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1992 - PMQT 28th January 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 28th January 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Ronnie Campbell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 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. Campbell : Is the Prime Minister aware that people in my constituency of Blyth Valley eagerly await the RECHAR money? As there is a split in his Cabinet will he get off his backside, stop swanning around that desert island and have the money paid?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the RECHAR money has been paid by Britain into the European Community and that we should have it back. I hope that Commissioner Millan will release it speedily.

Sir William Shelton : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that we already see benefits flowing from the citizens charter? I refer, for instance, to shorter hospital waiting lists and to school performance league tables. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what future benefits--proven benefits--the people of this country will see flowing from the citizens charter?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are determined to get the best possible value for the enormous amount of public money that is available at present. In addition to the improved information and guidance systems that we have already set up, there will be much more flexible opening hours in the case of tax offices, benefits offices and employment service offices, and a much more detailed and personal service for the taxpayer, who has the cost of those services compulsorily extracted in taxes from his or her pocket.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister now give a categoric assurance that he will not impose any increase in VAT? Will he please answer yes or no?

The Prime Minister : We have no plans to increase value added tax.

Mr. Kinnock : Why cannot the Prime Minister give a straight answer to a straight question? Is he aware that the words he has just used are exactly the same as those that were used by his predecessor just before her Government increased VAT? Why cannot he tell us now what his plans are? Or is he trying to forget that the Government have increased VAT five times in 13 years? Is not that why everyone has good reason to know that Tory Governments mean higher VAT?

The Prime Minister : There will be no VAT increase. Unlike the Labour party, we have published our spending plans and there is no need for us to raise VAT to meet them. So that the right hon. Gentleman is in no doubt, I tell him that I have no plans to raise the top rate of tax or the level of national insurance contributions.

Mr. Kinnock : It is time that the Prime Minister came clean with the country. In view of the record of Conservative Governments in always putting up VAT and in view of the Prime Minister's promises on other aspects of policy, how can he pretend that his intention is not to put up VAT? Do not a Tory Government make VAT rises a certainty?

The Prime Minister : Before the right hon. Gentleman carries that fib any further, does he recall a further and earlier prediction about value added tax? I quote :

"Labour foresees 60 per cent. VAT. VAT could rise to 60 per cent. if radical tax changes are introduced by a new Tory Government." The right hon. Gentleman may recall that prediction by his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) before the previous election. That was also the time when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook claimed that Labour would win by a landslide in the 1987 election. He was wrong on both points then and he is wrong now.

Mr. Gerald Bowden : Does my right hon. Friend agree--

[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to settle down.

Mr. Bowden : Does my right hon. Friend agree-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Bowden : Does my right hon. Friend agree that a party's commitment to public services is best judged by its record in government? Will my right hon. Friend consult our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ascertain who controls the 20 authorities that have the highest community charge, the highest rent arrears and more vacant properties than any other authorities? Does my borough of Southwark feature among them?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a sound and fair point. All too often, Labour-controlled councils provide shoddy services at far too high a cost. I well recall the Opposition saying, "If you wish to see what a Labour Government would be like, look at Labour local government."

Mr. Ashdown : On the subject of predictions, and while the Prime Minister reflects today on the gloomy report by the Confederation of British Industry, does he recall on new year's day this year saying on Radio 4 that in retrospect, we would look back and say that the economic recovery had already started? In retrospect, does the Prime Minister agree that he might spend less time talking up false economic dawns and more time taking action for economic recovery?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is becoming a professional gloom monger. When we look back to the present, it will be perfectly clear that in many sectors of the economy, the recovery has indeed started.

Mr. Onslow : Does my right hon. Friend remember that when the investment income surcharge was abolished in 1984, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer described it as an unfair and anomalous tax on savings and on the rewards of personal enterprise? What would he say today to anyone who was stupid enough to recommit himself to reintroducing it, as Labour has done?

The Prime Minister : I would certainly find that extraordinary. I would find it even more extraordinary from a party that claims to care about investment, yet clearly has no understanding that investment comes from savings.


Q2. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 January.

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

Mr. Livingstone : Given the commitment in the citizens charter to parental choice in education, will the Prime Minister agree to meet a small delegation of parents from William Gladstone school which has an excellent academic record and an expanding roll but which faces closure as Brent council wishes to sell the school because of its site value?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be happy to see the hon. Member concerned.

Mr. Michael Morris : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greatest service he can continue to do for the British public is to keep inflation below 5 per cent? Is he further aware that the public remembers that inflation under Labour was 15 per cent., 20 per cent. and 25 per cent? In order to keep the level of inflation down, will he have a look at what is happening with the six major grocery chains, the increased share of the margins that they are getting and the fact that their margins are now twice the level found in the major grocery chains throughout Europe?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend says, inflation is low and we are determined that it will stay low. He will recall that inflation never fell below 7.4 per cent., and that for only a very brief period, while the Labour party was in Government.

I will certainly look at the point that my hon. Friend has mentioned.


Q3. Ms Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 January.

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

Ms Hoey : Before the Prime Minister retires to his desert island, taking with him his Trollope and a very large section of my constituency-- without my permission--will he give a clear and simple statement about what he will offer to pensioners so that they can retire with some luxury? Will he match Labour's commitment to pensions?

The Prime Minister : A commitment to pensions means nothing if it is not matched by a commitment to low inflation.

Mr. Devlin rose--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member has not asked a question of the Prime Minister for many months, and not in this Session, unlike some other hon. Members, now shouting "Marginal seat."

Mr. Devlin : Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to look at the study in The Financial Times on 6 January which pointed to the fact that the northern region has very much benefited from the economic restructuring of the 1980s and is now coming out of recession faster than any other part of the country, due to the success of the regeneration programmes that the Government have put in place in the region?

The Prime Minister : I have seen that myself in visits to the north. There is no doubt that the north has seen the start of many good things in this country and I am certain that it will be the same again with the economic recovery.


Q4. Mr. McKelvey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 January.

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

Mr. McKelvey : Can the Prime Minister confirm that last Wednesday he had lunch with Lord Rothermere? Did he take the opportunity on that occasion to co-ordinate the campaign of lies and vilification that the Rothermere press has been conducting against the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I took the opportunity to enjoy an excellent luncheon. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Sir John Farr : As my right hon. Friend prepares himself for the important meeting with President Yeltsin later this week in London, will he take the opportunity of seeing what can be done to deal with the massive threat which still exists from all the different independent Russian states?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend says, this will be an important opportunity to discuss with President Yeltsin both the international difficulties posed by the break-up of the old Soviet Union and the extent to which the west might usefully help the Russian Republic in the difficulties that it faces at present. I anticipate that both those matters will be on our agenda.


Q5. Mr. Bernie Grant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 28 January.

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

Mr. Grant : Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Labour -controlled Haringey council and the children, teachers and parents of Haringey on the fact that our schools came joint top in English, maths and science in the level 3 standard assessment test and top in the individual subject of science? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a remarkable achievement, bearing in mind the fact that Haringey is an inner-London borough and has all the associated problems? Is not he ashamed at the remarks of his predecessor and of his ministerial colleagues who have constantly criticised Haringey's education policy and have cut its revenue support grant? Will the right hon. Gentleman see to it that Haringey receives an increase in its revenue support grant and standard spending assessment as a result of its excellent work in educating the children at its schools?

The Prime Minister : I am delighted to hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I am especially pleased to hear that he now supports the tests introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I can tell from what he said that he is a strong supporter of the parents charter, without which those results might not have been fully known.

Mr. Conway : Will my right hon. Friend take time to congratulate British industry on the fact that it has achieved record exports in the past quarter, that 27 of the top 50 European companies are British and that Britain exports more of its national product than Japan? Are not those successful British companies sick and tired of being talked down by the doom-monger Labour party?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right. Yesterday's trade figures showed clearly that export volumes were at record levels even in a worldwide economic downturn. My hon. Friend was also right about some Opposition Members talking down the economy. The Leader of the Opposition said in his letter to supporters at the beginning of this year that Britain had a £20 billion trade deficit, when the truth was that the deficit fell by a half and the right hon. Gentleman's figures were wholly wrong. Perhaps he will now write again to his supporters and correct his error.