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1996 - PMQT 30th April 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th April 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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. Hinchliffe: Has the Prime Minister had drawn to his attention the article that appeared in the British Medical Journal last week, which stated that the Committee on Safety of Medicines recommended the prohibition, for pharmaceutical purposes, of all beef products from potentially bovine spongiform encephalopathy-infected herds as far back as 1989? In view of that information, will he tell me why the Department of Health did not make similar recommendations about beef consumption at that time?

The Prime Minister: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will weigh very carefully what he has to say in these matters. That is most emphatically not what his hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) did some time ago. We take and make public the advice that is appropriate in terms of safety in this country. That is our responsibility and that is what we do.


Q2. Mr. Michael Brown: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Brown: The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and his cohorts on the Opposition Benches fall over themselves to try to get the votes of the gin and Jag brigade--the middle classes--but is the Prime Minister aware that it is the Conservative party that speaks for those in my constituency, in Cleethorpes and Immingham, who are still proud to call themselves working class? Is it not a fact that those people look to the Conservative party and the Conservative Government to ensure that they have the chance to buy their council house, to escape from trade union rule, from the closed shop, and to ensure that child benefit is protected for their children, who want better and further education? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister: The latest recruit to the middle classes, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), is heckling from a sedentary position. I hope that his arrival among the middle classes did not cause them too much distress. The policies that he advocates certainly would: higher taxes on people--[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East says it on his aircraft. The shadow Transport Minister says it publicly and then does not subsequently deny it. There would be an extra tax, of course, on parents who have children at school between 16 and 18--a special tartan tax if someone happens to be a Scot. Those people can have that sort of tax as well. If someone happens to be a Londoner, they can have a top-up tax. Tax after tax. The Opposition know that that is their position. We are cutting taxes now. The Opposition plan to increase them.

Mr. Blair: I think that what most people remember is the 22 tax rises since 1992, and VAT going on--from the Prime Minister who said that it would not.

Is it correct, as has been reported today, that recorded crime in January and February of this year was substantially above recorded crime for the same period last year?

The Prime Minister: The minute that was leaked, which has caused some correspondence between the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, is not accurate. When the figures are available to us, we will publish them in the normal way, but I understand that the leak that appeared this morning was not accurate.

Mr. Blair: I hope that the Prime Minister will publish the full figures. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order--all of it. That includes the Front Bench below the Gangway.

Mr. Blair: The same memorandum says that recorded crime has now risen for six consecutive months. Is that correct? Is it also correct that the trend in crime is upwards, as the memorandum additionally says? If those two points are correct, will the Prime Minister accept that, since the Conservatives came to power, crime has actually more than doubled?

The Prime Minister: As I said a moment ago, we will publish the detailed figures at the usual time in the usual way; but, as it happens, parts of the figures in the memorandum that was leaked were wrong. Although monthly figures are always volatile, there is no doubt that crime fell in the last two months of 1995, so it cannot have just risen for the past six months, as the right hon. Gentleman said it did.

If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about reducing crime, perhaps he can explain to us why he and his party vote against every measure that we introduce to be tough on crime. Why do they always make excuses for the criminal, and ignore the pleas of the victims?

Mr. Blair: This party was advancing constructive proposals for law and order while the right hon. Gentleman's Ministers were still boasting about the numbers coming out of prison.

If the Prime Minister says that parts of the memorandum are wrong, perhaps he will now tell us which parts are right. Perhaps, instead of talking nonsense about Labour policy, he will admit the truth about his own--that people are less safe in their own homes, less secure in their jobs and less confident of their future, and that it is precisely because of that weakness, failure and incompetence that people will be so justified in punishing his party on Thursday.

The Prime Minister: That comment was a long time coming, and it was not really worth waiting for. We will publish the figures in the usual fashion at the usual time.

As for being constructive on proposals, I am surprised that the leader of the Labour party thinks that he is constructive on crime. We reformed the right of silence; he opposed it. Was that constructive? We gave the Attorney-General the right to appeal against soft sentences; the right hon. Gentleman opposed it. Was that constructive? We increased the penalty for cruelty to children; Labour opposed it. Was that constructive?

On issue after issue after issue, the Labour party shows that it is soft on crime. It is not prepared to take the measures that will attack the criminal and protect the citizen, and, however the right hon. Gentleman tries to make partisan points, that is what the public know about his policy.


Q3. Sir Graham Bright: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Sir Graham Bright: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that child benefit for children who stay at school for a further two years to study for A-levels is worth in excess of £1,000? Can he also confirm that child benefit has its origins in tax rebate? If that were abolished, as Labour proposes, it would be equivalent to putting 5p on the basic rate of tax for the average parent. [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister: I note that Labour Members laugh at the thought of 5p on tax for people on average incomes. So much for their claim that they would not increase taxes. Child benefit was a tax allowance benefit; it was made into a cash payment for mothers to ensure that it was used on behalf of their children. Now Labour proposes to provide a disincentive to stop children from staying on at school.

Mr. Faulds: Don't be so childish. You are Prime Minister, for God's sake.

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must keep his cool.

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) studied his party's policy on this issue, he would be right to be angry at the way in which it proposes to treat people up and down the country.

Mr. Ashdown: The Prime Minister is, I believe, an honourable man. [Interruption.] Yes, he is. Will he therefore confirm that he understands that, if once again Conservative Members of Parliament try to change the Prime Minister, while denying the country the chance to change the Government, it will be totally unacceptable to all the British people? Will he therefore confirm that if, after Thursday, they try to get rid of him, he will ensure that we have a chance to get rid of the Government?

The Prime Minister: I fear that the right hon. Gentleman is dealing in fantasy again.


Q4. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Marshall: Will my right hon. Friend welcome the article in today's Evening Standard about tube and bus fares in London? Is that not good news for Londoners, who can look forward to the extension of the Jubilee line, improvements to the Northern line, Thameslink 2000, the Heathrow to Paddington link, improvements to the docklands light railway and the Croydon tramway link? Does that not show that we act, and the Greater London council just talked?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend, who has been lobbying on many of those matters for many years, has clearly studied the transport document with great care. He is of course right. It is good news for passengers in London, and so of course is the policy of capping fares. We expect London transport fares to rise at a significantly lower level than in the past as part of a strategy of making public transport more attractive.


Q5. Mr. Mike O'Brien: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. O'Brien: With reference to the previous question, which the Prime Minister did not really answer, will he say whether he has ever discussed an understanding whereby, if the Conservatives do not do well in the local government elections this week, he will make way for the Deputy Prime Minister? We need a reassurance on that, as the Prime Minister must understand. Will he take it from me that he has the support of much of the House to remain leader of the Conservative party up to a general election? He has the support of at least half the Conservative Members, and of every Labour Member.

The Prime Minister: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is in mischief-making mode--[Interruption.] Clearly, he was not; clearly, he was just being silly.

Mr. Pawsey: My right hon. Friend had a very successful breakfast meeting with business men in Warwickshire on Friday. Will he therefore repeat, for the benefit of the House, the points that he made about the social chapter and the damage that it would do to employment and prosperity in the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister: I noticed over the past few days that countries abroad, particularly Germany, are now beginning to take action to bring down some of the high social costs that have created fiscal difficulties and unemployment in their countries. In this country, we are not prepared to have a social chapter, which is damaging as it stands but would be infinitely more damaging if we signed it, the rest of Europe brought their social expenditures into the social chapter, had them approved by qualified majority vote as they could, and then imposed them on British employers at the cost of British jobs. We are bringing unemployment down. I intend to see it come down further. I do not intend to take this country into the social chapter, to stop the fall in unemployment and to see it begin to rise again. That is no bargain for the British work force.


Q6. Mr. Foulkes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Foulkes: Does the Prime Minister realise that not only is his deputy after his job but the Home Secretary and the Health Secretary are as well? We therefore need a categoric assurance that, however many seats the Conservatives lose on Thursday, the Prime Minister will lead his party into the next general election. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) said, the Prime Minister has the support of almost half his party, and the support of all the Labour party.

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman heard what I had to say just a moment or so ago, and I have no intention of accommodating his silly questions.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: Given the interest in what happens after the next general election, did my right hon. Friend see the poll in The Times at the end of last week, which showed that the majority of people expected that, if there were to be a Labour Government, unemployment would go up, interest rates would go up, inflation would go up and there would be more control for the unions? Is that not the real reason why the Labour party wants to delay an election for as long as possible?

The Prime Minister: Of course people would expect that of a Labour Government. People know from experience that that is what has happened with every Labour Government we have ever had at any stage in the past, and that that would occur again--unemployment up, interest rates up and tax rates up. There is absolutely no doubt that that is what happened in the past, and that is what would happen in the future.


Q7. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Prentice: Does the Prime Minister appreciate that this is the last day of work for Mr. Cedric Brown, who retires with a pension of £250,000 and a continuing consultancy with British Gas of £144,000? Does the Prime Minister care to comment on today's press release from the North West gas consumers council, which states that complaints in the north-west region increased by 97 per cent. last year? Does he believe that Mr. Cedric Brown warrants that largesse?

The Prime Minister: I believe that when people get an unsatisfactory service they are right to complain. They are right to complain to British Gas, and, now that British Gas is in the private sector and faces competition, people can expect that their complaints will be taken seriously, which they certainly were not when British Gas was in the public sector--when prices were rising dramatically and when the service was falling. Under plans for competition--for which I see no support from the Labour party--people who are not satisfied with British Gas will have the opportunity of going elsewhere. That is what competition means.