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1993 - PMQT 13th July 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 13th July 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 13 July.

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. Evans : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members are delighted to welcome him back from Tokyo and congratulate him on his success? Is not that in stark contrast to the lot opposite, who are horrified that their leader has just come back from Bournemouth? Did my right hon. Friend's father, at the height of his career as a trapeze artist, do as many somersaults as the Leader of the Opposition, the wriggler from Monklands, East?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome home. We did have a successful meeting in Tokyo and, from what I hear, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) had a rather less successful meeting in Bournemouth.

Mr. John Smith : Following the vote in the House last night in which the Prime Minister and his colleagues voted to impose value added tax on the heating bills of millions of pensioners and families, does not he think that he should now apologise to the British people for betraying the election pledges that he made during the last election?

The Prime Minister : I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should raise that matter today. This week's edition of "Labour Party News" contains an article with the heading

"Sending your comments to Chris Smith MP".

It asks :

"In what ways can economic policy be developed to encourage environmental protection? You might consider : Taxation Policy (eg energy tax )".

Mr. Smith : The Prime Minister clearly does not want to hear a reference to his VAT commitment. Let me remind him what he said in the "Conservative Campaign Guide"-- [Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members do not want to hear it. The last thing that they want to hear about is the "Conservative Campaign Guide". It attacked the Labour party for what it called irresponsible scares about VAT and said :

"The Prime Minister has confirmed that the Government has no intention of raising VAT."

Why was that said in the election?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman clearly does not know his own policy and I offer him my copy of "Labour Party News". My comment was in response to Labour's charges that we intended to raise the standard rate to 22 per cent., which we were not intending.

Mr. Battle : You lied to them.

Madam Speaker : Order. I clearly heard the hon. Gentleman's unparliamentary language. Will he now withdraw it?

Mr. Battle : I understand that the expression is "economical with the truth", Madam Speaker.

The Prime Minister : That was a typically cheap withdrawal. Frankly, the Leader of the Opposition is not being remotely open about his position. Quite apart from this week's admission that the Labour party was considering VAT on fuel--and still is--in its policy review document, "Looking to the Future", the Labour party stated : "Zero-rating should remain on fares, books, food and children's clothing."

It specifically excluded fuel. That fact, allied to the document from which I quoted earlier, constitutes the clearest illustration that that is Labour party policy.

Before the Liberal leader looks too smug, may I say that in his document "Costing the Earth" the Liberal Democrats advocated a tax on energy and, failing that, said :

"We would press forward by ending the anomalous zero rate of VAT on fuel."

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will go back to Christchurch and tell them that.

Mr. John Smith : If the Prime Minister wants to wriggle out of the "Conservative Campaign Guide" commitment, let me remind him of what he said to the House on 28 January 1992. He said :

"There will be no VAT increase."--[ Official Report, 28 January 1992 ; Vol. 202, c. 808]

Did the Prime Minister say that? Does he deny that he said it? Does he also deny that he has cynically betrayed an election pledge?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is embarrassed because he walked into an open hole. That quote of mine is clearly related to the 17 per cent. rate of VAT, which we have not changed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware of that. He may wriggle and wriggle, but this week's edition of "Labour Party News' shows clearly what the Labour party policy was and is.


Q2. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 13 July.

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

Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that racial tolerance and compassion underlie the British character and that that is reflected in the natural desire of many childless couples to want to offer a good and loving home to children, regardless of race, colour or creed? Is not it time to end the shameful political correctness of some officials who seek to discourage that?

The Prime Minister : The Government's adoption policy will be guided by common sense and the interests of the child. There will be no house room for political correctness.

Mr. Wigley : Is the Prime Minister aware of the strong feeling in Wales about the need to give the Welsh language official status alongside the English language in Wales--a policy which is supported across party political boundaries? Is he aware that a monolingual French label on a wine bottle or similar product in Wales is official in Wales? A label in Greek only is valid in Wales, but a label in the Welsh language is not valid because the British Government do not recognise the Welsh language as an official language. Will the right hon. Gentleman try to change that policy at the Report stage of the Welsh Language Bill this week?

The Prime Minister : The Government's Welsh Language Bill represents an important addition to support and encouragement for the Welsh language in Wales. I know that the hon. Gentleman has canvassed and fought hard for the Bill and I know that he appreciated the fact that it was produced. We believe that Welsh already enjoys official status in Wales. A general declaration in the Bill would have no practical effect and would probably only increase legal uncertainty.

Mr. Milligan : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reason that there is one member, one vote in the trade union movement was that the Government gave financial encouragement for postal ballots and actively helped democracy in the trade unions? Given that the campaign of the Leader of the Opposition to introduce one member, one vote in the Labour party will clearly either be fudged or abandoned, what measures will the Government-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat for a moment. The Prime Minister is not responsible for Opposition policies. The hon. Gentleman must rephrase his question.

Mr. Milligan : I am grateful for your correction. I am asking what action the Government will take, similar to that taken to encourage democracy in the trade unions, to encourage democracy in the Labour party.

The Prime Minister : Democracy in the Labour party would be a welcome addition to our public life. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) appears to be prepared to fight the battle for one man, one vote. He also appears to be retreating from it.


Q3. Mrs. Roche : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 13 July.

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

Mrs. Roche : Will the Prime Minister break his reputation for stubbornness and listen to the Social Security Advisory Committee when it says that the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel will have a disproportionate effect on the incomes of the poor?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Lady will know--we have stated it often enough in the House--we have made it clear that extra help will be provided in advance for people who are vulnerable, to meet the costs of VAT on fuel. That help will be in addition to the automatic increase in pensions and other benefits to reflect the impact of any increase in the retail prices index. I have made that clear repeatedly and so has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. Perhaps the hon. Lady would either care to listen to that statement now or read the innumerable occasions on which it has been made clear.

Mr. Day : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating British manufacturing industry on the figures published today on manufacturing output? Does he agree that that is a sign that Britain is moving into recovery and that, under his strong leadership, not only will Britain's economy improve but our party will emerge victorious at the end of this Parliament?

The Prime Minister : They were extremely good figures this morning. The increase in manufacturing output reported this morning is the largest monthly increase for four years. Clearly, that is good news and it bodes well for British manufacturing. But it is only one of a large number of signs that the economy is recovering--retail sales are up, car registrations are up, confidence is up and unemployment is down.


Q4. Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 13 July.

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

Rev. Martin Smyth : Has the Prime Minister seen today's leader article in The Times which refers to the instability in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the unease among Unionists? Does he accept that that instability has been increased by the Labour party's so-called discussion document, Dick Spring's revelations and the talks between emissaries of the British Government and the Provisional IRA? Will we now move from parrot calls for round table talks to restoring accountable democracy in Northern Ireland at all levels by direct action, rather than diplomatic dithering?

The Prime Minister : On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I share the views that he expressed about the Labour party's proposals for Northern Ireland. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wrote to the Leader of the Opposition about this matter some time ago, but, so far as I am aware, he has not yet received a reply.

As for talks in the future, I hope that we shall be able to reach the outcome that the hon. Gentleman has in mind as a result of the resumption of talks. We hope that they will be able to resume speedily and, once they resume, we hope that they will be successful.


Bromsgrove

Q5. Mr. Thomason : To ask the Prime Minister if he will visit Bromsgrove.

The Prime Minister : I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Thomason : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Rover cars, parts of which are made in the Bromsgrove constituency, which announced yesterday that it had increased sales world wide? Does he agree that its achievement bodes well and is a good advertisement for British quality, British workers and an expanding British economy?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Rover, which has increased its sales in Europe significantly. To have done that in the difficult trading conditions of Europe speaks volumes for its pricing and the quality of its products. Total car production has risen by about 11 per cent. and production of computers and related equipment is up by 8 per cent. There is no doubt that British industry is becoming more competitive and that British manufacturing industry in particular is beginning to penetrate new markets in quite a substantial way.

Dr. Lynne Jones : What would the Prime Minister say to the residents of Bromsgrove and nearby Birmingham who are sceptical about his claim that the imposition of VAT on fuel is an energy tax when that tax is also to be imposed on standing charges and there is no proposal to reinvest the revenue gained in energy conservation measures?

The Prime Minister : I would say what I said moments ago to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) about the reimbursement that would be available.