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1995 - PMQT 31st October 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 31st October 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Winnick: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 31 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. Winnick: Why did the Prime Minister in his meeting with the French President not condemn French nuclear tests, which have deeply offended British and international opinion? Did the Prime Minister not take such action because the British Government have connived with the French in a dirty deal whereby information arising from the nuclear tests will be passed on to this country? If that is the case, it shows the dishonesty of the Government.

The Prime Minister: It is not the case. As I have said before, no information from the French nuclear tests will be passed to us--indeed, given the nature of our weapons, it would not be of use to us. There is no deal; I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that and withdraw his allegation.

At least the hon. Gentleman is consistent in his views. He has been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and he is, and he saluted the courage and determination of anti-nuclear demonstrators at Greenham Common. [Interruption.] I trail my coat to find out where Labour Members' hearts are, and now we know.


Q2. Mrs. Lait: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 31 October.

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

Mrs. Lait: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement that one of London's most popular grant-maintained schools, the Oratory school, will be able to build a choir school, thanks to its self-governing status in the public sector? While that may be music to the ears of the parents with children at the school, how does my right hon. Friend think that the rest of the Labour Front Benchers will react?

The Prime Minister: Of course I welcome that news.

Grant-maintained schools have a greater freedom to develop their strengths because power is put where it should belong: with the school head, the school governors and the parents who know best what is in their children's interests.

Mr. Blair: Is it-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Stop this barracking--particularly from Ministers.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister confirm as a matter of fact that what the chairman of the rail users' watchdog as well as the Transport Select Committee have said is true: that, as a result of privatisation, an extra £700 million of taxpayers' money will be paid to the subsidised, privatised railways?

The Prime Minister: I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that over the years we have increased resources to the nationalised British rail industry. Contrary to what has been said by some people, the Government have supported record levels of investment. We made it clear when we decided to proceed with privatisation that we would support lines that were socially necessary--partly at the request of Her Majesty's Opposition. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not believe now that we should not do that.

Mr. Blair: Is it not right that the Select Committee attributed the extra £700 million to privatisation, not to paying for socially useful routes, and that hundreds of millions of pounds of City fees are involved? Is it not also true that investment in the railways today is half what it was two years ago and that, as a result of privatisation, 5,000 manufacturing industry jobs have been lost and the unified railway network has been broken up into 70, 80 or 90 companies?

When will the Prime Minister, just for once, stop pandering to the right wing of the Conservative party? [Interruption.] Conservative Members may want rail privatisation: the British people do not. When will the right hon. Gentleman stop pandering to the right wing of his party and, instead, listen to and speak up for the British people, who want their railways run as a public service?

The Prime Minister: I wondered whether the right hon. Gentleman would get round to his "lurch to the right" campaign, launched so inexpertly--one might almost say he made a hash of it--by the new shadow Chief Whip.

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks the policies we are following, of bringing choice to parents and opportunity to children, are a lurch to the right, the country will not agree. If he thinks that spending more on patients' health is a lurch to the right, the people will not agree. If he thinks that dealing with asylum abuses, or standing up for Britain in Europe, represent a lurch to the right, he is wrong. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the centre right of politics is our ground and there is no way a squatter like him can rest on it. He may regard himself as the Trojan horse of socialism, but he will find that it is our land on which he is parking and there is no room for him on it.

As for the right hon. Gentleman's specific point, and pushing aside the points on which he was inaccurate, I would tell him that there have been record amounts of investment in recent years--£1.5 billion in 1992-93, which was the highest for 30 years. Investment is still running at more than £1 billion in the current year, and every privatisation that we have introduced has provided better service. I see the new shadow Chief Whip in his place. It was he who once referred to the privatisation of British Airways as the pantomime horse of capitalism. It is now the most successful privatised air service in the world.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: Does my right hon. Friend agree that positive discrimination in favour of women is both unnecessary and patronising? Will he comment on the policy of the Labour party, which has imposed by diktat from Walworth road--

Madam Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister is not responsible for the attitude of the Labour party. I am sure that he has caught the first part of the hon. Lady's question and is perfectly capable of answering it.

Mrs. Winterton: Will my right hon. Friend assure me that we will never impose women-only shortlists, as has been done by diktat of Walworth road in six constituencies in the north-west of England?

The Prime Minister: I can assure my hon. Friend that I believe that we should seek equality of opportunities for everyone, for women in the House of Commons and elsewhere. It is certainly our policy to do so. My hon. Friends needed no special discrimination to get here. As to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I can promise her--not only in this but in other matters--that we will not follow the policies of the Opposition, because, apart from anything else, daily they seem to be following our policies.

Mr. Ashdown: Will the Prime Minister consider these three dates? On 11 July, Srebrenica fell and 8,000 young men were taken away and massacred. On 31 May, I asked the then Secretary of State for Defence, in the House, to assure me that the policy on the defence of Srebrenica had not changed, and he gave me that assurance. It is now revealed, or claimed, that on 24 May, with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the British Government, the UN decided to abandon Srebrenica to its fate. Is that correct?

The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Gentleman, just occasionally, might do the British forces and the British Government the credit of acknowledging what they have done. What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is not correct. He has been wrong throughout the whole of this episode time after time. He has denigrated what the British Government have done and what the British armed forces have done. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman this: there are hundreds of thousands of people alive today in Bosnia because of what was done by the British Government and the British armed forces.

Mr. Elletson: May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a successful conference this year in my constituency? Is he aware that next year the Labour party will be in Blackpool? Will he take this opportunity to reassure parents and police in my constituency that under a Conservative Government cannabis cigarettes will never be for sale?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance and I will tell the House why very clearly. The vast majority of people--between 80 and 90 per cent.--who move on to hard drugs graduate to hard drugs having first experimented with soft drugs. Any sensible person realises the danger of doing that and realises that any responsible person in public life would discourage the use of soft drugs because of the danger of moving to hard drugs. I am sorry that some Opposition Members with some responsibility in public life should choose to take a different view.


Q3. Mr. Dowd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 31 October.

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

Mr. Dowd: Given the Government's latest response to the recommendations of the Nolan committee, when will the Prime Minister stop his feeble backtracking on his alleged intention to improve the standards of conduct of Ministers and stop trying to defend the snout in the trough behaviour of so many on the Benches behind him?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows--or should know, if he took an interest in our matters--that the Nolan report is at present being considered by the Select Committee. It will very shortly be brought before the House, when we will have the benefit of the deliberations of the Select Committee and when the House can then vote on all the recommendations that emanate from it.


Q4. Mr. Robert G. Hughes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 31 October.

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

Mr. Hughes: Has my right hon. Friend seen the letter--the characteristically pompous letter--from the leader of the Liberal party, inviting Conservative Members of Parliament to back his party on education? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best response to that has come from a Harrow Liberal councillor, Bernadette Murphy, who says that the arguments for the Conservative education system are unanswerable and that every party should understand that? Will he congratulate her on reinforcing her message by resigning from the council and causing a by-election and giving such a clear steer as to how people should vote in that by-election?

The Prime Minister: I did see the letter from the right hon. Gentleman, which he displayed so widely among my colleagues. I recall that the letter also said:

"This is the moment to stand up for what is right and to put Britain first."

Clearly, Miss Murphy did.


Q5. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 31 October.

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

Mr. Sutcliffe: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that Britain requires a job skills audit? We have fallen from 21st to 24th in the league, according to the World Economic Forum's report on skill shortages. Is that because the Government do not invest in education and training? Is it not about time that the Government recognised that education and training are vital to our economy?

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman has just demonstrated a skill shortage in answering questions. [Laughter] It is clear-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: It is clear that Opposition Members' new standards of behaviour are only for certain occasions.

Of course my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is right to examine the level of skills. He has done that to enable us to ensure that we can build on what has already been done to improve skills in the country. That is the purpose of the changes that have been made. That is the purpose of the training and enterprise councils; that is the purpose of investment. It is because of the increasing skills and increasing investment that our exports--not least in manufacturing--are performing better today than they have for many years.