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1993 - PMQT 8th July 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 8th July 1993. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Tipping : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 8 July.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the G7 economic summit in Tokyo where he has played an important part in bringing about a major step forward in resolving the GATT round.

Mr. Tipping : Given the citizens charter, is the Lord President concerned that Regional Railways has cut its publicity budget by 30 per cent? As a result of that, many small stations in the east midlands and East Anglia no longer appear on the timetable. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure rail users that those stations will stay open after privatisation? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the problem? With no platform, no timetable and no sense of direction--that surely sounds like this Government.

Mr. Newton : The Government's sense of direction is very clear with regard to the vigour with which we have carried the rail privatisation proposals through the House to pave the way for further improvements in rail services. That is what we shall see.

Mr. Spring : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a result of the Government's trade union reforms, substantial power has been handed back to individual trade union members? Does he believe that there are other parts of union activity that could benefit from the introduction of one man, one vote?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend's point about the effect of the trade union reforms that we have carried through in respect of returning power to individual members. I can think of quite a number of other reforms that should be carried out, but, unfortunately, they depend on the success of the leader of the Labour party, which he is not exactly having.

Mr. John Smith : Bearing in mind that pensioners already face value added tax on their heating bills and the prospect of having to pay prescription charges, why is the Prime Minister in his speech in Tokyo adding to their very genuine fears by threatening even further curbs on social spending?

Mr. Newton : I must say that I am not surprised, in view of the contrast between my right hon. Friend's success in Tokyo and the right hon. and learned Gentleman's catastrophe in Bournemouth, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should-- [Interruption.] In Tokyo, my right hon. Friend was making the point that all western countries face rising pressures on their welfare budgets. Few would argue in this country that the current Department of Social Security budget of almost £80 billion is necessarily spent in the best way possible and that any Government are not entitled and right to review policy and spending patterns. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman disagrees with that, may I say that I have just been quoting, to all intents and purposes, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).

Mr. Smith : Is not it now absolutely clear from the Prime Minister's speech in Tokyo and the documents issued by the Secretary of State for Social Security that the Government have embarked on a blatant attempt to soften up the public for cuts in public spending? Does he not appreciate the justified anger of pensioners who have paid tax and insurance all their lives and hear these threats to their pensions? Does he not think that it is monstrous that these people should be asked to pay the price of the Government's economic improvidence?

Mr. Newton : What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has published this morning is a range of information to inform the debate which, in my view, everybody in this country agrees must sensibly be had. It is a debate which the right hon. and learned Gentleman undertook in setting up his social justice commission and in his own manifesto statement for the Labour party leadership. Pensioners have an absolute guarantee from the Government that we will maintain our commitment to uprate the basic retirement pension in line with prices and that we will not do what the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Government did--fiddle the uprating figures and abolish the Christmas bonus two years running.

Mr. Smith : On the subject of guarantees, can the right hon. Gentleman remind us of what the Government said at the election about guarantees on value added tax?

Mr. Newton : The Government made it clear at the election that they would maintain the commitments to pensioners that I outlined. What I want to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and have not yet heard at any stage, is why the Labour party left VAT on fuel out of the list of those things that it was determined not to do.

Mr. Knapman : The whole House will wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his considerable success at the G7 economic summit--[Hon. Members :-- "No."]--the sensible ones, anyway. Will my right hon. Friend, on his return, look at the ever- increasing number of directions and regulations coming from Brussels, because, surely, what we really need to meet and beat world competition is a lightly regulated, free-trading economy?

Mr. Newton : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. That, indeed, is another of the points that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has underlined, not only time and again in discussions in Europe but now in the discussions in Tokyo in relation to the G7 summit. It is clear from the response from one country after another, most recently from President Clinton and the United States, that that crucial British message about the need to ensure the competitiveness of our economies is beginning to hit home all around the world.


Q2. Mr. Fraser : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 8 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Fraser : I remind the Leader of the House, in relation to the questions put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), that the Government were absolutely explicit about not extending the ambit of value added tax. Now they impose a hypothermia tax, which will mostly hit people with modest savings and small pensions and people on the margins of poverty. Because the Government did that, why should anyone believe what they say about not whittling away pensions and making pensioners' incomes means tested? Surely the Government's problem is that their clock has now struck for the 13th time.

Mr. Newton : The reason that pensioners should believe the commitments that we have made about their pensions is that we have consistently honoured our commitments to pensioners in a way that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members cannot possibly claim to have done.

Mr. David Howell : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming not only the excellent news from Tokyo about the proposed tariff cuts-- which will, of course greatly increase trade and jobs--but the fact that at present the pound is regarded as the strongest currency in Europe? Does he agree that the right response to those two positive developments is to do everything possible, not to manipulate the exchange rate up or down but to maintain our competitiveness, build a good infrastructure, keep down inflation and manage our costs very tightly, and that that is a very promising way forward for this nation?

Mr. Newton : Again, I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. Alongside my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's success in contributing to a further step forward in an important deal for world trade is his success--and that of the Government--in emphasising and carrying through in Britain the policies to which my right hon. Friend has referred, and which will leave us particularly well placed to take advantage of the increase in world trade that will result.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Can the Leader of the House, speaking on behalf of the Government, tell us whether, at the intergovernmental conference today, the Government will contend that the democratic rights of the people of Northern Ireland should not be ridden over roughshod any longer but that those people should be treated as part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Newton : I can assure the hon. Gentleman, and he would expect no less from me, that the Government remain totally committed to the principle that any change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of a majority of the people who live there, and I repeat that commitment this afternoon.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Did the Leader of the House read in The Guardian this morning an article that stated that the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Irish Republic attempted to pour petrol on Ulster fires by endorsing the Labour party proposal for joint authority and putting forward a further proposition for a commission, with representatives from the Dublin Government, Her Majesty's Government and the European Community, taking charge of Northern Ireland? Will the Leader of the House rebuke, as strongly as the Prime Minister did last week, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister for making such a suggestion?

Mr. Newton : I have noted that report. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is meeting Mr. Spring this afternoon and will seek clarification of what he said. What I can do, and have just done for the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), is to repeat clearly and emphatically the British Government's position in this matter. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) can no doubt speak for the Labour party, but the British Government deplore the Labour party's position as well.

Mr. Ashdown : Do the Government yet understand that typhus and cholera are shortly to be added to shells and bullets as the means by which the people of Sarajevo will be condemned to die? Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that mere words from the G7 in Tokyo will be sufficient to save them?

Mr. Newton : The G7 summit in Tokyo has clearly reaffirmed our and other countries' commitment to the territorial integrity of Bosnia and to a negotiated settlement based on the principles of the London conference. It has made it absolutely clear that we cannot agree to any solution for Bosnia dictated by the Serbs and Croats at the expense of the Muslims. As the whole House would wish it to do, the summit has underlined our commitment to the urgent implementation of safe areas and to improving the flow of humanitarian aid.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the past 14 years the Conservative Government have shown real determination and courage in carrying through their reforms with the trade unions? Does he agree that the Leader of the Opposition singularly lacks those qualities in dealing with the same matters?

Mr. Newton : The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East probably wishes that he was in Tokyo and had not had to go to Bournemouth. Since he left Bournemouth with what looked to me on the television news last night as a rather sheepish expression on his face, he has, of course, suffered a further significant reverse with the vote that the Transport and General Workers Union took this morning to reject his plans.


Q3. Mr. Gordon Prentice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 8 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Prentice : What would the Lord President say to the firefighters in Pendle who, over the past 14 years, have seen their pay formula scrapped and the imposition of a 1.5 per cent. pay limit, when the chairman of North West Water has received a 43 per cent. increase, taking his salary to £267,000 a year? Why is it that those who douse the flames are worth so much less than those who provide the water?

Mr. Newton : I would say to the firefighters of Pendle or anywhere else that they should not listen to the kind of overheated rhetoric in which the hon. Gentleman indulges.

Mr. Cormack : Reverting to the issue raised by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), may I ask my right hon. Friend to accept that reaffirmation of itself is a cruel hoax unless it is followed by action? There is nothing to stop Sarajevo being saved. Can something now be done?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend has taken a long and honourable interest in these matters. He knows the difficulties of proceeding in quite the way he has often suggested. I would do no more at this stage than repeat what I said in an earlier answer--the British Government will continue to do everything that they properly and responsibly can to achieve a settlement that will stop the bloodshed in Bosnia.