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1992 - PMQT 6th February 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 6th February 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Sir Anthony Grant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Sir Anthony Grant : Does my right hon. Friend recall that, when he was eight and I was a little older, Her Majesty the Queen acceded to the throne? Will he join me in expressing our deep respect, our loyal affection and our good wishes to Her Majesty on the 40th anniversary of her accession?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Queen has set a shining example of steadfast service over four decades of momentous political and social change, and will he wish her many more years of a great and glorious reign?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to accept my hon. Friend's invitation. The Cabinet discussed the matter this morning, and the whole House may care to listen to the message that the Cabinet agreed to send Her Majesty :

"At the Cabinet meeting today, Your Majesty's Ministers agreed that I should convey to Your Majesty our warmest good wishes on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Your Accession to the Throne. This was in recognition of the incomparable contribution Your Majesty has made to the life of our nation throughout your Reign." I am sure that those are sentiments that the whole House would wish to endorse.

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Mr. Kinnock : May I join the Prime Minister--and, I am sure, the whole House--in sending good wishes to Her Majesty, and in expressing the admiration that I know is felt throughout our country, the Commonwealth and, indeed, the wider world for the wisdom, strength and dedication that Her Majesty has invariably shown throughout the four decades in which she has been our sovereign?

The Prime Minister : I believe that the right hon. Gentleman speaks for all our millions of fellow citizens.

Mr. Kinnock : May I-- [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Mr. Kinnock.

Mr. Kinnock : Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When the Prime Minister told us on Tuesday that, like the British economy, Japan's economy was, as he put it, in recession, had he overlooked the fact that last year, while our economy shrank by 2.5 per cent., Japan's economy grew by 4.5 per cent.?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a number of countries around the world are in recession, are heading towards recession or are coming out of recession. According to the latest figures, Australia, New Zealand and Sweden are at the moment in recession. In the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, the worst of the recession is over ; in West Germany and Japan, growth has slowed and is slowing.

I noted this morning that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) now at last admits that there is a world situation which is on a downturn. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will also have the courage to admit that.

Mr. Kinnock : There are economies that are slowing ; ours is in reverse because of the Prime Minister's policies.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that Japan was in recession. It is worth reminding him of the fact that Japan's economy grew by 4.5 per cent., and ours shrank by 2.5 per cent. Japan's unemployment is at 2 per cent., while ours is at 9 per cent. Is it not now obvious that, because of his policies, the Prime Minister is reduced to imagining recovery at home while inventing recessions abroad?

The Prime Minister : Every one of the right hon. Gentleman's policies would lead to a continuing recession, and that is well known. The right hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that I head a Government who have cut interest rates seven times in the past 12 months, halved inflation in a year and built up the best industrial relations in half a century. The reality, I fear, is that the right hon. Gentleman does not understand the economy or how it works. The right conditions for economic growth are low taxes, the right hon. Gentleman wants high taxes ; low inflation, the right hon. Gentleman would engender high inflation ; and good labour relations, the right hon. Gentleman would reintroduce the old, bad trade union practices. Everything that the right hon. Gentleman proposes would lead to the perpetual recession of which I spoke on Tuesday.

Sir Bernard Braine : May I revert to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant)? I speak as Father of the House. Is it not a matter of great rejoicing, wherever we may sit in the House, that throughout the past 40 years, which have seen such momentous changes as the peaceful transition from empire to Commonwealth, the ending of the cold war and the coming together of former enemies in the European Community, Her Majesty has presided over this nation unfailingly, with a dignity and devotion to duty for which we are all greatly thankful?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend is right and speaks with the authority of many years' membership of the House. One of the most striking facts of the Commonwealth, as I saw clearly at the Commonwealth conference in Harare, is the immense affection and admiration that exists for Her Majesty the Queen among all Commonwealth leaders and countries.

Mr. Ashdown : May I associate myself, my right hon. and hon. Friends and our party with the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister on the 40th anniversary of Her Majesty's accession to the throne?

On the more unhappy subject of Northern Ireland, in the light of the appalling horrors which last night added to the seemingly endless litany of tragedy in that unhappy Province, does the Prime Minister agree that the first condition for defeating terrorism in Northern Ireland is to ensure that the politicians there get together and work together?

The Prime Minister : I believe that the whole House will share the right hon. Gentleman's view on both the matters that he raised. The recent activities--the shooting of five men and the wounding of others the other evening--were another terrible and unnecessary scar on the history of Northern Ireland. It would greatly assist the activities in Northern Ireland and the search for peace if the clearest possible lead was given by all politicians in this country and Northern Ireland.

Sir Alan Glyn : I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for his message from the Cabinet and Government. Is he aware of early day motion 580, already signed by 165 hon. Members, which expresses the views of Back Benchers and their loyalty and congratulations to Her Majesty? It does not include members of the Cabinet or Government, or of the shadow Cabinet, and, unfortunately, is not even allowed to include Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Will my right hon. Friend please convey that message to Her Majesty?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend expresses sentiments that are shared by the whole House.

Mr. Molyneaux : May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tribute paid by the Prime Minister to Her Majesty the Queen, and may I join in the other congratulations already expressed?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I shall ensure that Her Majesty is aware of what has been said.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : May I associate myself with the Prime Minister's remarks about Queen Elizabeth II? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that if politicians in Northern Ireland had been sitting at a table, the awful atrocities that we have witnessed in the past few days would not have taken place? If he and this House believe that, there is no hope for Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's words about Her Majesty the Queen.

The point that I was seeking to make a moment ago--I reiterate it now--is that I think that it is to the advantage of everyone in Northern Ireland for the politicians of Northern Ireland, of all shades of opinion, to come together, to talk and to express their mutual wish for peace in Northern Ireland.


Q2. Mr. Eastham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 February.

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

Mr. Eastham : The latest year for which figures are available on the number of new houses built in the United Kingdom is 1990. A comparison with 1980 shows that 38,000 fewer houses were built in 1990. Why is it the policy of the Government to build fewer houses?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman might more accurately have asked which local authorities had the highest number of vacant dwellings. I shall tell him : numbers of vacant dwellings are highest in Liverpool, then in Manchester, then in Salford, then in Burnley, then in Brent, then in Hackney, then in Tower Hamlets, then in Knowsley, then in Newcastle and then in Wolverhampton. The characteristic of all those areas is that for a long time they have been Labour controlled, although Conservatives have been in control in Brent for the past year and the Liberal Democrats have recently been in control in Tower Hamlets. There is no doubt which party fails people on housing.

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Has my right hon. Friend noticed the remarks of Sir Brian Corby, the president of the CBI, who said that to sign the social charter would be an act of remarkable lunacy? Does he agree that, if we signed the social chapter, employers' costs would rise and jobs and foreign investment would disappear, all of which would be bad for this country?

The Prime Minister : I most certainly agree with that view, which is why I declined to sign the social chapter. I believe that it would cost jobs and cost prosperity in this country. It is noticeable that a number of other politicians abroad have made it perfectly clear that this country becomes a more attractive place for investment--and therefore for jobs and prosperity--because we are not committed to the costs of the social chapter.


Q3. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 February.

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

Mr. Griffiths : Why have pensions dropped from 20 per cent. of average earnings to 16 per cent. under the Tories? Does the Prime Minister believe that pensioners were paid too much in 1979, or will he express regret at that meanness and raise pensions in line with Labour's plans?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should look at history. If he talks about pensioners, he should let the facts speak for themselves : under the previous Labour Government, the real average income of pensioners rose by only 3 per cent. and their income from savings fell by 16 per cent. The Labour party had no place for pensioners in the past and no promises that it can properly meet for the future.

Sir Ian Lloyd : The Prime Minister will no doubt have noticed the interesting exception that President Bush made in his state of the union message to Congress, when he said that his Government were too big and spent too much. The exception was that he proposed to maintain research expenditure at the record level of $77 billion and to make permanent the fiscal allowances for research and development. If my right hon. Friend should be considering with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor any largesse over the next two or three weeks, will he ensure that a few crumbs from the Treasury table fall in that direction?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend will know that there was a real- terms increase in the science and technology budget this year, a point that has been readily acknowledged by scientists up and down the country. As for potential largesse, there is no lack of applications for any that there might be.


Q4. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 February.

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

Mr. Banks : May I thank the Prime Minister for allowing his Ministers to vote as they wish on the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill on Friday 14 February, St. Valentine's day? If the Bill is passed, it will stop the massacre of harmless creatures like deer, hares and foxes.

No one expects the Prime Minister to be here to vote on Friday 14 February, but will he tell the House and the country whether he supports the abolition of fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing? I hope that his answer is yes.

The Prime Minister : It is a matter for the individual conscience of every hon. Member, which is precisely why I am allowing a free vote by my Ministers on the Bill. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill in question goes a good deal wider than just the matters that he has been addressing. Because it goes a good deal wider, I will not myself be supporting it.


Q5. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 February.

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

Mr. Colvin : Will my right hon. Friend send a message today to the leaders of the National Association of Local Government Officers who are spending some £2 million on a shoddy and inaccurate advertising campaign, telling them that their policies of abandoning competitive tendering, abolishing the Audit Commission and introducing a minimum wage would be acceptable only to a party which has already sold its soul to the trade union bosses?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a very sound point. It is clear that the advertisements appearing today show that now, as in the past, the Labour party remains in hock to the trade unions.