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1993 - PMQT 4th February 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 4th February 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Dr. Liam Fox : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 February.

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.

Dr. Fox : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the positive response to what he said last night--that the Government will consider new ways to give extra help to unemployed people and to keep them in touch with the jobs market? Is not that open-minded approach in stark contrast with the closed minds but open mouths of Labour Members?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. My concern is to make sure, wherever possible, that we keep unemployed people in touch with the world of work. Both here and elsewhere, that is a vital issue and I believe that we need a public debate on it. It is right to look at all the radical options and we propose to do so. That may mean offering more opportunities, for example, of volunteering, or extending an element of compulsion, which we already have in Restart. I do not believe that we should shy away from considering those options, and we will not.

Mr. John Smith : After a week of chaos over Government economic policy and yet more redundancies in British industry, does the Prime Minister understand that it is vital for British manufacturing industry that Leyland DAF should not be allowed to collapse, as there are 5,500 jobs at stake in the company and 10,000 among its suppliers? Will the Prime Minister undertake that if the Dutch and Belgian Governments rescue their parts of the company, the British Government will do at least the same for Leyland DAF?

The Prime Minister : No. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the receivers appointed yesterday at Leyland DAF have made it clear that they believe that at least parts of the business can be saved as a commercially viable business without unnecessary state hand-outs. I believe that that is the way to proceed.

Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister not understand the concern which exists in the country because of the Government's record of neglect of manufacturing industry, and the hesitancy and ambiguity of statements made by the Government? Can the Prime Minister not give a clear undertaking that he will do for Britain what the Dutch and Belgian Governments will do for their countries?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking us to do what has been tried in the past by previous Labour Governments and others and has failed. He should recall the disastrous outcome of the Labour Government's merger of Leyland with the British Motor Corporation, involving millions and millions of pounds of taxpayers' money; later they had to nationalise it, which cost even more millions. Much of that money paid for wasteful working practices and unjustified wage increases insisted on by the unions. That was Labour's idea of industrial strategy and it is clear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it still is. He has learnt nothing.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not understand that that long answer will cause even greater concern to the people in Leyland DAF? Does he not understand that in the real world outside the Carlton club people see a Government lurching from one muddle to another, whether it be interest rates, defence cuts or workfare? Can he not set one simple objective and stick to it? Leyland DAF is a vital British interest and it ought to be secured.

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade set out our position quite clearly the other day. Hon. Members must understand that we are not prepared to spend taxpayers' money to provide working capital for companies in difficulty. Many private companies need more working capital from time to time ; it is simply not realistic to expect the Government to provide it. That approach was tried in the 1960s; it failed. It was tried in the 1970s; it failed. That is the economic reality which the right hon. and learned Gentleman should face up to.

Mr. Onslow : Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday's announcement about the size of the Army is particularly welcome as renewed proof that the Government are ready to respond to changing circumstances overseas? As the Opposition are committed to a 25 per cent. cut in the defence budget, will he use his influence with the Leader of the House to make sure that we have an early debate on the subject?

The Prime Minister : The measures announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday are a small but necessary adjustment to a changing world situation. They will ensure that the Army has the flexibility and resilience necessary to meet challenges in the years ahead. Had the Opposition been in power and carried out their defence policies, they would have slashed £6 billion off defence. I wonder what they would have said then about the defence jobs that would have been lost.


Q2. Mr. Galbraith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 February.

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

Mr. Galbraith : In view of the continuing uncertainty in the money markets, can the Prime Minister say whether his Chancellor will be presenting not only the March Budget but the December Budget? May I have a straightforward answer? Will the current Chancellor be presenting the December Budget--yes or no?

The Prime Minister : I cannot imagine anyone other than the Chancellor of the Exchequer presenting a Budget.


Q3. Mr. Duncan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 February.

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

Mr. Duncan : Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that criminals, even teenage criminals and other young offenders, are responsible for their own actions and deserve to be punished accordingly? Will he take this opportunity to reaffirm that it is Government policy to punish such young offenders and not to make excuses for them like the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no excuse for crime. Society is not to blame, and individuals are. For a small number of persistent juvenile offenders we need a new approach. We need new powers to put them into secure accommodation where they can be trained for a useful future. Unless they are trained at an early stage, we betray them, for we leave them in a position where they may believe that crime is justifiable and then wreck their lives as well as other people's.

Mr. Ashdown rose-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. This is a very important time, not only for the House, but for people outside who watch and attempt to listen to us. The House must come to order before we can make any further progress.

Mr. Ashdown : In the light of the Prime Minister's previous answer and his speech last night, will he assure the House that he understands that any scheme designed to make the victims of his policies the inmates of a compulsory ghetto of low wage and no hope would be rightly condemned? But a policy and programme designed to give the long-term unemployed real training and real job experience--one like the community programme from which I and thousands of others benefited 10 years ago--would be well worth considering.

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman had read my speech before asking his question he might not have asked it in that form.


Q4. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 February.

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

Mr. Sumberg : Has my right hon. Friend noticed reports in today's press that the National Union of Teachers is requiring its members to boycott the English test for 14-year-olds? Is not that disgraceful decision a grave disservice not only to parents and children but to the vast majority of decent and honourable teachers who serve the community?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I believe that it is a disgraceful decision, and one which, in time, the NUT itself will regret. English is the single most important subject in the curriculum, and I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is absolutely right to insist that grammar and standard school English should be taught in our schools. I condemn without reservation the action proposed by the NUT and I utterly deplore the politically motivated campaign being waged by some members of that union. They said yesterday :

"A boycott of English tests presents militants with an opportunity to broaden the current struggle."

Those militants are playing politics with children's futures, and the sooner the NUT denounces them the better it will be for everyone.


Q5. Ms. Eagle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 February.

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

Ms. Eagle : Is the Prime Minister aware that this week sees the 75th anniversary of the occasion of women's gaining the vote? Is it not an insult that his Government have decided to celebrate this great anniversary by abolishing wages councils, thereby adversely affecting the earnings of 2 million women?

The Prime Minister : Certainly not. We believe in equality.


Deregulation

Q6. Mr. Jenkin : To ask the Prime Minister what conclusions were reached at his seminar on deregulation held on 2 February.

The Prime Minister : We agreed to review all 7,000 regulations currently imposed on businesses, with the aim of abolishing regulations wherever possible. Where they cannot be abolished--for overriding reasons of health or safety, for example--we shall work to simplify them. We agreed also that future proposals for new regulations must always spell out the costs to businesses of complying with them. We must not impose burdensome regulations on business unless they are absolutely necessary, and we are determined not to do so.

Mr. Jenkin : I thank my right hon. Friend for his response, which will be most welcome to businesses in my constituency and in all other parts of the country. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and his junior Ministers have absolute freedom to seek out and destroy unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation, in whichever Government Department or whichever institution it may reside?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is precisely the task that I have given to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. There is a problem with excessive regulation in Brussels, but there is also a problem in Whitehall. We need to deal with both.


Engagements

Q7. Mr. McGrady : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 February.

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

Mr. McGrady : May I draw the Prime Minister's attention to the patients charter that he had published and so ardently supported? The charter sees clinical effectiveness and accessibility as the twin pillars of a good acute hospital service. Is the Prime Minister aware that in many areas, and in particular my constituency of South Down, with an area of 750 square miles, all hospital services are being abolished? Will the Prime Minister join me in condemning that action as contrary to the patients charter, and will he take a personal interest in seeing that those scandalous proposals are abandoned?

The Prime Minister : I was certainly not aware of the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to investigate and report back to me.

Mr. Shersby : Further to my right hon. Friend's earlier reply about juvenile offenders, does he agree that the two single most important actions that the Government can take to deal with the problem are, first, to stop juvenile offenders reoffending on bail and introduce legislation to deal with that secondly, and to provide the resources for secure accommodation so that youngsters who persistently reoffend can be locked up?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the two points made by my hon. Friend. I assure him that we have both those matters in mind.


Public Interest Immunity Certificates

Q8. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will introduce legislation to prevent Ministers from granting public interest immunity certificates in relation to export licences.

The Prime Minister : The law on public interest immunity has been developed by the courts over time, and they are the ultimate judge of where the balance of the public interest lies. Public interest immunity is within the terms of reference of Lord Justice Scott's inquiry and we await his report.

Mr. Dalyell : Should it not be the House of Commons now, rather than Lord Justice Scott in the ever-receding future, that asks for an explanation as to why--in order to protect five Ministers, including the Foreign Secretary--Alan Moses QC for the Crown in court, and the Attorney- General on 12 November, were very seriously economical?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Claiming public interest immunity is an obligation, not a privilege. In any case, the prosecution in the Matrix Churchill trial failed not because of the disclosure of documents but because of the change of evidence of a key witness. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman awaits the outcome of Lord Justice Scott's inquiry.