HC Deb 18 March 1993 vol 221 cc399-400
Ql. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 March.

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. Coombs

Does my right hon. Friend recall the agreement and the declaration on the environment reached in Rio last year, which achieved the support of all parties in the House and elsewhere? Does he not think it somewhat two-faced of those who support a cleaner environment in principle to reject any measures to achieve it in practice?

The Prime Minister

I cannot imagine who my hon. Friend may have in mind, but he is right. I seem to remember that after Rio we were attacked by more than one Opposition party for not going far enough on environmental matters. We made our commitment and we have now take action towards meeting it.

Mr. John Smith

Will the Prime Minister confirm that, as a result of his betrayal of his election promise not to increase taxes, a typical family will have to pay £8.50 per week in extra tax from next April and £12.50 per week in extra tax the following year?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is the wrong person to remind people about ditching election promises. As I reminded him on Tuesday, he said recently: We would be a very foolish party if we went into an election, say '95 or '96, with the same policies as '92. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] On his specific question, unlike the Labour party, we do not like raising taxes and we do it only when necessary. I said last year that we had no plans to raise taxes—nor did we—but we have an overriding commitment to return the deficit to balance and to take the action necessary to do that. In the Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor acted to meet that overriding commitment and in the interests of everyone in the country he was surely right to do so.

Mr. Smith

The country will have noted carefully that the Prime Minister did not deny that there will be an extra £8.50 per week of tax for a typical family next year and £12.50 per week the year after. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether people who qualify for income support, including millions of pensioners, will receive increases in benefit to cover in full the tax increases on their fuel bills?

The Prime Minister

I shall deal directly with the point, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman may care to reflect also upon this: does he or does he not agree with one of his Front-Bench spokesmen in another House—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must contain themselves. These interruptions only waste time.

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will reflect on whether he agrees with his noble Friend in another House who called for all zero-rated items to be subject to the full rate of value added tax. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with his noble Friend, or does he not?

As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question about the fuel increase, he should have read carefully what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech. My right hon. Friend made it absolutely clear that there will be extra help for less well off pensioners and other people on low incomes. They will get that help from next April, before the higher fuel bills come in. That help will be additional to the future increase in pensions and other benefits which will take place automatically. Cold weather payments will also be adjusted to reflect increases in fuel costs. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has also neglected to welcome the fact that fuel prices have dropped since privatisation and that further reductions were announced this very morning.

Mr. Smith

The country will have noticed that the Prime Minister can never give a straight answer to a straight question. The country will also find it shameful that he cannot give a clear commitment to meet in full the increase in taxes for the most vulnerable members of our society. He has no conscience at all about short changing the poor as well as betraying his election commitments?

The Prime Minister

What the country may have noticed today, of all days, is that on this occasion the right hon. and learned Gentleman made no mention of and gave no welcome to the fall in unemployment. Neither has he mentioned the substantial real incomes increase in pensions; neither has he mentioned the uprating next April, or the fact that we have not taken back the money put in the base line for the community charge which pensioners will no longer have to pay. None of these and other matters have apparently occurred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.