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1995 - PMQT 2nd May 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 2nd May 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 May.

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. Flynn: Does not the letter from my constituent, Mr. W. D. Knight, express the opinions of millions of people in this country when he says that he will never again buy a national lottery ticket? How, he asks, can the nation-- [Interruption.] --gain £14 million of value by buying papers without copyright, many of which papers we already own? Will the Prime Minister guarantee today that, in future, in that instance and all others, national lottery moneys will go to genuine good causes of health, education and crime prevention, not to the rich and the greedy?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman's constituent feels like that, because the proceeds of lottery money do go to very good causes, and I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that. He is, of course, wrong in the assertion that the lottery money was used to purchase papers already owned by the state. That is not the case. What were purchased were the non-state papers, as I told the House last week.

Mr. Thomason: Does my right hon. Friend, in determining Government policy, sometimes receive advice from advisers who one year suggest one thing and another year suggest something else? If they do that, does he take much notice of them, and does he consider that that is what the Labour party is doing?

The Prime Minister: Yes, it is. I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we receive advice from many sources, some of which I take, much of which I do not. When advisers behave as my hon. Friend proposes, I tend to give less credence to their advice.

Mr. Blair: On the Government's policy, revealed this morning, to tax the mortgage insurance payments of sick and unemployed people, will the Prime Minister confirm that, at 10 o'clock this morning, the chairman of the Tory party said that there was no such policy; at 11 o'clock this morning, Downing street said that there was a policy but they were reviewing it; at 12.3 pm, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) described the policy as lunacy; and at 12.42 pm the Chancellor issued a statement, saying that he had now completed the review and was ditching the policy? [Interruption.] Does not that show the utterly chaotic shambles that is his Government?

The Prime Minister: I must say that that is extremely amusing and I can see that the right hon. Gentleman enjoyed it, as did everyone else. The reality is that he is wrong. I can certainly confirm that my right hon. and learned Friend has been reviewing the tax treatment of mortgage protection policies for some months. In light of the misguided reports that appeared this morning, he has removed the uncertainty that would otherwise have been removed in the Finance Bill.

Mr. Blair: It is strange that the chairman of the Conservative party did not know about that--or perhaps it is not so strange. Has not the situation arisen because the Government are cutting mortgage help to the unemployed and therefore forcing all new home owners from 1 October to pay for mortgage insurance, as well as the new insurance tax? Rather than climbing down from the consequences of a mistaken policy, would it not be better to drop the policy that is penalising home owners?

The Prime Minister: Finance Bill matters are generally withheld by the Treasury for reasons that even the right hon. Gentleman should understand. We give very generous help to people who are unemployed and in receipt of mortgages. We have provided such help for a long time and no one can question the growth in home ownership that has occurred under this Government. There is only one party in this country that truly supports home ownership and it is sitting on the Government Benches.

Mr. David Nicholson: My right hon. Friend will recall, I hope with pleasure, the very successful visit that he paid to Taunton last month. Is he aware that the local Liberal Democrats have produced, as an estimate of the policing costs for that visit, the wholly spurious and fantastic figure of £500,000; whereas the Avon and Somerset constabulary has said that it cost £2,000? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that this is typical of the dishonesty and the bogus statistics being used by both Opposition parties in the local election campaign?

The Prime Minister: There does seem to be some slight difference between the two estimates of the cost of my visit to Taunton. As to the substantive underlying point that my hon. Friend raises, it is the case--and it has been so for many years--that public figures, particularly those who are answerable to the public, must and do travel around the country. If the Liberal party is suggesting that public figures should not travel around the country because public disorder results from such visits from time to time, I do not think that the people of this country would accept that proposition.

Mr. Ashdown: When it comes to bogus statistics I suspect that the people of this country know very well where they are coming from. I welcome the very clear statement that the Secretary of State for Defence made just a few moments ago that, whatever action Britain might take in Bosnia, we would not act unilaterally. Does the Prime Minister agree that the situation now developing in Bosnia and Croatia must give cause for grave concern and that, if the conflict is not to spread disastrously, it is vital and urgent that the international community makes every effort to ensure that the second front of confrontation that has now opened in Croatia is closed as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister: I hoped for a second that the right hon. Gentleman was about to clear up the dispute about the cost of my visit to Taunton. Perhaps he will do that on another occasion. As to the main part of the right hon. Gentleman's question about Croatia, there is no doubt that yesterday's Croatian attack, in which some United Nations peacekeepers were wounded, and the retaliation today by the Serbs, have created a very serious situation, as has the Bosnian parties' decision not to extend the cessation of hostilities agreement. As the right hon. Gentleman may know, the UN Security Council has called on the Croatians to halt their offensive in west Slavonia and I hope that the Serbs will also stop retaliating against Croatian towns and cities. It is a serious and a grave situation; no one can have any doubt about that. Over many months the United Nations forces, both in Croatia and in Bosnia, have helped to limit the scale and the extent of the conflict. That has been the case for two years. I warned more than a month ago that returning to all-out war could make the position of the United Nations protection forces absolutely untenable. I repeat that warning today. Neither in Croatia nor in Bosnia will renewed fighting produce a satisfactory settlement--or a settlement of any sort.


Deregulation

Q2. Mr. Steen: To ask the Prime Minister if he will set up a seminar about expediting his deregulation plans for the Ministers he has appointed with responsibility for deregulation in all Departments.

The Prime Minister: From time to time I hold meetings with colleagues to take stock of progress on deregulation. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade most recently met the appropriate Ministers on 27 April and discussed progress on deregulation measures and steps to improve enforcement procedures.

Mr. Steen: The Prime Minister's personal crusade to rid the country of red tape is greatly welcomed by Conservative Members, but is not the real problem at operational level, where officials are more zealous in enforcing regulations than in trying to reduce the impact of regulations that affect our industries' competitiveness with European countries which do not have all those rules? Will the Prime Minister, therefore, take a fresh initiative that will get to the root of the problem?

The Prime Minister: We are looking at the over-zealous enforcement of regulations. My hon. Friend is right. At national and local levels, over-zealous enforcement of regulations, particularly those affecting small businesses, causes a great deal of distress and worry. He is equally right that deregulation is central to our economic policy. He may be reassured to know that we now have a programme whereby more than 1,000 regulations are earmarked for amendment or repeal and we expect to have dealt with about half of them by the end of the year.


Engagements

Q3. Mrs. Ewing: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 May.

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

Mrs. Ewing: Now that the Prime Minister has finally plucked up the courage to allow the voters of Perth and Kinross to take their democratic decision, is it his intention to endorse the views of the Secretary of State for Scotland that any reference to Scotland as a region is merely a matter of geographical error, or will he state clearly that Scotland is indeed a nation and not a region, and, therefore, we should have the right to self-determination? When he is in Scotland this weekend, will he launch an educational project to tell his Back Benchers the difference between a region and a nation?

The Prime Minister: There are four nations within the United Kingdom. Scotland is one of them. I look to see it remaining in the United Kingdom and I very much regret that the hon. Lady and her parliamentary colleagues seek to make it independent and outside the United Kingdom.

Sir Peter Fry: Will my right hon. Friend find time today to compare his current gas and electricity bills with the size of those bills only a few years ago? Will he reflect on the success of the Government's policy in producing real reductions in the charge for energy? Will he join me in wondering how local government candidates representing the new, clean Labour party can produce leaflets which say that the Government are bleeding us dry through privatised gas and electricity companies? Does he agree that the new, clean Labour party is using the same dirty tactics of the old, discredited Labour party?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend puts the matter exceedingly clearly and well and I entirely agree with him. There is no doubt that in general prices have fallen in the privatised industries, though that is not remotely what Opposition Members expected. The right hon. Gentleman, now the leader of the Labour party, once said of electricity privatisation:

"it is barely an issue that prices will rise because of privatisation."-- [ Official Report , 12 December 1988; Vol. 143, c. 684.]

He was wrong then and he is wrong now.


Q4. Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 May.

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

Dr. Jones: The Prime Minister will be aware from the latest economic figures that a large proportion of the 0.8 per cent. growth in the first quarter was attributed not to manufacturing but to sales of national lottery tickets. Is not the Prime Minister concerned that using the proceeds of the lottery to enrich one or perhaps two Tory Members will put the faltering recovery in further jeopardy? Will the right hon. Gentleman have a word with the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and ask him to pay the money back?

The Prime Minister: I am inclined to say to the hon. Lady, come off it. The growth in the economy was 4 per cent. last year, and is estimated at 3 per cent. this year and 3 per cent. next year. When did the Labour party in government ever produce such growth figures? The answer is that it never did. The hon. Lady knows that growth has primarily been built on exports. When was there an export record similar to that which British industry has enjoyed over the past 14 months? Nine or 10 months out of the last 13 or 14 months, there has been a new record in exports as our competitiveness and capacity to penetrate markets in Europe and the rest of the world increase. That is what is happening with economic growth at the moment, and it has never been matched by the Labour party.