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1995 - PMQT 2nd November 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 2nd November 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Ms Eagle: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 November.

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.

Ms Eagle: If the disclosure of the amounts that are earned in parliamentary consultancies is such an unimportant detail, can the Prime Minister say why up to 100 Conservative Members are threatening to resign if the House forces them to share that information with their constituents? Is that why he will vote for secrecy? What do Conservative Members have to hide?

The Prime Minister: With great respect to the hon. Lady, I say to her that she should not believe all the nonsense that she reads in some newspapers about the proposed actions of my hon. Friends or, indeed, about anything else. The Nolan report is extremely important. I set up the committee because I believed that there was a problem that needed to be looked at dispassionately. It has produced its report and the Select Committee has examined it. In a number of ways, the Select Committee has gone beyond the Nolan report. It has done so with my support, and I look forward to Parliament approving its recommendations.

Mr. Lord: Thanks to the national lottery and the millennium fund, there is now a great deal of money available for good works. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we could set ourselves two very worthwhile targets to achieve by the year 2000? They are, first, by that time every inner city ought to be a decent place for people to live in and secondly, every secondary school ought to have access to a good, proper cricket square.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend plays to my instincts, as I think he knows, in this case. There is no doubt that the national lottery has exceeded the success that even we had forecast for it. It has already raised in excess of £1 billion for good causes and a very large number of organisations are now able to put in place facilities that millions of ordinary people will enjoy and would not have been able to enjoy but for the lottery. The point about the lottery is that, because of it, some areas of importance to our national life that are never likely to receive total priority in any public expenditure round will now have a guaranteed stream of future income for many years ahead, and millions of people will benefit from that.

Mr. Blair: Having set up Nolan and having agreed to implement it, what possible justification will the Prime Minister give when he comes to the House on Monday, along with the Cabinet and Government, and votes down its key recommendation--the simple honest requirement that Members of Parliament who have outside financial interests that are connected with their being Members of Parliament should disclose the amounts that they earn from them? Just what do he and his party have to hide?

The Prime Minister: I made it clear, when I established Nolan, that I thought that there was a matter that needed independent investigation. Lord Nolan did that. He said, when he replied, that he thought that there were matters that needed some further clarification. The Select Committee has done that. I have made it clear throughout that I support the broad thrust of what the Nolan committee recommended and I have said so on more than one occasion. I still hold to that.

Nolan made 55 recommendations, 45 to the Government, almost all of which are already being implemented, and I thoroughly agree with that, and 10 recommendations addressed to the House. The Select Committee has accepted nine of those, and has gone further than the Nolan committee in respect of the 10th, and I agree with that.

What is most important in the midst of this is the Select Committee's proposal to ban paid advocacy. That is entirely right, I support it, but if we do that, the income that hon. Members earn from other activities explicitly approved by Parliament seems to me to be a matter between them and the Inland Revenue tax inspectors.

Mr. Blair: This has nothing to do with some detailed consideration of Nolan. It is to do with the squalid monetary interest of the Conservative party. That was Nolan's key recommendation. If now, in weakness, the Prime Minister goes back on his word to implement the report that he commissioned, it will leave a stain on his prime ministership and on his Government that will not be removed until this rotten Administration is swept from office.

The Prime Minister: I think that, one day, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that there are serious matters about Nolan that deserve serious consideration, not the sort of short-term party political wrangling that we have just heard from him. On the substantive point, this is a serious matter for Parliament, with long-term implications, and it is a shame that he cannot understand that. I do not favour a wholly professional House staffed entirely by hon. Members who are professional politicians and nothing else. That is the route that the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party would wish to lead us down. He would then, no doubt, have his party thought police telling Labour Members what to do and issuing statements on their behalf, as he did last week. That is not the route for this House. He may find some short-term advantage in the line that he takes, but what he is proposing is bad for the future of the House of Commons.

Mr. Blair: Madam Speaker-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Blair: The Nolan committee is not stopping people from having outside interests. It simply says that we should be open and honest about them. The Prime Minister is a man saying today what he knows to be wrong, and the question for him is this: when is he going to have the courage to stand up to his party and tell it what is right?

The Prime Minister: We have gone further than Lord Nolan had on the matters that are undesirable. Rather than say simply, "Disclose income," we have banned the things that we believe to be wrong. That is what I propose to do. The Select Committee is right in banning paid advocacy. If it is wrong, it should not be done. If it is right, it should not be impeded for party political reasons, as the right hon. Gentleman wishes to do.

Lord Nolan considered whether hon. Members' assets and income should be disclosed and that would, of course, include not only matters such as directors' fees-- [Interruption.] This is an important matter to the future of the House of Commons and it deserves to be seriously considered by the House, not just treated as Opposition Members are treating it.

Lord Nolan considered the matter. He concluded, and I quote from the Nolan report:

"No-one has put a convincing case to us as to why that"-- that is, disclosure--

"might be necessary."

Parliamentary rules already require all outside interests to be entered in the Register. That will continue. It will be published more regularly. The substantive point is clear. If it is wrong, it should not be done and the Select Committee proposes to ban the things that are wrong. If it is right, it should not be impeded, as the right hon. Gentleman seeks to do.

Mr. King: May I correct my right hon. Friend in one respect, in that it was not Lord Nolan on his own but 10 members under his chairmanship who considered these matters and described in the report whether we should recommend a ban on paid advocacy? We said specifically at that time that we doubted whether it was practicable or whether it would be acceptable to the House. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee that there should be an immediate ban on paid advocacy goes significantly further than Lord Nolan and his committee recommended? It goes to the heart of the issue of public concern, and should therefore be strongly supported.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is entirely right about that, and I sought to make that point a moment ago. The Leader of the Opposition knows that that is the case, but for his own party reasons, he and his colleagues are deliberately distorting the central aspect to be determined.


Q2. Mr. Tony Banks: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 November.

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

Mr. Banks: No one would accuse the Prime Minister of being a professional politician. If hon. Members have outside consultancies, what is the Prime Minister's personal objection to them declaring how much they get? Why does he object to that transparency?

The Prime Minister: I have told the hon. Gentleman why. I believe that it is right for the House to know what interests Members of Parliament have. It is right that they should register the nature of those activities, as is proposed, so that the House knows about them. It is right that things which are wrong should be banned. Beyond that, hon. Members are entitled to the same tax privacy as others.

Mr. Faber: Will my right hon. Friend pass on the grateful thanks of those of my constituents who have written to me in recent days to describe the misery and torment that they and their families have suffered because of the activities of the Rev. Moon? Does my right hon. Friend agree that yesterday's extraordinary court decision is yet another example of the contempt with which some members of the judiciary seem to treat the views of the House and of the general public?

The Prime Minister: I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was right to refuse the Rev. Moon entry into the country. I do not believe that his presence here would be conducive to the public good. If the Rev. Moon decides to make representations, of course they will be considered.


Q3. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 November.

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

Mr. O'Brien: As recently as 23 May, the Prime Minister assured my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that he favoured greater transparency in the affairs of Members of Parliament. He is now saying that he will vote for more secrecy. When will the Prime Minister, with all the dignity and authority of his office, lead the Tory party from the front rather than the rear?

The Prime Minister: We all know the lines that the Opposition Front Bench have given to the hon. Gentleman. The reality is that we are making much tougher and much more transparent the interests of Members of Parliament and we are banning the things that are wrong. That is the key point. If it is wrong, it should not be done, and the Select Committee is right to suggest a ban. The hon. Gentleman referred to 23 May. My activities and views have not changed. I foreshadowed them clearly and at some length in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition on 22 May, to which he has not yet replied.

Mr. Mark Robinson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is excellent news that no one in Somerset need wait more than 12 months for non-urgent treatment? Does that not show the success of the Government's health reforms? Will my right hon. Friend take time today to persuade the Leader of the Opposition to drop his objection to fundholding?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the partisan proposals of the Opposition to turn back the clock on the NHS reforms are to be regretted, given the clear evidence of the success of those reforms. More patients are being treated, they have greater opportunities for treatment and they are treated more speedily. The Opposition's plans to scrap GP fundholding in the face both of the overwhelming evidence of its success and the opposition of GPs who are providing a better service because of it will be unacceptable to people up and down the country.


Q4. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 November.

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

Mr. Sutcliffe: As Tory Members of Parliament fight to save their second and third jobs, many people in my constituency want their first jobs. Is it not true that if Members of Parliament act as consultants, the public have the right to know whether they earn £50 or £5,000?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right to touch upon the important issue of unemployment. However, he might more usefully have mentioned that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 21 per cent. from its peak-- [Interruption.] it is interesting to note that Labour Members do not like hearing about the fall in unemployment--yet two years ago the then Leader of the Opposition raised the matter week after week. It is months since Labour Members have raised it, because they do not like the fact that it is going down in this country because of our policies, yet it is going up in other countries that follow socialist policies.