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1993 - PMQT 19th January 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 19th January 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Sir John Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 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.

Sir John Hannam : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the social chapter, which he skilfully negotiated out of the Maastricht treaty, would destroy investment, business confidence and jobs in this country? Is it not therefore the greatest hypocrisy to support such a damaging measure while at the same time claiming to care for the unemployed?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. When I negotiated Britain's exemption from the social chapter I seem to recall that I was accused of making Britain a paradise for foreign investment. I hope very much that that proves to be true. The reality is that the Opposition disagree about that. The truth is that they are hostile to industry and do not understand business. Until they drop their commitment to the social chapter they cannot also claim to be seeking lasting jobs.

Mr. John Smith : On that very subject, is the Prime Minister aware that of all the Prime Ministers we have had since the war, he has the worst record for growth, the worst record for investment and the worst record for jobs? Is he not ashamed of such a miserable record?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is a fine one to talk about records. His record as shadow Chancellor lost Labour a record fourth election precisely because he proposed record tax increases.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not note that he failed completely to deny that he had the worst growth record, the worst investment and the worst employment record? Since there is anger throughout the country [Interruption] --I hope that Conservative Members will not treat unemployment flippantly. Since there is growing anger throughout the whole country at rising unemployment why does the Prime Minister not agree to put a windfall profits tax on the excess profits of monopoly privatised companies and use the money to create jobs?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman also forgot to mention another record of mine ; the record for bringing down inflation so that we can recreate lasting jobs. The fact is that what we just heard is the old Labour party speaking ; the party of the 1960s and 1970s. They hate profits. They would rather have nationalised industries making losses than privatised industries making profits. They cannot stand firms being successful and they do not understand that firms need profits to provide investment, to provide growth, and to provide jobs. That is why their record in government has always been one of complete and record failure.

Mr. Smith : Can the Prime Minister explain to the House and to the country why it was all right for a Conservative Government to introduce an excess profits tax on banks in the first recession but now to oppose an excess profits tax on the privatised utilities? Does not the Prime Minister appreciate that every pound of these excess profits and of managers' fat salaries has come from the British people? Is not it time that they got some of it back to create jobs for them and their families?

The Prime Minister : I am quite happy to educate the right hon. and learned Gentleman about that, since he clearly does not understand. In the early 1980s interest rates were raised sharply to control inflation. At that time, the banks did not pay interest on current accounts. As a result of that, they genuinely made windfall profits. That was why the Government taxed them. The utility tax that the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposes-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order. I cannot hear the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : Labour Members do not like understanding reality ; they do not like it at all. The fact of the matter is that the utilities are already regulated. If they make excessive profits, the regulator can change their pricing formula, and he has already changed BT's from RPI minus three to RPI minus 6.25--real price cuts for consumers, which we never saw under a nationalised industry. That is why the appropriate policy is tough regulation, not 1960s artificial control.

Mr. Sims : I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister shares the widespread concern about the collapse of criminal proceedings against a couple whose daughter died a violent death because they invoked their right to say nothing. Is he aware that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has details of 10 similar cases? Whatever the arguments may be for or against the right of silence in cases generally, is not there a strong argument in favour of reviewing its application in cases where children have been cruelly treated or even killed?

The Prime Minister : I cannot, of course, discuss the particular case raised by my hon. Friend, but I understand the concerns that he expresses. Decisions on whether to prosecute are entirely for the Crown prosecution service. My hon. Friend may know that the right to silence is one of the matters being considered by the Royal Commission on criminal justice. I would not wish to anticipate its report.


Q2. Mr. Mackinlay : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 January.

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

Mr. Mackinlay : Will the Prime Minister give the reason for the rising and record levels of unemployment in Essex--a county which includes my constituency of Thurrock and, of course, the betrayed people of Basildon?

The Prime Minister : I will tell the hon. Gentleman one thing that is very clear about unemployment : it will fall as a result of this Government's policies. That is what he had better understand.

Mr. Couchman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is ironic indeed that in the very week when the Leader of the Opposition produces a phoney budget for jobs the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) is seeking to destroy 140,000 Sunday jobs, which are vital to many families in this country?

The Prime Minister : On this and other issues the reality is that Labour policy is inconsistent. It changes not only from election to election but from week to week. Not long ago, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) proposed the biggest tax increases in peace time. Nine months later, he said categorically that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor should not increase taxes in the Budget, but 10 days later he calls for a windfall tax.


Q3. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 January.

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

Mr. Rooker : Can I ask the Prime Minister if, until unemployment starts to fall, he will make it part of his political strategy to assist the unemployed by easing the rules on social security benefits so that those unemployed people who have household responsibilities and who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s can genuinely take advantage of opportunities to improve their education and training rather than, as at present, be penalised if they study too much or lose their homes if they have household responsibilities? For a very small investment in people, we could have a huge return for the country.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman makes a point which is well worth considering, and in the past we have looked at some matters related to it. This is the sort of matter which we are prepared to examine. The hon. Gentleman will know from his own experience in social security that there is significant help, for example, with mortgages, and he will also know the additional help that is being given to people towards training and studying.


Q4. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 January.

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

Mr. Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning trendy, mixed ability teaching-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members are products of it--which has so damaged the education of millions of children since the 1960s? [Interruption.] I hope they care. Are not moves to return the teaching of children to traditional methods just plain common sense? Is it not now also time to end trendy teacher-training methods?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is a distinguished former head teacher so I particularly welcome his remarks. I agree that the way forward is to return to the basics of education, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education said yesterday that we had plans to strengthen primary education. I am sure that we are right to look carefully also at getting the teaching methods right. Common-sense, practical teaching which puts good teachers in front of good children is undoubtedly the right way to improve our education system.

Mr. Ray Powell : Is it not fair that when an hon. Member is named or mentioned in a Prime Minister's question the Member involved should have the right to reply? I respect and thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Give the hon. Gentleman a chance to put his question.

Mr. Powell : Obviously, the Prime Minister, as with a lot of the policies that he has presented to the House, is misguided and is misrepresenting facts. The question that he was asked regarding a Bill that I will present on Friday

Madam Speaker : Order. I must now call the hon. Gentleman to order. I am looking for a very direct question to the Prime Minister, right away.

Mr. Powell : The Bill is an all-party Bill supported by five of the Prime Minister's colleagues. It is not a Labour party Bill and therefore the Prime Minister should correct the answer that he gave just now.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, be a firm advocate of his own Bill in a few days' time. I can tell him that in due course my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will bring proposals to the House and will give it a series of alternatives upon which to make up its mind on this thorny issue.


Q5. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 January.

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

Mr. Field : Does my right hon. Friend welcome the publication of the highway code today ? Will he ensure that copies are made available to Opposition Members, some of whom seem to be stuck on a roundabout, uncertain as to which exit to take, while others seem intent on overtaking their leaders on the inside, while we on the Government side look forward to a major road ahead?

The Prime Minister : I should like, if I may, to try to respond to that testing question. I very much welcome the publication of the new highway code. I am bound to say that it does seem to me extremely important that the Leader of the Opposition perhaps should study it. He might learn, after his proposals this morning, that he should not signal right when he is turning left.

Sir David Steel : Will the Prime Minister clarify the support that the Government give to enforcement action against Saddam Hussein? Is it correct that that support will be given only as long as the action is in accordance with international law in agreement with our coalition partners and involves the minimum necessary use of force?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that that has been the position thus far, and it is our position, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Defence Secretary set out the other day.