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1995 - PMQT 11th May 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th May 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 May.

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. Prentice: Today, with the publication of the Nolan report, will the Prime Minister take full personal responsibility for the tide of sleaze that has engulfed his Government? Will he now admit that it is quite wrong for Ministers to move seamlessly from the Cabinet room to the boardroom, lining their pockets in the process?

The Prime Minister: I invite the hon. Gentleman to read the report before he comments on it. He will then see what Lord Nolan has to say about the great majority of men and women in British public life, their standards and their ethics, and he may just regret the way in which he and some of his hon. Friends have attempted, time after time, to issue general smears about specific matters.


Q2. Dame Jill Knight: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 May.

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

Dame Jill Knight: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the size and scale of public rejoicing on Monday stoutly reaffirmed the love that the British people have for this country? They were waving Union Jacks, not tatty-looking red roses. Is it not appropriate to remind people that Labour's devolution policy would split this country more irrevocably and fundamentally than all Hitler's armies could possibly have done?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend makes clear, last week's celebrations were a remarkable occasion. They struck a perfect balance between commemoration and celebration, and I think that they brought a great deal of pleasure to the many men and women whom we were honouring for their service during the war so many years ago. I believe that they also showed that the sentiments that unite us as a nation are far stronger than those sometimes presented as though to disunite us. That is very healthy for the nation as a whole: it is an enormous strength for this country--a strength that should not be put at risk by misguided policy.

Mr. Blair: People of all political persuasions enjoyed VE day, and I do not think that political capital should be made out of it. Now--is 2.5 per cent. still the Prime Minister's inflation target?

The Prime Minister: We set out our inflation target some time ago. It is between 1 and 4 per cent., and in the lower half of that range by the end of this Parliament. It remains the same.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister then disagree with the Bank of England, which says that he will not meet that target?

The Prime Minister: The Bank of England has made it perfectly clear that it supports the policy that we are carrying out. If the right hon. Gentleman had read the speech by the Governor this morning--I will quote it to him if he wishes, for clearly he has not--he would have seen that the Governor makes very clear the importance of maintaining a strong control of inflation, saying that in recent years we have been very successful in that.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the nearest that the last Labour Government got to low inflation was 8.4 per cent. on rigged figures over one quarter. We have had inflation below 3 per cent. for more than a year.

Mr. Blair: I do not think that the Government are in any position to talk of rigged figures--no, indeed. The Bank of England clearly does not agree that the Prime Minister will meet his target. How does a public rift between the Government and the Bank of England do anything other than damage the credibility of the economy? Does not the fact that rises in interest rates are even being contemplated at the moment, when for millions of people they have barely moved out of recession, show the fundamental weakness of the economy that the Government have never addressed?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that the Governor of the Bank of England thinks that it is a weak economy, as the right hon. Gentleman will see if he reads the Governor's speech. The reality is that, as usual, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are playing both sides of the same policy. They criticise when interest rates go up and they criticise when interest rates do not go up. They simply do not know what they wish to do, except, whatever happens, to criticise it and to make short-term party political capital out of it; they do not give a fig for the long-term health of the British economy.

Mr. Churchill: Is it not clear that the French people-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard in the House.

Mr. Churchill: Is it not clear that the French people have no greater love of socialism than the British? Will my right hon. Friend neglect no opportunity to expose the fact that, behind the innocent cherubic face that the Labour party seeks to present to the world, is a party which, every time it has been in government, has wrecked the economy, destroyed business confidence and boosted taxes to very high levels on ordinary working people?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is quite right about that. There is one matter in which Labour Governments have always been consistent: unemployment has always gone up, interest rates have gone up, taxes have gone up and prospects have gone down.


Q3. Mr. Simpson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 May.

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

Mr. Simpson: Can the Prime Minister confirm that, under the regulations governing the national lottery, the fingers crossed symbol is the property of the Secretary of State for National Heritage? Does he appreciate that it has come to represent the symbol of his party in that it is all that remains of his strategy for winning local government elections, his guarantee of emergency care beds for the people of London and his own prospects of leading the Conservative party towards its next electoral catastrophe?

The Prime Minister: During the past four years we have taken decisions that are in the long-term economic and social interests of Britain. Many of them have been difficult and unpopular, but as a result we have inflation lower than we have seen for a long time, unemployment falling faster than anywhere else in Europe, investment showing that British industry is growing and exports which show that in eight or nine months out of the past 14 we broke new records. When did the Labour party ever preside over an economic circumstance remotely like that?

Mr. Thurnham: When my right hon. Friend next meets Mr. Chirac, will he congratulate him on his presidential victory and remind him how much better it is to be outside the social charter, especially now that unemployment in France is 50 per cent. higher than in this country?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend about the problems of the social chapter. There is no doubt that right across the rest of the European Union the social chapter costs jobs. Here it does not cost jobs, because we are not part of it. I can reaffirm to the House that neither in the short term nor in the long term will we become part of it.


Q4. Mr. Beith: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 May.

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

Mr. Beith: Is the Prime Minister aware of the announcement within the last hour that the Asea Brown Boveri train building works at York is to close with the loss of 700 jobs? Does he recognise that that is a demonstration of the dreadful chaos of rail privatisation and that investment in the railway industry is grinding to a halt as a result? What chance is there that our rail system will have investment and that trains will be built in this country at all?

The Prime Minister: Of course I know of the job losses at ABB, and I very much regret them. But privatisation is no more responsible for those job losses than it is for an outbreak of measles. The right hon. Gentleman is simply wrong to blame privatisation. It was the Government's private finance initiative which gave ABB the opportunity to bid for contracts such as the Northern line, the Heathrow express rail link and the Jubilee line extension. Unfortunately, ABB did not win any of those contracts, and that is the problem.

Sir Michael Neubert: As unemployment has come down by 632,000 since the last general election, is continuing to come down by an average of 1,000 per day and is below the European Union average, would it not be absolute folly to reverse that progress by adopting a national minimum wage? If such a policy is to be offered to the British people, do they not have an unchallengeable entitlement to know the level at which it will be set and how many hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost as a result?

The Prime Minister: There seems to be some dispute among Opposition Members about whether they should proceed with the minimum wage and what its level would be. Certainly, despite their clarity that they wish to have a minimum wage, they are less clear about the level at which they would set it, and I find that rather odd. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is keen enough to tell us that he would enter a single currency in many years' time, which is a major decision, yet he cannot tell us, even perhaps two years ahead, were he to win the election, what he would do on a relatively minor decision such as the level of the minimum wage.

The reality is that the Opposition know that a minimum wage would cost jobs and they know that if we knew its level we would be able to calculate that loss. On any reasonable assumption, more than 750,000 people would lose their jobs as a result of Labour dogma.


Q5. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 May.

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

Mr. Flynn: Is the Prime Minister not shocked by the news that the number of children who were hit and killed by road vehicles increased last year by a staggering 28 per cent.? Is he aware that that was mainly because the fronts of some vehicles are designed for appearance and not safety, with the addition of rigid bull bars which concentrate and multiply the force of accidents at the level of a child's head? Does he agree with his Ministers that those bars are useless, macho fashion accessories, and will he move swiftly today to avoid future tragedies by banning these deadly bully bars from all public roads?

The Prime Minister: I was not aware of the statistics that the hon. Gentleman mentions or the reason that he ascribes to them. However, in view of what he says I shall certainly ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to examine the matter and, having done so, provide me with his advice. If the hon. Gentleman's statistics are right, it is of course regrettable. I am glad to say that, overall, the position on road accidents is improving, and I hope that that will continue.

Mr. Hendry: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the positive reaction in my constituency and throughout the country to yesterday's White Paper, "Tackling Drugs Together", which contains the most comprehensive anti-drugs strategy of any Government? Does he agree that the key message to young people should be that all drugs are wrong? Does he also agree that any move by the House to legalise even soft drugs should be rejected because it would fundamentally undermine that message?

The Prime Minister: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend on the question of drugs, and I take the view that the legalisation even of soft drugs would be a very substantial mistake, not least because soft drugs are so often the route towards people seeking to experiment with harder drugs. It is very unwise for people to experiment with any drugs and we have no intention of legalising them. The proposals that we set out yesterday on tackling drugs have been very widely welcomed. Many experts have commented not only on the comprehensive nature of our proposals, but on the fact that no country in western Europe now has such a comprehensive plan in hand to deal with the desperate problem of drugs.


Q6. Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 May.

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

Mr. Mackinlay: Who is to blame for, and what is the cause of, all the negative equity that is blighting hundreds of thousands of households and families? What will be the consequences for the economy and for business if negative equity continues to grow, and what does the Prime Minister intend to do about it?

The Prime Minister: Fortunately, the amount of negative equity is now half the level it was at its peak and it continues to fall. Clearly, while there is negative equity, it is acting as a drag on the housing market. The more the economy grows, the more unemployment falls, and the more confidence begins to return, the sooner we shall begin to see the complete elimination of negative equity. When that occurs, it will be a very welcome development.