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1994 - PMQT 18th January 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th January 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Ministerial Visits

Q1. Mr. Enright : To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to visit South Elmsall.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Enright : With the closure of Frickley colliery, one in three men in South Elmsall is now out of work, which is extremely serious. Will the Prime Minister promise to back Wakefield district council's bid for coalfield area funds so that it can co-operate, as it has successfully before, with the local chamber of commerce, British Coal Enterprise and others to produce a regeneration programme, which is so desperately needed? Wakefield council has shown that it can do it sensibly and sensitively and I ask that it be given the opportunity.

The Prime Minister : I understand the difficulties that face the hon. Gentleman and those of his constituents presently without work. I am delighted that unemployment has fallen in his constituency in recent years, but I recognise the serious problems that exist there. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's constituency will specifically benefit from the coalfield area fund, but a wide range of help will be available. In the hon. Gentleman's area alone, £4 million will be available for an industrial and commercial development programme, and £3 million will be provided to training and enterprise councils for training and business support. As the hon. Gentleman will know, intermediate area status has been granted. Regional enterprise grants have been extended and, in addition, in excess of £2.5 million of European structural funds has been granted to the Wakefield area. We shall continue to keep those under review and do all that we can to help miners who have lost their jobs.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. Rathbone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 January.

The Prime Minister : This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today.

Mr. Rathbone : Will my right hon. Friend spare a moment today to congratulate police and Customs on the co-ordinated job that led to the seizure of £50 million worth of cocaine in Manchester recently? Is he in a position yet to announce how the Government will co-ordinate Government departmental activity to give new impetus to the Government's own efforts to counter drugs misuse?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend touches on a vital point, which is of great concern to this Government and across Europe. The fight against drugs involves all of us--police, customs, parents and Government--and we must all play our part in stepping up the campaign against those who deal in that trade. I welcome the seizure of cocaine to which my hon. Friend refers and congratulate all those involved in it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced before Christmas that the Government are setting up a drugs unit, the purpose of which will be to ensure that the policies of all Departments are co-ordinated to improve co-ordinated action against the general problem of drugs.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister tell us whether by any chance he received a memorandum around the time of the Budget from the Treasury informing him that freezing income tax allowances for two years in succession would force 400,000 low-paid people into income tax for the first time? Was he aware that his Budgets would have that result?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, take-home pay for people in all strands of income has risen materially over recent years--by 40 per cent. plus for those on average earnings since 1979 and by 30 to 40 per cent. for those on half-average earnings. The right hon. and learned Gentleman might also recall that it fell between 1974 and 1979 for single people and for couples without children, and barely rose for couples with children.

Mr. John Smith : That was hardly an answer to my question. If the Prime Minister cannot answer that question may I ask him whether anyone told him that the tax changes in those Budgets would put the equivalent of 7p on income tax and that a typical family would have to pay another £1,330 over the next two years, or are those things that he preferred not to know about?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not entirely satisfied with the first answer, let me tell him further that even after the Budget there will be half a million fewer taxpayers next year than there were in 1979. Tax rates have fallen dramatically over that period and low inflation means that freezing personal allowances will cost basic rate taxpayers 34p a week when compared with inflation. He mentioned people on low incomes, but he neglected to mention family credit, child care allowance, the uprating in child benefit and the fact that the real take-home pay of families on average earnings will be 40 per cent. higher than when his party was last in government.

Mr. John Smith : May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a special effort of memory? I know that it is hard for him with all these papers crossing his desk all the time, but can he not struggle to recall his repeated promises to the British people that he would not increase income tax or national insurance and that he would not extend the scope of value added tax? Is not the breaking of those promises the reason for justified public cynicism and anger at this discredited Government?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is beginning to sound like a very worn record. It is absolutely clear that the standard rates of tax under the Conservative party have dropped dramatically since the Opposition were in government and, in any given circumstance, the rate of taxation under any Conservative Government would be lower than under any Labour Government at any time.


Q3. Mrs. Ann Winterton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 January.

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

Mrs. Winterton : Bearing in mind the interest presently shown by the press in the lives of the politicians, does my right hon. Friend agree that the press itself should show the same honour and integrity that it expects of others?

The Prime Minister : Madam Speaker,-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I am as anxious as anyone to hear the response to that question.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend might think that ; I could not possibly comment.


Q5. Mr. Mudie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 January.

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

Mr. Mudie : The Prime Minister will be aware that at permanent secretary level he was advised that the aid package to the Malaysian power station was a bad buy, uneconomic and an abuse of the aid system, yet he still instructed that the aid should be given. In view of the fact that it will cost the British taxpayer more than £230 million, does he consider that to be good judgment, and if so, why is he refusing to allow Members of the House to see papers relating to that decision?

The Prime Minister : The Government made a commitment to the Pergau project in 1989 personally to the Malaysian Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I decided in 1991 to proceed, both to honour the commitment made by my predecessor and in the wider context of maintaining billions of pounds of British exports to Malaysia--exports of £5 billion since 1982, and doubled exports between 1988 and 1992. To have withdrawn the contract would have put British jobs at risk. It is about time that the Opposition took a consistent position on these things. How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile his party's call for lower unemployment with his criticism of this project? The British Government are backing British business and achieving orders abroad and all the hon. Gentleman can do is carp and criticise. Does he want jobs for British workers or does he not?

Mr. Kynoch : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the latest figures for manufacturing output show further significant growth? Does he agree that that represents further proof that the United Kingdom is leading Europe from recovery into a period of sustained growth?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can certainly confirm that to my hon. Friend and the basis of this is the record that we have on inflation, the fact that we have been able to bring interest rates down and the fact that it is now clear to everyone that the British economy is recovering and growing--recovering more comprehensively and growing more rapidly than any other economy in western Europe.


Q6. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 January.

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

Mr. Winnick : Is the Prime Minister aware of the concern felt by so many people at the amount of financial sleaze in this country arising from Government policies and attitudes? Is he further aware that the one "back to basics" attitude that people desperately want and crave is the restoring of integrity to public life? Is it not clear that they will not get that from the Government?

The Prime Minister : I agree entirely about the necessity for integrity in public life. The hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members have sought to take a moral stand about standards in public life. I do not object to that. It is also necessary for those Opposition Members to look at their own colleagues who spread smear and innuendo on a week-by-week basis with a complete disregard for the truth. Smear and innuendo are the hallmarks of political cowardice and they have become the trademark of the Opposition.

Dr. Liam Fox : Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Rover Cars on its 9 per cent. increase in sales last year many of which were exported through Royal Portbury docks in my constituency? Is he aware that their production output outstripped Mercedes Benz in a difficult market and that neither the success of Rover nor Royal Portbury docks would have been possible without the privatisation programme which only the Conservative party would have had the courage to champion?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend both about the remarkable success of Rover Cars which I hope and expect will continue in future, and the success of privatisation both specifically and generally. It has been remarkable. What we now see in the motor car industry--in Rover and other parts of the industry--is that it has made the most remarkable turn around in recent years and soon will be a net exporter of motor cars. It is quite different from the old days a few years ago when Red Robbo and others were wrecking the entire industry.


Q7. Ms Quin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 January.

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

Ms Quin : Is it not the case that the only clear message that the Prime Minister gave to the public yesterday when he was questioned by the Scott inquiry was, "Don't ask me, I'm only Prime Minister?"

The Prime Minister : I suggest that, in due course, the hon. Lady reads the six hours of detailed evidence that I gave. She might then regard her remarks of a moment ago to be just a touch inadequate.


Ministerial Visits

Q9. Mr. Luff : To ask the Prime Minister whether he plans to make an official visit to Worcester.

The Prime Minister : I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Luff : If my right hon. Friend were to visit Worcester-- [Interruption.] would he join me in welcoming the decision by two of the teacher trade unions to drop their boycott of national curriculum tests? Does he agree that that sets an excellent example for the other teacher trade union--the National Union of Teachers--to follow?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I very strongly agree with that. I very strongly agree with the two teacher trade unions that have decided to drop their boycott. It would be of immense help, not just to the profession of teaching but, essentially, to the children in the classroom, if the NUT were to take precisely the same action so that the tests can proceed. I believe that there is no justifiable reason for the boycott in the future. There was little, if any, justification before ; now there is none. The NUT should follow the leadership of the other two unions.