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1991 - PMQT 13th June 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 13th June 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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. Amess : Does my right hon. Friend agree with many of my constituents in Basildon that although the Labour party talked about European reform when it was in power, it achieved nothing? Will my right hon. Friend continue to negotiate in the interests of this country within the European Community, as we have done so successfully in the past?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The budget rebate negotiated by the present Government was very welcome. Nothing whatever in terms of budget rebates was negotiated by the predecessor Government. I believe strongly that it is in our national interest to negotiate within Europe and to reach a conclusion that will enable the whole Community to go forward together. That clearly is the best prize for us and for the Community, and it is what we will seek to achieve.

Mr. Kinnock : Is not it now clear that rising unemployment and deep recession provide the most accurate definition of Majorism?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that I am as concerned about getting unemployment down as anyone else in the House. The way in which to get unemployment down is to ensure that we get on top of inflation, as we are, and that wage demands and settlements begin to come down, as they are, so that the economy can yet again begin to grow. In the period of Conservative Government, there has been a great increase in the number of people in work and increasingly, as inflation falls, that will return to being the case.

Mr. Kinnock : Today's figures are the worst May unemployment figures on record and they are the direct result of the Prime Minister's policies. Faced with that, is he still willing to say to the 2.25 million people who are now without jobs that their unemployment is a price worth paying?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should stop using the unemployed as political pawns-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : He does so not only in the way in which he conducts his politics, but in the way in which he frames his policies. He knows that Labour's job tax would cost more jobs, he knows that the social action programme that Labour supports would cost more jobs, he knows that Labour's strikers' charter would cost more jobs and he knows that Labour's minimum wage would cost more jobs. He is the last person in the House to lecture about unemployment.

Mr. Kinnock : In the six months since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, unemployment-- [Interruption.] I know that the Government do not want to hear about unemployment, but in the six months since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, unemployment in the United Kingdom has gone up by half a million. Is it not obvious that that is the true price of Majorism? It is a price not worth paying.

The Prime Minister : In the six months since I became Prime Minister, the inflation rate has fallen from 10.9 to 6.4 per cent., interest rates have fallen from 15 to 11.5 per cent. and, as the right hon. Gentleman should know, unemployment in his constituency is 38 per cent. lower than it was at the last election.


Q2. Mrs. Maureen Hicks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Mrs. Hicks : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, under his leadership, the London economic summit will be an excellent opportunity to give impetus to the political and economic reforms of the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister : I agree with that proposition. Yesterday I had the opportunity to discuss the reforms in the Soviet Union with the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, and an extremely useful and worthwhile discussion it was. He brought with him a message from President Gorbachev reaffirming his commitment to political and economic reform. I am pleased to be able to say that, after consulting the leaders of the other countries in the Group of Seven, I today invited President Gorbachev to London for discussions with the Group of Seven immediately following the London summit. I also invited him to stay on at the end of the London summit for bilateral discussions. I regret-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a very important matter.

The Prime Minister : Most people would have thought it important, but apparently not Opposition Members.

I propose to take the opportunity of discussing with President Gorbachev when he is here, all matters, including those of bilateral interest and the changes in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister recall telling us on Tuesday that he would speak his mind in future? Will he speak his mind today and tell us plainly, when his right hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury says that the Prime Minister is opposed-- [Interruption.] When the right hon. Member for Cirencester-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It was an understandable mistake.

Mr. Ashdown : When the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) says that the Prime Minister is opposed not only to the imposition of a single European currency, but to the principle of a single European currency, is he correct?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) can speak for himself ; I have spoken for myself repeatedly on the subject. I have made it crystal clear to the House on a number of occasions that there is no question whatsoever of the imposition of a single currency on the House without the agreement of the House. That is, and remains, the position.

Mr. Charles Wardle : As we move towards closer European co- operation, does my right hon. Friend agree that we all need to improve our skills in languages, perhaps even in double Dutch, so that we can translate the gibberish spoken on Europe by the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Speaker : Order. I have not heard any double Dutch--let us deal with the first part of the question.

The Prime Minister : I certainly agree that it would be advisable to improve skills in languages, which is something that I very much hope will happen among our young people. As to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, even if they were translated, I am not sure that they would be worth reading.


Q3. Mr. William Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Mr. Ross : Since the other major parties seem to agree that the United Kingdom ought to have a single currency and that there should be a federal Europe, does the Prime Minister agree that the Government have a responsibility to inform the citizens of this country of the consequences that would flow from that? Will the Government fulfil that responsibility and ensure that those issues form a major part of their manifesto--and of any referendum that might have to follow?

The Prime Minister : I have spoken precisely about the impact of a single currency on this country on a number of occasions--not least when I set out our own plans for the hard ecu some months ago.

Mr. David Martin : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, on his statement yesterday guaranteeing the rights of parents to see their children's schools' examination results? Does not that extend choice--which is at the heart of the Government's reforms, but which is still hotly opposed by Labour?

The Prime Minister : I certainly welcome that announcement, for parents have a right to know that information. In future, they will know it.


Q4. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Mr. McAllion : Since the Audit Commission reported this week that it costs the public purse £15 a time to collect an average amount of just £6 from those persons who are liable to pay 20 per cent. of their poll tax, does the Prime Minister agree that, as well as oppressing the poor, the 20 per cent. rule is a waste of scarce public resources? Will he announce this afternoon that he intends to follow the commission's advice and abolish the 20 per cent. contribution?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman produces only a partial comment from the Audit Commission. He neglects to mention that it supports strongly the Government's aim of implementing the new council tax, which meets many of the objectives that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Thornton : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's compulsory competitive tendering legislation is being completely ignored in Liverpool? Is he further aware that the council has admitted to lying about the figures, spending £1 million more on one contract alone than was necessary? That is not the work of Militant Tendency, but of the so-called moderate Labour party.

The Prime Minister : I am not entirely sure where the so-called moderate Labour party might be these days. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend makes an important point. Councils should use competitive tendering to improve efficiency and to provide the best service to their council taxpayers. As Councillor Keva Coombs said, to some effect :

"The council's problems are not down to resources. It costs four times more to pick up a piece of litter in Liverpool than it does in other areas."

That is Labour government in practice at local level.


Q5. Mr. Illsley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Mr. Illsley : Is the Prime Minister aware that the unemployment statistics released this morning include a number of pub licensees who have been forced out of their public houses, and possibly on to the dole, because they cannot afford the massive rent increases imposed on them by the brewing industry? Will the Prime Minister re-examine the Government's policy towards the brewing industry and the sale of beer, to prevent the wholesale eviction of pub tenants?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will know of the views of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and I have nothing further to add.

Mr. Andy Stewart : It is six years since the coal industry dispute ended. Over that period, the miners of this country have broken their productivity record no fewer than 50 times, and their pay has increased 68 per cent.--making the miners of this country, as defined by the Labour party, super-rich. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate British miners on those achievements, and confirm that he will never, ever, tax their earnings at the rate of 59 per cent. as Labour proposes to do?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm that point to my hon. Friend. I can also confirm for him that we do not regard the super-rich as starting on an income of around £20,000 per year as the Opposition do.


Q6. Mr. Nellist : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Mr. Nellist : Is the Prime Minister aware of the case that I took up two and a half months ago with the Secretary of State for Health of the death of Dr. Robin Senior who started work at Epsom district hospital on 1 February, worked 110 out of the next 138 hours and died on Thursday 7 February? Will the Prime Minister confirm that today's wholly inadequate agreement on a 72-hour working week for junior doctors will not come in until 1997? How many more junior doctors have to die or suffer stress- related illnesses before that is brought down to a sane level?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman's party is pledged to spend no more money on the health service, he is in no position to criticise what is in fact a considerable improvement both for patients and for doctors. As soon as practicable, junior doctors' hours will be reduced to an average of 83 a week, or fewer by the end of 1994. Those working in the busiest areas will have a maximum on-call average of 72 hours a week. That is not the time that they actually work ; it is the time that they are on call. It is a substantial reduction and if the hon. Gentleman were not so mealy-mouthed he would welcome it.