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1993 - PMQT 1st July 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 1st July 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Paice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 July.

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. Paice : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to assure the people of Ulster that this Government are totally committed to the Union? Will he also point out to them that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has a plot to ditch them? The leader of the Labour party should either support that betrayal of the people of Ulster or sack his spokesman.

The Prime Minister : The Union is vital for all parts of the United Kingdom. It has the democratic approval of the people of Northern Ireland and we in the Conservative and Unionist party stand four-square behind it. I am aware of the opinions that have been attributed to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. I believe that he has proposed "shared responsibility", which "would have to be imposed against the wishes of a majority of Northern Ireland's citizens."

Frankly, I think that that is appalling. The hon. Gentleman also complains that progress in Northern Ireland could strengthen the Union, and he certainly appears to regret that. I assume that can mean only that the Labour party has abandoned its manifesto commitment to consensus and that it wants to promote a united Ireland through economic deprivation. If those are the Labour party's policies, they are cynical and shameful and are a betrayal of democracy and of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. John Smith rose--

Hon. Members : Answer.

Madam Speaker : Order. Settle down now.

Mr. Smith : Following the revelation that the taxpayer was defrauded -- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must settle down and listen not only to answers but to questions, too--all of you.

Mr. Smith : Following the revelation that the taxpayer was defrauded of £97 million in Britain's biggest ever tax fraud involving Nissan UK and that, during the period in which the fraud was perpetrated, Mr. Octav Botnar gave £1 million to the Conservative party, will the Prime Minister invite the Conservative party to repay that sum to the Inland Revenue?

The Prime Minister : I think that the whole House and the whole country will notice what the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not have to say about his party's policies for Northern Ireland. If his fundamental concept is that we should clean up British politics, I agree. We should, for a start, have rules that no donor can buy votes at a party conference, that no donor should buy votes for the selection of party candidates and that no donor should buy votes for the selection of a party's leader. It is that sort of action, not his sort of smears, that demeans British politics.

Mr. Smith : The House and the country will have noticed that the Prime Minister did not answer the question.

Does not the Prime Minister accept that, as First Lord of the Treasury, his principal responsibility is to the British taxpayer? Should he not be encouraging action to recover money of which the Revenue has been defrauded? Is not that a more important responsibility than defending the finances of the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, for I have told him before, that where tainted money has been provided to the Conservative party, we will replace it. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will now have the grace to accept that. So far as Mr. Botnar is concerned, no doubt the Inland Revenue will pursue that matter. It is a matter for the Inland Revenue.

Mr. Smith : Can the Prime Minister tell us whether the Conservative party received money from Mr. Botnar?

The Prime Minister : I have no idea whether the Conservative party received money from Mr. Botnar around 10 years ago. I am not responsible for that.

Sir Malcolm Thornton : Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity today to read the report by Ernst and Young entitled "Inward Investment in the 90s--Maintaining the United Kingdom's Lead"? If so, does he agree with its recommendation that one of our main advantages--the flexibility and cost of our labour force--would be placed in considerable jeopardy if we were to accept the social protocol and that that would further undermine the country's lead in attracting inward investment, which we need to maintain the recovery?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. Our system for encouraging inward investment is second to none. We have received far more inward investment in this country as a result of the policies followed by this Government and their immediate predecessor than any other country in the European Community. Because of those policies, we remain the preferred location for investment in the Community by Japan, the United States and many other countries. Policies of excessive social costs and excessive regulation would damage that inward investment and the jobs created by it.


Q2. Mr. Beith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 July.

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

Mr. Beith : Will the Prime Minister, recognising the importance to the north-east and to shipbuilding in Britain of the Swan Hunter shipyard, take steps today to make it clear that the frigates that were built by the yard can be completed at the yard? Will he tell the Government of Oman that he has done that, as that would indicate to them that he is confident that the yard can complete the Omani order for which it has tendered and which would otherwise be lost to Britain?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman touches on a very important matter. I very much hope that it will be possible to complete the three type 23 frigates at Swan Hunter. The Ministry of Defence is in negotiation with the receiver. Some more detailed work remains to be done, but I suspect that those discussions will be concluded very shortly indeed. If and when agreement on the terms for completing the type 23s has been reached, I will of course ensure immediately that the Omani authorities are informed of that fact. Once Swan Hunter has found a buyer--that is one of the matters of concern to the Omani Government--and is back on a secure financial footing, there is no reason whatsoever why, among seeking other orders, it should not begin once more to tender for orders from the MOD.


Q3. Mr. Bates : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 July.

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

Mr. Bates : Would my right hon. Friend agree that excess bureaucracy and over-regulation stifle initiative and efficiency, not only in British industry but in the police force in its battle against crime and the criminal? Is he aware of the remarks made two weeks ago by the chief constable of Dorset police when he pointed out that, for the most simple arrests, the average police officer is required to complete 23 forms and, in the most complex cases, that figure rises to 47 forms? That takes the average police officer off the beat and puts him behind a desk for half a day on average. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such excessive bureaucracy exists, that the average police officer feels deep frustration about it and that it is a source of bewilderment for the public and a source of delight for the criminal?

The Prime Minister : I did see the chief constable's remarks and I am aware of the extent of the bureaucracy facing many officers in the police force. It is partly for that reason that we are seeking to deregulate so substantially. The whole purpose of the series of reforms that my right hon. and learned Friend is now taking forward is to ensure that we have a modern, professional and effective police force with the powers that it needs to deter crime. I share the concerns that are expressed by my hon. Friend and felt by the police force. That is why we are seeking to reform and modernise the police force, so that it can concentrate on the job that it is really there for--catching criminals, not filling in forms.


Q4. Mr. Chisholm : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 July.

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

Mr. Chisholm : Has the Prime Minister seen the report which was published this week by the Day Care Trust, which is funded by the BBC's Children in Need, which analyses the poverty trap faced by a large number of Britain's 1.3 million lone parents and which advocates that income spent on child care should be substantially disregarded in calculating income support or family credit entitlements? Does the Prime Minister support that proposal? Would he prefer to boost the supply of affordable child care, or does he regard child care as one of the byways of politics about which he said on Saturday he would prefer not to be asked?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should look at the record of the care and the support that have gone into child care over recent years. Expenditure on families with children now totals nearly £13 billion, a rise of three quarters during the period since the Conservative Government came to office in the late 1970s. The hon. Gentleman would be better served offering support for some of those policies rather than misrepresenting other people's reports.

Mr. Devlin : As today is the end of the first six months of the single market which this country and the Government did so much to bring about, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to explain to the people of the north of England the benefits of the single market and re- emphasise the Government's commitment to unfettered markets and free trade?

The Prime Minister : There is absolutely no doubt, not just in this country but in countries all around the world, that free trade increases the volume of trade and, with it, the volume and levels of prosperity. We certainly see within the European Community the increasing advantages of the single market. I am delighted that it was concluded during our presidency of the Community, and I hope that the general principles of free trade will win through in the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations that we are currently in the midst of.


Q5. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 July.

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

Mr. Pike : Will the Prime Minister recognise the widespread concern and anger of people in the north-west, particularly those on low pay--such as nurses and firemen, whose pay was limited to a 1.5 per cent. increase-- at pay increases that were announced by the privatised monopoly, North West Water? It increased payments to its chief executive and management by 43 per cent. in the past year and by 506 per cent. during the recession, over the past five years. Of course, they also have their share options. Will the right hon. Gentleman condemn such action by that privatised industry?

The Prime Minister : It is not a matter for me to condemn. My responsibility across the public sector is to make sure that we retain proper control of costs, not least to ensure that we provide the services that the public want and not least to ensure that we are able to retain within the public sector the levels of employment that are necessary. The hon. Gentleman should concentrate on that rather than parade yet again his politics of envy.

Mr. Clappison : Is my right hon. Friend aware of recent judicial comments and public concern about the absence of a power for the courts to send persistent juvenile offenders into secure accommodation? Does he agree that it is essential for the courts to have such a power? Does he agree further that the Opposition's refusal to support giving such a power to the courts shows that they totally lack commitment to the fight against crime and that, far from being tough on crime, they are tough only on the victims of persistent juvenile offenders--victims whom they would continue to allow to suffer?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend clearly knows, one of the sectors in which the greatest increase in criminal statistics can be found is in crimes against property by youngsters, largely between the ages of eight and 18. It is for that reason that we are looking at the method of dealing with offenders and, in particular, finding secure accommodation for them. It is our intention to provide such accommodation.


Q6. Mr. Bayley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 July.

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

Mr. Bayley : Is the Prime Minister aware that ABB Transportation Ltd. is the last surviving company manufacturing railway carriage body shells in Britain and that it recently announced 532 redundancies among the employees at its York works and a further 364 at Crewe and Derby ? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that that situation has arisen because of a haemorrhaging of orders in the run-up to railway privatisation ? Will he do something to stop the next round of job losses, which would mean the closure of the York works and the end of Britain's ability to build railway carriage body shells, which we should be left to import from abroad at yet further expense to our balance of payments ? When will we have more orders ?

The Prime Minister : I find it very strange, on some occasions at the Dispatch Box, to be criticised by Opposition Members for the fact that we appear to have too large a deficit, while on other occasions I am urged to spend more and more money--usually for some particular interest of the hon. Member concerned. I regret very much the job losses at ABB. However, ABB, like every other enterprise in this country, must find its way in the marketplace.