Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1992 - PMQT 29th October 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 29th October 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. William O'Brien : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 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. O'Brien : Can the Prime Minister confirm that the chairman of British Coal told the Select Committee on Trade and Industry yesterday that the 31 pits due to close are only the beginning, and that seven more are due to close in due course, making a total of 38 pits, which will be devastating to the mining industry and to mining communities ? What is the Prime Minister going to do? Is he going to come clean on that issue?

The Prime Minister : What I believe the chairman of the coal industry actually said, although I have not yet read his evidence in detail and I must make that clear to the hon. Gentleman, was that British Coal could close more than 31 pits and have a viable industry. That is a quite separate proposition from saying that that is likely to happen, and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has made it perfectly clear that he is reviewing the situation.

Mr. Waterson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the London business school survey, which showed that there would be greater reductions in air fares in Europe if there were more liberalisation, would equally apply to air fares between here and the United States of America, where there is a greater need for liberalisation?

The Prime Minister : Yes I do agree with my hon. Friend about that. We have sought greater liberalisation in air fares for some time. We are confident that they would produce both a better service and cheaper air fares. We think that that is a prize well worth seeking.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the publication of the Foreign Office's assessment of the Danish proposals confirm that the Prime Minister cannot possibly discharge the undertaking that he gave to the House on 24 September before the Edinburgh summit at the earliest?

The Prime Minister : No, I must say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not believe that that is the case. The British presidency has the responsibility of seeking to negotiate Denmark into a position where it can ratify the treaty. We hope to be able to reach a framework upon that by December. What is clear is that the Danes have now set out how they propose to proceed, and it is also clear from the Birmingham declaration that we shall have positive decisions on subsidiarity at Edinburgh.

Mr. John Smith : But does the Prime Minister not recollect saying in precise and specific terms in the House on 24 September that there would have to be a basis for the Danes to have a second referendum and that subsidiarity would have to be set in place? How can it be set in place before the Edinburgh summit?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is wriggling because he knows that he is trying to move away from the European policy that he has always had. I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if he cannot keep his principles in opposition, he will stay in opposition.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not appreciate that it is a bit rich to be accused of a U-turn by a Prime Minister who has done a U- turn on devaluation and the exchange rate mechanism, a U-turn on pit closures, a U-turn on economic policy and a U-turn on his undertakings to the House?

The Prime Minister : I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been touched upon a sore spot. He knows that his party has had seven changes of policy on Europe already. Even Salome ran out of veils at seven. He has shed seven veils and what is revealed is less attractive than Salome.

Mr. John Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that nothing would help more to restore economic recovery all round the world than a settlement in the GATT round? Will he continue to do everything that he can to bring about such a settlement?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance and I and a number of my right hon. Friends have been in touch with the key negotiators again over the last 24 hours. I hope very much that there will be yet more negotiations over this weekend and that there will be an early settlement. It is a very great prize and I hope and believe that it will be there for the taking.


Official Visit, Newham

Q2. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Prime Minister if he has any plans to pay an official visit to the London borough of Newham.

The Prime Minister : I am making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country. Newham is not yet included, but I am happy to consider it.

Mr. Banks : That is very good news. I will organise a riotous welcome for the Prime Minister when he comes, but I must tell him with great respect that he is about as popular in the east end as anthrax. If he were to come to my advice surgery on Friday, he would find that 60 per cent. of my cases are housing problems and that is true of all inner city hon. Members. In 1979 my borough was spending £50,000 a year on bed- and-breakfast accommodation and this year we are spending £7 million on it. We have only 1.4 per cent. of our properties vacant.

If the Prime Minister wants to do something about homelessness and to boost the economy, will he allow local authorities to spend the £5.1 billion of accumulated capital receipts? That would do something about homelessness and jobs, or is he only interested in his own job and his own homes?

The Prime Minister : I must say that that is a bit rich from the hon. Gentleman. Newham borough council's rent arrears now amount to 21 per cent. of its rent roll and it has 1,000 empty properties. Newham has the lowest collection of community charge almost anywhere in the country and as far as its collection record is concerned, perhaps some explanation of that is that seven of the Labour councillors refuse to pay their community charge.


Engagements

Q3. Mr. David Atkinson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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

Mr. Atkinson : If Parliament does not ratify the Maastricht treaty, can my right hon. Friend point out precisely what the alternatives would be for Britain and the consequences which would undoubtedly be encouraged if the Labour party were to abandon all principle by failing to support the Prime Minister on Wednesday night?

The Prime Minister : On that last point, I believe that they have already announced that they have no principles, so everybody is aware of that. I believe that it would be damaging for Britain if we were unable to ratify the Maastricht treaty. We would lose influence in Europe, we would lose the opportunity to lead it in the direction that we want away from centralism into a free market towards an enlarged community and towards a decentralised community. But more than that, I think we would be sending a signal to investors in America, Japan and elsewhere that they could not rely on our commitment to Europe and I dare say that people who work in Sony factories in Wales, Nissan factories in the north and many other investments throughout the United Kingdom would not regard that as a sensible policy.


Q4. Mr. Alton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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

Mr. Alton : As the Prime Minister has rightly just reminded the House whether the Maastricht treaty is ratified next week is a matter of great principle, and given the confusion that there has been during the past week or so, can the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether he will personally regard next Wednesday's vote as a matter of confidence in himself and his Government?

The Prime Minister : We will put down our motion before the end of this week. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that it will be a substantive motion and we shall invite support for it on its merits.

Mr. Richards : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent raid on an IRA bomb factory was the product of painstaking and diligent work by the Metropolitan police and others, and will he congratulate all of them on that success?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to do that. As my hon. Friend will know, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on specific police operations, but they have undoubtedly been very successful in their work against terrorism and have faced particular difficulties with the large number of bombs that have been placed, particularly in the city of London, in recent weeks. I know that they will continue that work.


Q5 Mr. Battle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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

Mr. Battle : As the Department of Social Security has confirmed that the Prime Minister intends to tax invalidity benefit, I challenge the Prime Minister to tell us exactly where that plan to tax the sick is to be found in his election manifesto. Tell us. Which page is it on?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should stop scrabbling among newspapers and wait for the details of the autumn statement in due course. When it comes, he might also comment on the substantial real-terms reductions in many social benefits under the last Labour Government.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that his success in beating inflation, now down to 2 per cent. annualised over the last six months, provides the firmest foundation for low interest rates, and that it is his policies, rather than the muddled policies of the Opposition, which will ensure that this country, as a great trading nation, gains the greatest success from the GATT talks?

The Prime Minister : Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely right about the importance of low inflation. It is noticeable that even today the official Opposition are apt to disregard inflation as the important ingredient in economic well being. It is the fact that we now have low inflation, together with the increased competitiveness that increasingly is there, which will provide the basis for recovery.


Q6. Mr. Dafis : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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

Mr. Dafis : Notwithstanding the rhetoric of the Welsh Office, as economic conditions in Wales certainly justify granting to Wales objective 1 status under the EC structural fund, will the Prime Minister support the granting of that status to Wales?

The Prime Minister : I think that that is a matter upon which my right hon. Friend will wish to comment.


Q7. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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

Lady Olga Maitland : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming a reduction in the number of house repossession actions? Is that not a demonstration of our policies to facilitate house owners so that they do not have to leave their homes at a time of financial crisis? Finally, I extend to my right hon. Friend a warm welcome to my constituency of Sutton and, in particular, to his birthplace, St. Helier's, which is a NHS trust.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that invitation. I am pleased that the number of repossession actions in the last quarter were a third down and that is welcome. That is in part due to two particular factors--the package of measures on repossessions announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last December and the significant fall in interest rates over the past two years.


Q8. Mr. Hanson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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

Mr. Hanson : Yesterday afternoon I spent two hours with miners from the Point of Ayr colliery in my constituency, one of the 21 on the moratorium list-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. This is Question Time. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would now come in right away with his question.

Mr. Hanson : They told me of run down investment in pits, job losses and everything else. Will the Prime Minister give me and my hon. Friends an assurance that there will be no run down in investment in pits on the list during the term of that moratorium?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has made all those matters clear. The hon. Gentleman is well aware of what is happening during the moratorium period.


Q9. Mr. Ward : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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

Mr. Ward : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the foundations of recovery is to maintain capital expenditure, particularly where it affects the construction industry.

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about that matter, as I set out in my remarks in some interviews a few days ago. As I said to the House at Question Time last week, economic circumstances outside the United Kingdom have materially changed, but in many ways that gives us new opportunities to develop our strategy for recovery. I cannot anticipate today the outcome of the public expenditure round but it is right to recognise the importance of capital projects and I know that that is very much in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary.