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1994 - PMQT 12th July 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th July 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. MacShane : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 July.

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. MacShane : Can the Prime Minister name one candidate for the presidency of the European Union who does not support the social charter aspects of the European Union?

The Prime Minister : Well, I do not know--no one yet knows--who all the candidates will be.


Q2. Mr. Burns : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 July.

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

Mr. Burns : Does my right hon. Friend agree that a key plank of Government policy is to widen choice and opportunity as much as possible to all? Does my right hon. Friend think that widening choice and opportunity would be enhanced by extending VAT to private health care and education and is he surprised that that suggestion is being mooted by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)?

Hon. Members : Where is he?

Madam Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : The whole purpose of the Government's education policy is to extend choice and opportunity as widely as possible. I cannot speak for the policies of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)--and nor, it would appear, can he this afternoon. It is certainly the case that the Labour party is opposed to the assisted places scheme, city technology colleges, A-levels--and, I had thought until a few moments ago, grant- maintained schools, which I understand a number of prominent members of the Labour party now seem to favour for their own families.

Mrs. Beckett : Does the Prime Minister accept what every national newspaper is saying this morning about the effects on ordinary British families of water privatisation--that it is a swindle, licensed theft and legalised robbery?

The Prime Minister : Would the right hon. Lady renationalise?

Mrs. Beckett : I think that the Prime Minister has forgotten why we are here. These are questions asked of the Prime Minister, not by the Prime Minister.

Does not the Prime Minister realise that what makes British people even more angry is that the only thing that is rising faster than their water bills is the pay of water bosses? How can he defend the fact that that chairman of North West Water received £47,000 a year before privatisation and now receives £338,000 for doing exactly the same job? Is not that a disgrace at a time when water bills are rocketing?

The Prime Minister : I suppose that the assumption must be that the right hon. Lady does not know whether she would renationalise or not. On the substantive part of her question, as she knows, Parliament has provided for an independent regulator whose responsibility it is and who is statutorily required to protect customers' interests while ensuring that they can finance their obligations. She may care already to acknowledge the change in the quality of bathing water and other European Community standards that have been brought about since privatisation and that were not apparent under any Government prior to privatisation.

Mrs. Beckett : I notice that the Prime Minister did not take the opportunity to condemn that pay rise. I hope that he realises that it is those double standards that are bringing his Government into disrepute. Is not it now the case that when people turn on the tap, when they turn on the light--in fact, every time they turn around--under this rip-off Government they are hit with higher taxes and higher charges, and that people are paying more to get less?

The Prime Minister : Perhaps the right hon. Lady could explain why British Telecom's prices are down 30 per cent. since privatisation, why the prices of telephones are down 60 per cent., and why the price of gas is down 21 per cent. It is absolutely clear that the right hon. Lady will protect anything that is in public ownership and attack anything that is in private ownership.

On the pay of water company directors, I have made it clear in the past that they should follow the lead that the Government have set for pay in the public sector and elsewhere, and I hope that the right hon. Lady will make it clear whether she would renationalise those privatised industries and see the prices go back up again, as they used to under nationalisation.

Mr. David Shaw : Does my right hon. Friend recall that, in 1989, 11 bandsmen died in the IRA bombing at the Royal Marines establishment in Deal ? Will he recall also that that established a very strong relationship with the people of the town of Deal, who appealed for the music school to be kept in Deal? It was such that 12,500 people signed a petition, which I handed in to the House last Thursday. Will my right hon. Friend take note, therefore, of the strength of feeling that exists between the townspeople of Deal, the Royal Marines school of music and those people who work in it, and will he also recognise that unemployment in Deal is higher than unemployment in the area surrounding Rosyth?

The Prime Minister : I recall, as I am sure many hon. Members will recall, that dreadful deed of many years ago, but I cannot anticipate the substance of statements not yet made.

Mr. Ashdown : Will the Prime Minister reassure us that he has no intention of doing a U-turn on his policy to favour the lifting of the arms embargo if the peace talks in Bosnia fail? Is not that the single act best calculated to ensure that the position of United Nations troops in Bosnia becomes untenable? Surely, that cannot be what the Government wish to see. Is not it illogical to say to the warring partners in Bosnia, "If you will not make peace, then we will help you to make a bigger and more bloody war?"

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman sets out a policy that is not ours. He knows the strong opposition that we have consistently had to the unilateral raising of the arms embargo. That remains.


Competitiveness

Q3. Mr. Bates : To ask the Prime Minister what initiatives he is taking to improve the competitiveness of British business.

The Prime Minister : The Government are determined to build on the world-class industries that the United Kingdom already has. The White Paper "Competitiveness : Helping Business to Win" sets out the most comprehensive agenda ever right across Government to improve the competitiveness of British business.

Mr. Bates : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer, but does he accept that perhaps the greatest contribution to the increased competitiveness of our economy has come from the privatisation of loss- making nationalised industries such as British Steel? Does he accept that today British Steel is the world's most efficient producer of steel, and will he ensure that that hard-earned and strong reputation in the world will not be blunted by state-subsidised, inefficient European competitors?

The Prime Minister : We will certainly continue to do all that we can to bring pressure to bear on our European partners to ensure that British industry is not damaged by unfair competition.

Since British Steel moved from the public to the private sector, it has transformed itself into an efficient, integrated, profitable producer. Exports have doubled in recent years, and British Steel is now one of Britain's largest exporters.

Mr. Clelland : Does the Prime Minister recognise that the biggest danger to manufacturing industry in the northern region is the loss of previously privatised industries such as Swan Hunter? What will he do to protect that industry?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman would have noted from the White Paper on competitiveness, the only way in which to protect any industry in this country--or, indeed, any other--is to ensure that it can compete, and is producing something that people wish to buy at the time when they wish to buy it and at a price that they can afford. That is the Government's policy ; I wish that it had the whole-hearted support of the Opposition.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. David Atkinson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 July.

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

Mr. Atkinson : Will my right hon. Friend accept the grateful thanks of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) for last week's recommendation by the Local Government Commission that the borough of Bournemouth should return to unitary status after 20 years of county council control? Is not that a clear demonstration of Conservative commitment to strong local government, in complete contrast to the unwanted policies of remote regional government favoured by Labour and the Liberal Democrats?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that my hon. Friend will make his views known to the commissioners. We certainly wish to put decision making at the lowest possible level, so that it is close to the people who vote and pay local taxes ; unlike other parties in the House, we do not want an extra layer of expensive regional government.


Q5. Mr. Barry Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 July.

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

Mr. Jones : Is the Prime Minister aware that 2,000 Airbus workers in my constituency are desperate for his Government to place orders for the future large aircraft? Bearing in mind the magnificent achievement of the Airbus project, can he tell us when British Airways might buy aircraft of the Airbus marque? Does he agree that aerospace is now the greatest industry in Britain, and that it requires more support and encouragement from his Government?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an indication of the question that he was going to ask on this specific subject.

As for the future large aircraft, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has received details from British Aerospace, which he is now taking into account in assessing the options for replacement or refurbishment of the present Hercules flight.

I wholly appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern to protect jobs in his constituency. Commercial decisions must be a matter for British Airways rather than for my right hon. and learned Friend, but the hon. Gentleman will know that Airbus has competed very successfully. It has attracted customers from airlines around the world, most recently winning a very significant order from Singapore Airlines. I have no doubt that the quality of the product means that that success will continue.


Q6. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 July.

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

Mr. Evennett : I thank my right hon. Friend. During his busy schedule, will he find time to visit my constituency of Erith and Crayford and see at first hand the improving economic situation and, in particular, the improving job situation in Bexley? Furthermore, will he reaffirm his commitment to lower taxation when the time is right--[ Laughter.] Opposition Members laugh because they do not like the truth. Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm his commitment to the fact that Conservative Members believe in lower taxation? Opposition Members want to spend more and tax more.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about the improving economic circumstances, and about the need to bring unemployment down further. I am delighted that it is falling, although it clearly has a long way further to fall.

As for taxation, of course Labour Members dislike the prospect of lower taxation : they would like to get their hands on people's money and spend it. As the former hon. Member for Dagenham said before defecting back to New Zealand,

"I think the Labour party ought to accept that . . . we" that is, the Labour party

"will always be likely to have a higher tax burden than our opponents."

That is undoubtedly true, and there is no instance in recent years of Labour Members' voting for a tax reduction.


Q7. Mr. Barnes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 July.

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

Mr. Barnes : We have seen the plunder of the water industry and the electricity industry by chief executives and others, who often came from public services. The chairman of the Post Office is now pressing for the privatisation and plunder of his own service. What has happened to standards in public life and to the notion of public service?

The Prime Minister : The Post Office management has said that it believes that the best way to protect jobs, to continue to improve services and to compete is for the Post Office to have the freedoms of the private sector. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is concerned only with the qualities of envy which activate the Labour party, but the fact is that the private sector provides a better service than the public sector; it is more efficient than the public sector ; and, over years, it is less costly than the public sector.