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1993 - PMQT 28th January 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 28th January 1993. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Burns : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 January.

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

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is making official visits to India, Saudi Arabia and Oman. I am pleased to advise the House that, following discussions with the Sultan of Oman, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced that Oman is to purchase the Challenger 2 as its new main battle tank, together with its armoured repair and recovery vehicles. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in congratulating Vickers Defence Systems on its well-deserved success in the first export order for Challenger 2.

Mr. Burns : Notwithstanding that extremely good news, on a slightly different subject, has my right hon. Friend had time today to see the deeply disturbing allegations of fraud in Hackney, coming on top of the discovery of possibly record local government fraud in the Labour London borough of Lambeth? Will he assure the House of the Government's determination to root out the systematic cheating and defrauding of charge payers?

Mr. Newton : Yes. I can certainly assure my hon. Friend of our determination in that respect and I have no doubt that we shall be joined in it by the Opposition Front Bench. I have also, I may say, been doing some research on what the commentators have been saying and I came across this one which said :

"in many areas Labour local government is lacklustre and incompetent. In a few it is simply corrupt and nepotistic. "This is nothing new. Ineffectual or rotten Labour councils ... have been a feature of British political life for as long as anyone can remember".

That was in Tribune .

Mrs. Beckett rose--

Mr. Cryer : If that was in Tribune what about New Statesman ?

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mrs. Beckett : Is the Lord President aware that the December trade deficit of more than £1.5 billion is the worst for two and a half years and that whatever gloss he may put on it, the country is still in deep recession and deep trouble with no sign that the Government are prepared to do anything about it?

Mr. Newton : What I am aware of is that the trade figures recently have shown that for the first time for a very long time our share of world trade in manufactures has stabilised and that the figures-- [Interruption.] that is, after decades of decline. The figures today, which inevitably reflect to some extent the consequence on import prices of the depreciation of the pound, also show that export volumes were at record levels for the three months to December ; they were up 5.5 per cent. on the year before in the face of a slowdown in world trade, and there are particularly encouraging signs of a continuing increase in car and other manufactured exports.

Mrs. Beckett : I suppose that that was the gloss. The reality is that, despite a huge devaluation, exports this month are down, while imports continue to rise. That is unprecedented during a recession. Is it not the case that we now have a payments deficit and a budget deficit, and that, for the past three years, 400 people have lost their jobs every day in London alone? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the people of Britain are worried sick about this, and that the only people who are not are the Government?

Mr. Newton : The reality is that inflation is at its lowest for six years, that interest rates are at their lowest for 15 years, that productivity is at an all-time high and that all surveys show an increase in business confidence. As I said on Tuesday, it is time that the Opposition stopped trying to talk that confidence down again.


Q2. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Amess : Crime in Basildon has fallen over the past year. Does my right hon. Friend think it right for a mass murderer to be interviewed on television about his crimes, on the grounds that it is of educational value and in the public interest, when common sense tells us that it might well put ideas into the mind of a disturbed person? Does my right hon. Friend think that right? The majority of my constituents in Basildon do not.

Mr. Newton : I think that I can safely say that the same is likely to go for the majority of my constituents in Braintree. I can do no better than reply to my hon. Friend by referring to what my vigorous right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary said on the radio this morning. He said :

"it is in my opinion contrary to public interest for somebody who is a mass murderer of his kind"--

of Nilsen's kind, that is-- [Laughter.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Very amusing, but I think that the Leader of the House wants to get on.

Mr. Newton : The Leader of the House wants to complete the quotation, Madam Speaker.

My right hon. and learned Friend said that it was wrong for "a mass murderer of his kind to be allowed publicly to relate his offences in this way--it's bad taste, bad judgment and it's totally insensitive to the feelings of the victims of people he killed".

Mr. Ashdown : If things are so wonderful, as the Leader of the House claims, will he tell us whether he can recall a time when any Government have presided over unemployment of 3 million, while borrowing £1 billion a week and running up a trade deficit that is heading towards £20 billion a year? Is not that, by any standards, the mark of an economic policy that is floundering and a Government who have failed?

Mr. Newton : I am somewhat surprised to find the right hon. Gentleman joining Labour Front Benchers in their exercise of talking the economy down again. I repeat that the conditions for recovery are in place, and confidence is growing. I would expect to have the right hon. Gentleman's support in ensuring that that continues.

Mr. Dickens : Will my right hon. Friend welcome the reduction in interest rates that was announced this week? It has saved British industry £1 billion. Is it not particularly helpful for our manufacturing industry, and to all those with mortgages and overdrafts? Is not some good news coming out of all the gloom? [Interruption.]

Mr. Newton rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. All this hilarity is a waste of valuable question time.

Mr. Newton : The reduction in interest rates is indeed extremely good news. My hon. Friend might have extended the point that he made in his question by saying that, with the interest reductions that have taken place since 1990, we have seen £11 billion cut off the costs of British industry, and £160 off an average mortgage payment.


Q3. Mr. Martlew : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Martlew : Will the Leader of the House inform the Prime Minister, when he returns, that in the western part of the United Kingdom there is a great deal of concern about the fact that the Government are failing to give British Rail the necessary resources to upgrade the west coast main line? Does he agree that, without that investment, the economies of the west midlands, north Wales, the north-west of England, Cumbria, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be grossly disadvantaged? Does the Leader of the House agree also that it would be nonsensical for the Prime Minister to underestimate the political influence of areas that account for one third of Members of Parliament?

Mr. Newton : Should I be able to find the necessary extensive opportunity, in the wake of the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall, of course, report his views to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I have no doubt, however, that my right hon. Friend will disagree with the hon. Gentleman just as much as I do, against the background of the fact that British Rail's external financing limit next year is to be nearly £1.5 billion.


Q4. Mr. Rathbone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Rathbone : May I ask my right hon. Friend to request the Prime Minister to review the policies of the British Government and of the European Community towards Israel in the light of the horrible deportations that have taken place there and of the upholding of those deportations by the Israeli supreme court yesterday, and thus bring pressure on the Israeli Government to accept as swiftly as possible United Nations Security Council resolution 799?

Mr. Newton : It is obvious from the response to my hon. Friend's question that his concern is widely shared in the House. He will know that the British Government continue to urge the Israelis to comply with United Nations Security Council resolution 799. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary sent a personal message to the Israeli Foreign Minister last week, and they will meet in Brussels on 1 February, when, as my right hon. Friend has already told the House, he will emphasise the need for the Israeli Government to take urgent steps to solve the problem of the deportees.


Q5. Mr. Gunnell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Gunnell : Will the Leader of the House give his estimate of the total number of jobs, in both the public and the private sectors, that are at risk through rail privatisation? Does he agree with Lord Prior's assessment that there will be 12,000 potential job losses in the areas of rolling stock and signalling? While I welcome the news for Leeds about the Challenger tank, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he agrees that more Yorkshire jobs will be lost in railway engineering factories in Hunslet, York, Wakefield and Doncaster as a result of these threats, unless there is action within weeks, rather than months or years?

Mr. Newton : I do not agree. On the contrary, my right hon. Friend's proposals for rail privatisation and the development of competition are the best means of ensuring an effective and efficient railway system and of guaranteeing jobs for many people in the long term. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that his area, Leeds, and Newcastle, because of the Vickers presence there, are among those that will benefit from the work that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done on his visit abroad.


Q6. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 January.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Sir Michael Neubert : Will my right hon. Friend spare some sympathy today for our Community partners, the Irish, whose traditional luck seems temporarily to have deserted them? Whereas Irish overnight interest rates have gone up to 100 per cent., we in liberated Britain have the lowest rates for 15 years, to the great benefit of business, industry and millions of home owners.

Mr. Newton : I very much share the pleasure that my hon. Friend has expressed in what we have been able to do over interest rates. It shows that we are now moving in the sort of direction that both British industry and the whole of the British people want to see in achieving economic recovery.