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1993 - PMQT 7th December 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 7th December 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Madden : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 December.

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. Madden : May I ask the Prime Minister a question of which I have given him notice? Will he explain why only a quarter of the 4, 000 refugees from the former Yugoslavia whom Britain agreed to take 12 months ago have arrived? As the British Government have always opposed military intervention to stop aggression and the means of self-defence for the people of Bosnia, does the Prime Minister agree that he and his Government have an overwhelming moral obligation to persuade the United Nations to take appropriate action to ensure that protected areas are protected, that humanitarian relief gets to the people who so desperately need it and, finally, that vulnerable people, including those who need medical aid, receive refuge and the urgent medical attention that they need?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the first part of his question.

I understand the genuine concern that the hon. Gentleman expresses, and I know that he has expressed it on occasions in the past. He will be aware that, just over a year ago, we agreed to take up to 1,000 humanitarian cases from the former Yugoslavia. We agreed to do that when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross judged it to be necessary. It is not necessary at the moment to give a further undertaking because, to date, only 438 cases have been recommended to us for receipt in this country. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in addition to that commitment, we have given more than £150 million worth of assistance to the former Yugoslavia, and our service men, as at the end of last week, have now escorted more than 1,500 aid convoys delivering more than 70,000 tonnes of aid.

Mr. John Townend : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, since the Budget, the forward interest rate has dropped? Is that not an indication that the markets have confidence in the Government's ability to deliver their promises on lower inflation and large reductions in the Budget deficit?

The Prime Minister : It is certainly the case that the markets are indicating greater confidence about the future levels of inflation than we have seen for many years. Certainly, the forward market illustrates that. Inflationary pressures are very subdued at present. We intend to keep them subdued in the future.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister explain why the first Budget resolution to be voted on tonight is designed to prevent any debate or vote on VAT on fuel? Why is the Prime Minister so desperate to avoid allowing the House of Commons to vote on that issue?

The Prime Minister : The House of Commons has voted on that issue on more than one occasion in the past. Since we seem to have provided the compensation that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) thought was necessary, I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises the matter.

Mr. John Smith : If the Prime Minister is confident about his so- called compensation package, why can we not debate it and vote on it in this House? Surely the reason why the motion has been tabled is to let Tory Back Benchers off the hook after they promised their constituents that they would vote against it.

The Prime Minister : We shall be interested to see whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to bring that back in the future, in view of the fact that, from the beginning, his policy has been to have some sort of energy tax and he signed up to that as recently as a few days ago. I reiterate the fact that we have provided compensation which his colleague suggested was necessary.

Mr. John Smith : The Prime Minister is not dealing with the question. Why, in the motion, is the House of Commons to be deprived of an opportunity to debate and vote on VAT? Why does not the Prime Minister have the honesty to admit that he wants to avoid an embarrassing debate and an embarrassing vote on a tax that will remain deeply unpopular with the British people and those Tory Members who vote for it?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a faulty memory. We voted on the matter and approved it after the Budget in April. All that has changed since then is the generous compensation package, amounting, in the third year, to £1.2 billion to help 15 million people.

Mr. Luff : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the decision of the American company, Southco, to locate a major manufacturing plant in my constituency of Worcester, creating some 200 new jobs in the next few years? Is that not further proof--if proof were needed--that the Government have the right policies to attract inward investment to this country and that the Opposition have the wrong ones?

The Prime Minister : In recent years, this country has certainly received a disproportionate amount of inward investment coming into Europe and from one European country to another. That reflects this country's disinflationary tendency, the many supply-side reforms that we made to free up the market, and the fact that we are not prepared to add to employers' social costs, which would create unemployment. This is the place to invest, to be competitive and to grow, and investors around the world recognise that and are acting on it.


Q2. Mr. Eastham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 December.

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

Mr. Eastham : A few months ago, the Select Committee on Trade and Industry undertook an inquiry into the aerospace engineering industry. That industry is one of our biggest exporters, contributing £2.7 billion to our balance of payments. The all-party Committee recommended to the House--

Madam Speaker : Order. I really must have a question from the hon. Gentleman now.

Mr. Eastham : Will the Prime Minister look at that report, in which the Committee recommended that special aid be given to the industry over the next 10 years? That would reinforce the industrial base which the Prime Minister is always talking about.

The Prime Minister : I know the hon. Gentleman's long-standing interest in the aerospace industry. Equally, he will know that the Government have done more to assist the aerospace industry in recent years than either any party in the history of this House or other countries across Europe.

Mr. Ward : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the collapse of the GATT round would be a disaster for world trade and that it would affect in particular the EC and third-world countries? Will he do all that he can to get it back on track?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of the GATT round. There have been substantial discussions between the European Community negotiator and Mr. Kantor from the United States in the past 24 hours. They have not yet reached agreement on all the issues. Substantial progress has been made and I hope that they will soon be able to go to Geneva where any outstanding matters can then be solved. I must repeat a point that I have made to the House before : the advantages of a satisfactory agreement in the Uruguay round are profound, not just for the industrialised countries in the north but for countries in the south that need our markets open to them for their future. The consequences of a failure in the GATT round could be damaging, not just for the industrial countries but for everyone. I hope that each country that finds itself unable to agree to any minor part of that agreement will consider the implications for the whole world if the agreement is not signed.


Q3. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 December.

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

Mr. Kirkwood : Will the Prime Minister accept that thousands and thousands of second marriages in this country may simply be blown apart by the additional financial pressure caused by Christmas unless the Government act immediately on the recommendations of the Social Security Select Committee on the operation of the Child Support Agency? Will the Prime Minister take personal charge of framing the Government's response to that report-- [Interruption.] --so that the recommendations can be taken as a whole and acted upon before the House rises for the Christmas recess? [Interruption.] The Prime Minister must understand that the bipartisan Opposition support that the Child Support Agency has enjoyed to date will be put at risk, or may even be withdrawn, unless he does that before Christmas.

The Prime Minister : I caught the gist of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I am afraid that, with the disruption immediately in front of him, I did not catch all of it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security and I welcome the Committee's unequivocal support for the basic principles that underpin the Child Support Act 1991. My right hon. Friend is examining the recommendations that were made by the Select Committee, together with comments and observations made by other people recently. He will reply as soon as he has completed that examination. We will ensure that there is no unnecessary delay.


Q4. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 December.

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

Mr. Greenway : Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see today's report of the new schools inspectorate which speaks of real improvements in many schools, but says that some primary schools should achieve higher standards and that joined-up writing should be taught to children before the age of eight? Is it not time for some joined-up thinking on education from the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : On the last point, my hon. Friend must not ask for too much. He certainly must not ask Opposition Members to run before they can walk. As Her Majesty's chief inspector said, the report published this morning shows that what he calls "significant dividends" are now flowing from the national curriculum and testing. The report also puts the spotlight on some continuing problems that we are determined to tackle. For example, it is unacceptable for some pupils, particularly those in inner- city schools, to be short changed by an inadequate education. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will make full use of his powers to ensure that those children receive an adequate education.

Ms Corston : Is the Prime Minister aware that the miserly 50p a week announced by the Chancellor to assist pensioners with their fuel bills means that a pensioner with gas and electricity will spend 10 weeks' money in one year just paying the VAT on the standing charge? Is not that a further fraud on the British pensioner?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady has neglected to mention that £1.2 billion extra will be available to help 15 million people meet the costs of their fuel. She also neglected to acknowledge that that extra help is built into the base of the pension and is a permanent addition upon which future increases are paid. At the end of the three-year period, a number of pensioners will find full compensation and others will be very nearly to it. That is not a miserly contribution.


Q5. Mr. Gallie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 December.

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

Mr. Gallie : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the technical and cost -effective successes of Jetstream Prestwick in the production of turbo-prop aircraft? Is my right hon. Friend further aware of the problems it faces from a highly subsidised and competitive marketplace which is currently restricted?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is a formidable fighter for Prestwick and for Jetstream. I am aware, of course, of the tradition of success of the Jetstream turbo-prop aircraft. As my hon. Friend knows from his meeting with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry, both the Department of Trade and Industry and the Scottish Office remain in close touch with Jetstream about the future. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : You must let the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) shout for a minute Madam Speaker--it clears all that is in his brain.

DTI officials are today meeting Jetstream to consider how to pursue its representations on unfair support to manufacturers overseas. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry will be meeting Jetstream later this month to discuss the up-to-date position.