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1992 - PMQT 18th February 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th February 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 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. Skinner : With only a few more bribing days left before the general election and in view of the fact that the House has been televised for more than two years, will the Prime Minister tell us whether he is prepared to take part in televised debates during the general election campaign with the Leader of the Opposition--yes or no?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, we hold televised debates in the House twice a week--

Hon. Members : Frit!

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Robert B. Jones : Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to study the statement by the Bundesbank that Germany is now in recession and that it blames the fall in output in Germany on the world recession? Does not that nail the lie being put around that these circumstances are due not to world but to British recession?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend points out, the Bundesbank has said that the German economy is now in recession. That confirms the point that I have been making to the House for some time about the international slow-down and international difficulties. A number of countries are either in recession or experiencing a slow-down in activity. Germany, alas, is the latest country to reach a formal recession.

Mr. Kinnock : Would the Prime Minister confirm that today's figures show the biggest rise in long-term unemployment in 10 years, that 1.3 million people in Britain have been without work for more than six months and that 750,000 of those have been without work for more than a year? Against that background, does the Prime Minister still dare to say to those people and their families that their prolonged misery is a price well worth paying?

The Prime Minister : No one has said that, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows. This month's increase in the numbers unemployed for a year or more is certainly extremely unwelcome, but the long-term unemployment level is about half what it was five years ago and long-term unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds is also half that level. Long-term unemployment among the over-50s has halved over the past four years. These figures are too high, but the only way to get them down permanently is to have the right structure of development in the economy : low inflation and stable exchange rates. That is what we are providing ; there is no easy way.

Mr. Kinnock : But the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said that this unemployment and recession are a price well worth paying. Can the Prime Minister really take any comfort from the fact that, bad as today's figures are, they are slightly less bad than they were in the last Tory slump? Is he really trying to convince the people of Britain, as they tried to do then, that policies of this kind provide a basis for sustained recovery and sustained growth? British unemployment is rising faster than unemployment in any country in the rest of the European Community. We have a huge increase in long-term unemployed, and more job losses are being announced every week. All this is taking place while the Prime Minister has had his present job and while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is not it now obvious that Majorism is not working?

The Prime Minister : I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that I have said no such thing, and neither in context has my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. As I said a moment ago, there is only one way to create long-term stable employment. The right hon. Gentleman implies that nothing is being done. I do not call halving inflation doing nothing. Last month it fell to just over 4 per cent. If that is doing nothing, what were the last Labour Government doing when inflation went up to 27 per cent ?

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister cannot correct the record to the extent of pretending that both he and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) have not said that today's conditions, with all their misery, are not a price well worth paying. That is the first point. Secondly, the Prime Minister refers to the record over 13 years. In that 13 years manufacturing output under his Government in Britain has gone up less than 6 per cent. It has gone up by four, five and 10 times as much among our competitors, and the right hon. Gentleman is still not doing anything to bring Britain out of recession, to give us recovery. A Tory Government means permanent high unemployment.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman does not listen and he does not understand. I repeat : I have said no such thing and I invite him to withdraw. The House will know that he changed his allegation between his first and third questions. If he is really concerned about unemployment, why does he want to cripple British industry by bringing back flying pickets, by encouraging mass pickets, by returning trade union immunities, with all the difficulties that we saw in the 1960s and 1970s ? That would not produce growth and jobs. That would produce permanent slump, no jobs, no prospects, no hope for the future. Those are the policies that the right hon. Gentleman sets out before this nation.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the decision to compensate those who contracted HIV as a result of treatment through the national health service is widely welcomed ? I thank him for a speedy and compassionate response. He knows the representation that I made with other colleagues only a fortnight ago.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. We made special provision for those with haemophilia and HIV because of the special circumstances that are apparent and because of the widespread representations that have been made to us. I hope that it will ease the difficulties of people who face such a tragic circumstance.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that there are only two facts that one needs to know to assess the Government's real commitment to recovery? The first is that unemployment rose by 53,000 last Thursday and the second is that the Government cut their training budget by £171 million last Friday. How does the Prime Minister justify that?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that we have the largest training provision that this country has ever seen. If the right hon. Gentleman does not know what circumstances are necessary for long-term prosperity and jobs, and that they are basically low inflation and a stable economy, he ought to learn that speedily.

Mr. Gorst : When my right hon. Friend is making arrangements for his business in the second week in April, will he please include a visit to Edgware general hospital, where he will find patients, members of staff and doctors highly satisfied with the changes that have taken place in the national health service?

The Prime Minister : I shall be happy to visit that hospital. I think that the changes in the health service are increasingly being understood to be welcome and to be providing a better health service for the future. That is becoming increasingly understood within the health service--if not, alas, on the Opposition Benches.


Q2. Mr. Patchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 February.

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

Mr. Patchett : The Government have increased prescription charges 14 times, and they did so just this week by twice the rate of inflation. Will the Prime Minister intervene to stop this disgraceful taxation of the sick- -yes or no?

The Prime Minister : There are 100 million more free prescriptions this year than there were at the time of the last Labour Government. The number of people who pay for prescriptions has shrunk and shrunk, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He should stop trying to misrepresent policies.


Q3. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 February.

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

Mr. Amess : Will my right hon. Friend agree to visit Basildon-- [Interruption.]--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Come on.

Mr. Amess : --the finest and most exciting town in the country? When my right hon. Friend does so, will he tell my constituents that there has been a record reduction in the number of strikes and that we now have the best figures for decades? Does he agree that such improvements are a key component in a strong economy and that they have been achieved through the Government's industrial relations laws, which the Opposition parties wish to repeal?

The Prime Minister : I shall be happy to visit my hon. Friend at Basildon either before or after the general election. He makes a good point. Indeed, the figures for 1991 are even better than those for 1990. There were fewer strikes last year than in any year since records began a century ago. That is essentially because of the change in labour relations and the encouragement that has been given for employers and the work force to work together.


Q4. Mr. John Garrett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 February.

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

Mr. Garrett : Has the Prime Minister seen the prospectus from Pathfinders Repossessions plc, which is a company which proposes to buy repossessed homes at auction and then flog them off or rent them at a huge profit? I understand from the promoters that the project cannot fail because it qualifies for tax reliefs under the business expansion scheme. Does the Prime Minister find this proposition just plain squalid?

The Prime Minister : The straight answer to the hon. Gentleman is no, I have not seen that prospectus. If the hon. Gentleman had wanted a detailed comment on it, he would have invited me to look at it before he asked his question. [Interruption.]

Mr. Oppenheim : Has my right hon. Friend had the chance to study the document entitled "The Citizen's Charter", which was written in 1921 by Herbert Morrison, then secretary of the London Labour party? It states that the best way to improve public services is to increase competition. Does not that show that no amount of tacky red plastic roses, sharp suits and slick public relations can disguise the fact that, far from progressing, Labour is regressing?

The Prime Minister : I believe that it does show that. My hon. Friend is entirely right about the merits of competition. We now have another citizens charter that addresses the direct problems faced by the people of this country. The Opposition are so rattled about it that NALGO is spending £2 million to advertise against it.


Q5. Mrs. Mahon : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 February.

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

Mrs. Mahon : The Prime Minister does not seem to be aware of what is happening with prescription charges. May I draw to his attention the case of a constituent of mine, a Mr. Russell, who is paid just 6p more than the income support level? From 1 April, he will have to pay £3.75 a week for a prescription out of an income of £60.31. If that is not a tax on the sick, will the Prime Minister tell us what it is?

The Prime Minister : One in three people are now entitled to free prescriptions, as opposed to one in six.

There are far more prescriptions than ever before for which people no longer pay, and those who find themselves marginally above income support level have the option of acquiring a season ticket precisely to meet that problem.


Q6. Mr. Moate : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 February.

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

Mr. Moate : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act is an essential weapon in the battle against terrorism? Does he agree that all parties in the House should support its annual renewal, so that we can send the terrorists the clear message that they can never win?

The Prime Minister : Yes, Sir--and I believe that recent events reinforce that point. Without the renewal of the Act, the IRA would be free to march, recruit and raise funds anywhere in Great Britain. Its renewal is absolutely essential, not just as a clear message to the terrorists but as a vital part of our ability to safeguard the lives of our citizens. I hope that, in the light of all that has happened, the Opposition will change their policy on this occasion, and will support the renewal of the Act.