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1992 - PMQT 8th December 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 8th December 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Ms. Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 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.

Ms. Hoey : Does the Prime Minister agree that the present 999 emergency service is highly efficient, flexible and adaptable? Will he assure the House and the thousands of people lobbying Parliament today that he will put his foot down and stop the Oftel report which will--if its proposals are implemented--destroy the system and endanger the lives of millions of citizens?

The Prime Minister : I agree that, generally, over the years, the present system has been efficient, although, as the hon. Lady will know, there have been drawbacks, which have been brought to people's attention from time to time. The consultants' report will be carefully considered by all the interested parties. I give great consideration to ensuring that the new arrangements will at least maintain, and preferably improve, the current high standard of response to calls. If the hon. Lady has specific propositions to put, I know that the director general of Oftel will be happy to receive them.


Q2. Mrs. Lait : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.

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

Mrs. Lait : While recognising that my right hon. Friend will be under enormous pressure at Edinburgh from our European Community partners to give ground on the rebate, may I tell him that he will have the total support of Conservative Members in resisting any such pressure?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her mention of the Edinburgh summit. There is no doubt that a large number of complex things are to be decided at Edinburgh--the enlargement negotiations are difficult, the future finance negotiations will undoubtedly need a good deal more work and we are committed to finding, if we can, a satisfactory conclusion to the Danish problems. What is quite clear, as I told the House last week, is that there can be no change in the British abatement to the budget.

Mr. John Smith : On the issue of the Edinburgh summit, at a time when unemployment is rising faster in Britain than in any other country in the Community, should not a programme of jobs and recovery be at the top of the agenda for the Edinburgh summit? Why did the Prime Minister not even mention that in his reply?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be pleased to know that there will be a discussion among the Heads of Government on the European economic situation, and Britain, as President, specifically invited the Finance Ministers to Edinburgh. The economy has been a main topic of discussion at all the meetings that we have had in Europe in recent months, and a team of Treasury officials has been travelling throughout Europe to co-ordinate positions. I very much hope that co-ordinated measures will emerge from those discussions, but we shall have to wait to see what our partners feel at Edinburgh this weekend.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister understand that the obligations of being President of the Community entail more than chairing interesting discussions ; that it is action that is required? Why have all the suggestions--increased support for research and development, more investment facilities for the European investment bank, infrastructure projects in transport and other areas, and emergency action on unemployment --come from others and nothing from the President of the Community?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is characteristically mistaken, as he will find from the presidency paper that has been placed for discussion this weekend. On the subject of action during the presidency, he has clearly overlooked the agreement sought for a long time between the United States and the Community on agriculture, the fact that agreement has now been reached on more than 50 single market measures, which means that we will be able to declare the single market open as at the end of this year, the resolution on making the single market work, the London conference on Yugoslavia, and the preparations for enlargement ; and he has overlooked, or chosen to overlook, a great deal more as well.

Mr. John Smith : Why, in that litany, did not the Prime Minister mention unemployment? Why has no action been taken before now? Why was unemployment not on the agenda for the Birmingham summit? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that when 750 manufacturing jobs are being lost each working day in this country it is high time action was taken? His presidency will be condemned for gross inaction.

The Prime Minister : I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is desperately trying to recover his European gloss after the shameful way in which he and his colleagues have been behaving over the Maastricht Bill. As for providing opportunities for growth and jobs, he might bear in mind that we have the lowest corporation tax in the Community or the G7, the lowest interest rates in the Community, inflation down well below 4 per cent., low direct taxation, exports at record levels, car production growing, and retail sales growing--the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not like any of this because it shows what we have done and how things are going to change.


Q3. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.

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

Mr. Clifton-Brown : My right hon. Friend will be aware that since the autumn statement and the abolition of car tax, car sales since last October have increased by 22 per cent that Honda has created another 1,100 jobs at Swindon, Nissan has created another 1,800 jobs at Sunderland and that Toyota is about to create a great many more jobs in Derby. Is not that excellent news for the car industry in particular and the economy in general? [Interruption.] Does it not demonstrate that low taxation boosts consumer demand, whereas the high-taxation policies of the Opposition destroy jobs?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is learning that Opposition Members are not too keen on hearing good news--no doubt we shall hear a good deal more of that in the months to come.

People sometimes forget how far the motor car industry has come since the early 1970s. It was then a national disgrace ; the trade unions wrecked it day in, day out. The fact that it has come so far is a great tribute to the work force, to the management and to the legislation passed by successive Conservative Governments.


Q4. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.

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

Mr. Hughes : Given that the Prime Minister was elected, in his own words, to create a nation more at ease with itself, how does he reconcile that objective with the fact that between 3 million and 4 million people are unemployed in this country, with the number still rising, and that more than 17 million people are unemployed in the European Community? At the end of two years of his premiership and six months as President of the European Community, does he believe that he has succeeded in achieving the target that he set himself so few months ago? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister : When the hon. Gentleman has ceased being heckled by Opposition Members on the Front Bench below the Gangway, I will try to answer him. As he knows, I set out a programme for a full Parliament. He will be able to criticise if we do not realise our objectives by the end of this Parliament, by when he will see that we will have achieved them.

Mr. Harris : My right hon. Friend made some welcome remarks about doing away with excessive and bureaucratic regulations in this country. Will he perhaps start by looking at the regulations on meat hygiene and inspection which pose a real threat to small and medium-sized slaughterhouses in this country and, although a welcome start has been made, will he carry that even further?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, I have asked my right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade to co-ordinate a considered examination right across the Government, local government and the European Community on the extent of regulations. I shall certainly draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the specific examples which my hon. Friend mentions.


Q5. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.

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

Mr. Livingstone : Has the Prime Minister been briefed on the murder of the British journalist Jonathan Moyle in Santiago and, if so, what is his response to the Chilean judge charged with the investigation of the murder, that his investigation was obstructed by the unwillingness of British officials to co-operate? How does the Prime Minister explain British officials briefing the press that Mr. Moyle died while masturbating when he was murdered by a lethal injection in the heel? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that there is any link with the fact that Jonathan Moyle was investigating the arms trade of Carlos Cardoen, the main arms procurer for Iraq, who was responsible for the transmission of Matrix Churchill equipment and was also the associate of Mark Thatcher?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman makes a series of unsubstantiated comments to which he knows I have no intention whatever of replying. If the hon. Member has detailed evidence that he believes should be examined he should take it to the proper authorities.


Q6. Sir John Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.

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

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order.

Sir John Hannam : My right hon. Friend will recall the meeting he had recently with hon. Members from the south-west when he was made aware of the particular problems of differential electricity and water charges. Has he seen the latest survey by Exeter chamber of commerce which shows that 60 per cent. of businesses there have increased their sales in the past three months, that 25 per cent. are expecting to increase their labour force and that only 4 per cent. to reduce their labour force? Will he continue his efforts to reduce the regulatory burdens which bear down on business expansion?

The Prime Minister : The figures that my hon. Friend mentions are encouraging and I am grateful to him and my other hon. Friends for the comments they made to me recently. I fully accept how important all those factors are to the prosperity of the west country, but they have similar importance for the economy of other parts of the country as well. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall be doing all that we can to lift the burden from all companies--large, medium and small.


Q7. Mr. Raynsford : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.

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

Mr. Raynsford : What has the Prime Minister to say to the thousands of parents of children in Greenwich who are deeply concerned at the adverse effect of Government-imposed cuts on the standards of education for their children in schools in Greenwich? Why have this Government failed entirely to respond to the concerns expressed in the signatures of thousands in the petition that I presented a few weeks ago? Why have they not bothered to make any observations on that petition or to those concerned?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind which Government published information about what is happening in schools and how children are being taught and what their results are. When he and his right hon. and hon. Friends are prepared to release that sort of information he might be in a position to issue such pious lectures.


Single Currency

Q8. Mr. Sweeney : To ask the Prime Minister whether the establishment of a single currency within the union remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister : The Government believe that it is too soon to consider whether or not the United Kingdom should move to a single currency. The United Kingdom is not obliged or committed to such a move and no decision to move to a single currency will be made without the specific approval of Parliament.

Mr. Sweeney : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he accept that under article 109J of the treaty we shall be driven inexorably towards a single currency whether we want it or not?

The Prime Minister : No, I do not accept that. As my hon. Friend knows, we have a specific provision that will enable us at an appropriate time to decide whether or not we take part in a single currency. That provision does not prevent us from preparing with our Community partners for their move into a single currency, but we remain uncommitted until and unless the House decides that we should move into one.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Lady that this is a closed question.


Engagements

Q9. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 December.

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

Mr. Michie : In view of the Prime Minister's stated commitment to defend this nation's heritage, will he and his colleagues call for a moratorium on all supermarket developments in green-field sites and launch an investigation into their value, compared with the amount of heritage that is lost under the concrete and car parks of supermarket development? The right hon. Gentleman can start the survey with Meadowhead in Sheffield.

The Prime Minister : Such matters must be dealt with on a case-by- case basis, as they have been in the past, are now, and should continue to be in future.