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1992 - PMQT 14th January 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th January 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Douglas : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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.

Mr. Douglas : Will the Prime Minister take some time today to examine his pledge not to turn his back on Lanarkshire? Will he give a clear indication of the earnestness of that pledge by agreeing to meet the shop stewards of Dalzell plant, who have indicated that they have a plan guaranteeing the effectiveness of their own plant, together with continued steel production in Scotland? Does he accept that he has an obligation to honour that pledge by examining every possible avenue to maintain steel production in Scotland, and in particular not to turn his back on a plan which has shown great effectiveness?

The Prime Minister : I made my position clear in Scotland some time ago. We certainly would not abandon the people of north Lanarkshire. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we shall be seeking agreement from the European Community to establish an enterprise zone such as those which, in other parts, have been very successful. He will also know that in the past year we have provided about £120 million extra assistance for north Lanarkshire through the Scottish Enterprise fund, East Kilbride development corporation, the iron and steel employees readaption benefit scheme, the Scottish Development Agency and much else. I am sure that either my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment or my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be happy to meet the shop stewards in Dalzell.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, at a time of great international instability, the whole country welcomes his decision as chairman of the United Nations Security Council to call a meeting of that council later this month? Does not the acceptance of his invitation by President Bush, President Yeltsin, President Mitterrand and other world leaders prove the importance of that meeting? Is it not an insult to world leaders that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) should describe that as grubbing around for a photo opportunity?

The Prime Minister : We have had a very favourable response from Heads of Government, all of whom share our view that the meeting offers a unique opportunity to reinforce the role of the United Nations as a peacemaker and peacekeeper, to look at the role that they can play in both disarmament and non-proliferation, and to reinforce the role that they can play in terms of improving good government and human rights records in a large number of countries. There has been unanimous acceptance by Heads of State and Government among Security Council members to attend. I hope and believe that it will be a useful and worthwhile occasion.


Q2. Mr. Bidwell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

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

Mr. Bidwell : Is the Prime Minister aware that conflicting views about the future of the railways are coming from No. 10 Downing street and from the Secretary of State for Transport? It is said that the Prime Minister has a view. May the House hear it today? There is an old saying, "This is no way to run a railway"--I suggest that this is no way to run a Government either.

The Prime Minister : On a non-controversial note, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his 75th birthday today.

We are discussing within government the right way to take forward the privatisation of British Railways. Our aim is to ensure that passengers get a better deal as a result. We believe that the way to do that is to expose the railways to private sector disciplines. That is what we are discussing. In due course, when we have discussed the detail of how that will be brought about, we shall make a public statement.

Mr. Lawrence : Since raising the quality of life of the British people is one of the main aims of my right hon. Friend's Government, can we count on his support for my National Lottery Bill?

The Prime Minister : An important debate on my hon. and learned Friend's Bill is scheduled for this Friday. The Under Secretary of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), will make the Government's position clear in that debate.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to confirm that it is still his view that, as he put it in his own words just a few weeks ago,

"tax cuts in the Budget"

would be "unwise", would "recreate problems" and would be "fools' gold"?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has been misled. What I said in the interview in Harare, from which he has quoted, was that a reduction in interest rates just to stimulate the economy would be fools' gold--as it would be. However, to help the right hon. Gentleman, I went on to add that if there was a prospect of tax reductions, we would take it and give people the opportunity to spend their money in their own interests.

Mr. Kinnock : Everyone will have the opportunity to check the words used in that interview and everyone will have the opportunity to ask why, if those words are so wrong, they have not been corrected before now. Does not the Prime Minister recall saying in precise terms that tax cuts in the Budget before the election--as he is precisely quoted as saying--would be "unwise", would "recreate problems", would be "unfair", would "hurt" people and would be "economic tricks"-- [Interruption.] Is it not clear-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : As the hopes of Conservative Members fade, so their voices grow louder.

Is it not clear that what was fools' gold in October is fools' gold in January and would be fools' gold in March?

The Prime Minister : As I said to the right hon. Gentleman a moment ago--clearly, he was not listening --the quotation that he used refers to a reduction in interest rates, not to a reduction in taxation. The right hon. Gentleman can check the quote--perhaps he should have done so before using it inaccurately. When it is prudent to make tax reductions, we shall make them, because we believe that people are better able to look after their own interests with their own money than any Government, however benevolent, would be. It is the right hon. Gentleman's policy to increase taxation. He proposes the sharpest increases in taxes that we have had in peacetime since the war. That is expressly not the policy of this Government.

Mr. Kinnock : The right hon. Gentleman heads the Government who have imposed the highest tax burden in history on British families. He is the head of the party of high taxation. Why has he not the courage to stand by the words that he gave to his interviewer just a few months ago?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should not repeat what he has twice been told is incorrect. If he is concerned about the level of taxation, he might perhaps explain to the country why he proposes to increase the rate of taxation if given the chance. He might also explain why his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has suggested a luxury rate of value added tax, after all that the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), has said in recent weeks.

Mr. Mills : Does my right hon. Friend recall those heady days in the early 1980s when, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), we changed industrial relations law? That has led to fewer days lost due to industrial action in Britain than in many of our competitor countries in Europe and abroad. Has my right hon. Friend read the recent report? Has he any comments? Will he continue to change industrial relations legislation to take further the Conservative progress which has helped democracy within trade unions and reduced the number of days lost to strikes?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt that, as a result of the trade union reforms in the last decade, we have a far better record of industrial relations than our competitors elsewhere or than previously in Britain. When and where appropriate, we shall continue to make further improvements.


Q3. Mr. Fraser : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

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

Mr. Fraser : Has the Prime Minister noted the remarks of the Minister for Public Transport about one class of service for business men and another, cheap and cheerful class of service, for typists? Despite the Minister's apology, does not that statement, accurately sum up the Government's policy on public services such as housing, education and health? The cheap and cheerful version of the service is hardly ever likely to be used by Cabinet Ministers or their families.

The Prime Minister : That is uncharacteristic, and I would not have expressed myself as my hon. Friend did. My hon. Friend has subsequently made it clear that he regrets expressing his views in that way. If every politician in government or opposition were forced to apologise for injudicious remarks, few of us would be doing anything else.


Q4. Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

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

Mr. Brown : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that as a result of discussions between the American company Kimberley Clarke and the Department of Trade and Industry, it is likely that a factory employing 800 people is to be built in my constituency? Can my right hon. Friend give some indication of the DTI investment and the number of jobs to be created? Will he confirm that that is Conservative industrial policy working to the benefit of my constituency in particular and the country in general?

The Prime Minister : I am delighted to hear of the proposed investment and job creation in my hon. Friend's constituency. The amount of grant offered is, of course, a confidential matter between the Department and the company. On the other specific questions that my hon. Friend asks, I will make inquiries and write to him. He is entirely right that inward investment is created by the right policies of deregulation and low taxation. The enormous amount of inward investment that we have seen in recent years would be lost if those policies were reversed.

Mr. Ashdown : Further to the Prime Minister's previous answer, does he not realise that, while he and his Chancellor argue about the Budget, and while his Cabinet is split on the matter, there is widespread public support for the view that at this time investment in the nation's future should come before cuts in the basic rates of tax? Is the Prime Minister saying that he disagrees with that view?

The Prime Minister : I agree entirely with the importance of investment. Where I might disagree with the right hon. Gentleman is that I do not believe that investment is increased by increasing taxes.


Q5. Mr. Squire : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 January.

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

Mr. Squire : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the prospect of a dictator or an irresponsible third-world country acquiring any of the 27,000 nuclear weapons previously controlled by the Soviet Union is literally a terrifying thought? Against that background, does he further agree that to maintain Britain's nuclear deterrent is as important and essential today as it ever has been?

The Prime Minister : I do agree with my hon. Friend on that point. The end of the Soviet empire creates a large number of opportunities, but also some dangers. We have to be prepared for both. The diminished threat to NATO gives us the opportunity to make prudent reductions in defence, but they must be prudent and it would at this stage be imprudent to lift our nuclear shield in any way.

Mr. Faulds : Why did the Prime Minister not have the courtesy to respond to a pre-Christmas appeal by Church leaders that he should make a statement-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Faulds rose--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The House is becoming disorderly.

Mr. Faulds rose--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has as much right to express his view as any other Member of the House.

Mr. Faulds : Hon. Members seem embarrassed by good works. Why did the Prime Minister not have the courtesy to respond to a pre-Christmas appeal by Church leaders for him to make a statement urging stores not to break the Sunday trading laws? Did he simply lack the moral courage?

The Prime Minister : I have indicated the Government's position on Sunday trading laws in the House on a number of occasions. I am interested to note the hon. Gentleman's concern on behalf of the Churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury did not mention it to me on new year's day when we had lunch together.