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1993 - PMQT 11th May 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th May 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Pickthall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 May.

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. Pickthall : I thank the Prime Minister and the many Cabinet Ministers who campaigned in Lancashire in recent weeks and helped Labour vastly to increase its vote and achieve a majority on the local council. Was it in Lancashire that the Government heard about the challenging environment that they faced, the big hole that they were in and the bloody nose they were about to get? Did they listen to the people of Lancashire on value added tax, testing in schools, unemployment and the attacks on local democracy? Can the people of Britain expect the Government's supposed listening to the people to be translated into action to rebuild the country, instead of the present policies which are dismantling it?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly deserves an A-level in smugness. Perhaps I may quote something to the hon. Gentleman from The Sunday Times that I have no doubt he will find of interest. The quote, which he may enjoy, reads as follows :

"Conservative set-backs in Thursday's county council elections were so severe that Labour would win the general election on the same voting breakdown."

That was The Sunday Times in 1985. Two years later we won the election with a majority of 100.

Mr. Conway : Is my right hon. Friend feeling cheerful, because he should? Is it not the case that we have every reason to be optimistic because, of all the countries that pulled out of the exchange rate mechanism last autumn, the United Kingdom is the only country to have pulled out of recession?

The Prime Minister : The principal reason Britain has come out of recession is that we have achieved low inflation ; because we have got inflation down, we were able to cut 5 per cent. off interest rates-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Will hon. Members on the Bench below the Gangway please desist until we get through Question Time? They can then go outside and have their own singsong.

The Prime Minister : I think that everyone was enjoying it, Madam Speaker. It was because we cut inflation that we were able to take 5 per cent. off interest rates before last September, and because we got inflation down we are now beginning to see a recovery in retail sales and exports since the spring. It is because of that that we shall see greater growth this year and next year than any other country in the European Community.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether the Budget in November will be presented by the present Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont)?

The Prime Minister : That is a hoary old chestnut of a question. I have not yet even begun to contemplate Cabinet changes. But I will say this: it is because my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has taken difficult decisions that we now have inflation at a 25-year low, interest rates at a 15-year low and prospects of the fastest growth in Europe this year and next year. That is an excellent record which people will recognise long after the right hon. and learned Gentleman's undignified sniping is forgotten.

Mr. Smith : Surely the Prime Minister heard the question quite clearly. It is a simple question : will the present Chancellor present the next Budget? Cannot the Prime Minister say either yes or no?

The Prime Minister : I explained very clearly to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. If I wanted advice on Cabinet making, I would not seek it from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who last week had to sack his own economic spokesman for incompetence.

Mr. Smith : Madam Speaker-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Smith : The Prime Minister seems to be having some difficulty with a simple question-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order and not use up time in this way.

Mr. Smith : May I give the Prime Minister a third shot at it? Will the present Chancellor present the Budget? If the Prime Minister cannot say yes, why cannot he say no?

The Prime Minister : Why does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman just admit that he has got a bloody nose? It is a good deal more dignified.

Mr. Marlow : My right hon. Friend--as a genuine, listening Prime Minister--will be aware of the alienation expressed in the constituencies last week. He will also be aware of the severe mauling given to the Maastricht treaty by the democratic process. Is he not greatly concerned about the massive alienation that would result if the ratification of this new constitution now depended on the Danes, the Whips and the courts alone?

The Prime Minister : If, as my hon. Friend intimates, the election was really about the Maastricht treaty, it is rather surprising how well some other political parties did.

Mr. Ashdown : After Srebrenica, just as I predicted, there has been Zepa. Does the Prime Minister still insist on doing nothing more to save the tens of thousands of innocents in Gorazde from a similar tragic fate?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is being deeply unfair to the efforts by both this country and a large number of other countries which are working together. The right hon. Gentleman is aware of the difficulties and also of the intense dangers of following some of the actions that he has advocated in the past. He knows what action we are proposing to take ; that remains the position and we continue to discuss that and other options with our allies.

Mr. Streeter : Is my right hon. Friend aware that on a recent visit to estate agents in Plympton in my constituency, I found that estate agents could talk of nothing else but a real and significant upturn in the housing market, with house sales increasing and house prices improving week by week? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that reflects a steady return to confidence in this country and represents good news for Plymouth, good news for the country and bad news for the Opposition?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that that is right in every aspect. I have not myself visited estate agents, as I have no intention of moving.


Q2. Mr. Milburn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 May.

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

Mr. Milburn : Does the Prime Minister share his Chancellor's lack of regret about the damage done to the country by his Government? Is not it time that he learned to apologise and to listen to the millions of people who have become the victims of his policies? Has he got time today to tell them what changes in direction he has planned following last week's overwhelming public rejection not only of him and his colleagues but of his Government's policies?

The Prime Minister : I have said before, and from the Dispatch Box, that I understand the difficulties that people have faced as a result of the recession. I have said that clearly. I have also made it clear that I appreciate that it has lasted longer than people anticipated, but it was necessary to bring inflation down, or inflation would have gone on wreaking ever-greater damage for an even longer period. We needed to bring it down ; we have brought it down. That is the only secure basis for lasting growth in the future. The fact is that the Labour party would never have had the guts to take the decisions that were necessary.


Economy

Q3. Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the state of the economy.

The Prime Minister : It is getting better every day exports up, manufacturing output up, retail sales up, business confidence up, new housing starts up and gross domestic product up.

Mr. Brown : Is my right hon. Friend aware that that reply is confirmed in Brigg and Cleethorpes, where industrial recovery has resulted in unemployment falling to below the national average where once it was twice the national average? Will he acknowledge the Government support that has resulted in tremendous United States investment through companies such as Kimberly-Clark Ltd. and Paramount Packaging, where many jobs have been created in the last few months? May I advise my right hon. Friend that in Cleethorpes last week Allied Colloids announced that 90 more new jobs would be created?

The Prime Minister : I am delighted to welcome investments such as those which represent good news for Humberside. They represent the confidence of inward investors and of British companies in the region. I know how hard my hon. Friend works for his constituents and how much he will welcome those developments.

Ms Estelle Morris : What would the Prime Minister say to the millions of pensioners living just above income support level who thought that his pledge to start listening would mean that the proposal to charge VAT on fuel would be removed?

The Prime Minister : Everyone, including the Opposition Front Bench, as I understand it, agrees that the budget deficit is too high and that we need to bring it down. We have had the courage to produce our proposals, of which VAT is a part, to bring it down. I am surprised that the hon. Lady should raise that after the nonsense talked by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) about VAT last week, when it was clear from one of his economic spokesmen that the Opposition, too, would have increased VAT on a range of items.


Engagements

Q4. Sir Fergus Montgomery : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 May.

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

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Has my right hon. Friend seen the report today that housing starts are up 22 per cent. compared with the last quarter? Should not that news bring joy even to the hearts of the dismal Johnnies on the Opposition Benches? Is not that a sign of a return to confidence?

The Prime Minister : I am afraid that the Opposition are unhappy at good news. They realise that good news today for us is bad news tomorrow for them. Clearly, it shows growing confidence by the building industry in the market for new houses. That is very welcome in view of the difficulties that the construction industry has had. With the measures that the Chancellor took in the autumn statement, the measures that he took in the budget and the reduction in interest rates, there is clearly a much better prospect for the housing market.


Q5. Mr. Connarty : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 May.

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

Mr. Connarty : Does not the Prime Minister accept that the bloody nose on Thursday was given to him personally as much as to his Government? Has it improved his listening skills area on the issue of testing children? We are to have a statement later today, but the nation is looking to the Prime Minister to see where he stands. As a Scot, I remember that we went through a period of attrition when the Government tried to force testing on to our country. Thankfully, it is now back in the hands of parents and teachers who care for children, so that test items can be used whenever they want and not compulsorily. Will the Prime Minister tell the House where he stands on the testing of children and the interference of the state in the care of parents and teachers?

The Prime Minister : The answer to the first part of that supplementary question is that, of course, I accept my share of responsibility for the election results last week, in precisely the same way as the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) will accept his share of responsibility for losing the last election. As for education and testing, I will tell the hon. Gentleman precisely where I stand : I stand four square with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.


Q6. Mr. Thomason : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 May.

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

Mr. Thomason : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is never popular to increase taxes but it is necessary to balance the books? Does he further agree that the responsibility of the Government contrasts sharply with that of Labour Members, who demand more spending but do not tell us how they would pay for it?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend and, as he indicated, measures are in place to bring down the size of the borrowing requirement. That has required some tough decisions, but, having concluded that that is necessary, the Government have taken those decisions knowing that they cannot be ducked. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the Labour party is in a fundamentally dishonest position-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members are committed to spending money, but they will not say where the money is coming from. That is very good for an Opposition but not for a Government, which is why we remain on these Benches and they remain on the Opposition Benches.