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1996 - PMQT 5th March 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 5th March 1996. Michael Heseltine responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ministerial Visits

Q1. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Prime Minister when he next intends to visit the Ruislip-Northwood parliamentary constituency.

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

My right hon. Friend has no plans to do so.

Mr. Wilkinson: Before my right hon. Friend fixes a date, can he reassure my constituents in Ruislip-Northwood about the grave consequences of the European Court of Justice's retroactive decision today to demand compensation of the British taxpayer for the loss of Spanish fishermen's rights? Will my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister endorse the comments of the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), that the quota hoppers must go? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will raise the common fisheries policy at the forthcoming intergovernmental conference?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris), who have taken the matter extremely seriously. We obviously regret the European Court's decision and we shall certainly take it up in the context of the intergovernmental conference. We believe that there have to be changes.


Engagements

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

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

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is carrying out official engagements in the far east.

Mr. Kirkwood: Let me return to the question of the European Court's decision; does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that the concept of the common fisheries policy is based on relative stability, with the allocation of quotas within member states according to historic fishing rights? Does the right hon. Gentleman further agree that the European Court's decision is most unhelpful-- the most recent in a series of unhelpful decisions concerning the common fisheries policy? What concrete proposals will Ministers take to the upcoming intergovernmental conference, to stop continuing back-door access to fishing stocks that are so vital to our coastal communities?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That comes rich from the hon. Gentleman, whose party is committed to giving up the British veto in all circumstances. That is a classic example of the Liberals trying to have it all ways in all circumstances.


Q3. Dr. Michael Clark: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 March.

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

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

Dr. Clark: Has my right hon. Friend noticed, when assessing Government policy, that when it is eventually time to put votes in ballot boxes, electorates reject Labour policies and choose Conservative ones, as they have in Australia and Spain? Is this not a sign of what will happen here? After all, these are recent results, and the parties which were beaten were not socialist but new Labour.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I could not help remembering that, not long ago, the Leader of the Opposition said that he was a fully paid-up member of the Paul Keating fan club. Unfortunately, there are not many others left in that club. The fact of the matter is that, when people have to choose between no Labour and new Labour, they choose no Labour. No leading western European country is left with a Labour Government. I cannot believe for one minute that the United Kingdom will embrace what everybody else has rejected.

Mr. Prescott: Why is it that in Tory Britain in 1996, 1,000 families every week have their homes repossessed, 120,000 families are homeless, and 1,700,000 families are trapped in negative equity? On that miserable record, is not my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition correct in identifying the Conservatives as the party of home wreckers?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Nobody would ever accuse the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) of being new Labour. He is one of the old lags of the business, and therefore, of course, it is not surprising that his statistics are so carefully selected. The fact is that the number of households that face negative equity is down by 26 per cent. since 1992, and the number of people with mortgage arrears has fallen by 16 per cent. in the past year alone.

I noticed that the Leader of the Opposition made a speech today about the need for special help for those with negative equity--that may seem to Opposition Members a very interesting and ingenious scheme. I sent out to inquire whether mortgages are available from the building society movement at more than 100 per cent. of the purchase value of homes on the market. The Abbey National, Cheltenham and Gloucester, Alliance and Leicester and the Halifax all have in existence schemes similar to that which the Leader of the Labour party says that his Government would introduce if his party were ever elected. They are already there. Building societies are doing it. The market has spoken. Tory Government works.

Mr. Prescott rose--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Prescott: How can the right hon. Gentleman be so complacent in the face of the sheer misery created by the Government's policies? If the Government are so proud of their housing record, why not put it to the test by setting the date for the by-election in South-East Staffordshire, and let the people decide?

The Deputy Prime Minister: This is the Labour party which fought to stop council tenants getting anywhere near owning their own homes. This is the Labour party which has not realised that banks and building societies have approved 13 per cent. more loans in January than they did last June. The Labour party is out of date. The housing market is showing signs of recovery.

Mr. John Marshall rose--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I call Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Marshall: I ask my right hon. Friend to condemn the Hamas guerillas, who have killed 68 Israelis in recent days. Will he offer our sympathy to the relatives of the victims and to the Israeli people as they battle with this attack upon them and their democracy? Will he convey our understanding to the Israeli Government as they react to this attack upon themselves and upon the peace process itself?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am sure that the House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the appalling situation in Israel. I am sure also that the House shares my feelings of horror and anger at the renewed terrorist outrages, which have killed more than 30 people over the past two days in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

I shall make two points. First, it is the duty of the international community to support Israel and the Palestinian Authority in their efforts to keep the peace process on track and to encourage them in their efforts to curb terrorism. We particularly urge President Arafat to do his upmost to step up those efforts. That is a message that we have repeated to him unequivocally since the beginning of this tragic train of events nine days ago.

Secondly, I make it clear that it is illegal for anyone in this country to support terrorist attacks abroad. We are carefully monitoring the situation of Hamas activists in the United Kingdom. We shall investigate vigorously any evidence of such criminal acts, which will not be tolerated.


Q4. Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 March.

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

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

Mr. Sheerman: Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm reports that he has changed his mind and that he now supports a referendum on the single European currency? If he has, is he aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer believes that anyone of that view is slightly up the creek?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware of the Government's position, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spelt out extremely clearly. It is a position to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer fully subscribes.

Mr. Budgen: If the Government's proposals to the intergovernmental conference were accepted by the other members of the European Union, would we have any protection against judgments, such as the recent one in respect of Spanish fishermen?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not know whether my hon. Friend heard the reply that I gave some moments ago. I made it clear that we would raise today's judgment in the intergovernmental conference. We believe that there is need for change, and we intend to press that. As my hon. Friend, and the House generally, will be aware, the Government intend shortly to publish a White Paper on the Government's policy towards the IGC, which the House will be able to consider carefully.


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

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

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

Mr. Battle: As a thousand families suffer repossession of their homes every week, by deliberately reducing the income support system for home owners, are not the Government's policies shamelessly ensuring that in our society, after 17 years of Tory rule, if someone loses his job, he will lose his home?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman cannot square that with the facts that I gave the House recently, which show that the number of mortgage arrears has fallen by 16 per cent. and that the housing market is beginning to recover. He will know, of course, that unemployment has been falling for the past 29 months.


Q6. Sir John Hannam: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 March.

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

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Sir John Hannam: Has my right hon. Friend seen the recent Lloyds bank business survey report, which shows that businesses in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset have achieved the highest increase in export orders of all regions in the country, and increased investment and profitability? Will he accept the congratulations of all those from the south-west on those results? Would he like to conjecture on what would happen to such achievements if we ever had a Labour Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend, who has commented on what is extremely good news for the west country. As for conjecture about what would happen in the unfortunate event of this country electing a Labour Government, we can see, from the facts of what has happened in Europe, what would be likely to happen here. In Spain, nearly one in four people are unemployed. In France, under socialism, nearly one in eight were unemployed, whereas, in this country, the figure is one in 12 and has been falling for 29 months.

Perhaps the other judgment is that of the international investors. Spain achieved 7 per cent. of inward investment into the European Union and France 18 per cent. whereas the UK attracted 30 per cent., proving beyond peradventure that, under this Government, the UK is the enterprise centre of Europe.


Q7. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 March.

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

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

Mr. Mullin: On reflection, does the Deputy Prime Minister regret his refusal to sign a public interest immunity certificate, given that we now know that the Attorney-General was right all along?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has conveniently forgotten that the Attorney-General advised me about the form of the PII certificate that I signed.

Mr. Garnier: Does my right hon. Friend agree, and will he confirm what he said a moment ago, that the UK is the enterprise centre of Europe? Is it not right that the Prime Minister should be in the far east encouraging business men there to invest in this country, and is it not surprising that they invest in this country, given the burdens of the non-labour wage costs that the Europeans must deal with?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is one of the most satisfactory aspects of the many satisfactory aspects of our economic performance that we are attracting inward investment, which has created the jobs leading to enhanced exports--already at record levels. It has come to this country because the Government's policies have made it the most attractive place to invest. One of the reasons for that is that we have avoided the social chapter, which all the Opposition parties are committed to introducing.