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1990 - PMQT 13th December 1990

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 13th December 1990.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Maclennan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. After my duties in the House, I shall be leaving for the European Council in Rome.

Mr. Maclennan : Will the Prime Minister find time to give another impetus to his ideal of a classless society, in which public power is not abused, by responding to the growing movement for constitutional reform? In the spirit of the times, will he institute cross-party talks on a Bill of Rights, decentralised government and a fair voting system?

The Prime Minister : As I have made clear to the hon. Gentleman and as he will know from what I have said in recent weeks, my vision of a classless society deals with increased opportunity and choice. I have no immediate proposals for constitutional change.

Mr. Luce : As protectionism would do much to undermine the economies of the world and to increase unemployment, will my right hon. Friend take a positive lead this weekend in the European summit to persuade the Community to adopt a less protectionist stance with regard to agriculture, with a view to unblocking the GATT negotiations?

The Prime Minister : I shall be arguing for a positive statement from the European Council, which will make absolutely clear the Community's determination to make a success of the GATT negotiations. They are extremely important and the cost if they fail, to us and to many other countries, is very great.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to confirm that the large rises in unemployment are a direct and deliberate result of his policies?

The Prime Minister : Everyone regrets the rise in unemployment, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have been warning for some months that if wage rises stay high, they will have a necessary effect on jobs.

Mr. Kinnock : Does not it strike the right hon. Gentleman as somewhat dishonest that, whenever unemployment goes down, it is evidence of the Government's success ; but whenever it goes up, it is evidence of somebody else's failure? Why is not the right hon. Gentleman man enough to own up properly to the reasons for the rise in unemployment and to accept the blame for his own policies? As he knows the economic and human cost of unemployment, what is he going to do now to stop unemployment rising still further?

The Prime Minister : Upon the right hon. Gentleman's own premise, he knows precisely the success that the Government have had. If he looks across the whole Community, he will see that our rate of unemployment is among the lowest in the Community, at 6.2 per cent. Long-term unemployment is still falling and the extent to which the economy has been revived can also be seen in the fact that 50 per cent. of those who have just lost their jobs will be back in work within three months.

Mr. Kinnock : This is the second time in a decade that the Government have brought severe recession and rising unemployment to this country. Will the Prime Minister now answer the question? What does he intend to do to stop unemployment rising further?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a higher percentage of our work force in work than almost any other country in Europe. If the right hon. Gentleman is so worried about unemployment, why does he support a national minimum wage, which would cost three quarters of a million jobs?

Sir Peter Tapsell : May I put it to my right hon. Friend that when he leaves for Rome later this afternoon, he will carry with him the exceptional good wishes of the British people, who have been greatly impressed by his decisions and his bearing since he became Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall certainly endeavour to ensure at the European Council not only that we protect British interests but that we consider the interests of Europe as a whole.


Q2. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

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

Mr. Pike : Does not the Prime Minister recognise that Christmas for many of my constituents and many hundreds of thousands of people throughout Britain will be marred by having to make appearances in court because of their inability to pay their poll tax? When will the Government recognise that making promises--or alleged promises--to do something in two years' time is not acceptable? Will he do something to remove the requirement on the lowest-paid people to pay 20 per cent. of the poll tax and increase the level of income at which some rebate can be paid to those who cannot afford to pay their poll tax?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman will know, a large number of people are eligible for substantial rebates. The hon. Gentleman would make a good start by persuading some of his hon. Friends to pay their community charge.


Q3. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

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

Mr. Gill : When my right hon. Friend goes to Rome this weekend, will he bear it in mind that, in the final analysis, the British Government must go whichever way gives British agriculture and industry the best prospects of creating wealth for the people who live in these islands? Will he tell our European partners that wealth creation through free trade remains our top priority?

The Prime Minister : I shall be happy to carry that message to all members of the Community. I very much agree with my hon. Friend. A great deal of the growing prosperity in recent years has clearly been the result of the steady removal of barriers to trade. We wish that to continue.

Mr. Boateng : Last weekend in London the severe weather shelters were kept closed because it was not "cold enough". In the Prime Minister's classless, caring, opportunity society, how cold does it have to be and for how long before the homeless are given the opportunity of shelter and warmth?

The Prime Minister : In view of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, he may be interested to know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning will announce within the next few days a substantial number of new bed spaces in hostels and long-term housing in central London. [Interruption.] Opposition Members may not like this, but it is directly related to the point that the hon. Gentleman made. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning is talking to front-line agencies and together they are developing new and more effective ways of getting rough sleepers off the streets. I should have thought that Opposition Members would wish to hear that and support it.


Q4. Mr. Moate : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

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

Mr. Moate : With regard to the Gulf crisis, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm today that any partial withdrawal by Iraq from Kuwait would be wholly unacceptable and that Saddam Hussein must be required to comply in full with all the requirements of the United Nations resolutions?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to confirm absolutely what my hon. Friend says. Partial withdrawal simply will not do. Iraq needs to comply fully with all the provisions of the UN Security Council resolutions. That means total and unconditional withdrawal. The United Nations has made it clear that the use of military force will be justifiable if Saddam Hussein has not met the requirements of the resolutions in full by 15 January.

Mr. Canavan : Does the Prime Minister agree that it is absolutely diabolical in this day and age for a 20-year-old, unemployed person to be sent to prison for failing to pay the poll tax? Would he care to reflect on the fact that if everybody touched the forelock and obediently stumped up the poll tax, herself would still be in 10 Downing street, Tarzan would still be languishing on the Back Benches and the poll tax would be under no immediate threat whatever?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are examining the whole question of the community charge and in due course we shall make a statement.


Q5. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

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

Mr. Sumberg : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to reflect on two significant, but contrasting parliamentary achievements that have recently occurred : first, that he is now the youngest serving Prime Minister of this country this century, and, secondly that his opposite number is the longest-serving Opposition leader in parliamentary history?

The Prime Minister : I shall no doubt grow older in the job and no doubt so will the right hon. Gentleman.


Q6. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

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

Mr. Bennett : Does the Prime Minister agree that when he answered my question on Polaris last Thursday, he was unhappy with his answer? Will he confirm that, having had more time to look into the problems associated with Polaris, he must be even more unhappy? Is he confident that Polaris will go on being an effective deterrent for the next four years and can be kept safely at sea? Would not this be a good time to scrap it and put forward proposals for getting rid of our nuclear seaborne deterrent as part of the negotiations in the spring?

The Prime Minister : The nuclear deterrent has served this country extremely well in the past few years and I have no plans to change that policy.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Was the Prime Minister encouraged, as I was, by the reports of the Dail Eireann debate yesterday, which showed growing support for amendments to articles 2 and 3 of the Republic's constitution? As those two articles claim jurisdiction over a part of the United Kingdom's territory, will the Prime Minister encourage that process?

The Prime Minister : I certainly propose to study carefully what was said yesterday.


Q7. Mr. John D. Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

The Prime Minister : I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Taylor : On this our first opportunity, may I on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ulster Unionist parliamentary party congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Prime Minister? Recently, he will have recognised that it is necessary to create confidence and trust in Northern Ireland to have political progress. Is he aware of the unease and alarm created by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland three weeks ago when he said that the British Government had

"no strategic, or economic interest in Northern Ireland"? Will he, therefore, prove that he is the leader of the Conservative and Unionist party, not just the Conservative party, and support and strengthen the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman will know that the troops are in Northern Ireland both because that is the wish of the people of Northern Ireland and to ensure the security of the people of Northern Ireland. That is and remains the position. It is generally accepted throughout Northern Ireland the my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is one of the best friends that the Province has had for a long time.


Q8. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

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

Mr. Amess : Is the Prime Minister aware that when he spoke recently about a classless society, he struck a chord with many of my constituents in Basildon? Does he recall that when he visited our town some time ago, he recognised that it had a fine community spirit, despite local socialists who try to cause class divisions by their support of Militant Tendency and the like? Does he agree that it is only the policies of the Conservative party that allow people to get ahead and that Opposition policies cause division and hold people back?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It always has been that way. The Conservative party is determined to increase choice and opportunity and, unlike Opposition Members, we shall not put barriers in the way of such opportunity and choice.


Q9. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 December.

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

Mr. Griffiths : Would the Prime Minister like to reflect upon the fact that the appalling unemployment figures announced today will be further augmented next month, not least by my constituents who are employed by a company called Euroshape, who had redundancy offered to them this week without any hope of pay? That company once employed 300 people, but what hope can the right hon. Gentleman offer them following his announcement on 27 October last year, when he said that the harsh truth was that if the policy was not hurting, it was not working? Will that message apply this year and next Christmas as well?

The Prime Minister : As the policy self-evidently is working, we shall first see a considerable reduction in inflation in the next few months. Following that reduction we shall return to a period of growth. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, in the past 10 years, our growth record has exceeded that of any other European country.