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1993 - PMQT 21st January 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 21st January 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 January.

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. McAllion : Is the Prime Minister aware that the murderous attacks on Iraq, which he supported, have killed at least 45 Iraqis--who were themselves innocent of any violation of international law--have made international lepers of Britain and the United States and have, in the eyes of the democratic opposition in Iraq, served only to strengthen the position of the tyrant Saddam? Does he understand that the crimes that he has committed against innocent Iraqi people may have been undertaken in his name, but were not in my name or in the name, I believe, of the vast majority of the British people?

The Prime Minister : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. From the expressions on the faces of most of his right hon. and hon. Friends, neither do they.

Mr. Faber : Given that yesterday was the inauguration of President Clinton, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the United States remain our strongest ally, as indeed we do theirs? Will he take this opportunity to reaffirm that the special relationship is greatly valued by Britain, as President Clinton has already done?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can certainly confirm that to my hon. Friend. There has been a very close relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States for many years. It is a practical relationship, quite apart from the political and military relationship. For example, the United Kingdom is the world's largest overseas investor in the United States and our exports to the United States last year were some £12 billion. I know that President Clinton will have the good wishes of the entire House and I know that he knows that he can look to this country and this Government as firm friends of the United States.

Mr. John Smith : In view of the horrendous rise in unemployment announced today--almost 61,000 in one month--when will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his economic policies have failed the nation and are now blighting the lives of millions of British families?

The Prime Minister : Today's figures on unemployment are clearly deeply disappointing. They reflect the job losses in the pipeline that were announced last autumn and have now come through. I do not doubt the concern about unemployment that the right hon. and learned Gentleman voices, for I share that concern ; so does everyone on this side of the House. We wish to see unemployment falling and people getting back into secure and lasting jobs. That is my objective, just as much as it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's. But there must be a dual strategy for long-lasting solutions to unemployment. First, there must be solid foundations for economic recovery--low inflation predominantly among them--and secondly, wide-ranging help for the unemployed. That is in place.

Mr. John Smith : The Prime Minister expresses concern for the unemployed, but is he not the same right hon. Gentleman who told us that if it is not hurting it is not working? Is he not the Prime Minister whose first reaction to the announcement of the pit closures was that they had to be closed "cleanly and quickly", and whose Chancellor believes that unemployment is a "price well worth paying"? How can we believe that his expressions of concern are genuine when we take all those factors into account?

The Prime Minister : One of the principal causes of unemployment in countries around the world as well as here is the difficulty faced with inflation. It is this Government who have had the courage to stick with policies to get inflation down, and the reality is, despite all his rhetoric neither the right hon. and learned Gentleman nor his hon. Friends have set out a coherent policy for dealing with unemployment. When they produced their phoney budget, they knew that it was a budget that would increase taxes and put up jobs. The right hon. and learned Gentleman still has not responded to the question that he could not answer on Tuesday. How much money would his new tax on windfall profits raise? If he cannot tell us, how can he make the claims for it that he does? Can he guarantee that it will last only a year? No, he cannot. The fact of the matter is that he has no policies other than to complain about the Government, and no idea how to deal with the economy or unemployment.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the nation is tired of feeble and lame excuses? It is also tired of the right hon. Gentleman blaming everyone in the world but himself. When, at long last, will he give the attack on unemployment the priority that the nation demands?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman has to accept economic reality. He should recognise that economic reality requires that you get inflation down and competitiveness up and those are the policies that we are pursuing. He should recognise also the effect of his policies : crushing profits does not create jobs ; tax structures that drive away inward investment do not create jobs ; piling burdens on business does not create jobs ; the social chapter will not create jobs. Those are the policies of the Labour party ; they are policies which would deliberately drive up unemployment and not create the conditions for lasting employment.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth : Further to what my right hon. Friend said, does he agree that one of the best ways of helping British industry would be to cut the red tape bureaucracy and regulation with which it has been overburdened for far too long? Does he agree that a new deregulation drive would help industry to create new jobs?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about the consistent need persistently to bring down the level of regulation and red tape. The more we can rid business of red tape and regulation, the more British business can get on with creating wealth and generating new jobs. As my hon. Friend will have heard last week in the House, I propose to hold a seminar at the beginning of February-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order. The Prime Minister must be heard. We cannot-- [Interruption.] We cannot make progress-- [Interruption.] I like good humour, but there are times when we have to keep quiet and listen. The Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : --at which every Department in Whitehall would come along with regulations that Opposition Members would support and which we propose to remove from business to increase competitiveness.


Q2. Mr. Gapes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 January.

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

Mr. Gapes : In the light of today's report by the Employment Select Committee, will the Prime Minister apologise to the House, to the British people and to the miners for saying on 16 October that it was better to sack 30,000 mine workers "quickly and cleanly" than to institute a full review of the pit closure programme?

The Prime Minister : I think that the way in which the hon. Gentleman phrases his question tells us a great deal about him. What we are seeking to do is to create a viable coal industry with a fitter future. The hon. Gentleman might recall how many mining jobs were lost under Labour Governments, for there were more lost than there ever have been under Conservative Governments-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Having asked his question, the hon. Gentleman should not bawl and shout from a sedentary position.


Q3. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 January.

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

Mr. Pawsey : Is my right hon. Friend aware that 642 schools have already applied and balloted for grant-maintained status? Does he agree that that is a formidable expression of public and parental opinion? What advice does he give to Opposition Members who persist in their ill- conceived hostility to grant-maintained schools?

The Prime Minister : In fact, as at the end of last afternoon there were 648--another six have decided to become grant maintained. That is because parents are increasingly seeing the benefit of independence from local authority control. They are voting for grant-maintained schools in increasing numbers and the reason for that is entirely clear. Since opting out they have discovered that they can employ more staff, take on more pupils, enhance special needs provision and provide more books, because they have the freedom to put the money in the classroom where it belongs, and are not subjected to unnecessary control from county hall.


Q4. Mr. David Marshall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 January.

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

Mr. Marshall : Does not the Prime Minister realise the catastrophic consequences for unemployment if either Devonport or Rosyth dockyards closes? As well as the folly to the nation of concentrating defence work on one site, does he accept that 18,000 jobs are at risk in Rosyth, and that there is a solution that will keep both dockyards open? Does he agree that that solution is to give Devonport the surface ship work that it does best and to give Rosyth the submarine work that it does best? Will he support that solution? If not, why not?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman belongs to a party, many of whom would abolish nuclear weapons, and nearly all of whom would dramatically reduce defence expenditure. I think that the hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind before he criticises this Government for their defence policies.


Q5. Mr. Mans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 January.

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

Mr. Mans : Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that his Chancellor of the Exchequer has no intention in his Budget of introducing a windfall tax on the privatised utilities, as that would deal a body blow to the 10 million people in this country who have invested in those utilities and would discourage the wider share ownership that we all want in the future ?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly offer that assurance to my hon. Friend. As he rightly says, there are 10 million shareholders, many with very limited shareholdings, with a stake in the utility industries in this country. We understand that it is investment which ultimately creates jobs and that taxation on investment destroys jobs.


Q7. Dr. Berry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 January.

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

Dr. Berry : May I draw the Prime Minister's attention to early-day motion 330, which calls for the early introduction of a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? Is the Prime Minister aware that this early-day motion has substantial cross-party support--in fact, the greatest volume of support of any early-day motion submitted this Session? Does he accept that disabled people want action--very speedy action--and can he confirm that he will respond positively to the early-day motion?

The Prime Minister : For a year I was, of course, the Minister of State responsible for disability, and I am well aware of the Government's excellent record in increasing the benefits for disabled people and providing a much wider range of facilities for them. That is a record unmatched by any other party in the House.


Q8. Mr. French : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 January.

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

Mr. French : Is my right hon. Friend aware that this country's privatisation programme has been widely applauded and copied in many parts of the world? Can he confirm that, notwithstanding the current criticisms of the British Rail proposals, he will forge ahead with the privatisation programme and will bring forward other candidates, including the Post Office, at an early date?

The Prime Minister : We propose to proceed not only with the programme of privatisation but with programmes of more contracting out and more market testing. In the current year Government work worth about £1.5 billion will be market tested and, where appropriate, put out to the private sector if that sector can deal with it more efficiently.