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1993 - PMQT 24th June 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 24th June 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Ms Quin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 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.

Ms Quin : In view of the leaked letter in the Daily Mail today, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say where he thinks the borderline lies between a ministerial misjudgment and a resignation offence?

The Prime Minister : I have stated before in the case to which the hon. Lady refers, and I reiterate today, that I believe that my hon. Friend has acted with complete propriety in raising with the Attorney-General concerns that had been put to him about Mr. Nadir's case. I have no criticism of my hon. Friend on that account, or of his performance as a Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office.

My hon. Friend has been to see me this afternoon. He told me that he deeply regretted the embarrassment being caused to the Government by continuing speculation about his role. On those grounds, and on those grounds alone, he asked me if he could stand aside from his duties. With regret, I have accepted his resignation.

Mr. Ian Bruce : May I ask my right hon. Friend-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must come to order. We are wasting valuable time.

Mr. Bruce : As my right hon. Friend has personal knowledge of Nigeria, may I ask him to say what reaction Her Majesty's Government have to the declaration by the military regime in Nigeria that they will overturn the results of the general election for the president, particularly in view of the fact that all the international observers and internal monitors felt that the election was free and fair?

The Prime Minister : I believe that this is an important matter. I wrote to President Babangida last week to support the transition to civilian rule. I deplore the military Government's subsequent decision to ignore the results of elections which British and other observers considered free and fair. We are, as a result, reviewing our relations with Nigeria, including new aid, and we have taken a number of immediate steps.

We are withdrawing our military advisory team and will not provide new military training courses. We have suspended the issue of visas to members of the Nigerian armed forces and the privileged treatment of visa applications by Government officials. We are consulting European Community partners and other allies on possible further measures. I hope that the Nigerian Government will take full account of the strength of international feeling and will reconsider what I believe is a gravely mistaken decision.

Mr. John Smith : Is it not deplorable that the lack of any industrial policy or of a proper strategy for our defence industries has resulted in a polarised choice between Rosyth and Devonport for the Trident contract and a loss of thousands of jobs at both yards? Why do the Government not accept that, for industrial and defence reasons, this country needs the capability and expertise of both dockyards and their highly skilled management and work force?

The Prime Minister : I must say that the right hon. Gentleman neglected to mention in that supplementary question precisely what the circumstances might be if the defence cuts that his party proposed should ever come into being. He proposed defence cuts that would probably have meant that we had no yards at all, no capacity to defend ourselves, very few soldiers, hardly a Navy and barely a plane.

Mr. John Smith : Is it not a matter of record that the Government announced in the House in 1984, and repeated in 1985, that the refit contract would go to Rosyth and that such a commitment was repeated to the work force at the time of privatisation? What weight does the Prime Minister attach to specific promises given to either Rosyth or Devonport?

The Prime Minister : I seem to recall that at that time the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party were keen to scrap Trident and said so repeatedly. How odd it is, people may think, that the Opposition want to scrap military hardware on one day and then fight for it desperately on another day. One is bound to ask where their hearts really lie.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister accept, as he was reminded by the noble Lord Younger, who had responsibility in the Conservative Government, that a specific commitment was given to the House in 1984? Does the Prime Minister accept that that is the case? If it is, what weight can anyone give to any undertaking that the Government give to anyone?

The Prime Minister : In view of the total disconjunction between the Opposition's policies and what they are now saying, that sort of comment from the right hon. and learned Gentleman is barefaced cheek. I suggest that he sets that aside.


Q2. Mr. Hawkins : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 June.

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

Mr. Hawkins : My right hon. Friend will be well aware that the construction industry has had a difficult time during the recent recession. Will he join me in welcoming the good news yesterday that orders for new housing are now up by nearly 30 per cent. and that building is going on across the country, including in my constituency? Will he join me in saying that that is good news for the construction industry and all those who work in it?

The Prime Minister : I know that it has been a difficult time for our construction industry throughout the United Kingdom. That is why we announced special measures to help that industry in the autumn statement last year. I welcome the much better news that is becoming more apparent daily. It is good news for builders and for the economy as a whole. In construction, manufacturing, exports and on all sides, our prospects are improving and the economy is strengthening.

Mr. Ashdown : Last night the Secretary of State for Social Security called for a widespread cross-party public debate on the problems created by our present mountain of debt and the implications for long-term rises in social spending. That is an interesting suggestion. What specific proposals does the Prime Minister have to make it a reality?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have made it perfectly clear that we are carrying out a review of social security and I understand that, in secret, the principal Opposition party is doing the same. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will also contribute to that debate and we shall be happy to receive any representations from them. However, the day that I get representations from the Liberal Democrats about any difficult decision will be a remarkable day indeed.

Mr. Roger Evans : Will my right hon. Friend join me in rejecting the impudent talk about an industrial policy from the Labour party and welcome, for example, the success of QPL Holdings of Hong Kong and its new £42 million investment in south Wales? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it is the significance in commercial and industrial prosperity of the concentration of enterprise and expertise which attracts orders and creates jobs?

The Prime Minister : I note with interest that the Opposition scoff at fresh jobs for Wales. It has been a good week for Wales and for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. It shows how attractive Britain now is to inward investors. It shows also that the Labour party hates new jobs, wherever they may come from, if it feels any of the credit will rub off on the Government's policies. We intend to keep Britain attractive for inward investment. There will be no minimum wage, no works councils, no social chapter and none of the nonsense that we hear from the Opposition that represents their industrial policy.


Q3. Ms Coffey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 June.

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

Ms Coffey : Is the Prime Minister aware of the escalation in housing association rents, which is causing especial hardship to elderly people who are not entitled to full housing benefit? What has he to say to my constituent, Mrs. Riley, whose rent has increased from just under £26 a week to just over £50 a week? Does he think that that is totally unacceptable and what is he prepared to do about it?

The Prime Minister : In this country, we have perhaps the most generous system of housing benefit that we have ever seen and if the hon. Lady genuinely wanted a response to her question, she should have provided me with details of Mrs. Riley's income so that I could have responded.

Sir Peter Tapsell : Does my right hon. Friend recall that, when Mr. Baldwin, in his day, was under assault from the press barons of that time, his retort was that the newspapers were seeking to exercise power without responsibility, which is the traditional role of the harlot?

The Prime Minister : I will reply in a parody of the words of another great Englishman : Assault? I see no assault.


Q4. Ms Eagle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 June.

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

Ms Eagle : Does the Prime Minister share the sense of outrage at today's revelations that British taxpayers will have to foot a £1 million legal aid bill run up by that generous benefactor of the Tory party and bail bandit Mr. Asil Nadir, who does not seem to be short of a bob or two in northern Cyprus, at the same time as his Government are denying millions of people of modest means any access to legal aid at all? What is the Prime Minister prepared to do about that outrageous use of public money?

The Prime Minister : It is extremely unusual to hear the Labour party worrying about the taxpayer--refreshing perhaps, but just a touch unusual. As for legal aid, the usual cry from the Opposition Benches is for more and more legal aid.

Mr. Coe : Does my right hon. Friend welcome the recent education and industry initiative that encourages industry to make an input into the future direction of our educational needs? Does he agree that those people who are for ever claiming to speak on behalf of the country's manufacturing base, and the necessary skills for its survival, do so with no credibility whatever while they are still supporting the boycott of tests this year and the dismantling of our city technology colleges?

The Prime Minister : Yes, my hon. Friend's logic is unanswerable. I agree with him entirely. Opposition Members may claim to speak for industry --we build for it.


Q5. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 June.

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

Mrs. Campbell : In view of the Government's decision to cut the defence budget by 15 per cent. over the next five years, will the Prime Minister tell the House when he will announce a proper defence diversification strategy and prevent an appalling loss of skilled jobs?

The Prime Minister : I can only assume that the hon. Lady was not here for the earliest part of Question Time or she may not have asked such a question. She should consider the impact of her own party's defence policies before she criticises ours.


Q7. Mr. Rowe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 June.

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

Mr. Rowe : Can the Prime Minister advise me on how I might reply to a 73-year-old constituent, who is in frail health and is partially deaf and partially blind? She wrote to me about the review of the social security budget and said that the Opposition have no programme whatsoever except to take taxation up and that were this Government ever to be unseated the results would be unthinkable.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend's constituent is very perceptive. I think that he should say to her that she can rest assured that the Government will stand by their commitment to the weak and vulnerable. Secondly, he could say to her that she should not believe the routine scares that come from Opposition Members day by day. Thirdly, he could tell her that the Labour party has no constructive ideas and, fourthly, he could tell her that we have no intention of doing other than remaining in government for the rest of this century and beyond.