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1993 - PMQT 22nd April 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 22nd April 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 April.

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. Clifton-Brown : Will my right hon. Friend welcome today's unemployment figures, down for the second month running and coming on top of an increase of 1 per cent. in manufacturing output and 2 per cent. in the retail sales figures--proof that the economy is growing in confidence? Does he agree that it is about time Opposition Members stopped prophesying gloom and doom about the economy?

The Prime Minister : This is only the second successive month, but today's fall in unemployment will be seen as very good news by everyone, especially the families of people now back in work. Especially welcome is the fact that the number of unemployed people has fallen in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and in each and every region in England. My hon. Friend is right to say that there are signs of growing business and consumer confidence. I hope that in the future that will bring further good news on jobs, which everyone who wishes this country well will surely welcome.

Mr. John Smith : While welcoming the fall-- [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."]--in the official unemployment total announced today, is it not the case that a total of over 2,900,000 is still far too high and should never have been allowed to reach anything like that level? If the Prime Minister seeks to take credit for a fall of 26,000 in the official figures, is he equally prepared to accept responsibility for the million people who have lost their jobs since he became Prime Minister, the vast majority of whom are still unemployed?

The Prime Minister : Grudging might be an appropriate word for that welcome, but I at least welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has this month, unlike last month, welcomed the fall in unemployment. Perhaps he might mention to the shadow Chancellor--who said even yesterday that unemployment would go on rising--that he should look more carefully in future.

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman shares with me a wish to produce permanent, long-term jobs in a growing economy, perhaps he will also join me in the right policies to achieve that, including welcoming limits on public sector pay, welcoming caps on council spending, welcoming our trade union reforms, dropping his equivocation over strikes and welcoming our reforms to improve education. If he really cares about future long-term employment, will he welcome those? Yes or no?

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister appreciate--[Hon. Members-- : "Answer."]--that unemployment at this continuing high level is in large part a reflection of the underlying weakness of an economy bedevilled by persistent under-investment in manufacturing and skills and menaced by a dangerously high balance of payments deficit? if the Government's economic policies are satisfactory, why are we suffering a multi-billion pound deficit in our balance of payments at a time of recession? What does the Prime Minister propose to do about that?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman really should lift his eyes. I know that he has to encourage his Back Benchers, but he should know that across Europe, 17 million people are unemployed and it is becoming increasingly apparent to everyone except the right hon. and learned Gentleman that that is the result of the international economy over many years. There are also 3 million unemployed in France. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants the answer to the question he should look at what is now happening in the economy. Car production figures last month were the highest for 19 years, a survey by the British chambers of commerce shows that business confidence is up, there has been the biggest growth in manufacturing exports for three years, surveys by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors all show good news. In addition, there are extra jobs at Toyota in Derbyshire, Ford in Dunton and Kimberly-Clark in Humberside. Why does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman welcome what everyone else but him can see?

Mr. John Smith : Why does the Prime Minister not answer the question that I asked him? Why was it predicted in the Budget that the balance of payments would deteriorate from £12 billion to £17.5 billion? Is there any other country in the European Community with such a miserable prospect?

The Prime Minister : The European Community as a whole has a deficit, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman clearly does not know. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is yet again changing horses. Every month he used to ask me about inflation, until it fell when he stopped talking about it. He then started talking about unemployment until it began to level off and fall. Now he has changed horses again. I have bad news for the right hon. and learned Gentleman : he is going to run out of things to whinge about.


Q2. Mr. Pickles : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 April.

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

Mr. Pickles : In replying to the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend referred to the report of the British chambers of commerce. Did he see in that report that business confidence and business activity are both at high levels? Did he also note that the amount of export orders is at an all-time high? Given that trade union leaders, commentators and even economists now see an improvement-- [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Opposition do not like improvements. Does my right hon. Friend, like me, look forward to the time when all hon. Members will welcome good economic news and talk Britain up rather than whinge?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend, of course, is right. Any good news for the economy is bad news for the Labour party. There has been a range of encouraging economic news, but we wish to see far more--to that extent, I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition. There has been a range of encouraging economic information- -retail sales are up, exports are up, manufacturing output is up, car production is up, house sales are up and business confidence is up. That is leading to a position whereby Britain will be on the up.

Mrs. Roche : Given the appalling record of Group 4 prison escort services, will the Prime Minister urge his right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who is the chairman of the Tory party, to resign from another Group 4 company?

The Prime Minister : No.


Q3. Mrs. Gillan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 April.

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

Mrs. Gillan : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the overwhelming vote in Italy against proportional representation-- [Interruption.] Does it not reinforce my right hon. Friend's view that the first-past-the-post system is the best one, and delivers decisive, democratic and honest government? Will he join me, 32 million Italians and the deputy Leader of the Opposition in recommending the first-past-the-post system to the Leader of the Opposition and the Front-Bench team?

The Prime Minister : This is, of course, a divisive issue, which divides, not least, the Labour party as to whether it is in favour of proportional representation. I have never made any secret of my views on proportional representation. It is one of the few matters on which I share the views of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. While others have tried to dance on the head of a pin during the election, the Conservative party campaigned four- square for the existing system. It has brought us over many decades stable and secure government. I hope that it will do the same for the Italians. The Italians are right to scrap the backstairs deals that inevitably come with PR.

Mr. Salmond : Talking of back stairs, does the Prime Minister believe--

[Hon. Members] : Back stairs

Madam Speaker : Order. All these interruptions are very time- consuming.

Mr. Salmond : Does the Prime Minister believe that the provisions of the social chapter are popular or unpopular with the general public? Does he intend to include in his European speech this evening a passage expressing thanks to the leader of the Labour party for saving his political bacon in the referendum vote in the early hours of this morning?

The Prime Minister : I know that the hon. Gentleman will, as he always does, read my speech with great care.

Mr. Hood : Send him a letter.

The Prime Minister : I will not promise to send the hon. Gentleman a letter on this matter but, at the risk of leaking my own speech, he may not find the sentence that he seeks in it this evening.


Q4. Mr. Ward : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 April.

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

Mr. Ward : Will my right hon. Friend speed up the efforts being made to prevent British industry and commerce being stifled by over-regulation? Is he aware that there is still much evidence that officials are being over-zealous in the interpretations of health, safety and fire regulations, with the resulting damage to British commerce and industry?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right that unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy--I emphasise the word unnecessary-- stifle industry and enterprise. I also agree with him that we have to beware of over-implementation of regulations whether from Whitehall, Brussels, county hall or town hall. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and my other right hon. Friends are all examining regulations to see what might satisfactorily be diluted or scrapped. This will be a continuing programme and I hope that we shall be able to bring measures before the House before too long.

Mr. Hood : Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to restate his confidence in the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Would he like to describe his position as unsellable?

The Prime Minister : I know that I am keen on exports, but there is a limit.


Thurlestone Hotel, South Devon

Q5. Mr. Steen : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to the Thurlestone hotel in South Devon.

The Prime Minister : Although I have no current plans to do so, I will certainly bear the possibility in mind for my next visit to the west country. I understand, however, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage met the proprietor, Mr. David Grose, when he visited the area last Friday. I gather that the hotel has been in the same family since the 1890s and even in difficult times has been expanding its business.

Mr. Steen : When my right hon. Friend does come to the hotel, I think that he will be fascinated to take a look at the decor, because every room in the hotel is covered in a plethora of red tape. I suggest that the Prime Minister should get hold of the new officials who are zealously interpreting the rules and regulations and make sure that they do not destroy hotels and small businesses. In particular, he should have regard for the undercover operations of the hygiene police.

Will my right hon. Friend, in his deregulation initiative, make sure that he gets rid of a number of public officials and puts a moratorium on the implementation of rules and regulations--and lifts the burden of such rules and regulations off the backs of the hoteliers?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is well known as a champion both of the south-west and of deregulation. I know how important both are to him and I will take careful note of what he has to say. We certainly wish to cut as much red tape as possible.

Mr. Hume : When the Prime Minister visits this hotel in Devon, will he give consideration to the fact that this generation of human beings is living through the greatest economic revolution in the history of the world --a technological, telecommunications and transport revolution? Will he bear in mind that it means that the wealth of society is being created by far fewer people and that that in turn has great implications for the role of the state in the social and economic welfare of people? The Government should therefore be paying far greater attention to the role of the state in that capacity, instead of heading in the direction in which they are going : privatisation, survival of the fittest and, ultimately, the law of the jungle.

The Prime Minister : I think that the hon. Gentleman is quite right about the fact that this is likely to be one of the most rapidly changing decades in peacetime in the lifetime of even the most venerable Members in the House.

Technological change is inevitable and should be welcomed. It brings with it great benefits. I know that many people always fear that any technological change will have an adverse effect on jobs. I am sure that that argument was advanced when the wheel and a whole series of other inventions were thought up. We must live with technological change ; we must advance it ; we must make the most of it ; and we must lead it.