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1995 - PMQT 4th July 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 4th July 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Sir Michael Shersby: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 July.

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.

Sir Michael Shersby: Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the decision of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen to strike? Does he agree that that decision will bring misery and frustration to millions of passengers? Is he, like me, astonished that the general secretary of ASLEF has not offered one word of apology to the travelling public?

The Prime Minister: I am surprised at that and I regret it. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I shall have a little order from the Front Benches below the Gangway--on both sides. There will be one exchange at a time.

The Prime Minister: I totally condemn the decision to seek a strike, which is likely to cause chaos and confusion for hundreds of thousands of passengers. I do not believe that there is any justification whatsoever for the strike. I condemn it and I very much hope that the leader of the Labour party will condemn it as well and make it clear that he, like me, will put the interests of passengers before militancy.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister share the anger and disgust of South West Water consumers-- [Interruption.] Tory Members may find the subject boring, but while they continue to tear themselves apart we shall speak up for the people of this country on the issues that concern them. What is more, it is not 329 Conservative Members of Parliament who should decide the Prime Minister and Government of this country; it is the British people at the ballot box.

Does the Prime Minister share consumers' disgust that the managing director has received a 45 per cent. pay increase while water bills have risen by 70 per cent. since privatisation? Is it not high time that the regulator was given the power to curb such abuse?

The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my view has been that many customers of water companies will be concerned about the reported pay increases of directors, and I share their concern. I think that, like me, many people would have no objection to pay rises that are linked to company performance, but if they cannot be linked to company performance I think that they will rightly be condemned by many people up and down the country. I propose to watch the pay increases carefully, and when we have received the Greenbury report on executive pay and remuneration we will be able to decide whether any action is necessary.

Mr. Blair: Instead of watching it, why does the Prime Minister not act to put a stop to the abuses now?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman knows, for I have told him before--he is clearly a slow learner on this point--that we will wait and see what the committee examining the matter reports. When we have the facts in front of us, we will be in a position to take a decision: I prefer facts before decisions.


Q2. Mr. Streeter: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 July.

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

Mr. Streeter: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the decision of the House last night to extend the assisted places scheme for another year? What does he make of a party that voted yet again to deny the opportunities created by that scheme to hundreds and thousands of children throughout the country?

The Prime Minister: I am unsurprised at the way in which the Labour party casts its votes. Labour Members may talk about opportunity but, time after time, they vote against extending opportunity, such as the assisted places scheme. I am in favour of that scheme because I want people to enjoy opportunities that earlier generations did not have. We act on issues--the Labour party talks about them but does nothing.


Q3. Mr. Stevenson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 July.

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

Mr. Stevenson: Does the Prime Minister agree that today 329 Tory Members of Parliament will probably be taking the most important political decision of their lives and that it will affect every man, woman and child in the country? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise the sense of outrage felt throughout the length and breadth of the land that such a decision will be taken anonymously and in complete secrecy?

The Prime Minister: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman--echoing the thoughts of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) a few moments ago--that I recall Labour calling for a general election in 1985 and losing one in 1987. I recall Labour asking for a general election in 1990, and it lost in 1992. Labour may call for a general election in 1995 but it will lose it in 1997.


Q4. Mr. Brandreth: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 July.

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

Mr. Brandreth: Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the City of Chester-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. We need order in the House.

Mr. Brandreth: Is my right hon. Friend aware that my percipient constituents welcome low inflation and sustained growth, relish rising inward investment and falling unemployment and require a Government who represent Britain's interests at the heart of Europe--rejoicing in the literal decimation of new proposals from Brussels in the past five years? What does my right hon. Friend reckon has brought us in the direction of those happy phenomena?

The Prime Minister: I welcome the advantages that have been brought to the people of Chester by this Government. I acknowledge that they will want to see such advantages in future, and I look forward to ensuring that they do.


Q5. Ms Jowell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 July.

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

Ms Jowell: Will the Prime Minister apologise to the thousands of blood donors whose gift of blood was wasted last week, and to the patients whose operations were cancelled because the Government's agent, the National Blood Authority, bought cheaper blood bags? Is not that another example of what the people of this country have come to expect from the Government, who know the price of everything but the value of nothing?

The Prime Minister: One of the values of this Government's health reforms is that well over 1 million extra patients are being treated every year. One of the other values of this Government is capital expenditure worth more than £1 million every single week since 1979. One of the other advantages of this Government is more and better treatment in every aspect of the health service. One of the other values is the greatest improvement in primary health care since the health service was established in 1948. It is about time that the hon. Lady took her head out of the sand and saw what is really happening to improve the health service.


Q6. Mr. Thurnham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 July.

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

Mr. Thurnham: Does my right hon. Friend agree that in negotiating our Maastricht opt-outs he proved that he is closer to the feelings of his people than any other leader in Europe? Is not the true test of leadership in Europe to trust the people to think and act for themselves? Is that not how he led us to victory in 1992 and how he will lead us to victory again at the next election?

The Prime Minister: I did then as I do now, and as I will do in the future, and that is to take the decisions that I believe are in our country's national interest and defend those decisions both abroad and here at home. It was for that reason that I set out and obtained the opt-outs. It was for that reason that I retained them. I believe that that is the right way for us to proceed.

Dr. Hendron: The Prime Minister is probably aware that once again my constituency of Belfast, West was in flames yesterday evening. I am sure that he is aware that Mrs. Briege Gadd, the head of the life sentence review board, has resigned. In that regard, and in regard especially to the release of Lee Clegg yesterday, does the Prime Minister accept that the Northern Ireland Office has sacrificed the stability of the peace process for short-term political gains? Furthermore-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The Member must be heard.

Dr. Hendron: Furthermore, my constituents justifiably believe that there is one law for soldiers and another law for Irish prisoners.

The Prime Minister: I must say to the hon. Gentleman, who has played a significant part in stilling the difficulties of Northern Ireland over recent years, that I believe that he is wrong to make that judgment. I hope that he will reflect again on what he said. The decision to release Private Clegg was a judicial matter, which was decided by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on its merits--that is both the decision itself and the timing. The decision was made by my right hon. and learned Friend and subsequently I was informed of it. It was a judicial matter and it must remain a judicial matter.

As for the difficulties faced by the hon. Gentleman's constituents yesterday, I think that he will know, as I know, and as the RUC is equally clear, that there was a high degree of orchestration in yesterday's violent events in Northern Ireland. Prominent members of Sinn Fein were present at a number of those events. They are far from the only violent demonstrations organised by Sinn Fein in recent months. I think that everyone in Northern Ireland is aware of that fact.

If I may say one other thing about Private Clegg in the light of what has been said, I say to the House and the country as a whole that it is patently absurd to equate Private Clegg's case with deliberate acts of murder by paramilitaries-- [Interruption.] The Lord Chief Justice, at Private Clegg's appeal, stressed that when he, Private Clegg, commenced the patrol

"he had no intention of unlawfully killing or wounding anyone."

One other further point may be of some comfort to many people in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I apologise for the length of my answer, but I think that this is a matter of importance for the peace of the streets in Northern Ireland. Of other cases recently considered by the life sentence review body alongside that of Private Clegg, five other prisoners were recommended for release on life licence. Four of those involved terrorist offences and they concerned both loyalists and republicans. All those cases, including Private Clegg's, were reviewed on their merits. Private Clegg's case was only one of a number that were considered.

Mr. Matthew Banks: My right hon. Friend is well aware of the healthy scepticism that exists, especially on the Government Benches, about a single European currency. He is also aware that many of us would like to see a referendum on the matter, if it is appropriate, in future. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that to say no, never now to a single European currency would weaken Britain's negotiating position with our EU partners for very many years to come?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend about that. I had observed over the past couple of years that there is the occasional case of scepticism about European policy--that has been evident. But I believe, as my hon. Friend said, that in the event that a British Cabinet decided to enter the single currency, it would be wise at that stage to consider whether or not to have a referendum. But to determine that matter at this stage would be premature.


Q7. Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 July.

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

Mr. Hughes: When the Prime Minister was previously elected, he set as one of his objectives the creation of a nation at ease with itself. If he is re-elected this afternoon, in a society and a country where the gap between the rich and the poor has become wider, not narrower, how will he show some commitment to that cause, so that under his premiership Britain is a country of social justice and greater equality, rather than one of greater social injustice and inequality?

The Prime Minister: I do not agree with the premise upon which the hon. Gentleman frames his question. The greatest destroyer of ease of mind in Britain is inflation. Inflation is now at a lower level and under more secure lock and key than at any time for the past quarter of a century. That is not just a matter of concern to people with savings; it is a matter of concern, above all, to the people about whom the hon. Gentleman is concerned--the people who, at the end of the week, wonder whether they can pay their bills and are grateful that the prices have not gone up. To protect them, we must keep inflation down. I have, I am proud of that and I intend to keep it down.