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1991 - PMQT 27th June 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 27th June 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 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 have further meetings later today. This evening I shall depart for Luxembourg for the European Council meeting tomorrow.

Sir Michael Neubert : Does my right hon. Friend agree that a vast expansion of the Common Market regional fund would do little or nothing to bring about a convergence of the European economies, but would merely make the poorer parts of the Community dependent on hand-outs from Brussels? Is he able to say how much such a proposal, which is supported by the Labour party, would cost the average British family?

The Prime Minister : I am not able to give my hon. Friend a costing on that, because it would depend on the scale of the funds transferred from north to south, but I can confirm that expanding regional funds would certainly involve increased taxation in this country and in a number of other northern countries. The only credible way to bring about economic convergence is control of inflation and the right economic policies.

Mr. Kinnock : In view of the fact that the Bundesbank decided today not to raise German interest rates, does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time to cut British interest rates?

The Prime Minister : That is an odd question from the right hon. Gentleman, when the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said only last Thursday :

"we will not be using interest rates for controlling demand." Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister should try to answer a very basic question--especially since every responsible organisation and person concerned with the fate of British industry and British home buyers is calling for a reduction in interest rates. Did the Prime Minister read the reports published earlier this week from Shelter and the Council of Mortgage Lenders, stating that repossessions are at a record high, that hundreds of thousands of families are in deep mortgage arrears and that, in the words of the council's director, "Worse is yet to come"?

The Prime Minister's policies are hitting every class of people and every corner of the country--[ Hon. Members :-- "Speech."] Yes--on behalf of every mortgage payer in Britain. How can the Prime Minister justify continuing with policies that punish the British people for the failure of his own policy?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman neglected to mention that, because we have succeeded in reducing inflation and have moved prudently, we have been able to cut interest rates five times, by a total of 3.5 per cent., without risking an inflationary devaluation in the exchange rate mechanism. That has meant about £50 a month off the average mortgage for mortgage holders.

Mr. Kinnock : Unemployment is rising, firms are closing and the recovery about which we have heard so much is now going to take longer and be much slower than anything the Prime Minister has promised. How many more homes and how many more enterprises must be lost before the right hon. Gentleman stops pushing the country further into a slump?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should return to the real world and recognise the commitments that he made when he committed himself to the fact that the exchange rate mechanism was the right policy. On the one hand, the right hon. Gentleman wants to say that it is right to have exchange rate stability, but on the other he makes the inconsistent claim that he wishes to reduce interest rates whenever he finds it convenient to do so.


Q2. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mrs. Gorman : When my right hon. Friend goes to speak to the women's Conservative conference later this afternoon will he bear it in mind that its delegates are delighted with the measures that the Government have been taking to improve the lot of women? The steps that we have taken include flexible working hours, more flexible nursery arrangements and better tax arrangements. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government continue to acknowledge the great contribution that women make to this country, not least by increasing women's representation in the honours list --

[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. We do not refer to the honours list in the Chamber.

Mrs. Gorman : Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister realise that, in recommending women in this country for honours he assures the women of Britain that the Tory party is a girl's best friend?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, the vast range of policies that we have followed in the past few years clearly shows the importance that we give to the contribution made by women to this country. We shall continue to promote such policies.


Q3. Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mr. Mitchell : As the Prime Minister struggles to get his deck-chair up in a busy day of deck-chair wrestling, will he think about this week's trade figures, which show a large and increasing deficit? Can he cite any country which, when in the depths of a recession, showed an increasing balance of payments deficit?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman should know, first, the trade deficit is on an improving trend and secondly, the underlying export volumes in the quarter to May were at an all-time high--3 per cent. up on the previous quarter and double the rise in import volumes.


Q4. Mr. Mans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mr. Mans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is Conservative policies of competitive tendering, housing action trusts and the abolition of the national dock labour scheme that are coming to the aid of the city of Liverpool and clearing up the mess that successive Labour and Liberal administrations have inflicted on that city?

The Prime Minister : Conservative legislation certainly offers Liverpool a much better deal. What has happened to Liverpool has been because it followed Labour policies for so long--often, I fear, with the assistance of the Liberal party. The effects of that can be seen by everyone in Liverpool and beyond.


Q5. Mr. Morley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mr. Morley : What hope can the Prime Minister give to constituents who work for as little as £1.70 per hour? Why is it that under the Government boardroom fat cats like the chairman of Wessex Water have had their salaries increased from £47,000 to £100,000 per year while the charges for consumers have increased by 28 per cent? Is Majorism simply extortion by the few and exploitation of the many?

The Prime Minister : A few days ago I made perfectly clear my opinions of people who provide themselves with undesirably large increases. As for people on very low incomes, a minimum wage would leave them with no income but unemployment.

Mr. Peter Griffiths : Has my right hon. Friend had time today to note the report in the press of a Nottinghamshire miner who earned £35,000 last year, being among the one in three in that area who earned more than £20,000 last year, much to the credit of the miners, their union and their work rate? What would be the effect on that miner's take-home pay if the Labour party's spending plans were put into practice?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly aware of the very high earnings of many Nottinghamshire miners, which I welcome. Much of that is the result of increased productivity, and it is well earned. It is unfortunate that those miners would face extra taxation as a result of their hard work and success if the Opposition's tax policies were ever put into operation.


Q6. Mr. Fatchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mr. Fatchett : Further to the Prime Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has seen the report in today's issue of The Daily Telegraph that John Baker, the chief executive of National Power, has enjoyed an increase of £115,000 since 1 April, which is an 85 per cent. increase in his salary? The Prime Minister has condemned such increases. Will he use the powers in the Government's prospectus for the sale of National Power and PowerGen, or is the right hon. Gentleman yet again all talk and no action?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should read the prospectus more carefully. It makes it perfectly clear that we have given an undertaking not to interfere in the commercial decisions of a company. It is interesting to note that the hon. Gentleman thinks it a light matter to break the contract into which we have entered.


Q7. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mr. Coombs : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is widely accepted that minimum wage legislation would destroy upwards of 1 million jobs? Will he also confirm that such minimum wage legislation would have an impact upon the weakest in society--the disabled, the unskilled and the young, precisely those sectors of society which Labour professes to champion but which it is now so cynically betraying?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I think that the vast majority of people also agree with him. The latest staging post for the Opposition's stance on this matter was set out rather hilariously in a letter this morning from the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who said :

"I have not accepted that the minimum wage will cost jobs ... I have simply accepted that econometric models indicate a potential jobs impact".

Those words would make a weasel blush.

Mr. Wigley : Is the Prime Minister aware of the dismay in Wales last week when the Government published their Green Paper on the future structures of government? That dismay arose because there was nothing in the Green Paper about the all-Wales level of democracy, despite the fact that the Assembly of Welsh Counties, the Association of Welsh Districts and every political party in Wales except the Conservatives support that, and that three of the six Welsh Conservative Members also support such a policy. Will the Prime Minister look at this again to try to get some all- Wales democracy?

The Prime Minister : I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. As he knows, our policy has not been to go in the direction that he proposes. I shall examine and discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, but it is unlikely that we shall change our present posture.


Q8. Mr. Peter Bottomley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mr. Bottomley : Will my right hon. Friend turn his mind to the fate of 12-year-old Maria and 10-year-old Anna Gordievsky? Will he continue to take every opportunity to make plain to the President of the USSR, to visiting Russian Members of Parliament and to the world's press that one of the ways in which we shall judge the new USSR is whether the KGB will let those two young children come to Britain to join their father?

The Prime Minister : I assure my hon. Friend that I have personally taken this matter up with President Gorbachev in the past. I shall do so again when next we meet, and the matter is frequently raised by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary with his counterpart and at official level with the Soviet authorities.

Mr. McMaster : Is the Prime Minister aware that in a recent answer to a parliamentary question, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibilities for industry, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), revealed that 76 per cent. of manufacturing jobs in the Paisley postcode area had been lost between 1979 and 1989? He will be aware that things have become far worse since. Does he agree that that is an unacceptable level of economic and social disaster, or does he agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is a price well worth paying?

The Prime Minister : All levels of unemployment are a matter for distress and regret. The only way to ensure that we create jobs that are permanent and are sustained is to have the right economic policies to get inflation down, and to keep it down. There is no other way of ensuring job security for the future. It may sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is the right policy, and it is the policy to which we shall stick.


Q9. Mr. Cash : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 June.

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

Mr. Cash : Does my right hon. Friend accept that he will go to the summit tomorrow with the good wishes and goodwill of all Conservative Members? Given the clearly expressed views of the House yesterday and his own views against the federal super-state, does he agree that the Opposition abdicated their national duty by dividing the House on the matter yesterday?

The Prime Minister : I am always grateful to have my hon. Friend's support on these matters. I agree about the irrelevance and irresponsibility of the position that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen took yesterday. It was adequately described in many national newspapers this morning.