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1995 - PMQT 4th April 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 4th April 1995. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Robert Hughes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 April.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): I have been asked to reply. [Hon. Members:-- "Oh."] I am grateful to Opposition Members.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is currently on an official visit to the United States.

Mr. Hughes: Is the Leader of the House aware of the sad plight of about 3,000 haemophiliacs who have contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood used in their ordinary treatment? Do the Government accept the overwhelming moral responsibility that exists and the case for a hardship and compensation fund? When the Prime Minister returns from America, will the Leader of the House ask him to have a word with the Secretary of State for Health and tell her to stop resisting that claim and allow justice to be done?

Mr. Newton: The straightforward answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that of course I am aware of that tragic position. Indeed, I had some experience of a related one when I was Minister for Health and there was the problem of haemophiliacs with AIDS. I will, of course, do as the hon. Gentleman requests and bring his question to the attention of not only my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Mr. Knapman: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on Scotland's continuing success in attracting inward investment. Might that in any way be prejudiced by Opposition parties' policies with regard to devolution?

Mr. Newton: It is certainly the case that all the signs are that Scotland has just enjoyed another record year for inward investment. I understand that it is attracting inward investment projects at the rate of about 100 a year, examples being Motorola at East Kilbride and NEC at Livingston. One thing is certain: that inward investment is coming as a result of Conservative policies and would be put off by Labour policies.

Mr. Prescott: Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me why, if the economy is now so strong that the Prime Minister can offer tax cuts in November 1995 and November 1996, taxes are going up again on Thursday?

Mr. Newton: The right hon. Gentleman well knows that taxes have had to be increased as part of a number of difficult decisions to bring about recovery from recession and the sustained economic growth that is now going on. As my right hon. Friend said once again at the weekend, as those policies pay off we shall seek to reduce taxes as soon as it is prudent to do so. The one thing that everyone in the country knows is that a Labour Government never have, and never will, reduce taxation.

Mr. Prescott: Is it not the case that the Government are taking £800 a year in new taxes now, so that at the next general election the Tories can bribe us with our own money? Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that the British people now know that, when it comes to tax, you can never trust a Tory?

Mr. Newton: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reflect on two facts. The first is that, on average, households are expected to be about £250 better off this year than last, even after tax and inflation, and the second, on which I hope he will reflect, is that, if we had maintained the tax regime that we inherited from the last Labour Government, more than 1 million more people would be paying tax next year.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my right hon. Friend agree that middle England is not a land that takes kindly to political correctness or positive discrimination? Will he give a firm assurance that under the Conservatives it will never have to submit to either?

Mr. Newton: I think that I can safely give my hon. Friend that assurance in general terms, but I would want to look carefully at each specific proposition.


Q2. Mr. Pearson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 April.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Pearson: Now that the Prime Minister has promised tax cuts in November, will the Leader of the House say whether that is a real promise or the sort of promise that the Chancellor makes on a wet night in Dudley?

Mr. Newton: It is a point that is reflected in the fact that one in five taxpayers now pays tax at the lower rate of 20p in the pound compared with the basic rate which stood at 33 per cent. when the Labour party was in office. That point is also reflected in the fact that last year's increased allowances for pensioners took 190,000 people out of taxation-- many of them, no doubt, in Dudley.


Q3. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 April.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Greenway: Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are 56,000 asylum applications awaiting decision? Are not bogus asylum applications damaging to the prospects of honest and true immigrants as well as damaging to race relations? Will my right hon. Friend do something about it? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must settle down.

Mr. Newton: My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has already announced measures to speed up the processing of asylum applications to deal with the backlog. As a result, 7,000 more cases will be processed every year. My hon. Friend will be aware of, and no doubt welcome, the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear last weekend that there will be a new Bill in the autumn to tighten up the asylum rules further. I believe that that will be widely welcomed, as it is, as my hon. Friend said, in the interests of good race relations.


Front-line Services, Sheffield

Q4. Mr. Bill Michie: To ask the Prime Minister if he will visit Sheffield to discuss funding of front-line services.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has no plans to do so.

Mr. Michie: Two years ago, the Prime Minister did have plans, but never arrived. When the Leader of the House answers this supplementary question, will he debate not the past but the present and future in terms of funding in Sheffield? The funding in terms of Government grant is becoming so bad that it is affecting front-line services to such a degree that the Labour party, the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrat party in Sheffield support a redetermination bid. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to support that bid and to come to talk to the people of Sheffield--the carers, teachers and children--who are suffering under the present regime?

Mr. Newton: I can understand why the hon. Gentleman, like many other Opposition Members, does not want to debate the past, and I will not do so--I shall come to the present. The latest figures for March 1994 show that there are, in Sheffield, nearly £8 million in council tax arrears, more than 1,200 vacant properties and unspent school balances of £5 million. Perhaps the Opposition should address those problems first.


Engagements

Q5. Mr. Barron: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 April.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Barron: Has the Leader of the House seen the latest report of the National Federation of Housing Associations, which reveals that because of Government cuts this year, only 17,000 new homes will be built? Given that repossessions in Britain are still running at 1,000 per week, does he agree with me that the Prime Minister's offer on Saturday of a White Paper on housing is totally inadequate for the needs of the country?

Mr. Newton: I might pay more attention to the hon. Gentleman if his comments were a little more balanced--for example, if he had acknowledged that last year housing starts were up 13 per cent. and repossessions have fallen by more than a third since the peak in 1991. He might have added that the average mortgage is now down by £140 a month since 1990.


Q6. Mr. Heald: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 April.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Heald: Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to see the Audit Commission report on the performance of local authorities, showing that Conservative authorities provide better services at lower costs, that eight out of the top 10 most debt-ridden councils are Labour and that, typically, a Conservative council has a council tax 40 per cent. lower than a Labour council? Does that not show that Britain is better off under the Tories?

Mr. Newton: I sense some support for my hon. Friend and I certainly wish to extend my support to him. The report ties in the indicators in the Audit Commission report with the fact that for the average band C council tax payer, Conservative councils cost people nearly 40 per cent. less than Labour councils and 25 per cent. less than Liberal Democrat councils. The fact is that Conservative councils do cost less and provide better services.

Mr. Davidson: Does the Minister expect a vote of confidence in the Government in the Scottish local authority elections on Thursday?

Mr. Newton: I envisage that in the Scottish local elections on Thursday people will focus on the fact that in Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, Conservative councils cost them less and give them better value for money.


Q7. Mrs. Gorman: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 April.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mrs. Gorman: Will my right hon. Friend consider joining me in congratulating the Federation of Small Businesses, which voted at its annual conference to come out of the European Community? Does he agree that most good economic ideas have their origins in small businesses?

Mr. Newton: I fall short of expressing congratulation in quite the terms that my hon. Friend seeks, but I certainly did note the resolution of the Federation of Small Businesses in Torquay, not least because I happened to be in the west country that weekend and was asked one or two questions about it. We all understand the federation's concerns, not least about what is sometimes seen as excessive interference and over-regulation. We need to continue to address those real concerns, both by our attitude to subsidiarity in Europe and by our policies on deregulation at home.

Mr. Winnick: In view of the Government's deep and continuing unpopularity, can the Leader of the House tell us how far the Prime Minister is safe from internal party intrigues to change the party leadership? Does he accept that the words of loyalty he will no doubt say were used by Cabinet Ministers in 1990? Look what happened to her--she was betrayed by her Cabinet colleagues and repeatedly stabbed in the back.

Mr. Newton: I recall something else about 1990, which is that the hon. Gentleman was talking about the deep unpopularity of the Government two years before we won the last election.


Q8. Mr. Spring: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 April.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Spring: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the continuing waste, bureaucracy and extravagance that mark so many Liberal and Labour local authorities? Is he aware that Suffolk county council, while protesting frugality, is spending some 30 per cent. more on its education bureaucracy than the surrounding counties--money that could be spent directly on schools and pupils?

Mr. Newton: I was not aware of the specific figures from my neighbouring county of Suffolk. What my hon. Friend said will certainly strike a chord with many Conservative Members. The figures reflect the extremely large number of non-teaching staff compared with teaching staff, to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has referred on a number of occasions.

Mr. Simpson: Will the Leader of the House explain the compelling case for a cut in taxation at a time when the Government will not fully fund the pay awards that they make, or the services that they demand, in health and education?

Mr. Newton: The compelling case is to strike an appropriate balance between those considerations and the considerations of enlarging choice and improving our economic prospects. The Government have constantly sought to do that and it is reflected in the improvement of our public services, in the strengthening of our economy and in paving the way to cut taxes when it is prudent to do so.

Mr. Gill: My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House clearly understands that the butchers, the bakers and the candlestick makers are fed up with regulatory overkill. Will he take this opportunity to confirm to the House that he understands that, when Government make a law, that law impacts most heavily on those who get up in the morning and make something or do something--in other words, those people who create the wealth in our nation and upon whom the rest of society depends?

Mr. Newton: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I repeat the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). There is no doubt that our emphasis on reducing unnecessary interference from Brussels through the subsidiarity theme and not least our emphasis on deregulatory measures at home--which we shall continue to drive forward--are of great importance to the business prosperity of this country.