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1992 - PMQT 11th February 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th February 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Andrew MacKay : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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. MacKay : In the light of yesterday's public sector pay settlements, which were particularly welcomed by teachers, will my right hon. Friend give the House some broad indication of just how many teachers will now be earning more than £20,280 a year? Will he also use this opportunity to give a categorical pledge that under no circumstances will he lift the ceiling on national insurance contributions, because that would, in effect, claw back the extra pay that teachers gained yesterday?

The Prime Minister : I can tell my hon. Friend that well over 120, 000 teachers exceeded £20,000 a year even before yesterday's pay increases. We anticipate that something over an extra 50,000 will now do so. I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we will not remove the limit and impose an extra 9 per cent. national insurance on those teachers.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister join me in reaffirming that no group either using or supporting violence will be allowed by any Government to bomb its way to the conference table? Does he agree that when terrorists inflict danger and disruption on ordinary people anywhere--in Britain, Northern Ireland or anywhere else--they are not so much demonstrating their support for any cause as demonstrating their hatred and opposition to every community?

The Prime Minister : Yes, Sir. I am happy to agree without reservation with the points put to the House by the right hon. Gentleman. If terrorists believe that incidents like this morning's will deflect our policy on Northern Ireland, they are mistaken. They have not been successful in the past, and they will not be successful in the future.


Q2. Mr. Andy Stewart : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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

Mr. Stewart : When I last had the opportunity to question my right hon. Friend, he confirmed that under the Conservatives, miners and other earners in my constituency would not pay a higher rate of income tax. Can he confirm that he will not extend national insurance contributions to savings, because a large number of my constituents took early retirement from the coal industry and use their savings to supplement their income?

The Prime Minister : I can give my hon. Friend that guarantee. Conservative Governments have reduced the taxation on savings. We have abolished the investment income surcharge, and have cut the standard rate of income tax to 25p in the pound. We have introduced savings schemes such as TESSAs, and we believe that excess taxation is iniquitous when we seek to encourage people both to save and to invest in our economy.

Mr. Lewis : Does the Prime Minister recall that in 1986 he announced the closure of DHSS resettlement centres and gave a firm promise that they would not close until alternative accommodation was available? Is he now aware that four centres, including the Walkden centre in my constituency, will close next month and that alternative provision is not yet available and will not be available? Is the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, going to allow the Resettlement Agency to rat upon his pledge or is he not?

The Prime Minister : I set out at the time the details of the areas where we would see new and better facilities reopening, and those better facilities have reopened. In addition, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Government are also spending very nearly £100 million over three years to provide accommodation for people who are homeless in London. So far nearly 2,000 extra bed spaces have been provided, and the number of people who are out on the streets is substantially lower than 12 months ago. The hon. Gentleman would do well to acknowledge those facts.


Southampton

Q3. Mr. Hill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will visit the city and port of Southampton.

The Prime Minister : Tomorrow.

Mr. Hill : When my right hon. Friend visits the port of Southampton he will realise that two Conservative policies have changed the position of the port from stagnation to prosperity. The first policy was privatisation and the second the abolition of the national dock labour scheme. All the hospitals in Southampton have been rebuilt over the past few years. There is only one fly in the ointment-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let the hon. Gentleman ask his question--but briefly please.

Mr. Hill : My right hon. Friend will know that there is a Labour- controlled council. Not only are its policies extremely wasteful, but one of the companies that it set up is just collapsing, insolvent, and this is costing £8 a head to every community charge payer in the area.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend puts his point with great clarity and in some detail. Southampton is already part of a highly successful privatised group of ports. In some of the privatised ports, ending restrictive practices has led to an improvement in productivity of 50 to 100 per cent.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Jack Thompson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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

Mr. Thompson : Is the Prime Minister aware that, after a little local difficulty in the House, there was a meeting this morning between the Engineering Employers Federation and the northern group of Labour Members, at which one of the representatives of the federation said that the Department of Trade and Industry suffered from inertia? Will the Prime Minister consider removing this inertia from the DTI by sacking his Secretary of State?

The Prime Minister : No.


Q5. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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

Mr. Taylor : Does the Prime Minister agree that there is an increasing role for responsibility and involvement of individuals in improving their career prospects, whether through training credits for young people or through performance-related pay? Are these not better ways of improving the skills of British industry than the rigid structures favoured by the feudal barons of the trade union movement?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the point made by my hon. Friend. I entirely agree with the training credit principle which puts buying power in the hands of the people who seek training. If my hon. Friend will be patient, I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will shortly have some comments which will please him.

Mr. Robert Sheldon : Has the Prime Minister seen today's Financial Times ? If he has, has he noted the three pages of advertisements by receivers and administrators of companies that have failed? The exercise is repeated in the columns of the Financial Times three times a week. Is it not clear that, in the light of all these industrial failures, it is the failure of the Government which really needs to be brought to account, and that it is the Government's task to put things right?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the essential basics to make sure that things are right are to keep inflation down, to keep interest rates down, to have the right tax structure and to continue with the improved industrial relations that we have had in recent years. With his experience, the right hon. Gentleman will also be interested in the views of the CBI. If he is, he will know that the CBI opposes absolutely the reintroduction of the labour laws that the Opposition propose, the tax changes that the Opposition propose and the minimum wage that the Opposition have in mind. Each of those policies would be deadly to the future of British industry, British jobs and British companies.


Q6. Sir Anthony Grant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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

Sir Anthony Grant : Will my right hon. Friend warn other world leaders, especially in the United States, of the dangers of a wave of trade protectionism and the catastrophic effect that it can have on the world economy in a recession? Will he emphasise to the Americans in particular the need to reach sensible agreements within GATT?

The Prime Minister : I have had the opportunity of discussing that with President Bush on a number of occasions, and he is as committed to a speedy conclusion of the Uruguay round as we are. I believe that that is vital. The paper set out by Mr. Dunkel provides a basis round which the United States, the Cairns group and the European Community could rally to provide a satisfactory settlement. That settlement is as vital for the future of the international trading organisation as any other matter under consideration.


Q7. Mr. Martlew : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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

Mr. Martlew : In a response to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) on Thursday, the Prime Minister made it clear that he would not be supporting the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, which will come before the House on Friday, but did not clarify whether he is in favour of a ban on fox hunting. Will he take this opportunity to tell the House and the country whether he favours such a ban?

The Prime Minister : We always examine legislation before the House with great care. The Bill before the House is not adequate.

Dame Jill Knight : In connection with an incident that my right hon. Friend has mentioned already, is he aware that hon. Members and staff were unable to work in their offices at 1 Parliament street between 9.30 and 12.30 because of three IRA bombs placed in Whitehall? Is he further aware that immediately the road was made safe, but before any traffic was allowed to pass, there was a demonstration by IRA supporters, well equipped with banners and placards? Does he not feel that, as they were so ready to move and so well equipped, they knew all about the IRA bombs and probably the timing as well? Will he ensure that the police are given the photographs of that demonstration, taken close up by the media?

The Prime Minister : I was not aware--I have not yet received reports--of that demonstration, but I believe that it is ironic that the IRA and its supporters should at the same time be enjoying the privileges of democracy and using the methods of terrorism. I can assure them that they will have no progress until they renounce violence and terrorism. I believe that that is the united view of all the parties in the House.


Q8. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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

Mr. Grocott : Does the Prime Minister recall that it is now more than 12 months since he first started dithering about the election date, since when 750,000 peole have lost their jobs? Is it not about time that he said to the 44 million voters who are sick and tired of the phoney election campaign that the general election will be on 9 April? When will he have the courage to say that?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will know that in the last year we have also cut interest rates seven times and halved inflation. I have no doubt that when we come to the election the electorate will have spotted that as well.

Mr. Marland : Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is the first Prime Minister in history to attend the annual general meeting of the National Farmers Union? Is he aware that the warmth of his reception was genuine, as the farmers very much appreciate his understanding of their difficulties with the planners and with marketing? Is he aware that they welcome his determination to do all he can to improve their lot, both at home and abroad?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I certainly enjoyed my attendance at the National Farmers Union meeting this morning. I was able to talk to the farmers about the difficulties that their industry faces at the moment, the need for reform of that industry and the importance that farming will undoubtedly have in the future of our country.


Q9. Mrs. Irene Adams : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 February.

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

Mrs. Adams : Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that I, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), recently wrote to him pointing out that the Paisley post code area lost 76 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs between 1979 and 1989 and a further 3,600 jobs since then? Does he recall that he replied that he did not consider those circumstances grim enough to undertake an economic initiative for Paisley? Will he now change his mind or shall we have to wait for the people to do that for him?

The Prime Minister : I think the hon. Lady ought to be clear about what she means by assistance. When the Labour party speaks of incentives it means subsidies. Perhaps the hon. Lady will remember the success rate of the National Enterprise Board. It invested in 102 firms, of which one third went bankrupt or went into receivership. Less than one third of those firms returned the taxpayers' investment. The right way to help manufacturing industry is to produce the right level of inflation and the right economy for people to make their own decisions.