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1993 - PMQT 16th March 1993

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

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

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. Byers : The Prime Minister will know that, according to the latest Government figures, there are now 39 unemployed people chasing every job vacancy. Is the Prime Minister aware that this morning Littlewoods pools stated that the odds against winning a dividend on their coupon are 39 to one? Can the Prime Minister explain to the House how it is that, after 14 years of Conservative Government, an unemployed person has as much chance of getting a job as of winning the pools?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman neglected to mention that in recent years in his constituency unemployment has fallen by 20 per cent. Perhaps that is something that he should have borne in mind.

Mr. Bill Walker : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the taking- stock exercise has gone down extremely well in Scotland? Will he confirm that this Government will never bring forward proposals for unwanted, expensive regional assemblies in England, where over 80 per cent. of taxpayers and the population live, nor will they bring forward proposals for assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm that, as, indeed, I did at the last general election. We do not believe that such extra assemblies would be helpful either to democracy or to good government in any part of the United Kingdom. I know that there are contrary views in the House. On the Opposition Benches we find unionists, federalists, separatists and devolutionists. That does not add up to a great deal ; often not even effective opposition.

Mr. John Smith : Will the Prime Minister publish the report by the Department of Trade and Industry on the state of Britain's manufacturing industry?

The Prime Minister : The report to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers was private advice to Ministers and I do not propose to publish it all. I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should raise that question the day after the news that manufacturing output rose to its highest level for 18 months and that it was up on the year before. Perhaps for once the right hon. and learned Gentleman will acknowledge good news.

Mr. John Smith : So much for open government. The Prime Minister knows that he is the first to publish information whenever it suits him. Why does he wish to conceal from the British public the devastating assessment of the Department of Trade and Industry in his own Administration--I quote from its report--that our manufacturing product base is weak and deteriorating?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is up to his old tricks yet again. Whatever he can do to talk down British industry, he will do. If he read a little further in the report from which he gleans his information he would recognise that our productivity has improved faster than that of Germany, France, Italy or the United States. I ask again : when will the right hon. and learned Gentleman help to talk up British industry and stop talking it down?

Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister now see that he should publish the report, because it also says that the main source of new products is imports, that British industry is fundamentally weak, suffering from inadequate investment in new technology, and that there are flaws which it will take decades to remove? Is not it clear to everyone that the reason why he is frightened to publish it is that it reveals that 14 years of Conservative government have done deadly damage to British industry?

The Prime Minister : Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will explain why output in the engineering industry is rising, computers are rising and textile output is rising. Perhaps he will explain why the CBI survey shows yet another increase in output expectations-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order.

The Prime Minister : They cannot accept anything but bad news as far as this country is concerned, so they will not like the fact that manufacturing investment has risen in each of the past three quarters. Those are the figures which the right hon. and learned Gentleman never mentions. He knows them, but they never pass his lips.

Mr. Brazier : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the measure introduced temporarily last November to ease the Treasury rule on capital receipts for housing authorities was sensible? Will he join me in condemning what is happening in Canterbury, where the Treasury rule is being abused and the housing account is being raided by the Liberal-controlled authority to squander funds on leisure facilities?

The Prime Minister : I was not myself aware of that particular point, but my hon. Friend has made me aware of it in a most forceful way. I shall pass it on to my right hon. Friend.


Q2. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 March.

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

Mr. McAvoy : Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that one sign of a weak Prime Minister is constant clarification of what he really meant to say. Last Tuesday the Prime Minister talked about "when" Scottish water will be privatised and then tried to cover up by saying that he should have added the words "if implemented". Does the Prime Minister accept that such weak behaviour fully justifies the Paul Johnson quote :

"Major is what he is : a man from nowhere, going nowhere, heading for well merited obscurity as fast as his mediocre talents can carry him"?

The Prime Minister : When the hon. Gentleman gets here, perhaps he can make that sort of remark.


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

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

Mr. Rathbone : Following my right hon. Friend's answer to the Leader of the Opposition, is he aware that people in manufacturing are indebted to him for his confirmation of the importance of those who work making things? Will he spend a moment today commending the engineering skills that make that possible?

The Prime Minister : I shall certainly be happy to do as my hon. Friend says. As he knows, and as I have repeatedly made clear, I believe that manufacturing is vital to the United Kingdom economy and that engineers have a key part to play in that. Figures released yesterday showed an encouraging picture, with output in electrical and mechanical engineering rising strongly, as did manufacturing output overall.

Mr. Eric Clarke : This is the first chance that I have had to ask the Prime Minister a question. When are the Government going to implement the recommendations of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, which stated that emphysema and bronchitis should be considered as industrial diseases for people who have had mining experience? Is the delay one that saves the Government money since, as we have seen in the past, the claimants die off?

The Prime Minister : The report has been with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security, who has been discussing it with colleagues. I hope that an announcement will be able to be made very shortly.

Sir Michael Grylls : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is rather a sorry reflection on the standards of the Opposition that the Leader of the Opposition has to rely on the material--

Madam Speaker : Order. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister is responsible only for Government policy, not for what the Leader of the Opposition gets up to.

Sir Michael Grylls : Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Leader of the Opposition to visit British industry, where he could see some of the great successes such as in motor cars, television and the chemical industry, where we are now leading the world?

The Prime Minister : I would endeavour to encourage that understanding opposite. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman heard what was said and I look forward to him taking note of it.


Q4. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 March.

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

Mr. Banks : I realise that everyone's mind is on the Budget, but may I ask the Prime Minister to give some thought today to the future plight of great whales, which has a price beyond calculation? Does he recall when some of us came to 10 Downing street to present a petition signed by half a million people protesting about Norway's intention to carry on with commercial whaling? Will he now make a protest to the Norwegian Prime Minister so that she and everyone else in Norway knows that if Norway goes ahead with commercial whaling, there will be no place for it in the Community and that appropriate sanctions will be taken against that country?

The Prime Minister : I will certainly raise the point that the hon. Gentleman mentions, which he has raised with me before and which we have raised with Norway on a number of occasions in the past. But I will not take the hon. Gentleman's advice on the second point. Norway is keen, I think, to join the Community and I hope that in due course she will.


Q5. Mr. Faber : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 March.

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

Mr. Faber : In the light of reports last week that about 30 per cent. of 14-year-olds now achieve a reading age of between nine and 11, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is more important than ever that these children are rigorously tested regularly and that the results are made available to their parents? Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the disgraceful action proposed by the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers which will wreak havoc in the classroom?

The Prime Minister : I very much agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks. No one can be happy with the level of achievement in English that is thrown up by the report, but if we are to help pupils and raise standards, we need testing and the national curriculum. If we get the tests, we shall see which children are falling behind and we shall then be in a position to take action to help them. I would certainly deplore any action to disrupt those tests and I look for support in that from every part of the House.

Mrs. Fyfe : Would the Prime Minister like to demonstrate his support for open government by instructing the Secretary of State for Scotland to publish details of the secret correspondence he had with the leader of the Scottish National party?

The Prime Minister : I rather thought that it had been published.


Q6. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 March.

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

Mrs. Gorman : During his visits behind what used to be the iron curtain, did my right hon. Friend have a chance to go shopping, as I did recently on a visit to Kiev, where I discovered that the contents of the very best department store were about the equivalent of a boot sale on a bad Sunday afternoon? Is not it true that, despite the attempts of the Opposition to talk this country down, this is still the best democracy in the world? But, before we hand over our government to Brussels, should not we consult the British people through a referendum?

The Prime Minister : For one magical moment I thought my hon. Friend was going to carry me entirely with her. I strongly agree with the first part of her question and I think that no one is in any doubt about the acutely difficult situation faced by the Russian Parliament and by the Russian leadership at the moment. We very much hope that the Group of Seven will be able to help the reform movement in Russia and we certainly intend to do so. So far as the referendum is concerned, I can give no comfort to my hon. Friend.


Q7. Mr. Miller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 March.

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

Mr. Miller : On 31 March last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told Channel 4 News :

"We will not have to increase taxes. I cannot see any circumstances in which that will be necessary."

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that if the Chancellor breaks that pledge in a few moments' time, no one will ever trust anybody on the Government Benches again?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will not have long to wait on that point. It is an odd question to come from him, when the leader of his party said recently:

"Well, we change our policies as we move towards a different election. We're not necessarily committed to what we did at a particular election."