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1995 - PMQT 23rd November 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 23rd November 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Sir Alan Haselhurst: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 November.

The Prime Minister: 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.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Is it still the target of my right hon. Friend's Government to reduce the standard rate of income tax to 20p? In that context, did he notice that the shadow Chancellor wasted no time yesterday in his 40-minute speech talking about his 10p target? Which target does my right hon. Friend think that the nation will find more credible?

The Prime Minister: I can confirm the 20p target. There are a number of ways to reach it: reducing the basic rate, widening the 20p band or both, of course. I look forward, as soon as it is affordable, to making some progress in that direction. I found it rather odd that the shadow Chancellor did not talk about his 10p tax rate. It rather confirms my view that it is more of a gimmick than a proper policy option. I notice that the shadow Chancellor has 101 per cent. support from the Leader of the Opposition. The 1 per cent. I am sure is correct; the 100 per cent. I am not so sure of.

Mr. Blair: How can the Prime Minister seriously maintain his statement on Tuesday that the 21 tax rises that he has introduced since the last election--the equivalent of 7p on the basic rate of tax--were to protect the vulnerable when it is middle and lower-income families who have suffered most, not least from the imposition of VAT on fuel? Would he now care to explain or withdraw that remark?

The Prime Minister: Yes, of course I shall happily explain to the right hon. Gentleman. If he cares to examine the figures, he will see that, since I became Prime Minister, take-home pay after inflation has risen by £600 a year at today's prices. Real disposable income is £400 a year per head higher at today's prices. In addition, mortgage payments have fallen by £140 a month. That does not suggest to me the sort of tax hike affecting people's net disposable income that the right hon. Gentleman portrays. Can he confirm that those take-home figures are right?

Mr. Blair: Perhaps the Prime Minister would like to confirm the tax rises equivalent to a figure of 7p on the basic rate of income tax. Those are the tax rises that he introduced after he promised the British people that he would cut tax year on year. He said that he would never introduce VAT, but he did so. Is not one thing clear? Despite all the promises before the election, after his 7p extra on the basic rate, taxes will be higher at the next election than at the last election, and the British people will remember the Conservatives as the party of broken promises and unfair taxes.

The Prime Minister: I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman of three things that are clear: people have much higher net disposable income than they did at the start of this Government; interest rates have halved since their peak, cutting mortgages dramatically; and there is no one in the country who does not know that taxes would be far higher under any Labour Government than they are under this Government, and as they have been under each and every Labour Government that has ever been inflicted on the country.

Mr. Sumberg: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the notice this morning from the Department of Transport that it has abandoned the M62 relief road, which would have devastated my constituency? Can I tell my right hon. Friend that we are all delighted at the news that that disastrous proposal has now been condemned to transport history?

The Prime Minister: I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be grateful to have my hon. Friend's support for that decision. I know that my hon. Friend has been a formidable campaigner for that interest.

Sir David Steel: Following the belated and hesitant reaction of the international community to events in Nigeria, will the Prime Minister put greater force behind his Government's policy of promoting good governance? In view of the great number of asylum seekers coming from Zaire, will he raise that matter with colleagues in the European Union so that we may secure a timely and united response to despotic regimes?

The Prime Minister: I am not sure that I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the way that he characterises the Commonwealth's response to Nigeria. I think that the response was very swift, and it was apt. There is no doubt about the nature of that regime and there is no doubt about the Commonwealth's response. Certainly, we shall look at the other points that the right hon. Gentleman raises.

Sir Roger Moate: With regard to the road programme, has my right hon. Friend heard of NOMRAM, which means "no more roads after mine", and which is a very popular position? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, if there are to be any reductions in conventional funding, they will be more than replaced by a dynamic private finance initiative for the construction of many projects throughout the land, which are urgently needed both for jobs and for environmental reasons?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt about the importance, both in the short term and the long term, of the private finance initiative in the case not only of roads, but of other elements of capital expenditure. I set out in a speech on Monday the extent to which the private finance initiative has already made progress.


Q2. Mr. Michael J. Martin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 November.

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

Mr. Martin: Does the Prime Minister agree that those who are unfortunate enough to suffer from Alzheimer's, strokes and other long-term diseases should be able to get the best care that the national health service can offer? Does he agree that the provision of that care should never be a lottery or dependent on the part of the country that a patient comes from, but should be there for each and every person? If it is the case that the Government have put tax up by 7p in real terms, that money should go to help those patients and their carers.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman neglects to mention that we have put up spending on the national health service by 70 per cent., even taking account of inflation, since the Government came into office. The result has been a dramatic improvement in the number of people treated, and a dramatic reduction in the time that they have to wait for treatment. Half of patients have no wait at all; of the rest, half are admitted within six weeks, and three quarters within three months. Nothing like that record has ever been seen before the arrival of this Government in office and the extra funding that the Government have provided.


Q3. Dr. Goodson-Wickes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 November.

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

Dr. Goodson-Wickes: Will my right hon. Friend confirm his commitment to reducing Government expenditure to below 40 per cent. of the gross domestic product? Does he agree that the country's competitiveness into the next century depends on low spending linked to low taxation, and that that message is totally lost on the Opposition, whose spending plans simply do not add up?

The Prime Minister: Unfortunately, the Opposition's spending plans do add up. They add up to a great deal of extra money and extra taxation. For the Opposition to talk about taxation levels when they have voted against every tax reduction that we have introduced over the past 16 years, when they have stood consistently for higher taxes and higher spending and have never forgone any item of expenditure that might conceivably have been popular in any part of the country, is hypocrisy on a grand scale. The reality is that we need to cut spending to below 40 per cent. of national income as soon as possible and we need to cut spending and taxes so that the fact that this country is the enterprise centre of Europe becomes increasingly recognised, not just here and in Europe but beyond Europe. Spending more and taxing less, which the shadow Chancellor claims is possible, is not possible. Those plans do not add up.


Q4. Mr. Alan W. Williams: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 November.

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

Mr. Williams: It is almost five years since the Prime Minister took office. When he looks back, what does he see as his proudest achievement? Is it that we have had the lowest economic growth of any post-war five-year period, is it the 20 per cent. devaluation or tax rises amounting to 7p on the standard rate, or is his proudest achievement simply the fact that he has survived for so long in office?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has his own suggestions and I am sure that he will not mind if I offer him some alternatives. When I became Prime Minister, inflation was 9.5 per cent., but we now have underlying inflation of 2.9 per cent. [Interruption.] Base rates were 14 per cent., they are now 6 per cent. and output is 6 per cent. higher--[Interruption.]

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

The Prime Minister: If hon. Members care to look at the international projections about what lies ahead for the country, they will see what the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has to say about our performance. They will see that we are top of the growth league and they will see inward investment flooding into the country. The deputy leader of the Labour party claims that he does not see inward investment flooding in. I suggest that he visits the constituencies of the Leader of the Opposition and of the shadow Foreign Secretary and constituencies up and down the country to see the extent to which other countries have recognised the success of this country over recent years.

Mr. Atkins: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the shambles that is Labour local government in Preston? Given that the chief executive has been sacked in highly dubious circumstances, the chief constable has issued writs on the councillors and the leader of the council, Valerie Wise, has even lost the confidence of her ward committee, will my right hon. Friend set up an investigation into the further abuse of powers by a Labour council, demonstrating yet again what Labour would be like in office?

The Prime Minister: I was not aware of the details set out by my right hon. Friend but, sadly, that is not a unique case of Labour local government by any means. We have seen what has happened in Monklands and in a large number of other Labour local authorities. If the Labour party were one bit as concerned about good government at local level as it claims to be about good government at national level, it would clean out the nest of Labour local government, which has long needed drastic action.


Q5. Mr. Tony Banks: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 November.

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

Mr. Banks: Does the Prime Minister agree with the words of the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), that Princess Diana is in an advanced state of paranoia?

The Prime Minister: I have no intention of being drawn into making any comments in the aftermath of last Monday.


Q6. Mr. Amess: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 November.

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

Mr. Amess: Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in condemning those people who made a violent attack--[Interruption.]

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

Mr. Amess: Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in condemning those people who made a violent attack on the chairman of the Conservative party last week and those people who, the week before, tried to stop my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary speaking at Canterbury university? Does my right hon. Friend have any idea whether those people are members of new Labour, of old Labour or of fascist Labour?

The Prime Minister: I condemn anyone who resorts to violence or intimidation to force their own way in democratic politics. They do nothing whatever for their cause. They merely show that their argument does not stand up to rational debate. They deserve condemnation from every corner.

Mr. Mackinlay: Will the Prime Minister tolerate the Minister of State for the Armed Forces continuing to act as the Prince of Wales's butler? Can we have an assurance that the Minister of State will not act on behalf of--

[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) will remain silent while questions are being asked.

Mr. Mackinlay: Can we have an undertaking that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will not speak on constitutional matters which are the sole preserve of the Prime Minister? Will the Prime Minister sack the Minister of State for speaking out of turn against the Princess of Wales?

The Prime Minister: I do not expect any more comments, Madam Speaker.