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1993 - PMQT 30th November 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th November 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mark Robinson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 November.

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. Robinson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that contacts have played an initial part in bringing about the process in the middle east and in bringing people together in South Africa ; but contacts have always played an important part in bringing an end to violence ? Hon. Members want my right hon. Friend to continue his courageous search to bring an end to bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend and I welcome the strong support yesterday given by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the efforts to promote peace and political settlement in Northern Ireland. I believe that contacts can play a useful part, for the reasons set out yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend. I hope that those contacts will have helped the IRA to understand that violence must stop before those who justify it can enter negotiations with the Government, and that the Government stand firmly by their public position.

I regret very much that there has not yet been a permanent cessation of violence, as events in Northern Ireland over the past day have sadly demonstrated yet again. But if our present efforts do not succeed, we will not cease to explore opportunities for peace.

Mr. John Smith : As a former Chief Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as Prime Minister for the past three years, does the Prime Minister accept responsibility for the £50 billion Budget deficit ?

The Prime Minister : During the recession [Hon. Members : "Answer"] I shall answer in my own way. During the recession, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues were keen to see us increase spending to protect people who are vulnerable. It was the protection of people who were vulnerable and the collapse of income during that period that increased the size of the borrowing requirement. What is presently odious about the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that his party objects now to spending reductions, having previously asked for spending increases. They complain about the size of the borrowing requirement, they complain about tax increases and they still promise extra expenditure.

Mr. John Smith : I will not bandy cheap insults with the Prime Minister. The House will notice that he did not answer the question as to responsibility. If he seeks to blame it all on the world recession, can he explain why Britain's Budget deficit is significantly worse than that of Japan, the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark and Portugal?

The Prime Minister : Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can explain why our inflation position is better than that of all those countries, why our unemployment position is better, why our exports position is better, why we have unemployment falling and they have unemployment growing, and why we have the largest growth rate in the European Community this year and projected next year. Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman could reflect on that.

Mr. John Smith : Perhaps the Prime Minister will reflect on why, if everything in the garden is growing as well as he suggests, we have a £50 billion deficit? Is not economic mismanagement the fundamental reason for that ? And is not that the fundamental reason why, quite apart from anything the Chancellor does today, the British taxpayer faces a major tax hike next April?

The Prime Minister : I answered the right hon. and learned Gentleman's third question in my first answer. If he cares to look at it again, he will see that that is the case. Once again, he is trying to face both ways at the same time and attacks us both on the level of the deficit and the level of taxation. If he thinks that taxes are too high and the deficit is also too high, what spending would he cut? He cannot go on living in an Alice in Wonderland world where taxes fall, the deficit drops and spending rises effortlessly upwards. Whenever the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks, the natural laws of economics are suspended.


Q2. Mr. Stephen : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 November.

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

Mr. Stephen : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the most significant result of the survey of manufacturing industry published yesterday is that our consumer-led recovery is providing a significant and sustained boost to manufacturing industry right across the country?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about that. Consumer demand is rising, manufacturing output is growing, retail sales are at record levels, exports are up, and car registrations are up, which is all good news for British manufacturing. Opposition Members who continually knock the record of British manufacturing should ask themselves how, if it is not doing well, British exports have risen so dramatically. We were certainly the first to go into recession, but we are also the first to be clearly out of recession and we are set to grow faster this year than almost any other European nation.

Mr. Ashdown : Should not those who hope for peace and wish the Prime Minister well in his pursuit of it in Northern Ireland nevertheless recognise that the events of the weekend, for whatever reason, have served to dent the trust of the Unionists, put the extremists centre stage and check the momentum of peace in Northern Ireland ? Does the Prime Minister recognise the absolute urgency now of taking action to restore the momentum for peace by proposing, after discussion with the Irish Prime Minister, actions that will unite the majority on both sides?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman, who made his own comments about the leaks over the weekend, might have been prudent to wait to hear what the Government had to say before he made those comments and to study the documents which the Government released to justify the position that they have taken, as those documents clearly do. I believe that when people in Northern Ireland have had a chance to study what was said, they will see that the Government have acted properly and done their duty throughout this whole affair. If there had been a terrorist tragedy of some sort on a massive scale this week and it then became apparent that we had ignored the message that we received earlier this year, that would have been unforgivable, and I dread to think what the right hon. Gentleman would have said in those circumstances.


Q4. Mr. Patrick Thompson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 November.

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

Mr. Thompson : Bearing in mind that there is strong and firm support for the Home Secretary's recent proposals on law and order, particularly with regard to people on bail and remand reforms which have been urged on the Government over a period of years by the Norwich crime prevention panel will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will encourage business leaders and local councils in Norwich to support the panel's campaign to install security cameras in the city centre, leading to the deterrence of crime and more convictions, as sure as night follows day?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is determined to make Norwich as famous as Basildon, and I suspect that he may succeed. I agree with him about closed circuit television and reject outright the views of those people who claim that it is in some way Big Brother. The public rightly want less crime, and closed circuit television has an important part to play in achieving that. My hon. Friend is right to say that there is strong support in the House and beyond for the anti-crime measures announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I hope that they will have the support of hon. Members across the House when they come before the House for consideration.


Q5. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 November.

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

Mr. Trimble : May I refer the Prime Minister to the channel of communication with the IRA that was revealed yesterday? Is the Prime Minister satisfied about the reliability and accuracy of that channel in view of the denials now issuing from Belfast about the February statement to which the Prime Minister referred earlier? Was the dialogue with the IRA in any way prompted by events in England? Were any messages sent on that channel of communication by or on behalf of any Minister other than the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? Were they in any way related to recent events in England?

The Prime Minister : For the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend set out yesterday, it is useful to continue to have a confidential channel of communication which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and his hon. Friends said yesterday, has been available for many years. Any private communications on our part will, on all occasions, be consistent with the Government's public position, as was the case with the documents published yesterday. On the reliability of the channel, experience has proved it to be extremely accurate and extremely reliable over many years. But the real test over time is action not words. We need to see what the final outcome is. The documents published yesterday set out a full record of the exchanges and I have no further exchanges to report to the House.


Q6. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 November.

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

Mr. Coombs : Is my right hon. Friend aware that last month, not only was there a decrease in unemployment in my constituency of 7 per cent., but Brintons Carpets, my constituency's largest employer, has just announced a year-on-year increase in exports of 86 per cent? Is not that indicative of the huge improvement in competitiveness in British industry, and would not that improvement be severely damaged by the social chapter, the minimum wage and the European super-state, with which the Labour party increasingly seems to be obsessed?

The Prime Minister : I am pleased to hear the good news from my hon. Friend's constituency, and to hear that unemployment is falling there, as it is now in all parts of the country. It is true that while I have no doubt that the Opposition wish to create jobs, their policies would, in practice, destroy jobs. A minimum wage would destroy jobs, a 35-hour week would destroy jobs and levelling up business taxes would destroy jobs. People will notice that unemployment is falling here with our policies, but rising in other countries that follow the policies advocated by the Opposition.

Mr. Grocott : Can the Prime Minister confirm that, in the three years that he has been in the job, 1,300,000 people have lost their jobs, 250,000 people have lost their homes and 150,000 businesses have gone bankrupt? As he continues to draw a full salary, can we assume that, whatever else is in the Chancellor's Budget, there will be no reference to performance-related pay?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm a lot to the hon. Gentleman. I can confirm that when I became Prime Minister inflation was 9.7 per cent. and is now at 1.4 per cent., interest rates were 14 per cent. and are now 5.5 per cent., unemployment was rising and is now falling, the economy has been in recession and is now growing, and 137,000 people have come off the unemployment register total this year. I can also confirm that last month alone nearly 500,000 people came off the register. The hon. Gentleman can name no other country in the western world currently in that position.


Q7. Mr. Sims : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 November.

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

Mr. Sims : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern in all parts of the House about too-easy access to pornography produced on computers? Does he join me in welcoming the announcement last week by the Home Secretary of measures to curb these activities, which can be so harmful, especially to children?

The Prime Minister : I am aware of the concern expressed by my hon. Friend, and I strongly share it. Parents feel particularly revolted by pornography involving children. The measures that my right hon. and learned Friend has announced will be included in the criminal justice Bill in this Session. They will make it quite clear to the pornographers that we are determined to defeat them, and we intend to crack down especially hard on the appalling trade in child pornography.