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1994 - PMQT 1st February 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 1st February 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Gillan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 February.

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.

Mrs. Gillan : Does my right hon. Friend agree-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

Mrs. Gillan : Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the combination of BMW and Rover, creating the largest specialist car manufacturer in the world, is good news for Rover, for its work force and for the United Kingdom? Given the demand for Rover cars around the world, especially for the Land-Rover, does he agree that this is a far cry from the days when Rover was a state-run bankrupt shambles, producing cars that nobody wanted to buy?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the new arrangements will provide new export markets and more investment for Rover. BMW will be able to offer Rover access to new markets--for example, in Germany and the United States, where the Rover network is weak. With a world-beating product and that link, the prospects for Rover are excellent.

Mr. John Smith : In the light of that answer, is it now the Government's definition of success for a British company that it is taken over by a foreign competitor?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman really should catch up with the modern world. He simply does not understand how free markets work. Only a few weeks ago, he welcomed the Government's achievement in working for a successful conclusion to the GATT round. GATT stands for free trade. That means companies trading and buying across national boundaries. He may know that Marks and Spencer owns Brooks Brothers in the United States; Grand Metropolitan owns Jack Daniels; John Swire owns Cathay Pacific; and Hanson, GEC and Racal own foreign companies. That is the world in which we live, not the 1960s, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman covets.

Mr. John Smith : I deduce, Madam Speaker-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. If hon. Members wish to make interventions, perhaps they will resume their seats in the normal manner.

Mr. John Smith : I deduce from that rambling and defensive answer that the right hon. Gentleman believes that a takeover is a sign of success. Why does he think that that view is not held in Germany, France and Italy, which care about keeping their own car industries?

The Prime Minister : I deduce from that pre-prepared second question -- [Interruption.] --that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not listen to the answer. Is he suggesting-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]--does not like the fact that we know that he usually has all three of his questions written out, but is he suggesting that some form of protectionism is correct? Is he suggesting that we should have intervened to stop the sale? Is he suggesting that the ramshackle British Leyland that went into the private sector would have been the successful Rover that it is today but for that privatisation?

Mr. John Smith : Is not the truth that the deal has been done not to further the long-term interests of the British car industry but to satisfy the short-term need of British Aerospace for cash? Is that a good reason for losing our only independent car producer? Did the Prime Minister know of the deal when he told business men in Leeds that he was "betting on Britain"?

The Prime Minister : I was unfair on the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He should have stuck to his written question, which undoubtedly would have been a good deal better. BMW spent £800 million on Rover because it sees the potential for growth and prosperity. That would never have occurred if the right hon. Gentleman's policy had kept Rover in the public sector. We would have had the drip, drip, drip feed of public expenditure maintaining British Leyland, not a privatised, world-beating company.


European Council

Q2. Sir Teddy Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will raise at the next meeting of the European Council the level of public borrowing by member states and institutions of the European Union.

The Prime Minister : The member states of the European Union have already recognised the need to avoid excessive budget deficits. That objective was included in the broad guidelines on economic policy adopted by the Economic and Finance Council last December.

Sir Teddy Taylor : As the Prime Minister showed great courage in facing up to the unpopular task of resolving our national finances, will he, in the light of the recently published figures, seek to persuade his continental partners and the EC institutions to follow Britain's splendid example of controlling borrowing instead of following the spendthrift policies promoted by Mr. Jacques Delors and the British Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I shall certainly seek to do as my hon. Friend suggests. We have taken tough decisions domestically about public expenditure. I believe that those are the right decisions for the British economy. At Edinburgh, we took a step towards controlling Community expenditure. I welcome that step, which means tighter restraint and control. In answer to one part of my hon. Friend's question, I am not sure whether I shall be able to persuade the Labour party. Last year, it called for a European recovery fund costing £77 billion, a public expenditure commitment which seems to have escaped the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor.

Mr. Spearing : Does the Prime Minister recall that on 29 November the House, by a rather arcane procedure, approved the establishment of a European investment fund, and that while that was under the auspices of the European investment bank, the people responsible for providing guarantees of £2,000 million for private and public purposes had positions of great patronage? In what way are those people responsible to the Government and to the House?

The Prime Minister : Part of the funding to which the hon. Gentleman refers was funding that has for a long time been in the European Community budget. Those people are answerable through the Commission to the European Council and hence to this and other Governments.


Engagements

Q3. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 February.

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

Mr. Pawsey : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the initiative of the Secretary of State for Education, who has today announced measures to combat truancy? Does he further agree that the main responsibility for ensuring that children attend school lies not with teachers but with parents?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about that. Truancy is a terrible problem in schools and one which needs increasingly to be tackled with the head teachers and with the staff in the schools. All too often, the child who is found loitering on the street subsequently gets into trouble with the law. That is a problem which we need to tackle, Government and schools together, and we are determined to do so. That is one of the reasons for publishing performance tables, which help to reveal the size of the problem. It is a pity, to put it mildly, that the Opposition talk about the problem but argue against one way of dealing with it.

Mr. Ashdown : It is now some three weeks since the Prime Minister told us of his personal determination to open Tuzla airport--"as soon as possible", in his words--for humanitarian aid to Bosnia. Is he able to tell us what steps he has taken to fulfil that commitment, and in what time frame we might expect it to happen?

The Prime Minister : I also told the right hon. Gentleman that we would take the advice of the commanders on the ground. That is most certainly what we will do and the right hon. Gentleman will learn what is happening when we have had that advice and when we have taken the action that is appropriate.

Sir Ralph Howell : May I remind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of the excellent and far-sighted speech that he made a year ago-- [Interruption.] --at the Carlton club-- [Interruption.] --in which he suggested that the unemployed might be offered work or even required to work? May I thank him for setting up the North Norfolk action pilot scheme, which has proved a great success and is already saving £1,500 a year per person engaged in it? If that scheme were introduced throughout the country, would not it save £4 billion? Could I ask him- - [Interruption.] --if he will now sanction the Fakenham right-to- work pilot scheme which, if operated throughout the country, would save at least £13 billion?

The Prime Minister : As far as I could hear, my hon. Friend was welcoming the pilot schemes that were set up some time ago to help unemployed people. We are evaluating those schemes ; they are showing signs of being successful. We shall examine them and decide to what extent they may be extended.


Q4. Mr. Etherington : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 February.

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

Mr. Etherington : The Prime Minister will undoubtedly be only too well aware of the fact that only one in four crimes is being solved. Instead of following a path of retribution and vengeance, will he now consider crime prevention and the causes of crime? Instead of forever telling the House about rising crime trends in other countries, will he now do something for the citizens of this country, whom he purports to represent?

The Prime Minister : We spend a great deal of time, trouble and effort on crime prevention, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I also believe in the principle of punishment for crime when people are caught. The hon. Gentleman may have noticed the remarkable success of the Metropolitan police in dealing with burglary. Operation Bumblebee has cut burglary in recent months by around 15 per cent. That is but one illustration of a series of innovative policing efforts, which are increasingly successful, by chief constables.

Mr. Lidington : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the protestations of Mr. Gerry Adams about his commitment to peace should be taken seriously only when he has been able to announce that the IRA will cease its violence for good?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. Neither Mr. Adams nor the Provisional IRA has given a commitment to end violence for good--a commitment which the House and everybody in the country and Ireland is waiting to hear. We should be clear about that central point. The joint declaration leaves no conceivable excuse for violence. All the words, all the prevarications and all the evasions of Sinn Fein will be utterly and completely hollow until they end violence.


Q5. Mr. Mandelson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 1 February.

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

Mr. Mandelson : Is the Prime Minister aware of the deep anxiety among parents and local communities in coastal areas as far apart as Scotland, the north-east, the Isle of Wight and Cornwall about clusters of babies born with almost identical limb defects, in most cases without hands? Is not the best way to get to the truth of that disturbing development to set up a properly resourced, national investigation? Will he therefore ask the Secretary of State for Health to establish such a study without further delay?

The Prime Minister : I will certainly seek advice from my right hon. Friend about the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises. Whether his proposition of how it should be dealt with is the right one needs further consideration. Clearly, it is a matter of concern, not only to the communities that he mentioned, but to others.