Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1995 - PMQT 23rd March 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 23rd March 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Border Controls

Q1. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister if he will raise at the next meeting of the European Council the issue of the declaration attached to the Single Act on border controls.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): I see no need to do so. I do not regard our frontier controls as something to bargain over. I will continue to take whatever steps are necessary to maintain them. I will, of course, look at what needs to be done if the circumstances make it necessary or desirable.

Sir Teddy Taylor: I congratulate the Prime Minister on his recent statement that he will take whatever steps are necessary to retain our border controls, in the face of what appears to me to be an obsession in Europe with getting rid of them. Will he consider the possibility of, at the 1996 IGC, seeking to resolve a legislative inadequacy created by a previous Administration by having the declaration changed into a treaty clause, which would stand firm in our courts and in the European Court?

The Prime Minister: I think that my hon. Friend and I agree that any change to our frontier controls is unacceptable. Our European partners know that that is the position. If, at some stage, they were to come under risk, and if it became necessary to seek a treaty amendment, of course I would do so.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 March.

The Prime Minister: This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Mitchell: In the course of the right hon. Gentleman's day, will he take time to consider whether the economic recovery that Mr. George Soros and others forced on him is still proceeding to his satisfaction, or has it been so badly clobbered by unnecessary interest rate and tax increases that the best is already over?

The Prime Minister: No, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not the case. I am grateful to him for drawing attention to the economic recovery, which is proceeding more effectively in this country than in any other European nation. He will rejoice with me at the 4 per cent. growth last year; the anticipated growth of more than 3 per cent. for this year and for next year; the fact that exports are running at record levels; the fact that employment is rising and unemployment is falling; and, above all, that we have now become one of the most competitive nations in industrial matters in the world. I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome all that and I am grateful to him for letting me draw attention to it.

Mrs. Peacock: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the massive support in the United Kingdom for the reintroduction of corporal punishment for mindless violence-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. This House must come to order right away.

Mrs. Peacock: Will my right hon. Friend encourage our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to look very carefully at what people in the United Kingdom are now demanding as punishment?

The Prime Minister: I think that many measures could be taken to deal with crime, especially juvenile crime. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have heard what my hon. Friend has said, and that my hon. Friend will give strong support to his measures.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister confirm that, according to the Government's own parliamentary answers, the costs of rail privatisation just for British Rail, the Department of Transport and the new regulatory bodies, leaving aside all the other costs, are estimated at more than £300 million?

The Prime Minister: I saw the right hon. Gentleman this morning and his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) publishing their report on rail privatisation.

Mr. Donohoe: It is excellent.

The Prime Minister: That is not quite how I would have described it. As the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) inquires, I would have described it as one of the shoddiest pieces of work that I have seen for a long time. The figures that are shown in that report are pure fantasy. They include a whole range of operational costs for the railways, not in preparation for privatisation but to provide a modern railway service across this country, which is what we seek to do.

Mr. Blair: I asked the Prime Minister a specific factual question. Is it true-- [Interruption.] Let us just get the facts. Is it true, according to the parliamentary answers that have been given, that the costs just for those bodies, leaving aside other matters, is more than £300 million? Will he confirm that British Rail has estimated that it will spend an extra £100 million in the next two years directly as a result of privatisation--yes or no?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that, or with dealing with one aspect of privatisation. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Hon. Members: Who was it?

Madam Speaker: George Foulkes. This is such a waste of time during 15 precious minutes.

The Prime Minister: The reality is that the true costs of privatisation are but one fraction of those claimed by the Labour party. They are a fraction of the costs of the industry, and a very small price to pay for a modern railway serving the nation in the way we wish to see it served.

Mr. Blair: People will notice that the Prime Minister has not disputed the figures that have been put. Will he confirm that when we add to those figures the metropolitan railway grant, recognised by the Department of Transport as costing £200 million this year and £200 million next year, and when we take even a fraction of the redundancy cost, the cost is more than £1 billion? Let us have a detailed refutation. Would not it be better if that £1,000 million were spent not on a privatisation that nobody wants but on delivering the modern railway network that the nation needs?

The Prime Minister: No, I have to repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that the figures that he quotes, which were used earlier this morning by his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, are fantasy figures--they are not real figures. I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman some real figures. Investment will be sustained at around £1 billion, of which £250 million will come from the private sector. He cannot lecture us about private railways. He cannot begin to tell us what his own policy is or whether he would renationalise or not: he can tell us now if he wishes. The Labour party is more interested in appeasing the rail unions than in building for the 20th century an efficient railway that serves the needs of passengers and that does not serve the needs of Labour's friends in the rail unions.

Mr. Jessel: In view of the tremendous success of the Queen's visit to South Africa and of her impressive arrival in HMS Britannia, does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain should continue to have a royal yacht?

The Prime Minister: It certainly has been a remarkably successful visit thus far to South Africa and I have every expectation that it will continue to be a successful visit. The question of the royal yacht is under consideration.

Mr. Ashdown: In the context of European immigration, will the Prime Minister confirm that he is aware of the seriousness of the deteriorating situation in Algeria and the implications that it has for Europe as a whole? Given Britain's residual interests in Algeria and Europe's failures in Bosnia, is not it an issue that should be tackled on the basis of the closest co-ordination among the European countries in which Britain plays a full and constructive role?

The Prime Minister: I agree that this is an important matter. I think that it illustrates the kind of areas where the common foreign and security policy can exercise more influence than any country individually.

Mr. Molyneaux: As loyalist paramilitary bodies only yesterday undertook to dismantle their terrorist apparatus, is it still the Government's policy that the same must apply to the IRA before it can be admitted to any further talks or discussions on any other issues?

The Prime Minister: Yes, the same conditions apply to Sinn Fein in terms of exploratory talks with a Minister, which is the matter under consideration at the present time. It will need to make the same commitments before entering into exploratory talks with my hon. Friend the Minister of State as were made by the Progressive Unionist party and the Ulster Democratic party. That is the case.

On the secondary matter of entering the political talks, which is often confused--but not, I know, by the right hon. Gentleman--that is some way down the road after the discussions on modalities have been agreed and after there has been substantial progress on decommissioning itself. That is some way away.


Q3. Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 March.

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

Mr. Campbell-Savours: The Prime Minister will know that the rules of the House prevent me from raising aspects of the trading activities of Lord Archer, his friend, and I do not intend to do so. However, in the light of the fact that the prosecuting authorities have repeatedly failed successfully to prosecute people who have committed the offence of insider dealing--we know who we are talking about--is not it time that there was a full review of the law? Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to the country that that review will be undertaken?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to confirm that Lord Archer is my friend, has been my friend and will remain my friend in the future. On the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, the questions of prosecution are for the prosecuting authorities. If my right hon. Friends the Law Officers feel that something is going amiss, they will approach me and the necessary action will be taken.


Q4. Dr. Goodson-Wickes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 March.

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

Dr. Goodson-Wickes: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is wholly wrong for Labour councils such as mine in Merton to use council writing paper to write to Labour governors urging them to carry out a misconceived and misleading campaign against education budgets? Is not it about time that education authorities stopped alarming parents with political propaganda and got on with the job of providing the best possible education for our children?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend, and neither is this an isolated incident in Merton.

On the substantive question of education funding, I see no reason why every council should not be able, with good maintenance and good management, to look after the standards of the education service within the funds available. Before people accept many of the claims being made by the education authorities, I hope that they will look to see whether those education authorities have sought to make savings elsewhere before directing savings to teachers in the classroom.

Mr. Clapham: Is the Prime Minister aware that some observers of the sale of British Coal's non-operational property estimate that it will raise more than £100 million? Will he assure the House that that money will be used for two major purposes: first to help to clean up residual pollution in mining communities, such as mine water pollution, and, secondly, to widen the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme, which the Government introduced in 1974 to make available payments for men awarded disabled assessments for chronic bronchitis and emphysema, thereby ending the illogical discrimination between sufferers of two diseases which are caused by the same dust?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises two important points that are worthy of consideration. I do not agree with him that the proceeds of that sale should be necessarily allocated specifically to those purposes, but the two purposes to which he refers are well worth examining.


Q5. Sir Anthony Durant: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 March.

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

Sir Anthony Durant: Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which was widely welcomed by the police and which deals with joyriders, tearaways and bail bandits, was fought tooth and nail by the Opposition and the then shadow Home Secretary, who is now the Leader of the Opposition? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is by their deeds, not their words, that we shall judge them?

The Prime Minister: I share the view that we should judge right hon. and hon. Opposition Members by the way in which they vote and act, rather than by what they say. I share with them the wish to prevent more crime, yet they opposed all our changes on bail. They say that they want to ensure that the guilty are convicted, yet they opposed our changes to the right of silence. There are a range of areas where they have talked tough on crime, but when it has come to being in this House and being in the right Lobby to provide the right laws to bat against crime, we have found them in the wrong Lobby and not the right one.