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1996 - PMQT 16th January 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 16th January 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Skinner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): 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. Skinner: How on earth can the Prime Minister justify sacking 3,000 prison officers at a time when his Home Secretary has forecast that the prison population will increase, and what will he do with 3,000 extra pairs of handcuffs? Is he going to use them on Lady Thatcher and the bastards in the Cabinet?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend is seeking to ensure that we receive from the Prison Service the efficiency that both we and taxpayers have a right to expect from the Prison Service. The hon. Gentleman may not be concerned about efficiency for taxpayers' money, but we are.

Mr. Trotter: Did not the Saudi Government prove to be stable and sound allies in the Gulf war? Is it not in the interests of Britain that the Saudis should continue to have a stable Government, and has not Mr. Al-Masari abused his position as a guest in this country? Do not the thousands of people whose jobs he puts at risk, especially in the north of England, feel that he is very fortunate to be offered a home on a Caribbean island, rather than being sent back to where he came from?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend will know, the United Kingdom has a long and honourable tradition of protecting and helping people who seek asylum, but if people abuse that hospitality, we should not ignore that. The stability of the Saudi Arabian Government is a matter of importance throughout the Gulf and for stability more generally, and we should not give comfort to people who seek to undermine it.

Mr. Blair: Can the Prime Minister tell us why the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has been reprimanded for writing his letter to The Times?

The Prime Minister: I set out my views on that issue last week and they have not changed.

Mr. Blair: What we would like to know is: has the Minister been reprimanded, yes or no?

The Prime Minister: Matters in my Government are for me and not you.

Mr. Blair: To which I can only say, looking at the Government, thank goodness.

So the Prime Minister cannot tell us. He cannot make up his mind whether he has reprimanded the Minister or not. He cannot make up his mind, presumably, whether he agrees with the Minister, or whether he agrees with Lady Thatcher. Is it any wonder, when the Prime Minister cannot even answer simple questions about his own Government, that the country despairs of weak leadership and a divided Government?

The Prime Minister: While we are on the subject of being clear about views, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could tell us whether he would renationalise British Rail to please his party, or leave it alone to give his slogan some substance. Let him tell us some more. Would he abolish the grant-maintained schools that he voted against, or would he let parents enjoy the choice that he talks about? Would he tax more successful people to please his left wing, or does he believe that success should be rewarded? Can he make up his mind about any of those examples, and a dozen more that I can give him--or does he not know the answer?

Sir Norman Fowler: Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate Land Rover on the major new overseas order that was announced this morning, on its continuing success in the overseas market and, above all, on the design of its new military ambulance?

The Prime Minister: Land Rover is an excellent company with a long and honourable record, and I am delighted to congratulate it.


Q2. Ms Glenda Jackson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 January.

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

Ms Jackson: If, as the Prime Minister claims, his policies have created strong economic growth, why are the appalling 500,000 job losses in the construction industry due--according to the Building Employers Confederation--to rise by a further 22,000? Where will those workers look for jobs, and where will thousands of homeless families look for homes?

The Prime Minister: Let me remind the hon. Lady of some of the economic circumstances--including the fall in unemployment--that now pertain in this country. No significantly sized country in western Europe has as much of its population in work; none of the major European countries has unemployment as low as ours; none of them has seen unemployment fall for over two years; and none of them can combine that with the lowest inflation levels for 50 years, the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years, the lowest basic rate of tax for 50 years and the best prospects that we have seen for many years.

Mr. Marlow: Are more murders, muggings and mindless acts of violence carried out by adolescents now, or were there more in the days when corporal punishment was available both in schools and to the courts? If the answer is now, can we have corporal punishment back? I am sure that many people are concerned about the state of our streets and cities.

The Prime Minister: I do not have the figures immediately to hand, but I can tell my hon. Friend, if he wishes to exercise arguments of that sort, that if he went back far enough and extended his thoughts to capital as well as corporal punishment, he would find that the number of murders committed many years ago when capital punishment applied was far larger than it is now. I am not sure that I draw the conclusion that was implicit in my hon. Friend's question.


Q3. Mr. Jon Owen Jones: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 January.

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

Mr. Jones: Will the Prime Minister confirm that the average age of a member of the Conservative party is now 62, that there are no more than 5,000 members of the Young Conservatives and that the Young Conservatives' conference had to be cancelled this year owing to lack of interest? Will he tell us why young people in Britain have lost all interest in the Conservative party, and want nothing to do with it?

The Prime Minister: The answers to the hon. Gentleman's three questions are no, no and no; so the last part of what he said does not apply.


Q4. Lady Olga Maitland: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 January.

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

Lady Olga Maitland: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way to give people a stake in society is to allow them to own their homes, to own shares, to have their own pension schemes and, above all, to pay low taxes? Does he agree that that contrasts sharply with the Labour party's vision of a stakeholding society, which would place burdens on business men and, indeed, bring back vested interests in Labour's old friends?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right in what she says. There has been some discussion recently about the term "stakeholder society" or "stakeholder economy". The Leader of the Opposition now tells us that it is a slogan, and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) tells us that he has not the faintest idea what it means. But we know and have been practising what it means for the past 16 years. It means giving people a direct, personal interest in what happens--lower taxes, more home ownership, more personal pensions-- exercised by the holders themselves, not exercised by other people allegedly on their behalf.


Q5. Mr. Pickthall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 January.

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

Mr. Pickthall: Will the Prime Minister look into the case of my elderly constituent, Teresa Stewart, who was referred to Fazackerly hospital by her GP? She arrived there at 4 o'clock in the afternoon but was not seen by a hospital doctor until 10 o'clock that evening. Thereafter, she remained on a trolley until noon the next day. Does not her case, and the hundreds of others up and down the country, demonstrate yet again that the national health service is not safe in the Tories' hands?

The Prime Minister: Of course I will look into the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises and I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to respond to him. But the hon. Gentleman should realise that, with a service the size of the national health service, he will from time to time find matters of concern. There are now something over 8.5 million patients treated in total each year. The hon. Gentleman might care to consider how much lower that number was when last his party was in government.

Mr. Day: Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reassure the House that he will not follow the example of the Leader of the Opposition in seeming to imply to the nation that he has rejected everything he has ever believed? Will he also give an assurance that he will never, as Prime Minister and leader of our party, give the impression that he has accepted totally the philosophy of the party that he has fought all his political life? Will he assure Conservative Members of that so that we will not have a similar fear to that of many Labour Members--that the leader of the Labour party is about to cross the Floor and join us?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance he seeks. The Leader of the Opposition seems to base the prospects for his future on the belief that he has always been wrong.


Q6. Mr. Khabra: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 January.

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

Mr. Khabra: Does the Prime Minister have any new policies to end the recession in the housing market?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman looks, he will see that house prices have risen throughout the past five months. That is a very welcome trend. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) seems neither to understand nor to hear anything that is said to him. I repeat the point--house prices have risen throughout the past five months. That is a welcome development, and I hope and expect to see it continue.

Mr. Legg: Has my right hon. Friend found time to read the latest book by the Labour guru, Will Hutton, especially the chapter entitled "Stakeholder Capitalism"? If my right hon. Friend has read that chapter, does he agree that Labour's vision of stakeholder capitalism owes more to the failed corporatism of the 1970s than to anything happening in Singapore today? Does he have any plans to introduce stakeholder trade unions, which would enjoy extra powers and rights?

The Prime Minister: The distinction between the Government and the Opposition on this matter is that we believe people should have a personal interest, personally owned, in the country. The Opposition seem to believe-- if the idea is more than just a slogan, although that is not clear--in a corporatist approach in which special interest groups operate on behalf of the public at large, as the shadow Secretary of State for Transport said just the other day. The Leader of the Opposition, desperately trying to put flesh on his slogan, has failed to do so and has reaffirmed me in my belief that all he is concerned about is the readmission of a corporatist Britain of the sort we rejected in the 1980s and will not have back in the 1990s.


Q7. Mr. Miller: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 January.

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

Mr. Miller: We are always on the look-out for fresh ideas from the Prime Minister. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] So is his own party. What new plans does he have to increase investment in the British economy?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is certainly right, in that the Opposition have sought, rather inadequately, to borrow many of our ideas--just as they have sought, without real conviction, to ditch their own.

Investment is rising, which is why this country has a higher growth rate than elsewhere in Europe. It is why unemployment is falling; it is why the economy is in better shape at the moment than it has been for many years--and in better shape than the economy of anywhere else in western Europe.