Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th January 1996.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West 12:00 am, 9th January 1996

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 January. [6368]

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

What democratic legitimacy has a Prime Minister who lost the last vote in the House, who has lost every by-election by a mile, and who is now being abandoned by some of his most honourable Members, including the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson), who is warmly welcomed to the Opposition Benches today? How can a party at war with itself provide good government? Is it not degrading of the Prime Minister to deny the country an election and the choice between an exhausted Tory Government and an invigorated young Labour party? They cannot command the confidence of the people. The powerful cry from this country's people to the Government is to go—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. There are others who want to ask the Prime Minister questions.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

The legitimacy might have something to do with the largest popular vote ever recorded at the last general election and a majority in the House.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke , City of London and Westminster South

In his busy life, did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity yesterday to read in The Times, in the series on aging, a self-analysis by a middle-class married woman, in which she identified seven what she called irritating little signs of the spiral towards death", and did he note that she placed at their heart having voted for the Liberal Democrats at the last general election?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

As a matter of fact, I am afraid that I did not see that article, and I am extremely sorry that I missed it.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield

Can the Prime Minister tell us what on earth possessed him to resurrect the idea of Post Office privatisation on Sunday? Is it not exactly because of policies such as that that his party is in disarray, that his Members of Parliament are defecting and that the country wants a change of Government?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has just had an extremely interesting trip to Japan. While he was there, he might have been better occupied if he had travelled on the privatised Japanese railway—a policy which he and his colleagues also oppose for this country. What the right hon. Gentleman, despite his rhetoric, does not in his heart understand is that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector—[interruption.] I am delighted to see the opposition to private ownership coming from Opposition Members. Private ownership enables people to have, if I may use the phrase, a stake in this country.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield

He can tell that to consumers of water and electricity. Is it not obvious that the only reason that Post Office privatisation is back on the agenda is to placate that faction of the Conservative party that wants to privatise anything and everything? Is it not precisely because the whole business of his Government is now about pleasing one faction or another of the Conservative party that the country has given up on the Conservatives as a serious party of government?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

For the right hon. Gentleman, who tries to tell the world that he is a moderniser who has brought his party into the 1990s, to oppose—as he does lock, stock and barrel—private ownership of industry in this country, when prices are falling and services are improving, shows the extent to which the glossy words he uses are not matched by what he really believes in.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield

If he is so keen and confident about privatising the Post Office, the Prime Minister should put it in his manifesto and call a general election to decide the matter.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

The right hon. Gentleman will have observed over the years that we have included in our manifesto many policies to which he and his party have objected, and we have won elections on those policies. He should say whether he will re-nationalise those industries that arc now in the private sector. What is the answer to that? He does not know and he cannot say, because, if he says yes, he upsets one half of his party and if he says no, he upsets the other half.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Assuming that my right hon. Friend has an extensive knowledge of the Bible, including the Old Testament and Genesis, will he ensure that the policies that he introduces do not enable the Cains of this generation to flourish any more than they did in biblical times?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I assure my hon. Friend that this party will remain the same centre-right broad church in the future as it has been throughout its history.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Is it not clear that the Prime Minister cannot stop his colleagues from squabbling however many warnings he gives them on television? Indeed, the Secretary of State for Defence now indulges in long-distance, intercontinental squabbling. As long as the Prime Minister has to face those elements in his party, he cannot address the concerns shared by thousands of people who voted for him last time, which were so clearly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson). Might he not now admit that the party is over for him?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I believe that the hon. Lady has made a decision that she will, in due course, come to regret, for reasons that I have set out in the past. She has made her decision and will have to live with it, both in the short term and in the long term.

Matters of concern for people in this country are mortgage rates, which are the lowest for 30 years; the basic rate of tax, which is the lowest for 50 years; unemployment, which is falling more rapidly here than anywhere else in Europe; and inflation, which is lower than it has been for 50 years. Those are matters about which the right hon. Gentleman used to attack the Conservative party some years ago; they are now being solved more successfully than they have been at any stage in the past. The right hon. Gentleman has no response to the economic prospects that now lie ahead of us.

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford

During his discussions this morning with the leader of the Spanish Opposition, did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to ask him why, after more than 10 years of socialism in Spain, that country still has the highest unemployment figures of western Europe?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

There is, of course, a close relationship across Europe between socialist Governments who have been in power for a long time, the level of social costs that they apply, the adoption of the social chapter and the unemployment levels in those countries. That is why we are so determined not to adopt those policies, but to ensure that our economic policies create jobs and do not destroy them for dogmatic reasons.