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1995 - PMQT 30th March 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th March 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McKelvey: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 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. McKelvey: Does the Prime Minister agree that the greatest asset of the national health service is the loyalty and dedication of its staff? He will know that many NHS workers are greatly angered by the fact that they will receive pay increases of between 1 per cent. and 3 per cent. this year. It is within the Prime Minister's power to lift the morale of 1 million people by agreeing that no one will be paid less than 3 per cent. this year. He has the power to do that. Why does he lack the commitment?

The Prime Minister: Of course the greatest asset of the NHS is the skills of the doctors, surgeons, dentists and nurses who work in it. There is no doubt about that. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the 3 per cent. figure, and it may be that many people get precisely that sum. He may also recall that the last Labour Government cut nurses' pay by exactly 3 per cent.

Mr. Renton: Did my right hon. Friend note that the question asked by many non-political speakers at yesterday's "Britain in the World" conference was how could we expect other countries to think much of us if we evidently think so little of ourselves? While some modesty and humility is always welcome, does my right hon. Friend think that it would help British exports, and thus British jobs and morale, if politicians from all parties and the media spent rather more time praising evident British successes and less time indulging in destructive recrimination and criticism?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend may have spoken for millions of people in the country when he called for a more balanced presentation of the many virtues which exist in this country in industry and in our traditional aspects and institutions. I have no doubt that many people would wish to support them.

Mr. Skinner: Stop whingeing.

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) regards saying anything good about this country as whingeing. That says rather a lot about the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Blair: If, under the new nurses' pay scheme, substantial numbers of nurses get less than the 3 per cent. which other nurses get for effectively the same job, will he accept that such a system is unfair? Will he undertake to change it?

The Prime Minister: I cannot give that undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman. As I said a moment ago, nobody wishes to be unfair to nurses or anybody else in the health service--certainly no one in the Government. We gave nurses a review body of their own so that their interests could be looked at dispassionately, and we have scrupulously honoured the recommendations of that review body in full.

Mr. Blair: The Prime Minister will know that the review body has pointed out that it was acting on the prompting of the Government.

The Prime Minister indicated dissent.

Mr. Blair: That is what the review body says in its own report. Is the Prime Minister prepared to accept a situation where substantial numbers of nurses who are doing the same job are paid substantially less than 3 per cent?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman still does not understand the point. I shall make it to him again so that it is clearer. We have accepted the recommendations of the review body in full this year, as we have done every year in the past. The right hon. Gentleman must look at the actual offers which are being made to nurses as a result of local pay determination. The majority of those are in the order of 3 per cent. or more, and I am confident that that trend will continue. We set up the review body--which was welcomed by nurses--and it has made recommendations which I think we should stick to.

Mr. Blair: The Prime Minister cannot have it both ways. Either he believes-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Blair: Either the Prime Minister believes that the nurses deserve 3 per cent., in which case he should deliver it, or he is content for many of them to be paid less than that, in which case he should have the honesty to say so. May I put it to him this way: if some nurses turn out just to get a 1.5 per cent. pay increase, when they already face mortgage and tax rises and the rest, is not the danger not just of a sense of injustice among nurses, but of yet another damaging blow to the morale of the national health service?

The Prime Minister: It is the right hon. Gentleman who is seeking to have it both ways. He and every hon. Member of this House agreed that it was right for there to be an independent pay review body for the nurses. That is what there is and we have accepted the recommendations that it has made and provided increased funding to the national health service--some £1.3 billion--so that pay awards of that sort can be met. That is the right way to deal with it; it is the way that we are dealing with it; and it is scrupulously fair. I notice that it was this Government who provided an independent pay review body for the nurses and not previous Governments.

Mr. Harris: Has my right hon. Friend found time to read the report in The Daily Telegraph , which shows once again how Spanish fishermen are plundering stocks, especially by catching undersized fish? Taking into account the events off Canada and the report by his special advisers, under Sir Crispin Tickell, will my right hon. Friend take a personal lead in the matter and try to bring some sanity back into this whole question of conserving fish stocks and ensuring that our fishermen have a future to look forward to?

The Prime Minister: I certainly understand and share Canada's desire to preserve fish stocks. That is a perfectly legitimate concern and it is entirely right of Canada to seek to do so. The real issues here are allocation of the quota and enforcement--two separate, but related, issues. The allocation must clearly be resolved by negotiation. Good progress is being made and I see no reason why an accommodation cannot be struck.

Enforcement is clearly the key and we need tough rules that are enforced. Again, I understand that we are close to a deal. I believe that Canada is right to take a tough line on enforcement, but I hope that in taking such a line she does not undermine her own good case, which exists at present. There have been discussions about trade sanctions. We have made it clear that we would strongly oppose the imposition of such sanctions.


Q2. Mr. Nigel Griffiths: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 March.

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

Mr. Griffiths: Does the Prime Minister think that the director of a company that traded illegally with a foreign power is a fit and proper person to be in his Cabinet?

The Prime Minister: I believe that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury dealt with that matter very forcefully and to great acclaim from most of the House just a few moments ago. He has made his position absolutely clear. No evidence has been found to counter that, either by The Independent or anyone else.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: Does my right hon. Friend recall Lord Tebbit's definition of loyalty and commitment to a country as the side that one supports in, for example, a cricket match? Will the Prime Minister join me and this House, therefore, in cheering enthusiastically for Canada in its forthcoming fixture against Spain?

The Prime Minister: I believe that I am right to say to my hon. Friend that, in 1868 or 1874, Canada beat England at cricket in Canada. As I said a moment or so ago, I think that Canada is right to take a tough line on enforcement. She has our support in doing that and we shall not support the imposition of trade sanctions. This is an area where a satisfactory accommodation between the sides can be achieved, and should be achieved speedily.


Q3. Mr. Beith: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 March.

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

Mr. Beith: Has the Prime Minister seen from today's Audit Commission figures that spending on education in secondary schools in Northumberland is lower than in any other county? As it is not possible to explain that by how the council allocates its resources because it results from the Government's spending formula applied in a scattered rural area and the capping limit on council spending, will the Prime Minister stop pretending that there is no problem and try to do something about it?

The Prime Minister: I think that many interesting things are thrown out by the Audit Commission report; not all of them would be very well received by the right hon. Gentleman when he actually has the opportunity to study them. On the specific matter of education, I have made the point repeatedly to the House in the past and I reiterate it today: there is a question of priorities within the education budget. I do not believe that it is right for education authorities to look, as their first priority for making savings, at the classroom teacher. That is the last place to look, not the first.


Q4. Sir Peter Tapsell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 March.

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

Sir Peter Tapsell: May I welcome my right hon. Friend's reassertion yesterday of his absolute determination to continue to maintain Britain's role as a national power in international affairs? Will he give a commitment that, at the intergovernmental conference next year, he will veto any attempt to include the pillars of foreign and home affairs in the European Union in the supranational Rome treaty?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me advance notice that he planned to raise that detailed matter. I confirm that, at the IGC, what I wish to see is more effective intergovernmental co-operation between Europe's nation states to fight cross-border crime and promote joint policies internationally. But I shall make it absolutely clear on that occasion that Europe's foreign policy and home affairs pillars remain outside the treaty of Rome. The United Kingdom's right of veto on those matters is important to us. It is at the heart of national sovereignty and I shall protect it at the intergovernmental conference.


Q5. Mr. Dafis: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 March.

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

Mr. Dafis: Does the Prime Minister agree that it is essential that, at the Berlin climate change conference, the need for significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions after the year 2000 is explicitly stated and that we must have a decision to negotiate a reductions protocol to that effect? Does he further agree that, if current strong rumours that the UK and the European Union are prepared to compromise with the Americans and others on that fundamental principle, we shall all stand condemned by future generations?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises an important matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will attend the Berlin conference and will call on all the developed countries to agree a figure of between 5 and 10 per cent. below 1990 levels for all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2010. We believe that that represents both a credible and an achievable next step and demonstrates the commitment of the United Kingdom to the framework of the climate change convention. I should say to the House that the United Kingdom is on course to meet current commitments under the convention, and we have been at the forefront of international work over recent years. We were the first country to present our programme up to the year 2000, and my right hon. Friend is now leading the way in calling for agreement on a realistic target up to 2010.

Mr. Batiste: Has my right hon. Friend seen reports in the papers this week that in the middle east seven drugs dealers were executed, but in Leeds a gang of drugs dealers burnt down the house of a black policeman? Is it not time that, in our war against drugs dealers, we treated them as the mass murderers that they are?

The Prime Minister: I believe everyone in this country shares the distaste for drug dealers to which my hon. Friend refers. As he will know, my right hon. Friend the Lord President has been preparing a comprehensive anti-drugs strategy, and the Government have already taken a number of initiatives in line with our European and other international partners. There is no doubt about the danger of that trade, and we will do all that we can, domestically and internationally, to help to stamp it out.


Q6. Mr. Janner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 March.

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

Mr. Janner: As we approach the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp by British troops, will the Prime Minister express what I am sure is the wish of us all--that there shall never be such a tragedy again? Will he also consider whether we should not be dealing rather better with Hitler's heirs in our own country--not least the thugs of Combat 18 and their ilk, who have been sending through the post to constituents of mine, Asians in the city of Leicester and elsewhere, racist, threatening and abusive cards and razor blades? Will he ensure that the police have the resources and the determination to deal with those awful people?

The Prime Minister: I agree without qualification with the hon. and learned Gentleman about that. Combat 18 is a repellent organisation. The literature that it circulates is utterly disgusting, and there can be no place for its type of politics in the United Kingdom.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman is aware, we have comprehensive anti- discrimination legislation. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 introduced a new imprisonable offence of intentional harassment, which I hope will give the police more powers to deal with serious racial harassment. We are also making the distribution of racially inflammatory material an arrestable offence.

However, the best reassurance that we can give to victims is the one that the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, and that is to help the police to ensure that those people are caught and punished for their crimes.