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1995 - PMQT 9th May 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 9th May 1995. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Jon Owen Jones: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 May.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is currently in Moscow on an official visit as part of the VE day commemorations.

Mr. Jones: Does the Leader of the House have any sympathy for a perplexed and lonely young man, Mr. John Richards, the last remaining Tory councillor in Cardiff, who only eight years ago was part of a ruling group with more than 30 colleagues? While Mr. Richards looks around and tries to find out what has happened to his colleagues, how does the Leader of the House explain that calamity? Does he think that-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Jones: Does he think that on Thursday, the electorate showed that they have the same opinion of the Government as Will Carling has of the Rugby Football Union?

Mr. Newton: My sympathy is with the people of Cardiff for what is about to be inflicted on them.

Mr. Hunter: Bearing in mind the commemorative theme of the past few days, and in anticipation of the Government's meeting tomorrow with Sinn Fein, will my right hon. Friend reassert that the Government will not bow to the IRA, will never surrender to IRA tyranny and will never seek appeasement with the evil of the IRA, but will remain resolute and resist all that Sinn Fein-IRA has stood for over the years?

Mr. Newton: I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. As he will know, it has repeatedly been made clear that we were not prepared to agree to Ministers joining the exploratory talks with Sinn Fein until it accepted that position and the need for a serious dialogue about decommissioning.

Mr. Prescott: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that Thursday's local elections were a disaster for the Tories and a triumph for Labour? Does he agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), that the Government should stop lecturing and start listening to the British people, beginning tomorrow with the London hospital debate?

Mr. Newton: The best thing that I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that I have been studying with interest a report in The Guardian of 6 May under the heading,

"Record haul of seats for reborn left",

which is followed by a quotation by the then Leader of the Opposition claiming that it shows the result of the next general election. That was in 1990.

Mr. Prescott: The House will note that the right hon. Gentleman avoided the question on the London hospitals. Is not the simple truth that, 50 years ago, the Tories voted against the creation of Labour's national health service and that, in the past five years, they have closed more than 300 hospitals and will vote tomorrow to close some more? Is not that why one can never trust the Tories when they say that the national health service is safe in their hands?

Mr. Newton: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will set out very clearly in tomorrow's debate a policy, the purpose of which is to create a modern pattern of hospital and primary care provision in London. That is what it will do. As to capital schemes, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, since 1980, more than 800 schemes, each worth £1 million or more, have been completed. That is roughly one a week. At present, there are more than 300 such schemes at the planning, design or construction stage, and that is the biggest sustained hospital and health service development programme in our history.


Q2. Mr. Congdon: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 May.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Congdon: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the imposition of a national minimum wage would destroy jobs? Is it not an act of political cowardice to talk about bringing in a minimum wage while not having the courage to specify its level?

Mr. Newton: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I think that it was the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who acknowledged that a minimum wage would destroy jobs. Although that has been acknowledged, no figure has been given. All we know is that jobs would be destroyed, and it is time that the Opposition told us how many.

Sir David Steel: The Leader of the House is a regular tourist in Scotland. Therefore, will he welcome as much as we do this morning's decision by the Court of Session in Edinburgh that British Rail cannot axe its services at the end of May without going through the full consultation procedure? Will he make sure that Government money is there to maintain those services?

Mr. Newton: The right hon. Gentleman rather exaggerates my activities as a tourist in Scotland, although I recall meeting him at a fete in his constituency a couple of years ago. I understand that an application for judicial review has been heard and that the court has ruled that British Rail may not withdraw the service until the statutory closure procedure has been completed. It is for the British Railways Board and ScotRail to consider what action to take in the light of the full written judgment, and it would not be right for me to comment further at this stage.


Q3. Mrs. Peacock: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 May.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mrs. Peacock: Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending thanks to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother for her role 50 years ago in supporting King George during the dark and difficult days of the war? Will he also join me in warmly thanking her for her tremendous support and activity during the VE celebrations over the weekend?

Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend speaks for the whole House. Over the weekend there has been an outstandingly successful series of events of remembrance, reconciliation and hope for the future. They reminded us of the contribution that was made by our service men and service women and many civilians to the effort of 50 years ago. As my hon. Friend says, it has reminded us not least of the contribution that was made by the late King and Her Majesty the Queen Mother during the war and by Her Majesty the Queen over so many years since then.


Q4. Mr. Wilson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 May.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Wilson: Since the threat to overnight rail services between Scotland and England arises directly from Government policies, many of us think that it is precisely for the Leader of the House to answer in respect of what happened in the Court of Session this morning. What does it tell us about this Government that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Transport were both prepared to conspire in a deceit that has been found to be illegal as well as immoral?

Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that the letter and the spirit of today's judgment will be respected by the Government? Does he accept that this excellent decision will give fresh heart to campaigners throughout the country, who see similar threats to their vulnerable services in what the Government are doing to the railway industry?

Mr. Newton: As I have already said, it is now obviously right for the terms of the judgment to be properly and carefully considered, but I also remind the hon. Gentleman that the decision to withdraw this service was a commercial matter for British Rail, and that representations, of a kind to which he will no doubt wish to contribute, about all sleeper services can be made when the Franchising Director consults on the passenger service requirement later this month.

Mr. Streeter: Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the French people, who on Sunday rejected socialism and elected a right-wing President? Does not that show-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard.

Mr. Streeter: On Sunday, the French people rejected socialism and elected a right-wing President. Does not that show that all over Europe people recognise that, while left-wing politicians offer sound bites, Conservative policies work?

Mr. Newton: I certainly wish to welcome the election of the new President, and I think everyone would wish to send him this country's good wishes in his new job. My hon. Friend is right to say that one of the factors in that election will have been the extent to which socialist policies are coming under criticism throughout Europe. Indeed, the French Employers' Federation has said:

"the excessive level and poor structure of taxes on business add to production costs, slowing down investment and job creation." It is exactly the policies that have now been rejected in France that right hon. and hon. Labour Members would now want to impose on Britain.


Q5. Mr. Jamieson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 May.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Jamieson: Is the Leader of the House aware that, following last Thursday's meltdown of Tory support in the south-west, particularly in the constituency of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), 55 out of 60 councillors on Plymouth city council are Labour members, and the only bodies that the Conservatives control in the region are the quangos? Is not the message from last Thursday's elections that there is now an unbridgeable gap between the electorate and the Government? The only way in which that can be bridged is by having a general election.

Mr. Newton: Earlier, I extended my sympathy to the people of Cardiff; I will now extend my sympathy to the people of Plymouth.


Ministerial Visits

Q6. Mr. Simon Coombs: To ask the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Swindon.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Coombs: Does my right hon. Friend agree that companies in Swindon and elsewhere would rather stick with a Government who have firmly rejected the concept of a national minimum wage than run the risk of supporting a party that might introduce a national minimum wage at a level so low that it would be meaningless, or at a level that would imperil employment and run the risk of reducing companies' investment in training?

Mr. Newton: I agree with my hon. Friend that the people of Swindon and, no doubt, the people of every town in the country would not wish to go down a path that will undermine employment, heap new costs on business, undermine the economic recovery, undermine our capacity to attract overseas investment, and undermine our ability to defend Britain's interests in Europe.

Mr. Pike: As the Leader of the House's job includes presentation of Government policy to the people of Swindon-- [Interruption.] Ah, I know, Madam Speaker--

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs) widened the question, but I do not want questioning to go too wide.

Mr. Pike: As it is the right hon. Gentleman's job to present Government policy, does he accept that either his presentation has failed or the policy has failed? Will he tell the people of Swindon what change of policy he now proposes--or does he intend to go?

Mr. Newton: I would tell the people of Swindon--and, indeed, those represented by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike)--that, when unemployment is falling by 1,000 a day, when we are enjoying the most sustained period of low inflation for more than 30 years, when export volumes have risen by 12.5 per cent. in a year and when for two successive years ours has been the fastest-growing major European Union economy, one thing is certain: the policies are succeeding.


Engagements

Q7. Mr. Waterson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 May.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Waterson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the VE day commemorations throughout the country at the weekend were extremely moving? Does he also agree that we have had 50 years of peace in Europe because this country has maintained strong defences, and has refused to listen to the voices of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament members and sympathisers in the Labour party?

Mr. Newton: I agree with my hon. Friend on both counts. As I said earlier, the celebrations themselves were an outstanding and impressive success; and there is no doubt that the fact that we were able to have them rests on the firmness of this country's defence policy over the years--a policy that has frequently not been supported by the Labour party.