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1993 - PMQT 23rd February 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 23rd February 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Dr. Kim Howells : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 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 meetings with ministerial colleagues and others later today.

Dr. Howells : Does the Prime Minister agree that it is one thing to blame the chairman of the Conservative party for having sent advisers to try to help undermine the Democrats' presidential campaign, but that it is quite another for him to try to dodge the blame for illegal searches of Home Office files? Does he accept the blame for those illegal searches, and if he does not will he institute an investigation to find out who conducted them so that he can sack them?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is characteristically wrong on both points. Let me set out the facts for him. No one was sent by the Conservative party to take part in last year's presidential election campaign. Two members of staff were invited privately by people in the Republican party. Their fares were paid by people in the Republican party ; they travelled in their own time ; and they paid their own personal expenses. Their expenses were not paid by the Conservative party. In contrast, the Labour party sent people, including its deputy leader, to the Democrat headquarters. It is not the least of the tributes to President Clinton that he won the election despite Europe's most frequent losers giving him advice. The Home Office's press office received inquiries in early October about whether Mr. Clinton had applied for British citizenship. Inquirers were told that, in accordance with normal practice, details about individual applications could not be disclosed to third parties. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now accept that that is the fact of the matter.

Sir Terence Higgins : As, unlike the previous Labour Government, this Government are not obliged to do what the IMF tells them, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity in Washington to explain to the IMF that the economic recovery is still fragile, that the size of the public sector borrowing requirement is still due to a large extent to the recession and that an increase in taxation at this stage in the economic cycle would stultify growth and be likely to increase rather than diminish the size of the fiscal deficit?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend, as a former distinguished Treasury Minister, will expect me at this stage of the economic cycle to take note of his comments rather than to respond in detail to them.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister appreciate the full significance of the latest figures showing 1 million long-term unemployed? Is it not appalling that 20 per cent. of the long-term unemployed in this country are aged between 18 and 24, many of whom have never had a chance to work?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the number of long-term unemployed is too high-- higher than anyone would wish to see. That is why we are seeking to reduce it. That is why we have put in place the most varied comprehensive programme ever to help people who have been unemployed for six months or more. Next year there will be more than 1,200,000 places on a number of schemes to help the long-term unemployed, including training for work, job clubs, business start-ups and restart courses. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering how we might further help the long-term unemployed. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be prepared to match his words with action and support any proposals that we may have.

Mr. John Smith : Is it remotely satisfactory that a problem has to reach crisis proportions before it gets on the Government's agenda? Is it not the case that, whatever the Government say or have been doing, unemployment goes up every month? Indeed, it has gone up every single month since the Prime Minister took office. I will give him one simple and practical suggestion. Why does he not let local authorities spend their own money which they have got from asset sales to build homes and put people back to work? He could do it tomorrow. Why does he not do it?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. and learned Gentleman recalls the autumn statement, he will know that my right hon. Friend increased the amount of local authority assets that could be used and that local authorities underspend the amount that they are permitted to use. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so sure that it is this Government's policies that cause unemployment, how can he explain the fact that unemployment is rising right across Europe and the world and that Governments of all complexions, including socialist Governments in France and Spain, face similar problems? If there is an easy answer, why is it that those socialist Governments and others have failed to find it?

Mr. John Smith : Why is it that the Prime Minister fails to understand the deep concerns in this country? Is he aware that, in the context of high and rising unemployment and high and rising crime, it was reported yesterday in The Daily Telegraph that only 10 per cent. of the people of this country felt that we were a nation at ease with ourselves? Since the Prime Minister is so good at blaming everyone else, who does he blame for that sad state of affairs?

The Prime Minister : I say categorically to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not fail to understand the problem of unemployment; I understand it very well. That is precisely why, over the last two years, we have put in place extra schemes--training for work, job clubs, job interview guarantees, business start-ups, workshops and restart courses--all to help people who are unemployed to get back into work. While the right hon. and learned Gentleman admits abroad that it is a worldwide problem, he does not have the courage to admit that here. He comes here with only sound bite politics rather than any constructive help.

Mr. Ashby : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the way to improve the unemployment situation is to improve manufacturing industry, not, as the Leader of the Opposition suggests, by allowing local authorities to spend their capital? Does my right hon. Friend accept, further, that in real manufacturing industry--the engineering industry--there are real signs of improvement and activity and that there is increased employment? Will my right hon. Friend see that that improvement continues by ensuring that we do not have increased taxation, that interest rates are kept low and that there is more capital investment and not so much tax on it?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend sets out a number of important points. Quite apart from the present inflation position and level of interest rates, there are a number of other signs that bode well for our competitiveness and for job creation in the future. United Kingdom unit costs are now growing more slowly than those in Japan and Germany. Earnings are growing more slowly than for 25 years, making us more competitive. Export volumes were at record levels at the end of last year. Our share of world trade has stabilised after decades of decline. Productivity is at all -time high levels. Those are the essential ingredients for growing prosperity and secure jobs in the future, and those are what we are seeking to provide.


Q2. Mr. Fraser : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 February.

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

Mr. Fraser : Is not the Prime Minister appalled by the fact that when the Conservatives took office in 1979, unemployment was just over 1 million and that now the number of people unemployed for more than 12 months is over 1 million? May I suggest that, as he crosses the Atlantic this afternoon, he dips into "Bonfire of the Vanities" and contemplates the extent to which economic trends in this country are beginning to replicate the horrors of cities in the United States, and perhaps he could resolve to give up making excuses during Lent?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman might do well to reflect on the levels of unemployment throughout the Community, now at 17 million. He might show his concern better if he and his party did not oppose every job training scheme that we produce. While he invites me to look into "Bonfire of the Vanities", he might look into affairs in his borough, where there is the highest poll tax in Britain, the largest number of uncollected rents, the largest number of empty properties and where he and his party have brought despair year after year after year.

Mr. Gallie : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the actions of French fishermen today in destroying £10,000 worth of fish en route from Ayr to Germany? Does he recall similar incidents last year, when £30,000 of produce was lost in a similar manner? May we have an assurance that he will approach the French Government to make sure that the culprits are brought to justice and that compensation is paid to all in Britain who lose out in such circumstances?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes the point. Officials have already lodged protests with the French authorities about the incidents in Roscoff during the weekend. We shall continue to leave the French Government in no doubt that we expect them to act where necessary to safeguard free trade, to pay compensation when losses have occurred and to bring the perpetrators to book. I hope that that will satisfy my hon. Friend.


Q3. Mr. Enright : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 February.

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

Mr. Enright : If a principal duty of a Government is the prevention of crime, have not the present Government failed spectacularly? Should not the Prime Minister immediately announce the establishment of a royal commission to make urgent proposals on the subject? Or will he just watch the downward spiral continue with the gaze of the dog that does not understand?

The Prime Minister : As I arrived today, the Under-Secretary of State for Health was setting out a list of measures designed to deal with crime that the Opposition had opposed. To illustrate its depth of concern about the matter, the Labour party had 155 words on the subject of crime in its election manifesto. By contrast, since 1979 we have increased the maximum penalty for trafficking in hard drugs to life imprisonment ; introduced a power to confiscate drug traffickers' and other criminals' assets, against the opposition of the Labour party ; increased maximum penalties for carrying firearms to life imprisonment, for cruelty to children to 10 years and for insider dealing to seven years. I will take Opposition Members seriously on matters of crime when they support, for example, the prevention of terrorism Acts, and we shall give them an opportunity to do that within a few days.

Mr. Luff : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the plans by Jaguar Cars to invest £500 million in the production of a new car at Coventry and of the increases in production planned by Rover Cars, including the excellent Land-Rover Discovery car, which many hon. Members are proud to drive? Does he agree that that is excellent news for the west midlands and the whole British motor vehicle industry?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend and I am--of course --aware of the large investments by Jaguar and Rover. Not only is that excellent news for the motor industry and the west midlands, but it demonstrates the continuing commitment to the United Kingdom as a key manufacturing base by Jaguar's parent company, Ford. The British motor industry was a relic of an industry 15 years ago. It is now profitable, expanding and exporting as a result of our policies.


Q4. Mr. Beith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 February.

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

Mr. Beith : Why does the Prime Minister think that the long list of measures that he has just read out, and which his Government have successfully carried through the House to deal with crime and juvenile crime, has simply not worked? Could it be that crime has become too easy, that violence has become too much the theme of television and videos, that respect for other people has gone too much out of fashion and that too many young people see no stake for themselves in society but see more of a future in crime and the black economy? Does the Prime Minister not have to reach out beyond any one party in order to tackle such issues?

The Prime Minister : I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman had to say a moment ago, and I addressed a good deal of that in a speech a fortnight or so ago. There is a responsibility that spreads far beyond any Government. It most explicitly includes a responsibility within the family circle. It most expressly includes the churches and it most expressly includes the schools to ensure that there is no truancy. Those children who truant are far more likely to be involved in juvenile crime. It is for those reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be introducing measures to deal with juvenile crime very shortly.