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1993 - PMQT 13th May 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 13th May 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Congdon : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 May.

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. Congdon : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the levels of compensation paid out under the citizens charter demonstrate its effectiveness? Does he further agree that the moves to agency status and contracting out are the best way of achieving value for money? Does he also agree that it is not surprising that all those measures have been resisted by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : As to the last part of my hon. Friend's question, I am unsurprised.

Paying compensation is popular with those who use public services. I also believe that it is right that compensation should be paid when service is bad. It provides a satisfactory discipline on the public services. As regards contracting out, I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. It has brought great benefits both to those who use public services and, critically, to those who pay for public services.

Mr. John Smith : Since the opposition of the whole teaching profession to the imposition of tests this year has been reinforced by the overwhelming vote by members of the National Union of Teachers in favour of a boycott, will the Prime Minister now do the sensible thing and suspend compulsory tests this year?

The Prime Minister : I was very sad this morning to see the result of the vote by the National Union of Teachers, which was the only teacher association not to welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on Tuesday. A lot of people will be asking whether that union really supports the principle of regular testing in our schools or whether another agenda concerns it. I very much trust that the NUT will reflect on what my right hon. Friend said.

Mr. Smith : As the Secretary of State for Education was forced to concede that there were flaws in the tests, which is why he climbed down about next year, why on earth is the Prime Minister forcing children to take the tests this year?

The Prime Minister : What should be called off are the unprofessional and utterly futile boycott threats. Teachers should do what the majority of parents want--co-operate in helping to make the tests work this year and in future years.

On the second point of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question, he will recall that he has asked me that before. Ron Dearing has made it absolutely clear that he needs the experience of this year's tests to redesign them satisfactorily for the future.

Mr. Smith : As there is overwhelming opposition to compulsory tests this year, from parents as well as teachers and governors, why does the Prime Minister not show a glimmer of common sense and end the farce now? If he is not listening to parents and teachers, whom is he listening to? Does he not understand that to be so foolishly stubborn is a sign of weakness and not of strength?

The Prime Minister : It is common sense to proceed with tests so that we can correct them and get them right in the future. Testing in schools is vital to measure the progress of the pupils concerned. The Opposition may wriggle, but that happens to be the reality. I hope that even, at this late stage, teachers will realise the importance to pupils of having these tests, the importance to the reform of testing of having those tests and the importance to the dignity of the profession of teaching in not proceeding with industrial action at the expense of schools.

Mr. Gorst : Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the Conservative Government came to office in 1979 membership of trade unions has fallen by 28 per cent? Will my right hon. Friend say whether he believes this is due to their being a growing anachronism, badly led, or merely because of their limpet-like, hand-in-glove connection with the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly not inclined to disagree with any of my hon. Friend's points. Trade union membership does continue to decline and is substantially lower than it was a decade or so ago. I notice that many of the unions still sponsor right hon. and hon. Members on the Labour Front Bench and resist suggestions that they should abandon the out- dated block vote in favour of one member, one vote. It is a case of he who pays the piper calls the tune, and on this, too, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) is wriggling.


Q2. Mr. Burden : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 May.

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

Mr. Burden : The Prime Minister will probably have heard that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said that he regrets "that inflation got out of control at the end of the 1980s." Would the Prime Minister care to enlighten the House as to what jobs he was doing at the end of the 1980s?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman had cared to research very carefully, he would have known that we have made it clear on a number of occasions that after the 1987 stock exchange crash we reduced interest rates faster than, with hindsight, we thought was correct, and that contributed to inflation. The hon. Gentleman will also know that, at that time, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) both invited us to cut interest rates further and faster and that that would have put inflation up even more. The hon. Gentleman should do his research more accurately.


Q3. Mr. Jessel : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 May.

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

Mr. Jessel : As the economy and business confidence have, under the Conservative Government, begun to improve--especially since Britain left the exchange rate mechanism--will my right hon. Friend give further support to business confidence by making it clear that the United Kingdom will not return to fixed exchange rates?

The Prime Minister : As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said, and as I made clear earlier this year, we will not consider rejoining the ERM before important conditions have been met, in particular the requirement that German and United Kingdom monetary policies must be much more closely aligned before we can begin to consider whether it would be appropriate for Britain to rejoin. Clearly those conditions are unlikely to be satisfied soon.


Q4. Mr. Barnes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 May.

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

Mr. Barnes : Some people still believe in the ultimate objective of a multi-ethnic democratic society, with full minority rights, for the former Yugoslavia. Included among them are many of the people of Yugoslavia who bravely stand out against violence and intimidation. Why do we not listen to some of their ideas for the extension of safe havens and United Nations border controls? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that not everyone in Yugoslavia is a supporter of paramilitarism and war lords?

The Prime Minister : We have indicated on a number of occasions in the House the way in which we think it is right for us to proceed at the moment. We have made that clear and we have said that we believe that it is right to continue to pursue a political settlement, without which no settlement can stick in the long term even though perhaps for a short while it might be held. We have made it clear that we believe that it is right to proceed with sanctions, and we have not ruled out the use of force, should that prove necessary, in selected circumstances.


Q5. Mr. Alan Howarth : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 May.

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

Mr. Howarth : Does my right hon. Friend agree that as economic growth strengthens and as our improved competitiveness, particularly in manufacturing, makes its impact, that will increasingly be appreciated by the voters, who will also note the nature of the Opposition parties--one inextricably tied to the big unions and big bureaucracy and the other without roots and no more than the scavengers of British politics?

The Prime Minister : Things have certainly been difficult for many companies and people throughout the recession. I understand that and have acknowledged it on a number of occasions. I believe that as recovery comes through, many of those people will see that it would not have come through unless we had taken the right decisions to get inflation down and keep it down for the future.

We can now see that manufacturing output is turning up, that manufacturing productivity is at record levels, that exports of manufactures are at record levels and that, according to the Confederation of British Industry, optimism in manufacturing industry has reached a 10-year high. They are very welcome signs. We are clearly coming out of recession in the right circumstances for sustained growth over a long period.

Mr. Nicholas Brown : When the right hon. Gentleman took the decision to withhold the helicopter carrier order from Swan Hunter Shipbuilders, he will have known that he was bringing shipbuilding on Tyneside to an end, so he will not be surprised to learn that at 1 o'clock today Swan Hunter called in the receivers and 6,000 people are now to lose their jobs on Tyneside. Will the Prime Minister help my constituents by telling them where they will find alternative work?

The Prime Minister : I think the hon. Gentleman knows that, of the two tenders submitted, that submitted by VSEL at Barrow was many tens of millions of pounds below the tender submitted by Swan Hunter. I understand the difficulties faced by Swan Hunter and, because I know of those difficulties, I agreed with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to bring forward that tender earlier than we would otherwise have done to see whether Swan Hunter could satisfactorily win the tender in open competition. I regret that it did not, but I am not in a position to reject a tender many tens of millions of pounds below that of the alternative tender. The answer to the substantive second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is that it is precisely because we are concerned about the employment prospects on Tyneside that we yesterday announced a range of measures to help, including a new enterprise zone, a new English Estates development in conjunction with the city council and the development corporation, more services from the Tyneside training and enterprise council and employment services, confirmation that Newcastle and South Tyneside will remain a development area, and extra resources for the Tyne and Wear development corporation for industrial sites.

I invite Opposition Members who scoffed when I mentioned the enterprise zone to look at other parts of the country that have faced similar difficulties in the past to see how effective that has been. They might, for example, recall the great difficulties at Shotton 10 years ago. If they go back to Shotton today, they will find a modern estate with high-paid, permanent, high-tech, secure jobs for just as many people as once worked in the steel industry there.


Q6. Mr. Ancram : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 May.

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

Mr. Ancram : Does my right hon. Friend agree that as well as the optimism to which he referred in yesterday's CBI survey, there are also real indications of growth and increased investment in most of the regions of the United Kingdom, including the south-west? Given that after three hard years of recession most people in my constituency, and elsewhere, want to see real, tangible proof of recovery, as well as promises of recovery, does my right hon. Friend welcome the report as a true indication of recovery which even Opposition Members cannot deny?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I do welcome the report and I hope that that encouraging trend will continue in the months ahead. It is encouraging that businesses right across the country themselves expect to grow strongly in the months immediately ahead of us--in the south-west, certainly, but also in the south-east, the midlands and right across the land. What we in the House all want, I think, without exception, is to see that growth translated into jobs and into money in the family pay packet.


Q7. Mr. Malcolm Bruce : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 May.

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

Mr. Bruce : Does the Prime Minister accept that the campaign by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security to transfer payments from post offices to banks is totally inimical to the interests of those who live in rural communities? Will he ask the Secretary of State to call off that campaign? Does he further recognise that the privatisation of the Post Office will damage rural post offices and delivery services? Rather than postpone privatisation, will he now abandon it?

The Prime Minister : As I indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) last week, I believe, we have made no such proposals. Our policy is to encourage people to receive benefits via their accounts while maintaining a viable network of post office outlets.