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1992 - PMQT 10th December 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 10th December 1992. Tony Newton deputised for John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

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

This morning my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister presided at a meeting of the Cabinet before departing to Edinburgh for the European Council meeting.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Does the Leader of the House agree that the extent of marriage breakdown in Britain, and especially its implications for the children involved, is a matter of great concern to the nation as a whole? Will he press on the Prime Minister the need properly to fund the conciliation and counselling services undertaken by organisations such as Relate and the National Children's Home? Does he recognise the direct connection between the Government's policies and the current incidence of marriage breakdown?

Mr. Newton : As it happens, I know well from my own previous and, indeed, present association with Relate that a great deal is going on between the Government and that organisation and others to help in this very important matter. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's question as an expression of his support for our encouragement of those organisations.

Mr. Thomason : Will my right hon. Friend invite the Prime Minister to come to my constituency of Bromsgrove, where he will find a well managed and well run local authority which is Conservative-controlled? Will he also suggest to the Prime Minister that he might choose to visit Monklands, the constituency of a member of the Opposition, where he will find a local authority riddled with nepotism?

Mr. Newton : I think perhaps the proper response to that question is that it is to be hoped that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who is also holding a meeting in Edinburgh, might pay a visit to Monklands and look into it himself.

Mrs. Beckett : Has the Lord President seen the growing number of references to the likelihood that we shall soon see the emergence of an explicitly two-tier Europe? Which tier will Britain be in?

Mr. Newton : I have seen the references and I know that Britain will be in the fast lane. I also know that if the Labour party had its way, we should have been forced into the slow lane.

Mrs. Beckett : The position that the Lord President describes is certainly that which should exist, but I do not think that anyone else will think that it is the position which does exist. Does he recognise that a two-tier Europe with Britain in the second tier is just what British business has long feared, and that if that happens, it is not only likely to be extremely damaging but will be in no small part due to the incompetence of the Government's economic policy and their chaotic mismanagement of the British presidency?

Mr. Newton : I do not quite know on what basis the hon. Lady puts her point that nobody agrees with us. The whole of British industry knows that Labour policies in relation to the social chapter, tax policies and payroll tax would mean that Britain would be in the slow lane throughout the world.

Mr. Gallie : Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday 9,000 Rangers fans travelled to Germany at a cost of £300 per head to witness Rangers' magnificent win over Moscow? Does he agree that on that basis there is light at the end of the recessionary tunnel?

Mr. Newton : I did not know about the 9,000 figure, but I am delighted at the result and my hon. Friend makes a good point.

Mr. Ashdown : Will the Leader of the House respond to the question of which I gave him notice yesterday so that he might have a chance to discuss the answer with the Prime Minister? In view of the deteriorating situation in the area, will he give us a categorical assurance that the Government, working with others, are not prepared to allow the city of Sarajevo to fall to the aggression of the Bosnian Serbs?

Mr. Newton : I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Yeovil for his courtesy. I can tell him that the British Government see no justification whatever for continued Serb aggression in Sarajevo or anywhere else in Bosnia. Clearly, the western powers to which he referred could give the sort of undertaking that he seeks only by introducing a massive injection of foreign military power. The Government have made it clear on a number of occasions that they do not believe that such an intervention would contribute to a solution of the crisis. The right hon. Gentleman will know, however, that after the steering committee meeting of the conference on Yugoslavia here in London there will be a meeting in Geneva next week when the main item on the agenda will be the war in Bosnia.

Miss Emma Nicholson : Will the Lord President lead the House in condemning the religious violence which has now spread worldwide? Will he also agree that the International Moslem Foundation, a moderate organisation, and the Al Khoei and Ul-Bayt based in the United Kingdom, are just as horrified as we are by the violence and are solid and sincere members of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Newton : I very much endorse the concern and support that my hon. Friend has expressed and also the calm support by numbers of people, including the Indian Prime Minister, throughout the world.


Q2. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave a moment ago.

Mr. Banks : I say this with no disrespect to the Leader of the House, but this is like getting 24 points on the football pools and finding that the first dividend is only 50 pence. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any regrets about the fact that the Conservative party sent two experts from its dirty tricks department to help President Bush, that the Foreign Secretary sent a telegram to James Baker saying "happy shooting just before the election, and that some idiot authorised a search of Bill Clinton's files? Is it any wonder that in Arkansas the Prime Minister is regarded not so much as an FOB as an SOB?

Mr. Newton : If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West were to win as much as 50 pence on the pools, he would be doing better than I did in the days when I did them. On his question, he may like to know that there have been some very friendly exchanges between President-elect Clinton and the British ambassador only yesterday evening, and that President-elect Clinton has made it clear that he looks forward very much to meeting my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister after the inauguration.

Mr. Luff : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, among the many issues facing the Edinburgh summit, the Government attach the highest possible priority to the future financing of the Community, and especially to securing Britain's abatement?

Mr. Newton : I assure my hon. Friend that that is precisely the case. Future financing, enlargement and finding a solution to the Danish problem are important key items on that difficult agenda. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will certainly make it clear that Britain has no intention of compromising on the abatement.


Q3. Mr. Kilfoyle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Kilfoyle : As we approach Christmas, may I draw the Lord President's attention to the publication today of "Sick to Death of Homelessness" by the housing charity, Crisis, and to the "This Week" television programme this evening entitled "Dying for a Home"? One of the conclusions drawn is that of the 617 deaths of homeless people up to 31 August this year, 65 per cent. were preventable, given proper housing and good medical care. Is that not a terrible indictment of the callous disregard with which the Government treat those least able to help themselves?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman might have been more persuasive if he had mentioned that, as a result of measures introduced by the Government during the past year, the number of households accepted as homeless has fallen, the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation has fallen by nearly a quarter, and the number of people known to be sleeping rough on the streets of London has dropped by about 60 per cent. according to an assessment made by the voluntary organisations themselves.

Mr. Hargreaves : Notwithstanding the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) about our intervention in Sarajevo, will he consult the Prime Minister to ensure that an undertaking is given to come to the House and provide a debate before any British troops are used for anything other than strictly humanitarian aid purposes?

Mr. Newton : I note my hon. Friend's point, and I shall of course draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.


Q5. Ms. Glenda Jackson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Ms. Jackson : Is the Lord President aware that more than 7,000 homeless families will spend Christmas in bed-and-breakfast accommodation without the means or resources to prepare the simplest of meals? In the light of the growing body of evidence of the ill health and malnutrition suffered especially by the children of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it time for a boarder premium to be paid to such families so that while they wait for the right to a home at least their children have the right to a decent diet? Or is he prepared to allow the increasing poverty and homelessness on our streets to be accompanied by scurvy and rickets?

Mr. Newton : I have already commented on the general question of homelessness. The hon. Lady will know that, in addition to what I have already said, it has recently been announced that the Government are to put a further sum of nearly £90 million over three years into the rough sleepers initiative to tackle some of the problems which worry her. She will also be aware that, as a result of the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security a few weeks ago, there will be a real increase in the value of income-related social security benefits next April.


Q6. Mr. Clappison : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Clappison : Does my right hon. Friend agree that in view of the great interest that parents have recently expressed in information about their children's examination performance--information which they have every right to have and which the Government have allowed them to have, but which the Opposition would deny them--parents would feel huge disappointment if some teacher unions boycotted their children's tests?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. A boycott of the tests would betray the pupils who have been working hard at the national curriculum and who deserve to have their achievements recognised. Her Majesty's inspectors' reports on the trial tests have said that they were a great success. It is absolutely right to say that it is time that the Opposition stopped opposing everything that helps to improve the quality of education and choice for parents.

Mr. Boyce : Given the state of the economy, the homelessness and the poverty in this country today, does the Leader of the House agree that the worst possible scenario is that the Government know what they are doing?

Mr. Newton : When the hon. Gentleman makes such a point, he might remember that in the past two years the rate of inflation has been more than halved and interest rates have been more than halved. We see exports at record levels and we see increases in retail sales. In the past three months, we have seen a 20 per cent. increase in car production.


Q7. Mr. Duncan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Duncan : Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who try to criticise the basis on which houses have been valued for the purposes of the council tax risk severely misleading the public? Does he agree that it is relative house prices and not absolute house prices that matter? Does he agree that we have devised a fair basis for the fair implementation of a very fair tax?

Mr. Newton : I of course agree with my hon. Friend that the purpose of the valuations is a comparison between relative property values. I agree even more with him that a system that takes relative values into account-- alongside other factors, including rebates--will be far fairer than the discredited rating system to which the Labour party wishes to return.