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1995 - PMQT 12th December 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th December 1995.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Bill Michie: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Michie: Does the Prime Minister share the widespread concern about the release to the press by the chairman of the Conservative party of the text of the Lord Chancellor's speech, which the Lord Chancellor himself had no intention of delivering? Is not it about time that the Prime Minister condemned the action of the chairman of the Conservative party and made a public apology to the Lord Chancellor, to which he is entitled?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman knew the Lord Chancellor, he would not have asked such a silly question. The hon. Gentleman is mis-stating the Lord Chancellor's view and the events.


Q2. Mr. Amess: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 December.

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

Mr. Amess: Will my right hon. Friend confirm-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I will have order in this House.

Mr. Amess: Will my right hon. Friend confirm-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Try again.

Mr. Amess: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the national health service is treating 1 million extra patients a year as a result of the Government's courage in introducing their NHS reforms? That being so, does my right hon. Friend agree with the comments made by the Labour party think tank that Labour policy on the NHS is dominated by sectional trade union interest and is neither thorough nor well informed--a perfect description of new Labour?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that the national health service is treating 1 million more patients, and of course treating them better, with a wider range of services, and more speedily than ever before. I am aware of the Fabian pamphlet, though I have not yet had the opportunity to read it. Perhaps I shall enjoy doing so in due course. The conclusion that I draw from it is clear. Views inside the health service and about the health service have moved on. The Opposition's views have not moved and are out of date and unsuitable for a modern health service.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister accept what Ministers have been denying for months--that the public subsidy paid to a privatised railway is set to rise dramatically after privatisation? What is the latest official estimate?

The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman tables a detailed question, I shall give him the estimate. I can tell him something else now--that rail privatisation will produce a better service for all passengers and, if he waits for the new franchise decisions, he will begin to see that for himself. He has been trying to smear privatisation when every previous privatisation has produced a better service for the customer. He will find out that that will be the case with British Rail as well.

Mr. Blair: The right hon. Gentleman can tell that to the customers of Yorkshire Water.

I am not trying to smear. I am simply asking for information. Even if the right hon. Gentleman cannot give me the exact figure, will he accept that the subsidy is set to rise?

The Prime Minister: I will tell the right hon. Gentleman that what is rising is investment in the railways and the standards of service to the passengers. As the right hon. Gentleman neglects to mention each time, the operating services are already offering a range of new services and responding to customers more quickly, and new information services are being provided. That is a sign of a better service under privatisation than we ever knew under nationalisation.

Mr. Blair: I do not see why, as Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman cannot answer a straight question about privatisation. If he will not answer it, we shall continue to expose the costs and the chaos of the system. The railway network should not be used as a plaything for bankers and speculators. [Interruption.] No. It should be run not for bankers and speculators, but for British business and the British people.

The Prime Minister: Now we know the soundbite that we were working up to; it was not worth waiting for. If the right hon. Gentleman is as keen as we are on a modern railway service, he had better explain from where, under his plans, the finance to produce it would come. Will he spend more? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] Yes, they say. So by how much will taxes go up? Time after time, the right hon. Gentleman pretends that there can be more investment in the public service without higher taxes and a better service without higher expenditure. He pretends that he is a moderniser, but when it comes to trusting the private sector, he is as old Labour as any of his colleagues.


Q3. Mr. Riddick: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 December.

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

Mr. Riddick: Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents are outraged that they are still threatened with the possibility of water cuts by Yorkshire Water in the new year? The problem is that some of the managers of Yorkshire Water still think that they are running a nationalised industry in which customers do not count. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. We have little time.

Mr. Riddick: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the circumstances in which the Government would allow drought orders sanctioning water cuts are almost unimaginable?

The Prime Minister: I can tell my hon. Friend that Yorkshire Water plans to invest £2.5 billion over the next 10 years and more than £200 million this year for its customers' benefit. That is a substantial increase on anything that we have seen in the past. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Government will sanction rota cuts only if no other option is available. We have made it clear to Yorkshire Water that it should use every possible step, as it is seeking to do, to make rota cuts unnecessary. If, over the years, there had been proper management of the nationalised industry, the under-investment might not have occurred.

Mr. Corbett: May I renew my request to the Prime Minister to take a personal interest in the plight of my constituent Ms Louise Stack, the mother of four young children, who applied 11 months ago to transfer from a prison in Spain to complete her sentence in this country? Will the Prime Minister now promise me that he will raise the matter when he meets the Spanish Prime Minister this weekend?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly examine the papers again before Madrid, but I had better do that before I give the hon. Gentleman a commitment. I undertake to study the papers again, and I will let the hon. Gentleman know what action I propose to take.


Q4. Sir Fergus Montgomery: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 December.

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

Sir Fergus Montgomery: After the tragedy at a school in north Westminster on Friday, does my right hon. Friend agree that the letter written by the small son of Philip Lawrence to Santa Claus was one of the saddest and most moving letters ever written by a child? Will he assure me that the Government will do everything that they can to learn lessons from the tragedy in an attempt to ensure that it is never repeated?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in sending sympathy to the family and friends of Mr. Lawrence after that dreadful event. The Government are considering what more can be done. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has been consulting the Association of Chief Police Officers about whether harsher penalties and further police powers are necessary to deal with the problem of knives. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to announce the outcome of those discussions and, perhaps, new proposals in due course. In parallel with that, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is talking to teachers' representatives about a range of issues covering the safety of staff and pupils in our schools.


Q5. Ms Lynne: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 December.

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

Ms Lynne: Does the Prime Minister agree with the pensioners of Rochdale that the £10 Christmas bonus that they have just received is an absolute insult? If the bonus had risen in line with inflation, it would now be worth £68. Does the Prime Minister realise that £10 buys a small frozen turkey and a box of Christmas crackers--hardly a recipe for Christmas cheer?

The Prime Minister: I am not sure whether the hon. Lady and her colleagues took that view when they cancelled the Christmas bonus--the only occasion that that has ever happened.

Mr. Redwood: I welcome the fact that, at his recent meeting in Italy, the Prime Minister raised the issue of European worries about a single currency. Will he be pursuing those points at Madrid?

The Prime Minister: Yes. I shall be pursuing a number of the points that I raised in the last European Council meeting about the problems that might occur were a single currency to proceed with a small minority of countries in it and a larger majority of countries outside it. I believe that that raises a whole range of issues which have not yet been properly considered, and I shall be seeking further consideration of those points at Madrid this weekend.


Q6. Mr. Cohen: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 December.

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

Mr. Cohen: It has been estimated that, even allowing for the Budget settlement, schools could be £40 per pupil worse off next year. Despite an increase in the school rolls of about 116,000 children, the National Union of Teachers has estimated that there will be 9,200 fewer teachers this term. Does the Prime Minister think that that is clever?

The Prime Minister: I notice that the hon. Gentleman was not one of the 10 Labour Members who voted to increase taxation and to increase expenditure. He wants increased expenditure without admitting that it would lead to increased taxation. We have made an extra £878 billion available for schools--an increase of about 5 per cent. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that that is above the level of increased costs and is an increase in real resources.

Mrs. Lait: Will my right hon. Friend join me in sending sympathy to the millions of people in France who have been affected by the strikes? Is he aware that every Labour Member of the European Parliament has signed a resolution backing the strikers, thereby proving that Labour is still the strikers' friend?

The Prime Minister: It is certainly true that the Members of the European Parliament did that.

Mr. Prescott: What do you know about it?

The Prime Minister: I believe that the deputy leader of the Labour party just muttered, "Well, what do you know about it?" I hope that he knows that the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour Members of Parliament, never mind Members of the European Parliament, has also sent a message of support to the French strikers. I will quote from it.

"The Struggle going on in France is one of critical importance to working people throughout Europe",

wrote the group secretary of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour Members of Parliament. He went on:

"Capitalism demands that we now dismantle employment rights, welfare benefits and the network of public services built up after years of struggle."

That is real Labour.


Q7. Mr. Tony Banks: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 December.

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

Mr. Banks: May I thank the Prime Minister for his great kindness last night to members of Chelsea's 1954-55 championship team? May I remind him that during the last war, thousands of civilians were killed in the blitz and that it is appropriate in this anniversary year that there should be a suitable memorial to commemorate those civilian dead? Will he give his support to the moves in the east end to build a suitable memorial to the civilian dead?

The Prime Minister: First, let me thank the hon. Gentleman for a very enjoyable occasion with some guests last evening. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I would not wish to do harm to an old friend. Let me assure the House that when we discussed football, the hon. Gentleman played on the left wing and I played on the right.

On the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, I willingly join him in paying tribute to those Londoners, east Londoners perhaps above all, who endured the blitz. I will invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage to consider the hon. Gentleman's proposal and advise further. The hon. Gentleman, I hope, will be aware that an application could be made to the national heritage memorial fund for consideration for lottery funding. That process is independent of the Government, but the idea that the hon. Gentleman suggests is certainly one that the fund could be prepared to entertain.