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1992 - PMQT 2nd July 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 2nd July 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

CSCE

Q1. Mr. David Atkinson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the forthcoming Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe summit in Helsinki.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : The CSCE sets standards of democratic behaviour for the 52 countries of Europe and North America that belong to it. Britain wants it to play a more prominent role in peacekeeping, with the help of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Western European Union, in bringing pressure to bear on members who fail to meet democratic standards, in providing early warning of disputes between its members and in the conciliation and arbitration of disputes. We have put forward proposals in all these areas for decision at the summit.

Mr. Atkinson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the continuing ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union are in total contradiction of the Paris charter, signed at the last CSCE summit in November 1990? What new measures will he be supporting, or indeed proposing, at next week's CSCE summit in Helsinki which will bring such wars in Europe to an end and avoid any new ones in the future?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is quite right in his strictures about present performance. The CSCE can press the parties involved both to negotiate in good faith and to settle their differences peacefully. The proposals that we have put forward for the summit are aimed at making the conference more effective in both these areas.

Dr. Godman : The CSCE should surely be discussing, among other things, the eventual replacement of NATO by a European defence organisation. Does the Prime Minister agree that NATO is coming to the end of its days and that what is needed is a European defence organisation that is not dominated by American political and military leaders ?

The Prime Minister : No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. I believe that NATO's contribution in the period since the war has helped to keep Europe safe. I believe that it will continue to be the best guarantor of our security in the future. Although we see a growing role for the Western European Union, it can have that only as the European arm of NATO, with the Europeans paying a proportionately greater share of the defence of Europe. NATO must remain. It is our security both in Europe and beyond.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. Gallie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 June.

The Prime Minister : 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. Gallie : Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports that show how dramatically the living standards of the British people have risen over the last 20 years--all the British people ? Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that there is no coincidence other than the fact that we have had 15 years of Conservative government ?

The Prime Minister : I have seen the headline about that particular report, though I confess that I have not yet read every detail of the report. There is no doubt that the living standards of people right across the nation have soared dramatically in recent years. Although some hon. Members below the Gangway may scoff, it is the fact that they are that out of touch which helped them lose the last election.

Mr. Kinnock : Would the Prime Minister be satisfied if his children's schools were to be inspected by anyone who had nothing more than a few days' training for the task?

The Prime Minister : There is a strong case for independent inspection of schools by lay people of experience in life. That is the right way to proceed and it is what we will do.

Mr. Kinnock : If those lay people, who are supposed to be independent despite the fact that they are freelance contractors, were to report that a primary school was not coming up to standard because there were more than 30 children in its classes, would the Government then provide more resources to ensure that there were more teachers in order to bring those class sizes down?

The Prime Minister : There has been a reduction in class sizes, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. He also knows that independent inspectors will be registered by Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools. We have made it perfectly clear in the parents charter that there will be regular reports on schools by independent inspectors. That is now a matter of law. It was put on the statute book by the Education (Schools) Act 1992.

Mr. Kinnock : It is a pity that the Prime Minister did not respond to the question of what he will do to improve the quality of education if those inspectors report--when they report--that standards are deficient because of a shortage of teachers. More than 1 million British school children in primary schools are in classes of more than 30 and, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman says, the number is increasing. When will he start paying attention to the real problems of education and acknowledge that the privatisation of the inspectorate has nothing to do with overcoming those deep-seated problems?

The Prime Minister : We have a wide range of education policies to improve the quality of education in schools. One part of that, to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, is the independent inspection of schools. We believe that independent inspection by people not related to the education profession is a better way of ensuring that we have reports that are fully independent and which reflect more accurately those things that parents wish to learn about the schools at which their children are educated.


Q3. Mr. French : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 July.

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

Mr. French : Has my right hon. Friend seen the remarks by Mr. De Gruchy, the general secretary of the National Association of Headmasters--

Hon. Members : "Schoolmasters".

Madam Speaker : Order. We are all allowed a slip of the tongue sometimes.

Mr. French : It is the same Mr. De Gruchy who said recently that spelling does not matter very much. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is just another example-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. This is all taking up time.

Mr. French : Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is just another example of the education establishment's trendy attitude which bears no relationship at all to the needs of pupils and parents or to the views of those teachers who do worry about standards in schools?

The Prime Minister : I believe that my hon. Friend is right to say that the majority of the British people want the basics of education taught, and taught from the earliest days in school. That self-evidently means reading, writing and adding up. My hon. Friend's comments will be echoed by parents throughout the country.


Q4. Mr. Ashton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 July.

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

Mr. Ashton : Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the circumstances surrounding the case of Mr. Roy Cornes, a Birmingham factory worker, who knowingly infected four women with the AIDS virus, one of whom has since died? Is he aware that that is a severe criminal offence in America and France, yet the Secretary of State for Health refuses to introduce legislation, saying that the existing laws are adequate? If that is the case, why have there been no prosecution?

The Prime Minister : I do not want to refer to the case that the hon. Gentleman cites. I do not know what will happen in that particular instance, but it would be unwise for me to interfere. The underlying problem of HIV notification is that of driving it further underground and thereby creating a further health hazard. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that genuine dilemma. However, no one will push to one side without concern the problem that he raises.

Mrs. Browning : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the works of Shakespeare have a central place in the teaching of English in our schools? Is he not appalled at the negative view taken by the National Union of Teachers, which describes Shakespeare as boring and irrelevant? Is that not another example of how out of touch the NUT is with teachers, parents and the needs of pupils?

The Prime Minister : Many people would agree with my hon. Friend that Shakespeare's works should be an important part of the school curriculum. "Much Ado About Nothing" is something with which the House is often familiar-- [Interruption.] In my defence, Madam Speaker, I will say only that "NUT or not NUT", which I heard uttered by a member of the Opposition Front Bench, was even less amusing.


Q5. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 July.

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

Mr. Ross : Given that a few months ago the Prime Minister and his party were campaigning on the strategy that, despite recent increases in unemployment, more people were in work, how does he answer the report published by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), which clearly demonstrates that the employed labour force fell by 191,000 in 1991, and that by April this year another 94,000 were added to that total? When will the Prime Minister start to deal with this country's massive unemployment?

The Prime Minister : No one takes the unemployment situation lightly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that that is the case. The advice that I received when I read an article about that report this morning was that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) had taken some liberties with the figures--including ignoring people who are at work on Government programmes.

Mr. Pickles : Will my right hon. Friend have time today to reflect on the recent statements by Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, regarding the impending privatisation of the coal industry? Does not my right hon. Friend deprecate Mr. Scargill's attempts to revive the damaging strike of the early 1980s? Will he give an assurance that the Government will not in any way be deflected from privatising coal, which will be in the interests of the industry and its workers?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. We want a modern and efficient coal industry that offers its employees a chance to share in the future. Mr. Scargill and his friends do not realise that privatisation is in the best interests of the industry and of those who work in it. As Labour has over the years closed more coal mines than we ever have, it should realise that.


Q6. Mr. Pendry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 July.

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

Mr. Pendry : When the Prime Minister stated recently that he wants a green theme to develop during Britain's presidency of the EEC, was he aware that the Treasury is planning to abolish the Advisory Committee on International Green Policy and to cut by half the Joint Nature Conservation Committee's senior staff? Will the Prime Minister tell the House what he will do to those Treasury mandarins who seem hell-bent, so early in the right hon. Gentleman's presidency, on cutting him off and making him appear to be a Johnny-come-lately?

The Prime Minister : Environmental matters spread across all policies and do not relate just to the appointment of particular bodies. We have already made it clear that throughout our presidency of the Community and in our domestic policies we will take environmental improvement very seriously. It will be considered in all the policies that we put forward.

Mr. Jonathan Evans : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on his achievement yesterday in terms of all-party talks on constitutional matters? Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the brutal murders in south Armagh overnight underline the need for peaceful progress and for the involvement of all lawful political parties joining together for the defeat of terrorism?

The Prime Minister : I believe that my hon. Friend, in his last remark, will carry the whole House with him. The discovery of the three bodies in Armagh last night, and the subsequent admission by the provisional IRA that it is responsible, demonstrates yet again the true nature of terrorism. The historic agreement of the Northern Ireland parties yesterday to start strands 2 and 3 of the talks deserves unreserved welcome, and I certainly join in the congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his colleagues. I hope that we shall see the strand 2 meetings convened under Sir Ninian Stephen, and that the first meeting will take place as soon as possible. Although it would be premature to make predictions about the eventual outcome, the way is now open for the Northern Ireland parties to explore new relationships face to face with the Irish Government, and that is a great step forward.