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1992 - PMQT 27th October 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 27th October 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Watson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 October.

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. Watson : As the Prime Minister bobbles about helplessly in a sea of chaos, has he noticed the latest damning evidence of economic decline in today's Confederation of British Industry review, yet one of last week's U- turns--just one of them--promised economic growth? Before he finally slips beneath the surface, will the Prime Minister tell us what, if anything, he will do to prevent recession from turning into slump?

The Prime Minister : In the time that he spent preparing that question, the hon. Gentleman clearly did not read all of the CBI quarterly survey. If he had done, he would have seen output expectations up on September, export optimism up on July, the domestic prices balance at an all-time low and, for the first time ever, the balance of firms reporting unit costs actually being reduced. As to improving economic circumstances, the hon. Gentleman should note what has been done. Interest rates have been cut 11 times in two years. They are the lowest interest rates in Europe, and British firms also face the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe.

Mr. William Powell : My right hon. Friend will be aware of how welcome the declaration of the London summit on the conference on Yugoslavia was in relation to the war crimes that are taking place in Yugoslavia and also the subsequent action taking place at the United Nations. Unfortunately, of course, there is no permanent machinery for trying war crimes, although the General Assembly of the United Nations has been discussing such permanent machinery. Will my right hon. Friend encourage his colleagues in the Government to take a more constructive approach towards establishing such permanent machinery?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly content to give my hon. Friend that assurance. This was a matter that was raised at the London summit on Yugoslavia some time ago, and as a result of that, the whole matter is being examined in the United Nations.

Mr. John Smith : Could the Prime Minister explain how he takes comfort from a CBI survey which predicts that jobs will be down, output will be down, orders will be down, investment will be down and confidence will be down? Will he answer the question that was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson)? What action will he take to stop a slump?

The Prime Minister : For the second successive Question Time, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has failed to listen to an answer already given. If he had listened more carefully he would have heard what I said about output expectations, export optimism, the domestic prices balance and the balance of firms reporting unit costs actually falling. He would also know that manufacturing output has risen in each of the first two quarters, that car production was up sharply in September, and that retail sales have been up in both the second and third quarters.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not understand that the complacency of that answer will shock the public? Does he not realise that the British public are now sick and tired of failed economic policies as well as bogus economic promises of recovery which are never ever fulfilled?

The Prime Minister : Throughout the last three years the economic policy of the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been the same as ours, but 1 per cent. less off interest rates. Exactly the same. His commitment to the central part of our economic policy was total and frequently stated. He always wanted lower interest rates. Will he now bear it in mind that we have the lowest interest rates in the European Economic Community--lower than we have had for a long time--and that there is no economic policy whatever from the Opposition?

Sir James Kilfedder : May I, as one who voted against the Government in the crucial Division last week on the pit closures and was opposed by a Tory candidate in the general election, from my critical position of independence congratulate the Prime Minister on the brave determination that he has shown--history will commend him for it--to put the United Kingdom at the heart of Europe? Will he take the opportunity as often as possible to spell out in simple terms to the people of this country the consequences, particularly for jobs, if Britain is left on the sidelines of Europe?

The Prime Minister : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has had to say. Let me say this on the European Community and the Government's policy. I believe that we have had three historic mistakes over the last 30 years in European policy. [Interruption.] The first was when we failed to join the Community at the outset. The second was when twice other countries refused to accept Britain into the European Community. They were mistakes of great damage, to not just this country but the whole of the European Community. Today, with the possibility of enlargement through the changing policies in Europe, we have more of a chance than ever we have had before of building a European Community in the image that we in this country wish to see. It would be folly at this stage to throw that away by isolating ourselves in the Community and by ending our influence. That is the way that the sort of Community we do not wish to see--not the sort of Community that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have been fighting for for some years--comes about.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister not realise that the terrible damage done to his credibility and that of his Government by his foolish manoeuvrings over the last week have undermined the case for Europe, for which there is a majority in the House, as well as delaying the chance of recovery, for which there is such desperate need in the nation?

The Prime Minister : What undermines the case for Europe is the manoeuvrings of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) as well as the manoeuvrings of the right hon. Gentleman himself.

Mr. Roger Evans : Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that legislation will be introduced at an early date to strengthen the law against the curse of new-age travellers?

The Prime Minister : There seems to be some competition for legislation to be introduced in the House. We are examining the particular difficulties created by new-age travellers, and I hope that at the end of that examination we will be able to produce legislation to protect those who suffer from their activities.


Q2. Mr. Illsley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 October.

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

Mr. Illsley : The Prime Minister will recall that last Wednesday members of his Government said that there would be a meaningful, genuine, statutory 90-day review of the 10 collieries earmarked for closure. Bearing in mind the fact that there is no such thing as a statutory 90-day review, and that most of those collieries are now closed, does the Prime Minister accept that the House was apparently misled?

The Prime Minister : I shall reiterate to the hon. Gentleman what I said myself on the subject of the 10 pits. I made it perfectly clear then that the 10 pits that have no economic future will go through the full statutory review procedure. I made it equally clear that the Government would co-operate with the inquiry by the Trade and Industry Select Committee and that the President of the Board of Trade will give evidence if that is required.

Mr. Nicholls : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will never allow the EC to impose on us by the back door the social chapter that the Labour party would impose on us by the front door? Will he also confirm that he will fight for British interests and jobs in Euope, as he has always done?

The Prime Minister : I can most certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Before I went to the negotiations on the Maastricht treaty I indicated to the House that I would not come back having accepted a single currency being imposed on this House, and equally, that I would not accept the social chapter. I honoured both of those commitments and I propose to keep to them.


Q3. Mr. Barnes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 October.

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

Mr. Barnes : A sales manager of British Coal, Alan Aitken, has told customers that supplies will be supplemented by imports during the period of the pit closures. This is a disgrace. How much will be added to these imports by the agreement that the Prime Minister made with the Colombian authorities about the importation from that country of coal that is produced with the help of child labour?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is clearly reading the wrong articles, for what he has had to say is rubbish. I made no offer to stop British Coal's anti-dumping complaint. Nor did I in any way reach the sort of agreement that the hon. Gentleman suggests with the Colombian authorities--not at any stage. Since I spend a lot of my time, as the hon. Gentleman knows, seeking an agreement on GATT, it is hardly likely that I would support dumping.


Q4. Mrs. Angela Knight : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 October.

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

Mrs. Knight : Does my right hon. Friend agree that not even the French farmers would benefit from a world trade war? Will he confirm that he will continue to pursue an early conclusion of the GATT round, which will be good for developing countries, good for Britain--including companies in my constituency of Erewash--and even good for France?

The Prime Minister : I can most certainly confirm that. The reality is that everybody would lose out from a trade war, including France and everybody who lives in France. In the last few days I have been in touch with the Americans and with leaders throughout the European Community to urge an early resumption of talks between the Community and the United States, both on a GATT agreement and on ending the dispute about oil seeds. I am glad to say that the two sides are in touch again and the United States is holding off from taking trade retaliation. We must seek an agreement both to end the dispute over oil seeds and a comprehensive agreement on the Uruguay round as speedily as possible. On the substantive point of my hon. Friend's question about benefits, it would produce £120 billion worth of extra world output were we to have a successful GATT outcome.

Mr. Cunliffe : Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that he may be out next week on 90 days' notice, without statutory review? Will he bear with me while I relate to him the humiliating experience, which is causing great distress, that miners at Parkside colliery suffered on Friday? They were told to report to the pit every day for 90 days but that they were forbidden to go down the mine. Will the Prime Minister condemn this unspeakable behaviour and have words about it with the chairman of British Coal?

The Prime Minister : I shall examine the case that the hon. Gentleman sets out and I shall see for myself what the facts are.


Q5. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 27 October.

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

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) should not behave in that way.

Mr. Amess : Is my right hon. Friend aware that mortgage interest rates for first-time buyers are now at their lowest level for 25 years? Does he agree that that will have the effect of putting more money in people's pockets so that they can spend it on goods in the high street and thereby help our economic recovery? Does he further agree that that is very good news for home buyers throughout the country and particularly for my constituents in Basildon?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend has the most famous constituents in the western world and I can confirm that the very substantial reductions in mortgage rates will help them a great deal. It will also make a significant difference to the amount of money available for high street purchases, though of course the central point is that each 1 per cent. off interest rates is worth £1 billion a year to industry, and that is vital for investment, for future prosperity and for jobs.

Dr. Kim Howells : Can the Prime Minister confirm that doubts about the future of the hugely important Al Yamamah defence deal, which the British Government have signed with the Saudis, increase day by day and parallel the decline in the influence of his predecessor, Baroness Thatcher? Will he confirm that interest in that deal increases as it looks as though his predecessor may be making a comeback, along with that grease-palming son of hers [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. [Interruption.] We want a question from the hon. Member.

Dr. Howells : That was my question, Madam Speaker.

The Prime Minister : I refute the hon. Gentleman's distasteful remarks about my noble Friend. As for the Al Yamamah contract, there is no doubt that the Saudi commitment to Al Yamamah remains as strong as it has been for many years. That has been stressed to the Secretary of State for Defence and directly to me by the king.