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1995 - PMQT 11th July 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th July 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 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 Neubert: Has my right hon. Friend had time to study yesterday's debate in Hansard --and not just my speech? Is he aware that, on the very day when the Leader of the Opposition was refusing to put a figure on a national minimum wage, his Social Security spokesman was assuming a rate of about £3 or £3.50 in the House?

The Prime Minister: I have not yet read Hansard, but clearly I had better look at it very carefully, and I will. I did not know that which my hon. Friend stated, but if it is the case, I strongly suspect that the Leader of the Opposition knows that a minimum wage is economic nonsense but that he regards it as politically expedient. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make clear one day precisely the figure that he has in mind; he certainly owes it to the public to do so. Perhaps he will soon tell us.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister agree in principle that Members of Parliament should disclose their earnings from outside consultancies?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman knows that a Select Committee is examining that matter. The Committee has reported, and I will do it the courtesy of awaiting its report.

Mr. Blair: That was the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman's own Committee. Does he accept the principle or not: yes or no?

The Prime Minister: I told the right hon. Gentleman that I asked a Select Committee to examine the issue. When it has done so, I will deal with the matter.

Mr. Blair: Is the Prime Minister really saying that the Committee cannot come up with an answer in eight weeks, or is it just a coincidence that the main recommendation on which it cannot agree a definition happens to be the main recommendation to which Conservative Members object? Is it not time that the Prime Minister asserted his authority? The Nolan report is the right hon. Gentleman's report. He commissioned it and said that he accepted it, and he should ensure that the Government implement it in full without further delay.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman's attempt to use this report as a political football is pretty transparent and pretty shabby. He knows that the Select Committee has made excellent progress. It has met 14 times in 14 days--more intensively than any Select Committee has met before. It is still considering these matters. It will report and then the House will make its decision, as I have said from the outset, on matters relating to Back Benchers.


Q2. Mr. Patrick Thompson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 July.

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

Mr. Thompson: Does my right hon. Friend recall that some 10 years ago the newspapers were obsessed with the money supply, trade figures and days lost through strikes? Is it not a tribute to this Government that the number of days lost through strikes last year was only 1 per cent. of the number lost in 1979? Is not the Leader of the Opposition somewhat naive to claim that the unions no longer have an armlock over his party, when old Labour is still waiting in the wings to support strikes and organise "boyocotts"?

The Prime Minister: As a wise old policeman once said, there is no need for an armlock when the suspect comes along quietly. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has already offered the unions most of what they want--the social chapter, a minimum wage, new trade union rights--while his Front-Bench team enjoys the sponsorship of all trade unions. I think that, almost without exception, his Front-Bench team is sponsored in one form or another.

Mr. Ashdown: Does the Prime Minister agree that, at this precise moment, the United Nations' ultimate will is being tested by the Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica and that, on this occasion, if that will fails the United Nations' mission in the front-line areas of Bosnia is likely to fail with it?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is clearly referring to the situation in Srebrenica. I can certainly confirm to him and the House that the situation is very serious. UN commanders on the ground have asked the Bosnian Serbs to release the UN protection force's troops whom they have been holding and to halt their offensive.

I can confirm to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman that that has not yet happened and that, at the direct request of UN commanders on the ground, close air support operations have been carried out by NATO aircraft near Srebrenica. It was in their operational judgment that air support was necessary for the protection of the contingent in Srebrenica as a result of the fact that the Bosnian Serbs had ignored the clear warnings given. I believe that the UN commanders on the ground were right. They deserve and will receive the full backing of this Government for their action.

The situation in Srebrenica is certainly very serious indeed at the moment. Unless the warring parties are prepared soon to indicate that they are prepared to return to some form of discussion to reach a political settlement, there is no doubt that continuing fighting will put the future presence of the United Nations forces at risk.

Mr. Robert Jackson: Does my right hon. Friend recognise the widespread dismay among scientists and in universities at the transfer of the research councils to the Department of Trade and Industry? Will he confirm that his Government will continue to value fundamental research? Will he confirm that the research councils will continue to sustain the dual support system of university funding? Will he undertake to reconsider this decision, which abruptly overturns a policy developed after widespread consultation and announced in a White Paper only two years ago?

The Prime Minister: I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the role of the Office of Science and Technology is unchanged and that it will continue with the role that it has had over recent years. The transfer implies no reduction in our commitment to fundamental research or to the dual support system, and our policies remain as set out in the White Paper two years or so ago. That will continue, as will the technology foresight process.

The purpose of the transfer is to strengthen--not weaken, but to strengthen --the contribution of science, engineering and technology to long-term wealth creation. With that in mind, the office is best situated in the Department of Trade and Industry.


Q3. Mr. Dowd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 July.

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

Mr. Dowd: Following the sorry spectacle of the Tory leadership election and the worn-out ritual of the reshuffle, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on retaining his post in the Government now run by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)? When are we to be told what the First Secretary of State's responsibilities are? When are we to have an opportunity to ask the First Secretary of State oral questions? Why after five years has the Prime Minister decided that he needs a deputy? If he does need such an insurance policy, why should the taxpayers have to foot the bill?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the First Secretary will support me across the full range of Government policies. He will have direct control over Government policy on competitiveness and deregulation, and he will answer questions in the House. He has a reputation for straight talking, as has the deputy leader of the Labour party. Indeed, both my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman have a reputation for robustly attacking the Labour leader, and I expect that to continue.

Mr. Yeo: May I return to the crucial subject of the minimum wage? Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who support it must be so desperate to suck up to their trade union paymasters that they do not care how many British jobs they destroy in the process? Does he also agree that any political party that advocates a minimum wage but cannot agree on what it should be is utterly unfit and unready for government?

The Prime Minister: There seems to be some uncertainty and dithering about the minimum wage on the Opposition Front Bench. The Labour leader smiles; he may well smile, but I should rather hear an answer to the question "What will the minimum wage be?" than see him smile.

The Labour leader has said:

"Econometric models indicate a potential jobs impact."

What he means is that there will be job losses as a result of a minimum wage. The deputy Labour leader--engaging in the straight talking to which I referred a moment ago--has said there would be a jobs

"shake-out . . . any silly fool knew that."

What he means is that there will be job losses. I know that; the right hon. Gentlemen know that; and the whole House knows that. As soon as we are told what the minimum wage will be--a point on which the Labour leader dithers and cannot make up his mind--we shall be able to calculate how many people will lose their jobs.


Q4. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 July.

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

Mr. MacShane: Will the Prime Minister join our Commonwealth partners, Australia and New Zealand, in their opposition to the nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific?

The Prime Minister: No, I will not.

Mr. Dykes: If my right hon. Friend has time in the course of his busy day, will he send warm congratulations to the RUC in Northern Ireland on the sturdy way in which it has stood up to the wilder elements among the Orangemen? Is it not about time that these provocative and silly historical marches were banned?

The Prime Minister: I congratulate the RUC on its restraint and professionalism in dealing with those incidents--and, indeed, with other recent incidents. I believe that it deserves the whole-hearted support of all hon. Members and all responsible leaders in Northern Ireland.


Q5. Mr. Jamieson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 July.

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

Mr. Jamieson: Does the Prime Minister recall making a solemn promise in March 1993 to take action in regard to spiralling water charges in the south-west, where prices have doubled in the past two years? After two years of pondering the problem, will he tell the House how he will help consumers in the south-west--or is that another matter that he has referred to the Deputy Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will ask his right hon. and hon. Friends whether they will cease pressing the Government to maintain the high standards of cleanliness and improvement in those waters that is giving rise to the charges. Perhaps the support given by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for European directives will indicate that he does not wish us to disobey the directives with which we are dealing. We have sought to cut charges by rearranging the speed of the capital expenditure that is taking place to assist people in the west country; that is the only way in which it is practicable to help.


Q6. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 July.

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

Mr. Marshall: Will my right hon. Friend contrast his policy of improving services on the Northern line through increased investment with that of Jimmy Knapp of disrupting those services?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point, but there is a wider point. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) spoke up for water consumers. Why do he and his colleagues not speak up for rail passengers? Why are Opposition Members happy to support strikes on British Rail while they parade around claiming to be in favour of the consumer? The reality is that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers' call for a strike on the underground-- [Interruption.] I do not know which Opposition Front-Bench Member shouted then, but perhaps he or she is sponsored by the RMT. The RMT's call for a strike on the underground will damage the progress that has been made by London Underground and will cause unnecessary misery and disruption to passengers. I return to the central point. How can the Opposition claim to speak for consumers while they ignore rail passengers and leave them to face the strikes without a single word of condemnation from their Front Benchers?


Ministerial Visits

Q7. Mr. Donohoe: To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to visit Ayrshire.

The Prime Minister: I have no current plans to do so.

Mr. Donohoe: I am sure that the people of Ayrshire will be glad of that. May I turn the Prime Minister's attention to the national health service and, in particular, to Ayrshire and Arran health board's idea of taking all its services into the private sector and allowing companies from the United States to come in purely on the basis of profit? What has the Prime Minister got to say about that? How can he possibly say that the health service is safe in his hands?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows, or should know, of the increased resources for the health service, the 1 million-plus extra patients treated by the health service and the better services being provided by the health service. He seeks yet again to trade politically on a health service that he knows is improving and is providing a better service than at any stage in the past--and a better service than any Labour Government could provide for the people of this country.