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1993 - PMQT 28th October 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 28th October 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Shersby : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 October.

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. Shersby : As a result of my right hon. Friend's discussions today, does he agree that the fight against crime calls for a partnership between the Government, the police and the people? Will my right hon. Friend's Administration do all in their power to raise the morale of the police so that the police can do more effectively the difficult job of protecting the lives and property of every citizen of our country?

The Prime Minister : I believe that my hon. Friend is quite right to talk about the importance of police morale and the need to form a partnership between the police, the Government and the public in tackling crime. Nothing does police morale or public morale more harm than to see criminals uncaught or unpunished. I give my hon. Friend a complete assurance that crime will remain at the centre of our concerns in the months and years ahead.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister tell us whether it is really the case that, after accepting an amendment that British Rail should be allowed to bid for rail franchises, the Government now intend to table further amendments which will remove that right if there are any other bids? How can the right hon. Gentleman justify such a blatant and discreditable manoeuvre?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to wait and have a look at the amendments which my right hon. Friend will table this afternoon. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would be wise to wait and see.

Mr. Smith : Will the Prime Minister deal with the clear point of principle? If British Rail put in a bid for a franchise and that was clearly the best offer, why should that be knocked out in favour of a worse offer from a competitor? What is the justification for that in terms of the taxpayer or traveller?

The Prime Minister : I advised the right hon. and learned Gentleman to wait, and he might have been rather wiser to have done so. The Government accept that there might be circumstances in which it might be appropriate for British Rail to be a franchisee. However, we remain of the view that it would not be right to treat British Rail in the same way as other potential franchisees and that measures for this provision should be made in relation to British Rail's role in the franchising process.

Mr. Smith : Is not the Prime Minister revealing that the Government are accepting an amendment and then seeking to nullify it? Instead of those cynical tricks, would not it be better to take this legislation away altogether, because 80 per cent. of the British public know that rail privatisation means higher fares and fewer services? It is a rotten deal for taxpayer and traveller.

The Prime Minister : It is precisely to produce a better deal for taxpayers and travellers that we are bringing in private sector skills to ensure that British Rail is run more efficiently. The Labour party on this, as on other issues, really needs to make up its mind. The right hon. and learned Gentleman effectively accuses us of making sham concessions. [Interruption.] Yes, oh splendid. In that case, his hon. Friend who speaks for his party said that it was a U-turn. It cannot be both.


Q2. Sir Anthony Durant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 October.

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

Sir Anthony Durant : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be aware of the two bombs that were put in Reading station last weekend. Will he pass on, through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, the grateful thanks of the people of Reading for the fact that the railway police, the Army and the railway staff defused that bomb, which would have caused major damage and loss of life? Will he, therefore, as Prime Minister, take tough action against those vicious terrorists?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Army, the police, the emergency services and the staff of British Rail for the magnificent way in which they dealt with the incidents at the weekend. I believe that they deserve the utmost thanks and the terrorists will achieve nothing whatsoever from those crimes of violence. Their readiness to kill and their readiness to inflict injury will merely reinforce the Government's determination and, I hope, the determination of everyone in the House to ensure that they gain nothing whatsover now or in the future from their actions.

Mr. Faulds : Does the Prime Minister recall that he gained considerable international kudos when he mounted the initiative to safeguard or to try to safeguard the Kurds in northern Iraq? Now that his Government and other European Governments have so abysmally failed the Bosnian Muslims, would he perhaps restore his credibility, even only fractionally, were he to launch an initiative to try to safeguard the Marsh Arabs--the Shi'ias--in southern Iraq, an issue which the Prince of Wales raised in his admirable speech to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies yesterday?

The Prime Minister : I do not accept for one second the hon. Gentleman's strictures on helping the Bosnians, in particular the Bosnian Muslims. There is no country in Europe or beyond that has such a proud record of humanitarian assistance over the past two years. It would be more graceful of the hon. Gentleman to acknowledge that fact. I fully share the concerns expressed by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales about the draining of the marshes in southern Iraq. It is a matter on which the Government have spoken before. We and the Security Council have repeatedly condemned repression of the Shi'ias and have repeatedly demanded full access for the United Nations. That, we believe, is the right way for us to continue in this matter. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that we do not regard this as a light matter to be casually pushed aside. We will continue to pursue it in the right way and in the right place, and that is the United Nations.


Q3. Mr. David Atkinson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 October.

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

Mr. Atkinson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with social security abuse and fraud costing our constituents many billions of pounds a year, they will welcome the introduction of an identity card scheme, which will do nothing to threaten civil liberty but do much to support and encourage individual freedom and responsibility?

The Prime Minister : I know that my hon. Friend speaks for many people, and I share whole-heartedly his wish to stamp out social security fraud. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security is looking at a range of options to step up the fight against fraud, and as part of that he is looking at the practicalities of the introduction of an identity card scheme. Frankly, I find the principle of such a scheme to be attractive, but there are many practical difficulties to be overcome.


Q.4 Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 October.

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

Mr. Mitchell : It looks very much as though the Government are not reducing interest rates because they are covertly shadowing the deutschmark once again. At the same time, other European Governments are saying that Maastricht is not dead, that the exchange rate mechanism should be reconstituted and that the timetable for monetary union can and should be followed. In other words, we are probably in for Europe's biggest ever outburst of necrophilia. What will the Prime Minister be saying about stage 2 of monetary union and about the burdens, the timetables and the obligations that it imposes?

The Prime Minister : I commend to the hon. Gentleman an excellent article he may have seen in The Economist not very long ago which set out clearly the way in which the Government will proceed in terms of the future of our policy in Europe. Stage 2 of economic and monetary union involves no infringement whatever of sovereignty over monetary affairs. It is fixed in the international treaty and it is fixed in our legislation. But it does not mean that we proceed to stage 3 and it does not infringe in any way our own monetary sovereignty.


Q5. Sir Peter Tapsell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 October.

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

Sir Peter Tapsell : May I join its author in congratulating the writer of the article in The Economist on 25 September, which set out clearly and in a masterly fashion the traditional policy of the British Government towards the European Community? May I express to my right hon. Friend the belief that almost the whole of the Conservative parliamentary party and, indeed, the British electorate will be able to unite behind his total rejection in that article of economic and monetary union, a single European currency and a united states of Europe? Will he repeat the points he made in that article in forceful terms to the 11 Heads of Government whom he will meet in Brussels tomorrow?

The Prime Minister : I rather fancy that the other Heads of Government noticed what I wrote while on holiday in Portugal, which was subsequently printed in The Economist article, so they will be in no doubt about the Government's position. As appropriate, I will re-endorse it tomorrow and on other occasions.

Mr. Purchase : The Governor of the Bank of England has made it perfectly clear that he regards zero inflation as the overriding goal of economic policy. Has the Prime Minister made an assessment of the effects of such a policy on unemployment and growth?

The Prime Minister : I made clear to the House well over three years ago how important I regarded ensuring that we got inflation down to the lowest possible level. No one has ever been in any doubt about the determination of the Government to achieve that. We have achieved it. We have inflation now at a lower level than we have seen for 30-odd years. We have interest rates at a lower level than we have seen for a very long time. They are the essential prerequisites to sustainable growth over the medium and long term.


Q6. Mr. Bates : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 October.

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

Mr. Bates : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement made by Nissan yesterday of a £26 million expansion to its car plant at Sunderland? Does he agree that that investment will further strengthen the manufacturing base of the north-east and that it is a substantial vote of confidence in favour of the work force in Sunderland and in the strength of the British-led economic recovery?

The Prime Minister : It is certainly a substantial vote of confidence in the work force at Sunderland, and I am absolutely delighted at this increased investment by Nissan. I have to make the point that if we had followed policies that piled on employers social costs such as the minimum wage and the social contract, I strongly suspect that that investment would not have come to this country but would have gone elsewhere.

Mr. McGrady : In view of the grave political and security problem in Northern Ireland caused mainly by the political vacuum of the past 12 months because the Democratic Unionist party and the Conservative and Unionist party refused to attend the conference table, will the Prime Minister, in union with the Irish Government, reconvene the round table conference of all the democratic parties so that the private documents of the DUP and the official Unionist party, and the document of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), can be placed on the table? More than that, the distrust and the fears of the people of Northern Ireland can be removed by proper political dialogue and some hope for the future can be given.

As a writer, will the Prime Minister take note of the statement made in the Dail yesterday by the Tanaiste, Dick Spring, setting out six principles that all fair-minded people would regard as a fair basis of political progress in Ireland as a whole?

The Prime Minister : It is precisely to ensure that we get a proper political process and the return of constitutional rights to the people of Northern Ireland that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has been pursuing with such skill and vigour--as did his predecessor- -the three-stranded approach in Northern Ireland. I saw with great interest the remarks of the Tanaiste yesterday and I hope to have the opportunity of discussing them with the Taoiseach tomorrow.


Q7. Mr. Fabricant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 October.

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

Mr. Fabricant : My right hon. Friend will be aware of my love of motor biking. Can he imagine the distress that I felt when some years ago I motor biked across Europe and had to do so on a Yamaha--a Japanese motor bike? Will he join me in congratulating Triumph on producing more motor bikes in the large motor bike league than either Suzuki, BMW or Harley Davidson?

The Prime Minister : I was delighted to see the success of Triumph and I hope that my hon. friend will soon be again riding a Triumph motor cycle across Europe, and perhaps elsewhere.