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1995 - PMQT 14th December 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th December 1995. Michael Heseltine responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 December.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine): I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Paris signing the Dayton agreement on Bosnia.

Mrs. Campbell: Will the Deputy Prime Minister unequivocally condemn the remark made yesterday by his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he said:

"This bottom 10 per cent. always drive me up the wall"?

Will he further apologise to that bottom 10 per cent., who have seen a real fall of 17 per cent. in their living standards since the Conservative Government took office?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was referring to those people who have significant wealth but low incomes, which can give a wholly misleading idea of their overall position and the standard of living that they enjoy. The hon. Lady is giving a false impression of what he was saying.

Sir Anthony Grant: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the best service that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor can render to the lowest 10 per cent. and, indeed, the highest, is to reduce interest rates as much as possible and that his decision is much to be congratulated?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor is presiding over one of the most exciting periods of British economic potential. [Interruption.] I am sure that a wider audience will notice that Labour Members jeer at the fact that, for the 27th month in a row, unemployment fell. It was 20,000 less month on month and has been nearly 750,000 down over the 27 months. I should have thought that Labour Members would cheer on behalf of their constituents.

Mrs. Ann Taylor: As the Prime Minister was unable to give any figure for the cost of rail privatisation at Question Time on Tuesday, will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that the Government's figures, following the Budget, show that the long-term cost to the taxpayer will be £850 million per year?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Lady has the quotations wrong. Those quotations come from a Labour party press release. Like most Labour party press releases, they are unadulterated rubbish.

Mrs. Taylor: Will the Deputy Prime Minister therefore take the trouble to look at the sources of the figures in those documents, every one of which is a published Government source? Will he further look at the report of the Select Committee on Transport published today, which also shows that, if rail privatisation goes ahead, taxpayers will have to pay hundreds of millions of pounds extra to keep services as they are? Is not the message clear: rail privatisation is a waste of taxpayers' money?

The Deputy Prime Minister: If the hon. Lady and the Labour party are so against privatisation, why have they not got the guts to renationalise any of the industries that we have privatised? Why is it that every time we take the process a step further, they jeer and produce scare stories in advance, none of which stands up when we achieve the result?

Mr. John Townend: I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on the unemployment figures that he has just mentioned--8 per cent. and falling, whereas unemployment in France is 11.5 per cent. and rising. To what extent is that due to the franc fort policy and French membership of the exchange rate mechanism, while we have a free and floating pound?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to pay tribute to all those industrialists in this country who have helped to create the jobs in the enterprise culture that we have designed as a Government. What I find extraordinary about the Labour party and the issue of unemployment is that last month, when there was a 200 increase in unemployment, the shadow Employment Secretary put out a press release in which he said that that recognised

"the final collapse of the Government's shuddering economic recovery."

The fact is that those figures have now been revised and we have discovered that last month, as in each of the past 27 months, unemployment fell. Why does not the Labour party recognise that far from a shuddering economic recovery, we have a buoyant economic attitude in this country which is creating wealth at one of the fastest rates in western Europe?

Mr. Beith: Have the Deputy Prime Minister and his colleagues considered the point of order made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) that it would be an outrage if social security regulations that could make 10,000 people homeless and destitute were to be implemented before Parliament had had a chance to debate them?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Member raises an important question. I can assure him and the House that there will be an opportunity to debate these matters before they are implemented. I give that assurance.

Mr. Duncan Smith: Did my right hon. Friend notice in yesterday's Hansard a very good Bill on protecting those who wish to disclose information in the public interest? Has he further noticed that there are serious problems here in the House for those who might wish to do that? I particularly refer to members of the press corps who have been cajoled and coerced, I gather, by some strange people: a shadowy figure from Hartlepool and an ex-journalist from Today. Will he join me in encouraging them to break free from that and blow the whistle on that strange shadowy company over there?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Conservative Members have raised it before but no answer comes. Is it the intention of the Labour party, if elected to power, to put Alastair Campbell as a civil servant into No. 10 Downing street to inject Labour party propaganda into the presentation of Government policy?


Q2. Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 December.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Cunningham: Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the £850 million on-going cost of rail privatisation would be better spent on improvements to the west coast main line, which serves my constituency?

The Deputy Prime Minister: What I do believe is that offering the private sector the chance to provide the cash for the innovation and modernisation that we all want is much more likely to achieve the result than continuing with nationalisation, which I notice, significantly, has not achieved that result over the years.

Mr. Rowe: Has my right hon. Friend noticed that of all the counties in England, Liberal and Labour-run Kent county council retains the largest share of its education budget at the centre? How does that sit with the oft-repeated complaints from the Opposition that too much is spent by the Government on administration?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is wholly consistent with the theme of what the Opposition say. Most conspicuously, they will not say that they will put up taxes but they constantly talk about the need for increased expenditure. They want it all ways, which proves that the sums do not add up and that they are not fit to govern.


Q3. Mr. Keith Hill: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 December.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hill: Does the right hon. Gentleman understand my sense of shock this morning as I witnessed the evidence of wanton destruction and looting in central Brixton and parts of my Streatham constituency? Will he join me, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) and the vast majority of the local community in condemning those acts of violence? For the sake of Brixton's reputation and future, will the right hon. Gentleman also affirm that the acts that we witnessed yesterday evening were not a re-run of the events of 1981 and 1985, as has been portrayed, but the actions of a small criminal element? Finally, will he confirm that there is no intention of backtracking on the regeneration funding committed to the locality and that Brixton's future will be reassured, as is the will of the local people?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I unreservedly join the hon. Gentleman in condemning the violent minority who attacked police officers and property in Brixton last night. I wholeheartedly agree with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, representatives of the local community and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), who spoke eloquently this morning in condemnation of those unacceptable acts of violence, which we all deplore. If we are to bring hope and opportunity to those urban communities, it is vital that they become attractive places for people to live, work and invest. All parties have made a massive attempt to bring that about in the past few years, and that process must continue.

Mr. Luff: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that neither he nor the Prime Minister would ever contemplate threatening the Union by introducing an elected Scottish Parliament? If they were ever tempted by such an idea, will he confirm that they certainly would not think of giving it tax-raising powers and then try to deceive the British people by saying that they would not use those powers?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is extraordinary that Scottish Labour Members of Parliament are to contemplate a tartan tax to make taxes higher in Scotland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. I also find it extraordinary that English Labour Members of Parliament are prepared to give powers to their Scottish colleagues, which would be exercised by Scottish Members in England, while English Labour Members would have no such powers in Scotland.


Q4. Mr. Raynsford: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 December.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Raynsford: Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that it is not only with British Rail that privatisation has been taken too far? Is he aware of the anger and indignation felt by people in Britain at the appearance in an estate agent's brochure of the magnificent complex of buildings in Greenwich currently occupied by the Royal Naval college? Is he also aware that the Secretary of State for Defence refuses to reveal the organisations that are bidding to take over those magnificent buildings? As it comes hot on the heels of the fiasco of county hall, is it not clear that the nation's heritage is not safe in the Government's hands?

The Deputy Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he will believe anything. As the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, the preservation of the buildings at Greenwich is of prime national importance and nothing will be done to prejudice it.

Mr. Anthony Coombs: As unemployment has now been falling for 27 months in a row, has my right hon. Friend noticed the recent comments by the Director-General of the CBI, who said that a combination of increasing social regulations from Europe via the social chapter and a single currency would be "an employment-destroying disaster"? Does not that show the importance of the opt-out that we achieved at Maastricht and the hypocrisy of those who talk about creating jobs but then support policies such as the social chapter and European monetary union, as the Opposition do?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I shall have the opportunity tomorrow to lay the foundation stone of Siemens in the north-east. One of the reasons why a German company comes to invest and create jobs in this country is that we do not have the impost of the social chapter, whereas Germany has. I would have thought that Labour Members, whose constituencies have gained enormously from the inward investment coming to this country, would seek to enhance it, and not to destroy it.


Q5. Mrs. Clwyd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 December.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mrs. Clwyd: Has the Deputy Prime Minister noted the good news from south Wales that Tower colliery in my constituency, which was bought by the workers a year ago, has made a pre-tax profit of £3.5 million in the first year? [Interruption.] That has been achieved despite the fact that the right hon. Gentleman told those workers that there was no market for their coal. Is not the lesson to be learnt that if the conditions are right--[Hon. Members: "Privatisation."]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady must be heard.

Mrs. Clwyd: Is not the lesson to be learnt that if the conditions are right, and if workers are given control of the means of production--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Hear the hon. Lady out. [Interruption.] Order. Hear the hon. Lady out.

Mrs. Clwyd: If the workers are given control of the means of production they can turn in profits, whereas the capitalists throw in the towel.

The Deputy Prime Minister rose--

Madam Speaker: Order. Control yourselves.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not want to intrude on private grief, but perhaps the hon. Lady has not caught up with events. Those words have been deleted from the clause, although I realise that a large number of her right hon. and hon. Friends are just waiting their time to bring them back. The hon. Lady had better have a word with the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) because she has got the language wrong--the soundbite does not fit with the language of those on the Opposition Front Bench. The real message behind what the hon. Lady has just said, the real triumph, is that it is privatisation that has made those profits possible.