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1992 - PMQT 3rd December 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 3rd December 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Congdon : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Congdon : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many businesses are finding it difficult enough without the added burden of bureaucratic interference and excessive regulation? Can he assure businesses in my constituency that he will do everything he can to reduce the number of petty rules and regulations emanating both from Whitehall and from Brussels?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that it is time that we stood back again and looked at the whole burden of regulation--that imposed by the House, that imposed by the Community and that imposed by local authorities. That is precisely what I have asked my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to do. I shall be calling in all Cabinet Ministers in the new year to discuss how we can cut that red tape still further. Today I have announced a new scrutiny involving the private sector, which will look at the way in which EC regulations impact upon business. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will announce details of this shortly.

Mr. John Smith : On the day when the Post Office has made a staggering announcement of 15,000 job losses, will the Prime Minister tell the House what action he proposes to take to stem the rising tide of unemployment?

The Prime Minister : Everyone, of course, regrets job losses wherever they occur. In the case of the Post Office, I am glad that these are both to be spread and to be sought voluntarily. The only way to create long-term sustainable jobs is to create the right policies that produce long-term sustainable growth. That is precisely what we are putting in place.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not realise that we have heard both these regrets and these excuses in every month of the two years in which he has been Prime Minister? Does he not accept the reality of modern Britain, that there are 52 unemployed people seeking every job vacant in the west midlands and 72 seeking every job vacant in London? What does he propose to do about it?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman should have been listening a moment or so ago. If he is really concerned about jobs, why does he not drop his commitment to a payroll tax, the social chapter and the minimum wage? The right hon. and learned Gentleman should remember what happened last time a Labour Government--of which he was a member--tried to buy its way out of recession : 27 per cent. inflation and no growth.

Mr. John Smith : Is it not pathetic that, after 15 years of Conservative Government and after the Prime Minister has been in office for two years, he is still seeking to blame others for unemployment? Does he not realise that redundancy does not just affect the Post Office ; in this week alone, we have the Post Office, Ford and Cammell Laird? Does he not understand that unemployment is now a cancer eating up the fabric of British society? When, at long last, will he take some action against unemployment?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman expresses concern about Cammell Laird. The defence policies that his party espouses would put hundreds of thousands of people out of work. He conveniently forgets that labour spent the first half of this year calling for swingeing tax increases that would have put many other people out of work. Our priority has been to create the right conditions for growth. We have cut inflation to under 4 per cent., we have cut tax rates for businesses and earners and we have reduced interest rates to 7 per cent., the lowest in the Community and half the level of two years ago.

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman missed the latest Community survey in the Financial Times--[Interruption.] I gather that he did. If he had not, perhaps he would be better informed. That showed that British business men are now displaying much more confidence in British prospects than their continental counterparts are showing in their prospects. When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman start talking this country up and stop talking it down?

Mr. King : Against the background of the further attempts by the IRA to mount a bombing campaign in Northern Ireland and on the mainland, did my right hon. Friend note in the recent elections in the Republic of Ireland that Sinn Fein massed the masive total of 1.6 per cent. of support and that of the 42 candidates who stood, 40 lost their deposits? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that demonstrates that any attempt to pretend that there is popular democratic support for the campaign of violence is totally fraudulent?

The Prime Minister : I certainly noted the statistics to which my right hon. Friend refers. They reflect the disgust that is felt not only in this country but in the Republic of Ireland about the way in which the IRA seeks to bomb, kill and damage people's lives indiscriminately.


Q2. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 December.

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

Mr. Mullin : Does the Prime Minister recall that in September 1986 he filled in a questionnaire sent to him by the author Mr. Martin Short agreeing that police officers, magistrates, Members of Parliament, councillors and other public officials who were Freemasons should disclose that fact? If he has forgotten, I have with me a copy of the questionnaire with his signature at the bottom of it. Is that still his position and, if so, may I expect his support for my Secret Societies (Declaration) Bill which comes up for Second Reading on 29 January?

The Prime Minister : I commend the hon. Gentleman for his ingenuity and research. It remains my personal view, as set out at that time. I shall examine his Bill and my timetable and see what answer I come up with.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the last week alone, 17 convoys of British troops have delivered nearly 1,000 tonnes of food to the stricken citizens of Bosnia? Will he reassure the House that it is not the Government's intention to deploy British troops in a combat role, whatever the merits of enforcing a no-fly zone, in what is essentially a civil war?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, we already have 2,000 troops in Yugoslavia. They are there to deliver humanitarian aid. They are, as my hon. Friend points out, doing that with great skill, persistence and bravery. We have taken a leading role in many aspects in Yugoslavia, in sanctions monitoring in the Adriatic, and that has now been stepped up. We have, of course, supported the establishment of a no-fly zone. If further action is needed to enforce that no-fly zone, we should wish to consider that with our allies and partners in the United Nations, but we have no immediate plans to go further.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister not yet realise that, despite the best efforts of our troops on the ground, the situation in and around Bosnia is not getting better but worse? Does he not realise that time is running out for saving lives and for stopping the spread of the conflict? Does he further not realise that whether it is in London in August or in Geneva in two weeks' time, peace efforts will continue to fail for so long as agreements on paper are not backed by the will to enforce them on the ground?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman refers to the London conference on Yugoslavia, which this country called and which set a new framework for negotiations. He is right in saying that when those negotiations are there it is necessary for those who reach agreements to keep them, and we will certainly do what we can to ensure that. The right hon. Member, like everyone else, wants to see an end to the fighting and suffering in the former Yugoslavia. I have to tell him that we are not talking about the invasion of one country by another ; we are talking, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) said, effectively about a civil war. It is all too easy to be heroic with the lives of other people.

Those who talk glibly about bombing from the air should consider the risk of retaliation to our troops who are, at present, delivering humanitarian aid. Those who go further and talk about putting ground forces in should realise that, were the circumstances necessary and we and others did so, we would be committing those troops to a very long and bloody fight with the absolute certainty of serious casualties. If we have not put in troops, as the right hon. Gentleman clearly thinks we might have done, it is not out of neglect ; it is out of our judgment of what is best, what is feasible and what is responsible.

Mr. Watts : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our European Community partners understand clearly that any attempt to interfere with the rebate of Britain's excessive contributions to the EC budget would have a dramatic effect on his ability to secure a smooth passage for the Maastricht Bill through the House?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that my hon. Friend has just made his own point in an inimitable fashion, and I note it. I am grateful for what he had to say.

The abatement, which is worth about £12 billion to the United Kingdom so far, ensures that we pay only our fair share to the Community budget. I have to say that there is no justification whatever for reducing that rebate, and we shall not agree to reduce it at Edinburgh. On most issues at Edinburgh, there may be room for negotiation. On this issue, there is no room whatever for negotiation.


Q3. Mr. Burden : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 December.

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

Mr. Burden : Is the Prime Minister aware that this year more than 2,500 jobs have been lost in manufacturing in my city of Birmingham, and that, every working day that he has been Prime Minister, 750 manufacturing jobs have been lost? Given the virtual vote of no confidence which the Engineering Employers Federation gave to the President of the Board of Trade last week, when will he start listening to what the manufacturing industry is saying?

The Prime Minister : I advise the hon. Gentleman to read the "Autumn Statement". He obviously missed it.


Q4. Mr. Conway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 December.

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

Mr. Conway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of this country never wanted to celebrate the Marxist anniversary of May day? Given the new spirit of European co-operation, will my right hon. Friend consider replacing the May day bank holiday with a bank holiday to mark the anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar, the battle of Agincourt or, better still, the battle of Waterloo?

The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for removing the May day bank holiday in precisely the same way in which are seeing the removal of the political system that it supports. Perhaps Trafalgar day would be appropriate ; perhaps other days, but certainly not May day.

Mr. Hattersley : Which does the Prime Minister think would most increase the choices available to a poor family--all the charters that he has announced, some of which he relaunched this morning, or £10 a week more on child benefit?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should realise that many people in this country want to ensure that they get a better quality of public service than they have had in the past. We are determined under the charter programme to ensure that they get that better quality of service. I find it astonishing that the Labour party talks about public service, but does nothing in reality to ensure that people receive it.

Mr. Streeter : Does my right hon. Friend agree that competitive tendering has brought real improvement and value for money where it has been introduced in local authority services? Does he, like me, welcome the fact that compulsory competitive tendering is to be introduced into housing management?

The Prime Minister : I certainly agree that competitive tendering has produced substantial cost savings so far, and will no doubt continue to do so in future. It has done so with the same or improved standards of performance. I welcome the extension of compulsory competitive tendering to housing management--it is a little overdue, but now it is there, I very much welcome it.


Q5. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 December.

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

Mr. Pike : Does the Prime Minister recognise that the main underlying message of the churches lobby on housing this week was that, despite the slight change of direction announced in the autumn statement, that has only touched the surface of the many housing problems created as a result of Government policies during the past 14 years? Will the Government make more resources available to tackle the problems, reduce unemployment, improve the market sector and improve the British economy?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know, the plans that the Government have announced enable them to meet the manifesto pledge of 153,000 new homes. In addition, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the housing market should benefit significantly from the extra £750 million set aside to reduce the overhang of empty properties. That should provide another 20,000 properties for the public sector. The reduction in interest rates will help both the public and private sectors.