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1993 - PMQT 10th June 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 10th June 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Leighton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 June.

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. Leighton : Is the Prime Minister aware that those of us with his best interests at heart fear that he has made a major blunder by sacking the previous Chancellor who had taken all the flack on the exchange rate mechanism and the collapse of the economy? Now that the Government begin to resemble the hotel that collapsed and crumbled down the cliff face, bookmakers are offering odds against the Prime Minister leading his party into the next election-- [Hon. Members :-- "Shame."] Now that the right hon. Gentleman has not a friend but a rival in No. 11, is he beginning to feel a little exposed and beleaguered?

The Prime Minister : I must say that I had not thought of the hon. Gentleman as the hon. Member most solicitous for my future. I am grateful to him for what he said about that. The owners of the hotel have my deepest sympathy.


Q2. Mr. Brazier : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 June.

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

Mr. Brazier : In view of the latest IRA outrage, will my right hon. Friend consider modifying the right to silence and the law on disclosure of sources so that known bombers can be brought to justice? Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing sadness at the fact that on Tuesday, when a very important Government measure to combat terrorism came before the House, the Labour party voted against it.

Mr. Enright : I was proud to do so.

The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's regret at that. I am sorry to hear the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) say that he is proud to have voted against it. The Labour party had the chance to demonstrate that it is resolute against terrorism and it did not take it. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said, all the options open to a civilised state need to be available for use against terrorism.

Mr. John Smith : Is the Prime Minister not ashamed that his ex- Chancellor felt compelled to say yesterday that the way in which he conducts his Administration is so harmful to the national interest that it does not deserve to succeed?

The Prime Minister : That is an unexpectedly selective quotation from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is because we are in office and have followed our policies that we have inflation at 1.3 per cent. and interest rates at 6 per cent. and that our economy is recovering and no other economy in Europe is likely to do as well this year or next year.

Mr. Smith : I am not surprised that the Prime Minister did not choose to answer the question. Does he not understand that the significance of the ex-Chancellor's revelations is that they come from a close political colleague, an ally who sat beside the Prime Minister at the very heart of his Government? Who is better placed than the ex-Chancellor to know the weaknesses of this Administration and the weaknesses of this Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend said what he wished to say yesterday, and I have no intention of adding to what he said yesterday or providing the right hon. and learned Gentleman with an opportunity to extend it. As one of my predecessors might have said, we have a little local difficulty. We shall get over it, and I am going on with the work in hand.

Mr. Smith : Does not the Prime Minister understand that when he announced business as usual this morning he caused apprehension throughout the land? Do not his responses show that he is incapable of learning from anything or anyone? As his authority and that of the Government is now in tatters, will he for once put the national interest first and let the people decide in a general election-- [Interruption.].

Madam Speaker : Order. This is a total waste of precious time.

Mr. Smith : Why will the Prime Minister-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must now come to order. Hilarity is one thing, but we have business to do here.

Mr. Smith : Why will the Prime Minister not let the people decide whether they want him and his wretched Government?

The Prime Minister : I have to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman--he may have overlooked it--that we had an election last year. We won it, and he lost it. I say that he lost it, advisedly. The score is 4 : 0 in elections recently ; in due course, it will be 5 : 0.


Q3. Mr. Hawkins : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 June.

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

Mr. Hawkins : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the independent Policy Studies Institute reported this week that two thirds of Britain's workers have increased their skills in the past five years? Is not that, as it rightly said, a training revolution, and will not it further assist Britain's competitiveness in world markets?

The Prime Minister : I did see that report, although I noticed, alas, that it had escaped the Opposition in yesterday's debate. The world is becoming more competitive than ever before, and it is undeniably true that we need constantly to improve the skills of the work force. That is true now, and it will be equally true in the future. It is good to know that so many employees and employers are seeking to do that. The Opposition make a great deal of the importance of skills and training. What I cannot understand in the light of that is why they oppose school testing, which is so vital to it.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister recall listening yesterday to the very interesting speech of the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), who said that it would require a change in policy and the building of a wider consensus if we were to take the very tough decisions on tax and public spending that were necessary to put the country right? Does he realise that there is a crisis not only in the Conservative party but in the nation? If he would put the plight of the nation before his, he would discover that he could probably solve both by taking that advice.

The Prime Minister : I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, with all kindliness, that he is developing pomposity into an art form. I always listen with very great care to my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), and I heard what he had to say. I have just heard what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about difficult decisions. If he really meant that, why, having previously supported VAT on fuel, did he vote against it in the Budget?

Mr. Ashby : Now that we have had an opportunity to see the 14-year- old test papers-- [Interruption.] I am referring, of course, to the test papers for 14-year-olds. Now that we have had an opportunity to see them, does my right hon. Friend share my view in wondering what on earth the teachers were on about?

The Prime Minister : Yes. I believe that many people who have studied the test papers will be wondering about that. The English test earlier this week was a straightforward test of reading and writing skills, precisely the sort of test that children enjoy and need and that teachers have traditionally carried out for many years. We need tests such as those regularly to raise standards and help people to do better. Equally important, not only do we need such tests, but I believe that parents have a right to know what the results of the tests are. I deeply regret that many schools that carried out the tests earlier this week are apparently refusing to release the results to parents and others.


Q5. Mr. Chisholm : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 June.

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

Mr. Chisholm : In view of the rising and sickening tide of racist attacks, may I ask the Prime Minister if he will join the Labour party-- [Interruption.] --in responding positively to the invitation of the Anti-Racist Alliance for a member of the Government to attend next Saturday's major demonstration in Croydon against racist violence? Failing that, will he send a message of support? Will he also implement, as a matter of urgency, the recommendations of the Commission for Racial Equality to strengthen the law on incitement to racial hatred and introduce the specific offences of racial harassment and racial violence?

The Prime Minister : Regarding the hon. Gentleman's inadvertent slip, no, I have no intention of joining the Labour party-- [Interruption.] I may have my difficulties, but they are not remotely that bad. I deplore racialism as much as the hon. Gentleman does and as much as it is deplored by other hon. Members, but I do not think that demonstrations are necessarily the right way to deal with it. Action and tolerance in society, and the legislation that we have passed, are necessary to deal with the problem.


Q6. Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 June.

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

Mr. Robertson : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that British Aerospace has just landed a large contract to supply Hawk aircraft to Indonesia? Following my right hon. Friend's successful negotiation of a huge contract for Tornado aircraft for Saudi Arabia, does he agree that this is excellent news not just for British Aerospace but for the many supply companies in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I am delighted to confirm that British Aerospace has won a Hawk contract in Indonesia, worth £500 million. Together with the Tornado order in Saudi Arabia in January and Oman's decision to purchase Vickers' Challenger 2 tanks, those exports will bring business securing many thousands of jobs in the British defence industry.

Those orders testify to the excellence of the British defence industry, to the strength of its export performance and to the value of a close partnership between the Government and industry. That partnership produced record defence orders of over £5 billion last year-- [Interruption.] --and that record has already been exceeded this year, with half the year still to come. I regret to note that some Opposition Members, who often talk to me about unemployment, seem to oppose those orders won by British exporters.


Q7. Mr. Loyden : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 10 June.

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

Mr. Loyden : Will the Prime Minister, in the wake of the activities that took place on Merseyside in regard to the western approaches and the Battle of the Atlantic, acknowledge the fact that it is time to repay the debt that we owe to the Merchant Navy, which lost 30, 000-plus seamen during the war years? Will he take action to reactivate our shipyards so that the nation may once again fund the sort of merchant fleet that should be the priority of a maritime nation, and put the seamen back to work?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to congratulate Liverpool on the remarkable way in which it arranged and organised the celebrations concerning the Battle of the Atlantic. I was privileged to be there for a day and the whole thing was handled magnificently.

I should be delighted to see a stronger and more successful Merchant Navy, but that depends on the capacity of the British Merchant Navy to obtain the orders that are there throughout the world.

Mr. Gill : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, if we are to be successful in the battle against regulatory overkill, it will be necessary for all Ministers to be ruthless and arbitrary in the prosecution of that battle?

The Prime Minister : It is not the first occasion in recent weeks that I have been invited to be ruthless and arbitrary.