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1992 - PMQT 26th November 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 26th November 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hendry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 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. Hendry : Has my right hon. Friend seen the report in yesterday's Financial Times on Derbyshire, which highlights the growth of jobs, prosperity and confidence in that county and beyond as a direct result of Toyota's decision to manufacture cars in this country? Is that not the clearest possible evidence of the success of the Government's strategy to make Britain the best place for international companies to invest? Is not that in the sharpest possible contrast to the position across the channel, where yesterday's vote on GATT shows that the French claim to be good European citizens is a total sham?

The Prime Minister : I greatly welcome the large investment by Toyota in Burnaston, together with that by other Japanese car manufacturers in recent years. Over that period their total planned investment in the United Kingdom is now nearly £2 billion and will create something in excess of 10,000 jobs. Clearly, that is extremely welcome news for this country. We are a very attractive area for foreign investment and I intend to keep it that way with low inflation, low taxation and no social charter.

Mr. John Smith : In view of the evident public concern, will the Prime Minister tell the House whether he has had discussions with Her Majesty the Queen about the issues of taxation and the civil list payments?

The Prime Minister : Let me say first to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I believe that affection and respect for the monarchy are very wide and very deep across all sections of the nation. On the particular point that he raises, the sovereign is not liable in law to pay tax on her personal income and does not at present do so. But Her Majesty, some months ago--before the summer recess--indicated to me that she wished consideration to be given to changing that arrangement. She asked me then to consider the basis on which she might voluntarily pay tax and further suggested that she might take responsibility for certain payments under the current civil list arrangements. The House will be keen to know that the Prince of Wales has made a similar request in regard to the Duchy of Cornwall. Discussions are continuing between the Treasury, the Inland Revenue and the royal household. When they are completed I shall make a full statement to the House.

Mr. Smith : I am sure that the whole House will welcome the fact that consideration of those questions has been initiated. When does the Prime Minister expect to be able to make that full statement to the House, and what has the Queen suggested by way of changes in the civil list?

The Prime Minister : I cannot be precise about when I can make a statement, but I would expect to be able to make one early in the new year. I also expect that the new arrangements will be able to come into effect for the next tax year. On the second part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question about the civil list, the Queen has asked me to consider arrangements under which she would reimburse the Consolidated Fund for the cost of annuities paid to all members of the royal family, except the Queen Mother and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr. Clappison : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming today's encouraging news about American economic growth? Does he further agree that any consequent growth in world trade would be good for British trade, and that British industry is now well placed, with low inflation and low interest rates, to take advantage of world economic growth?

The Prime Minister : I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. It is clearly good news to see that the American economy begins to grow again. That will be good news, not just for the United States, but for the rest of the world trading community. It means that British companies and British business have a great opportunity. We have low inflation, the lowest interest rates in the European Community, an extremely competitive exchange rate and a single market of 340 million people on our doorstep. Now that the prospect of a world trade war has been averted, the circumstances are coming together that provide better opportunities for British business than we have known for some time.

Mr. Ashdown : What words has the Prime Minister to say to his fellow citizens of all political colours who, this afternoon, will discover that their councils are to sack teachers, close schools, shut down social services and still levy a council tax that is higher by far than anything that his Ministers promised during the last election?

The Prime Minister : I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should wait for the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in a few moments' time. The right hon. Gentleman's allegations have a familiar ring. We seem to have heard them from him and his colleagues year after year, yet they have never yet become fact.

Mr. Waller : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for all European nations to support with one voice the general agreement on tariffs and trade? Does he further agree that if any one European nation were to jeopardise the implementation of that agreement, it would go against the interests not only of Britain and its European partners, but of international trade generally?

The Prime Minister : I do agree with my hon. Friend on that. The agreement between the Community and the United States is a good one for the entire Community and the entire world trading community. It would, of course, be desirable for all member states to agree as speedily as possible. I know that there are difficulties in France, but I am sure that when France has examined every aspect of the deal, which has not yet been concluded and has to be concluded in Geneva, it, too, will realise that liberalisation of trade, services and manufactures is a very valuable prize for the French economy, as well as for the economies of every other industrial nation in the world.


Q2. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

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

Mr. Jones : How can the Prime Minister justify a system whereby unelected and unaccountable card-carrying Conservatives are appointed to run Wales by quango? Does not that drive a stake through the heart of the democratic process? When will such political nepotism stop?

The Prime Minister : The heart of the political process of Wales is here in the House of Commons, with the answerability of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : May I put it to my right hon. Friend that both the question by the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend's answer will be welcomed by people across the country and across the political spectrum? Would it be possible to suggest that senior members of the Privy Council should try to keep in contact with each other so that the country can respond to a lead from the royal household and from the leaders of the political parties?

The Prime Minister : As I indicated to the House a few moments ago, I hope that we shall be able to conclude the arrangements before too long, and I hope then to be able to respond to the House. I think that the announcement that I have made today and the fuller announcement that I shall be able to make, I hope, early in the new year will be widely welcomed, both in the House and beyond it.

Mr. Sheldon : While I welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister, will he now consider the setting up of a Select Committee on the civil list, as was done in 1972? It is about time, after 20 years, that we considered these matters dispassionately and carefully and came to a sensible conclusion.

The Prime Minister : I know that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed that view, but I see no need for such a special Select Committee. The House approved the present civil list arrangements in 1990 to run for 10 years. The additional reimbursements which Her Majesty has asked me to consider will reduce the net cost to the Exchequer. I made the point that the arrangements run for a full 10 years. The actual increase is, of course, 6 per cent. because of assumed savings of 1.5 per cent. If there is a surplus at the end of the period, it will, of course, be taken into account in setting future civil list payments.

Mr. Pickles : Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, following the autumn statement, the best way to give a boost to British industry is to start a programme of removing regulation from business? Does he further agree that business currently faces a triple assault from the town hall, Whitehall and Brussels?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The autumn statement has set out the right framework for growth and we need to be sure that that growth is not shackled by red tape, whether it comes from Whitehall, county hall, town hall or the European Community. I announced some time ago that I had asked my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to lead a new blitz on the regulatory sausage machine from wherever those regulations may come. We intend to cut all unnecessary rules and requirements that dull enterprise and innovation. I hope that before too long British business men will be able to warm their hands at a new bonfire of controls.


Q3. Mr. Darling : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

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

Mr. Darling : How can the Prime Minister justify a situation in which nurses and teachers will this year get no wage increase and possibly lose their jobs, when, at the same time, the chairmen of the privatised water industries are digging their faces into the public trough yet again and are asking, and will get, increases of between 30 and 50 per cent? What does the Prime Minister intend to do about it?

The Prime Minister : Against the advice of the Government yesterday- -if I may borrow the hon. Gentleman's phrase--around 90 Labour Members dug their noses in the trough.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Will the Prime Minister-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members must resume their seats.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Will the Prime Minister recite for the House the moral, political and legal principles that distinguish the two cases of informers, the case of Brian Nelson and that of the informer known as "Michael", who featured in a BBC television programme? Can the Prime Minister explain to the House and to the country why one of the two is at present serving a 10-year sentence and the other has left the country with his pockets stuffed with tens of thousands of pounds, with a new life made for him in some other area of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister : I understand that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is investigating the programme to which the hon. Gentleman refers and that a report will be submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The principle of employing participating informants to assist the police in the prevention of crime is well established in this country and in other democratic societies. As I believe the hon. Gentleman well understands, lives would be lost in Northern Ireland if the security forces were unable to receive information from informants. On his other point, there is no immunity from prosecution for informants who commit crime and the security forces are at all times subject to the rule of law.


Q4. Ms. Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

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

Ms. Hoey : The Prime Minister will know that nearly a quarter of a million people have signed a petition demanding that St. Thomas's hospital should stay open on its present site. I have taken the liberty of putting in his name, because it is his local hospital. I wonder whether he will sign it and ensure that his local hospital, a hospital crucial to central London, is kept open.

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Lady knows, it is widely accepted that substantial changes in London will be necessary to provide the right health care in future. However, there will be very full consultation before any decisions are taken on the Tomlinson report. My hon. Friend the Minister for Health has already visited St. Thomas's to listen to views on the proposals. We shall consider them, examine the report and announce our conclusions in the new year.


Q5. Lady Olga Maitland : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

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

Lady Olga Maitland : Does my right hon. Friend welcome the announcement yesterday by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that £1.5 billion-worth of Whitehall in-house functions will be market tested? Does he agree that the civil service must subject itself to the same disciplines of efficiency and value for money as the private sector?

The Prime Minister : The initiative on market testing announced by my right hon. Friend yesterday is a giant step forward in bringing new thinking and new skills to the service of the public, and in getting work done that needs to be done better and with better value for money than ever before. I believe that we can be proud of the work done by many millions of public servants. That does not mean that it cannot be done better. That is what market testing is about, and it is why we support it and why the Opposition, who so often put the convenience of trade unions before that of the public, oppose it and will no doubt continue to oppose it.