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1996 - PMQT 18th June 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th June 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Berry: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 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. Berry: Is the Prime Minister aware that he spoke for the whole nation on Friday when he said that he had had "a bellyful" of the Tory party?

The Prime Minister: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his quotation is inaccurate, but it could certainly be applied to questions such as that.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth: Is my right hon. Friend aware that more and more people in Germany wish that their economy was run like ours--with low inflation, steady economic growth, flexible labour markets and falling unemployment? Will he take an early opportunity to invite the leaders of the German opposition parties to Britain so that they can see what can be achieved with Conservative policies?

Mr. Faulds: More, more.

The Prime Minister: I am glad to see that it evokes such approval on the Opposition Benches.

It is certainly true that we have at the moment the most competitive economy in western Europe, that we are in a very good position on inflation, and that unemployment is a good deal lower--and we are at the top of the growth league. That, as my hon. Friend says, is an enviable position, and I know that it is envied by many of my European partners.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning the appalling outrage of Saturday in Manchester and send our thanks to the emergency services and our sympathy to the victims? Is this not a moment of truth for Sinn Fein? Does it not show the wisdom of demanding a ceasefire before Sinn Fein participates in any talks? Does not the responsibility now lie squarely on it if it is to play any part in the future progress of peace?

The Prime Minister: I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman. Saturday's bomb in Manchester was a callous and inhuman act. It is a miracle that many more people were not injured and that many people were not killed. What is so startling is the total indifference of the people who left that bomb to what could well have happened to many people who have no connection whatever with the disputes in Ireland or the disputes that the IRA may have with the British Government or others.

The right hon. Gentleman is right. The time has come for Sinn Fein to make up its mind. Either it will be a democratic organisation taking part in democratic politics or it will stay side by side as the reverse side of the coin to the IRA, with intermingled membership, in which case it has no part in democratic politics whatever. I believe that, when the right hon. Gentleman says that the moment of truth is here, it is for Mr. Adams and his colleagues, and everybody wishes to hear precisely what their views are--and let us have no more of the measly nonsense that we have had from them in recent years.

Mr. Blair: I join with that entirely.

Does the Prime Minister also agree that there has been progress in Northern Ireland? The British and Irish Governments are agreed on the way forward; all nationalist parties in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, apart from Sinn Fein, are agreed on peaceful means to achieve their ends; and the United States and others abroad may have been given a telling lesson on the realities of the IRA. Is not the only course now open to Sinn Fein to ensure that the IRA ceases its violence? If it cannot--or will not--the process should proceed with the democratic parties, and an agreement should be reached and put to a ballot of the people.

The Prime Minister: It is entirely right that the talks must continue. We have no intention of allowing the search for a political settlement for Northern Ireland to be derailed by the activities of the IRA and Sinn Fein. I hope that all the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland will continue to demonstrate the leadership and courage necessary to make rapid progress, and to show the IRA that it cannot stop the process with bombs in Manchester, London or anywhere else.

If the IRA and Sinn Fein wish to have any future interest in this process, they will clearly need to declare an unequivocal ceasefire. They will need to declare it immediately. They will also have to show that that ceasefire is credible and lasting, and is not just a tactical device to enable them to enter the talks until such time as it is convenient for them to leave. It is now up to them to demonstrate their credibility; it is not up to us or anyone else. They must demonstrate their credibility--but the talks will continue.

Mrs. Roe: In the light of falls in unemployment, interest rates and inflation, does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain is now one of the most competitive economies in Europe? Does he accept, however, that much more still needs to be done to raise standards in our schools? Although things are improving, far too many children still leave school without the basic skills.

The Prime Minister: Both the premise of my hon. Friend's question and her substantive point are important. She knows that the British economy is in very sound shape; we intend to keep it so. As for education and basic standards, the Government have introduced a programme of reforms that is more comprehensive than any that we have seen at any stage in the past, designed to raise standards in schools, build on the national curriculum and ensure regular inspection and the publication of performance information.

We have made substantial progress in recent years in raising standards, but there is no doubt that there is a great deal more that we wish to do to ensure that the quality of education for all our children is the equal of the quality of education anywhere else in the world. That is our intention, and we will continue to pursue it, despite the failures of so many Labour-controlled education authorities whose records have held back many children in inner London and elsewhere. [Hon. Members: "Seventeen years."] It is no good hon. Members below the Gangway muttering in this fashion, when it is their party, in control in local government, that could act now to improve education, but does not.


Q2. Mr. Livingstone: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 June.

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

Mr. Livingstone: Given the funds that the Government have made available to the Russian Government and organisations in Russia in recent years to help to establish democracy, has the Prime Minister had time to read today's statement by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe expressing the CSCE's regret and concern at the extensive bias in the coverage of the presidential election? Will the right hon. Gentleman now use his contacts with President Yeltsin to point out to him the value of the British precedent of television and radio providing equal time for candidates, to legitimise this final stage of the Russian election?

The Prime Minister: I have not yet seen the particular statement to which the hon. Gentleman refers. In view of what he says, I shall certainly consider it, but the very fact of the Russian presidential elections, and the way in which they have been carried, out would have seemed inconceivable just a few years ago. It is a welcome sign that Russia is settling into the normal pattern of democracy, and we must give great credit to President Yeltsin for that. I hope that the second round will be conducted well and that there will be a clear-cut and satisfactory result.

Mr. Stewart: Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the control of business rates under the Government has been of immense benefit to businesses, large and small, throughout Britain and, therefore, to jobs? Will he ask the relevant Government Departments to analyse the consequences for jobs and for prosperity of taking off these controls and handing decisions back to loony Labour councils, as is advocated by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly consider any mechanism that tries to restrain on-costs on British business. It is clear that the fact that British business as a whole pays less over and above wages in on-costs is one of the principal reasons why are more citizens are in work in Britain than in any other country of similar size throughout western Europe.


Q3. Mr. Welsh: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 June.

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

Mr. Welsh: Did the Prime Minister see last night's "Panorama" programme, which catalogued 10 years of evasion and incompetence by the Government on the BSE issue? What does he have to say to Scotland's hill farmers, now awaiting being dragged into the general economic catastrophe created by the Government, while he postures to no effect in Europe?

The Prime Minister: Of course I did not waste my time watching "Panorama" last night--[Interruption.] I have much more productive things to do with my time than waste it watching nonsense from "Panorama". We have taken account of the scientific advice that we have had throughout this affair, and that is what we will continue to do in the interests of British agriculture and of the British beef consumer.


Q4. Mr. Michael Brown: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 June.

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

Mr. Brown: Does my right hon. Friend recall the exchanges that he and I had in the House last October, when I raised the question of closed circuit television for security purposes in our towns and cities? Is he aware that the initiative that he announced last year is one of the most practical ways of dealing with crime and of introducing crime prevention measures? Although he may not be able to confirm to me today whether my constituency of Cleethorpes is to benefit from the forthcoming announcement, will he guarantee that he will have a word with our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and advise him that we in Cleethorpes are very supportive of that initiative?

The Prime Minister: Bringing closed circuit television to all corners of the United Kingdom is a practical effort to create a safer Britain in future. We are investing around £50 million, and our target is to fund 10,000 new cameras in the next three years. I am pleased to hear from my hon. Friend about the Cleethorpes bid. Knowing my hon. Friend, I would have been surprised if there had not been a Cleethorpes bid, but he is right--I cannot confirm to him today whether it has been successful, but I hope that announcements will be made before too long.

Mr. Litherland: The Prime Minister will understand that there are no words to describe the loathing that Manchester people have for the perpetrators of the crime against our city last Saturday, but it has happened and we must now begin to rebuild Manchester. Mancunians are resilient people, but they require help. Will the Prime Minister today give the assurance to the House that the Government will offer every support, including financial aid, for the restoration of businesses, buildings, jobs and homes in Manchester? Sympathy will not pay the bills.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has commented on three matters of importance. I entirely share his initial remarks about Manchester, and I have no doubt about the courage and determination of the people of that city in recovering from last week's incident. Individuals injured by the bomb are eligible to apply for compensation under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. The Government-backed terrorism insurance scheme will ensure that participating insurers can meet claims by companies that purchased full terrorism cover. Businesses that have not done so are likely to receive limited reimbursement and should contact their insurance companies.

The financial implications for local authorities are not yet clear. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to consider carefully any application for assistance by an authority affected by the incident, and he will certainly do so. In Manchester in the past--and I am sure that this will be so in future--an effective partnership between the Government, the private sector and the city council has delivered remarkable regeneration in many parts of the city. That partnership provides an excellent basis for rebuilding, and we look forward to working with the people concerned.


Q5. Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 June.

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

Sir Michael Neubert: Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to pay tribute to a great man now gone, the late Sir Fitzroy Maclean? Was there not much to admire in that soldier, diplomat, Conservative Member of Parliament and patriot, who had an enviable ability for getting out of tight corners?

The Prime Minister: Sir Fitzroy Maclean was a remarkable man with many qualities to admire--from being a founder of the Special Air Services to a Minister of the Crown at this Dispatch Box. In all his many roles, Sir Fitzroy made a remarkable contribution. He also played a crucial role in work with Tito's partisans in the second world war. People will think of Sir Fitzroy Maclean as a man who lived life to the full. From what I know of him, I believe that he would regard that as a satisfactory epitaph.