cases of waste, inefficiency and malpractice in Labour councils; increasingly, one has seen that in auditors' reports. It is right that the auditors should investigate and make those matters public.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister confirm, as a matter of fact, that in a few weeks' time two new tax rises will be introduced--the cutting of mortgage tax relief and of the married couples allowance--which will add about £250 a year to the average family's tax bill?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly confirm the tax changes to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I will also confirm for him that, as a result of the measures taken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we are now well into the most sustained recovery on the most secure basis that this country has seen for many years, with the economy growing at almost 4 per cent., exports at record levels, the current account in surplus, investment rising and unemployment now having fallen by 600,000--a set of economic circumstances that we have not seen for many years. That is largely due to the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend took the right decisions at the right time.

Mr. Blair: Are not those tax rises, on top of the existing ones, one reason why people feel so angry about this Government? Is not the truth that, with taxes up, mortgages up and living standards falling, all that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done is confirm what the vast majority of the British people already knew: that unless you are one of the favoured few at the top, you are worse off under the Tories.

The Prime Minister: Which taxes would the right hon. Gentleman cut? Which pieces of expenditure has the right hon. Gentleman opposed? How many times has the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) sought extra expenditure of one sort of another? When is he going to understand the most basic economic fact--that he cannot promote expenditure and call for tax reductions and expect to be taken seriously? We have taken the measures necessary for this country's economy. That is why our economy is more effective, more efficient and more competitive than any other economy in western Europe.

Mr. Blair: I will tell him what I understand, that-- [Hon. Members: -- "Oh."] Since he asked me the question again, let me tell him what is wrong. What is wrong is to fight the election promising to cut taxes then raise them by 7p in the pound.

The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about what is right for this country, why does he not for once acknowledge the changes that there have been in this economy? Why does he not for once acknowledge what once he used to say--that his plans for a minimum wage would cost jobs? Why does he not acknowledge what a large number of business men are now telling him across Europe--that his plans for the social chapter would cost jobs? Why does he not acknowledge that this country now has an economy that Labour could never have achieved if it had followed the advice of the shadow Chancellor, who on every conceivable occasion has guessed wrongly about what should happen with this economy?


Q2. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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

Mr. Greenway: Will my right hon. Friend congratulate those parents who have set up an organisation called PASS to defend the right of parents to send their children to grant-maintained schools? Will he arrange for an application form to be sent to the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister: I fancy that the right hon. Gentleman does not need one, but his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) who speaks on education from the Labour Front Bench most certainly does, for he would still destroy the chances for parents to send their children to grant-maintained schools, even though the vast majority of hon. Members in this House, including the right hon. Gentleman, know that that choice should be available to every parent.

Mr. Ashdown: In view of the Prime Minister's comments on waste and inefficiency, how does he justify an increase over the past four years of 36 per cent. in the amount of public money spent on Government entertainment? What would he have to say to a council which was forced to sack teachers and which responded by raising by more than a third the money that it spent on its own entertainment?

The Prime Minister: I think what I would say to any council which was contemplating that sort of action concerning teachers would be: how many administrators in education is it looking at, why are there two administrators for every three teachers in education and why do county councils like the right hon. Gentleman's seek to look at teachers before they look at other areas of savings?

Mr. Faber: Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity in the past couple of days to discuss Anglo-Belgian relationships with his counterpart the Prime Minister of Belgium, and in particular what must have been a disappointing visit for him to west London on Tuesday night? At what is undoubtedly a difficult time for British football, would my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Chelsea football club on a stunning victory on Tuesday night, its fans on the good-natured manner in which the game was watched, and the Metropolitan police especially on the firm but sensitive way in which the game was policed?

Madam Speaker: I should just inform the hon. Gentleman before the Prime Minister attempts to answer that question that, nice as it may seem, the Prime Minister has nothing whatsoever to do with the success of Chelsea football club.

The Prime Minister: I am happy to pass credit for the success to the players. May I simply say that I am delighted at how well they did?


Q3. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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

Mr. Mullin: Did the Prime Minister read this morning's comment by Lord McAlpine that a spell in opposition would be a good thing for the Tory party, and does he agree that this is one of the rare occasions on which the interests of the Tory party and of the nation coincide?

The Prime Minister: I did see the comments in the New Statesman and Society . I understand that Lord McAlpine is promoting his book, which is a work of fiction.


Q4. Mr. Amess: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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

Mr. Amess: Does my right hon. Friend share the pleasure of my constituents in Basildon at the first visit to this country of a President from the Philippines, Fidel Ramos? Will he tell the House whether any trade agreements have been reached as a result of the visit? Finally, will my right hon. Friend do all in his power to assist and encourage the President to try to alleviate the plight of street children and to take forward the social reform programme?

The Prime Minister: Of course, I am delighted to welcome President Ramos to the United Kingdom. He will find a very warm welcome here and would clearly find one in Basildon also, were he able to visit it. I am not sure whether the President is here long enough to do so on this occasion, but when I meet him later on this afternoon I will be happy to pass on the invitation. I understand that it has been a successful trade visit and a number of contracts have been signed with substantial British companies.

I know that President Ramos is achieving a great deal with his social reform programme and I know that the whole House would welcome all that can be done to help street children, both in the Philippines and elsewhere.


Terrorism

Q5. Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Prime Minister what representations Her Majesty's Government have received from Sir Colin Figures and Sir Peter Marychurch concerning knowledge of an impending attack on airlines at Frankfurt airport in December 1988; and what response he has sent.

The Prime Minister: We have received no such representations.

Mr. Dalyell: In that case, could Sir Colin and Sir Peter be invited to shed light on the very specific jictels--Joint Intelligence Committee telegrams--giving clear information about the downing of an aircraft in October, November and December 1988? Could they shed light on the agreement reached by western intelligence with terrorist elements in the middle east about the downing of just one airliner, rather than 10 or 12, in what was described by Mohtashemi as "the rain of blood", and also on what they know of statements by United States agencies about Major Charles McKee not being able to return to the United States alive?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of that detailed question so that I might examine the matter before responding.

As he knows, the Lockerbie investigation is the largest criminal investigation ever undertaken in this country. I have to reiterate to the House that the Lord Advocate has discovered credible evidence against two people only, and they remain the only two accused. If concrete new evidence were brought forward, it would of course be fully investigated. The point raised by the hon. Gentleman, of which he was kind enough to give me prior notice--that western intelligence agencies would enter into a deal with terrorist groups to allow the destruction of an aircraft--is utterly and completely unfounded. It did not happen and the hon. Gentleman can be assured upon that point.


Engagements

Madam Speaker: The next question is from Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Skinner: Question 5.

Hon. Members: Question 6.

Mr. Skinner: All right; Question 6.


Q6. Mr. Skinner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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

Mr. Skinner: Has the Prime Minister seen the reports today that if the Tory party loses more than 1,000 seats in the local government elections in May, which it undoubtedly will, senior Tory Members of Parliament are going to kick him out like a dog in the night? Last year, the Prime Minister said that he had got three bastards in the Cabinet: I do not think that he can count.

The Prime Minister: As for counting, I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's Question 5 and Question 6 at the same time.

The substantive part of the hon. Gentleman's question might well have been asked of me last year, the year before last, and the year before that. It almost certainly was, and it will very probably be asked of me next year, the year after and the year after that.

Sir Graham Bright: Has my right hon. Friend seen reports in this morning's newspapers suggesting that he is considering plans to change how state education is funded? Will he confirm to the House that that is not so?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I did see the report to which my hon. Friend refers and I can tell the House categorically that it is absolutely without foundation. I do not know whether it is incompetence or malice, but it is certainly inaccurate.


Q7. Mr. Foulkes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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

Mr. Foulkes: Has the Prime Minister seen today's statement by the rail regulator that decisions on sleepers and Motorail are a matter not for British Rail but for the Government? Will he therefore confirm today that there will be a full and formal consultation before any decisions are taken on those vital services?

The Prime Minister: I assume that the hon. Gentleman refers to the Fort William sleeper. Representations on that can be made during consultation on the ScotRail public service requirement. In the meanwhile, British Rail will retain the assets.

Madam Speaker: As we started late, I can allow one more question.


Q8. Mr. Spring: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 16 March.

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

Mr. Spring: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the two Conservative- controlled district councils in my constituency--Forest Heath and St. Edmundsbury--plan no increase in council tax this year? Is he aware that the only reason why my constituents will pay more council tax this year is because of Lib-Lab controlled Suffolk county council, despite it having used up some £16 million of reserves so carefully built up by the last Conservative administration?

The Prime Minister: Lib-Lab councils are a very expensive luxury indeed and I am not surprised to hear what my hon. Friend has to say. Last year, Conservative councils cost around £131 less at band C than Labour councils, and this year the difference looks as though it may be even greater--probably as much as £160 less. I hope that the electorate will bear that in mind in May.