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1995 - PMQT 7th December 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 7th December 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hood: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December.

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 this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Hood: Will the Prime Minister tell us who is running the Government this week? Is it proper for the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) to announce that the Government intend to publish a White Paper on Europe? If so, is that not further proof of the lurch to the right--or is the Prime Minister doing what he usually does: ruling nothing in, ruling nothing out and being decisively indecisive?

The Prime Minister: As my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear this morning, we are examining all the issues that will come up in the intergovernmental conference, including whether it would be appropriate to have a White Paper.

Sir Peter Tapsell: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present turmoil in France epitomises the potential social and political dangers of any attempt to shackle Britain to a single European currency or the social chapter, as is proposed by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister: What it certainly shows, as my hon. Friend will be aware, is the difficulties that the present French Government have inherited from their socialist predecessors. If their predecessors had dealt with the underlying structural and fiscal problems at the time, the present French Government would not be facing this difficulty.

Mr. Blair: I am surprised that the Prime Minister cannot tell us whether there will be a White Paper, but let me put this question to him and see whether he can answer it. Is it still the Government's position that he will not rule out joining a single currency in the next Parliament?

The Prime Minister: That is still the Government's position, as I have made clear on a number of occasions.

Mr. Blair: I think that that is a very important statement. The Prime Minister has said that he will not rule it out in the next Parliament. We know that that is not the position of the Welsh Secretary or of many of his Back Benchers. Will he tell us this, then: is that the position of the whole of his Government, including the Euro-sceptic members of the Cabinet?

The Prime Minister: Of course it is the position of the whole Government and it has been repeatedly stated that that is the position of the whole Government. We have made that clear on a number of occasions, and nothing has changed.

Mr. Robert Jackson: One of the conditions of the Dayton agreement is that all the parties should observe the European convention on human rights. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be somewhat paradoxical for British forces to be, in a sense, enforcing the European convention on human rights in Bosnia while we in Britain are contemplating withdrawal from that convention?

The Prime Minister: We are certainly unhappy about some of the rulings made under the European convention on human rights. We have made that point and we will continue to do so. We were one of the founders of the European convention on human rights which, as my hon. Friend knows, is a quite separate matter from the European Court of Justice. That does not alter the fact that we and a number of other countries have been profoundly unhappy with some of its rulings. As I have said, we have made that point clear and will continue to do so.

Mr. Ashdown: Will the Prime Minister make it clear whether Britain will withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights?

The Prime Minister: We have not said that we shall withdraw from the European convention on human rights. We have said that we are profoundly dissatisfied with some of the court's judgments and that we propose to take that up with the European Commission of Human Rights and deal with it in some way in the future.

Mr. David Atkinson: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at the end of this decade, a great many of our computers and those elsewhere will fail because they are not programmed to recognise the double zero of the year 2000? That will have immense and costly consequences for British business, small businesses and, perhaps, Government Departments. Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Government are aware of that and how they are responding to it?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful question. I shall certainly ensure that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade examines the matter and responds to him.


Q3. Mr. Tony Banks: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December.

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

Mr. Banks: When the Prime Minister writes his customary letter to Santa this Christmas, will he make it quite clear that he is not asking for a puppy? Will he make it clear that he would discourage anyone from giving a puppy as a present to a child this Christmas, because a puppy is for all the year, not just a Christmas present?

When the Prime Minister has finished his Christmas list and is writing his resolutions for the new year, will he make a resolution to introduce legislation to ban puppy farms? Such legislation would win support on both sides of the House and outside.

The Prime Minister: I hope that everyone who contemplates giving a pet as a present for Christmas bears in mind that it is a present for the long term, not just for the short term. I hope that people will be responsible in their present giving.

Mr. Butler: Is my right hon. Friend surprised at the survey today which found that more than half of all private investors would remove their capital from Britain in the event of a Labour victory--or does he consider that that is the inevitable consequence of such a catastrophe?

The Prime Minister: I cannot pretend to be surprised at that survey's findings. I suspect that those surveyed have examined the likely implications of joining the social chapter and of the spending promises made by the Labour party and realised what they would do to taxation, competitiveness and employment.


Q4. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December.

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

Mr. Bayley: As a parent of school-age children I am sure that I speak on behalf of many parents when I tell the Prime Minister that the Government have failed to convince the public or school caterers that British beef is safe. Will the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, make sure that the Department of Health issues genuinely independent advice about this matter to reassure parents?

The Prime Minister: Of course this is an important matter for schools and for the safety of consumers as a whole. I have sought and received advice that there is currently no scientific evidence that BSE can be transmitted to humans or that eating beef causes CJD. That is not in question. I am also advised that beef is a safe and wholesome product. The chief medical officer's advice is clear--there is no evidence that eating beef causes CJD in humans.


Q5. Mr. Congdon: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December.

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

Mr. Congdon: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quality of teaching is crucial to improving standards and that the publication of test results is important in monitoring them? Does my right hon. Friend find it strange that the belated conversion of the Labour party to recognising the need for higher standards has not been matched in the past by its willingness to see the publication of test results? In fact, it has done everything to frustrate that.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a point that will be recognised by parents throughout the country. On this matter, the Opposition's actions have frequently spoken a great deal louder than their words. During the past few years, they have opposed every measure that we have introduced to raise standards. They have described school league tables as political propaganda, test results as virtually useless, teaching children the basics as a fanatical doctrine--[Laughter.] Hon. Members may scoff, but they are scoffing at what their party and their Front Bench have said.


Q6. Mr. Beggs: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December.

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

Mr. Beggs: Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that Northern Ireland students who have been accepted into universities in England to follow physiotherapy or other courses leading to para medical qualification should not be disadvantaged and should not be expected to pay the balance between their mandatory award and the fees charged by the universities, which sometimes amounts to more than £5,000? Will he consider the matter and ensure that Northern Ireland students are not less well off than students from the Irish Republic or the European Union? Will he endeavour to remove this perceived disadvantage?

The Prime Minister: I shall certainly examine that matter. If the hon. Gentleman has pointed to a genuine disadvantage, I shall invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to examine it and see whether it can be corrected.

Mr. Lidington: Which local education authority produced the worst results in the recently published GCSE league tables? What options would the Government want to be available to parents in that local council area who are dissatisfied with the education authority's performance?

The Prime Minister: I understand that the worst results were in Islington education authority. There are several options available to Islington. I hope that the education authority will try to correct what has gone wrong and improve the quality of education for all the children in Islington. Of course, there remains the option of grant-maintained schools, which many parents throughout the country rightly perceive as offering good education that they want their children to enjoy.


Q7. Mr. McFall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December.

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

Mr. McFall: In her Centrepoint speech this morning, Princess Diana highlighted the inadequacy of the present system for homeless young people forced to live on the streets. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to respond to that eloquent plea by providing further assistance for such young people so that the problem no longer blights British society?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have been dealing comprehensively with the problem for some time and have made remarkable improvements over the past few years. We are fully committed to ensuring that there is no necessity for some people to sleep rough. We very much hope that the culture, which has grown up among some people, of doing so can be changed and broken. The Government are providing about 5,000 places in permanent and temporary accommodation for people who otherwise would have to sleep rough. That is in addition to the outreach and resettlement services for homeless people living on the streets. There is no doubt that there has been a remarkable reduction in the number of people sleeping rough. Plans to eliminate that practice continue, and I look forward to that day being reached.

Sir Teddy Taylor: I welcome very much what my right hon. Friend said about a possible White Paper on Europe. Does he agree that it would not only help to set out the Government's basic objectives, but would draw to public attention the ever-widening gulf between the Government and the Opposition who, under their present leadership, are destined to surrender more of our liberty, power, jobs and freedom to Brussels?

The Prime Minister: That policy is clear in many Opposition speeches, but it is not universal. They seem to sing a different tune on some occasions. We are considering the desirability of a White Paper, which was recommended by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Scrutiny Committee. We shall consider their recommendations carefully, but we have made it clear on a number of occasions that we will most certainly oppose some areas--certainly in advance of any White Paper saying so--in the negotiations that are to take place next year. They include an extension of qualified majority voting, massive new powers for the European Parliament and signing the social chapter. Whatever decision is reached about a White Paper, those policies are firm and will not change.


Q8. Mr. Skinner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 December.

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

Mr. Skinner: When will the Government stop closing hospitals and wards, which affects the million-long waiting list and creates misery for all the people who want to get into hospital? Is the Prime Minister aware that it is creating another problem? Does he know that people are roaming the streets at night looking for hospitals to visit, but cannot find them? It is giving a whole new meaning to the term "roving ambassador".

The Prime Minister: On the subject of provision of resources in the health service, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the increased provision--an extra £1.3 billion again this year, which is 70 per cent. above inflation during the year. There was a time when there was a significant cut in the health service, but that was when the hon. Gentleman supported a Labour Government.