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1993 - PMQT 25th February 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 25th February 1993. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Ewing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

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 on an official visit to the United States, which is clearly going extremely well.

Mrs. Ewing : Will the Lord President of the Council accept that there has been a very warm welcome for the fact that the European Commission has designated the highlands and islands of Scotland as being eligible for objective 1 payments? This matter has been made all the more urgent by the fact that Ardersier is to be placed on a care and maintenance basis. Will the Lord President make it clear that the United Kingdom Government are to argue that the highlands and islands area to be covered by objective 1 should be the same as the highlands and islands enterprise area, which includes the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) and parts of my constituency? In both cases the economy is very fragile, and we need this assistance.

Mr. Newton : The whole House will join the hon. Lady in welcoming the announcement that the highlands and islands have been included in the list of recommendations that the Commission is making for designation under objective 1 in the next round of the structural fund. Of course, those recommendations are still subject to scrutiny and to final decision by the Council of Ministers. In the discussions, the United Kingdom will certainly seek to ensure that the needs and interests of west Grampian and of Argyll and Bute are taken fully into account as efforts are made to achieve the best outcome for the highlands and islands.

Mr. Dykes : As my right hon. Friend has said, the Prime Minister's visit to President Clinton and the new American Government has been extremely successful. Can he confirm that we are resisting the rather unfair attacks on the Airbus, the excellent British and European aircraft, and on its related equipment being made by American manufacturers, bearing in mind the fact that American subventions for aircraft are much higher than those in Europe?

Mr. Newton : I am not in a position to give details of every aspect of my right hon. Friend's conversations, but I have no doubt that he has emphasised the British Government's view on those matters.

Mrs. Beckett : How would the right hon. Gentleman feel if he were serving in the British Army, under fire in Bosnia, and were handed a P45?

Mr. Newton : The need to achieve balanced and well-considered reductions in the armed forces was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Armed Forces some months ago. It is appropriate that that exercise should be carried through in a balanced and fair way. Of course, there is no question of anybody becoming redundant while in Bosnia.

Mrs. Beckett : Is it not a further example of the Government's incompetence that one week they are reprieving regiments because the British Army is overstretched and the next they are making soldiers redundant? Are they not gratuitously undermining the morale of British troops in one of the most dangerous theatres of operation?

Mr. Newton : It seems to me that, against the background of a need acknowledged by all parties to make some reductions in the armed forces, it is right that it should be carried out fairly and even handedly. It would be much more unfair to leave troops serving in Bosnia in a state of continuing uncertainty when the position is being clarified elsewhere.

Mrs. Beckett : Surely it is adding insult to injury to make soldiers redundant when the Government know perfectly well that there are no jobs for them to come back to. Is he aware that in some parts of the country, as many as 2,000 people are chasing every job?

Mr. Newton : What I am aware of is that the armed forces have extensive arrangements for assisting those whose services come under the heading that we are discussing and that the great majority of those who left in the previous phase of change in the armed forces have found jobs, and their skills enhanced their prospects of doing so.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Will my right hon. Friend commend the action of the judge at Lancaster Crown court who imposed on four youths who were guilty of affray and other crimes--one of whom was on bail--an immediate custodial sentence, which will teach a salutary lesson to other gangs who choose to maraud?

Mr. Newton : Without being familiar with every detail of the particular case, I endorse the general thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have her support and, I hope, that of the House when he issues further proposals shortly in respect of juvenile offenders and of those offending while on bail.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Leader of the House recall the Prime Minister's commitment that under the citizens charter the public would be compensated when the authorities failed? Is he aware of today's Treasury Committee report which concludes that the Bank of England has manifestly failed in its duty of supervision in the case of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International? Will the sufferers be compensated, or is this to be another example of "do as I say but not as I do"?

Mr. Newton : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has already carefully considered the implications of the Bingham report and made it clear that the Government do not believe that it would be right to offer compensation beyond that provided in general banking legislation under the statutory deposit protection scheme. Of course, my right hon. Friend and the Government as a whole will carefully study the report to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but I certainly do not expect them to change their conclusion.

Mr. Richards : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's trade union reforms have completely transformed the industrial relations climate, and will he join me in welcoming to our policies the Johnny-come-latelys on the Opposition Benches no matter how belated their conversion?

Mr. Newton : Yes. I agree with my hon. Friend and endorse what he says. The Opposition have opposed every significant piece of reform legislation that we have passed since 1979 in that connection, but have had to come to a grudging acceptance of them as their beneficial results become clear. We have a continuing flow of examples of investment coming into this country which has been helped in coming here by precisely those reforms.


Q2. Mr. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Bennett : I have here a few reports covering the past 14 years of Home Office Ministers assuring us that they would get tough on crime. Can the Leader of the House tell us how many promises were made and why they have not worked? Could it possibly be because of the sort of society that this Government have created, in which people have been encouraged to be selfish and to put self-interest first ; a society in which no one is expected to understand right or wrong, but merely whether one can get away with it, and in which Ministers are trained to say, "Not me, guv"?

Mr. Newton : I would take that more easily from somebody who was not a representative of a party which has voted against or sought to weaken every substantial measure designed to tackle the problem : the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and, regularly, the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989. The test of the hon. Gentleman's commitment will be how he votes when the renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act comes again before the House shortly.

Mr. Waterson : Does my right hon. Friend accept that many people in my constituency of Eastbourne and throughout the country stand to benefit from the Housing and Urban Development Bill? Is it not a great pity that Opposition Members voted against it on Second and Third Readings?

Mr. Newton : Yes it is, and it is typical of the way in which the Opposition so often fail to vote in the way that much of their rhetoric indicates that they should.


Q3. Ms. Eagle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Ms. Eagle : Does the Lord President of the Council agree with the views expressed yesterday by his colleague, Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that Britain's withdrawal from the exchange rate mechanism was a humiliation which could have been avoided if Britain had cut interest rates earlier and realigned earlier? Does he agree with me that Lord Lawson's comments are hardly a ringing endorsement of his Government's economic competence?

Mr. Newton : No, I do not entirely share the views that my right hon. and noble Friend is reported to have expressed. I would have found it more credible coming from the hon. Lady if she had joined the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) in referring to something that her constituents will benefit from--the inclusion of Merseyside in objective 1 status.


Q4. Mr. Willetts : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Willetts : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the battle against over-regulation must be one of the Government's highest priorities? Is it not absurd that health and safety regulations prohibit one of our leading physicists, who has written the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" entry on electricity, from changing a 13 amp plug in his own laboratory?

Mr. Newton : It certainly sounds so on the face of it, but I had better undertake to look into the particular case, while agreeing entirely with my hon. Friend's basic proposition, which is that we need precisely what is now being carried out by the Government--a thorough-going review of some aspects of over-regulation.


Q5. Mr. Hoon : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Hoon : Since the Leader of the House is keen on talking about European Community funding, can he explain to Britain's depressed regions why not one penny of the £1 billion that is available to this country from the EC in regional funding had been spent at the end of last year? Will he assure the House that all that £1 billion will be spent, together with the £2.5 billion matching funds that will be required in the next 10 months, and ensure that the money is spent in Britain on helping our depressed regions rather than being lost to other countries?

Mr. Newton : The Government fully comply with the Community's rules in these matters and have every intention of making that even clearer than, evidently, it is to the hon. Gentleman.


Q6. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Evennett : Has my right hon. Friend observed that on average council tax in Labour authorities will be £100 higher than in Conservative authorities and will he pass that information on to the Prime Minister when he returns from his successful trip to the United States? Furthermore, does my right hon. Friend agree that Conservative councils are efficient and effective, while Labour councils just cost the people more?

Mr. Newton : Yes, I have noticed such reports. There is a remarkable correlation between high levels of council tax and Labour control, and between low levels of council tax and Conservative control. If there is any risk of that lesson being missed, we shall ensure that the electorate are made aware of it between now and the local elections in May.

Mr. Home Robertson : May I take the Leader of the House back to the question of the redundant soldiers? What does he say to Royal Scots serving in Northern Ireland, and members of the Cheshire Regiment serving in Bosnia, whom I met last week, who applied for voluntary redundancy on the understanding that their regiments were to be amalgamated and who would now like to have the opportunity to withdraw their redundancy applications? It is not good enough to say that they have the right to appeal. Under the new circumstances, they should have the right to stay in the Army and should not be issued with P45s.

Mr. Newton : My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces tells me that that matter was the subject of exchanges in yesterday's debate and that he made the position clear to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) then. I am certainly not going to add to that now.