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1996 - PMQT 12th December 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th December 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Greenway: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in the run-up to the Dublin summit, he will not abandon the British veto? Will he assure the House that he will never abandon that veto and never dissemble it in favour of qualified majority voting? Is he aware that European socialist leaders are in Dublin planning to do just that, and that the leader of the Labour party is part of that plot?

The Prime Minister: I can certainly confirm that we intend to retain the veto at the intergovernmental conference. I believe that to lose the veto would be quite unacceptable from the point of view of British national interest. It would open up policies that would be utterly unacceptable not only to the House but, I believe, to the majority of people in this country. We will maintain the veto. As I have indicated to the House before, I see no significant case whatever for an extension of qualified majority voting.

Mr. Prescott: Will the Prime Minister confirm that yesterday's Treasury figures showed that the tax burden has gone up since 1992? Given his own record on tax, will he guarantee that, at the next general election, any tax promises that he makes will be made under oath?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman knows the relative records of the Conservative party and of his party on tax: he knows that income tax was 33p in the pound; he knows that other taxes went up to 98p in the pound; he knows that he has made £30 billion-worth of promises that he has to tax for; and he knows that he will be prepared to introduce a range of new taxes. It is no good him making silly gestures. That is the reality of life, and this country knows that.

Mr. Prescott: Cannot the right hon. Gentleman see that, regardless of whether the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) or the Prime Minister himself says that they will cut tax year on year, nobody believes the Tories? Will he now take down the posters that falsely claim that he cut tax, or is he going to carry on dissembling?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman might bear in mind the utterly untruthful and unscrupulous campaign that his party has been waging. Now that his leader has turned his back on him for a minute, perhaps he will confirm what the rate of the new windfall tax will be; perhaps he will tell us what the tartan tax will be and what its implications will be for Scotland; perhaps he will tell us about the health tax or the teenage tax or the extra tax on London or the very high taxes set by almost every Labour council up and down the country. Taxes, the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party go together like strawberries and cream.

Mr. Prescott: Is the Prime Minister not aware that since 1992 no fewer than 16 Ministers have resigned from his Government, many in shameful circumstances, which is a record number for any Government in British history? No wonder the Tories have lost the trust of the nation. Are we not at last seeing the last throes of a dying, dissembling Government, who should realise that it is time to go?

The Prime Minister: I dare say the right hon. Gentleman has been practising that line in front of the mirror all morning. No doubt the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) is very pleased with his pupil for having learnt today's sound bite, but the right hon. Gentleman would be better off finding out policy and answering for the policies that his party tries to hide.


Q2. Sir Irvine Patnick: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Sir Irvine Patnick: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has he seen the report that nearly one in three German companies are trying to escape from European employment legislation? Will he continue to ensure that British firms are never saddled with those job-wrecking policies?

The Prime Minister: It was the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who went along with his Socialist International friends and signed up to precisely those policies, as no doubt his leader is doing yet again today, irrespective of the jobs that it will cost people in this country. I am not surprised that companies across Europe are moving from European countries to this country to establish themselves and to create jobs here. Other countries are losing investment as a result of following policies that the Opposition advocate. Companies are leaving those countries, coming here and investing and creating jobs, which is why our unemployment is falling.

Mr. Ashdown: Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that, if the practical advantages of a single currency outweighed the disadvantages, he would be in favour of joining. Will the Prime Minister confirm that that is his view as well?

The Prime Minister: That is precisely why we have kept an option--so that we can decide what is in the national interest. That has been our position from the outset. We must determine whether something is in the British national interest. If it is in the British national interest, we do it; if it is not in the British national interest, we say no.

Mr. Viggers: While courage and valour are normally associated with our armed forces, does my right hon. Friend agree that there have been some remarkable cases of courage beyond the call of normal duty in our schools and elsewhere in the face of violence recently? Does he think that the Daily Mail and others have a reasonable point that such courage might reasonably be rewarded in the honours list or elsewhere?

The Prime Minister: I think, as my hon. Friend knows, that there is a proper mechanism for considering such matters and that it is not for me to comment on them from the Dispatch Box. I am sure that what my hon. Friend said will be heard in appropriate places.


Q4. Mr. Hutton: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Mr. Hutton: Why cannot the Prime Minister admit that taxes on income as a percentage of earnings for all families will be higher at the time of the next general election than they were at the last? Why cannot he admit the accuracy of his own Government's figures--or has dissembling become a way for life for the Tory Government?

The Prime Minister: I will tell the hon. Gentleman the real fact about taxes: that taxes would have been higher this year if we had still had the same tax regime as we had in 1991; taxes have fallen. I will also tell him that the average family will be £1,100 a year better off as a result of the tax changes and growth in the economy. That would not have occurred under any other Government, and certainly did not occur under the last Labour Government.

Mr. Carttiss: In his discussions at the Dublin conference this weekend, will my right hon. Friend press as hard as he can on our European Union partners the need to come up with a favourable solution to the problem of quota hopping, which has caused so much damage to the United Kingdom fishing industry?

The Prime Minister: Yes, but that will be a matter for the intergovernmental conference rather than discussions over this weekend. As my hon. Friend will know, we tabled a protocol to deal with quota hopping, and it is one of the matters that we shall deal with during discussions at the intergovernmental conference.


Q5. Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Mr. Campbell-Savours: May I have a very straight answer to my very simple question, which the Prime Minister has already been asked by two Labour Members? Is it true that yesterday the Government published some new figures on taxation, which show that far more of an average family's income will be paid to the Government in the coming year in the form of national insurance and income tax than was paid in 1992? The answer is yes or no. May I have that answer please?

The Prime Minister: I have answered that question twice in the past few minutes, and the answer is exactly the same as it was a few moments ago.

Mr. David Hunt: Will my right hon. Friend join me in recognising the outstanding reputation of the United Kingdom civil service throughout the world for integrity, independence and impartiality? Will he further join me in condemning those civil servants who appear to have joined some elements of the press and the Labour party in a network of systematic leaks, which are damaging not only the Government and Parliament but the reputation of the civil service and the Labour party?

The Prime Minister: I certainly share my right hon. Friend's belief that we have a first-class civil service. The overwhelming majority of civil servants abide strictly by the rules, but unfortunately a very few do not. Any leaks are to be deplored, but equally to be deplored are the activities of Labour Front Benchers and Back Benchers who encourage and use leaks.

"Leaked documents are particularly welcome. I promise to make good use of them."

Those words were used by the then shadow Transport Secretary not very long ago. I hope that we shall hear no lectures about standards in politics from people who make such remarks.


Q7. Sir Fergus Montgomery: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Sir Fergus Montgomery: When my right hon. Friend goes to Dublin at the weekend, will he press on his European counterparts the success of the British economy and tell them that it can be attributed to 17 continuous years of Conservative government?

The Prime Minister: I shall most certainly do that. Anybody who reads what is being said almost daily in Europe--for example in the French press recently--will realise that people abroad recognise the success of the British economy and, on a number of occasions, have praised not just the success of the British economy but the policies of this Government, which they believe have brought it about.


Q8. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Mr. Mullin: With the benefit of hindsight, does the Prime Minister consider it unfortunate that a company controlled by one man now controls 40 per cent. of our national newspapers and the technology liable to form the gateway to all British television in the near future? Does he consider it unhealthy that we now appear to have reached a position where neither of the main parties is willing to speak out because of the fear that that company will unleash its newspapers against it in the run up to a general election? This is not a cheap attempt to score points and I hope that the Prime Minister will not respond in that way. It is a serious matter in a democracy.

The Prime Minister: We have an open market. I believe that that is the right way for us to proceed, but that power must be used responsibly. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. I hope he will draw that to the attention of his party leader, who flew to prostrate himself at the feet of the gentleman whom I believe the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Renton: Has my right hon. Friend had time today to read the excellent article, which is extremely positive about our trade with Europe, on page 6 of The Sun, written by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Its headline reads: "Britain can be Champs of Europe like Man United!" Our local club in Sussex, the Seagulls--Brighton and Hove Albion--although conveniently placed for trade with the continent, is in every kind of trouble at the moment. It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend could instruct his colleagues, when they write such positive articles in future, to give the Seagulls a bit of a boost.

The Prime Minister: I am certainly happy to commend the scale of our trade with our colleagues in the European Union. There is no doubt about its importance, its growth and the extent to which it has contributed to a general rise in the standard of living in the United Kingdom. As for my hon. Friend's football team, if he will forgive me, I often have enough difficulty with my own football team.

Madam Speaker: I deprecate the absence of hon. Members today without an apology to the Prime Minister or to me.