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1993 - PMQT 25th November 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 25th November 1993. Tony Newton responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Dr. Wright : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

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 Anglo-German summit in Cologne.

Dr. Wright : What will the Lord President say to the 500 miners and their families at Littleton colliery in South Staffordshire? They were told a few months ago that Littleton was a core pit, and that was confirmed in the coal review, yet now they have been told that their pit is to close in a fortnight's time. When the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), who cannot be here today, and I saw the chairman of British Coal this morning, he told us that Government action was the direct cause of the closure, and that only urgent Government action could stop it.

Today, when the whole nation is in anguish following the events in Liverpool, I ask the Lord President : should not the Government do all that they can to strengthen families and communities, rather than destroying them?

Mr. Newton : The whole House knows that the Government have put about £20 billion into helping the coal industry since we came to power and that we have offered additional assistance to help the industry to sell coal at world prices, but that, at the end of the day, we cannot insulate any industry in this country from the fact that people do not want to buy as much as is being produced.


Q2. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Sumberg : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government intend drastically to reduce the number of police cautions given to young offenders? People in my constituency are outraged at the fact that such people get away with it, and they demand a return to basics-- [Interruption.] --to the basic principle of making the punishment fit the crime.

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend certainly may remind me of that fact, and I, in turn, remind him what the Home Secretary said a few days ago. My right hon. and learned Friend said that he believes that there is too much cautioning, and that too many young people have come to believe that they are virtually entitled to commit a crime and to receive nothing but a caution until something else happens. My right hon. and learned Friend believes that cautioning should be reduced, and his new guidance will reduce it.

Mrs. Beckett : Returning to basics, does the Lord President agree with the Prime Minister that the national insurance Bill will mean that most wage earners will pay £3 to £4 more per week, and that the total effect of increases in value added tax and national insurance and of cuts in mortgage interest relief and tax allowances will be that a typical family will pay £8.50 more per week in tax from April?

Mr. Newton : I should find a greater degree of credibility in the right hon. Lady if on this occasion--as on the previous occasion on which she and I had one of these exchanges--she showed the slightest understanding that increased funding of the national insurance fund is needed to ensure that we can continue to maintain our obligations to pensioners. As the right hon. Lady was for some years a senior Front-Bench spokesman on social security, I find it surprising that she does not understand that. Perhaps she needs to go back to basics.

Mrs. Beckett : Is the Lord President saying that he does not support what the Prime Minister said last Tuesday?

Mr. Newton : I am saying that the Government are taking--as they announced in the last Budget--and will continue to take in the forthcoming Budget responsible action to ensure the future of this country's economy so that we can maintain our promises to Britain's pensioners.

Mrs. Beckett : Does the Lord President remember that the last Budget was the biggest tax hike in British history, and put the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) narrowly ahead of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Howe, in the league table for increasing taxes? Would it not have been responsible of the Government to tell the British people that before the last election?

Mr. Newton : What I remember about the last Budget was the Leader of the Opposition telling us that the judgment made in November would be whether the March Budget had brought down unemployment. He said : "If Conservative Members want that to be a test, we shall make it a test for the Government."--[ Official Report, 16 March 1993 ; Vol. 221, c. 199.]

The Government have passed that test, have they not?

Mr. Heald : Can my right hon. Friend tell the House when Britain last had low inflation, low interest rates, falling unemployment and rising output? Does he agree that that is good news for Britain and for north Hertfordshire--and that good news is something which Opposition Members would not recognise if it jumped up and bopped them in the face?

Mr. Newton : As I indicated in my previous reply to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), no doubt we shall soon have the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) trying to pretend that the test that he put to the Government earlier this year was not what he meant at all. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have the lowest inflation for a quarter of a century and the lowest interest rates for more than 15 years. At a time when unemployment in this country is 10.2 per cent. and falling, in the rest of Europe it is an average of 10.6 per cent. and rising.


Q3. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

Mr. Newton : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Trimble : Recalling that we entered the talks process last year with the objective of replacing the Anglo-Irish Agreement and thus reducing Dublin's role in our affairs, does the Leader of the House agree with recent editorials in The Times that the problem of disenchantment and militarisation of the Unionist community cannot be ended by the very diplomatic structures that created the problem? Does he agree that the only course that would command widespread acceptance in Northern Ireland would be to govern it fairly as part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman asked his question, as he always does, with genuine sincerity--and I hope that I will reply with equal responsibility by repeating what was said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister only last week :

"Nor will we compromise on the vital principle that there can be no change in Northern Ireland's status without the freely expressed consent of its people. It is for the people of Northern Ireland"-- including the hon. Gentleman--

"freely and democratically to determine their own constitutional future."-- [ Official Report, 18 November 1993 ; Vol. 233, c. 28.]

Mr. Butterfill : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the pound has risen on foreign exchanges at a time when we have reduced British interest rates to the lowest in Europe is a tribute to the management of the economy and, in particular, to the reductions that we have made in inflation? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that only by continuing to reduce inflation will we be able to reduce interest rates further, to the benefit of industry and of the British economy as a whole?

Mr. Newton : The short answer to that question is yes. As a result of our success, which I outlined earlier, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has felt it possible to make a further reduction in interest rates. That is the background to the Budget and to the continuing policies that the Government will pursue to bear down on inflation and make further progress possible.


Q4. Mr. Hanson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Hanson : Does the Leader of the House think that it is fair for the Government to have broken their election promises by raising national insurance contributions and VAT at the same time as refusing to raise taxes for those such as the chairman of Direct Line Insurance who paid himself £18 million this year?

Mr. Newton : I have already dealt with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. He will well know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has frequently expressed the view that those responsible for determining rewards in the private sector should set a proper example to those in that sector. It is a matter for them to determine. I hope that the hon. Gentleman might have acknowledged the unusual background to this. Direct Line was started from scratch in 1985. It now employs 2,000 people, 900 of them taken on in the past year. It has 1.25 million customers and is growing at the rate of 25,000 customers a week. As a company, it has done a good job for consumers.

Sir Teddy Taylor : What is the purpose of the Anglo-German summit that the Prime Minister is attending today?

Mr. Newton : The purpose of the Anglo-German summit is to continue and develop co-operation between the two Governments on a wide variety of matters of great importance to everyone in Europe and in the House, including the advancement of the GATT negotiations.


Q5. Mr. Robert Ainsworth : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Ainsworth : Has the Leader of the House had time to see the report of the Public Accounts Committee into what it calls a catalogue of mismanagement at the West Midlands regional health authority? What will the Government do about the culpable individuals and what do they intend to do to restore the accountability of public officials to the communities whose moneys they spend?

Mr. Newton : I am aware of the report and I hope that I need hardly assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will consider it with great care. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had acknowledged that a great deal has already been done, nationally and in the west midlands, to address the problems raised by the report. The health authority already has a new chairman, a new chief executive, new senior managers and new non-executive members. None of the individuals criticised by the report is still with the authority.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : May I invite my right hon. Friend to turn his mind to the issue of animal welfare in Europe? Will he tell the House whether the European Commission reports about relaxing the European ban on the import of seal pelts and other seal products are true? Will he try to ensure that we do nothing to relax the battle against unnecessary suffering of animals in this country and the rest of Europe?

Mr. Newton : I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that the Government, who have taken a leading part in Europe in encouraging greater concern for animal welfare, will continue to ensure that those interests are properly represented in European discussions.


Q6. Mr. Gerrard : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 November.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Gerrard : Did the right hon. Gentleman see the report in Monday's Daily Express that the Prime Minister is determined to provide nursery education for every three and four-year-old and recognises the value of such education in preventing juvenile crime and delinquency? Will he convey to the Prime Minister the fact that, assuming that the report is true, it represents a welcome change in Government policy? Will he ensure that the Secretary of State for Education knows about it, because it seems that he knew nothing about it on Tuesday? How much extra money will there be next year for new nursery schools?

Mr. Newton : I did, indeed, see the report. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in recent years there has been a substantial increase in the amount of provision of various kinds, both private and other, for children at school age. I also know that a crucial ingredient in countering the sort of argument that the hon. Gentleman seeks to advance is the fact that children start full-time school in this country earlier than in almost any other country in Europe.

Mr. Allason : Following the conviction of Michael Smith last week, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time the Security Service took full responsibility for all aspects of positive vetting? Is he ready to tell the House whether a decision has been taken by the Government to pass this case to the Security Commission?

Mr. Newton : I would not wish to comment on the specific case, but my hon. Friend will know that in the past two days the Government have put before Parliament the Intelligence Services Bill, which it is envisaged will increase the openness, transparency and accountability of the services to which he refers.