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1993 - PMQT 20th May 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 20th May 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 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. Bennett : Does the Prime Minister recall his big idea of the citizens charter, aimed at giving individuals swift redress? Can he explain why veterans of the atomic tests which took place on Christmas island and elsewhere over 30 years ago, who suffered the horrendous effects of radiation, have still not received compensation? People in the United States who suffered in a similar way have been compensated. The Prime Minister assured the House as long ago as 4 December 1990, in reply to the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins), that the matter was to receive his urgent attention.

The Prime Minister : Yes. About 10 days ago I wrote again to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and other hon. Members who expressed an interest in the matter. We are still waiting for medical reports on which we can make our judgments. I have sought to have the medical reports expedited, but there is further examination to be done. As soon as these medical reports are received we can reach a decision.


Q2. Sir Peter Tapsell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 May.

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

Sir Peter Tapsell : Following his statement yesterday, can my right hon. Friend confirm that, contrary to earlier interpretations of the Maastricht treaty and its protocols, he is now advised that the opt out from monetary union extends to the exchange rate mechanism and that Britain has no obligation, under the terms of the treaty, to re-enter the exchange rate mechanism unless and until we decide to seek to enter a single European currency?

The Prime Minister : Yes. In essence my hon. Friend is quite right. I have had no fresh advice, but that has always been the position. Nothing in the Maastricht treaty obliges us to rejoin the exchange rate mechanism. What the treaty does is make it explicitly clear that we retain responsibility for monetary policy in stages 2 and 3 of economic and monetary union as long as we do not participate in a single monetary policy. As my hon. Friend knows, because of the opt out that I negotiated at Maastricht, we would not enter into a single currency until and unless the House had specifically approved it.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister give the House a guarantee that the Government will not make millions of pensioners and children pay for prescriptions?

The Prime Minister : I had optimistically thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might welcome a third successive fall in unemployment, but I should perhaps have known him better. May I explain to the right hon. and learned Gentleman--so that there is no doubt either to him or millions of people throughout the country--exactly the review that is taking place on public expenditure? My answer to every scare story that the right hon. and learned Gentleman produces will be the same--I hear that he was peddling them earlier today. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been instructed to examine all our public expenditure to ensure that it is well targeted and that it delivers value for money, and to see where savings in taxpayers' money can be found. However, he knows that in doing so he must protect the position of the most vulnerable members of society, and that is what he is doing. At the moment, my right hon. Friend is being presented with options. He has not yet considered the options or selected those worth further consideration.

No decisions have been made, and no decision is imminent. Decisions will not be made until the public expenditure round in the autumn. Many options will need to be discarded, but we need to examine public expenditure, and we shall both maintain our manifesto commitments and protect the most vulnerable people in society. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will now give up his tedious weekly shroud waving.

Mr. John Smith : I should have known better than to expect a straight answer from the Prime Minister. No one in the country will know whether his answer means yes or no. The Prime Minister talks about his manifesto commitments ; may I remind him that millions of ordinary families are already deeply worried about having to pay another £8.50 per week next year and even more the year after, despite his tax pledges. Now families face the threat of an additional tax on being ill. Why are the Government so intent on making ordinary families in this country pay the price of their economic incompetence?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman really should not peddle those scare stories and frighten people. I have made it absolutely clear that we shall protect vulnerable members of society. "We should be prepared to re-examine everything ; I have not ruled anything out"-- [Interruption.] Those are not my words but those of the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he was speaking about his review of social policy.

Mr. John Smith : Just over a year ago the Prime Minister promised lower taxes and no cuts in public expenditure. We know that he has broken one promise already, and clearly he is planning to break another. Is it any wonder that no one any longer believes anything that he says?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman should stop trying to frighten vulnerable people for his own party advantage. I say to him in all friendliness that it will do him no good in the end. We shall honour our manifesto commitments. Since the general election the right hon. and learned Gentleman has publicly junked all his manifesto commitments. The contrast is obvious, and the public will know which party keeps its promises, for its members sit here, and which party seeks week after week to frighten people with scare stories, for its members sit over there.


Q3. Mr. Kynoch : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 May.

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

Mr. Kynoch : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the seasonally adjusted unemployment figures show a further fall this month, for the third month in a row? Does he agree that that is a further welcome sign that the recovery is starting to work through to where we all want to see it, in the jobcentres and in a meaningful and stable reduction in unemployment?

The Prime Minister : Yes, that is welcome to everyone. There are those who mention unemployment when it is going down as well as when it is going up. Unemployment is still too high, but today's figures offer further hope for unemployed people. Not only has unemployment now fallen for the third month in a row, but the number of people employed in manufacturing industry has risen for the third consecutive month, and the number of new vacancies notified to jobcentres is more than it was a year ago. If the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) wishes to continue with his smears, perhaps he will put up or shut up.

Mr. Foulkes : Following the Tory party conference in Scotland, is the Prime Minister aware of the extent of opposition to water privatisation in Scotland, even among Conservatives? Will he now end the uncertainty and give a clear and unequivocal pledge that there will be no privatisation of water in Scotland?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has made the point that he wished to make, and he knows as well as I do that the options are set out in the consultation paper "Investing for the Future". We are considering those options. When we have finished our considerations, we shall announce the result.


Q4. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 May.

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

Mr. Clifton-Brown : Will my right hon. Friend confirm his view, stated during the last election, that first-past-the-post is the best electoral system ; one which has served us well for centuries? Is it not typical of Opposition Members to want to introduce a proportional representation system--a desire reinforced by their decision to abstain on the historically important European vote this evening?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm that I remain in favour of the first-past-the-post system. I am against proportional representation, and I do not need a referendum to tell me what my view on the matter should be.


Q5. Sir David Steel : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 May.

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

Sir David Steel : Has the Prime Minister been able to examine the workings of the community care schemes since they came into operation on 1 April? Is the confusion and anxiety as great in Huntington as it is elsewhere? Will he promise a full review of the schemes at the end of the first three months of working?

The Prime Minister : The scheme is, with the consent of hon. Members in all parts of the House and people throughout the community care system, a great advance. People have wanted care in the community for a long time, and they now have it. It is a very substantial change. We shall, of course, keep the matter under review to make sure that it is working satisfactorily. There are bound to be some difficulties at the beginning of a change on this scale. It is a welcome change, one for which we have looked for many years, and we intend it to be a success.


Q6. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 May.

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

Mr. Greenway : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing suffocation of London by heavy traffic, which is now damaging job prospects in the capital? Will he accept the congratulations of my constituents in Ealing and of the whole of London on his determination to go ahead with the crossrail project? Will the Government do everything possible to expedite the passage of the enabling measure through the House? May we have an assurance that the construction of the project, which will bring jobs to all parts of London, including Ealing, will start yesterday, if possible?

The Prime Minister : That might be rather difficult. Crossrail is important for London and for jobs throughout the country, and I know that it will be particularly welcome to hon. Members with London constituencies. It will be a joint venture with the private sector and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the Second Reading of the Crossrail Bill will take place in the House next month. Crossrail will obviously make a dramatic difference to London's transport system, as will the Jubilee line extension, to which the Government are also committed-- [Interruption.] --as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is heckling, may wish to know.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice : The Prime Minister may recall that I wrote to him on 30 March about assisted area status for London. I have since received a holding reply. He will know that if London were to receive assisted area status, the support of the Government would be needed and that 13 London boroughs, including Lewisham, would be affected. When will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position to give me a positive reply?

The Prime Minister : I very much hope that we will be able to reach a decision on changes to the assisted areas map before too long. We are well advanced with our examination of it and are looking at the various criteria that need to be considered. I would certainly hope that we would have a decision, and announce it, well before the House rises for the summer.


Q7. Mr. Nicholas Winterton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 May.

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

Mr. Winterton : I warmly welcome the reduction in unemployment for the third consecutive month, for which Government policies are in part responsible. Will my right hon. Friend give me, the House and the people of this country an assurance that he will not undermine the recovery in our economy by re-entering the exchange rate mechanism? In addition, will he give the pensioners and children of this country an assurance that he will not permit prescriptions to be paid for by the retired or by the young?

The Prime Minister : I warmly welcome part of my hon. Friend's question : I share his pleasure at the fall in unemployment. We now have the right conditions which I hope will lead to a consistent fall in unemployment. [Interruption.] Hon. Members who are saying that the figures are a fiddle may be interested to know that the Department's director of statistics, a civil servant, today issued a statement which said :

"I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the claimant count figures."

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) may sit there giggling and making accusations, but he ought not to attack public officials who are not in a position to answer back. My hon. Friend will have heard me say earlier this week that we had no imminent intention of returning to the exchange rate mechanism because the circumstances for doing so were by no means appropriate at present. As for his second question, he clearly heard the detailed statement that I made to the House some moments ago.