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1992 - PMQT 30th June 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th June 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 June.

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. Robertson : On behalf of the people of Aberdeen, South, I extend to my right hon. Friend every best wish as he prepares to take on the presidency of the European Council. Given that there is concern about too much centralism in Europe, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Maastricht treaty, with its emphasis on subsidiarity, starts to reverse many of the centralising tendencies of previous treaties? Does he recall that it was in the Single European Act that the first commitment to economic and monetary union was based and that qualified majority voting was extended to a number of key areas?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The Single European Act was very far reaching. It secured, first and foremost, the single market commitments which are necessary to fair trading throughout Europe. It also represented the most far-reaching amendments since our entry into the Community under the treaty of Rome. It increased majority voting by a significant extent and did a great deal to transform relationships between members of the Community. In the Maastricht treaty, we look forward to decentralisation, and the House had ample opportunity to discuss that yesterday.

Mr. Kinnock : When Mr. George Nissen, chairman of the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation, honourably resigned yesterday, he said :

"for some years we have been telling the Government of the problems of pension and trust law."

Why did the Government take no effective action in response to those repeated warnings from the regulatory body?

The Prime Minister : I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman said and, as he knows, we have made a series of announcements about how we propose to deal with the problem in the short term. We are still waiting for further information and we have made it clear that in due course further information will be released.

Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister suggesting that Mr. Nissen, who had no reason to mislead anyone, was seeking to mislead those listening to him yesterday and those reading his words today? Is it or is it not the case that over a period of years, and long before the Maxwell scandal, the regulatory body was giving warnings of the problems to the Government? As I am inclined to believe Mr. Nissen's word, as is everybody else, I again ask why the Government did nothing in response to those warnings from that authoritative body.

The Prime Minister : I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's conclusions. When Mr. Nissen resigned on 29 June, he said : "We have freely acknowledged that we are open to a share of reproach although much of that criticism, to those who knew the facts, is misplaced. In these circumstances, I think it right that I should resign the Chairmanship."

That is what he said.

Mr. Kinnock : Mr. Nissen also said that, while he accepted his full share of responsibility, as the Prime Minister has indicated, no one should attach the blame solely to IMRO. He then uttered the sentence that I have quoted to the Prime Minister. As Mr. Nissen has taken his share of responsibility and has honourably resigned, can we expect the Government to take their share of the responsibility? When can we expect Ministers to follow Mr. Nissen's example?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman, as he did last year in respect of another matter, is seeking in a truly disgraceful manner to spread blame where it does not belong-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I insist that there be order in the house so that the Prime Minister may be heard.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman may seek to smear, but he will have to wait until the information is available. As I said to the House the other day, the Securities and Investments Board will wish in due course to publish as much as possible of the IMRO review. We have made it clear that it may not be possible to publish the review in full, and we have made clear why that is so. I am advised that publication of the full review by the Securities and Investments Board or by the Government would be severely prejudicial to criminal proceedings. Would the right hon. Gentleman like us to damage criminal proceedings? Is he so concerned to make a party point that he is unconcerned with the law of the land?

Mrs. Peacock : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the importance to the textile industry of this country of a successful outcome to the GATT round. Can he today assure the House and the industry that during his presidency of the Council of Ministers of the European Community he will endeavour to secure a successful outcome?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend that we are looking for a successful outcome that is satisfactory to all elements of British industry and will bring the GATT round to a satisfactory and early conclusion.


Q2. Mr. Alton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 June.

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

Mr. Alton : Will the Prime Minister join me in welcoming the decision made by the House of Lords last week in connection with Kirklees council and the Shops Act 1950? Does not he agree that the private Member's Bill in the name of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) deserves the support of the whole House to ensure that Sunday is kept as a special day by defeating those vested interests who continue to trade illegally on Sundays?

The Prime Minister : I am, of course, aware of the Bill that is before the House. I think that it would be premature to take a view on any Sunday trading legislation before we know the position in Community law, which is something that we await. Before the election, we made it clear in our manifesto that once the law was clarified we would bring forward a Bill so that the House of Commons might make its decisions and put the law in a state of grace.

Mr. Haselhurst : In view of the critical situation over the European fighter aircraft project, can my right hon. Friend say what discussions he has had with the Italian and Spanish Governments, and whether there is still full accord between them and the British Government about the future of that vital project?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has spoken to both the Italian and the Spanish Governments about the EFA. On more than one occasion I have spoken to the German Government, and in particular to Chancellor Kohl, about it. It is possible that a decision on the European fighter aircraft will be taken by the Germans today, tomorrow or perhaps later this week. The Government and many right hon. and hon. Members have been in close touch with the German Government to try to persuade them to stay in the project. I tried again in my discussions with the Chancellor at the weekend. It is our view, on military grounds, that there is a clear and continuing need for an aircraft with the capabilities of the European fighter aircraft. If the Germans withdraw, as I believe my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence may have indicated earlier this afternoon, we shall need to discuss the future with our Spanish and Italian partners. But we await a decision.

Mr. Stevenson : Is the Prime Minister aware that thousands of people throughout the country are being denied access to his social fund as the result of a mistake that is admitted by the Department of Social Security? Does the Prime Minister accept that nonsense will be made of the much- vaunted citizens charter until mistakes by public authorities and bodies are acknowledged and the people who have suffered are recompensed? What action does the Prime Minister intend to take to ensure that those thousands of people are protected from mistakes made by his Government?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman makes an assertion without backing it up. If he would care to back it up, I shall examine it.

Mr. Butterfill : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the principle of subsidiarity had been built into earlier European treaties, many of the decisions of the European Court of Justice might have been different?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, but subsidiarity exists and is legally judicable. We propose to build on it during the British presidency.


Q3. Mr. Nigel Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 June.

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

Mr. Jones : Is the Prime Minister aware that the chief constable of Gloucestershire recently announced a 32 per cent. increase in crime, yet when he asked for 56 extra officers a year ago, the Government allowed him only one? When will the Government allow chief constables the resources that they need to crack down on crime?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should have the grace to recognise that no party has a monopoly of concern about crime and that no Government have provided more resources to tackle crime than the Conservative Government in recent years. He should also acknowledge that the Government have consistently ensured that the police have adequate resources. We have provided almost £5.5 billion on police services in England and Wales, which is a rise of three quarters since 1979. Total manpower is up by 30,000-- [Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not like it because their record in government was lamentable. There were many reasons why we won the last election and they lost it. One of the reasons why they lost was their criminal neglect to deal with crime in their manifesto.

Mr. John Townend : Will my right hon. Friend confirm the Government's commitment to financial rectitude and lower taxes? If so, will he remind his colleagues that, due to the continuation of the recession, receipts from revenue are falling and they must reduce their expenditure demands this year if the Government are not to be faced with increasing taxes or the public sector deficit? As a gesture of support to the Financial Secretary, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the £100 million additional spending as a result of the biodiversity treaty will have to come out of the existing overseas aid budget?

The Prime Minister : On the latter point, that is a matter for discussion in the public expenditure round when we look at all those subjects but I expect that the £100 million will, over a period, be additional to the resources currently provided in that budget. We shall look at the expenditure position as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been holding early discussions this year with Departments on how their departmental spending programmes relate to total spending plans. As usual, this year our programme will be based on what the country needs and can afford. That is absolutely essential.


Q4. Mr. Wray : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 June.

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

Mr. Wray : Does the Prime Minister realise that the police do not have enough money and resources to deal with the escalating problem of drug dealing and murder in the streets? If the Prime Minister visits cities throughout Britain he will find it commonplace that 12 and 13-year-old kids are involved in drug dealing. What plans has the Prime Minister to eradicate the problem of that evil trade?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman might have acknowledged the action that we took through the European Community at the summit last year and the domestic action that we have taken here. Clearly, he also missed my mentioning a moment ago the extra 30,000 policemen during the period of Conservative Government to deal with all problems of crime, including the important problem of drugs.


Q5. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 June.

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

Mr. Townsend : While we are all greatly aware of the human tragedy and suffering in the former state of Yugoslavia and the need for humanitarian aid, is it not clear that one cannot impose peace from outside on centuries-old feuds? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the British Government will not commit infantry or armoured units to that part of the world without first having a debate and vote in the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister : I share many of the reservations on the difficulties of putting troops on the ground in Yugoslavia set out by my hon. Friend. Indeed, I set some of them out in answer to questions yesterday when I made a statement on the Lisbon summit. Following yesterday's meeting of the Security Council, United Nations forces are now at Sarajevo airport and it is hoped that the relief operation, at least, can get under way soon. We have offered up to four Hercules flights a day and our aircraft are ready to take off at short notice. That is a different operation from ground action which, as my hon. Friend suggests, would be extremely hazardous. At present, we do not have such action in mind.


Q6. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 June.

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

Mr. Wigley : Is the Prime Minister aware that, whereas 90 per cent. of the housing stock in Sweden is insulated to a standard as good as or better than that required for new-build houses, the corresponding figure in Britain is only 16 per cent? Does he accept that a drive to improve insulation standards would not only reduce the demand for energy, which would be favourable for the environment, but assist people such as pensioners, the disabled and those on low incomes, and create jobs in a labour-intensive industry? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider that?

The Prime Minister : We have examined the broad principles of what the hon. Gentleman suggests and I have some sympathy with the points that he makes. The budget of the Energy Efficiency Office has been increased substantially this year to £59 million--a 40 per cent. increase on the previous year. A further increase in the public expenditure plans--to £75 million--is already set out in those plans for the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman.