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1995 - PMQT 13th July 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 13th July 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Sir Peter Tapsell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 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 be having further meetings later today.

Sir Peter Tapsell: May I urge, yet again, the withdrawal of British troops from Bosnia--particularly because Bismarck's wise advice, quoted yesterday by our right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), was ignored by his successors, so that eventually the road to Sarajevo was paved with the bones of Pomeranian grenadiers? We do not want that road to be paved with the bones of our young men.

The Prime Minister: I know that my hon. Friend has held a consistent view about the difficulties that we face in Bosnia, and that some others share that view. There can be no certainty about what will happen in the present circumstances, but I hope that I can tell my hon. Friend why I believe that it would be unwise for us to decide to take that action now.

I believe that, if UNPROFOR withdrew, a number of things would be at risk. We would certainly put at risk the peace that remains in central Bosnia, not least because of the presence of British troops; and we might put at risk the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been saved as a result of the presence of United Nations troops. Let me touch on the wider point on which my hon. Friend also touched. One of the primary reasons why I felt it right to send British troops to the area in the first place, and why I would be reluctant to remove them unless it became imperative to do so, is the danger of a wider Balkan war. That risk exists, and it is for that reason that I felt it right to ask British troops to go to the area in a peacekeeping capacity and try to ensure that such a war did not occur.

I concede to my hon. Friend that the situation is serious. As I have told the House before, circumstances could arise in which it would be impossible for United Nations troops to remain; but until and unless those circumstances arise, I believe that it is right for them to do so, and to contribute to peacekeeping in the way in which they have so far.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister confirm that his leadership election pledge to abolish inheritance tax and capital gains tax would amount to £3 billion a year, and that almost half that £3 billion would go to just 5,000 people?

The Prime Minister: I understand that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) has been dancing around with all sorts of fraudulent and distorted quotations. I will make it quite clear to the right hon. Gentleman--as I have done, both publicly and privately, for some time--that when it is appropriate and we can afford to do so-- [Interruption.] That is what I said. When it is appropriate and we can afford to do so, I wish to abolish both capital gains tax and inheritance tax. I repeat the point for the right hon. Gentleman: I have made that clear and it must wait for when resources allow. I make no apology for that. The distortion of capital gains tax will need to be tackled. Unlike the Labour party, I believe in trying to pass wealth down between generations, whereas it squirms and wriggles whenever we talk of any tax reduction.

Mr. Blair: I might remind the right hon. Gentleman that, during the leadership election, he said that he wanted to do that at the earliest opportunity. I do not know whether No. 11 Downing street or No. 10a has now changed the line, but, in any event, would it not be the most mistaken sense of priority to cut inheritance tax or capital gains tax when we know today that, as a result of Government cuts in spending, we are short of teachers and that classroom sizes are rising? Should not the interests of the many in a decent education for their children come before the Tory obsession with the interests of a privileged few?

The Prime Minister: I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that home owners right across the country, increasingly hit by inheritance tax, are a privileged few. They will be interested to hear that they are a privileged few. It is true that they were a privileged few when the Labour Government were in power and many former council home owners, now home owners, would have remained without that privilege had we been left with a Labour Government. The reality is that the people of this country would like to see changes in those taxes and, when it is prudent to do so, we will change them.

Mr. Blair: As a matter of fact, the vast majority of people do not pay inheritance tax or capital gains tax and the right hon. Gentleman did not dispute that more than half the benefit would go to 5,000 people. As for tax, let me remind him that he pledged to cut tax at the last election, that he increased the standard rate of income tax by 7p and that only one tax cut has been introduced since the 1992 election: a cut of VAT on fuel by Opposition Members.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that he and his colleagues have voted against every tax reduction that we have introduced throughout most of the past 16 years. Even at the suggestion of tax cuts, one sees the instinctive reaction of Opposition Members. They hate the thought of leaving money in people's pockets. They would rather have it themselves to spend for themselves. I have made it clear that it is my ambition to abolish inheritance tax and capital gains tax as and when we can do it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made that clear, too. It remains our ambition, and we will pursue it.

Mr. Tracey: What message would my right hon. Friend send to the people of Wales, whose Labour Members of Parliament boycotted the House and Welsh Question Time at the beginning of this week? Would he suggest a forfeit for them, because surely their behaviour jeopardises the future representation of the Principality in the House?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt that those hon. Members' behaviour was juvenile--sufficiently juvenile, no doubt, to qualify for nursery vouchers as soon as we fully introduce the scheme. When the Labour party thinks up ill-judged stunts such as that, it would do well to remember that two of its past five or so leaders have been Englishmen sitting in Welsh seats.


Q2. Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 July.

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

Mr. Llwyd: Following the rather dramatic departure of the Prime Minister's very good friend, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), the right hon. Gentleman has appointed someone to the Welsh Office who, nominally at least, is from the same planet as the rest of us, but in so doing he has appointed the fourth successive Member of Parliament to that office who has no interest at all in Welsh affairs. Has the Prime Minister not shown that he has no confidence in Welsh Conservative Members of Parliament and is it not really a pathetic reflection on them?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman chose his question before listening to what might have been asked earlier. He might bear in mind the fact that we are one United Kingdom. It is perfectly proper for a previous leader of the Labour party to be a Welsh Member of Parliament seeking to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It is perfectly proper for two English Members to sit in Welsh seats, one of whom became Prime Minister and one of whom tried to do so. It is only the Welsh nationalists who wish to wrap themselves up in a little country and damage that country and its prospects within the United Kingdom.

Mr. Charles Wardle: If the new directive to abolish internal frontiers is the Commission's response to the action it faces in the European Court for not having dismantled the frontiers under existing treaty law, what credible defence is there for Britain in talk of a veto, or the worthless Luxembourg declaration? If my right hon. Friend means to protect our sovereign borders against unchecked immigration, will he get the treaty amended? If not, he will face the wrath of not just the Euro- sceptics in the House but virtually the entire British electorate.

The Prime Minister: The European Commission has produced three proposals. It made it clear that the proposals must be taken together and must be agreed unanimously. Unless those proposals are agreed, there is no matter upon which the European Court can adjudicate. I can tell my hon. Friend that there must be unanimity and that that will not happen. The United Kingdom will veto the proposals.


Q3. Mr. Battle: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 July.

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

Mr. Battle: Following the leadership election and his new-found determination to stamp his views and authority on the Cabinet, will the Prime Minister now tell us whether he agrees with the proposals of the Nolan committee on sleaze that amounts earned from consultancies by Members of Parliament should be openly declared?

The Prime Minister: I have made it perfectly clear to the House on a number of occasions since the outset that I favour greater transparency. I have made it equally clear that we will wait until we have the Select Committee report before I say any more.

Mr. Sumberg: Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning tomorrow's rail strike, which will bring massive disruption to the country? Is it not revealing that, when it comes to standing up for the consumer and criticising the trade unions, new Labour remains totally silent?

The Prime Minister: That follows neatly from the previous question. There has been absolute and total silence from the Opposition Front Bench when it comes to looking after the interests of passengers. We have not heard a word about the RMT or ASLEF or about the inconvenience to passengers. All I can say is that it is a good job that one does not go to Australia by train.


Q4. Ms Corston: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 July.

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

Ms Corston: In the light of today's report from school governors that teachers are being sacked and that class sizes are increasing, despite the Prime Minister's repeated assurances that neither of those things would happen, will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise to the British people?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady might well acknowledge the increase in resources to education year upon year: it is 50 per cent. up on the level that we inherited some time ago. She might also acknowledge the improved examination performance, improved teaching, improved choice and the improvement in the number of our youngsters going to university. All those things have magically waved by the hon. Lady without her apparently noticing them.

Lady Olga Maitland: Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in today's newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph, that 100 terrorists could be released from gaol early? Does he agree that that is totally untrue and that there are no plans to release terrorists early into the community until they have served their full and rightful sentences?

The Prime Minister: The position is as it has always been and as the House knows. There is no question of an amnesty for prisoners in Northern Ireland. There are no political prisoners anywhere in the United Kingdom. We keep remission rates under review. That has been the case and it will remain the case for some time. Remission rates were introduced some time ago and, as I have said, we keep them constantly under review. I do not think that the time is yet right for a change.

Madam Speaker: We now come to Question 5.

Ms Church: Question 6--no, Question 5, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: Yes, Question 5.


Q5. Ms Church: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 July.

The Prime Minister: Whichever question number it may be, the answer is the same.

Ms Church: Does the Prime Minister agree that external regulation of the insurance market, as desired by both Lloyd's and the Select Committee, would increase the global credibility of the London market? Will he amend the Lloyd's Act 1982 to bring that about?

The Prime Minister: I do not think that I necessarily accept the hon. Lady's premise. It is clear that, because of the difficulties at Lloyd's over the past couple of years, we need to look carefully at the methods of regulation. However, until we have examined them properly, I am not inclined to make any suggestion of a changed regime.

Mr. Rowe: Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the moment the opinion polls give even the illusion that there might conceivably be a Labour Government some time in the future, the trade unions queue up to threaten the customer and the patient with industrial action? Does not it frighten him as much at it frightens me that new Labour will be as much a pawn in the hands of the trade unions as old Labour used to be?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt about the pre-emptive obeisance shown by the Labour party on the minimum wage, the social contract and a range of other issues. Of course, we do not have to fight with the trade union movement if we offer it exactly what it wants, when it wants it--and even before it has asked for it.