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1993 - PMQT 30th March 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th March 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 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. Pawsey : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the British people are becoming increasingly fed up with the unlawful activities-- [Interruption.] --with the unlawful activities of French farmers and French fishermen? Does he further agree with me that their actions are detrimental to the interests of the United Kingdom, its people and our trade?

The Prime Minister : I think that it is true that the recent action by French farmers and fishermen is totally unacceptable. I am sure that the whole House will have seen that the French ambassador made clear yesterday beyond doubt his condemnation of their activity in the clearest possible terms. I very much welcome that. My hon. Friend may also know that the French authorities have undertaken to provide safe passage for any consignments of which we notify them. We are pursuing the recent fisheries- related incidents actively with the French authorities and we look to them to restore order, to bring the perpetrators to book and to guarantee unfettered access.

Mr. John Smith : I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate the British film industry on its further success in winning five Oscars last night. Does the Prime Minister not agree that our film industry could be even more successful if it received the same backing and support from Government as do its competitors in other countries?

The Prime Minister : The success of the British film industry in the private sector owes a great deal to the fact that it is in the private sector, and to the individual skills of writers, actors and directors.

Mr. Smith : Does not the Prime Minister understand that the number of films made in Britain has plummeted from 50 to 12, and that the minimal help offered to the industry in last year's budget does not in any way make up for the abolition of capital allowances, the Eady levy or the malign effect of the Broadcasting Act 1990? Does the Prime Minister not understand that if real encouragement were given to the industry, we could increase jobs and overseas earnings?

The Prime Minister : Once again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman equates real encouragement with the spending in subsidy of taxpayers' money without giving any indication of whether there would be corresponding reductions elsewhere--an increase in borrowing and perhaps higher interest rates or higher taxation. When he asks for more expenditure, he owes it to the public to say from where the money is coming.

Mr. Smith : But does the Prime Minister not understand that we have in this country a fabulous pool of talent in our film industry-- [Interruption.] This is a serious subject.

Madam Speaker : Order. These interruptions are a total waste of the time of the House. In addition, they are an abuse of the House. The House will now come to order.

Mr. Smith : It is remarkable that Conservative Members find it a matter of humour when we are talking about jobs, British films and overseas earnings. Does the Prime Minister not understand that a modest investment in our industry would give us a huge return in employment and vital overseas earnings?

The Prime Minister : I certainly agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on one point, which is that our arts generally--I include the film industry in that--are among the best, if not the best, in the world. That has repeatedly been shown to be the case. I hope that, in the light of that, he and his hon. Friends will support the National Lottery Etc. Bill, which provides greater support for the arts than ever before.

Mr. Coe : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the dramatic reduction, announced only a couple of days ago, in the number of cot deaths in this country, of about 60 per cent. in the first nine months of this year? Does he agree that that is testimony to sensitively targeted health education, "The Health of the Nation" strategy and the Anne Diamond campaign?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend has put his finger on the key reasons for that. It is a very remarkable achievement and I am delighted about it, as everybody else will be. I wholeheartedly congratulate both Anne Diamond and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the measures they have taken.


Q2. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 March.

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

Mr. Kirkwood : Now that the Prime Minister is himself a year and a day closer to collecting his old age pension, he may be interested to know that the Post Office is at the moment considering plans which could remove entitlement by pensioners to collect their pension payments by way of DSS giro over post office counters. Is he aware that post offices derive 30 or 40 per cent. of their total income from those transactions and that any alternative method of payment--perhaps by way of banks or building societies--could eventually lead to a charge being made for the payment of that service? Will the Prime Minister summon the Ministers involved in those discussions, irrespective of what other damage or problems may flow from the privatisation of the Post Office, and make it clear to them and the House that the payment of pensions by means of automated credit transfer will not be made compulsory?

The Prime Minister : I am well aware of the sensitivity of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and it is one of many matters that will need to be considered in the future.

Mr. Harris : The whole House will have welcomed my right hon. Friend's remarks regarding the dispute with France. Will he go further and make it perfectly clear to his opposite number, the French Prime Minister, that the Royal Navy will not stand idly by if there is any attempt to repeat the disgraceful incidents of the weekend by French fishermen?

The Prime Minister : As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), we have made perfectly clear to the French ambassador our very strong condemnation of recent incidents. He has made it equally clear that such action is not acceptable to the French Government, and we have made it clear to the French Government that we look to them to deal with those incidents.


Q3. Mr. Byers : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 March.

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

Mr. Byers : As council tax demands are being sent out, will the Prime Minister explain to the House why, under the system of financing local authorities, his constituency of Huntingdon, according to the Government, suffers greater poverty than Blyth Valley? Is he aware that, even under that unfair system of local government finance, the average council tax in Labour authorities will be £14 less than in Conservative authorities? Does the Prime Minister agree that the message to council tax payers is clear : Labour councils cost you less and serve you better?

The Prime Minister : I award the hon. Gentleman the prize for the cheekiest question this year. Let me tell him that the 10 highest taxes in band C are Harlow--Labour ; Newcastle--Labour ; Greenwich--Labour ; Manchester--Labour ; Haringey--Labour ; Liverpool-- Labour ; Hendon--Labour ; North Tyneside--Labour ; Salford--Labour ; and Derwentshire--Labour, all at band C. The lowest are Wellingborough-- Conservative ; Westminster--Conservative ; Isle of Scilly--Independent ; City of London--Independent ; Hambleton--Conservative ; Hinckley and Bosworth--Conservative ; Huntingdonshire--Conservative ; Basingstoke--Conservative ; South Cambs-- Independent, and Fareham--Conservative.

Mr. Trotter : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Tyneside is very grateful to him for his decision to go ahead with the order for the helicopter carrier, the largest and most important ship to be ordered for the Royal Navy in years, which will give Swan Hunter the chance to win four years' work? Will he visit the yard while the ship is being built, as we are confident that our team will win the order?

The Prime Minister : I certainly must not pre-judge the outcome of the tender, but I agree with my hon. Friend that confirmation of the helicopter carrier in the defence programme is very good news indeed for the British shipbuilding industry. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has argued long and hard for this particular vessel to be in the programme. I am sure that there will be very keen competition for the order. I assure my hon. Friend that I will follow its progress with the same interest that he will.


Q4. Mr. Sheerman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 March.

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

Mr. Sheerman : Is the Prime Minister aware of the remark made by one of his Ministers in another place who said--

Hon. Members : Reading.

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he should not quote.

Mr. Sheerman : She said that although she is responsible for 804 public appointments, she cannot remember knowingly appointing a Labour supporter. Given the sad state in which this country finds itself, is it not time that the Prime Minister started appointing people on the basis of competence and ability-- [Interruption.] --on the basis of competence and ability, rather than according to the corrupt political patronage for which his Conservative Government are notorious?

The Prime Minister : We most certainly do appoint on competence, and there are people of all political persuasions who hold public appointments and have been appointed throughout the period of this Government since 1979. My hon. Friend whom the hon. Gentleman quotes used the word "knowingly" to indicate the fact that the political persuasion is not relevant to the competence and the appointment.


Hartley

Q5. Mr. Dunn : To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to pay an official visit to Hartley.

The Prime Minister : I am making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and I visited my hon. Friend's constituency last Friday.

Mr. Dunn : Is the Prime Minister aware that the people of Hartley are fully behind the Government's plans to reform the National Union of Students and that they are interested in knowing his views on the role of trade unions in our modern political society?

The Prime Minister : Trade unions do have an important and mature role in our society. Their role ought to be to look after the interests of their members--not to align themselves particularly with a political party, not to throw votes behind the leadership of that party, not to provide the finance for that party, and not to sponsor every Front-Bench Member of the Opposition.


Engagements

Q6. Dr. Wright : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 March.

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

Dr. Wright : Does the Prime Minister recall that he told the House some time ago that a referendum on the Maastricht treaty would be unnecessary as the country had decided that matter in the general election? Does he accept that that was a foolish statement--that, whatever was decided in the general election, it was not the Maastricht treaty? Does he understand that it is both foolish and dangerous to tell people that they have decided something when they have had no part in the decision?

The Prime Minister : The strict answer to the hon. Gentleman's earlier question is no. The hon. Gentleman knows very well why I think that it is right that this House should decide the fate of the Maastricht treaty in all its aspects. That is the basis of parliamentary democracy, and, as I understand it, it is the position of his own Front Bench.


Q7. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 March.

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

Mr. Townsend : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the support, in all quarters of the House, for the United Kingdom's early return to UNESCO, which has been greatly reformed in recent years? Bearing in mind the fact that President Clinton is about to take the United States back into that organisation, would it not be prudent for my right hon. Friend to secure this country's return beforehand?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend and others of my hon. Friends made me well aware of the strength of their feelings on this matter when they came to see me recently. As I indicated to them, we are keeping the matter under review, and no final decisions have been taken. I will certainly bear my hon. Friend's concern in mind when we make our decisions.