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1993 - PMQT 18th February 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th February 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Havercroft

Q1. Mr. Enright : To ask the Prime Minister when he will pay an official visit to Havercroft.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : I am making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and hope to include Yorkshire among them.

Mr. Enright : Is the Prime Minister aware that miners from Havercroft, who have been blackmailed into taking redundancy payments, do not count among the 3 million unemployed? Is he further aware that if the pit at Grimesthorpe were to be closed, male unemployment in the area would be one in three? Will he today, therefore, guarantee the future of Grimesthorpe, not least because it is commercially profitable?

The Prime Minister : No one is blackmailed in the way the hon. Gentleman says. The position of Grimesthorpe, as with the other pits, will be covered in the review being undertaken by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. Barry Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 18 February.

The Prime Minister : 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. Jones : Does not Britain need a national strategy to combat the evil of mass unemployment? When will the indecision, drift and the weakness come to an end? Has not the right hon. Gentleman's conduct of Her Majesty's Government in recent times been a disgrace? If he cannot give a lead to our nation, should he not go?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is well rehearsed, but not well informed. If he had been well informed, he would have known, for example, that in a recent speech in Athens the Leader of the Opposition admitted that unemployment was a problem not only in this country but right across Europe. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognises that, why cannot the hon. Gentleman?


Q3. Mr. Oppenheim : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 February.

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

Mr. Oppenheim : Does my right hon. Friend agree that when it comes to the social chapter there can be no free ride, that such benefits have to be matched by increased productivity or they will add only to unemployment and that the best way to get sustainable long-term jobs is to continue with structural reforms, particularly improving education, rather than engaging in short- term bail-outs and subsidies for unsustainable industries? Would not policies like the social chapter, increased payroll tax, a statutory minimum wage and the repeal of trade union laws--all Labour policies--add to unemployment rather than improving the situation?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. There is no purpose in the Opposition saying that they care about unemployment when they are committed to policies that will put up unemployment and keep it up. Until they drop their support for the social chapter, the minimum wage and windfall tax, they are in no position to lecture anyone about job losses.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister appreciate that the country will never forget that it was his Government and his Chancellor of the Exchequer who told us that unemployment was a "price well worth paying"? On the day when unemployment has reached the tragic total of 3 million, will he now publicly repudiate that heartless approach?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that we have set in place--[Hon. Members : "Answer!"] We have set in place to assist people who are unemployed a comprehensive system of schemes unmatched in the history of this country and unmatched elsewhere in Europe--[Hon. Members : "Answer the question."]--the training for work programme, the job clubs, the job-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I will not have hon. Members shouting down any other right hon. or hon. Member. I warn Members that I shall use the authority that this House has given if this continues.

The Prime Minister : I was trying to inform hon. Gentlemen, who were shouting out, of the assistance that has been put in place to help people who are currently without work to be trained and to get back in work, which I should have thought was what the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I would wish to see done. I repeat for his benefit : the training for work schemes, the job clubs, the job interview guarantees, the business start-up schemes, the job plan workshops, the restart courses--constitute an unprecedented amount of help to deal with a problem which exists in this country and in every country in Europe.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not appreciate that unemployment at this menacing level is not just a personal disaster for millions of honest and decent people who want to have the independence and dignity that employment can give them, but also an economic millstone around this country's neck? Does he not understand that unemployment at this tragic level costs Britain £27,000 million per year and that we lose 780 million working days? Is that not economic madness as well as social tragedy?

The Prime Minister : Of course we appreciate that fact. That is why we are seeking, first, to help those who are unemployed, and also to create the circumstances to make sure that they have permanent, long-term, sustainable jobs in the future. We are determined to bring unemployment down, and we will--but with our policies, not with the lack of policies of Opposition Members. I repeat that we have put in place the most comprehensive training programmes ever to help unemployed people. We shall be introducing new training schemes with almost half a million new training and employment places in April. In terms of getting permanent, sustainable jobs, we have brought inflation down to its lowest level for 25 years, my right hon. Friend's autumn statement put in place further policies for growth, interest rates are at their lowest level for 15 years and retail sales are rising. Those are the facts which bring positive hope for the unemployed, not the empty rhetoric of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. John Smith : If those schemes were of any value, if they were successful, and if the Prime Minister really cares about bringing down unemployment, why has he stood idly by and allowed it to rise in every month of his period of office? Is it not rather contemptible, on this tragic day, to be seeking to blame others and to abuse his opponents? Is it not time that he accepted the responsibilities of his office and did what the country desperately wants him to do--put bringing down unemployment at the top of our national agenda?

The Prime Minister : What the right hon. and learned Gentleman had to say at the outset of his remarks was very revealing : if, he said, these schemes are of value. Does that explain why the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party have opposed every training measure that we have put in place for unemployed people? The facts are that the Government have put in place nearly 1 million training and employment opportunities this year, and we plan to increase them by half a million in April. I would find the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concern more convincing if he had just one decent economic policy to tackle unemployment. Instead, he has two bad policies. The first is the tax on excess profits : the old Labour party speaking again--they do not like profits, they want to penalise success, and they will never understand that profits fund investment and finance jobs. And now they want a training tax as well to put more people out of work. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have a word with his transport spokesman, who said of the minimum wage-- [Interruption.] I know Opposition Members do not like it, but they had better listen. His transport spokesman said : "I knew the consequences were that there would be some shakeout, any silly fool knew that."

Madam Speaker : Has the Prime Minister completed his answer?

The Prime Minister : I sat down, Madam Speaker, because you were getting up. I will repeat the quote from the Opposition transport spokesman. [Interruption.] They do not like it, but they are going to get it. I repeat the quote from the shadow transport spokesman, who said of a national minimum wage :

"I knew the consequences were that there would be some shakeout, any silly fool knew that."

It is a pity that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) did not know that and did not oppose a policy which would lose jobs.

Mr. Robert Banks : Has my right hon. Friend seen reports showing that not only is Nissan in Sunderland exporting cars to Japan, but Vauxhall is now exporting Astra cars to Japan? Is that not a remarkable turnround in the fortunes of British car manufacturers, good for jobs and good for exports?

The Prime Minister : It most certainly is. We all recall the state of the car industry in the 1970s. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend that this is welcome news for British car manufacturers, proving that they can compete with the world's best on quality, price and productivity both in this country and in exporting.

Mr. Ashdown rose--

Mr. Skinner : You bailed him out.

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must resume his seat. Time is passing.

Mr. Ashdown : Why does the Prime Minister always use his time to tell us what the Opposition said instead of telling us what he will do? Last night President Clinton gave his country hope through strong leadership and a clear programme for renewal. Is it not fortunate that the Prime Minister does not have to make a state of the nation address because it is clear that if he did he would have noting to say, not even, it appears, "Sorry"?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman had listened, he would have heard a long list of action that the Government have taken. Since he did not listen, let me give him more information. The £2.5 billion spent on training measures is two and a half times as much as any previous Government spent. We had the package of measures in the autumn statement to boost the construction industry by releasing capital receipts, the assistance for manufacturing industry by introducing new capital allowances, and the extra help for exporters. The right hon. Gentleman is leader of his party. Where has he been that he knows none of this?

Mr. Lidington : Is my right hon. Friend aware that businesses in the Thames-Chiltern area are reporting increased exports to the middle east, the far east and north America? Does he agree that in a world economy which is becoming more and not less competitive, permanent jobs and prosperity will depend on the enterprise and hard work of businesses like those and not on the meddlesome bureaucracy and cheap answers proposed by Opposition parties?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is quite right. In a fiercely competitive world, it is only if we have the most competitive industries that we can look forward to job creation or to increasing prosperity. That is why it is necessary to get inflation down. That is why it has been necessary to get interest rates down and why the improvements in productivity which are becoming so remarkable are one of the best indications of our future prospects. They are good prospects as a result of the measures that we have taken and will continue to sustain.


Q4. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 February.

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

Mr. Trimble : I have here a letter from the Fair Employment Commission refusing assistance to one of my constituents with regard to his complaint that he had been discriminated against by the civil service. Incidentally, the letter is signed by the public servant who suggested recently that photographs of Her Majesty should not be displayed in a public building. The clear implication of this letter is that criteria, instead of being set objectively by reference to the nature of the job, should be manipulated in order to achieve the quota--

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question. We now have the background.

Mr. Trimble : The Fair Employment Commission described this manipulation as affording equality of opportunity. Does the Prime Minister agree that such criteria should be manipulated for the purpose of achieving the commission's job quota in every place of work?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman had let me see the letter, I should have been able to give him a detailed reply. If he does so, I will examine the letter and respond to him in detail. As I have not seen it, the hon. Gentleman cannot have expected a reply of any sort.