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1993 - PMQT 25th March 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 25th March 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Meale : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 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. Meale : The House will well recall the promises made by the Prime Minister and many of his fellow Ministers before the last general election about the future of the coal mining industry. Now that, today, we are about to hear about the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, will the Prime Minister apologise to those coalfield communities for what the Government are about to do?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will have to curb his impatience for a few moments until my right hon. Friend's statement. He has very little time to wait and then he will be able to judge how right he is or how wrong he is.

Mr. Heald : Has my right hon. Friend seen the 1992 results from Vauxhall Motors today showing huge increase in profits as a result of improved sales, improved market share and a huge increase in exports? Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the work force and all concerned, particularly those living in north Hertfordshire?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I did see those results. They are certainly excellent and I am delighted to congratulate the company on its results, which show what a well-managed company with the right product range can achieve, even in difficult world trading circumstances.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister now understand how foolish he was to claim last October that the closure of 31 pits was--and I quote him directly--

"economically unavoidable and better done cleanly and quickly"?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we carried out a full review of these matters and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will set out in full detail the outcome of that review shortly. It is the most thorough review of the coal industry that has been undertaken for very many years. It posed many difficult issues which we have been prepared to face. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might also acknowledge the fact that we have supported the industry over the past 14 years to the extent of £18 billion.

Mr. John Smith : The House and the country will have noticed that the Prime Minister does not, indeed cannot, deny that his original intention, as he said himself, was to close all 31 pits immediately. How does he account for that appalling error of judgment?

The Prime Minister : I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is desperately keen to get his usual fix on the early evening news, but he will have to wait for my right hon. Friend's statement.

Mr. John Smith : In the course of the Prime Minister's twisting and turning over the past five months, has he yet begun to appreciate the vital importance of Britain's coal industry to our future energy security? Whatever is or is not in his White Paper, does the Prime Minister now realise that the rigging of the market to secure short-term profits for privatised electricity companies has put at risk the long-term security of energy supplies which should be the cornerstone of any Government's energy policy?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will find it difficult to rewrite his own history. He should remember Labour's record on pit closures. The last Labour Government closed 313 pits and more than 200,000 of the work force lost their jobs. The Labour party cannot live down its past. It backed the National Union of Mineworkers when that union was holding the country to ransom during a year-long strike in the 1980s ; it backed demands for unrealistic wages ; and it backed demands for overmanning and bad working practices. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not backed those things in the 1980s, many more pits might be open today.

Mr. Thomason : Does my right hon. Friend agree that charge capping and council tax capping are necessary evils to protect the payer from the worst excesses of socialist local government administration? Will he abhor the proposal of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that capping be abolished and that control of local government spending be handed over to the unions?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right. The capping of spendthrift local authorities is necessary in order to protect taxpayers. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will cap wherever necessary this year, as in other years. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) may be keen to know that it is most unlikely that Conservative Basildon this year, unlike Labour Basildon in previous years, will require capping.


Q2. Ms Abbott : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 March.

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

Ms Abbott : Does the Prime Minister accept that, whatever is in the statement to come, what public opinion outside the House wants is the saving not of 10, 12 or 15 pits but of all 31? It is not out of sentimentality that public opinion demands this. Whatever the short-term interest of the privatised fuel industry, it would be madness, in the long term, for this country to become dependent upon foreign coal and it would be madness to add to the standing army of the long-term unemployed.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady cannot have heard what I said about the Labour Government's record in closing pits. In carrying the review forward, we have had to balance two conflicting factors--our desire to save as many jobs and pits as possible and the hard, cold, real fact that British Coal is producing more coal than its customers want or it can sell. I am confident that my right hon. Friend's review offers the best way forward, both for the coal industry and for the country.

Mr. Cormack : Is my right hon. Friend aware that hon. Members in all parts of the House have watched with admiration President Yeltsin's courageous struggle to bring both economic and political freedom to Russia? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to send the good wishes of the House to President Yeltsin at this very critical time?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to offer my support to President Yeltsin and to express my support for the reform programme. Over the weekend, I sent the President a message precisely about that and I received a reply from him earlier this week. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary plans to visit Moscow next week.

Mr. Ashdown : In the-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. These interruptions take up time.

Mr. Ashdown : In the shadow of last week's atrocity in Warrington, which has claimed yet another life today, was the Prime Minister as moved as I was by the spontaneous and powerful expressions of sympathy and support from the people of Dublin for the people of Warrington, who suffered in that atrocity at the hands of the IRA? Does he agree that people such as Susan McHugh and Gordon Wilson speak for millions when they say that enough is enough? Is it not the case that if the people of Dublin can put the past behind them in their search for peace, the politicians of the whole of Ireland should be able to do the same?

The Prime Minister : The tragedy of another young life lost, sadly, this morning will have touched the hearts of many people in this country and far beyond. The events of last week demonstrate that terrorism brings nothing but agony and misery. But as we condemn terrorism, we must bear it in mind that there are many people in Dublin and elsewhere in the Republic of Ireland, elsewhere in Northern Ireland and Irish citizens in this country, who condemn and detest the terrorists as much as do hon. Members.

Mr. Kynoch : Is my right hon. Friend aware of how much I welcome the further progress that he has made in the Budget to extending the 20p basic rate of tax ? Will he make further extensions in the years ahead?

The Prime Minister : I assure my hon. Friend that it is our intention to seek to do that. Our aim is a 20p basic rate of tax. We propose to move towards that as rapidly and prudently as we can by extending the 20p rate.


Q3. Mrs. Ewing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 March.

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

Mrs. Ewing : In the continuing context of the Budget, is the Prime Minister aware that changes in the tax regime threaten jobs both offshore and onshore in the oil and gas industries in the north and north-east of Scotland, while the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel represents a threat to the welfare and lives of the elderly and needy in society ? Is not it a travesty of justice that the Prime Minister should have introduced a Budget by which, in an energy-rich nation such as Scotland, we gain neither employment nor social benefits?

The Prime Minister : The support that the Government have given the oil industry over many years has brought many tens of thousands of jobs to Scotland, as the hon. Lady knows. There have been changes in the oil regime for offshore drilling in Scotland. That has been welcomed by many of the companies that work there.

Mr. Gale : Knowing him, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will already have sent a message of sympathy to the parents and family of Tim Parry. I hope that he included in that message the good wishes, thoughts and prayers of hon. Members in all parts of the House. Will he find time today to send another message, to the President of the United States, asking him to condemn the people in America who collect money that is paid to the IRA?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt, as I said, about the feeling in this country--which I know will be shared by President Clinton--over the very sad death of Tim Parry. I know that the American Administration view terrorism in the same way as we do. It is a matter which I have discussed with President Clinton and with his predecessor.


Q4. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 March.

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

Mr. Michie : Is the Prime Minister aware that the document "Implementing Caring for People : Assessment," which can only be described as sinister, advises practitioners and local authorities that any unmet need should not be recorded, on the ground, in the explanatory note, that, due to the idea now of freedom of access to information, it would be wrong for that information to be recorded just in case the patients or the clients found out what their rights were?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows that we have done more than any previous Administration to ensure that people are aware of their rights in the social security and health spheres. The new community care arrangements that will exist from 1 April will add to that remarkable record.

Mr. Sumberg : Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the disgraceful decision of railway workers to bring this country's transport network to a standstill on 2 April? While he is about it, will he invite the Leader of the Opposition to issue a similar condemnation?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly happy to condemn the suggestion that passengers should be severely inconvenienced by strikes of this kind. I hope that that feeling will be shared by the Leader of the Opposition and many others.


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

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

Mr. Morley : Will the Prime Minister confirm that under his Government total taxation for most people is far higher than it was under previous Labour Governments? What advice will he give to constituents such as mine, Mr. and Mrs. Cook, who have worked all their lives for a little bit of works pension which is 36p a week above any kind of benefit level? What kind of assistance will they get with the crippling increase in gas and electricity charges when value added tax is applied?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman was really concerned about the tax burden, which allegedly he is said to be, perhaps he would withdraw his support from all the spending increases that Opposition Members propose week after week after week.