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1995 - PMQT 24th October 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 24th October 1995. Michael Heseltine responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Dr. Goodson-Wickes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine): I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in New York.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming yet another fall in the unemployment figures, which are now below even those of Germany for the first time in recent years? Is this not a resounding vindication of the Government's policies and is it not about time that the Labour party explained how a minimum wage would help young people to get jobs?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The latest unemployment figures are quite excellent. He raises an important point in directing the House towards the minimum wage. I noticed that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the deputy Leader of the Opposition, said:

"Some Party Colleagues have advocated such a wage without having the courage of their convictions to state an amount that would make the commitment meaningful."

Will the deputy leader of the Labour party now break the habit of his party and answer the question? What is the figure that would give meaning to the policy?

Mr. Prescott: This is an historic moment. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his first Prime Minister's questions. It has been a long time, but he has finally made it.

Given the Prime Minister's belated but welcome concern with waste and mismanagement abroad, can we now expect him to show the same concern for waste and mismanagement at home? Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell us how much money was wasted on the poll tax? How much money was wasted on the new bureaucracy in the health service? While he is at it, can he tell us how much it cost to set up and run his own new empire?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to the Dispatch Box today in this position. Of course, I reciprocate in welcoming him to the position he holds. But I cannot help but notice that, while my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has trusted me to come alone, the right hon. Gentleman has had a minder appointed to look after him. The curious point about the minder is that he has not even had the courage to turn up to help with the minding process. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well-- [Interruption.] Do I gather that the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) has crossed the Floor and is now sitting on this side of the House, or is he scouring away in the basement somewhere relaying what is going on in the House to the leader of the Labour party, who, of course, will never be able to get a first-hand account from the deputy leader because they do not talk? It really is ridiculous-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. This is very time-consuming. I want brief questions and brief answers now.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think that we shall get a brief answer, Madam Speaker, because the hon. Member for Hartlepool has now turned up.

Mr. Prescott: As the right hon. Gentleman cannot give us a proper answer, may I help him? According to the Government's own figures, £14 billion was wasted on the poll tax and £1 billion on the new bureaucracy in the health service. Is not the real truth that the Government's press and publicity machine costs the taxpayer £1 million every working day? Is that not the real cost to the country of the right hon. Gentleman's new title? Is it not clear that something so expensive to sell must be a pretty shabby product?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman will know that, when a Government have as many good policies as we have, it is our duty to draw them to the attention of the people who will benefit from them. Our first obligation is to point out that, for every £1 spent on the health service in 1978-79, we spent £5 last year.


Q2. Sir Michael Shersby: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply. I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Sir Michael Shersby: Will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister--

Mr. Skinner rose --

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will resume his seat.

Sir Michael Shersby: Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the BBC and Channel 4 on transmitting live the whole of last week's debate on the Prison Service? Does he agree that that provided viewers with the opportunity to see my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary demolish the Opposition's unworthy and unsuccessful attempt to smear his reputation?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. It was excellent that the House and a wider public had the chance to see the vacuum that lies behind Labour's allegations. They also had the chance to hear the excellent speech by my right hon. and learned Friend. If the BBC continues to show the Opposition in that light, it will not be Alastair Campbell who rings up to complain but the League Against Cruel Sports.


Q3. Ms Lynne: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply. I refer the hon. Lady to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Ms Lynne: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that, because of financial constraints, Rochdale health authority proposes that elderly, critically ill patients should not be allowed into nursing homes funded by the national health service unless they will die within four weeks? Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that that is ultimately the responsibility of the Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is the ultimate responsibility of the Government to provide the excellent health service that we do. I would not be prepared to discuss at the Dispatch Box the sort of case that the hon. Lady put to me without a chance to examine it in more detail. However, the health service is attracting increasing funds and the results are increasingly attractive to the public. Public assessment of the quality of the health service is rising consistently.

Mr. Brooke: After the warm-up bout last week, will my right hon. Friend arrange, after the manner of the Ryder and Walker cups, a series of singles matches between members of the Cabinet and their opposite numbers, not least so that we can see whether the captain of the other side, in a manner unusual in international golf, continues to intervene to help his hon. Friends out of bunkers?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is a past master at coming to the heart of a matter. I suspect that the Leader of the Opposition will not want to reveal his shadow Cabinet too conspicuously because it is self-evident that the parliamentary Labour party has elected a shadow Cabinet diametrically opposite to the direction in which the Leader of the Opposition wants to go.


Q4. Mr. Purchase: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply. I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Purchase: Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that investment in manufacturing is lower than it was six years ago, despite a recent and welcome improvement? Does he accept that the lack of investment--widely acknowledged as a British problem--is directly responsible for the loss of 520 jobs in my constituency at the British Steel plant which is the only supplier of specialist seamless tubes in the United Kingdom? Will he undertake to intervene--preferably before breakfast--and ask for a rethink on the closure? Does he recognise that, if the plant closes, we shall have an even bigger balance of trade problem than we have at present?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman would help his constituency if he got up earlier in the morning, as he would discover that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 30 per cent. in the past two and a half years.

Sir Michael Marshall: On United Nations day, will my right hon. Friend reflect that the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference at the General Assembly in New York a month ago agreed unanimously that the problems of the UN are our problems and that, if we did not have the organisation, we would have to invent it?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has made a valuable contribution to the subject, and particularly to the work of the IPU, and the House is indebted to him for that. Our support of the UN is second to none, but that is no justification for the organisation wasting money and not collecting its proper dues.


Q5. Ms Hodge: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply. I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Ms Hodge: We seem to have some difficulty in eliciting direct answers from the Deputy Prime Minister. Following what my right hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the Opposition said, an article in The Independent yesterday asserted that the Deputy Prime Minister had spent £80,000 of public money on a desk diary. Did the Deputy Prime Minister receive permission from the Prime Minister to spend that money in such an extravagant manner?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Lady will find that, if she relies on the national press for the basis of her research, she will be consistently wrong-footed. I spent no money on a desk. The hon. Lady would be better employed praising the Government, who have presided over a 22 per cent. reduction in unemployment in her constituency.


Q6. Mrs. Gorman: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply. I refer my hon. Friend-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order. I want to hear the answers to the questions, whether the House does or not. [Interruption.] Order. Do be quiet.

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

Mrs. Gorman: Is my right hon. Friend aware that no less a luminary than the director of the Fabian Society has come out in support of grant- maintained schools, much to the relief of the Leader of the Opposition, whose party is opposing him on the matter? With almost cross-party support for the measure, can we count on the Government to proceed with all speed to make all our schools grant maintained, thus bringing a choice of school to every parent?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw the attention of the House to this critical matter. The fact is that, in putting forward the proposal, the Fabian Society is once again looking to the Conservatives for the ideas which are taking us forward into the next century. For all the rhetoric of the left, what the Opposition are about is abolishing grant-maintained schools, abolishing grammar schools, abolishing city technology colleges and abolishing simple performance tables and simple tests--everything is for dogma and rhetoric, and nothing is for quality in education.

Mr. Foulkes: Does the Deputy Prime Minister not realise that all this knockabout opposite will be taken very badly by starving millions in the third world who are already fearful of the proposed cuts-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing, as usual. Now we have the Prime Minister at the United Nations talking about abolishing UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Labour Organisation. That will go down extremely badly because everyone knows that, like the cuts in overseas aid, the proposals are to fund the pre-election tax cut bribes of the Tory Government.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Did I hear the hon. Gentleman refer to knockabout Opposition when he first intervened? It cannot be explained in any other language. This country has the fifth largest aid programme in the world. How can the Labour party decry that? When one adds to that our inward investment in other people's countries and the remarkable contribution that we make to peacekeeping, one has just one further example of the way in which, whatever this country does, the Labour party seeks to decry and destroy it.


Q7. Mr. Ian Bruce: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 October.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply. I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Bruce: Did my right hon. Friend welcome the protestations that we have heard, particularly from the Opposition parties, that all of us in the House are in favour of increasing investment in our railways? Does he believe that those protestations are consistent with, first, the suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition that the railways will be renationalised and, secondly, the statement by the new shadow spokesman on transport that she would not pay for it?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The whole House is interested in what my hon. Friend has to say, but it is also interested in what the deputy leader of the Labour party has to say to the union that sponsors him. Is he in favour of it taking strike action and imposing hardship on very large numbers of Londoners trying to get to work, or is he not in support of that?