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1995 - PMQT 20th June 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 20th June 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Dr. Lynne Jones: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 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.

Dr. Jones: Yesterday the Prime Minister agreed that the public are opposed to Brent Spar being dumped at sea. Today we know that the Government's own scientists also oppose that. Why were their objections overruled? Surely it is now time for the Prime Minister to act to prevent that dangerous dumping.

The Prime Minister: With respect to the hon. Lady, she is a little behind the events of today. The views of a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food scientist were completely misreported in this morning's press, and the scientist involved has now issued a statement and appeared on television to clarify the matter. He has made it entirely clear that the concerns expressed in the leaked paper expressly did not apply to deep-sea disposal, which is what is proposed.

Mr. Quentin Davies: Does my right hon. Friend recall Kipling's lines:

"If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you"-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order to hear Mr. Davies.

Mr. Davies: Does my right hon. Friend remember the confusion that was caused when the Bosnian Serbs seized hostages a few weeks ago, when some people even suggested that we should beat a retreat or give in to blackmail? Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the clearsightedness and resolution that he displayed then have saved not only the lives of the hostages, but the credibility of NATO? Will he now take a little credit where it is so obviously deserved?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks and for reminding me of one of Kipling's great poems. I am of course delighted that all of the peacekeepers have now been released, and I take the opportunity to make it clear to the House that no deal whatsoever has been entered into to ensure their release. That would not have been the wish of the House, and no deal at all has been made. We also said that we would hold the Bosnian-Serb leaders personally responsible for their release. I cannot be certain whether that had an impact on their decision, but certainly they were in no doubt whatsoever that, if any harm had come to our hostages, or indeed other United Nations hostages, we would most certainly have held them personally responsible for that harm.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister recall that, shortly before the Scott inquiry, he said that Parliament had not been misled deliberately or otherwise, and that the guidelines for the sale of arms to Iraq had not been changed after 1985? Is that still the Government's position today?

The Prime Minister: I recall very clearly what I said about that. I also recall that I set up an inquiry by Sir Richard Scott so that he might examine that to determine whether or not he felt that that was correct. That report is in the course of being considered at the moment. I have made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that I have no intention of commenting on the substance of that until Sir Richard has reached a final conclusion and has reported.

Mr. Blair: What I was asking the right hon. Gentleman to do was to state the Government's position, not to anticipate the findings of the report. [Interruption.] Fair enough, if he says that he has to await the report, then may we have his categoric assurance that if the report does find that Parliament has been misled he will abide by its findings and act upon them?

The Prime Minister: Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman is unaware of the requirement set down clearly in "Questions of Procedure for Ministers". I approved and published that guidance, so it is a matter of open report to the House. I have made it clear in "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" that Ministers who deliberately mislead Parliament should resign, except in exceptional circumstances like a devaluation--the Lord Callaghan example is a case in point. That remains the case.

We are witnessing at the moment a series of quite malicious leaks. I say "malicious" because I believe that they should be seen for what they are. They are intended to blacken Ministers' names before they have responded to a provisional report with which they strongly disagree. I hope that in future people will see these leaks for what they are and will await the final report from Sir Richard Scott.

Mr. Blair: What I am trying to establish is whether the right hon. Gentleman will abide by the findings of the Scott inquiry. I accept that he has said that if Ministers are found to have misled the House deliberately they will resign; but will the right hon. Gentleman abide by the findings of the Scott inquiry on that point? If he does not, and rejects them, that will put the final seal of contempt on a disintegrating Government.

The Prime Minister: I was wondering in which direction the soundbite would go today--now we know what the first two questions were intended to lead up to. I set up Sir Richard Scott's inquiry; I am awaiting the report; I will consider it; and I will make my judgment when I have got it and seen it.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Does my right hon. Friend share the concern of many of my constituents about malpractice in local government? Has he seen the recent independent report on Monklands district council showing that, where the Labour party is in power, it cannot be trusted not to abuse it?

The Prime Minister: Following the right hon. Gentleman's question, my hon. Friend was called at an appropriate moment. On a day when we have heard yet more Labour accusations based on rumours and leaks, here, with this report on Monklands, we have a clear case of how Labour in office runs its own affairs. I have seen the reports on how the council apparently targeted spending for political reasons, on jobs for the boys and jobs for their families. It is no good the Labour party trying to get off the hook; this council is run by Labour councillors. It is not an isolated example: Lambeth council, Birmingham council, Monklands council-- [Interruption.] My hon. Friends add to the list.

If the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is so concerned about open government, will he say today that he will publish the earlier, secret report held by the Labour party into Monklands council, which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has consistently refused to make public?

Hon. Members: Answer.

Madam Speaker: Order. Sit down.

Mr. Ashdown: Given that the Government are prepared to allow Shell to dump the toxic waste from Brent Spar into the sea, will the Prime Minister tell us how the Government intend to stop the other 50 North sea oil rigs waiting for disposal being similarly disposed of, by dropping them into some vast underwater toxic scrap-metal dump off the coast of Scotland?

The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman should know, there are a number of international commitments before there can be disposal of any oil-bearing rigs of this sort. We have complied with all the requirements under the Oslo convention, the London convention and the Ospar --Oslo-Paris--convention. In each and every case we shall do precisely the same. No case will be precisely similar, and on each occasion we will make a judgment of what we believe to be the right environmental way to dispose.

Mr. Hayes: Does my right hon. Friend recall the words of an illustrious predecessor, who was a great patriot and a good European, who said that the dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on? Does he take those words to heart? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. We must hear the answer to this one.

The Prime Minister: I am delighted that my campaign for literacy is bearing fruit in all directions.


Q2. Mr. John Evans: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 June.

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

Mr. Evans: Does the Prime Minister agree that President Chirac's cynical resumption of nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific is treating the people of that region with contempt and putting at risk the health of their children and children yet unborn? If the French must have nuclear testing, why cannot they do it in central France?

The Prime Minister: I am not sure whether that will add to the hon. Gentleman's European credentials. The decision on nuclear testing is not an easy one for the French. It is for them and they have made it. The principal objective at the conclusion of the short series of tests is the early conclusion of an indefinite comprehensive test ban treaty. President Chirac has confirmed his commitment to it, we are committed to it and I hope we can achieve it as speedily as possible.

Mr. Gale: Has my right hon. Friend had time to study reports in the press indicating that Opposition spokesmen now have the effrontery to suggest that it was the fault of the Scottish Office for not conducting an inquiry into the Monklands issue that led to the present position? Is it possible that the Scottish Office might have been unwise to accept assurances from Labour Front-Bench spokesmen that nothing was wrong?

The Prime Minister: I must confess to my hon. Friend that I am not entirely sure of the background, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has today written in detail to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), asking him to make public all the information that he has and that so far has been kept private. I hope that, in the new spirit of openness, the Labour party will respond immediately and comprehensively to that request.


Q3. Mr. Tom Clarke: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 June.

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

Mr. Clarke: Does the Prime Minister agree that discrimination against disabled people is wrong? [Interruption.] The House and the country will note that the Conservative party does not seem interested in the concerns of 10,000 of my constituents. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Mr. Shaw. Order now. [Interruption.] Order. I shall have silence in the House when Members are asking questions. I call Mr. Clarke.

Mr. Clarke: Does the Prime Minister agree that discrimination against disabled people is wrong, whatever its nature and origin? If he does, will he join me in congratulating the House of Lords on extending the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Bill by a majority of two to one, so that any discrimination against disabled people, whatever its origins, will be seen as unfair, unjustified and rightly unlawful?

The Prime Minister: I have always opposed discrimination in all its forms and the Disability Discrimination Bill sent by this House to the other place, promoted by this Government, is the greatest single advance in disability legislation that we have seen for a long time--perhaps the greatest single advance on any occasion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is the case, for he knows it to be so. If he is concerned about discrimination, he might also be concerned that people ought not to discriminate in favour of their relatives on his local council. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. There is no injury time.

Mrs. Roe: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the abolition of independent funding and management of grant-maintained schools destroys the whole notion of grant-maintained status, and that no amount of words from Labour Members will be able to hide their instinctive hostility towards grant-maintained schools?

The Prime Minister: I do find myself a very strong advocate of grant -maintained schools. I understand that the Labour party now wishes to channel grant-maintained funds through local education authorities, allowing the political opponents of grant-maintained schools to control the purse strings. It also seems to be prepared to stuff the grant-maintained schools' boards of governors with Labour party leaders from the local councils. So much for its professed concern about quangocracy. When it suits it, that is precisely what it will do. Having preached one thing, it practises another. It pretends that it favours grant-maintained schools with strings but, in reality, it is a string that will break the neck of the grant-maintained system.