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1996 - PMQT 27th June 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 27th June 1996. Michael Heseltine responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McFall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the G7 summit in Lyons.

Mr. McFall: Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland's recent statement that, if the Scottish people endorse a Scottish Parliament in a referendum, no future Conservative Government would abolish it? Will the Deputy Prime Minister give a commitment on that?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's view of Labour's policy in Scotland, but that was yesterday's statement. Labour's policy in Scotland is a shambles. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, when campaigning for the Labour leadership in 1994, said:

"I believe firmly that we should legislate in our first year for the establishment of a Scottish Parliament."

Just the other day, Labour's Scottish spokesman said:

"We have no proposals for a referendum because we want to legislate early and quickly for this outstanding commitment, and that is clear party policy."

Now what have we got? Without consulting the Scottish Labour party, the parliamentary Labour party or most of the Shadow Cabinet, the Labour leader has panicked. He has sold out his promises to Scotland at the first whiff of anxiety in middle England. It is called policy making by focus group. I can well remember Labour running Britain with beer and sandwiches in Downing street, but running Scotland over pasta and Chianti in Islington is quite another thing.


Q2. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

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

Mr. Arnold: Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a side effect of such a policy which would anger the people of Kent, who would find themselves with a regional Government run from Guildford on the other side of London? Is he also aware that the people of Kent and those in the other English regions would be fed up with more politicians, bureaucrats and taxes imposed on them?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can allay my hon. Friend's anxieties because the next Government have no plans to introduce regional assemblies.

Mr. Rooker: Can I ask the Deputy Prime Minister about Government policy, which will give him time to calm down? Will he confirm today's reports that the Treasury has told the Ministry of Defence that cuts of £1.6 billion in defence equipment will be required this year if the sell-off of married quarters is blocked? Does that not show that the purpose of the sales has nothing to do with the good of service personnel, but is simply a short-term fix for the Government's finances? Is it true that service families could be required to move against their will for non-military reasons so that an estate can be parcelled up for sale as a whole?

The Deputy Prime Minister: May I, in the time-honoured courtesy of the House, welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box in the absence of any member of the shadow Cabinet prepared to come here today? [Interruption.] Again, following the time-honoured courtesies of the House, may I say to the deputy leader of the Labour party--who has sadly had an accident to his leg and has received excellent treatment under the NHS--"Come back soon, John. We know it's hurting, but we know it's working" [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The deputy Prime Minister has a question to answer.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Madam Speaker, that is a timely reminder of the reason why I am standing here. The hon. Gentleman and his party are keen on a fundamental defence review--we do that every year.

Mr. Rooker: Madam Speaker, I know that I am new at this, but I thought that the Deputy Prime Minister was paid a lot more than I am to answer questions. We are dealing with real people, such as the RAF officer's wife--now widowed--who moved for military reasons eight times in two and a half years, and a British Army colonel with distinguished service in Bosnia who moved 23 times in 23 years for military reasons. They did that because they had the comfort of knowing that suitable quarters would be available at the right time and in the right place. Has the deputy Prime Minister not received the letter from the Secretary of State for Defence to hon. Members today, which states that

"too many homes are in poor condition"?

Does not the promised £100 million to upgrade the married quarters amount to less than £2,000 a dwelling, compared with the average housing renovation grant in England of £10,000? Will the Government now heed the call from the Army's Families Federation and the Royal British Legion that the proposed sale of married quarters be postponed, pending a detailed review in this House?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I notice that the hon. Gentleman has just told the House that £100 million-worth of renovation is not adequate for the task. No wonder the shadow Chancellor is not in the House to hear him make that observation. Everyone who enters service life knows that, as a condition of service, they may be expected to move as part of their obligations as members of Her Majesty's armed services.

Mr. Couchman: Does my right hon. Friend think that the education reforms announced this week will help to raise education standards in Islington to a point where the Leader of the Opposition no longer feels it necessary to send his children out of the borough and across London every day?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes the critical point. Labour controls most of the education authorities in this country and if it had the first idea how to raise standards, it would not be calling on the Government to do it--it would get on and do it.


Q3. Mr. David Marshall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

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

Mr. Marshall: Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree with the real Prime Minister that it is all right to offer Northern Ireland devolution with a Secretary of State in the United Kingdom Cabinet and no reduction in the numbers of Members of Parliament at Westminster, but not all right to do the same for Scotland? Does he not understand that offering devolution to Northern Ireland while denying it to Scotland is a gross insult to the people of Scotland?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman can go and try to persuade the Scottish people that they want the ability to have taxes raised by a Scottish Assembly--that they want a tartan tax. If he can persuade them of that, doubtless the referendum will produce the result that the Labour party wants. But the fact of the matter is, as I said to the House earlier, that the Labour party's policies on devolution are now a shambles.

Mr. Hawkins: Will my right hon. Friend, as a fellow Celt, reaffirm his commitment to the Union of the United Kingdom? Does he agree with me that the policies of the Labour party will destroy the Union of the United Kingdom?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. Nothing shows more obviously the cynical nature of the Labour party's policies than that it has different approaches for Wales and for Scotland.


Q4. Mr. William O'Brien: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

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

Mr. O'Brien: Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen the survey of the regions carried out by his Government, which reveals that the wealth of people in the United Kingdom is falling further behind that of people in other European countries? Has he seen that in Yorkshire crime is higher, deaths in the first year after birth are higher, 50 per cent. of women employed are in part-time jobs--that is more than anywhere else--and truancy in secondary schools is greater than anywhere else? This is the record of 17 years of Tory Government. What is he going to do about it?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should take the trouble to look at the base source of years on which that report is based. The fact is that those were 1993 figures. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures he would find that our economy was forecast to grow faster than any other European economy this year and next year, that we have the fastest increase in employment, the highest proportion of our people in work and an 800,000 reduction in unemployment. The Conservative party in power will preserve the competitive edge of the United Kingdom, which means that 40 per cent. of all inward investment into Europe comes into the United Kingdom.

Sir Michael Shersby: Will my right hon. Friend assure me as an Englishman representing an English constituency that, should a Labour Government ever offer a referendum to Scotland, he will campaign for a referendum in England on whether those Labour Members of Parliament should retain their votes in the Westminster Parliament?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think that the answer to that question will have to come from the party that is proposing so divisive a proposal for the United Kingdom. Labour Members of Parliament will have to answer the question first raised by the then hon. Member for West Lothian, now the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who has not yet received an answer because there is no answer. The question is why Scottish Members of Parliament should have powers in Scotland as well as powers in England which would be denied to English Members of Parliament in respect of Scotland.


Q5. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that last night's European football championship, watched by 28 million people, could be the last to be available on independent television or the BBC? What plans does he have to prevent Mr. Murdoch's pay television from kidnapping major sporting events in the future? Or is this another case of the party that promises more choice, delivering less?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I did not need to fly 13,000 miles across the world to try to ingratiate myself with Rupert Murdoch. If I may address the substance of the issue, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the Premier League recently entered into a contract under which some £700 million will be injected into the sport, in addition to the remarkable benefits from the lottery in support of sport--all created by the present party in Government as a result of the creation of independent television and the establishment of the lottery. The Labour party should recognise that under this Prime Minister more has been done for sport than by any Government since the end of the war.

Mr. John Marshall: Will my right hon. Friend condemn the disruption on London Transport today, which inconvenienced thousands of my constituents and hundreds of thousands of Londoners? Will he compare that disruption with the positive policy of the Government of upgrading the Northern line, extending the Jubilee line, building the Heathrow to Paddington link and improving the docklands light railway?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I unreservedly condemn those who put the public to such inconvenience. I would welcome the support of the Labour party for that condemnation, but I know perfectly well that I will not get it because a significant number of Labour Members are sponsored by the unions that caused the trouble in the first place.


Q6. Mr. Clapham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

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

Mr. Clapham: The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State for Social Security in 1993 tried to add a sweetener to the bitter pill of the Deputy Prime Minister's colliery closure programme by introducing awards for miners who were suffering from chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Later, it proved that the diagnosis criteria were too restrictive and the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council has carried out a further study that was reported to the Secretary of State for Social Security earlier this year. I understand that he has accepted its recommendations but nothing has yet been done. Will the Deputy Prime Minister try to ensure that those recommendations are implemented before Parliament rises for the summer because elderly miners in my constituency and throughout the country are dying of dust?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will consider that point as a matter of urgency.