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1996 - PMQT 11th June 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th June 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

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. Mullin: Has the Prime Minister heard today's admission by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) that Sir James Goldsmith is helping to fund his faction within the Conservative party? Does it strike the Prime Minister as odd that a foreign-based millionaire--[Hon. Members: "Billionaire."] Does it strike him as odd that a foreign-based billionaire who has set up his own political party and is running candidates against official Conservative candidates is also funding his own fifth column within the Conservative party? Has the right hon. Gentleman any plans to do anything about this extraordinary situation?

The Prime Minister: I had not seen that statement by Sir James Goldsmith, but of course Sir James is a man of independent mind. Sir James is of course entirely free, if he wishes, to field his own candidates at a general election--I suppose that anyone with £20 million to spend can afford to do that--but he is not going to change our policy.

Mr. Dykes: May I thank my right hon. Friend for his plans to put some backbone into some of our colleagues who seem to be irrationally obsessed with Sir James Goldsmith, and very scared about him as well? That, presumably, is why my right hon. Friend authorised the attendance of four members of the Government at last night's bizarre proceedings.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend may himself think that he requires authorisation to attend particular meetings, but I assure him that all my hon. Friends will use their own independent judgment about the meetings they attend, and about the judgments they take from those meetings.

Mr. Blair: It may seem indelicate to intrude on private grief, but may I ask the Prime Minister what we are to make of the political party in government when a former Cabinet Minister hosts a reception for a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and his campaign manager, to advocate withdrawal from the European Union--in the presence of Ministers--to the leader of a different political party altogether, whose objective is to remove Conservative Members of Parliament at the general election?

The Prime Minister: I must say that the right hon. Gentleman has a very selective memory. He entered the House on a programme of leaving the European Union.

Mr. Blair: The problem is that the right hon. Gentleman's political party is now moving towards advocating that programme. [Interruption.] It is. Let us put it to the test. Will the Prime Minister now join me in saying that the real agenda of many of those who will support the Referendum Bill today is to push Britain to the point of withdrawal from Europe? Will he join me unequivocally in saying that the views of those people who will make that case today are wrong?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman can invent his own policies: he should not invent policies for my party. I have made it clear in speech after speech and in the recent White Paper that this country's role lies within the European Union, fighting for the sort of European Union that is amenable to this country. That remains the position. We intend to try to provide, within the European Union, a set of circumstances that is right for this country. That does not mean that we accept every element of policy that our European partners propose, and it does not mean that we would never be isolated, unlike the right hon. Gentleman. It does not mean that we would give up the veto, unlike the right hon. Gentleman. We are there to fight for British interests, not to follow the policy that the right hon. Gentleman would follow and surrender British interests.

Mr. Blair: Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman stand at that Dispatch Box as Prime Minister and say that the views of those people are wrong? If he carries on running from them, they will carry on chasing him and the losers will be Britain, our jobs, our industry and our influence. When will the Prime Minister finally stand up and take a lead?

The Prime Minister: I have told the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman is putting views in the mouths of my hon. Friends that are not theirs, and my hon. Friends have made that clear time after time. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to sort out problems on Europe, he might make it clear that he disagrees with those 50 of his Back Benchers who have issued their own manifesto disagreeing with every element of the leader of the Labour party's policy on Europe. Perhaps he will make it clear that he disagrees with them. Our policy is to be within Europe, fighting for British interests, disagreeing with our European partners when we must, and agreeing with them when it is in the interests of this country.

Mr. John Greenway: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement by the National Lottery Charities Board of £150 million of grants today, mostly to help young people? Does that not show that the House was right to make the charities board one of the recipients of national lottery funding and is that not the true image of the lottery in this country?

The Prime Minister: I very much welcome many of the awards that have been made today. They cover a wide range, including money for Childline, the British Red Cross, an ex-service men's association and the Samaritans. They will all have widespread support across the country. Having studied the list of all the awards made today, a small number of the awards do not in my judgment reflect the way in which Parliament and the public expected the lottery money to be spent. That is true of a minority of awards. The freedom to make those awards was given to the individual boards by the House and they have responsibility for the awards that they make. Overwhelmingly, they exercise that responsibility well. From time to time, they make awards that are ill founded and ill judged.


Q2. Mr. Barry Jones: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

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

Mr. Jones: I have given the right hon. Gentleman previous notice of my question. Will he revoke his policy on market testing as it affects military units such as the 1,800-strong RAF Sealand in my constituency, where large-scale redundancies are feared? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is no level playing field when predator contractors compete against the in-house bid in RAF Sealand, such as GEC and Brown and Root?

Will the Prime Minister give consideration to making my part of the world a market-testing-free zone on the basis that, if something is working, one should not fix it? Why put profit before the national interest? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in the Falklands and Gulf wars, RAF Sealand gave magnificent service to Britain? That is all that it wants to continue to do.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the matter that he wished to raise. The hon. Gentleman has been assiduous in his support for RAF Sealand and has raised it with a number of my hon. Friends in the past. Our intention is to ensure that the armed forces get the highest possible quality of support at the best value for money for the defence budget. An announcement on the winning contractor is expected towards the end of the year. I am not proposing to revoke our present policy in any way--it is the right policy--but I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that the in-house bid will be evaluated against precisely the same criteria as the two external bids and that the judgment will be made on value for money.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: I join the Leader of the Opposition in putting to my right hon. Friend some things that are wrong. Would it not be wrong to oppose the Family Law Bill, which has provisions on domestic violence? As to that measure's marriage elements, is it not right to get rid of quickie divorces? Ought we not to tidy away the problems of first marriages before letting people get on to second marriages, and would it not be wrong to oppose the Bill because of that as well?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes his purpose in asking that question entirely clear. I hope that we shall see some leadership on those issues from individuals who might, for spurious reasons, object to a Bill that I believe is in the interests of the people of this country.


Q3. Mr. Davidson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

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

Mr. Davidson: Does the Prime Minister accept that drug dealing and money laundering are major difficulties in this country? Is he aware that a Scottish newspaper reported at the weekend that a journalist had approached a major Scottish organisation and offered it money as a donation, and was advised how that money could be laundered? Is that not a particular cause of concern for all of us? Is it not of particular concern for the Prime Minister, when the organisation involved was the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party?

The Prime Minister: This Government have taken more action against drug dealing and money laundering than any previous Government, and we continue to do so. I doubt that the hon. Gentleman's allegation has any foundation, but if he is prepared to give me details, of course I will have it examined--so that it can be repudiated.


Q4. Mrs. Peacock: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

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

Mrs. Peacock: Will my right hon. Friend welcome the recent fall in unemployment, which is a sign of good economic management? Will he join me in congratulating Layeezee Beds in Batley, which recently recruited 60 new members to its work force because of demand for that company's products?

The Prime Minister: I am delighted to hear that good news from my hon. Friend's constituency, which is reflected in many constituencies throughout the country. The economy is in better condition than at any time for a generation, which is why we were able to reduce interest rates yet again last week--simply because we have been successful in keeping inflation under control. Our policies are working, inflation is falling, unemployment is falling, growth is beginning to accelerate and this country has better economic circumstances than for many years past--and they are better than in many of our competitor countries on the continent.

Mr. Benn: How can the Prime Minister justify disfranchising 116,000 voters in the election that he called in Northern Ireland when they voted for Sinn Fein, which is committed to the six Mitchell principles? When there was a ceasefire nearly two years ago, no all-party talks were called for 18 months. Had other Governments followed that principle, there would have been no peace process in the middle east or settlement in southern Africa.

The Prime Minister: Sinn Fein disfranchised itself. It had every opportunity to take part in the talks. Had there been an unconditional ceasefire by the IRA, Sinn Fein could have been a part of the talks process, as I had hoped it would be. Its representatives cannot sit down in a talks process with a bomb on the table and a gun under the table and the threat that, if they do not get their own way in negotiations, they will revert to type and the habits of the past 20 or 30 years. Sinn Fein's exclusion from the talks is its fault. That is the position of this Government, the Irish Government and the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland, and that situation will not change. It is in Sinn Fein's hands. A ceasefire and the end of violence, which should have occurred anyhow, quite apart from the talks, and the way would be open for Sinn Fein to join the discussions.