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1995 - PMQT 5th December 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 5th December 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

GP Fundholders (Lichfield)

Q1. Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Prime Minister if he will meet a delegation of general practitioners from Lichfield to discuss the future of fundholding.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): Fundholders' views on developing the success of the scheme are always welcome. Any detailed recommendations will, of course, be considered.

Mr. Fabricant: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer. Is he aware that every general practitioner in Lichfield will be a registered fundholder? The reason is that those GPs believe in the Conservative party's crusade for choice: they believe that it is right for them to be able to choose the consultant and the hospital that are right for them. Does my right hon. Friend realise that they are appalled at the Labour party's plan to abolish fundholding? Does that not give the lie to Labour's crusade for schools, which is evidently empty rhetoric-- just another empty soundbite?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend that GP fundholding has improved patient care and increased patient choice up and down the country. An increasing number of doctors are choosing to become fundholders, and I welcome that, in Lichfield as elsewhere.

There is, of course, all the difference in the world between a policy that genuinely believes in choice--as ours does in relation to both health and education--and one that believes in choice for marketing reasons. We saw an instance of that this morning.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. Morgan: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 December.

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.

Mr. Morgan: Does the Prime Minister agree with me, and with all the other users of the Great Western main line from Paddington to south Wales and the west of England, that the signals for railway privatisation are now firmly stuck at red? Now that the consortium Resurgence Railways, led by the Prime Minister's Huntingdon Tory crony, Mike Jones, has been rejected because it cannot raise the money, and the second-choice preferred bidders--led by the present management team at Western Region--cannot raise the money either, should we not be singing the old song "Let's call the whole thing off"?

The Prime Minister: That was rather contrived, I must say. Rail privatisation is going ahead, for one simple reason: it will deliver a better service for rail passengers. If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends really think that, over the past 40 years, the public have had the rail service that they would like, I do not know where he has been.

Mr. Bill Walker: Does my right hon. Friend believe that, if he appointed Scottish-based Members of Parliament to key Cabinet posts such as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Chief Whip, and then proposed to set up a Parliament in Edinburgh that failed to address the West Lothian question, that would be good for the Union of the United Kingdom and for relations between Scotland and the rest of the UK?

The Prime Minister: I do, of course, have a number of very distinguished Scots in my Cabinet and in my Government, but I certainly agree with the thrust-- [Interruption.] Not at the moment, it is true. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor is distinguished, but he is not a Scot. The thrust of my hon. Friend's point is surely right--if the devolution plans proposed by the Opposition parties were to proceed, they would undoubtedly lead to conflict between Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that, even at this late stage, the parties advocating those policies will consider what they would mean in practice both for Scotland and for the rest of the United Kingdom and will decide that extra taxation for Scots alone is not a way to improve the prosperity of Scotland.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister agree, as the Government's report "Lifetime Learning" which was published today confirms, that Britain's skills and education attainments are nowhere near where they should be? Rather than encouraging a small number of children to leave state schools for the private sector, should we not be raising educational standards for the 7 million children who are educated in the state sector, many of whom do not get the education that they deserve?

The Prime Minister: Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have produced a whole series of plans to raise educational standards over recent years, many of which, alas, have been strongly opposed by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to know where in the education sector there is failure, he might look at Hackney for example. [Hon. Members: "Islington."] I shall come to Islington. The right hon. Gentleman might look at Lambeth, where the secondary schools are so bad that the Office for Standards in Education has to inspect every one of them. He might, of course, look at Islington, which has just come absolutely bottom in the table of GCSE results. What is consistent among all those is that they are all Labour-controlled education authorities.

Mr. Michael Brown: Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate SCM Chemicals in my constituency, a subsidiary of the Hanson Trust group, which yesterday announced a massive expansion of its titanium dioxide plant? Is that not clear evidence that international investment is making my constituency the chemical capital of the world?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is a formidable advocate for his constituency and his constituents. I hope he will agree that Government policy as well as his advocacy might have played some part in bringing that investment to his constituency.


Q3. Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 December.

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

Mr. Taylor: Will the Prime Minister explain to the people of Cornwall and Devon why they should accept the Government's conclusions today that Government spending in the region compares favourably with that in the rest of the country, when every independent report shows that spending in the region is 10 per cent. less Department by Department, education to industry, than that in the rest of the country, despite high unemployment, low wages and a high cost of living?

The Prime Minister: As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, we have a number of measures to deal with those problems in the west country and elsewhere, and it is extremely important that those problems are dealt with. We are determined to address them and to improve the living standards and opportunities for people in the west country. That is what we have been doing and what we shall continue to do. It is pity that the hon. Gentleman seeks to denigrate every effort that is made.

Mr. Devlin: Has my right hon. Friend seen reports of the disgraceful intimidation and browbeating that is going on in Hurworth in my neighbouring constituency where the Labour party is trying to prevent a local school from opting out? Apparently, the whole affair is being organised by none other than the Leader of the Opposition, aided by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn.)

The Prime Minister: I believe that any form of intimidation of parental choice is to be condemned. Parents have a natural and a legal right to decide whether they want the school to which their child goes to opt out and they should be able to exercise that right without intimidation, either by the education authority or by anyone else. If there is evidence of that, I hope that those implicated in it will examine it without delay.


Q4. Ms Quin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 December.

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

Ms Quin: My question concerns the appalling human rights abuses in Nigeria, together with reports in the press today of confidential information from Home Office files being leaked to Tory central office and thence to the press. Will the Prime Minister order an immediate inquiry into those leaks and further assure the House that there will be no deportations to Nigeria of people at risk from that murderous regime?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Lady knows, our position on Nigeria is clear and, in company with others, we set that out clearly at the Commonwealth conference. The case in today's newspaper to which she refers was one where the applicant or his representative had chosen to make public details of their cases and allegations about their consideration. In those circumstances, the Home Office gave information that was necessary to set the record straight in response to telephone inquiries that it received and, subsequent to the information being given by the Home Office, it was also used by others.

Sir Michael Shersby: Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the outstanding success of Operation Christmas Cracker? Is he aware that some 12,000 police officers in 40 force areas today made a number of staggered raids in which more than 2,000 suspects were arrested, and recovered property ranging from bicycles to reptiles? Does he agree that that is one of the best Christmas presents that people could have?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who touches on a matter that is of importance to everyone. I certainly welcome the priority given to today's operation, which involves some 40 police forces and has occasioned more than 2,000 arrests. There is no doubt that, over the past couple of years, innovative policing methods have made a distinct impact on the crime level, and we are now beginning to see the crime statistics fall. It is policing of that sort that can give people considerable reassurance. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may scoff about crime falling, but it is a matter of importance to the public out there.


Q5. Mr. Foulkes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 December.

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

Mr. Foulkes: Has the Prime Minister seen the astonishing reports in the press that the official video of the party conference has been doctored to make the party chairman appear good, and to play down the popularity of the Secretary of State for Defence in the party? If the Conservative party cannot tell the truth about its own conference, is it any wonder that no one trusts it on tax?

The Prime Minister: From the party that has more spending pledges and higher tax in the pipeline than anyone else, I find that ironic. On the newspaper reports, the hon. Gentleman should look at reality, not newspaper reports.

Mrs. Peacock: Is my right hon. Friend aware that high-quality textiles from Yorkshire were used in the new James Bond film? James Bond may be ruthless in what he does to his enemies, but he is also particular about what he wears. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the three west Yorkshire textile companies that were involved in that project?

The Prime Minister: I am certainly happy to congratulate west Yorkshire and the textile industry and I hope that, as a result of that extra advertisement, they will sell far more of their textiles at home and abroad.


Q6. Ms Corston: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 December.

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

Ms Corston: The Prime Minister describes himself as a one-nation Tory. Will he therefore tell us which is fairer--abolishing capital gains and inheritance taxes or implementing a starting rate of income tax of 10p?

The Prime Minister: I see that the shadow Chancellor is here. One of his hon. Friends, also a Front Bencher a year or so ago, referred in very scathing terms to precisely the sort of proposition that the shadow Chancellor made. It is a gimmick and the shadow Chancellor knows it. What is fair is to lower the basic rate of tax to 20p, which is what we are doing by raising thresholds so that one in four people now pays tax at 20p, by cutting the tax on savings for all basic-rate taxpayers so that they only pay 20p, and by reducing the basic rate of tax.

The hon. Lady reveals the deep innate distaste of the Labour party for cutting taxes. It is a spending party and a tax-raising party, while we cut taxes.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker, of which I gave you prior notice. You will have just heard the Prime Minister refer to what appears to be a major change in the long-standing policy of the Home Office not to disclose to a third party confidential information concerning anyone involved in immigration or asylum applications. In view of the disclosure by Conservative central office of information concerning a Mr. Igbiuidu, a Nigerian national seeking asylum in this country, could you, Madam Speaker, arrange for the Home Secretary to make an early statement about what changes the Home Office has made in its policy of not disclosing information about individual applications?

Madam Speaker: I appreciate the fact that the hon. Gentleman kindly gave me notice of his point of order. I certainly heard the Prime Minister's response today. I understand that the information was released by the Home Office. I, as Speaker, have no responsibility for the actions of Government Departments, but even so I took the opportunity this morning to look at the matter and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is precedented.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to look in the Official Report tomorrow at question No. 1 to the Prime Minister, tabled by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). He asked a closed question. We all understand the ground rules. A closed question prevents any supplementary from being asked, other than in relation to the subject matter of the question.

My complaint is that the Prime Minister did not respond either in detail or by implication to the question, which specifically asked whether he would meet general practitioners from Lichfield. There was no mention of Lichfield in the Prime Minister's reply, and certainly not in relation to general practitioners. If the rules are to apply, a Minister has to respond to a question, or it is unfair to Opposition Members.

Mr. Fabricant rose--

Madam Speaker: Sit down. I am taking no further points of order on this matter. Indeed, it was not a point of order anyway. I am not responsible for the answers given by Ministers. We shall now get on with the business of the House.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Many of us could not hear what you said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). For clarification, could you tell us whether you said that the procedure was precedented or a precedent?

Madam Speaker: It is precedented. If the hon. Gentleman would like to come to see me I will give him the information.