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1996 - PMQT 11th July 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th July 1996. Michael Heseltine responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McNamara: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is representing Her Majesty's Government at an official function with President Mandela.

Mr. McNamara: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that it is no longer the Queen's writ that runs in Northern Ireland but the Orange writ? The actions of Her Majesty's Government in the past day compare most unfavourably with the actions of Lady Thatcher who, when she sat on the Government Front Bench, saw down the Orange threat at the time of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the framework document is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can answer the hon. Gentleman's specific question--the framework document is the policy of Her Majesty's Government. It is generally accepted across the House that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have done more to bring peace to the Province, albeit that it is sadly disturbed at the moment, than Ministers in any other Administration in modern times.


Q2. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

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

Mr. Marshall: Will my right hon. Friend condemn unreservedly the disruption on London Transport being caused by members of the Associated Society Locomotive of Engineers and Fireman and, now, the National Union of Rail, Marine and Transport Workers? Does my right hon. Friend agree that such action is a complete misuse of industrial power, causes hardship to millions of Londoners and threatens the tourist trade? Is my right hon. Friend surprised that some hon. Members have failed to condemn that disruption, and does he agree that, for Londoners, new Labour has come to mean hard labour?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises important and urgent matters. I am wholly sympathetic with his comments about the plight of Londoners faced with that unjustifiable action. As to persons who should condemn it, I put at the top of the list the deputy leader of the Labour party, who is sponsored by one of the unions concerned.

Mr. Prescott: Will the Deputy Prime Minister break with tradition and give a straight answer to a simple question? Over the next 25 years, how much rent will the Ministry of Defence pay to the purchaser of the married quarters estate in return for the £1.6 billion estimated sale price?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The House will have noticed that, faced with the question that I put to him, all that the deputy leader of the Labour party could do was laugh and refuse to answer. On the specific question he put to me, what the House will want to judge is whether it should listen to his strictures or to the advice of the chiefs of staff about what is best for the military services.

Mr. Prescott: Can the Deputy Prime Minister deny the press reports which state that the Government have agreed to pay far more in rent than they will receive from the sale? Is it not a scandal that the Government are keeping secret just how much taxpayers' money they have guaranteed to pay to those property speculators?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has no understanding of how property deals are structured. If he had, he would realise that this negotiation will lead to improved standards for members of Her Majesty's services and that the minimum guarantees are well below the occupancy levels assumed to prevail throughout that time.

Mr. Prescott: Will the Deputy Prime Minister now tell the House the truth? This is a bad deal for service families and for the public. It is selling off a national asset at a knockdown price. It is a typical smash-and-grab operation by a Government of spivs.

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is exactly what the Labour party has said about every privatisation measure that we have ever introduced. Every time we do it, we hear this ranting nonsense from the Labour party. Then, when we have done it, the Labour party cannot bring itself to reverse it.

Sir Gerard Vaughan: In the week in which the Father of the House has celebrated his 80th birthday and his 46 years of service to the House, will my right hon. Friend associate himself with the congratulations and good wishes of the House?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has provided me with a most welcome opportunity to pay a fulsome tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), who has served the House and the country with great distinction for a long time. I say only one word of personal thanks, which is that I am grateful that he had the foresight to recommend my name for the Conservative candidates' list some 30 years ago.


Q3. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

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

Mr. Gunnell: Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that both Houses gave a spectacular welcome to President Mandela because he personifies the struggle against the apartheid regime? Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating those who supported the anti-apartheid movement throughout President Mandela's years in prison? Will he join me in hoping that President Mandela's attitude towards his former oppressors will strengthen and build the new democracy? Does he agree that President Mandela's attitude brings shame to those in this country who gave succour and support to the apartheid regime? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Prime Minister: I would have hoped that the House could have responded to the hon. Gentleman's question. We are talking about one of the political giants of our time and I have no hesitation in paying tribute to a man who, in his behaviour since leaving prison, has made one of the most remarkable political contributions that I have ever seen. To have spent that part of his life in those circumstances and to have emerged with such apparent absence of any bitterness to set about the healing of the wounds in that country with the potential that that has for not just South Africa but the whole continent of Africa, must be regarded as one of the more remarkable political achievements of our century.


Q4. Mr. Gallie: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

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

Mr. Gallie: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the downbeat assessment of Britain's industrial involvements of late by the voice of Labour--sadly not with us today--investment by Lucky Goldstar in Wales, Unipart in England and Lite-On in Scotland demonstrates that UK plc is in very good heart?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I hope that the entire House would want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales on securing not only the largest inward investment ever to come to this country, from Lucky Goldstar of Korea, but probably one of the largest inward investments ever attracted into the European Union. It is a huge tribute to the policies of the Government, which are transforming the United Kingdom into the enterprise centre of Europe.

If anybody wants to understand just how out of touch the Labour party is, they might remember the words of the deputy leader:

"I don't see much inward involvement flooding in. I see companies flooding out."

That is the Labour party keeping its hand on the pulse of what is happening.

Madam Speaker: Question 5. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am happy to answer the question, if only I can get a chance to hear it in the first place.


Q5. Mr. Welsh: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Welsh: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of the Greenpeace campaign to stop industrial fishing for sand eels, which is destroying entire fishing grounds in the North sea, including Wee Bankie, near my constituency? Will he undertake to have this issue raised in forthcoming intergovernmental conference and common fisheries policy talks?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture take the matter extremely seriously and will raise it as appropriate in any international forum.


Q7. Dr. Goodson-Wickes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

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

Dr. Goodson-Wickes: Does my right hon. Friend agree that this country has the finest civil service in the world, and that any newspaper reports to the contrary today are entirely bogus? Will he--[Hon. Members: "Reading."] Will he endorse the view that the civil service has more important things to do implementing the Government's excellent policies than spending time on the wholly academic issue of a possible Labour Government in the future?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question, because--[Hon. Members: "Reading."] That is perfectly true. I was aware that the question might be raised, because it had been extensively reported in The Independent as a result of the organised publication of suggestions that there had been politicisation of the civil service by a civil service union-- coincidentally on the day when the Labour party is organising a Supply day debate on the subject, so I had done some research.

I understand that none of the cases involving allegations of improper conduct by Ministers has been substantiated, and that no further approaches have been made to the commission to investigate irregularities since its last report. The fact is that the Government created the appropriate machinery to allow civil servants the right of appeal if they felt that they were being asked to do things that were politically wrong. I understand that that machinery is working properly. I see no justification whatever for the civil service union report today when there is not a shred of verifiable evidence contained in it.


Q8. Mr. Canavan: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

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

Mr. Canavan: On this historic day, when both Houses of Parliament had the privilege of being addressed by one of the greatest political leaders of this century, will the Deputy Prime Minister appeal to all political leaders in Northern Ireland to stretch out to each other a hand of friendship, peace and reconciliation--just as Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk did to ensure a better future for their country based on the equality of all the peoples, irrespective of race, gender or creed?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman speaks for the House. I would add only one thought, with which I am sure that he would wish to associate himself. It is that President Mandela has done all those things within the context of the rule of law.

Mr. Nicholls: At a time when commuters in London are being given a timely reminder of what life used to be like under Labour in a strike-ridden Britain, does my right hon. Friend recall that, even in the dark days of old Labour, there was never a suggestion that the firing of strikers should be outlawed? Does he recall that new Labour now proposes that it should be illegal to fire strikers? Does that not show that there really are new dangers in new Labour?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has raised a point that concerns us all. The new Labour proposals for trade union reform envisage changes to give unions powers that they never had under earlier legislation. Beyond any shadow of doubt, new Labour represents new dangers.

Mr. Skinner: With regard to the earlier reference to jobs for south Wales, will the Deputy Prime Minister tell us how much subsidy, in all its various forms, has been paid by the Government to attract those jobs? Was not the right hon. Gentleman responsible for refusing subsidies to the pits, which he then closed a few years ago? If he had kept open those pits by paying subsidies, south Wales would not need so many jobs now.

The Deputy Prime Minister: If I remember correctly--it is some time since I looked at the figures--the subsidies to the coal industry amounted to £19 billion, as a result of which jobs were not saved: they simply disappeared under Government after Government. The transformation now, which the hon. Gentleman cannot live with, is that the mining industry has just had its first ever strike-free year.