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1993 - PMQT 23rd March 1993

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Inward Investment

Q1. Mr. Wells : To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to lead an overseas visit by a group of business men to obtain overseas inward investment or export orders.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : I hope to visit Japan in the autumn, accompanied by a delegation of senior British business men. My ministerial colleagues also take every opportunity to promote Britain and British business abroad. They are planning to lead at least 14 trade missions to 17 countries in the next year covering markets as diverse as Asia, Africa and the far east.

Mr. Wells : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the signal honour paid to him in being invited to India to take the Republic Day parade, on his flexibility in reorganising his schedule at the last minute to pay a visit to Saudi Arabia with business men accompanying him, and on obtaining a £4 billion order and securing 21,000 jobs, many of them in Hertford and Bishop's Stortford. Does he agree that, with the Budget increases to export credit guarantees of £1.2 billion and the favourable exchange rate, there are many more opportunities for our exporters to increase jobs and opportunities ?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The measures announced in the Budget will provide further export cover and cheaper export cover and that is on top of the changes previously made in the autumn statement. They will certainly help United Kingdom firms to win more business abroad and secure more jobs at home.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth : Is the Prime Minister aware that the non- European Community deficit rose in February to £1.3 billion ? Does he realise that photo opportunities and the ongoing pretence will not solve the basic problem in the British economic system ? When will he tackle the real issues ?

The Prime Minister : I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means about photo opportunities. I should have thought that 21,000 jobs and many billions of pounds worth of trade were a good deal more than that.


Engagements

Q2. Mrs. Browning : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 March.

The Prime Minister : 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.

Mrs. Browning : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is most unfair that every household in my constituency is having to pay nearly £9 extra on the council tax because Liberal Democrat-controlled Torbay council and Labour-controlled Plymouth city council have set artificially low collection rates this year of under 92 per cent? If those councils cannot collect the rates, why should payers in Conservative-controlled East Devon have to pick up the tab?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. I can see no practical justification for the low collection rates set by Torbay and Plymouth. They are unfair to the council tax payers and they are unfair to council tax payers throughout Devon. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not need reminding that for a band C property, Labour councils will cost the council tax payer £100 extra. For 6 May, the answer is clear--vote Conservative.

Mr. John Smith : Following the massive tax increases announced in the Budget for this year, next year and the year after, will the Prime Minister tell us whether there are any more tax increases in the pipeline?

The Prime Minister : This, of course, is from the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had plans to increase tax by £35 billion in his shadow Budget. I made it absolutely clear last week in the House that we do not like raising taxes and we do so only when necessary. The Labour party raises taxes because it wishes to spend other people's money on their behalf. We do it only when necessary.

Mr. John Smith : Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is he who has just raised taxes. Why on earth should anyone in this country believe what he says about future taxation when last week he broke clear pledges not to put VAT on gas and electricity and not to increase national insurance contributions? He made those pledges before the election. He broke them a year later.

The Prime Minister : As I indicated to the right hon. and learned Gentleman a moment ago, we increased indirect taxes because we felt that we had to in the interests of the economy. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said,

"in good times the Tories will hope to cut taxes."

So we will and that is what the public expect of us. But perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can explain how he would honour his manifesto commitment to increase child benefit and pensions if he would not put up taxes and he would not increase borrowing. Either he cannot add up or he has broken every single manifesto promise that he set out. Which is it? Is he innumerate or without principles?

Mr. John Smith : On the question of principles, does not the Prime Minister understand that this shameless Budget has put at issue two fundamental questions : first, the credibility of the Government and the Prime Minister himself, which is now in tatters; and, secondly, the deep unfairness of putting large increases on ordinary families to pay for his Government's mistakes? Does he not now realise that whatever he says about taxation in the future, no one will and no one should ever believe him?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman's noble Friend Lord Desai has called for all zero-rate items to be subject to the full rate of value added tax--not just fuel, but transport, books, children's clothing and food. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman repudiate that policy expressed by his noble Friend--the Labour party's economic spokesman in another place?


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

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

Mr. Brandreth : In the light of Friday's debate on tourism, will my right hon. Friend join me in saluting the British tourist industry in general and the hoteliers of Chester in particular on taking full advantage of a competitive pound to bring good business to Britain and the best business to Chester? Of course, good news for Britain is very bad news for the monomaniacs of misery opposite.

The Prime Minister : I am happy to congratulate the British tourist industry on something like 18 million visitors to the United Kingdom last year. I have no doubt that, with the present competitive exchange rate, that figure will be well exceeded this year by the excellent British tourist industry in all parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Jamieson : Will the Prime Minister join me in expressing our condolences to the parents and families of the four teenagers in my constituency who lost their lives yesterday in a tragic canoeing accident in Lyme bay? Will he ensure that the appropriate Government Department puts in place a full inquiry into how the tragedy took place and in particular why it took almost four hours for the emergency services to arrive on the scene?

The Prime Minister : I will certainly join my hon. Friend, as, I am sure, will every hon. Member in the House. Our hearts go out to the parents of all those who died in that tragic incident. I think that it would be wrong, at the moment, to speculate on the causes of the tragedy before the necessary inquiries have been completed. Local inquiries are under way already. The primary responsibility for safety in outdoor school activities lies with the local education authority, or the governing body in the case of grant-maintained schools. In this case, of course, it is Devon local education authority.

I must emphasise that there is no evidence at this stage that the necessary precautions were ignored. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to consider any action necessary by his Department in the light of this tragic event.


Q4. Mr. Peter Bottomley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 March.

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

Mr. Bottomley : My hon. Friend will be aware that leading members of Sinn Fein have said that they find it very difficult to justify any atrocities as bad as the one at Enniskillen in 1987.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what limits the power of the Provisional IRA is both hard security and what their supporters are willing to tolerate? Will my right hon. Friend join me and people throughout these islands, in Ireland as well as in the United Kingdom, in condemning the kind of action that can kill a three-year-old and substitute bombs and bullets for arguments and for votes? Will he call on all people to try to persuade those still directing the violence to end it now?

The Prime Minister : I believe that decent families everywhere will have been sickened by that cold-blooded attack on innocent people going about peaceful business on a spring Saturday lunchtime. Even for the IRA, that attack plumbed the depths. To take the life of an innocent child in that fashion and to wreck other lives is absolutely unforgiveable. It was, quite literally, an evil act, made more evil in my judgment by messages deliberately designed to confuse those people who should have helped to prevent that incident from taking place. That behaviour has done one thing : it has provoked revulsion and determination that violence will not prevail.

I can assure my hon. Friend that no effort will be spared, within the rule of law, to bring the people responsible to justice. If there were a shred of humanity in the IRA they would hand over those killers for justice without delay. If they do not, as I fear they will not, I hope that they will know that we shall hound them for the rest of their days until we find them and punish them.

Mr. Hume : I agree with the Prime Minister and my constituents, who know exactly what the people of Warrington have experienced, will join totally with what he has just said.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is its public housing authority, has transformed public housing there over the past 20 years, in difficult circumstances, to the point where the Governments of the emergent democracies of eastern Europe are now coming to learn from them? Why have the Government begun the process of privatisation of that public authority and laying off the direct labour force, thus leaving unemployed people who are held in such high respect in our society? Given that his Government make so many efforts to reach agreement among the parties in Northern Ireland and that we are totally agreed on the subject, will the Prime Minister respond positively by keeping the housing executive and its direct labour force in existence?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's words about the disaster at Warrington. The whole House knows that he has had direct experience of these matters in the past and speaks with a special knowledge of the matter.

So far as the housing executive is concerned, the proposals made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State are made precisely because he believes that responsibility can be better carried out in another fashion. It is for that reason and for none other that he has proposed those changes.

Mr. Allason : My right hon. Friend will be aware that water rate payers in Torbay and in the rest of the south-west are facing increased charges of up to 16 per cent. in bills coming through their letter boxes this week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that much of this increase is due to a European directive? Will he also undertake to ensure that representations are made in Brussels to delay the implementation of the infrastructure investment that is being demanded of South West Water and is being put before the charge payers in the south-west?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend may be referring to the bathing water directive, which is, among other things, very important for the tourist industry. The essential reason for the very high bills in the south -west and in some other areas--and, as my hon. Friend will know, I am examining those at the moment--is the sheer scale of the investment in water and sewerage services which, frankly, was not made over the past 30 years in the public sector.


Q5. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 March.

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

Mr. Ernie Ross : The Prime Minister will have seen the disturbing scenes outside the Timex factory in my constituency yesterday. He will know that this has become a bitter dispute following the sacking by the management of 343 hourly paid employees. Those workers, many of whom are women, have 20 or 30 years' service to the company. That dispute went through the Government's employment legislation to the letter. I have asked the Secretary of State for Scotland and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and I have asked the Secretary of State for Employment and the Leader of the House to intervene personally, given that those workers have lost their jobs following the Government's employment legislation. Will the Prime Minister now intervene and ask the company to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to settle this dispute now?

The Prime Minister : I note from the reports that none of the people arrested in the scenes at Timex yesterday were workers from Timex. I believe that the ex-convener at Timex said that those dismissed

"never called for a sit-down demonstration and do not sponsor violence."

It seems that rent-a-picket is back and I do not think that that is in the interest of the Timex workers. Workers who choose to go on strike have always faced the risk of being dismissed without the right to claim unfair dismissal. That was the case under legislation enacted by the last Labour Government.