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1995 - PMQT 21st November 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 21st November 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 November.

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. Taylor: Can the Prime Minister confirm that despite the Government's policy of not issuing entry visas to senior representatives of the Nigerian Government, on Sunday, the Nigerian Attorney-General, no less, and a senior legal adviser to the leader of the Nigerian military Government were admitted into this country? What signal does that send about this Government's determination to address the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues?

The Prime Minister: The action taken at the Commonwealth conference has made it clear how we feel about the matter. On the specific point, I was not aware that the two people concerned were granted visas, and they did not see me. I will, however, make inquiries about the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Sir Donald Thompson: At the risk of sounding disloyal, does my right hon. Friend realise that, despite pressure from both sides of the House, he completely failed to make it rain in Yorkshire this summer? Will he therefore ensure that he and his Cabinet colleagues see to it that there is no impediment to prevent Yorkshire Water from filling the reservoirs by any means possible?

The Prime Minister: I know that Yorkshire Water is making great efforts to ensure an adequacy of water. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside is taking a close interest in the practical action that is under way.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister confirm that, as a result of the 21 different tax rises introduced by him since the general election, which he fought on the platform of cutting tax year by year, the average family tax bill has risen by £800 a year or by at least 7p on the standard rate of income tax? Is that figure of 7p on the basic rate of income tax correct or not?

The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, for I have said it in the House before, we increased taxes in the recession and we did so to protect people who were vulnerable. [Interruption.] I am bound to say that, if the decision to raise taxes to protect people who were vulnerable in the recession--I believe that that was the right decision--had not been taken, we would not have been able to get interest rates down from 15 per cent. to around 7 per cent. and we would not be in our present position this year, when people on average earnings will see an extra £250 a year in net disposable income.

Mr. Blair: As the right hon. Gentleman said that the purpose was to protect the vulnerable, will he confirm that, in the 10 years from 1985 to 1995, with all the Tory tax changes, those on incomes of more than £100,000 a year have gained massively, whereas the vast majority of families on average income have either gained little or lost money? Does not that show that the real divide is not between high and low tax, but between fair and unfair tax, and that the Tories are the party of unfair taxation?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may try very hard, but he will never convince the people of this country that his party--[Interruption.] Hon. Members would be wise to wait. He will never convince the people of this country that his party will not spend more and tax more than the Conservative party. Alas, the deputy leader of the Labour party is not with us this afternoon, but a year or so ago he admitted:

"There's . . . going to be a higher top rate than we have . . . High income levels are going to pay considerably more".

That is not, I may say, what the leader of the Labour party told the Confederation of British Industry last week.

Mr. Blair: If the Prime Minister wants to prove that he wants fair taxes, why does he not abandon his long-term objective of abolishing capital gains tax and inheritance tax, which would benefit only a few people at the top, who have already benefited greatly, and agree with us that the money could better be used to help lower and middle-income families through a lower starting rate of tax?

The Prime Minister: We have widened the band dramatically, and people start at 20p. Many people in this country pay tax only at 20p in the pound. But

"Britain needs successful people in business who can become rich by their success through the money they earn"-- [Interruption.] I am surprised to hear some comments from the Opposition, because I was quoting what the leader of the Labour party said a few days ago.

It is not credible for Opposition Members to ask day after day, in intervention after intervention, for more spending--in their speeches 40 per cent. of them ask for more spending--and then to pretend that Labour would even hold taxes steady, let alone reduce them. Labour is the high-tax party, and always has been--and it would be the high-spending, high-tax party in the future, if it ever had the chance.

Mr. Whittingdale: Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing the sympathy of the whole House to my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Betts, whose daughter Leah died last week? Will he confirm that the war against drugs remains the Government's highest priority, and does he share the hope of Leah's parents that her death may serve as a warning, and may help to save the lives of other young people?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending sympathy to Mr. and Mrs. Betts for the appalling loss that they face. There are those who believe that Ecstasy in particular, but also other soft drugs, are harmless. I do not share that view. The vast majority of people who move on to hard drugs do so through the medium of soft drugs, and it is important that people up and down the country, especially young people, understand that. I hope that, as a result of Leah's tragic death, that matter will get the publicity that it deserves, and that young people will realise that there is nothing glamorous whatever about soft drugs. They are dangerous, not only in themselves but because they can lead on to hard drugs, which are potential killers time and time again.


Q2. Mr. Purchase: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 November.

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

Mr. Purchase: The Prime Minister will know that the figures released yesterday for the third quarter show that the amount of unsold goods in industry is rising, that imports are growing faster than exports and that, unfortunately, unemployment has plateaued. The level of activity in the economy is slowing down, and construction figures are falling. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that those facts illustrate clearly an economy running out of steam? Or does he believe that those figures represent merely a state of mind, just as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry believes that unemployment and the fear of unemployment are simply a state of mind?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows that the economy grew by 4 per cent. last year, faster than any other western European country; the economy is growing again this year, and it is forecast to grow faster than the others next year. Manufacturing investment is rising, export volumes are up by more than 6 per cent. and unemployment has fallen by more than 700,000. There are more people in work in this country than in any other major country in Europe, and we have a lower rate of unemployment than any major country in Europe.

That has been achieved while underlying inflation is at low levels never dreamed of by the Labour party. The reality is that we have a platform for prosperity for the future that has been hard to achieve. We propose to sustain that platform, which offers an opportunity for long-term prosperity for all the people in this country.

Sir Peter Hordern: If this or any future Government were to sign up to the social chapter, would not this country be bound by majority vote within the Council of Ministers? Would not that make it impossible to pick and choose the directives that should apply to this country? Does not that make total nonsense of the claims made by the Leader of the Opposition last week?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is entirely right. I fought for--and won--the right to opt out because I wanted to put British jobs and British business first. For that reason, I will not sign the social chapter. The social chapter is not just a set of principles. It is not something that one can pick and mix, by deciding to have the bits one likes but not the bits one does not like. Most of the measures may be decided by qualified majority voting, and the British vote on its own would not be sufficient to block matters that the British Government may not like. It is for that reason that we are right not to sign the social chapter. Were we to do so, we would be creating unemployment for a lot of people who have jobs at present.


Q3. Mr. Canavan: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 November.

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

Mr. Canavan: If the Prime Minister refuses to disown the President of the Board of Trade for his insulting comment that job insecurity is just a state of mind, will he be hiring a team of psychiatrists for himself and the Cabinet when we come to the next general election?

The Prime Minister: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is determined, as I am, to continue with our policies to bring unemployment down and to ensure that people are in work, as they are in higher numbers not only in Scotland but right across the United Kingdom because of the policies that we have followed, and not the policies advocated by the hon. Gentleman.


Q4. Mr. Robert Banks: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 November.

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

Mr. Banks: Does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain's international status and prosperity depends upon our having a powerful and constructive role within the European Union? Does he further agree that the development of the Union must be based on control over Brussels bureaucracy, and that the synchronisation of economies--which may take years to achieve--is essential before a single currency can be contemplated or made workable by the leading members of the Community?

The Prime Minister: I want to see a strong Britain in a strong Europe, and I believe that that means looking at the values in Europe that create jobs. We must ensure that Europe is competitive, and increase the existing job total. There are at the moment more than 20 million people unemployed in Europe, and we need to get that figure down dramatically. We must look at any proposal for a single currency in the light of Britain's own national economic self-interest. Last night, I spelled out some of the fundamental questions that underlie the implications of a single currency. Those issues must be answered within the EU before the decisions are made on whether anyone should proceed with a single currency or not. The price of error if those questions are not answered is very high for Europe collectively, and for each country individually.

Mr. Trimble: Will the Prime Minister confirm that it is and will continue to be the policy of the Government that, before Sinn Fein-IRA can move fully into dialogue, it must establish its commitment to exclusively peaceful methods by beginning a credible process of actual decommissioning?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary spelt that out in his speech at Washington. The hon. Gentleman is clearly referring to the Washington three conditions. That remains the Government's position.


Q5. Mr. Rathbone: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 November.

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

Mr. Rathbone: As First Lord of the Treasury, will my right hon. Friend bang a few heads together there in order to stop the bureaucratic interference in the private finance initiative, so that more customers, clients and patients can benefit from it?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly be happy to continue doing as my hon. Friend has said. The private finance initiative is central to the plans for improving the country's infrastructure. My hon. Friend should be in no doubt about our determination to succeed. Later on this afternoon, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will make a speech on the PFI. I welcome his determination to increase the amount of contribution to the health service from private finance. I think a similar contribution can come from the PFI across the Government's programme.