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1992 - PMQT 22nd October 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 22nd October 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Moate : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 October.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Moate : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that interest rates are significantly down and that car production figures and even retail sales figures are up? In welcoming the Government's renewed commitment to economic growth and job creation, may I ask my right hon. Friend to tell the House more about his strategy for recovery-- [Interruption.] The Opposition are not interested in recovery--in particular, ways of stimulating new capital investment projects, especially private and public sector joint-funded projects such as the important new Swale project in my constituency?

The Prime Minister : I had the opportunity of learning about the Swale project when I visited my hon. Friend's constituency some months ago. I think that everyone will welcome the drop in interest rates and the other economic developments that were mentioned by my hon. Friend. When it is safe to make further reductions without imperilling our inflationary objectives, it would certainly be the Government's intention to do so. There is no doubt in any part of the House that across Europe and beyond Europe, economic circumstances have darkened and have become more difficult. That circumstance needs to be taken into account in our policy and in the policies of other countries as well. That means that in the months ahead there will be some difficult decisions. There will be tough decisions to be taken in the public expenditure round. It means that we must restrain expenditure where we can, but it also means that we must look with particular care at those elements of expenditure that have an employment and particularly growth potential, which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will do. We shall certainly look more carefully at ensuring that we seek to get the private sector working more effectively to assist in capital projects, which I believe the whole House will welcome.


Q2. Mr. Heppell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 October.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Heppell : Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that the 10 pits that have been given a 90-day reprieve will be allowed to continue to mine coal during that period? The men want to work. Will he allow them to work?

The Prime Minister : No, I cannot give a guarantee that during the 90-day period coaling will continue in those 10 pits. It is necessary, and it will be the case, that those pits will be in a condition to resume coaling. If at the end of that period it is determined that that is the decision, they shall do so. But during that period, I can give no guarantee that there will be coaling.

Mr. Kynoch : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the tough new rules for GCSE examinations, which will ensure continuing pressure to improve and to achieve higher standards under this Government?

The Prime Minister : I most certainly will. The requirement to seek higher standards is felt by every pupil, and it is a demand sought by every teacher and every parent. It will certainly be the Government's policy to bring that about.

Mr. Hume : As the Member who represents the constituency with the highest unemployment, I ask the Prime Minister to tell the House whether the reports of the Government's intention to reduce contribution-based unemployment benefit are correct. Does he not believe that the Government would be better employed in applying their mind to reducing unemployment rather than to reducing unemployment benefit?

The Prime Minister : As I said to the House a moment ago, it is certainly our intention to pursue a strategy that will bring recovery, and with it growth, jobs and prosperity--I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that. It is essential that that moves right to the centre of thinking in each and every aspect of Government policy in the circumstances that now apply in this country, throughout western Europe and beyond. As I stated clearly a few moments ago, that is the Government's intention.

Sir Jim Spicer : In this statement on Tuesday my right hon. Friend stressed the crucial importance of an early completion of the GATT round. Now it seems that the talks have broken down. Can my right hon. Friend give us any idea why that happened, and will he do all that he can to get them started again?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly answer my hon. Friend's second question in the affirmative. This morning I saw the reported comments of the French Foreign Minister that there will be no serious GATT discussions for several months. Let me make it absolutely clear to the House that I could not disagree more strongly with that view. It is not shared by the British Government as holder of the presidency of the Community, nor by the Commissioner, nor by the majority of member states, which last week at Birmingham authorised the Commission to negotiate for a GATT settlement by the end of this year.

Over the past two weeks the narrowing of the gap between the Community and the United States has been very welcome. That gap can be bridged. What is needed is for both sides to stay at the negotiating table, and I shall do all that I can to bring that about.

Mr. John Smith : Given the daily changes in policy which we have all observed this week, what does the Prime Minister have in mind for his next U-turn?

The Prime Minister : I have to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I think that that question falls rather below the level of events. It was his U-turn on tax policy which helped to lose Labour the election. It sank his predecessor, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not resign--he was made the leader.

Mr. Smith : Does not the Prime Minister realise that following the British Chambers of Commerce report which says that lack of confidence in the Government is causing many of our difficulties, confidence in him is drastically declining among the people of this country? They are not impressed by a Government blown about by events, and which has one simple rule--"A policy a day keeps Back Benchers at bay."

The Prime Minister : Only a few months ago all the people of this country had the choice to determine in whom they had confidence, and 14.5 million of them chose the Conservative party. That is why--because of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's tax policies, and because of a lack of confidence in his party--the right hon. and learned Gentleman is sitting on the Opposition Benches. That is where he will remain, for at least the next four-and-a-half years.

Mr. Jonathan Evans : Notwithstanding the recent reactions we have heard from China, may I ask my right hon. Friend for his assurance that he will give his unequivocal support to the governor of Hong Kong in his recent announcement, which is good for the people of Hong Kong, good for Britain and entirely in accord with this country's agreement with the Chinese Government?

The Prime Minister : I can most certainly give that assurance. The governor's proposals set out recently in his speeches in Hong Kong received very wide support among all sorts of opinion in Hong Kong, and very wide support in this House and in public opinion in this country. His aim is to make the Hong Kong Government more effective and more accountable, and to broaden democracy in a way that will survive beyond 1997. That is the right future for Hong Kong, and the governor has the complete and total support of the Government and the whole House in that endeavour.


Q3. Mr. Meale : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 October.

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

Mr. Meale : To return to the subject of mining, will the Prime Minister give the House a guarantee that while the review period continues in the coal mining industry, he will place a moratorium on manpower and coal development underground? Without that, it is a meaningless exercise and many pits will face mass redundancies and closures. Yes or no?

The Prime Minister : I think that we have made clear to the hon. Gentleman what happens during the moratorium and the fact that the 21 pits, apart from the 10 where there are special circumstances, will continue in the fashion that was set out clearly yesterday. I cannot and will not give the hon. Gentleman detailed assertions about matters that lie within the day-to-day management responsibility of British Coal.

Mr. Tracey : My right hon. Friend's recent words on growth and sound investment are much to be welcomed. May we, as London Members, urge on my right hon. Friend the cause of the completion of the Jubilee line and the benefits that would flow from it?

The Prime Minister : I know how assiduous my hon. Friend is in the interests of London. I have noted most carefully what he said.


Q4. Mr. Wareing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 October.

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

Mr. Wareing : It has been widely suggested that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade should resign. Will the Prime Minister tell the House what are his qualities and those of his colleagues which could justify their continuance in office?

The Prime Minister : The 14.5 million votes we got in the general election.

Mr. Barry Porter : I had the opportunity this morning of speaking on the electronic telephonic device to Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark, who had one or two ideas. He seemed to think that it was not a bad idea to reduce interest rates in a gentle sort of fashion, taking into account what the deutschmark is doing, and that we should keep up a reasonable semblance of public expenditure in capital terms. I thought to myself at the time, "That is not a bad idea". Does the Prime Minister agree?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that my hon. Friend will not be at all surprised to know that Sir Anthony has mentioned those matters to me as well.


Q5. Mr. Nigel Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 October.

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

Mr. Jones : When the people of Cheltenham march, should not the Prime Minister ask himself what is going on? Does he not realise that they are angry about the way in which the economy is being run? The Prime Minister and his office say that there has been a change in economic policy; the Treasury says that there has not. Who is telling us the truth?

The Prime Minister : The Government always listen when people make comments of that sort and it was perfectly clear to the House from what I said a few moments ago precisely what objectives the Government have set themselves. Lest there be any doubt in the hon. Gentleman's mind, let me say that there has been no movement away from the inflation objective or from the belief that we need non-inflationary growth. There is no doubt, not even in the hon. Gentleman's mind, that outside this country as well as inside this country, there is a changed economic environment. In that changed economic environment, we have to consider what is in the interests of this country and shape our policies accordingly. That is what we have decided to do. That is the policy that we will continue with.

Mr. Hunter : In the light of the IRA's intensifying campaign of violence in several parts of the United Kingdom, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that sufficient powers and resources are available to those combating terrorism? Will he make it a priority to give fresh consideration to those matters?

The Prime Minister : We have always given very great priority to the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland where the security forces face terrorism on a day-to-day basis and on the mainland where, increasingly in recent months, the terrorists have sought to intimidate with bombs. I must make the point to the terrorists again which will carry universal support in the House : they have no chance whatsoever of succeeding--not now, not tomorrow, not ever.


Q6. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 October.

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

Mr. Grocott : Does the Prime Minister remember that at the time of the Tory leadership election the reason given for why he beat his two rivals was that he was the one who was the particularly good economist? Will he therefore help the House and tell us whether the Government are pursuing the old economic policy or a new one? Will it be promoted by the old Chancellor or a new one?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly is not listening. He spends too much time reading in the newspapers about what might have been said two years ago.