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1993 - PMQT 16th February 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 16th February 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Worthington : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 February.

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.

Mr. Worthington : In 1979, just over 1 million people were unemployed. At the same time, just over 7 million people were employed in manufacturing industry--seven people in manufacturing jobs for every single person unemployed. Now, measuring unemployment in the same way, there are 4.25 million unemployed. On Thursday this week-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House for some time. He knows that he must put a direct question.

Mr. Worthington : In the past 14 years, 3 million manufacturing jobs have been destroyed. Did the Prime Minister intend to do that, or was it someone else's fault?

The Prime Minister : Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that "the threat of recession and the reality of rising unemployment is spreading throughout the European continent" --not my words but those of the Leader of the Opposition. I would find the hon. Gentleman's concern more convincing if he had one decent economic policy to tackle unemployment, but he has not.

Mr. Wells : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Nissan factory in Sunderland has been declared by its Japanese owners to be the most efficient factory in the world? Is he further aware that should this House be foolish enough to include the socialist charter in the Maastricht treaty, Japanese inward investment would be seriously discouraged?

The Prime Minister : I was not aware of the specific point made by my hon. Friend, but I was aware that Nissan is exporting cars from Sunderland back to Japan. I offer my congratulations to the management and work force on that achievement. There is no doubt that the social chapter and similar policies would damage the prospect of such success stories in future. That is why we opposed it at Maastricht and why we oppose it now.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister accept that the House should be able to decide whether Britain should accept or reject the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty?

The Prime Minister : It is for this House to decide by its vote on Third Reading whether to approve the European Communities (Amendment) Bill and enable the Government to ratify the treaty. There is no question of our ratifying the treaty except through the normal parliamentary procedures. Individual amendments to the Bill will be debated in Committee in the usual way as for others.

Mr. John Smith : Bearing in mind that the Government announced their latest interpretation of the law only yesterday, and as other amendments apart from amendment No. 27 have been ruled out of order, is not it a curious coincidence that the prospect of political defeat causes a revision of the legal opinion? Why are the Government so anxious to prevent the House from deciding this issue?

The Prime Minister : There are two sorts of amendments that we have to deal with in the Bill. There are those that would render our law incompatible with the treaty and which must be defeated, and others that are undesirable but which would not prevent us from ratifying the treaty. The Committee will come to those, issue by issue.

Mr. John Smith : Has the Prime Minister no sense of shame? Today, he was described in The Times as being like a

"spiv business man employing a sharp lawyer".

-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mr. Smith : Why is the Prime Minister so determined to use every slippery manoeuvre to avoid Parliament deciding this issue? Is he not engaged in an outright abuse of our unwritten constitution?

Mr. Skinner : Vote against Third Reading and we'll show them. [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister : Occasionally, it might be a novelty to see the hon. Gentleman in the same Lobby as his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). Sharp lawyers in glass houses should not throw stones in the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has. The Government are explaining to the House what the true effect of an incompetent Opposition amendment would be.

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East claims repeatedly to support the Maastricht treaty, but he and his hon. Friends tabled an amendment which was intended to lead to amendments to the treaty, a new intergovernmental conference and new ratification procedures in the member states. Opposition Members were prepared to put at risk the future not just of the Bill but of the entire treaty. That is the right hon. and learned Gentleman who accuses us of sharp practice when he claims to support the Bill.

Mr. Booth : Would the Prime Minister express the feelings of the whole House by praising the fine British achievement in the Antarctic by Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr. Stroud? Does he consider that that is an example of volunteering for a good cause which he was advocating earlier this year?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to offer my congratulations and those of the House to Sir Ranulph. It shows that if one keeps going one will get to one's objective.


Q2. Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 February.

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

Mr. Smyth : Could the Prime Minister, in his meeting with President Clinton, assure him of our good wishes but at the same time urge him to resist moves to appoint a peace envoy for Northern Ireland since those who advocate it are partisan in their opinion?

Does the Prime Minister accept that the best way to promote peace in Northern Ireland is the continued curtailment of funds and support for terrorism with an intensive education course for United States citizens, especially those of Irish republican sympathies, to enable them to understand that Northern Ireland is not a colony but part of the United Kingdom by choice of its citizens?

The Prime Minister : There has been a considerable effort by the United States Government and a number of leading American politicians to curb the flow of funds from the United States and to co-operate with us in bringing terrorist criminals to justice. I welcome that very much.

I hope and expect the new American Administration to continue to support the political dialogue established over the past two years. I believe that it offers the best hope of reconciliation and is fully consistent with Northern Ireland's position, as the hon. Member said, as a part of the United Kingdom.


Q3. Mr. Paice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 February.

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

Mr. Paice : My right hon. Friend will recall that the last time that inflation was 1.7 per cent. he was just 25 years old and I was even younger. He will also recall that the then Labour Chancellor stated that inflation was the mother and father of unemployment. Is it not the case that with low inflation, low interest rates, low taxation and high productivity, Britain is best placed to recover from the recession ahead of all the other countries in Europe?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend except in one respect ; I believe that I was 24 at the time and not 25. But the fall in inflation in January was excellent news in terms of both the retail prices index and the underlying rate of inflation. It provides the best possible basis for recovery in output and employment. We now have the lowest inflation rate for a quarter of a century and a rate below that of our colleagues in the Community and below the G7 averages. We have the lowest interest rates in the Community. We have mortgage rates at their lowest since 1956 and external surveys show that the United Kingdom will be among the fastest growing economies in Europe both this year and next year.


United Nations

Q4. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to pay an official visit to the United Nations.

The Prime Minister : I have no plans to visit the United Nations headquarters in New York in the near future.

Mr. Cryer : Does the Prime Minister accept that the Government's support of the United Nations is highly selective and that there is absolutely no case for the Government continuing to breach the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty by the manufacture and deployment of Trident nuclear weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Gallie : What about Rosyth?

Mr. Cryer : Does the Prime Minister endorse and support--

Mr. Gallie : What about Rosyth?

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman had better contain himself.

Mr. Cryer : Does the Prime Minister endorse and support the 150 members of the United Nations who have by treaty and declaration refused to manufacture and deploy nuclear weapons? If he supports those 150 nations and their moral superiority, why does he not follow them? Does he support them, yes or no?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) drew attention to some of the inconsistencies in the hon. Gentleman's question. The replacement of Polaris in the mid-1990s is essential for Britain to maintain an effective and credible deterrent into the next century. There is nothing in the non-proliferation treaty to prevent a nuclear weapons state from maintaining the credibility and effectiveness of a minimum deterrent in this way. That is the position in law and it is our position in policy.


Engagements

Q5. Mr. Patrick Thompson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 February.

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

Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of that unsatisfactory and misleading answer, I reserve the right to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman may raise the matter again, but he had better withdraw the word "misleading".

Mr. Cryer rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I heard the word. I am sure that he will rephrase it for me.

Mr. Cryer : I will withdraw the word "misleading" and say that he was economical with the truth.

Madam Speaker : Mr. Patrick Thompson.

Mr. Thompson : Is my right hon. Friend aware of representations from the police and local crime prevention panels, including the panel in Norwich, about the increased number of serious crimes committed by young people, some out on bail? Some individuals commit literally hundreds of offences. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are determined to tackle that horrendous problem?

The Prime Minister : I will offer that assurance to my hon. Friend. There is a small hard core of persistent young offenders who are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, most notably property crime, especially car theft. In the past society has sometimes perhaps been too quick to understand and too slow to condemn. I doubt whether that helps the young people concerned. It is time to crack down on those young offenders. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will shortly make proposals to do just that.


Q6. Dr. Reid : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 February.

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

Dr. Reid : With reference to the Prime Minister's earlier answer on the question of Maastricht, may I inform him that this morning I had the pleasure of showing round the House of Commons a group of pupils from Brannock high school in my constituency? Having spoken of 1,000 years of Parliament and several hundred years of parliamentary sovereignty, I was asked a simple question by one of the pupils : "But what good is Parliament if the Prime Minister can ignore it when he chooses?" How would the Prime Minister have responded to that question?

The Prime Minister : He would have said, "I can't, and I don't."

Mr. Hawkins : Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of literally thousands of my constituents who work at British Aerospace on the Tornado line for the work that he did in personally securing the contract? Will he further accept that my constituents know that they have him and the Conservative party to thank for securing their future in the defence industry and the future of their families? Unlike the Labour party, which whinges and whines, my right hon. Friend goes out and gets jobs for Britain.

The Prime Minister : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that endorsement. The Tornado is undoubtedly a fine aircraft and I hope that we shall be able to export many more.