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1995 - PMQT 18th April 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th April 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mandelson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 April.

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.

Mr. Mandelson: Will the Prime Minister endorse Labour's condemnation of the minority of militants who behaved so badly at the National Union of Teachers conference in Blackpool last weekend? Does he agree that the best way to isolate those individuals is for the Government to start listening to what governors, teachers and, above all, parents across the country are saying--that it is madness to trade cuts in the education of our children this year for tax cuts next year?

The Prime Minister: I certainly share in the condemnation of the behaviour that we have seen at the National Union of Teachers conference in the past few days. Millions of parents would have been concerned about the behaviour that they saw. It was, frankly, disgraceful. It was loutish. If I may say so, Labour's Front-Bench education spokesman was appallingly treated by those militants. I am happy to share in the hon. Gentleman's thorough condemnation of the behaviour of that minority of teachers. I also very much regret the fact that their conference has decided today to ballot on strike action, against the advice of their executive committee. I strongly hope that wiser counsels will prevail and that teachers will decide that their job is to be in the classroom teaching their pupils, not outside teaching bad habits to their pupils.


Q2. Mr. Clappison: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 April.

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

Mr. Clappison: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the massive boost that he gave to British prestige by his decision to use Concorde for his recent visit to meet President Clinton in Washington? Will he take this opportunity to declare his pride in travelling in that magnificent advertisement for British technology?

The Prime Minister: Although the technology is now 25 years out of date, it is a magnificent aircraft, it is unequalled across the world and I congratulate all those with the wisdom to travel in it. Mr. Blair rose -- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Blair: I see that the recess has not improved Conservative Members, Madam Speaker.

On education, I agree that strike action would be wrong and misguided, but the Prime Minister's Secretary of State for Education admitted last week that, as a result of the Government's refusal to fund the teachers' pay award, some schools would face hard choices and might be unable to absorb the pressures put upon them. What does the right hon. Gentleman say to those schools?

The Prime Minister: The fact is, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that this Government have consistently made education a priority, benefiting parents, pupils and teachers. We have given parents more choice over their children's education and more information about how they are progressing. Even this year, with the funding levels about which the right hon. Gentleman complains, we are spending record amounts on education, as he will know. We are spending almost half as much again per pupil as when we first took office. We are on top of inflation and we now spend more per secondary pupil than Germany and Japan and more per primary pupil than Germany, France and most of the European Union. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we are dealing fairly with education now, as we have in the past.

Mr. Blair: I do not. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will confirm that the pupil-teacher ratio has worsened under his premiership. The actions of a few extremists in the teaching union should not obscure the hard work and professionalism of the vast majority of teachers; nor should it allow the Government to escape their responsibility for their own brand of extremism, which is forcing education cuts on schools the length and breadth of the country.

The Prime Minister: Our extremism has been to give people more choice and more information, to put far more of our young people into further and higher education than ever before, to increase spending on pupils by 50 per cent. and spending on school books by 50 per cent. over and above inflation, and to increase some areas of ancillary spending by more than 130 per cent. since we have been in government. If that is extremism in education, it is extremism that every other budget in Whitehall would have been happy to have.


European Legislation

Q3. Mr. Steen: To ask the Prime Minister what steps he is taking to monitor the implementation by other EC countries of European Community legislation passed by their legislatures.

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend--no, I do not. My right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade-- [Interruption.] I see that the recess has not improved Opposition Members, either, Madam Speaker.

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and his Department work actively on behalf of British firms. We remain ready to intervene when we feel that other member states have failed to fulfil their obligations and to take the Commission to court if we believe that it has failed in its responsibility to monitor implementation and enforcement of European Community legislation.

Mr. Steen: Since the European Community has a poor and inconsistent track record of enforcing directives and regulations, will the Prime Minister consider employing some of our own people in our embassies to do a little detective work to find out whether other countries gold plate and over-zealously interpret regulations as we do, at a cost to the consumer, our industry and our people? As deregulation is a cornerstone of this Government's policy--one that I wholly support--will he take a look at the activities of the Deregulation Committee, whose first deregulation proposal was on greyhound racing?

The Prime Minister: On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, we have successfully pressed the Commission to increase its efforts to improve member states' compliance with Community law. I assure my hon. Friend that our embassies already actively monitor the position so that action can be taken quickly when shortcomings are identified. The single market compliance unit in the Department of Trade and Industry also helps firms disadvantaged by other member states' failure to implement.

The greyhound racing proposal is one of a large number. On the same day as it was put forward, we also started consultation on proposals to give friendly societies and credit unions more flexibility and to streamline procedures under the Building Act 1984. We shall continue to pursue deregulation.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Wray: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 April.

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

Mr. Wray: Does the Prime Minister agree that my constituency has the worst unemployment figures, health record and infant mortality rate in Britain? Why is it costing £34 million to keep my constituents unemployed? Does not the Prime Minister agree that he and the Government have been a failure? When will he do something? Should he not resign?

The Prime Minister: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman about unemployment in particular. Although he may not have noticed it in his constituency, during the period when I have been Prime Minister, unemployment in Glasgow, Provan has dropped by 28 per cent.

Mr. Nicholls: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Royal Navy will maintain its policy, which goes back some centuries, of curbing Spain's maritime pretensions, and that the Royal Navy will go to the assistance of any British fishing boat that is prevented from going about its legal business by Spanish action?

The Prime Minister: I can confirm that for my hon. Friend. We believe in strict enforcement, and the fisheries protection vessels of the Royal Navy will ensure that rules and agreements are respected.


Q5. Mr. Turner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 April.

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

Mr. Turner: Will the Prime Minister confirm that almost 800 candidates in the forthcoming elections are calling themselves Conservatives? Does he agree that it is understandable that they do not want to knock on doors as Conservatives in those elections? Will he confirm the rumour that he intends to stand as an independent in Huntingdon at the next general election?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that that question was very carefully thought out, but I fear that there was a little problem in delivery at the beginning. I think that I know what the hon. Gentleman had in mind. He might have had in mind some Labour councils: for example, in Berwick Labour is fielding four candidates out of 28; in Craven, three out of 12; in Forest Heath, 17 out of 25. There are a large number of other illustrations that I might give the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps they have their concerns about Labour policy.


Q6. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 April.

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

Mr. Winterton: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in my opinion, his personal beliefs and instincts command the overwhelming support of the people of this country on such issues as the economy and taxation, the national health service, education and the European Community, including fishing? Will he assure me and the country today that his personal instincts will be translated into Government action and policy during the next 12 months?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am happy to give him that assurance. We have a very clear agenda of core beliefs: prosperity for all, extending opportunities, common-sense, decent values, first-class public services, the lowest credible level of taxation, pride in our nation and protection of our interests, both at home and abroad. I assure my hon. Friend that that is our programme, not just for the next year but for the rest of this Parliament and the next Parliament.


Q7. Mr. Pike: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 April.

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

Mr. Pike: Does the Prime Minister recognise that many former employees of the Bellings Group, which went bankrupt three years ago, lost a great deal as a result of abuses and fraud relating to that company's pension fund? Will he give an undertaking to those former employees that they will receive at least equal treatment to that given to members of the Maxwell pension fund?

The Prime Minister: The scale of the Maxwell crisis and the large number of parties involved justified the exceptional action taken at that time by the Government. I do not think that we can necessarily adopt that model for general application. I understand that the independent trustee appointed to the Bellings pension fund is still continuing to pursue the recovery of assets missing from that fund. I think that we should better await the outcome of that investigation.


Q8. Mr. Marlow: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 April.

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

Mr. Marlow: Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the single most important factor affecting our children's education is whether our teachers, as a body, wish to be looked upon as a respected, ethical profession or a primeval Scargillite rump?

The Prime Minister: I am entirely happy to agree with my hon. Friend upon that proposition. Although a minority of teachers have let down the profession in which they serve, I believe that the majority of teachers will strongly disagree with their behaviour. I hope that they will show their disagreement within their teacher unions, as well as publicly.