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1992 - PMQT 5th November 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 5th November 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 November.

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 today.

Mr. Colvin : Will my right hon. Friend find time during his busy day to decide how to use the diplomatic and negotiating skills which he deployed so effectively at Maastricht to prevent a trade war between the United States and the European Community? Will he pull out all the stops to achieve an agreement on the general agreement on tariffs and trade before President Bush leaves the White House, in the knowledge that agreement on GATT will do more than anything else to pull the world out of recession?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend on his last point-- it is a very serious matter. It is for the European Commission, which has the responsibility to negotiate on behalf of member states, to make a deal, and we shall seek to reach a concerted position so that such a deal can be achieved. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will make a statement about that a little later.

Mr. John Smith : Why is it that, in the midst of all our present miseries-- [Interruption.] Why is it that, in the midst of this situation, the Government think that it is a priority to abolish wages councils which offer a safety net for 2.5 million people, two thirds of whom are women?

The Prime Minister : I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman takes a very narrow view. When he studies the whole of the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill, he may have a more enlightened view. As he may know, we have decided that wages councils will be abolished because they distort the operation of the labour market. Abolishing them will lead to more jobs rather than fewer. These days, wages councils are an anachronism. They no longer have a useful role. They were set up in 1909 and they are not relevant to 1992.

Mr. Smith : Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand the truth that was expressed by Sir Winston Churchill when wages councils were set up, which was that, if there is no wage protection, the good employer is undercut by the bad and the bad is undercut by the worst? Does he not understand that people in this country are sick and tired of his professing concern about unemployment when 1 million people have lost their jobs since he became Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister : It is precisely because of the concern to sustain and maintain jobs that we propose to get rid of the councils that destroy jobs. The fact of the matter is that they create unnecessary bureaucracy and add to the burdens on business. If that is the Opposition's industrial strategy--more burdens, less business and fewer jobs--the right hon. and learned Gentleman had better make it clear.


Q2. Mr. John Townend : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 November.

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

Mr. Townsend : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members are in favour of a very tough public spending round this year, especially on the revenue account, even if that means a public sector pay freeze to protect capital projects? Is he aware also that, when we are having to take painful decisions, it is not acceptable for Mr. Delors to ask for an increase in own resources? Will my right hon. Friend tell Mr. Delors that if he wants more cash, he should look to the waste, fraud and corruption revealed by a recent report of the Court of Auditors?

The Prime Minister : On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I cannot, of course, this afternoon anticipate my right hon. Friend's autumn statement which he will make to the House next Thursday. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that the Commission's proposals for a massive increase in Community spending are excessive in the present circumstances. No more than anyone else can the Community spend more than it can afford. I believe that, when we consider the future financing, we must be guided by the same principles of budget discipline and sound public finance that we all agreed to put in the Maastricht treaty.


Q3. Ms. Glenda Jackson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 November.

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

Ms. Jackson : Does the Prime Minister recall the pledge that he gave in his election manifesto that the value of child benefit would increase each year in line with prices? Despite the wriggling evident in his previous answer, will he repeat that pledge to the House today?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady must wait for the autumn statement next week, and I will tell her why. When asked to anticipate a financial statement in the election, the Leader of the Opposition said, "You'll have to wait till next week when I make it." That applies to us as well.

Mr. Knapman : Does my right hon. Friend believe that a single currency for Europe is a desirable objective?

The Prime Minister : I have indicated often enough in the House, not least yesterday, that I do not believe that that is a remotely likely objective to be reached in the time scale set and that one can only determine whether it is desirable in the circumstances of the day, when the decision needs to be made. That is not now.


Q4. Mr. Janner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 November.

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

Mr. Janner : Does the Prime Minister agree that the closure of the 31 pits would make 30,000 miners compulsorily redundant and destroy the jobs of up to 70,000 people in related industries and that very few of them would have any chance of finding other work? In those circumstances, what does the Prime Minister say in response to the extraordinary revelation made by the chairman of British Coal yesterday to the Employment Select Committee that, when he and the President of the Board of Trade decided to close the pits, he had no discussion, conversation or consultation with the Secretary of State for Employment?

The Prime Minister : There has been a great deal of consultation in government for some time over the whole question of pit closures and there was a great deal of detailed consideration for some time. The hon. and learned Gentleman now knows precisely what the situation is from a lengthy and detailed statement made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Lidington : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although this country's links with our friends in Europe continue to strengthen, our special relationship with the United States of America remains as vital now as it ever has been?

The Prime Minister : It has been a very close relationship. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) referred to it yesterday as an historic relationship. It has remained that for many years. I believe that that results from the shared interests that we have around the world and from a shared historical background. I have no doubt that that will continue.

Madam Speaker : Mr. Paddy Ashdown-- [Interruption.] Order. The House must come to order. Mr. Ashdown.

Mr. Ashdown : Is it not the case that the decision taken last night by the House, by however narrow a margin, nevertheless means that Britain's future in Europe has been saved and, with it, tens of thousands of jobs around Britain?

The Prime Minister : May I say first to the right hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order and hear the response from the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : May I say first to the right hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister must be heard in the House, as every other right hon. and hon. Member should. The Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : Thank you, Madam Speaker. May I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the price of principle is often abuse, but he was right last night in the vote that he cast. [Interruption.]

Mr. Sykes : Does the Prime Minister agree with the business men of Scarborough and Whitby who say that the social chapter would devastate jobs?

The Prime Minister : That is a view with which I entirely agree. It is a view expressed not only by the business men of Scarborough and Whitby, clearly with great clarity, but by business men across this country. The social chapter was not in the interests of this country. We were right to reject it.


Q6. Dr. Berry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 November.

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

Dr. Berry : Is the Prime Minister able to explain why he believes that an increase in public expenditure will severely damage the economy while hoping and praying that exactly the same activity by the private sector will get Britain out of recession?

The Prime Minister : I do not know on what basis the hon. Gentleman produces his question. The Government's position on public expenditure has always been that it must be prudent, it must be affordable and it must be in the interests of overall management of the economy. That was, is and remains the case.

Sir Peter Emery : Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to extend an invitation to President-elect Clinton to come to this country, immediately after 20 January, when he can?

The Prime Minister : I am delighted to take the opportunity of saying that I look forward to meeting President-elect Clinton before Christmas. I have already had the opportunity of sending my congratulations to him and stating them both privately and publicly, and I look forward to meeting him before Christmas. I hope that it will be possible for him to visit this country.


Q7. Mr. Fatchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 November.

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

Mr. Fatchett : After the Prime Minister's poor performance in yesterday's debate and after his policy failure on unemployment, the mines, British industry and devaluation, does he agree that his recent 16 per cent. approval rating in an opinion poll shows the generosity of the British people?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman was looking for one person in this country who has good reason not to trust opinion polls, he has just addressed a question to him. As to yesterday--right sentiment, wrong leader.

Mr. Ian Taylor : Does my right hon. Friend share my view that the true test of compassion in public services is not necessarily the amount of money spent but the quality and efficiency with which it is spent? Does he, therefore, share my horror at the lack of compassion of Lambeth council, which has already spent £400,000 of local charge payers' money on phantom teachers?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I did see that particular report, which illustrated not only that Lambeth council is inefficient but that it is slightly less inefficient than Islington council, which spent rather more on the same matter.


Q8. Mr. Hoyle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 November.

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

Mr. Hoyle : Will the Prime Minister repeat in the House the assurance that he gave to the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) that he would not introduce the Third Reading of the Maastricht Bill until after the second Danish referendum ? Does that not show that there was no limit to the wriggling of the Prime Minister in his attempt to obtain votes in the Lobby last night ?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman's last point had been right, there would have been no debate yesterday. It was precisely because I was concerned to get the Bill through that there was a debate yesterday and we will move to Committee stage, and move forward.

I am happy to make the point entirely clear to the hon. Gentleman. Yesterday, the House reaffirmed its assent to the Bill proceeding to Committee stage. In doing so, no thanks to the official Opposition, it reaffirmed our determination to play a leading role in Europe and strengthened our negotiating hand in Edinburgh. As for progress, there will be a limited discussion before Christmas. We will return to the Bill in greater detail in the new year. I wish to have plenty of time for full and proper discussion on all the details of a constitutional Bill which is of great concern in the House. It is important to carry the assent of the House on the Bill. That will take time.

The present intention of the Danish Government is to hold a referendum in May. Given the Committee timetable that we have in mind and the full discussion that we need, we will need to take the Third Reading after that date in May. That has been and is the position, and that is the point that was made clear yesterday.