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1992 - PMQT 23rd January 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 23rd January 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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. Barnes : The Prime Minister has cut 110,000 training places in the past year. Furthermore, training schemes do not produce the skills or the qualifications for the jobs that are needed in Britain at this time. Is that because, as the Prime Minister said in another interview with Sue Lawley, from his point of view qualifications "are wholly useless"?

The Prime Minister : Despite the unfavourable economic climate, both youth training and employment training continue to help young and unemployed people on a very substantial scale to go into further training and further education. Very large numbers of young people are being helped. We are investing enormous sums in training, in enterprise and in vocational education--two and a half times as much, after taking account of inflation, as was invested by the Labour party when it was last in government.


Romford (Visit)

Q2. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Prime Minister whether he has any plans to make an official visit to Romford.

The Prime Minister : I am making a series of visits to all parts of the country, and very much hope to include Essex among them.

Sir Michael Neubert : Will my right hon. Friend be assured that any time that he cares to come to Romford, Essex men and Essex women will throng the streets in their thousands? In the meantime, will he give my constituents an assurance that he welcomes the report of the three wise men on primary education, and that the Government fully subscribe to the importance of the three Rs? Will he confirm that it is our top priority to get back to the basics in education and to sweep away the leftist progressive teaching methods that, having been put to the test, have failed?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend couches his invitation to visit Essex in irresistible terms.

The report that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State published yesterday is extremely important. It challenges some of the teaching methods that have been used in recent years and it suggests that schools should concentrate on commonsense, practical teaching. I believe that that is what parents want and that it is the best way to ensure that children are taught the essentials. We certainly hope that both schools and teachers will adopt the proposals in the report.


Engagements

Q3. Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

Mr. Taylor : The Prime Minister will be well aware of the appalling environmental problems in the Fal estuary arising from the water pollution after the closure of the Wheal Jane mine. I do not think that people in Cornwall want to allocate blame at the moment, but they do want to ensure that the environmental clean-up is carried out both in the short term and the long term without hold-ups. Will the Prime Minister ensure that there are no financial problems at any stage in ensuring that the long-term and short-term clean-ups take place?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, we set up the National Rivers Authority specifically to respond in the first instance to the sort of pollution incidents to which he refers--this one is a very serious incident. The NRA has been closely monitoring the situation since the mine closed. It had developed contingency plans before the incident and put them into effect when water in the mine began to overflow. I am sure that the NRA considers that it will be able to deal with the problem with the resources that it has.


Q4. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

Mr. Coombs : Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports from the German chambers of commerce which show that German industry has invested £7.8 billion in this country in recent years? Does not that demonstrate that low taxation, low inflation and good industrial relations are the basis for strong investment, including inward investment; and does it not also show that the future of this country is excellent under this Government?

The Prime Minister : I have seen the report to which my hon. Friend refers. I have also seen the important comments of the CBI, which set out the fact that Britain now attracts nearly half of all the inward investment from Japan that comes to the European Community. I believe that, by investing here, German and Japanese companies and those of other countries have shown their confidence in the British economy. It is a shame that some of the gloom and doom-mongers in this country do not share that confidence.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister confirm that under his Government the British economy is in its longest recession since the second world war?

The Prime Minister : I will confirm to the right hon. Gentleman, as I am sure that he will be pleased to hear what the European Community has to say, that the United Kingdom is the only country where signals of a sustained economic recovery are discernible, by contrast with a tendency towards gradual slackening of growth continuing in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Mr. Kinnock : Slightly closer to home, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the British chambers of commerce today report that this is the seventh consecutive quarter in which the United Kingdom economy has suffered from recession, with levels of economic activity continuing to decline? Is not it clear that the recession caused by the Prime Minister's policies is continuing because of the Prime Minister's paralysis?

The Prime Minister : The British chambers of commerce are clearly wrong about the seventh consecutive quarter. That would imply that the recession started in the second quarter of 1990, which it clearly did not, because output rose between the first and second quarters of 1990.

I notice also that the president of the chambers of commerce said that British industry and commerce were on

"an improving trend of slowly and steadily climbing out of the recession".

Mr. Kinnock : Will not the Prime Minister refer to the report and listen to the voices of business and commerce from all over the country when they say :

"A worsening position on employment expectations,"--

higher job losses--

"and a major down-grading of business confidence, however, give no cause for comfort in this survey"?

How can the Prime Minister be so complacent and so indolent when he is receiving advice that something now needs to be done?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman was clearly not listening. I quoted from the president of that particular group of chambers of commerce. The report itself says :

"an improving trend of slowly and steadily climbing out of the recession."

The right hon. Gentleman should look at other surveys and forecasters. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund both forecast recovery. What is equally clear among business men is that they have no enthusiasm whatever for a Labour Government. A survey of the top hundred British companies showed that 63 per cent. of them believed that recession would get worse under a Labour Government, and not one of them believed that it would get better.

Sir Robin Maxwell-Hyslop : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to tell the House of the decision made yesterday to restore to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the gold deposited for safe keeping in the Bank of England but misappropriated by the then Labour Government with the support in the Division Lobby of the leader and Chief Whip of the Liberal party at that time?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that when I met President Landsbergis yesterday I was able to indicate that we would be returning the gold. As the House well knows, the Labour Government in 1967 ordered the gold to be sold. The then Conservative Opposition roundly opposed that, and I am delighted that this Conservative Government have been able to correct that smear of dishonour.


United Nations

Q5. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to pay an official visit to the United Nations.

The Prime Minister : I shall chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on 31 January.

Mr. Cryer : Will the Prime Minister confirm that 140 nations have signed the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty, including Tory Canada? Why cannot this Tory Government honour their pledge under the treaty to get rid of nuclear weapons, which will mean the withdrawal of Polaris--which is literally cracking up--and the saving of £10 billion on Trident, to be spent on the national health service to care for lives instead of threatening them with mass murder? If nuclear non-proliferation- -

Hon. Members : More, more.

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is very unseemly.

Mr. Cryer : Quite so, Mr. Speaker.

If nuclear non-proliferation is good enough for the rest of the world, why is not it good enough for us?

The Prime Minister : We seek to promote non-proliferation and disarmament, and that will be one of the matters to be discussed at the United Nations Security Council meeting that I shall chair next week. But I must say to the hon. Gentleman who suggests that it would be appropriate at present for this country to scrap its nuclear weapons and Trident that to do so would leave the country wholly defenceless. That may be the view of the hon. Gentleman. It may even be the view of right hon. Gentlemen opposite in their secret hearts. It is not the right policy for this country, it is not the policy of the Government and I hope that the Opposition will make clear how many of their members support that policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament rather than a policy of secure defences for this country.

Mr. Bellingham : When my right hon. Friend visits the United Nations, will he raise the issue of the RAF aircrew who were shot down over the Gulf, some of whom came from west Norfolk? They were tortured, humiliated and abused in gross contravention of the Geneva convention. Is it time that the perpetrators of the crime were brought to justice?

The Prime Minister : I strongly share the view expressed by my hon. Friend. I do not think that it is a matter for discussion at the special Security Council meeting next week ; it is certainly a matter which remains on our agenda.


Engagements

Q6. Mr. Douglas : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

Mr. Douglas : The Prime Minister's view of an expanded Europea, Community, composed of many states in eastern Europea together with existing members, is extremely attractive, but will he contrast that with the instability within the United Kingdom because the aspirations of a nationwide Scotland are frustrated by its being unable to secure its independence and membership of the Community? Will he take steps to have that issue ventilated in a multi-question referendum of the people, which could perhaps be held in harmony with the general election?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he had to say about the European Community. That is the right way forward for this country, the European Community and the wider Europe which I hope in due course will join the Community. The hon. Gentleman spoke about devolution. The Union has served Scotland and England well. In terms of a debate, he will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has called for debates in the Scottish Grand Committee and I hope that everyone will contribute to them.


Q7. Mr. Mans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

Mr. Mans : Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to increase the top limit on national insurance contributions because of the plight in which that would place many of my constituents and people in neighbouring Blackpool who earn under £15,000 a year but during the holiday season earn more than £400 a week?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will need no such encouragement. The policy suggested by my hon. Friend would hit many people on modest incomes who have bonus or overtime earnings and who occasionally earn above £390 a week. Such an impost would be quite contrary to the policies of the Government and the Conservative party and we shall not introduce any such policy.