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1996 - PMQT 7th November 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 7th November 1996. Michael Heseltine responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Garnier: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 November.

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

This morning, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. My right hon. Friend has now departed for Bordeaux to attend the Anglo-French summit.

Mr. Garnier: May I commiserate with my right hon. Friend on the damage recently caused to his property by a gang of criminal thugs, which included two Labour councillors? Will he take this opportunity to contrast the Government's record on law and order with the pathetic performance of the smarmy army on the Opposition Benches? That smarmy army has not even criticised, let alone disciplined, those two Labour councillors.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I must say that, when I looked out of my window, it seemed like old times--the winter of discontent, with the Labour party on the streets; the mobs of the 1980s, with the Labour party on the streets; and then, in the 1990s, Labour councillors on people's private property, causing damage and disruption: and the characteristic of all three? Not a word of protest from the parliamentary Labour party. Labour Members talk about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but they do not even have the energy to walk through the Lobbies when we are fighting crime.

Mr. Prescott: Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House why, 50 years ago this week, the Tories voted against the creation of the national health service?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman will know that, after 50 years, the health service has been administered and supported by Tory Governments for longer than by Labour Governments. Because of that, we have made it one of the best health services in the world.

Mr. Prescott: Does the Deputy Prime Minister not understand--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Prescott: Does the Deputy Prime Minister not understand that the people simply do not believe the Tories on health? Does he not remember that, before the last election, the Prime Minister promised to cut taxes year on year? They went up year on year. Now the same Prime Minister is promising to increase health spending year on year. Is that not like the tax promise? Should not all Tory pre-election promises carry a Government health warning?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman will know that, under this Government, health expenditure has gone up every year. If he really cares about the health service, why will he not, on behalf of his party, now give a commitment to match our pledge to increase, year on year, real-terms expenditure on the health service?

Mr. Prescott: The Deputy Prime Minister fails to understand that our national health service, set up by a Labour Government 50 years ago, was the greatest peacetime achievement of any Government this century. Is not the simple truth this: the British people know that the only way to safeguard our health service for the next 50 years is to elect a Labour Government, and the sooner the better?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The British people know that the Labour party will not give the pledge that the Conservatives have already given. After all, we hear all about windfall taxes. If they are so profitable and so available, why cannot windfall taxes finance the health service? The reason is, of course, that there is not an easy killing of a windfall tax any more than there is a genuine commitment from Labour to the health service.

Mr. Pickles: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in a seminar in my constituency, the chief economist for the National Westminster bank predicted that small businesses would be particularly vulnerable to a minimum wage? He warned that a minimum wage would cost thousands of jobs in Essex. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will never introduce a minimum wage?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Any fool knows that a minimum wage costs jobs. After all, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the shadow leader of the Labour party, has already said so.

Mr. Prescott: Don't get too excited.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am always excited by the right hon. Gentleman. The whole House is excited by him. He is an exciting person. Never has someone been so wrong, so often, on so many subjects.


Q2. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 November.

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

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago, before my observations about the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East.

Mr. Gunnell: Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in welcoming the support given by players of Leeds United, of Leeds rugby league club and of Yorkshire county cricket club to the urgent appeal for funds by Leeds general infirmary for essential equipment, which, it says, it cannot afford because of the national health service funding level? Is it not an absolute scandal that, after 17 years of this Government, that hospital, having closed 40 beds only last month, is forced to beg to survive?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I would overwhelmingly support anyone who sought to raise funds for charitable purposes for the health service. One of the most exciting additional supports to health funding in Britain has come from the idea of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to ensure that part of lottery proceeds go to charities in Britain. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members are prepared to sneer at charitable giving in Britain. I realise that they would rather tax people into a position where charity was compulsory, as opposed to relying on people's natural instinct to give, but I cannot believe that the purpose of such a generous decision by the various players to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred is designed to turn the health service into a party political matter.


Q3. Mr. Ian Bruce: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 November.

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

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

Mr. Bruce: Will my right hon. Friend have a chance to speak to the Prime Minister while he is in France preparing for the summit and get him to bring back a few souvenirs for Opposition Members? I have in mind in particular some recent issues of Le Figaro newspaper, which extolled the virtues of what had happened to French companies that had come to the United Kingdom to invest in British firms, highlighting particularly the low cost base here and the stable, growing economy.

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to draw to the attention of the House the remarkable article in Le Figaro. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister drew my attention to it earlier today. The House will be pleased to know that copies of the article are on their way to this country. For the benefit of many Labour Members, translations will be freely available.


Q4. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 November.

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

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

Mr. Bayley: Will the right hon. Gentleman remind the House of the new rules that were introduced to curb the abuse by former Conservative Ministers such as Peter Walker and Norman Tebbit, who left the Government and moved to the boardrooms of companies that they privatised while in office? Does he agree that it is an absolute disgrace that the Minister who privatised London's buses--the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris)--has moved from his boudoir at the Department of Transport to the profitable and sweet embrace of Capital City Bus?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The House will want to take that question extremely seriously because a most serious allegation has been made against my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris). My hon. Friend has not accepted any job with Capital City Bus or any other company. He has consulted the advisory committee on business appointments and, of course, he will follow any advice that that committee gives.

I want to stand back from the regrettable nature of the question asked by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) and say that the only reason why no Labour ex-Ministers are in a similar position is that there have been no Labour ex-Ministers in recent memory. However, when there were Labour ex-Ministers, what was Lord Marsh doing--[Hon. Members: "He was a Tory."] When he was at the Dispatch Box, he was a Labour Minister. He only became a Tory when he realised that we were right and he was wrong. What have Labour Members to say about Edmund Dell, who became head of Guinness? What do they have to say about Lord Varley, the former Energy Secretary? What about Lord Barnett, who is on the boards of a raft of different companies? It is one rule for them and one rule for everybody else--hypocrisy from start to finish.


Q5. Mr. Jessel: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 November.

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

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

Mr. Jessel: As next year will be the 50th anniversary of the independence of India, and as relations between India and Britain have never been better, do the Government intend to supplement the Queen's visit to India, the visit of our Prime Minister to India as guest of honour on Republic Day and my right hon. Friend's visit to India to launch the Indo-British partnership initiative, with events in this country to mark the jubilee? Will he bear in mind that a large proportion of Indian people who are resident in Britain are natural supporters of the enterprise economy?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has left out of his list the distinguished role that he has played for 25 years as an officer and chairman of the all-party Indo-British group. He will be pleased to know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has invited my noble Friend Lord Cranborne to chair the group to determine how we can progress with such an important anniversary.

Mr. Janner: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government have rejected the recommendation of the Employment Committee that, in the unemployment statistics, the Government should include details of the 12 categories excluded from those figures? In those circumstances, does he recognise that the true number of unemployed is not just over 2 million, but nearer 4 million, and that the Government's present figures are a complete sham and a fiddle?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I seem to remember the hon. and learned Gentleman producing reports saying that 100,000 jobs would go in the aftermath of the closure of the mines. Unemployment has fallen every month since.


Q6. Mr. Lidington: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 November.

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

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

Mr. Lidington: Has my right hon. Friend seen recent reports that about 40 per cent. of those leaving the jobless register are now setting up as self-employed to provide work not only for themselves but for other people? Does he agree that that augurs well for the present and future competitiveness of the country, enabling us to look forward to levels of unemployment continuing to fall in my constituency and throughout the nation?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is, of course, right. We have the highest proportion of our population at work of any major European country. The forecasts are that our position will continue to improve. I am delighted to recognise the announcement this morning by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment of a significant extension of project work to concentrate particularly on those who have been unemployed for more than two years.


Q7. Mr. Michael: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 November.

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

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

Mr. Michael: Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen advertisements for articles such as the Vindicator knife and the Rambo short sword? Does he agree that it would be a good idea to make it illegal to advertise or offer for sale such weapons in a manner that appears to condone or encourage violence?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As the whole House knows, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is in discussions with Labour and Liberal Democrat Members, but those discussions have not led to a simplistic definition that would have enabled the law to be changed. In other words, my right hon. and learned Friend was correct to say that this is a complex matter to which a satisfactory legal outcome has not so far been found. The whole House will be glad of my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement yesterday about strengthening police powers of stop and search, particularly of those people who are likely to be carrying knives.