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1995 - PMQT 6th June 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 6th June 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6 June.

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. Hoyle: Will the Prime Minister take time off from his engagements to reflect on his fatuous remark that householders suffering from negative equity were responsible for their own plight? Does he not recall that, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, he was the main architect of the inflationary Budget of 1988, which led to the dramatic rise in house prices? Instead of blaming those unfortunate householders, will he not for once accept that he is responsible for their calamity?

The Prime Minister: I know the hon. Gentleman well enough to suspect that he knows that he has quoted me out of context. The remarks that he described as fatuous were actually made by the shadow Chancellor about what I said and were not in fact what I said. I am flattered that the hon. Gentleman should think that I was the main architect of the 1988 Budget, but I rather fancy that the then Chancellor might dispute it.

Mr. Pickles: Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at the decision of Essex county council to end bussing pupils to grammar schools? Is he aware of the great anger in my constituency about that decision? Is he further aware that the savings have now proved to be negligible? Does he agree that, unless the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats reverse their decision, education will go backwards in Essex and only the rich and privileged will be able to afford grammar schools?

The Prime Minister: I have seen the press reports. I have not called for a detailed report of what has happened, but superficially, on the basis of the reports that I have seen, what has happened seems to be in fairly sharp conflict with the rhetoric of the Leader of the Labour party and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, both of whom have given me notice that they will be elsewhere this afternoon. I understand that the hon. Member for Sheffield Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) has called on the Government to do something. He wants us to do something to protect the electors from the malice of Labour and Liberal councils.

Mr. Prescott: Bearing in mind the fact that it was the Prime Minister who set up the Scott inquiry and appointed Sir Richard as chairman, can he now assure the House that Sir Richard Scott continues to enjoy his full confidence?

The Prime Minister: I asked Sir Richard to carry out that report and I have confidence that he will do so thoroughly. When he has finished his report, I will consider it. When I have considered it, I will comment on it.

Mr. Prescott: We welcome the Prime Minister's support for Sir Richard Scott. May I remind the Prime Minister that it was his Chancellor, on the BBC's "Question Time" last year, who said that he would resign if the inquiry found that he had acted improperly? Can the Prime Minister assure us that, if the inquiry finds that any Minister had knowingly misled the House, he or she must resign?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may wish to draw conclusions from a partial report not yet-- [Hon. Members:-- "Yes or no?"] I will reply to the question in my own way.

The right hon. Gentleman may wish to draw his conclusions on the basis of a partial report; I will draw my conclusions when the report has been responded to by those mentioned in it, when a final report has been produced and when I have had time to study and consider that final report.

Mr. Prescott rose --

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman should contain himself a moment.

At that point I will make my judgment on the basis of the facts, not now, as the right hon. Gentleman does, on the basis of his prejudices.

Mr. Prescott: Will the Prime Minister make it clear that if the inquiry, in its final conclusions, finds that any Ministers have misled the House, they must be asked to resign?

The Prime Minister: I have made it perfectly clear that I am making no judgments on what may be in the report until the report is complete. What we have seen thus far is a malicious leak of a part of the report-- [Interruption.] I repeat, what we have seen thus far is a malicious leak of a part of the report. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, to whom the right hon. Gentleman is clearly referring, has made it perfectly clear that he rejects the observations contained in the draft extract and has said that he is confident that he will persuade the inquiry that those views are wrong and inaccurate. We will await the final report.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the disgraceful leak of the Scott inquiry proceedings and their subsequent exploitation by the BBC and the Opposition is a denial of natural justice?

Mr. Skinner: The Government leaked it.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has clearly finally flipped if he believes what he is shouting out at the moment. [Hon. Members:-- "Who leaked it?"] I wish I knew who had maliciously leaked this selective aspect of the report. But I do know who is seeking to take advantage of that leaked report in studio after studio. I wonder what people might make of someone who takes a partial extract of an incomplete report before it is responded to and appears in every studio in the land to smear someone. I know what I make of him. I make of him the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Beith: If the Prime Minister has formed no conclusion about the judgments that will be contained in the final version of the Scott report, how was it possible for reports to emanate from Downing street yesterday of full support for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in his denial of the conclusions that have been leaked? Will the Prime Minister ever tell us the truth about all this or will the Government behave true to form and never take responsibility for anything that goes wrong?

The Prime Minister: There was a time, a long time ago, when the Liberal party actually believed in waiting for the facts before it smeared, but that is not so these days. Like Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, at the first available opportunity it takes the worst possible construction, without facts, without right of reply, without consideration and makes its judgments. I will not do that. I will make my judgment on the basis of the facts when the people criticised have had the opportunity to reply and when they have replied. One day, the right hon. Gentleman might learn that that is the right way for anyone in the House to behave.

Mr. Butterfill: Does my right hon. Friend agree that there can be no public interest defence in what the BBC has done? To behave in the way that it has in respect of a report that will be published in full in any event can only be a subversion of the public interest.

The Prime Minister: I said a few moments ago how much I deplore the malicious leak and that it appears to have been broadcast without any opportunity being given for the people named in it to respond. I believe that the people of this country will make up their own minds about that behaviour.


Q2. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6 June.

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

Mr. Prentice: Further to the Prime Minister's wholly inadequate reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), may I remind him of what he said last week? He spoke of the crazy situation of spiralling house prices and silly borrowing. Will he never take responsibility for anything--or is he content to allow mortgage misery to continue for millions of people, shuffling responsibility on to anyone but himself?

The Prime Minister: What the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) said--which the hon. Gentleman clearly did not understand--was that I had personally blamed the people who had taken mortgages for their difficulties. That is not what I said, as anyone who reads what I said--

Mr. Prentice indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: Here again, the hon. Gentleman does not want to know what was said; he just wants to take the political opportunity to smear again and again and again. That is the single constant factor in the attitude of Opposition Front and Back Benchers: never mind the facts--let us live with the myths.

Mr. Anthony Coombs: I warmly welcome the Government's robust approach to the Messina conference last weekend, but will my right hon. Friend remind Jacques Santer, the President of the European Commission, that, far from wanting to give up the opt-out or our national veto, the vast majority of the British people want the European Commission's interference in the nooks and crannies of British life to be reduced? Is it not typical that the only people who do not appreciate that are members of the European Commission itself and members of the Opposition parties?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, we certainly intend to retain the veto in regard to a range of important matters. The Labour party is wrong to seek to undermine the veto position: that will not be understood by people in this country, and it is wholly wrong.

If Labour Members had taken the opportunity to read the OECD report or any of the other reports, they would also know that their policies on the social chapter can do nothing but harm to this country, while giving great comfort to our competitors.

I confirm to my hon. Friend that we shall sustain the veto, continue our policy of seeking genuine subsidiarity and certainly try to ensure that the essential parts of British life are protected from external interference.


Q3. Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6 June.

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

Mr. Sheerman: Looking back on four and a half years in No. 10, what does the Prime Minister most regret? Does he most regret the loss of 800,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector, the repossession of the houses of a third of a million people or his total failure to appoint a team of Cabinet colleagues who are honest, trustworthy or competent?

The Prime Minister: I will tell the hon. Gentleman precisely what I am most pleased about that has been achieved in the past few years. I am most pleased that we now have the best opportunity for sustained recovery with low inflation and job creation that the country has seen for 30 years. The hon. Gentleman can name no western European country whose position has improved so much over the past four years; he can name no western European country whose unemployment has fallen so rapidly; and he can name no western European country with prospects such as ours. That is what I look back on having achieved in the past four and a half years.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Will my right hon. Friend accept that I was in no way misled by our right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he wrote to me about arms to Iraq on 4 May 1989? I was astonished, therefore, that the matter was raised at all in the Scott report. When I asked my right hon. Friend what the score was, however, he replied again that the guidelines were applied on a case-by-case basis, in the light of the circumstances of the day.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that these are guidelines, not tablets of stone, and that it would be the height of insanity if they were not operated in the light of the circumstances of the day? Does he further accept that I know of no more honourable man in politics than our right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?

The Prime Minister: I strongly agree with what my hon. Friend has had to say in the last couple of moments. My right hon. Friend has made those points to the Scott inquiry and I have no doubt that in the response to the preliminary report he will re-emphasise those points.


Q4. Mr. Martlew: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 6 June.

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

Mr. Martlew: The Prime Minister will recall that in the Budget statement in November 1993 the Chancellor gave the go-ahead for the upgrading of the west coast main line. He said that it was the most important rail link in the country.

Does the Prime Minister realise that to date there have been no contracts let and no work done on that line, the line is crumbling, the service is deteriorating and thousands of passengers are being inconvenienced by the delay? Will he give his Transport Secretary instructions to stop asset-stripping our national railways, and get on with upgrading the west coast main line?

The Prime Minister: If the facts are as stated by the hon. Gentleman, I think he has made the most classic case for privatisation I have ever heard.