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1993 - PMQT 8th June 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 8th June 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. McKelvey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 June.

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. McKelvey : Did the Prime Minister have an opportunity in the course of his very busy day yesterday to have a look at Scotland's national newspaper, the Daily Record, which carried an article stating that the former Chancellor claims that the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister alone, was responsible for imposing VAT on fuel? Did he impose it on his own ; and will he answer without waffle?

The Prime Minister : The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that in the course of my busy day I certainly did not read the Daily Record. The answer to his second point is that the House of Commons imposed the VAT by its vote.

Mr. John Carlisle : Is my right hon. Friend aware that a head teacher of a school near my constituency, having received a salary increase that had been denied to several thousand other citizens, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education telling him that he could stuff his pay rise? If head teachers take that attitude and use that sort of language, is it any surprise that they are denying 14-year olds school tests which they themselves would probably fail?

The Prime Minister : That is an unusual position to adopt on pay rises and not one generally taken by head teachers or by anyone else. I very much regret that there is difficulty carrying these tests forward. They are very much in the interests of the children and it is in the interests of the testing system, which the head teachers support, that the tests should go ahead this year so that Sir Ron Dearing can deal with the difficulties with them.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister tell the House why Ministers in his Administration have seen it as part of their duty as Ministers of the Crown to intervene on behalf of Mr. Asil Nadir, a person charged with serious offences and now a fugitive from justice?

The Prime Minister : I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has given me the opportunity to correct a misassumption in his mind. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office has explained that he raised certain matters with the Attorney-General following an approach from a constituent of his who was then an adviser to Mr. Nadir. My hon. Friend was originally approached 18 months ago, before he became a Minister, and it is perfectly proper within the "Questions of Procedures for Ministers" that Ministers are free to make their views about constituency matters known to the responsible Minister, either by interview or in correspondence. As I understand it, that is what my hon. Friend did.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister confirm that Mr. Nadir is not and was not a constituent of either the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) or the President of the Board of Trade? Is not it strange that a man charged with serious offences should be considered so important that Ministers make personal approaches on his behalf to the Attorney-General, who is responsible for his prosecution?

The Prime Minister : No doubt in the hubbub, the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not hear what I said to him. I made it clear that my hon. Friend approached the Attorney-General--following an approach from a constituent who was then an adviser to Mr. Nadir--18 months ago. That was entirely proper. Let me equally make it clear-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order and hear both questions and answers.

The Prime Minister : Let me equally make it clear to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, so that there is no misunderstanding, that I am assured by my hon. Friend that he has had no financial involvement with Mr. Nadir, his companies or his advisers, either before he became a Minister or since. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that.

Mr. John Smith : Will the Prime Minister tell us whether he thinks it was appropriate behaviour for a Minister to give a watch to Mr. Nadir inscribed with a very supportive inscription, to put it mildly? Does the Prime Minister think that that is the way that he wants Ministers in his Administration to behave? Was not it bound to undermine the work of the Serious Fraud Office in pursuing financial crime? Is not it the case, as the country clearly understands, that this is a shoddy, unseemly affair that does no credit to this Administration?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it was unwise. I think that that is the view taken by my hon. Friend and he has said so in public. I know my hon. Friend recognises that, with hindsight, it would have been better if he had not done it. It was a misjudgment, but it is not a hanging offence.

Sir Dudley Smith : In view of the experiences of many Warwickshire residents over recent months, particularly in my constituency area, is my right hon. Friend aware that they are looking to him to introduce good and effective legislation to curb the so-called new age travellers? Will he tell us what urgency he is applying to that particular problem?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend raises a problem which has been faced in many parts of the country. It is one that I hope and believe we will be able to deal with in the next Session of Parliament.


Q2. Mr. Khabra : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 June.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Khabra : Will the Prime Minister personally condemn the speech made by the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill)? It has done a great deal of damage to good race relations in this country and it has also encouraged the fascists and racists to indulge in destructive activities. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give a positive answer to the community.

The Prime Minister : Neither of the epithets used by the hon. Gentleman applies to my hon. Friend and I hope that he will recognise that. I have not read all the speech to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I have read some of the reports of it, which I understand were not accurate. On the day that it was published it did not represent my views or those of the Government. My commitment and that of the Government to good race relations is well known. I welcome without reservation the positive contributions which all communities make to life in this country and, as long as we maintain firm but fair immigration controls and refuse to tolerate racial discrimination, we shall keep the race relations which have been steadily improving over recent years, much to my pleasure. I hope and expect them to continue to improve.


Economy

Q3. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Prime Minister what representations he has received about the state of the economy ; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister : I have received a number of representations on the economy. There is growing evidence that recovery is under way across a broad front.

Mr. Thurnham : Will my right hon. Friend praise north-west exporters such as Rotocold in my constituency, which has gained record export sales and cut local unemployment to below the national average? Is not that in stark contrast to the failed union-dominated policies of the Labour party, which saw unemployment in the north-west double between 1974 and 1979?

The Prime Minister : That is true. Unemployment is always a tragedy when it occurs and it has occurred under every Labour Government we have seen in this country. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the company in his constituency. It is good news. I understand that it has had more export orders recently and that will add to jobs in the region. There is no doubt that British manufacturing industry is now exporting at record levels and I welcome that. It is not unrelated to the fact that we now have policies of low inflation, low business taxation and trade union reform which have removed many of the difficulties in management that so bedevilled firms in the 1960s and 1970s.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Byers : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 June.

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

Mr. Byers : Will the Prime Minister say whether he wishes to see shipbuilding continue on Tyneside? If he does, will he confirm that the Royal Navy work presently at Swan Hunter will be completed there and that full Government backing will be given in order to secure vital export orders? Is the Prime Minister aware that if his Government stand to one side and do nothing, we shall witness the death of shipbuilding on Tyneside and the loss of thousands of jobs as a result?

The Prime Minister : I know of the hon. Gentleman's concerns about Swan Hunter, which are shared by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), all of whom have made representations to me about it in recent weeks. I cannot confirm the details that the hon. Gentleman seeks today, but I hope that the firm will be able to put itself in a position in which it will be able to continue. That depends on its being able to obtain and produce orders at a price that the market will pay.

Sir Teddy Taylor : As one of the most helpful means of helping the growing army of unemployed in Europe would be to conclude the GATT discussions and as the Prime Minister has played such a positive and helpful role in that, will he explain to the country why the EC is being so difficult about concluding those discussions? It could bring down unemployment and put people throughout Europe back to work.

The Prime Minister : I think that I have some news that my hon. Friend will undoubtedly welcome. I understand that the French Minister for European Affairs has announced at today's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council that France will be accepting the agreement on oil seeds, signed between the European Community and the United States last November. It is an issue which I discussed at my two meetings with the French Prime Minister last month. I am delighted at the decision that has been made. I hope that it will enable the Community to go forward to other agreements relating to the Uruguay round. Although that is a separate issue from the oil seeds agreement, such an agreement was a necessary preliminary. It now removes one of the road blocks to a comprehensive GATT agreement.


Q5. Mr. Beith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 June.

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

Mr. Beith : Is the Prime Minister beginning to regret that his reshuffle a couple of weeks ago was not more extensive and did not see the departure of Ministers responsible for education, shipbuilding and undue and extensive assistance to those who give large donations to the Conservative party? Does he realise that it is likely that the next reshuffle will involve himself?

The Prime Minister : The answer to the substantive part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is no.


Q6. Mrs. Lait : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 June.

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

Mrs. Lait : Will my right hon. Friend remind trade unionists that the hard-won democracy that they have achieved over the past 14 years is thanks to Conservative legislation? Will he tell them that only the Conservative party not only believes in but has legislated for one member, one vote?

The Prime Minister : It is certainly the case that we have more luck with trade union reform than the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) does.

Throughout the 1980s the right hon. and learned Gentleman voted against each and every one of our reforms to strengthen the rights of individual trade union members and the Labour party still wants to oppose rights for individual trade union members. While Labour Members continue to hold those views we will continue to sit on this side of the House.

Mr. Hume : Given that this generation is going through the greatest economic revolution in the history of the world--the technological, telecommunications and transport revolutions--and that the wealth of society is being created by fewer people, does the Prime Minister agree that, logically, the state should be taking a greater role in the welfare of people instead of moving in the opposite direction towards the survival of the fittest and the law of the jungle? Given that they have already privatised heat and light, is there any truth in the rumour that the Government are about to privatise fresh air?

The Prime Minister : I have news for the hon. Gentleman. It is not owned by the Government and does not need privatisation.

Mr. Hume : What about water?

The Prime Minister : On his earlier point, the hon. Gentleman clearly overlooked the 67 per cent. real terms increase in social security, the additional uprating next year of £2.5 billion, the extra expenditure on benefits of 40 per cent., the exemption for people who cannot pay council tax, the fact that the Government, unlike our Labour predecessors, continue to pay the pensioners' bonus and the increase in consumer goods for the bottom 10 per cent. of the income scale. Those changes were made under this Government because of our economic success and social concerns.