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1993 - PMQT 18th March 1993

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 March.

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 further meetings later today.

Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend recall the agreement and the declaration on the environment reached in Rio last year, which achieved the support of all parties in the House and elsewhere? Does he not think it somewhat two-faced of those who support a cleaner environment in principle to reject any measures to achieve it in practice?

The Prime Minister : I cannot imagine who my hon. Friend may have in mind, but he is right. I seem to remember that after Rio we were attacked by more than one Opposition party for not going far enough on environmental matters. We made our commitment and we have now take action towards meeting it.

Mr. John Smith : Will the Prime Minister confirm that, as a result of his betrayal of his election promise not to increase taxes, a typical family will have to pay £8.50 per week in extra tax from next April and £12.50 per week in extra tax the following year?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is the wrong person to remind people about ditching election promises. As I reminded him on Tuesday, he said recently :

"We would be a very foolish party if we went into an election, say '95 or '96, with the same policies as '92."

[Hon. Members :-- "Answer the question."] On his specific question, unlike the Labour party, we do not like raising taxes and we do it only when necessary. I said last year that we had no plans to raise taxes--nor did we-- but we have an overriding commitment to return the deficit to balance and to take the action necessary to do that. In the Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor acted to meet that overriding commitment and in the interests of everyone in the country he was surely right to do so.

Mr. Smith : The country will have noted carefully that the Prime Minister did not deny that there will be an extra £8.50 per week of tax for a typical family next year and £12.50 per week the year after. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether people who qualify for income support, including millions of pensioners, will receive increases in benefit to cover in full the tax increases on their fuel bills?

The Prime Minister : I shall deal directly with the point, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman may care to reflect also upon this : does he or does he not agree with one of his Front-Bench spokesmen in another House-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members must contain themselves. These interruptions only waste time.

The Prime Minister : Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will reflect on whether he agrees with his noble Friend in another House who called for all zero-rated items to be subject to the full rate of value added tax. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with his noble Friend, or does he not?

As for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question about the fuel increase, he should have read carefully what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech. My right hon. Friend made it absolutely clear that there will be extra help for less well off pensioners and other people on low incomes. They will get that help from next April, before the higher fuel bills come in. That help will be additional to the future increase in pensions and other benefits which will take place automatically. Cold weather payments will also be adjusted to reflect increases in fuel costs. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has also neglected to welcome the fact that fuel prices have dropped since privatisation and that further reductions were announced this very morning.

Mr. Smith : The country will have noticed that the Prime Minister can never give a straight answer to a straight question. The country will also find it shameful that he cannot give a clear commitment to meet in full the increase in taxes for the most vulnerable members of our society. He has no conscience at all about short changing the poor as well as betraying his election commitments?

The Prime Minister : What the country may have noticed today, of all days, is that on this occasion the right hon. and learned Gentleman made no mention of and gave no welcome to the fall in unemployment. Neither has he mentioned the substantial real incomes increase in pensions ; neither has he mentioned the uprating next April, or the fact that we have not taken back the money put in the base line for the community charge which pensioners will no longer have to pay. None of these and other matters have apparently occurred to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.


North-west Kent

Q2. Mr. Dunn : To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to visit north-west Kent.

The Prime Minister : I am making plans for a series of visits and hope to include Kent among them.

Mr. Dunn : Is the Prime Minister aware that the people of north-west Kent have always been strong supporters of home ownership and, as such, welcome the changes in stamp duty which will encourage the housing market? They also welcome the new, exciting, radical right-to-buy campaign announced today.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think he will find that that welcome will extend across not just north-west Kent but the whole country. In a recent survey, 89 per cent. of people under 30 said that they wished to own their own homes. We shall again give more of them the opportunity to do so. Raising the stamp duty threshold will halve the number of houses on which stamp duty has to be paid. That, with low interest rates and the lowest mortgage rates for nearly 30 years, will dramatically increase the possibility for millions to become home owners.


Engagements

Q3. Mr. Gordon Prentice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 March.

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

Mr. Prentice : Does the Prime Minister of manufacturing recall that this time last week he did not know the names of the two major competitors of Rolls-Royce and that his ignorance shocked my constituents? Will he join me in condemning the 24 per cent. and 35 per cent. pay increases for the chief executive and chairman of Rolls-Royce at a time when the company is sacking 5,000 skilled workers, including 170 in my constituency?

The Prime Minister : I have spoken before of my admiration for Pratt and Witney and General Electric. As for the wage increases to which the hon. Gentleman referred, if he were here more often he would know how often I have set out my views on that subject.


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

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

Mr. Sykes : I know that, unlike the Jeremiahs in the Labour party, the Prime Minister will welcome the news on the unemployment figures that has been announced today. Will he also welcome the freezing of the uniform business rate that was announced on Tuesday, which will further help job prospects?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly happy to do that. The Budget was a Budget for business, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said. The freeze on business rates will help about 800,000 businesses. Nor was that the Budget's only boost for business. The chorus of welcome for the Budget from business speaks for itself.

Mr. Ashdown : How does the Prime Minister justify to the nation a Budget which, over the next three years, will require the poorest tenth of people to pay proportionately twice what the richest tenth will have to pay to bail the country out of his Government's financial failure?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has clearly failed to notice the substantial increase in the proportion of the burden that we are asking people on higher incomes to bear. He has neglected that. I hope that he will join his hon. Friend sitting beside him who earlier this week said :

"I am in favour of taxes on things that pollute."


Q5. Mr. Ancram : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 March.

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

Mr. Ancram : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Conservative Members take grave exception to the heavy-handed behaviour of Chinese Government towards the Governor of the Hong Kong? Will he take up with the Chinese Government their threat to set up an alternative government for Hong Kong, and will he remind them that the whole international community expects agreements to be honoured?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. The British Government stand four square behind the Governor and Government of Hong Kong. The Governor has acted sensitively, resolutely and correctly, and we shall continue to make that clear to the Chinese Government. In doing so, we shall underline three points : the Governor has acted entirely within the terms of the documents that we have agreed with China and we expect the Chinese Government to do likewise ; the Governor's proposals for greater democracy are widely supported in Hong Kong, in the United Kingdom and in the international community, and I believe that they have wide support across this House ; we and the Governor have gone the extra mile in our efforts to consult China. We remain ready for talks without pre-conditions, but no one should doubt that the Governor has our total support.


Q6. Mr. Turner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 March.

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

Mr. Turner : Does the Prime Minister accept that Budget day will be remembered for many years as Black Tuesday? It was the day of taxes on heating, taxes on beer, taxes on petrol and taxes on cars. Will the Prime Minister tell the House and the Country how many more taxes we shall have to endure before, mercifully, we get to the next general election?

The Prime Minister : It will certainly be a tax on Labour's ability to win that election when it comes, for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has put in place the right structure to make sure that we get back the growth, the jobs and the prosperity that we seek. If the hon. Gentleman had been a little more gracious he might, unlike anyone else on the Opposition side, have welcomed not only the drop in unemployment but also the new £100 million manufacturing centre for car components at Wednesbury near Wolverhampton.

Mr. Bowden : Will my right hon. Friend convey the congratulations of all Conservative Members to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security on his speedy clarification of the help that will be given to those on income support and low-pay pensioners? Will he also please look very closely at the position of the nearly 1 million pensioners who do not claim the income support to which they are entitled, as well as those whose income is very slightly above income support level? If my right hon. Friend could find some way of helping those people to pay the extra VAT on fuel, that would be a major step forward.

The Prime Minister : I know that my hon. Friend will agree with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it is right to concentrate extra help especially on the poorest households. He will also know that other benefits will automatically increase with prices through the normal uprating mechanism, and my hon. Friend at least--if not the Opposition-- will join us in welcoming the fact that fuel prices have fallen in recent years.


Q7. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 March.

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

Mr. Pike : In view of the tax changes announced on Tuesday in relation to mortgage tax relief, will the Prime Minister state whether the Government intend, during the lifetime of this Parliament, to phase out tax relief on mortgages?

The Prime Minister : No. We made it clear earlier that we would retain the system, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out our immediate proposals.


Q8. Mrs. Ann Winterton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 March.

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

Mrs. Winterton : My right hon. Friend will be encouraged by the welcome given by the Manufacturing and Construction Industries Alliance, to which he recently sent a message of support, to the boost to British exporters from the £1.3 billion of extra export credit announced in the Budget, but will he acknowledge the growing concern about the erosion of our manufacturing base? Will he seek to have published the report on these matters prepared by the Department of Trade and Industry which has recently been the subject of much press speculation?

The Prime Minister : We have not only, of course, extended ECGD but my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has cut premiums over the past few months by as much as 27 per cent. in order to help exporters. We have over recent weeks announced a wide range of policies specifically geared to improve the prospects for manufacturing, both the efficiency of existing manufacturing and the widening of the manufacturing base. I made it clear earlier this week that the paper to which my hon. Friend refers was private advice to Ministers and will not be published.