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1994 - PMQT 22nd February 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 22nd February 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Foulkes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 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.

Mr. Foulkes : Is the Prime Minister aware that a schoolboy was killed last year in Auchinleck in my constituency, another was killed last week in Biggar, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), and there is widespread concern throughout the United Kingdom that school buses have no seat belts but three children to a seat, with no attendants? Will the Prime Minister order immediate action to prevent further deaths, without waiting for Europe to act, or is he more concerned about saving money than saving lives?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman's last remark was unworthy and I hope that he will withdraw it. I am aware of the tragic incident that occurred last week in Scotland. There will be an inquiry into that death. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to report to me on the basis of that inquiry so that we can examine whether action is appropriate.

Mr. Dover : Was not one of the best achievements of the Conservative Administration the creation of enterprise zones? Many of us welcome the latest plans for such zones to be set up where coal mining is running down. Will my right hon. Friend discuss with other Ministers the possibility of creating enterprise zones in areas such as Chorley--where defence industries are running down as a result of the peace dividend--because of capital allowances, no business rates and no planning restrictions?

The Prime Minister : I had the opportunity of looking at some of the work done in the enterprise zone in Lanarkshire just last week. I certainly can confirm that they have been very successful. In areas that face particular difficulties because of substantial job losses, perhaps because of the collapse of a single employer or industry, we look across the board to see what help can be given. Enterprise zones are an important part of that, but not necessarily the whole of it.

Mr. John Smith : Following the success achieved so far in stopping the killing in Sarajevo as a result of the threat of military action, will the British Government adopt similar firm initiatives to end the sieges of the proposed safe areas of Tuzla, Zepa, Gorazde, Srebrenica and Bihac? Will the Government also support urgent action to bring relief and protection to the inhabitants of Mostar?

The Prime Minister : We have been examining what can be done following the successful action at Sarajevo.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed that in Paris yesterday. Even as we speak, a meeting on that matter is going on among political directors and I hope to have the opportunity of discussing it further with President Clinton in the early part of next week. What we wish to see is the relief of the United Nations contingent in Srebrenica by the end of February--within a week--and we hope to open Tuzla airport in the first week of March.

Mr. John Smith : I hope that the Prime Minister and the other countries will maintain the momentum that recent events have created. In that connection, is not it clear that further troops will be required? If General Rose, who is the commander on the spot, asks for further troops, ought not the Government not hesitate in giving him further support from his own country?

The Prime Minister : On the first point of developing plans further, we think that the UN should develop plans for other towns urgently. Mostar, Vitez and Maglaj are the three at which one would look first. The situation in each of those towns is different. In Mostar and Vitez, for example, the conflict is between Croats and Muslims, but all of them undoubtedly are in need of desperate assistance and relief. We hope to use the example of Sarajevo to build new impetus in the peace negotiations and the closer involvement of the United States and Russia will help that.

As to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's second point about troops, we shall examine that matter when there are requests. Those requests are directed not just at the UK, which has made a substantial contribution already--as has France--but at the whole range of countries. We hope that they will all see what special assistance they may be able to give.

Sir Anthony Grant : Regardless of the outcome of the vote last night, does my right hon. Friend agree that the disgraceful scenes at St Stephen's entrance were an affront to parliamentary democracy?

The Prime Minister : The House yesterday had the opportunity to examine in detail a matter of great complexity and importance for many people. My judgment is that the House came to the right decisions, and I support the decision that was taken. I regret the difficulties that occurred outside the House yesterday and I hope that, after reflection, there will not be a repeat.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister agree with Lord Justice Scott, who said today that public interest immunity certificates in the Matrix Churchill affair were used by Ministers to withhold information that was trivial and which there was no sensible public justification in withholding?

The Prime Minister : I have not seen those remarks by Lord Justice Scott, nor have I seen the context in which they were made, nor whether it was a statement or a point put to a witness for response. On this and any other point related to the Scott inquiry, I will say that I set up that inquiry so that Lord Justice Scott could report. I am content to leave it to him to report and I do not intend to comment on those matters until such time as I have that report.

Mr. Bellingham : Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see the Financial Times survey which shows that, of the top 25 European companies, a staggering 14 are British? Is not that remarkable fact another sign of our growing economic strength and should not we be proud of it ? Will my right hon. Friend tell the Opposition to stop running the country down?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt among any of our European partners about the strength of the economic recovery in this country. It is steady and shows every sign of continuing at a time when many other European countries still face great difficulties. My hon. Friend is entirely right that many of the largest and most effective international companies in Europe are British.


Q2. Mr. Fatchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 February.

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

Mr. Fatchett : Does the Prime Minister share the concern of the British people that the future of Britain's last car manufacturer was determined yesterday by a Japanese company and a German company without any reference to long-term British industrial interest? What will the Prime Minister do to secure the future of Rover? Will he simply come to the Dispatch Box again and say that this important matter of industrial strategy which is of concern to the public has nothing whatsoever to do with him?

The Prime Minister : A few years ago, there was not a remotely profitable and worthwhile car industry in this country at all. We now have a series of companies providing a lot of jobs, making a lot of profits and exporting. It will not be long before we are net exporters of motor cars, and that could not possibly have happened but for inward investment which is itself related to the policies of the Government.

Mr. Devlin : With regard to the comments by the chairman of Honda, reported in today's newspapers, that the British are no longer serious about manufacturing, will my right hon. Friend take steps to reassure the heads of Japanese businesses, particularly those that have already invested heavily in the north of England and south Wales, that Britain's future lies with manufacturing and that the British are serious about producing cars, fridges and other solid goods?

The Prime Minister : Just yesterday, Honda Motor Europe publicly confirmed its intention to develop Swindon as

"a centre of manufacturing excellence"

and to continue its work in helping improve the performance of United Kingdom component suppliers, in particular, to help them to win export orders to Honda in Japan. There is no doubt whatever about the position of the Government. We believe that manufacturing industry is important and requires support. It is getting support and it is beginning to export abroad on a scale we have not previously seen. That support and assistance will continue.


Q3. Ms Corston : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 February.

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

Ms Corston : Is the Prime Minister aware that "Social Trends 1994", a Government publication, reveals that as a direct consequence of Tory Government policy since 1979 the average disposable income of the richest 20 per cent. of households has increased by £6,000 a year while the 20 per cent. of households at the bottom of the income scale have had their average disposable income cut by £3,000 a year? Does not that reveal the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister's professed commitment to creating a nation at ease with itself?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady was being selective in what she said-- [Interruption.] She was selective from the report. The net disposable income of people at all ranges of income has increased and the proportion of total tax take paid by those on top incomes has increased, not been reduced.

Mr. Cormack : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to convey the thanks, congratulations and good wishes of the House to General Sir Michael Rose? Do not the events of the past fortnight show that firm, clear, decisive leadership--political and military--produces results?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt about the success that General Rose has had. I shall be happy to convey my hon. Friend's congratulations to him.


Q4. Mr. Denham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 February.

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

Mr. Denham : Since the Conservatives came to power, everyone who is paid less than £64,000 a year has seen his total tax bill go up, but everyone who is paid more than £64,000 a year has seen his tax bill go down. Why?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about tax bills-- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer the question."] I am about to answer in my own way. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about tax bills, why did he and his colleagues vote against every tax reduction in the last decade ?


Q5. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 February.

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

Mr. Coombs : May I thank my right hon. Friend for his positive remarks a moment ago about manufacturing industry in Britain and particularly for what he said about the contribution of Honda in Swindon to manufacturing in Britain? Will he confirm that it remains the policy of the Government, in the interests of manufacturing industry in Britain, to oppose the social chapter and do everything possible to resist moves towards a single currency in Europe? Will he further confirm that Conservative candidates in the European elections later this year will fight on a manifesto that clearly rejects such damaging centralising tendencies?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can confirm that. The Government's position on the matter is totally clear. When the European People's party publishes its manifesto later this week neither the Conservative party nor Conservative Members of the European Parliament will be bound by that document, although there will be much in it with which we shall agree. On the question of a single currency and the social chapter, our policy is entirely clear. So, alas, is the policy of the Labour party, which would swallow a single currency immediately, irrespective of the economic damage that it would cause, and would accept the social chapter, with its very damaging consequences for productivity and jobs.