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1992 - PMQT 19th November 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 19th November 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 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 later today.

Mr. Pike : Does the Prime Minister recognise that urban programme authorities, such as Burnley, which have been designated programme authorities because of deprivation, on the Government's own criteria, are devastated by the axing of the urban programme? That has brought despair and despondency to those areas. Will the Prime Minister now guarantee that those deprived areas will get more resources, not less, as a result of the change in Government policy?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is probably overlooking, first, the impact of city challenge, secondly, the impact of the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and, thirdly, the fact that the urban programme has not been cancelled. Some £176 million will be available in 1993-94.

Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, following yesterday's publication of school league tables, there can be no turning back on providing extra information to parents about their schools? Did my right hon. Friend notice that while the Labour party and the education establishment mafia were opposing the league tables, parents throughout the country were jamming the switchboard of the Department for Education demanding copies of those very league tables?

The Prime Minister : It is indeed the case that the education service will never again be able to hide this important information. I hope that hon. Members of all parties will agree that this is information which should legitimately be available to parents, is now available to parents, and should continue to be available to parents.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister none the less explain why his Government are so incompetent that they cannot even produce an accurate record of the examination results?

The Prime Minister : That is a bit rich coming from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman recalls his infamous Jennifer's ear broadcast not long ago, he will recall that the day after that, the Labour party's dossier of people it claimed had to wait for treatment was wholly wrong. Out of 10 people it listed, five were wrong.

Mr. John Smith : To return to the subject, can the Prime Minister explain why in the case of Manchester high school, which had a 100 per cent. pass, the figure was recorded as 16 per cent. and in the case of Holyrood comprehensive school in Chard, a 46 per cent. pass was recorded as 6 per cent? In both cases the schools contacted the Department to correct the misleading information that they thought was likely to be published. Why cannot the Department for Education perform the simple task of recording and transmitting information?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is seeking to hide the fact that he and his party want a cover-up on these statistics- - [Interruption.] If there are errors in the statistics, the Department will correct them. The main point is that it is right to give this information to parents and astonishing that the Labour party should wish to hide this information from parents-- [Interruption.] --

Madam Speaker : Order. Members must come to order instead of bawling and shouting all the time like this.-- [Interruption.] --Order. Ministers must be heard in the House, as must every other Member. I call the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful, Madam Speaker. It would be interesting to know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees with this morning's Guardian, which said :

"What's new is that parents have more information than they had before. No democrat should regard this as a reverse. This will allow a more informed choice."

Is Labour against more choice and more information?

Mr. John Smith : We favour, above all, the provision of accurate rather than dogma-ridden information. When the Prime Minister is engaged in the task of correcting the errors, will he look at the case of Cambridgeshire, where, according to the county council, there have been 53 errors affecting at least 30 schools? Why does the Prime Minister not admit that the Government have made a botch of this, take it away and start again, this time trying to reach the minimum competence levels which even this Government should be able to attain?

The Prime Minister : I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledges that we shall continue to provide this information, and next year we shall go further with the information. This is the biggest exercise of its kind ever undertaken by a Government : a quarter of a million statistics in one complete set of tables. Every school had a chance to check its figures. In addition, some complaints may have originated in the information wrongly presented in the media, based on our figures--[Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] It is hardly surprising that there are some errors.

We shall correct them. Next year-- [Interruption.] Hon. Members had better listen, because this is what they will get next year : extra information ; national curriculum results in English, maths, science and technology, routes taken by pupils at age 16 ; truancy rates ; and examination results. They will also get the first primary school tables giving national curriculum results for pupils aged seven. That is the information which the Opposition would hide and we shall provide.

Mr. Butcher : I commend to the attention of my right hon. Friend an article in the current issue of the Fabian reviews in which it is argued that selective education should be reintroduced and that our secondary schools should be reformed on the German model of vocational and academic education. If this is now a legitimate subject of interest for the more enlightened socialists, why are our own Ministers so coy about reintroducing grammar schools?

The Prime Minister : The main thing that we are concerned with is the highest quality of education across the whole of the public sector. That is what we are seeking to provide, together with the greater spread of information. With regard to what my hon. Friend has to say about the socialist party, he must speak for them in so far as he wishes to do so--I certainly would not wish to do so.

Leaving aside for the moment the 180 refugees for whom Austria has provided refuge because Britain would not, may I again remind the Prime Minister of the more than 6,500 innocent civilians without adequate refuge, trapped in Serbian prison compounds, their lives threatened imminently by starvation and cold because no third country will have them? Does the Prime Minister realise that they are there, at least in part, because of his failure as President of the European Community to provide a co-ordinated European plan for Yugoslav refugees? Why?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman knows that this country has taken the lead in most of the initiatives dealing with Yugoslavia in recent months. We have welcomed more than 40,000 visitors, of whom 4,000 have applied for asylum. This country has shown great generosity and will continue to do so, but we share the view of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that help should be provided as close as possible to people's homes, and not by taking them abroad when that is not absolutely necessary. That is the policy which we have been following and the policy which I believe it is right for us to follow.

Mr. Dunn : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the publication of league tables for local schools is entirely responsible? Is he also aware that the reason why certain parties in the House object to the publication of information for parents is that it brings into the open the mediocrity introduced into our schools by the left in the 1960s?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend--and, more to the point, so do parents up and down the country, who know very well where the bad education authorities are. The Labour party has tried to block every one of our education reforms, so it is hardly surprising that it is now trying to block information.


Q2. Mr. Hall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 November.

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

Mr. Hall : Is the Prime Minister aware that the ICI chlora-alkali factory in Runcorn has experienced a 60 per cent. increase in its electricity bills in the past 18 months? Unless it can negotiate a more realistic price for its electricity, or benefit from bulk purchasing, it will go out of business--putting 4,000 people in Runcorn out of work. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment that he will intervene on behalf of jobs in British industry and ensure that ICI is treated fairly in this matter?

The Prime Minister : I cannot intervene in the way in which the hon. Gentleman invites me to, and it would not be right for me to do so.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Will the Prime Minister find time in his busy schedule to visit Portland to speak to those running the naval base there and, in particular, to examine sea training? It is not planned to reduce sea training, but simply to move it to Devonport. Is not the best place to undertake such training the place where it has always been undertaken-- Portland?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend knows of the decision, which has been taken after careful examination. I am not able to announce any change in that decision this afternoon. I am, of course, perfectly happy to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend.


Q3. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 November.

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

Mr. Ross : Following the announcement today that 3,500 jobs are to go at the Royal Bank of Scotland and 550 at Blue Circle cement, does the Prime Minister realise that while unemployment continues to soar out of control no one will have any confidence in him or in the economy? Why does not the right hon. Gentleman admit that he has not a clue what to do about unemployment?

The Prime Minister : Given that the hon. Gentleman supports a party which wanted a tax on jobs, all the burdens of the social charter and a national minimum wage, I find his remarks a bit rich. It is odd that the hon. Gentleman did not notice the reductions in interest rates, the measures taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week, or the measures taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment over many months. Where has the hon. Gentleman been during all this time?

Mrs. Gillan : Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating a company in my constituency--Amersham International--on winning the Queen's award for industry for its brain-imaging agent, ceretec? The company leads the world in the field. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is further evidence of the success of the Government's privatisation policy?

The Prime Minister : I most certainly agree with my hon. Friend. It is a fact that most of the industries that have been privatised have had a substantially better record in the private sector than they had in the public sector. That is why it is entirely right for us, wherever we can, to look to move enterprises from the public to the private sector, where they can be run by business men, run for profit, and provide secure, long-term, permanent employment.


Q4. Mr. Ronnie Campbell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 November.

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

Mr. Campbell : On 16 November the Prime Minister wrote a letter to the National Union of Mineworkers saying that the 10 pits in the review would have to close because they were not making a profit. [Interruption.] I am not reading. Is the Prime Minister aware that five of those collieries are currently making a profit and two of them are expected to make a profit at the end of the financial year? Who is telling the truth in the matter--the Coal Board or the Prime Minister? The pits are to close--yet they are making a profit. Does the Prime Minister not want to keep the pits open because he would tarnish his reputation again?

The Prime Minister : The Government are seeking to ensure that we can have a coal industry in the future which is sustainable, profitable and viable. That is in the interests of the coal industry, in the interests of energy users and in the interests of the local communities--and it is what the Government wish to see.