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1995 - PMQT 17th October 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 17th October 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Anthony Coombs: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 October.

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.

Mr. Coombs: Even in the light of the recent record fall in reported crime, is my right hon. Friend aware of the great welcome that there will be throughout the country for the additional 5,000 police officers approved last week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, irrespective of what the Lord Chief Justice might say, long prison sentences which become short as a result of automatic remission undermine people's sense of justice and do not act as a sufficient deterrent to the criminal?

The Prime Minister: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I entirely support my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary's strategy to fight crime. The threat of a long prison sentence deters criminals from committing crime. That is not just my view and that of the Home Secretary. That is the view of the police as well. I welcome the fall in crime over the past two and a half years, but we wish to see it fall a good deal further. That is what lay behind our announcements last week.

Mr. Blair: The Prime Minister will know that the Home Secretary has denied any involvement in the operational matters of the Prison Service, including the Parkhurst breakout. Can he therefore confirm the following facts: that, so far from this being true, the Home Secretary personally told Mr. Lewis that the governor of Parkhurst prison should be suspended immediately; that when Mr. Lewis objected as it was an operational matter, the Home Secretary threatened to instruct him to do it; that when Mr. Lewis further objected, the Home Secretary told the operational director of the Prison Service by fax that he would announce it in the House of Commons that day and duly did announce it in his statement to the House? Is that true or is it false?

The Prime Minister: The Home Secretary is responsible to Parliament for the actions of the Home Office and for the actions of the governor. He appointed Mr. Lewis to run the Prison Service. The criticisms over the past few days by the Learmont report have been directed at the director of prisons and not at my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I believe that the Home Secretary has acted entirely properly throughout this affair.

Mr. Blair: I am afraid that the Prime Minister has not answered the factual question. The Home Secretary is sitting a couple of places along. The Prime Minister can ask him whether it is true now. I put certain specific facts in relation to the pressure on Mr. Lewis in respect of the removal of the governor of Parkhurst. Are those facts true or are they false?

The Prime Minister: I have made it entirely clear to the right hon. Gentleman that I have no doubt that whatever action my right hon. and learned Friend took was entirely proper and within his remit as Home Secretary answerable to this House.

Mr. Blair: If the facts are true, it was not within his remit as it was an operational matter. That is precisely the issue. Is the Prime Minister aware of the fact that Mr. Lewis has also said this morning that the Home Secretary personally interfered in prison visits, in searches and in disciplinary awards and that there has been greater political interference than at any point in time in the service history? Is it not the case that we do not have a Government governing the country? We have a group of Ministers who will play games with these issues, who take credit when things are going right and refuse to take credit when things are going wrong. That is not a responsible Government for Britain.

The Prime Minister: We noticed the careful lead-up to the pre- prepared soundbite, as we do each Tuesday and Thursday. My right hon. and learned Friend discharges properly his responsibilities to this House and this country. Were he not to do so, the Leader of the Opposition would say, "Why does the Home Secretary not take an interest in matters that are relevant to the good conduct of the prison service?" But he is not responsible for the day-to-day management of the Prison Service. He is responsible to this House and answerable to this House, and he must take actions in the interests of the Prison Service. That is what my right hon. and learned Friend has done, and he has my full support in having done it.

Mr. Alexander: Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the proposal that British Telecom should be able to wire up schools to the super-highway in return for carrying television signals? Is he aware that that would run contrary to the well-settled framework for those matters, and would be to the considerable advantage of British Telecom and the considerable disadvantage of the cable companies which have invested a great deal in the procedure so far?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I am aware of that. Many schools are already being cabled up for precisely those advantages. If the Opposition, who occasionally like to claim credit for the information super-highway, were to examine what was happening--if they took their heads out of the sand and put them in the holes in the road--they would see that it was already being built.


Q2. Mr. Menzies Campbell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 October.

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

Mr. Campbell: Which has done more damage to the Government: the irresponsibility of the Defence Secretary last week or the Home Secretary's unwillingness to accept responsibility this week?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary was expressing the fears of many people, not just in the United Kingdom but throughout Europe, about the more ambitious federalist plans for the future of the European Union. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that his party's policy is that the British armed forces should be commanded by qualified majority vote elsewhere, let him say so.

Mr. Dunn: Conservatives welcome the decision to expand the assisted places scheme. Will my right hon. Friend compare our policies of maximising parental choice with those of the Opposition, which would destroy the city technology colleges, grammar schools, the assisted places scheme and grant- maintained schools in the interests of equality, justice and social engineering?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. We seek excellence in education and choice for all parents in the interests of their children. I very much regret that the Opposition--except perhaps the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth)--oppose the assisted places scheme.


Q3. Mr. Kirkwood: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 October.

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

Mr. Kirkwood: Does the Prime Minister share the fear that has been expressed that the privatisation of Her Majesty's Stationery Office later this afternoon will lead to commercial motives overriding the public interest in making official information more freely available to the general public, as it is in other countries? Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that it is clearly in a privatised HMSO's interest to resist free electronic access to Government publications protected by Government copyright? How does that square with the Government's commitment to a freedom of information policy and to extending the information technology revolution to the rest of the country?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is answering a question later on this afternoon. I do not wish comment in detail on the substance of his question but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend will ensure that the needs of Parliament and other customers are satisfied for openness, for improved access to information technology, for value for money, for flexibility and for security of supply. The record of privatisation over recent years is that it has improved, not damaged, service.

Mr. Garnier: My right hon. Friend will have heard this morning of another terrorist bombing in Paris. Will he use this opportunity today to reaffirm his Government's policy on border controls and to make sure that they are never loosened so that terrorists may not get easy access to this country?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to confirm the Government's policy on border controls. We need those border controls. We intend to keep them, and they are not negotiable.


Q4. Mr. Michael: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 October.

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

Mr. Michael: Can we now hear it straight from the Prime Minister: just how bad do things have to get at the Home Office to require a ministerial resignation?

The Prime Minister: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the Learmont report, and after he has done so he will be better informed and he will know that the criticisms were directed not at my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary but at the Prison Service. My right hon. and learned Friend acted properly in those circumstances.

Mr. Marlow: Given that a report has been issued today by the Labour party--the blueprint for the dismemberment of the United Kingdom--could my right hon. Friend tell the House how it could be possible if there were a Parliament in Scotland, that a party with a majority in the United Kingdom but not in the majority in England could govern England?

The Prime Minister: I have not yet had the opportunity to consider the document that has been published today but I am certainly aware that one was scheduled to be published today and I am aware of the policies of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party on the subject of devolution in Scotland. There is no doubt whatsoever that those policies, if carried out as at present intended, would have a very damaging effect on the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] Although the leader of the Labour party shouts something at me across the Dispatch Box, it was he who referred to the tartan tax--an extra £6 a week, which he seems to think is an accountancy detail.


Q5. Ms Quin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 October.

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

Ms Quin: Given the widespread public concern expressed over the summer, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity, particularly before the Commonwealth conference next month, of condemning the French nuclear tests in the south Pacific?

The Prime Minister: No, I will not.

Mr. Michael Brown: The Prime Minister spoke with the Home Secretary last week in the Winter Gardens at Blackpool where the subject of closed circuit televisions to deal with law and order was raised. Is he aware that in Cleethorpes we have a Winter Gardens, but we do not yet have closed circuit television. The Minister of State was unable to accede to my request earlier this year. Can my right hon. Friend assure me and the people of Cleethorpes that this time round Cleethorpes will be considered for closed circuit television in the high street and on the sea front where we have a problem with the youths and yobs who cause such distress to our retired people in Cleethorpes?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be provision for a further 10,000 such closed circuit television cameras over the next three years and I have no doubt, as we consider where those should be, that my hon. Friend may from time to time mention the particular concerns of Cleethorpes.


Q6. Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 October.

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

Mrs. Clwyd: Is the Prime Minister aware that there have been angry reactions throughout the country to reports that overseas aid is to be cut by 12 per cent. over two years? Does he not care that such cuts would have a catastrophic effect on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world? Is he aware that 79 per cent. of the British people find such cuts repugnant when they will be used for tax cuts in the run-up to the general election?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Lady knows, at something more than £2.2 billion, we have the fifth largest overseas aid programme in the world. It is not only one of the largest aid programmes in the world but, as the hon. Lady herself has acknowledged in the past, one of the best. I assure the hon. Lady that, after my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor's Budget, we shall continue to have a highly effective aid programme.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the concept of fundholding is right at the core of the success of our reforms in the health service? Has he noticed that doctors who are fundholders have, in the past two days, roundly attacked Labour's proposals for the sham that they are and have said that they will destroy the very success that we have created? Will my right hon. Friend now take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to fundholding status and to point out the disastrous concept of Labour policy?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The report by the GPs sets out what we have said consistently about fundholding--that our reforms are benefiting patients and delivering to them the service that they deserve. If the Labour party seriously intended to turn the clock back and to abolish fundholding, it would create chaos and confusion, and would damage the service for patients. The fact of the matter is that Labour is more concerned about political gestures than about care for the patient, and that has always been the case.