The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 21 March 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 21st March 1995.




Q1. Mr. Keith Hill: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 March.

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 meeting later today.

Mr. Hill: In his busy day, has the Prime Minister noticed that his plea for peace within the ranks has failed and that the Chancellor and Lord Tebbit are at each other’s throats again over Europe? How does he feel now that it is apparent that all sides of his party share the same view as the rest of the country–that he has no authority and is not up to the job?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about differing views in Europe, I suggest that he has a look around the Benches beside him. If he seriously thinks that the deputy Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), agrees with the Leader of the Opposition, or that the Leader of the Opposition agrees with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), he is living in a fantasy world.

Mr. Duncan: Does my right hon. Friend agree that most calls for more funding are really calls for higher taxation and that most calls for greater economic well-being are really calls for higher inflation? Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, undertake to continue his policy of keeping a firm grip both on inflation and public expenditure and not to do what the Opposition always seem tempted to do–cheaply to buy people’s votes with their own money?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right about the necessity of holding down public expenditure, and equally right to point out that it is simply economically illiterate to object to taxation levels and at the same time to call for higher expenditure, as the Opposition so frequently do.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister agree with his Education Secretary, who said this morning– [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Blair rose —[ Interruption. ]

Madam Speaker: Order; otherwise I shall have to name a Member on the Conservative Back Benches.

Mr. Blair rose —[ Interruption. ]

Madam Speaker: It is Jacques Arnold.

Mr. Blair: I apologise to my hon. Friend’s dog.

Does the Prime Minister agree with his Education Secretary who this morning admitted that in funding the teachers’ pay award some schools and authorities would face “considerable problems”?

The Prime Minister: Of course we recognised from the outset that this year’s settlement is tough in education. We have never made any secret of that fact. We have made it clear that local authorities must choose their priorities. We believe that teachers in the classroom are a priority and should be a first priority among education authorities.

Mr. Blair: But what does the Prime Minister say to schools and authorities that, as the Secretary of State for Education admits, do not have the reserves and balances to fund the award? If it is proven to the Prime Minister’s satisfaction that such schools and authorities exist–for example, in Tory Buckinghamshire–will he take action and intervene?

The Prime Minister: I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly what I would say to such authorities. If any local authority is thinking of cutting the number of teachers in the classroom, I would ask it what savings it had made in non-teaching aspects of education. I would ask if it has two administrators for every three teachers, as happens across the country. I would ask what administrative savings it had made. If the answer is none, I would ask, “Why have you made no savings, and why are you singling out teachers in the classroom?”

Mr. Blair: Is not the Prime Minister aware that five out of the six authorities with the lowest administration costs are Labour–and that all are facing cuts? The right hon. Gentleman talks about non-statutory funding. His Secretary of State for Education said what that means–nursery education, youth work and school transport. Is that an option? Why does not the Prime Minister listen to the voices of parents, governors and teachers, who speak for Britain when they say that if we fail to provide properly for our schools, we are not just letting down our children but betraying our country’s future?

The Prime Minister: We have provided more adequately for education and for choice in education than the right hon. Gentleman would ever contemplate. If he wants to know what the priorities are, I suggest that he addresses authorities–most of which are run by Labour–about the 1 million surplus school places, which cost £250 million a year, about making use of the estimated £700 million in unspent balances held by schools and about cutting bureaucracy at county hall, where they have failed to take account of the responsibilities of schools and where for every three teachers there are two support staff. Those are the questions that the right hon. Gentleman should address to education authorities. If he thinks that there are no savings to be made, I suggest that he refers to the Audit Commission report, which made it clear that better management of pay bills would save £500 million–5 per cent. of the whole pay bill.

Mr. Heald: Does my right hon. Friend agree that regional assemblies for England would be confusing, expensive and divisive? Does he accept that people in Hertfordshire do not want to be governed from Norwich? When he exposed that policy, the Labour party fell into confusion and chaos. Will he say today that we are not going to do it?

The Prime Minister: There certainly seems to be some confusion on the Opposition Benches about regional assemblies. Almost every statement about them that can be made has been made. As Labour examines its policy, it realises that it is the total nonsense that I pointed out some time ago.

Mr. Prescott indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; clearly he does not understand that his party’s policy is nonsense. When Labour examines its policies for Scottish and Welsh assemblies in further depth, it will find precisely the same.


Q2. Mr. McKelvey: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 March.

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

Mr. McKelvey: Has the Prime Minister no sense of shame at having dithered over obscene fat cat salaries, alienating low-paid workers in the health service, including nurses and midwives? Is not the right hon. Gentleman setting the scene for a summer of discontent throughout the NHS?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows very well that we have funded the health service better than any previous Government. That is clearly shown by the number of people treated in the national health service, the wider range of services and the better treatment that is available.


Q3. Mr. Patrick Thompson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 March.

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

Mr. Thompson: Bearing in mind the fact that this is national science, engineering and technology week, has my right hon. Friend had time today to read the encouraging report from engineering employers, which states that economic recovery is developing in a way that will increase national prosperity in the longer term? Is not that a tribute to Government economic policies, and is not this the right time for young people to go for a career in engineering?

The Prime Minister: I agree about that, and about the need to encourage more young people into engineering and more people into learning skills of that sort. That is why we established the non-vocational qualifications some time ago. In engineering and manufacturing generally exports are growing and employment is increasing; that has not happened in manufacturing generally for many years.


Q4. Mr. Alton: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 March.

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

Mr. Alton: I welcome the Government’s decision to provide £1 million for the clearing of anti-personnel mines in Cambodia. Is the Prime Minister aware, however, that there are 100 million anti-personnel mines strewn around the world, and that there have been 1 million casualties and fatalities, especially among children? Does he agree that the time is ripe for an international moratorium that would bring within its scope the area- denial mines that are still shipped out of this country? Will he not agree with the terms of the early-day motion, now supported by more than 100 hon. Members of all parties, urging the Government to give a moral lead?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the fact that he wished to raise a detailed question about land mines. We have neither produced nor exported anti-personnel mines for some years, and we have contributed generously to the demining programme. In July we announced an indefinite moratorium on exports from the United Kingdom of mines without a self-destruct mechanism. We shall be hoping to use the review in September of the UN weaponry convention to strengthen the protocol on the use of land mines and to ensure that its provisions gain universal support.

Mr. Allason: Will my right hon. Friend support a measure to make it a statutory requirement that all local authorities declare in their published budgets what is and what is not a statutory requirement and a statutory area of expenditure?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend suggests an ingenious method of ensuring that local authorities’ priorities are met. I shall invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to examine it.


Q5. Mrs. Bridget Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 March.

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

Mrs. Prentice: Can the Prime Minister tell us whether it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Home Secretary who is right about the feelgood factor?

The Prime Minister: The people who have most felt the feelgood factor thus far are the 600,000 people who are no longer on the unemployment register, as a result of the fall in unemployment. In terms of economic management, we are seeking to make sure that we come out of the recession of two years ago in a way that avoids laying the seeds of future difficulties, which were sown on many other occasions since the Second World War. Hence we have had to take long-term, difficult decisions; as a result we now have the best prospects of rising living standards, year after year, that we have had for many years. That will produce a very good feelgood factor.

Mr. Rathbone: Does my right hon. Friend accept that many Conservative Members share the qualms about land mines expressed by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), but that none of us will accept the fact that Liberal Democrat county councillors are not funding education as they can–particularly in East Sussex, where they resisted and voted against a Conservative amendment to the budget that would have provided the necessary funds for education in the county?

The Prime Minister: I was not aware of the example to which my hon. Friend has drawn my attention, but the rather cavalier use of taxpayers’ money by Liberal Democrat authorities is no new phenomenon.


Q6. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 March.

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

Mr. Sutcliffe: Is it not true, from what we have seen and heard, that there is no policy area apart from Northern Ireland about which the people of this country believe anything that you, Prime Minister, have to say? In education, the parents and teachers are against you. In health, the midwives have been moved to militancy. Is not the best thing that could happen to this Government who cannot agree among themselves that you should resign and that we should have an immediate election?

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is not addressing the House and the Prime Minister correctly. Would he like to try again? He has another minute.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I apologise, Madam Speaker, if I have not spoken in the language of the House, but I am expressing what I think the majority of British people feel.

The Prime Minister: Had the hon. Gentleman been in the House longer, he would have heard remarks like that put to me before the last general election.

Mr. Butcher: Will my right hon. Friend publish all the evidence, some of it garnered in response to hostile questions from Opposition Members, which shows beyond any doubt whatever that a reduction in the top rate of income tax has increased the proportion of tax paid as a total from the top 10 per cent., and that any proposal to increase the top rate of income tax will produce a shortfall in revenue which can then be obtained only from middle-income earners?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend sets out a matter that has been well understood for many years. I will certainly invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor to lay that information out in the House of Commons Library. It might be very instructive for the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is giggling on the Front Bench because he does not understand it.