HC Deb 02 March 1995 vol 255 cc1178-9
Q 1. Mr. Maclennan

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 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. Maclennan

As the Prime Minister failed last night to persuade his campaign manager—the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of Maastricht—on Europe, how can he hope to persuade anyone else? Will the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) be joining those without a Whip, or will they join him within the ranks of the anti-Europeans in the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister

What has piqued the hon. Gentleman is that I managed to persuade a sufficient number of people into my Lobby to win the vote.

Mr. Devlin

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Lloyds bank survey of the north of England which shows that one third of all businesses in the region expect to take on additional staff in the next three months? Is he also aware that there has been a 13 per cent. drop in unemployment in the neighbouring constituency of Sedgefield? Why do we never hear any of that from the Member who represents that constituency?

The Prime Minister

I am pleased to hear about the drop in unemployment in Sedgefield, although I thought that it had fallen by 16 per cent. I am delighted to see unemployment dropping throughout the United Kingdom, and we intend to pursue policies which ensure that it will continue to drop.

Mr. Blair

In the light of yet another report today on an excessive pay package in a privatised monopoly and of his own threat on Tuesday to legislate, will the right hon. Gentleman back an amendment to the Gas Bill a week on Monday that would give the regulator the power to cut prices where pay deals are excessive? Would that not send the clearest possible signal to the utilities that the game is up?

The Prime Minister

I set out the position clearly to the right hon. Gentleman on Tuesday, and he should know that the role of the regulator is to protect the interests of the consumer. I do not propose to extend that role. The regulators are introducing competition and bearing down on prices. As to the underlying premise of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I set out that we shall wait and see the report from Sir Richard Greenbury and his colleagues. We shall then take action upon that, including legislative back-up if that is required.

Mr. Blair

Does the Prime Minister not know that the Greenbury committee has said that it will not propose any legislation and its report will not be out for months? Furthermore, its main recommendations will not affect the abuses in the privatised monopolies. The anger is now, the abuses are now: why will he not act now to put an end to the abuses?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's assertions are, frankly, wrong. I made clear the other day the subjects that I believe need addressing—the need for complete and open disclosure over remuneration and the need to ensure that bonuses and share options are firmly based on company performance. Those subjects need consideration. When we have recommendations that cover those, we shall consider them, and I have made it clear that, if necessary, we shall provide legislative back-up. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that it is both necessary and desirable to wait until we have that report and that information so that we can consider what action is necessary.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the debate on Europe and the single currency yesterday? In columns 1053 and 1056 of Hansard, the leader of a political party dealt with interventions by one of my right hon. Friends, first, by saying that he would give way, but not doing so, and, secondly, by accusing him of inconsistency? Is there not a lesson in that on how to get people to vote on our side by treating them with less courtesy than the Labour party? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister

We had an excitable day yesterday and perhaps we can have a little more calm today, Madam Speaker. The debate yesterday was very revealing in a number of respects. It was revealing because of what the leader of the Liberal party had to say, and it was also very revealing because a number of Labour Members flatly contradicted assertions in the speech by the leader of the Labour party. He was open enough to admit that his party was split and his party was generous enough to show precisely that in the speeches that Labour Members subsequently made.