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1993 - PMQT 12th January 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th January 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Olner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 January.

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. Olner : I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Many hundreds of skilled workers in my constituency are, unfortunately, out of work at the present time. Quite frankly, they are suffering from the Government's failure to support employers. Can we look forward in 1993 to no more false dawns but to positive action on jobs so that my constituents and their families can regain some dignity?

The Prime Minister : We all wish to see recovery--there is no difference between any hon. Members on that subject. We shall get lasting recovery only if we have the right basics. These include low inflation, modest interest rates and the right exchange rate. They are now all in place.

Mr. Day : Has my right hon. Friend seen reports that the National Union of Teachers is to organise a boycott of tests for 14-year-olds? If those reports are correct, will he condemn such action as disgraceful and highly damaging,

The Prime Minister : I am certainly prepared to condemn any such call and any such action. I suspect that teachers will be far too sensible to take any such action. Those tests are vital. They are good for children, parents want to see them, teachers need to know how well the children are performing, and parents have a right to know how well their children are performing. Those tests will provide that information.

Mr. John Smith : Since the wrecking of the Braer is a major environmental disaster and one which could happen again before the inquiries that were announced yesterday have been completed, will the Prime Minister take interim action now to protect our coastlines? Will he convene an urgent meeting with the oil companies to obtain an assurance from them that only the safest routes will be used for the transport of oil while the inquiries are going on? Will he also agree to proposals that have been made to make adequate radar facilities available in sensitive areas so that the continuing traffic in oil can be monitored while the inquiries proceed?

The Prime Minister : I will certainly invite my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to examine those matters. They may have many ramifications and I think that I should have them examined before I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman a concrete answer.

Mr. John Smith : I at least welcome the Prime Minister's decision to refer this to his right hon. and learned Friend, but I ask him to engage himself in this important matter. Will he bear in mind that it is frequently the case in matters of aviation that interim action, such as the grounding of aircraft, may be taken while inquiries are being undertaken? Will he bear in mind the acute anxiety that exists in areas all round the coast at what has happened in the Shetlands? May I invite him to look into it personally and to make an early report to the House?

The Prime Minister : That may well be. As I indicated to the right hon. and learned Gentleman a moment ago, it is prudent to examine a matter carefully before making a commitment. [Interruption.] Were I to make a commitment without doing so, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be right to be critical. Of course my right hon. and learned Friend will examine it carefully ; he will report to me and we shall report to the House.

Mr. Nigel Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that private sector skills have greatly benefited industries such as Rover cars, gas, electricity and British Telecom, following policies which the Opposition have opposed at every turn? Will he confirm to the House today that soon these same private sector skills will be made available to British Rail?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly offer that assurance, and no doubt my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will give further details later this afternoon.


Q2. Mr. Ronnie Campbell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 January.

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

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : Is the Prime Minister aware that Swan Hunter shipbuilding on the Tyne is now on the verge of complete closure, with the loss of 2,000 jobs and disaster for the north-east? Can he therefore confirm that the new helicopter carrier is still in the programme to be built on the Tyne?

The Prime Minister : We have received tenders and we are considering them at the present time.

Mr. Dykes : If my right hon. Friend has time to think about it today, will he agree that legitimate attempts to protect the privacy of prominent and other citizens alike should not be used as an excuse to launch a fundamental attack on the freedom of the press, which is so vital to a thriving democracy?

The Prime Minister : The Government have now received the report of Sir David Calcutt and we shall publish it shortly. The whole House will then have an opportunity to make up its mind on the contents of the report.

Mr. Ashdown : In view of the grave news of the breakdown of the Geneva talks as a result of Bosnian Serb intransigence, will the Prime Minister now confirm that the British Government are prepared to act with others to protect against the future elimination of the Muslim homeland, to maintain the isolation of the Bosnian Serbs and to increase the pressure, political and military, to force the Bosnian Serbs to return to the peace table?

The Prime Minister : I share the right hon. Gentleman's regret at the breakdown of the discussions in Geneva. I believe that Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen have done an outstanding job. They have put forward a fair plan. It is a matter of great regret that the Bosnian Serbs are unpersuaded and unprepared to accept it. Sooner or later there must be a negotiated settlement ; the only question is whether it comes now or following further repression, further suffering and further difficulties. The international community will wish to apply further pressure if the Bosnian Serbs continue to reject this settlement.

Mr. Mark Robinson : Does my right hon. Friend agree with me on the important role that small and medium-sized businesses will have to play in economic recovery? Will he undertake to sweep away the unnecessary layers of red tape and bureaucracy which so tie down some of our small businesses?

The Prime Minister : I have indicated that it is certainly the Government's intention to do so. We have already made good progress since the election, but I now want us to go both further and faster. I have therefore asked every Department in Whitehall to prepare plans for action on deregulation. I shall be meeting every Secretary of State in early February, with their permanent secretaries, and I hope that we can then draw up a detailed plan for deregulation of burdens on business.


Homelessness

Q3. Mr. Corbyn : To ask the Prime Minister, when he next expects to meet representatives of London's homeless.

The Prime Minister : I have no plans to do so, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing meets representatives regularly.

Mr. Corbyn : Is it not about time the Prime Minister met representatives of London's homeless to learn that 40,000 families--about 100,000 people--spent Christmas in temporary accommodation, a 10 per cent. increase on a year ago, that there are 50,000 single homeless in London and more than 2,000 sleeping on the streets, a 10 per cent. increase on a year ago and a fivefold increase on five years ago? Is it not about time money was provided to local authorities to buy and build so that families can grow up in decent accommodation rather than suffering the indignity of bed and breakfast accommodation, and public resources were put where they are needed to provide decent homes for the people of this city rather than building empty office blocks for speculative gain?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman neglected to mention the number of empty houses either in his own local authority's stock or in that of many local authorities. Liverpool, Hackney, Burnley, Manchester, Salford and North Tyneside all have a very bad record on empty properties.

When my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing or I next meet representatives of the homeless we shall be able to tell them that recent figures show a continuing decline in the number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation, nationally by 23 per cent. and by 30 per cent. in London and the south-east. I shall be able to remind them of the £750 million housing package announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the autumn statement. That will further reduce the numbers in bed and breakfast. I might also remind them of the £100 million scheme for sleeping rough which has been amazingly successful.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 January.

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

Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the things that the British people expect from the Conservative Government is tough action on law and order [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Riddick : Does the Prime Minister share my concern about the increasing problem of persistent young offenders carrying out crimes such as car crime, burglaries and joy riding? Will he confirm that the Government will take tough action to combat those problems--unlike the Labour party, which is soft on crime?

The Prime Minister : I will take scoffing from the Labour party on law and order when they begin to support the prevention of terrorism Acts-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : The House must come to order to hear what the Prime Minister has to say--[Interruption.] All parts of the House, for that matter.

The Prime Minister : On the assumption that Members of the House did not hear what I said a moment ago, I shall repeat it for their benefit. I will take words from the Opposition on law and order when they stop opposing the prevention of terrorism Acts.

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about law and order. I certainly share his concern about the persistent offending of so many young people. I have therefore asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to look urgently at the existing arrangements for dealing with juvenile offenders and to consider what new measures it is sensible to introduce. This is one of the areas of greatest concern in the growth of crime statistics and one with which we are determined to deal.


Q5. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 January.

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

Mr. Skinner : Does the Prime Minister agree that the biggest problem facing this country at present is the scourge of mass unemployment? Is he aware that it is costing £9,000 for the taxpayer to finance somebody out of work? That is a total cost of £30 billion out of a public sector borrowing requirement of £37 billion. If the Prime Minister tackled that problem, he would be tackling the economy's problems as well. He has the fate of 100,000 people in his hands--30,000 of them miners--in the course of the next few weeks. He could resolve the problem easily. If he will give a subsidy of only half that which is given to nuclear power he will be able to save all 31 pits and 100,000 jobs, export coal to every continent in the world and resolve some of the balance of payments problems as well. Will the Prime Minister stop dithering and do it?

The Prime Minister : I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the scourge of unemployment. The difference between him and me would be the right method with which to deal with it and to ensure that there are long- term jobs subsequently available. I note what he says about the problem of the pits, but I have no intention of anticipating the coal review, which will be brought before the House as speedily as possible. While the hon. Gentleman continues to support policies such as a payroll tax on jobs, the social chapter, and a national minimum wage, he is not in the best position to lecture us about job losses.


Q6. Mr. Nicholls : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 January.

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

Mr. Nicholls : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the wider implications of the rundown or closure of Devonport dockyards? Does he appreciate that the continuing uncertainty is causing unhappiness not just in the city of Plymouth but throughout the west country? I appreciate that he cannot announce a decision today, but will he at least assure the people of Devon and Cornwall that when the time comes for that decision to be made he will have their concerns very much in the forefront of his mind?

The Prime Minister : I appreciate the great concern in the minds of the people of Devon--and, indeed, of those of near Rosyth--concerning the decisions that need to be taken about the dockyards. I know that that uncertainty is worrying people. The Secretary of State for Defence will announce our proposals as soon as he can. I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no undue delay.