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1995 - PMQT 15th June 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 15th June 1995. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mans: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 June.

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 Canada attending the G7 conference.

Mr. Mans: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the release of the remaining members of the Welch Fusiliers and of the RAF flight lieutenant by the Bosnian Serbs shows clearly that the Government's robust response to the taking of the hostages was the right one? Does he further agree that we now have an opportunity to reassess how our diplomatic and military efforts in Bosnia can best be taken forward?

Mr. Newton: The whole House will want to join in my hon. Friend's welcome of the release of nearly all of the remaining hostages, including the British ones, and it is essential in our view that the other 26 are released immediately. My hon. Friend was right to say that the Government's policy has been vindicated. Indeed, by standing firm, the whole international community has shown that it will not submit to blackmail and terrorism of that kind. I share the view implicit in my hon. Friend's remarks that it is vital that we redouble our efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement.

Mr. Prescott: Does the Leader of the House think that it is really wise for the Prime Minister to be out of the country at this time?

Mr. Newton: At a time when it is widely acknowledged throughout the international community that this country's economic performance in growth, increasing investment, improving our trade performance, keeping inflation down and reducing unemployment makes it a world leader in that respect, it is quite right that my right hon. Friend should be sharing our experience with our partners in the G7.

Mr. Prescott: With Baroness Thatcher making it clear that the Prime Minister is not up to the job, the President of the Board of Trade professing loyalty while preparing to take over the Prime Minister's job and the Chancellor attacking his Tory critics as right-wing xenophobes, is not it obvious that the Tory party is in a state of civil war and, like the Prime Minister, is clearly unfit to govern this country?

Mr. Newton: If the right hon. Gentleman believes that--against the background of the account of our successful economic policies which I have just given--he will believe anything. He might also explain why his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition took the risk of letting him ask questions from the Dispatch Box today.

[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.


Q2. Mr. Barry Field: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 June.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Field: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's trade union reforms reintroduced democracy into the Labour movement? Will he therefore ask the committee considering the Nolan report whether the 165 Members of the parliamentary Labour party who are sponsored by trade unions will resign if the long-overdue reform of the trade union block vote does not go ahead? In particular, if the Transport and General Workers Union gives that reform the order of the sharp elbow, will the Leader of the Opposition sever all his links with that union?

Mr. Newton: I am not quite in a position to give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks because the committee to which he refers has not yet met and, therefore, has not made a decision about who should be its chairman. In one way or another, however, I will ensure that my hon. Friend's request is drawn to the committee's attention. No doubt the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) will draw the second half of my hon. Friend's question to the attention of his right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Ashdown: Is not it absolutely clear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement last night that, when it comes to a policy on inflation, the Government's policy is very clear--a target is a target, but only so long as it does not get in the way of a tax cut?

Mr. Newton: What is clear from my right hon. and learned Friend's speech last night is that the Government's commitment to low inflation remains absolutely unshakeable and clear and that the commitment to low inflation is part of a range of policies, which I have already described and which will make it possible for us to consider tax cuts in due course when it is appropriate and responsible to do so.


Q3. Mr. Heald: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 June.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Heald: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming this week's further fall in unemployment, which is down for the 21st month in a row and down 500,000 in the past two years? Does he agree that it is not coincidence, but the result of the Government's policies and that if we had a guaranteed minimum wage as the Labour party suggests--it is no good the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) looking glum as he has admitted this--there would be a shake-out of jobs and any silly fool knows that? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the interests of Britain, that policy must be reversed?

Mr. Newton: Although it is sometimes difficult to glean from the observations of the Opposition, I imagine that the whole House will welcome the fact that unemployment has fallen by 350,000 in the past year and, indeed, that employment has grown by more than 170,000 in the year to March. I see the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) giggling in some way-- it is especially ironic that, not so long ago, he forecast that unemployment would go on rising month in and month out. No doubt he will be reassessing his forecasting methods. At the same time, he might reassess policies such as the social chapter and the minimum wage, which would certainly push things in the other direction.

Mr. Madden: May I ask the Leader of the House a question, of which I gave the Prime Minister notice on Tuesday; will he comment on the tragic events in Bradford at the weekend? In condemning without reservation those who commit serious criminal damage, does the Leader of the House share my deep concern about the large number of very young people who are so deeply angry, disaffected and alienated, not only in Bradford but in many other inner cities throughout the country? Will he support an independent public inquiry to establish what happened in Bradford-- [Interruption.] If the House--

Madam Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come to his point as I have other questioners to call.

Mr. Madden: But this is a serious matter to the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman support an independent public inquiry, which can identify the causes of the serious public disorder that took place in Bradford at the weekend and draw attention to the action that can be taken by all public agencies, including the Government, to bring back hope to young people, their parents and local communities?

Mr. Newton: First, I am grateful, as everyone in the House will be, for the hon. Gentleman's initial acknowledgement that, whatever arguments he or anyone else cares to adduce, we all agree that there can be no excuse for the kind of behaviour that we saw in Bradford at the weekend.

So far as the inquiries are concerned, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Police Complaints Authority is supervising the investigation of a number of complaints made against the police during the weekend. That authority is independent and will do a thorough job. The work will be undertaken by officers from another force--

Mr. Madden indicated assent .

Mr. Newton: I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that. I think that that is the appropriate action to take.

As for the rest of what the hon. Gentleman said, I am glad to know that discussions are now taking place between the police and members of the Asian community in Bradford. That is the way to explore other problems.


Q4. Mr. Hendry: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 June.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Hendry: Has my right hon. Friend ever seen a shred of evidence that suggests that people in this country want more government rather than less? Is he aware that my constituents in High Peak would be horrified at the prospect of another tier of regional government based perhaps 100 miles away in Leicestershire? Is not it time for those people who advocate such a policy to admit that what they are really saying is that we should have more bureaucracy, more waste, more remoteness and more taxes?

Mr. Newton: Labour's plans for regional government would certainly end up simply sucking responsibility away from many existing councils that are closer to the people whom they represent. As one of Labour's think tanks made clear yesterday, English regions would be "essentially artificial constructs", which is true of more or less the whole of Labour's policy in that area.

Mr. Macdonald: Is the Leader of the House aware of the growing anger, not just in Britain but on the continent, about the plan to dump the Brent Spar oil platform at sea, at a spot not more than 150 miles from my constituency? Is not it a disgrace that Shell should have tried to hide the true costs of recycling the oil platform on land? Is not it time that the Government intervened to halt the tow of the Brent Spar and allow a proper examination of the true benefits of recycling on land, which would be better for the environment and for jobs?

Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are following the principle of disposal on a case-by-case basis. In the Government's view, the deep-sea disposal of Brent Spar is consistent with the UK's international commitment, and all necessary approvals and consents have been obtained. It is also the Government's view that it is the best practicable environmental option available.


Q5. Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 June.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Jenkin: Will my right hon. Friend draw the Prime Minister's attention to last week's report by the Social Security Select Committee into the growth of social security, which vindicates the Government's view that the continuing growth of social security spending is a cause for concern? Is it not time that we tackled that problem? Is not the test of the Opposition whether they start to support those reforms, otherwise they betray the fact that they have no commitment to dealing with the growth of public expenditure?

Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that matter. The increase in social security expenditure in its various forms, under various pressures including demographic trends, is a matter of concern throughout the western world and perhaps beyond. Against that background, it has been absolutely right for my right hon. Friend to look carefully at the social security system to ensure that the bill is constrained while at the same time meeting proper priorities. That is what he seeks to do and it deserves the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.


Q6. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 June.

Mr. Newton: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mrs. Campbell: Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister whether, while considering what to do about the damage that his Government have caused to home owners with negative equity, he will consider the misery caused by the removal of mortgage interest relief to those who are unemployed and the damage caused to those who need social housing by the £600 million of cuts to housing associations?

Mr. Newton: I shall always draw the hon. Lady's questions to the attention of my right hon. Friends. However, she might have referred to the fact that negative equity and repossessions are sharply down since the 1991 -92 peak, and that average mortgage payments have fallen by £130 a month since October 1990. On the hon. Lady's first point, a survey has shown that two thirds of lenders intend to buy block protection in the area to which she referred, and the majority of those, including the Skipton building society, to which my right hon. Friend referred last week, intend to make no charge.

Mr. Marland: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the county of Gloucestershire, under the profligate Lib-Lab pact local government, the schoolchildren are being cruelly misused? Is he aware that, as a result of the historic overspending in Gloucestershire, the county council has decided to cut spending on education? Is he further aware that some of us are tired of being a whipping boy for Lib-Lab extravagance, and that it is time that we considered lifting the cap on local authority expenditure?

Mr. Newton: I see that it has been reported in some parts of the press that the Leader of the Opposition has managed to persuade the Labour councillors of Mid-Glamorgan to reduce their demands for increased allowances from the exorbitant to the extortionate. I hope that he might now use his influence with some other Labour local authorities to persuade them to pursue sensible and proper policies.