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1995 - PMQT 6th July 1995

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McGrady: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 July.

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 have further meetings later today.

Mr. McGrady: After the Prime Minister's success in his little local difficulty, congratulations would normally be in order, if it were not for the very great disadvantage caused to the communities of Northern Ireland by the introduction of the Clegg factor and the damage that it has done to the peace process. However, in the aftermath of that, could I ask the Prime Minister now to devote himself wholly to the pursuit of the cause of peace in Ireland, in view of the increasingly volatile situation there? Will he consider the appointment of an independent international arbitrator or negotiator to break the current logjam, rather than rely on his Northern Ireland ministerial colleagues, who have many departmental and other ministerial duties to attend to? There is a precedent for that in the inter-party talks.

The Prime Minister: I am looking at ways of breaking the logjam, but I do not think that it would be helpful to the hon. Gentleman if I were to discuss those this afternoon. I remain as committed to proceeding with the peace process in Northern Ireland as I have been since the moment I walked into Downing street. A great deal of progress has been made. It is crucially important that that progress is sustained. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, and all hon. Members from Northern Ireland, will join me in that search. I know that it is what they wish for and I am absolutely certain that it is what their constituents most wish to see.

Mr. Redwood: May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his win? May I assure him that, like him, I wish to see a Conservative election victory? Would he agree with me that some of the ideas and policies that I set out in the past two weeks could make an important contribution to that victory?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his words. I hope that he will agree with me that we had a fair contest last week. I am grateful both for the way in which he has spoken this afternoon and for the way in which he conceded the result of the election. Let me say to my right hon. Friend that there is a great deal that the Government will be doing in the months ahead which I know that he will wish to support enthusiastically. I will welcome his support, as will all my colleagues.

Mr. Blair: I offer my congratulations to the Prime Minister on his re-election with, I suspect, rather more sincerity than the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), and, of course, I also congratulate him on his new deputy.

Last year, the Prime Minister gave what he called a cast-iron commitment to nursery education for all four-year-olds. Is that still the case?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. I think that he congratulates me in the same spirit that Mr. Neil Kinnock did on one occasion. I am equally grateful and I look forward to the same result at the subsequent general election.

I confirm that, on a phased basis, I look for the introduction of nursery education for all four-year-olds and my right hon. Friend will announce this afternoon our plans and the phasing.

Madam Speaker: Mr. Peter Luff.

Mr. Blair rose --

Madam Speaker: I am sorry. Mr. Blair.

Mr. Blair: I know, Madam Speaker, that rather a lot has been going on on the Government Benches recently, so it is perfectly understandable.

If that is the Prime Minister's commitment, and we know that 90 per cent. of four-year-olds get pre-school education at present--indeed, the majority of those get it free in the public sector now--can he guarantee to make good his commitment, first, that he will provide the extra places that are necessary but, secondly, that nobody who now gets and qualifies for free public sector education will be forced to go private and top up the voucher?

The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Gentleman will find the answers to his questions very satisfactory and that he will find them very speedily. It is perfectly clear from events a moment or so ago that not only is the right hon. Gentleman following most of our policies but it would seem that he may actually have joined the Conservative Benches.

Mr. Blair: It is Labour local authorities that have provided nursery education.

Never mind the Prime Minister telling us to wait for his right hon. Friend- -this is his idea; his scheme. Can he give those guarantees or not? If not, many people will think that this is a con trick, not a genuine scheme for nursery education. Would not it at least be better to consider whether we could not obtain better value for money spending these hundreds of millions of pounds improving present provision for four-year-olds and bringing within the system three-year-olds who are shut out of the Prime Minister's scheme altogether?

The Prime Minister: No, the right hon. Gentleman will see that what we are proposing this afternoon will meet the points that he has in mind and meet them better than he could. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of choice in education since he exercises it. We said that we would deliver pre-school education for all four-year-old children and this afternoon he will see that we will meet that policy. The parents of all four-year-olds will be given a voucher for pre-school education in the state, private or voluntary sectors, and we will put that purchasing power where it belongs. I had thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of exercising rights of choice. We will see this afternoon whether that is true.

Madam Speaker: Now we will have Mr. Peter Luff.

Mr. Luff: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Everything comes to he who waits.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a policy of withdrawal from the European Union, or a policy of immediate acquiescence in every idea that emerges from the Commission, no matter how damaging to the nation's interests, would both be acts of political and economic folly? Does it surprise my right hon. Friend in the slightest that the Leader of the Opposition has espoused both such policies?

The Prime Minister: I shall spare the Leader of the Opposition the quotes that I have used often enough in the House to indicate his changing view on Europe, from espousing withdrawal behind closed doors in 1983, to announcing subsequently that he had changed his mind, and then to wholehearted support for everything that happens in Europe without any reference to the British national interest. It is fudge, mudge and split the difference on every aspect of that policy. The right hon. Gentleman does not understand the difference between competitiveness and the social chapter and between national interest and a national veto. He will learn if he stays as Leader of the Opposition--if he stays as Leader of the Opposition. I doubt that he will because after the election I look forward to addressing his successor while I stand here as Prime Minister.

Mr. Ashdown: Why does the Prime Minister not realise that vouchers that only partly fund pre-school education are bound to be of more value to those who can pay the difference than to the poor whose children need help most? Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman put the whole nation first, he would put universal access to high-quality pre-school education for all before Conservative tax cuts at the next election.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman really ought not to be so silly. We are placing a substantial sum in the hands of parents so that they can make a choice of nursery school education for their children. Now we know the Liberal party's position: no choice at all for parents. I do not know what happened to the Liberal party's old philosophy, but gone it completely has. If people want choice--if they want universal nursery education--they will get it from the Government, and from no one else.

Mr. Butler: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the appropriate tenure of a Conservative Prime Minister is not four and a half years involving one general election victory, but at least 11 years involving at least three general election victories?

The Prime Minister: There is certainly an honourable precedent to that effect, and I shall seek to follow it.


Q2. Mr. Nigel Griffiths: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 July.

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

Mr. Griffiths: Does the Prime Minister welcome the strong support that Lord Justice Taylor gave Sir Richard Scott at the distinguished Lord Mayor's dinner last night? Will he, too, give his strong support to Sir Richard?

The Prime Minister: I gave Sir Richard my support when I appointed him to head the inquiry.

Sir Anthony Grant: Is my right hon. Friend aware not only that the courageous decisions that he has made in the past week were wholly and absolutely justified, but that his Government are faced with the most inexperienced and fatuous Opposition whom I have seen in all the 31 years for which I have been in Parliament? Furthermore, I do not want a job.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has been examining Labour Oppositions for many years, and I have no doubt that what he says is entirely right. After the next election, he will have an opportunity to study another Labour Opposition.


Q3. Mr. Flynn: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 July.

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

Mr. Flynn: Is the Prime Minister not appalled by the ungrateful treatment being handed out to the constituents of Basildon? Tory Members are reported to be seeking new seats and abandoning their loyal Tory voters in Eltham, Loughborough and, yes, even Basildon. Is the Prime Minister's advice to all his hon. Friends with majorities of less than 18,000, "Retreat now: abandon your voters, because it is "No change, no chance'"?

The Prime Minister: I seem to recall hearing rather arrogant remarks like that before the last general election.

I seem to recall hearing rather a lot of them. Yet those who behaved in such an arrogant fashion long before the election are still sitting on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Stephen: Does my right hon. Friend share the concern felt by so many of our constituents that the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights have a tendency to encroach far too much into areas that are properly within the sovereign authority of this Parliament and that if those institutions are to maintain the respect of the British people, they must exercise more self-restraint in future?

The Prime Minister: As I indicated to the House when I reported on the Cannes summit a week or so ago, there are areas where the European Court of Justice ought not to tread, and it was on that basis that I refused to allow it to have any jurisdiction whatsoever over the Europol convention, which I agreed with our partners in Europe at the Cannes summit. I believe that because it touches on sensitive matters that are rightly the prerogative of the British courts and no other, and on that point the Government's policy will remain as it is.


Q4. Mr. Ainger: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 July.

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

Mr. Ainger: Given the description by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) of the Prime Minister's leadership style as uncertainty based on indecision, is it the new job of the Deputy Prime Minister now to take the decisions, or has the Prime Minister not decided yet?

The Prime Minister: In elections-- [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman invites me to quote what was said during the Labour leadership election. There is often rough invective during elections. As the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) said during the last Labour leadership election:

"It would have been easier to pull out their teeth than to have received straight answers to my questions."

The right hon. Gentleman the present leader

"enclosed 30 copies of his 20-page leadership election statement, which he said would answer most of my questions. On the most generous assessment, he touched on only ten of the questions",

and from the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)

"there was no reply whatsoever."