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1992 - PMQT 13th February 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 13th February 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Ronnie Campbell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 February.

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 : What advice has the Prime Minister for one of my constituents, Mrs. Logan, who lives in Camlinton new town and is in great pain with an arthritic hip? She has to climb the stairs with the aid of her husband and has to lie in bed in agony most nights. She has been told by the local hospital that she cannot have an appointment until June 1993. Is that the Prime Minister's way of keeping waiting lists low?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman will give me details of the particular case that he has mentioned, I will certainly have it examined. What he should acknowledge, however, is that spending is up by more than 50 per cent. in real terms, 25 per cent. more patients are treated, there are far more doctors and nurses, and they are far better paid, and treatments that were rare in 1979 are now commonplace. I wish that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would stop running down the improvements that have been made in the national health service.

Mr. Aitken : On a constitutional point, does my right hon. Friend agree that if an assembly were set up in Scotland with responsibility for health, trade and industry, and taxation north of the border-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."] In such circumstances, would not it be impossible thereafter for Members of Parliament with Scottish constituencies to sit in Departments as Ministers, administering those Departments-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Get it out, please.

Mr. Aitken : I know that this is painful. Would not it be impossible for Ministers to be in charge of Government Departments administering those matters for England and Wales? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be right to set up a retraining scheme for soon-to-be-redundant members of the shadow Cabinet?

Mr. Speaker : I think that that is enough.

The Prime Minister : I should be happy to add that training scheme to the many other excellent training schemes we have at present. The point that my hon. Friend has made was graphically illustrated by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who is reported as having said that if Labour were to introduce its devolution plans he could not act as Secretary of State for Health for England and Wales. Presumably the same principle would apply to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). I look forward to their confirming that. If the Labour party were then to show some affection for devolution in Wales, perhaps the same principle would apply to an even more eminent right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Kinnock rose--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Leader of the Opposition must have a chance to answer.

Mr. Kinnock : Not until we have a Question Time for the Leader of the Opposition, but within a couple of months I shall be answering from the Government side of the House.

Is the Prime Minister aware that in the 15 months since he got his job 840,000 people have lost their jobs? In this 22nd consecutive month of rising unemployment does he still cling to the pretence that the recovery has already started?

The Prime Minister : I accept that the unemployment figures this month are disappointing--no one can deny that--but what we are seeking to do is to put people back into permanent jobs, and not temporary jobs. That can be done only by putting in place the right conditions to create long- term, permanent jobs, long-term growth and secure jobs. That is why we have been working to reduce inflation--with success ; to bring down interest rates--with success ; and to cut direct tax rates--with success. Of those people who have lost their jobs, more than 250,000 are this year in well worth while and excellent training schemes. That is the right way to help people, it is the right way to achieve long-term prosperity for this country and it is the way in which we have been developing our policies.

Mr. Kinnock : For 2.6 million of our fellow citizens the unemployment figures are not disappointing--they are absolutely devastating. Why does the Prime Minister ignore the evidence of employers, who tell us that unless policies change 50,000 more jobs will go from construction, 40,000 from motor vehicles and textiles, with a further 70,000 manufacturing jobs going? Why does the Prime Minister ignore all that evidence? Why does he just sit there and do absolutely nothing to combat the recession that his policies have caused? After 22 months, does he not yet understand that sitting there crossing his fingers and closing his eyes will not bring recovery?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman talks of ignoring evidence. There is evidence, too, which he is ignoring. He has not acknowledged that more people are now moving out of unemployment than a year ago. Every month 300,000 people are leaving unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman quotes job losses, but he fails to mention Tesco's plans for 5,000 new jobs over the next year, Safeway's plans for 2,000 jobs, Nissan's plans for 600 new jobs in the north-east, and the fact that Toyota is providing another 3,000 jobs in Derbyshire. He also chooses to ignore the fact that this country has a higher proportion of its population in work than any other Community country except Denmark.

Mr. Kinnock : Under the Prime Minister's leadership, in the last 12 months alone more than 800,000 jobs have gone and during that period the number of people in employment in Britain has gone down by 800, 000. The number of vacancies has fallen. Even the Chancellor confesses that the Government caused the recession. And they have continued it, and have let it get out of control. The Government are guilty on all counts.

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend said no such thing, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about taking action, perhaps he will consider the action that he proposes to take in his policies : a minimum wage that will cost jobs, a payroll tax that will cost jobs, and a strikers charter that will create jobs--not here but in France, in Germany, in Belgium, in Italy, in the United States and elsewhere. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how the costs of extending national insurance or raising taxation will help employment? None of that will help employment. The right hon. Gentleman's plans would spell disaster for this economy, disaster for companies and permanent unemployment for millions of people.

Mrs. Ann Winterton : Does the Prime Minister accept that one of the great achievements of the Olympic movement is to bring nations together in sporting endeavour and excellence and that similarly, despite the forthcoming general election, all political parties are brought together to support this country's bid to host the Olympic games in the year 2000? Will my right hon. Friend agree to support fully the Manchester Olympic bid which will benefit not only the north-west of England, where most of the events will be staged, but our capital city and the rest of the country--in fact, the whole nation?

The Prime Minister : I met the Manchester Olympic bid committee some weeks ago when we discussed the proposed bid that Manchester wishes to make. I asked on that occasion for considerably more information. That is being provided and I look forward to meeting the bid committee again towards the end of this month.

Mr. Ashdown : The Prime Minister is right--the Government are not wholly to blame for this recession, but they are chiefly to blame. Does he realise that what the country now needs from him is hope, but all that it gets is complacency ; that what the country needs from him is leadership, but all that it gets from him is excuses ; that what the country now needs is a Government who will act, but what it has is a Government paralysed by the election who dodge the issues, duck the realities and do nothing?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reprising his party political broadcast of last evening. It is a good sound bite, but it is not any better for hearing it the second time. What the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind, if he cares about real prosperity for this country, is making sure that we get the economic basics of inflation and the exchange rate correct so that we can get sustainable investment for the long term, not the short-term gimmicks that the right hon. Gentleman embraces.

Sir Peter Hordern : Will my right hon. Friend tell Mr. Delors that the proposed increase in the United Kingdom contribution to the European budget is wholly unacceptable? Will he also tell him that the first priority must be to reform the common agricultural policy, to remove the losses from fraud which occur within that policy and, especially, to bring about a successful conclusion to the GATT negotiations?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend on each of the points that he makes. There is no justification whatever for an increase in the budget on anything like the scale that the Commissioner proposed. There is already scope for significantly increased expenditure within the existing own resources ceiling.


Q2. Mr. Martlew : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 February.

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

Mr. Martlew : The Prime Minister will be aware that there is great anger and despair in the country at the announcement today that unemployment has moved up again. That is reflected in my constituency, where there are an extra 400 people unemployed in the Carlisle area, bringing the total to a staggering 4,000 unemployed. Bearing that in mind, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity today to condemn one of his Ministers who said yesterday that people who were losing their jobs were being "liberated"? Will he dissociate himself from that comment and will he take action today to see that the hon. Gentleman concerned is "liberated" from his ministerial duties? In other words, will he sack him?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman neglected to mention that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by nearly 20 per cent. since the last general election. My hon. Friend has made clear his regret at the job losses at British Aerospace. The hon. Gentleman simply trivialises the issue with his remarks.

Sir William Clark : Does my right hon. Friend agree that of the known policies of the Labour party-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Sir William Clark : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there were a minimum wage and also higher taxation both on individuals and on companies, that would kill inward investment and cause even more unemployment?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about that. It is also the case that most independent commentators--Goldman Sachs, Credit Lyonnais, BZW, Phillips and Drew, Nomura, the CBI--agree that Labour would cause a rise in inflation, with all the impact that that would have on living standards, jobs and future prosperity.


Q3. Mr. O'Brien : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 February.

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

Mr. O'Brien : In a radio programme, the Prime Minister told Sue Lawley, in response to a question on housing, that repossessions had stopped before Christmas. Will the Prime Minister now tell us whether he accepts that, in addition to the massive number of homes repossessed last year, a further 80,000 families are to lose their homes in the current year?

The Prime Minister : What I confirmed in answer to the question to which the hon. Gentleman has referred was that we had put in place measures to deal with the problems arising from repossession. Lenders have confirmed that they do not seek possession where the borrower has suffered a severe reduction in income support but is still making a regular and routine payment, nor will they repossess--which is the point that I was making-- where income support is paid direct to them. I reiterate that point today.


Q4. Mr. Dykes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 February.

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

Mr. Dykes : Further to the European Community budget proposals, which were proposed unanimously by all the Commissioners, including the two British Commissioners, will my right hon. Friend also agree that extra resources long term will be needed for redundant farmers-- [Interruption.] --in east European countries, and for the cohesion fund, that there is no need for us to have the United Kingdom budget contribution under-mined in any way by these proposals and that they are less in percentage terms annually than the last 10 years' increase in the EC budget?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend points to the fact that there is scope for significantly increased expenditure, perhaps for eastern Europe and the cohesion fund, as he says, but without the existing own resources ceiling, which is still underspent. There is at this stage no justification for the proposed increase suggested earlier this week.