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1996 - PMQT 7th March 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 7th March 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

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

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

Mr. Stephen: Does my right hon. Friend accept that a person who has committed a serious violent or sexual crime on two or more occasions must never be allowed to do it again? Does he accept that that is the overwhelming view of all our constituents, who are sick and tired of dangerous criminals being let out, to offend again and again, by out-of-touch judges, some of whom sit in the Court of Appeal?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes his point forcefully. Our aim is to protect the public from dangerous and persistent criminals. We are concerned to ensure that, for example, repeat rapists are not released from prison if they remain a danger. At present, that can happen, and it is a matter of concern to the public. On those grounds, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is right to proceed with his proposals.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity categorically to deny the lunchtime news reports that the Government are considering taking away all employment rights from millions of people who are employed by small businesses?

The Prime Minister: We shall have some things to say on Monday about small businesses, but they will certainly not include what was the reported on the news at lunchtime.

Mr. Blair: Can we--[Interruption] The proposal, as people will know, was made by the Deputy Prime Minister. Can we take it from the Prime Minister's answer, which I thought was clear, that that proposal is gone, and dead and buried?

The Prime Minister: I thought that I made the point clear to the right hon. Gentleman a moment or so ago. We shall be announcing a number of very attractive policies on Monday, but I have to tell him that that is not one of them.

Mr. Blair: I congratulate the Prime Minister. The proposal was made two days ago, and now it has been dropped. We welcome that. Since we already have the President of the Board of Trade's letter referring to the Deputy Prime Minister's letter, can the Deputy Prime Minister's letter be published so that we can see what other proposals have been made and whether they, too, are to be denied?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman will see the proposals clearly because we shall announce them on Monday. They will be very attractive. I think that small businesses will welcome them. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that small firms create the vast majority of new jobs. They have done so for years past and they will do so in future. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that I carry Opposition Members with me.

There can be no employment rights if there is no employment. We are seeking to maintain a fair balance between the rights of employees and the burdens on employers. We are therefore proposing to reduce or remove unnecessary burdens. [Hon. Members: "Ah."] I am interested that Opposition Members would like to keep unnecessary burdens. No wonder that in every socialist Government throughout Europe, unemployment increases.

Opposition Members would like to retain unnecessary burdens. I would like to get rid of unnecessary burdens, and I would welcome some support for that from the Labour party. Clearly, there is no support for that from the Labour party; burdens it likes and burdens it would wish to have.

Sir Marcus Fox: Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the opting out of a single currency is of supreme importance to the country? Would it not be damaging--

Hon. Members: Reading.

Madam Speaker: Order. Sir Marcus.

Sir Marcus Fox: Would it not be damaging if other countries ignored this criterion? May I suggest with hope to my right hon. Friend that the issue of a single currency, if introduced, would be one on which we should hold a referendum?

The Prime Minister: I have made it clear to the House on previous occasions that I believe that a referendum on joining a single currency could be a necessary step. My position has not changed. I still believe that it might be the right course. At present, the Government are considering the circumstances in which a referendum might or might not be appropriate. We shall tell the House of our conclusions as soon as we have reached them.

Mr. Ashdown: In view of the Prime Minister's rather different answer to the last question of the Leader of the Opposition, does he agree that we shall never build or strengthen the small business sector by encouraging employers to adopt a hire-and-fire mentality and treating employees as scrapheap labour?

The Prime Minister: No one is seeking to do that. The right hon. Gentleman should know better than that. We are encouraging a hire mentality. That is why unemployment has fallen while it is rising in other countries. I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I will have order.

The Prime Minister: I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman what would create a fire mentality among small and large employers--the sort of burdens that would accumulate under the social chapter, which the right hon. Gentleman would like. Included would be the burdens that would be accumulated under a minimum wage policy, which, again, the right hon. Gentleman would like. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he has a policy change to make, we shall be pleased to hear it. Labour's plans for a minimum wage could destroy thousands upon thousands of jobs, as would the social chapter, and both policies are supported by the right hon. Gentleman. The Government are creating jobs, and the Opposition parties' policies would destroy them.

Mr. Barry Porter: In view of the depressing statement by the Provisional IRA yesterday, where do we go from here?

The Prime Minister: I think that the proposals that I set out the other day were perfectly clear. Sinn Fein has the opportunity, provided that there is a ceasefire and that it meets the other criteria, of joining in the democratic debate. If it fails to take that option, the debate will not stop. The debate will continue with the constitutional parties. I believe that that is the right way in which to proceed. Were we not to proceed with just the constitutional parties, we would have permitted the IRA to stop the constitutional process. I am not prepared to do that and neither, in my judgment, is any of the constitutional parties.


Q2. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

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

Mrs. Campbell: Is it fair that Camelot is now able to pay out less than £10 to a player with three correct numbers? Bookmakers have to meet their obligations, so why should not the lottery operators do the same out of their obscene profits?

The Prime Minister: The operators have to meet their obligations. The chances of someone winning the jackpot are much greater than the chances of not being paid £10 for three numbers, as Oflot itself set out this morning. The hon. Lady should know that it was Parliament that decided that the lottery should be administered by an independent regulator. The hon. Lady's party was very keen that that should be the case. The hon. Lady shakes her head. I think that I recall that the Opposition voted that it should be dealt with by an independent regulator. It is for the director general of Oflot to consider how to protect players' interests. That is what he has done. She should direct her question to him.

Mr. Lamont: In the run-up to the intergovernmental conference, would the Prime Minister like to congratulate the European Commission on the success of its "Interfere in Britain" week? Should the first prize go to the European Court of Justice for its ruling on fishing or to the attack on the brand of Cheddar cheese, or should the golden fleece go to the European Commission's astonishing dawn raid on the Football Association's headquarters? Does the Prime Minister agree that there was never a truer word spoken by the European spokesman yesterday than when he said:

"We are talking millions of footballs"?

The Prime Minister: I must say to my right hon. Friend that I did not see that remark. I am rather sorry that I did not. I shall have the opportunity of discussing those matters with the President of the Commission later on this afternoon.


Q3. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

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

Mr. Gunnell: Has the Prime Minister seen the published explanation of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) for his reluctant vote with the Government on the Scott report, in which he says that he voted because the Prime Minister personally told him that the Ulster Unionists had held a gun to his head and that losing the vote would damage the peace process? Is that true, and, if so, does it square with the Prime Minister's pledge to keep the peace process in Northern Ireland completely separate from intensely controversial issues here at Westminster?

The Prime Minister: I made it clear from the outset that I shall deal with the peace process on its merits. I believe that that is the way that it should be dealt with--on its merits. That is the way it has been dealt with so far; that is way it will be dealt with in the future. I certainly have not seen any such newspaper reports.

Mr. Renton: Can my right hon. Friend confirm, with regard to the important speech that he made in Hong Kong on Monday, which has given new confidence there in these last 500 days of colonial rule, that Britain has no current immigration problems with Hong Kong and that the 3 million people who already have visa-free access to this country abide by the rules? They come here as students, tourists or business men and they do not wish to settle here.

The Prime Minister: Yes, I can confirm that to my right hon. Friend. In fact, in total, 1.2 billion people already have visa-free access to Britain. We have had no problems whatsoever with visa-free access from Hong Kong and I do not believe that there will be any in future. One of the principal reasons for taking this decision was to provide more assurance to people in Hong Kong, because I believe that such assurance will make it even more likely that they will remain there and continue to ensure that Hong Kong is a success in the future.


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

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

Mr. Hall: Is the Prime Minister aware that he spoke for the whole nation when he endorsed Chris Patten as the next leader of the Tory party in opposition, because he acknowledged that there was nobody in his Cabinet with leadership potential?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman had read what I actually said, he would know that that was not it. In fact I said:

"There are a number of colleagues with outstanding ability",

and I am delighted that that is so. What upsets the hon. Gentleman is the fact that there is nobody with outstanding ability on the Opposition Benches.


Q6. Sir John Hannam: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

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

Sir John Hannam: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of his far east tour. Does he accept that it is far better for this country to secure future jobs for British workers than to keep up the continuous carping criticism expressed by the Opposition parties?

The Prime Minister: What was most striking about the conference in Bangkok was the extent to which growth in the far eastern economies provides business and trading opportunities for this country. I think that many people throughout Europe have utterly failed to realise the sheer size and scale of the change that has taken place across Asia, and the opportunities that are provided as a result. During my visit, a number of business deals were struck between companies here and companies in the far east, and I very much hope that there will be more. Such deals provide jobs, security and prosperity for people in this country.