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1995 - PMQT 30th November 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th November 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Nigel Griffiths: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 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.

Mr. Griffiths: Why is the Prime Minister undermining the Post Office price freeze by increasing tax on the post, taking £1 million every working day and forcing up the price of stamps? Is not this yet another case of higher Tory taxes and the Government giving with one hand and taking away with the other?

The Prime Minister: I can see that the hon. Gentleman was very carefully rehearsed for this week's soundbite. He should look at the record on the Post Office. If he does, he will see that stamp prices have been frozen for some time and that it is two and a half years since the last increase. That is the longest period of stability since the 1960s, and stamp prices continue to fall in real terms.

Mr. Mark Robinson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the extra resources for schools announced in the Budget are very good news? Will he also do everything in his power to encourage local authorities to ensure that that money is passed on to schools?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend touches on two important points. The increase in resources to schools through the local authority budget will be welcome. It is also important that it is clear to parents and to schools that the money provided to the local authority settlement for education should go to education.

Mr. Blair: Before asking my question, may I tell the Prime Minister that, on Northern Ireland, we reiterate our congratulations to all involved in the peace process? The American President's visit to Northern Ireland today marks a moment of history in which we all rejoice. May I express the hope that these new and strong voices for peace can drown out the old cries of violence and allow everybody, not just there but here, to unite and put aside their differences and work for a common end?

I do not know whether the Prime Minister remembers the Budget, but may I ask him to withdraw the remarks made by the Conservative party chairman, who has claimed that the Budget will make the average family in Britain £9 a week better off? Will he confirm that, of that £9, almost £7 has nothing to do with the Budget but has to do with the Conservatives' projection of wage increases next year? The real Budget figure is just over £2, and that does not take account of extra costs, charges and taxes. Is that right or wrong?

The Prime Minister: I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about Northern Ireland. The President's visit to Belfast this morning was a spectacular success and everyone welcomes what he has had to say about terrorism.

On the subject of withdrawing claims, the right hon. Gentleman, when he replied to the Budget statement, made a series of comments, the vast majority of which were specious, wrong or misleading. If he cares to examine them, he will find that those that were not wrong were misleading, and that those that were not misleading were wrong. My right hon. Friend said that people will be better off by £450 next year, and that is our expectation.

Mr. Blair: We are entitled to an answer on this point. The claim was made that people are £9 a week better off as a result of the Budget, but £7 of it comes from earnings rises next year as projected by the Conservative party. The true Budget figure is just over £2, and that is confirmed by the Treasury press release. Is that right or wrong? If it is right, does not it show how the Tories give with one hand and take with the other--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] They do not like it because it is true. If it is true, does not it also show that we can never trust the Tories on tax?

The Prime Minister: It really is a rich day for the soundbites. After all that they have said about the Budget, it is interesting to hear that the Opposition will not vote against the Budget provisions. They cannot say yes and they will not say no; they have at best a qualified "maybe" about the Budget. My right hon. Friend said that, next year, the average family will be around £9 a week better off and that is our expectation.

Returning to the issues of taxes and trust, does the right hon. Gentleman recall saying that he did not propose to put up taxes? Does he recall the deputy leader of the Labour party saying:

"high income levels are going to pay considerably more"

and that there would be a higher top rate of tax under Labour? There seems to be some difference of opinion between the right hon. Gentleman and his deputy. It does not matter if the deputy goes on shouting at me. It would be better if he stuck to the party line instead of behaving like the mouth of the Humber.

Mr. Blair: I shall tell the Prime Minister what people will recall at the next election. He went into the election saying that he would never raise VAT, and he raised it. [Interruption.] They can shout, but they will never again be trusted.

Madam Speaker: Order. I insist on the Leader of the Opposition being heard.

Mr. Blair: They want a question. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister went into the election promising not to raise VAT and then raised it? Is that simple enough for them?

The Prime Minister: I can tell the right hon. Gentleman what people will remember at the next election. They will remember a 33 per cent. rate of tax under a Labour Government and a 24 per cent. rate now. They will notice that interest rates have come down by 8 per cent. and that net disposable income is rising--and they will recall that that is not what happens under Labour Governments.

Mr. Cash: Given the fundamental importance of NATO to Britain and western security and the fact that we are about to send 13,000 British troops to Bosnia, will my right hon. Friend consider vetoing the prospective appointment of Mr. Solana, the Spanish Foreign Minister, as Secretary-General of NATO as he has expressed views against NATO and nuclear deterrence?

The Prime Minister: I understand from the information that I have received that that most certainly is not Mr. Solana's view. I do not know what he may have said in the past and my hon. Friend may have seen quotations of which I am not aware, but it is my understanding that that is not his view on NATO or nuclear weapons.


Q2. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

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

Mrs. Campbell: Will the Prime Minister unreservedly condemn the callous actions of Tory-controlled Westminster city council in moving 100 families with 150 babies and children into tower blocks riddled with the most virulent and dangerous form of asbestos? Are there any depths to which his party will not sink in order to hang on to political power?

The Prime Minister: On the subject of depths, the hon. Lady might address her question to the Monklands, Lambeth or Walsall councils, or to any one of many other Labour-controlled councils whose activity in local government is a disgrace.

Sir Fergus Montgomery: Did my right hon. Friend read in the Sunday Express the article about the strange goings-on in the Sedgefield constituency, where the Hurworth comprehensive school is applying for grant-maintained status? Is he aware that the Labour party there is accused of campaigning on dirty tricks and misleading information to stop the Leader of the Opposition being embarrassed? If my right hon. Friend had a son at a grant-maintained school, would he feel that his constituents were entitled to the same opportunity?

The Prime Minister: I did not read the article, but if what my hon. Friend said is correct, I am sure that the Opposition would wish to examine the matter, investigate it, condemn what has happened and ensure that such campaigning ceased immediately. Of course people have a right to a ballot on grant-maintained schools. They have a right also to have that ballot without undue hindrance, either from the local authority or from Labour Members. I very much hope that they will have that right.


Q3. Mr. Madden: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

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

Mr. Madden: As the Prime Minister is aware of the importance of prisoners in building still further confidence in the Irish peace process, will he support the early transfer, on humanitarian grounds, of Patrick Kelly and Michael O'Brien to prisons in Northern Ireland, and the repatriation of Irish prisoners to prisons in the Irish Republic--I hope before Christmas?

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that there is the question of the health of one of those prisoners. They have both been convicted, as he knows, of serious terrorist offences. One of the solicitors involved has submitted medical evidence in support of a transfer. That matter, under the normal procedures, is being examined.

Mr. Deva: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if a member of his Front Bench had made a statement such as was made last night by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) in a public television programme, he would have fired him instantly?

The Prime Minister: I regret any remark that has any connotation of the sort that I believe lies behind my hon. Friend's question. I hope that it is a matter that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) will clear up.


Q4. Mr. Mudie: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

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

Mr. Mudie: The Prime Minister will be aware that many Yorkshire households are still facing the prospect of using standpipes and that many businesses are facing rotational water supply cuts. Given the obscene profits that were announced yesterday, will the Prime Minister join me and the people of Yorkshire in condemning the directors of Yorkshire Water both for their greed and for their incompetence?

The Prime Minister: I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that I understand that Yorkshire Water plans to invest £2.5 billion over the next 10 years and that it will invest more than £200 million this year for its customers' benefit. I believe that that is double its half-year profits. I hope that that will go a long way to ensuring that the difficulties that have occurred after years of a nationalised water industry will not be repeated under private ownership.


Q5. Mr. Sims: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 November.

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

Mr. Sims: Is my right hon. Friend aware that thousands of pensioners will welcome the new 20p rate of tax on savings? Is it not clear proof that the Government are working towards a 20 per cent. basic rate, as distinct from the policies that the Labour party is espousing, which mean that it is heading for a 30p rate?

The Prime Minister: Given the demands for extra spending that come from Labour Back-Bench Members, there is no doubt that a 30p rate might be exceeded were there ever to be a Labour Government. My hon. Friend is right; the 20p rate is particularly good news for thousands of people with savings, especially, perhaps, for many hundreds of thousands of pensioners with savings.

I think that it was the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who said a few days ago, when talking about Labour policy, that these days it amounts to little more than a marketing exercise. We saw that with the gimmick of a 10p tax rate for the allegedly lower-paid. The reality is that we are proceeding towards a lower tax rate of 20 per cent. whereas the Labour party's spending plans add up to substantially more than the current level of taxation, whatever it may care to claim about them.

Mr. Janner: Would the Prime Minister be good enough to look at the awful case of my constituent, Jasmine Sorabjee, aged three and a half, born in this country and ill, whom the Home Office has seen fit to deport to Kenya with her mother? Is not that a cruel, disgraceful decision, devoid of compassion that shows the disgraceful way in which the Government are abusing immigration rules and failing to exercise any compassionate concern in cases of real human suffering?

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman knows that the Government are not bypassing any of the immigration regulations. He knows that that is the case and he really should not have indicated the contrary. There are strict ways in which these matters are examined. They are examined with compassion.

Mr. Janner: They are not.

The Prime Minister: They are examined with compassion. Without any shadow of doubt they are examined with compassion. I have no details of the particular case, but the person removed from this country would have been the parent who, presumably, was an illegal immigrant.