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1992 - PMQT 1st December 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 1st December 1992. Tony Newton deputised for John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Ronnie Campbell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 December.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I have been asked to reply.

As part of his European Community presidency duties, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is visiting Spain and Portugal for discussions with Prime Minister Gonzalez and Prime Minister Cavaco Silva in preparation for the European Council in Edinburgh.

Mr. Campbell : With 20 million tonnes of subsidised foreign coal coming into Britain and subsidised nuclear electricity coming from France-- equivalent to 6 million tonnes of coal in the United Kingdom--will the Prime Minister consider subsidising the transportation of British coal to Europe and the rest of the world, thus saving miners' jobs and British Rail jobs?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman has, understandably, raised a variety of issues which are the subject of the review by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I note that my right hon. Friend is present and will have heard what the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. John Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend remind the Prime Minister to tell the Prime Ministers of Spain and Portugal that many people in the United Kingdom must make great sacrifices in the present economic climate and that they will not take kindly to any great increase in the European Community budget to fund expenditure in those countries?

Mr. Newton : I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has referred to those matters in his conversations. I have no doubt whatever that he has once again made Britain's position clear--we will not be prepared to contemplate any adverse change in the British abatement.

Mrs. Beckett : Does the Lord President realise that when people get their council tax valuation figure based on 1991 prices, they are likely to feel that it is extremely unfair since, in most parts of the country, house prices have fallen sharply in the past year? In Greater London alone, house prices have fallen by about £11,500 since the valuations were carried out.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Lady will be well aware that, generally, valuations in London have turned out to be lower than we thought. Somebody living in a band A or band B property in the south-east should not need to pay any more than someone living in a similar band elsewhere. What people must fear is the Labour party's policy of returning to the rates.

Mrs. Beckett : Will the figures be a devastating reminder of the way in which the Government have let people down by pursuing policies that have destroyed the value of their only major asset? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that there are likely to be millions of appeals against the valuations, which will mean that the chaos and injustice of the poll tax is likely to be surpassed by the chaos and injustice of the council tax?

Mr. Newton : The policies that the Government have pursued have brought about a halving of interest rates to the benefit of home owners generally in the past two years.

Mr. Hendry : Given that today is the Churches National Housing Coalition's lobby of Parliament, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to reaffirm the Government's commitment to policies for tackling homelessness? Those policies include the rough sleepers' initiative, the pilot foyer schemes and projects to bring empty shops and houses back into use, including 70,000 belonging to local authorities.

Mr. Newton : Yes. I acknowledge what my hon. Friend says. I am glad to say that the Government's policies are expected to deliver considerably more houses than the 153,000 over three years promised in the election manifesto. We expect the policies to produce 170,000 by 1994-95. In addition, an extra £86 million has been made available for the rough sleepers' initiative over three years. That initiative has already reduced the numbers sleeping rough by more than 60 per cent. I am delighted--as my hon. Friends will be--that the first property has been purchased today by housing associations using the £600 million for England made available in the autumn statement.


Q2. Ms. Gordon : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Ms. Gordon : Does the Leader of the House realise that, despite what he said, Londoners have been hit by a triple whammy in relation to the council tax? First, house prices were forced up by an unsustainable boom, then they collapsed because the Government refused to reduce interest rates in a futile attempt to save the pound, and finally houses have been banded on the basis of unrealistic values. Will he ask his right hon. Friend to intervene to ensure that Londoners are not hit again by a second unfair tax, and to modify the son of poll tax?

Mr. Newton : I have already made the key point that I need to make in reply to the hon. Lady in response to the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett). The grant paid to authorities in London and the south-east- -which has significantly increased in comparison with last year--takes account of the higher cost of providing services in that region. The hon. Lady should ensure that her local authority does not use the money in a profligate way.


Q3. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is often an unfortunate link between lack of accommodation and lack of a job? Will he join me in congratulating the Young Men's Christian Association in my constituency which, following a Government initiative, has pioneered a partnership between the churches, the Employment Service, and the training and enterprise councils to break the vicious cycle and bring hope to young people?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I think that he is referring to what is known as--my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) mentioned it--the foyer project, which brings together in a strong partnership the expertise of people working in the spheres of employment, training and support for young people. It is an excellent initiative and I hope that we see more of them, along the lines of that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes).


Q4. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Winnick : Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Prime Minister is particularly proud of the fact that, since he has held his present position, unemployment has risen from 1.5 million to nearly 3 million--even according to official figures? What sort of Christmas message are the Government to give to all those people in our country who have been deprived of the right to work, to the homeless, to people who are frightened of losing their homes, and to all the other victims of the Government's wretched policies--people who cannot expect the Treasury to pick up their bills for them?

Mr. Newton : Apart from what I have already said about the Government's housing policies and the progress being made, I think that what my right hon. Friend would highlight the autumn statement and the prospects that it brings for improved economic performance.


North of England

Q5. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Prime Minister when he next intends to make an official visit to the north of England.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and hopes to include the north of England among them.

Mr. Devlin : When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister comes to the north of England, will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House remind him that it is a region which benefits more than any other in Britain from European Community investment and inward investment from outside the European Community? In the light of that, will my right hon. Friend tell the Prime Minister that it is seen as urgent by many people in my region that the Maastricht treaty be ratified as soon as possible?

Mr. Newton : It is certainly the case that anybody who visits my hon. Friend's part of the country will see the physical advantages of the attractions which, under this Government, this country has had for overseas investment such as Nissan and Fujitsu and the huge progress that has been made in generating a new economic base up there. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend speaks for his constituency in wishing to see that process continued and strengthened by the ratification of the Maastricht treaty.


Engagements

Q6. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 December.

Mr. Newton : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Ross : Can the hon. Member tell the House whether or not the substantial privatisation contract awarded to Tarmac was in any way a pay- off for the substantial sums donated by that company to the Conservative party last year.

Mr. Newton : Yes I can, and it is not.


Q7. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply. I refer the hon. Lady to the answer I gave some moments ago. [Laughter].

Madam Speaker : Order. Mr. Fabricant.

Mr. Fabricant : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the MO figure for money supply, the amount of cash flowing around in the economy, has increased by 3 per cent. this month over the same figure last year and, while not trying to allude to any botanic connection, would he agree that this is at least an encouraging sign for the economy?

Mr. Newton : May I first apologise to my hon. Friend. It was not actually, despite the evidence, a deficiency of my eyesight, but the fact that the first person in my sight line was the hon. Lady opposite, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley). On my hon. Friend's question, it is the case that the MO figures, mainly notes and coins in circulation, do reflect the growth taking place in retail sales and they add, I think, to the improvement that can be seen, in the fact that, after allowing for falls in interest rates, real disposable income of a typical family with a £30,000 mortgage went up by 20 per cent. in the two years to October 1992.

Mr. Mallon : I know that the right hon. Gentleman will share my view that the violence we saw in my constituency at the weekend and that ripped Belfast apart today is vile and reprehensible and cannot be allowed to exist in any civilised society.

Does the Leader of the House agree that what the terrorist groupings fear most is not more resources for security or more troops, but the creation of a new agreement among the people of Ireland which will strip the terrorist groups of any shred of legitimacy and confine them to the dustbin of history? Will he ask his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to ensure that when there is a new Taoiseach in the Republic of Ireland, they will jointly lead a drive for peace and a peaceful settlement within Ireland in 1993?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman has spoken with warmth for virtually everybody--probably for everybody in the United Kingdom, certainly for the overwhelming majority. I shall take pleasure in drawing his remarks to the attention both of the Prime Minister and of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whose hard work to this same objective has been manifest over the past few months.


Q8. Mr. Nicholls : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply. I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Nicholls : Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity of considering the findings of Professor Rheinhardt Schmidt of Kiel university that of the top major companies in Europe, six are United Kingdom companies and that if facts like that are as obvious as far away as Germany, it is about time they were as obvious to the Opposition Front Bench here?

Mr. Newton : I have indeed seen that report, showing that the three top firms in what is, I believe, German-based research, are British and that six of the top 10 are British, including a significant number of our pharmaceutical companies. They deserve to be congratulated on their achievement. I should like to hear a bit more of that type of compliment coming from the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench, instead of their trying to run down our firms and industry.

Ms. Walley : While the Prime Minister is spending time in Portugal and Spain, may I ask the Lord President to urge him on his return, prior to his visit to the north of England, to call in at Stoke-on-Trent, my constituency, where he will see for himself the lack of Government support for manufacturing industry, particularly in relation to the pottery, ceramics and allied industries? May we have a Government commitment to examine the way in which investment can be made to that industry? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is no good talking all the time about what can be done to get people retrained ; we should be preventing them from becoming unemployed in the first place?

Mr. Newton : I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the hon. Lady's request. I must, at the same time, draw her attention to the fact that the autumn statement included a substantial range of measures designed to encourage manufacturing industry, and that one of our key manufacturing industries, motor cars, is showing great signs of being far more successful than it has been for decades past.