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1991 - PMQT 4th July 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 4th July 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Beaumont-Dark : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is good news that strikes are now at a 30-year low and that, except for a few wretchedly greedy people in privatised monopolies, most people are now accepting wage restraint? Would not all that be upset by a minimum wage policy, which the trade unions and the next Labour Trade Minister have set and which would add two points to inflation and at least 600,000 to the unemployed? How can that be good for Britain?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The recently announced record on strikes is excellent news, the figure having fallen to a very low level indeed. It is also extremely good news, particularly for those without jobs, that wage settlements are falling to a level that the economy is more able to bear. The economy could certainly not bear a minimum wage--not least in the West Midlands, where, as the Reward Group pointed out just overnight, it would cost very many jobs right in my hon. Friend's own backyard.

Mr. Kinnock : When the Prime Minister supported the establishment of private water monopolies, did he realise that he was agreeing to the establishment of private monopolies that would turn out to be machines for printing money for their chairmen?

The Prime Minister : The share options to which I assume the right hon. Gentleman is referring--[Hon. Members-- : "No."]. If the right hon. Gentleman is really referring to salaries, I remind him that we have discussed that matter on more than one occasion and he knows very well that I disapprove of those salary increases, but it is not the policy of this Government to act to legislate upon everything with which we disagree, as would the Labour Government. That is the way to give maximum centralist control and that is why socialism is such an outdated philosophy.

Mr. Kinnock : Since privatisation, customers' bills have increased by an average of 30 per cent. and chairmen's salaries have gone up by 50, 70 and even 119 per cent. Against that background, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the conduct of the private monopolies amounts to a public scandal?

The Prime Minister : I am very happy to join debate with the right hon. Gentleman on utility prices. It was, after all, the last Labour Government who put up electricity prices by 2 per cent. every six weeks. Under this Government, electricity, gas and telecommunications prices have fallen.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister says that he condemns the huge salary increases. He does that in words, but, in practice, he actually condones them. If he says that he does not have the power to put right that which he says is wrong, why does not he get the power?

The Prime Minister : The difference between those of us who believe in a market economy and those who do not is that we recognise that it means giving people responsibility for their actions even if they exercise it in ways of which we do not approve. The right hon. Gentleman makes it clear once again that any prospect of a Labour Government means that they would seek to control the whole of the private sector centrally. We saw what happened when he did that last time and we know with his minimum wage policy what would happen again.

Sir Thomas Arnold : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to re-emphasise the importance of compulsory competitive tendering for the provision of local services? Would not that be the best way of delivering that provision in Liverpool?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree. I think that compulsory competitive tendering in Liverpool, Lambeth and elsewhere would be very much in the interests of the people in those areas. The difficulty with the Opposition is that they do not know whether they support competition or not. In a recent interview, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said first : "I am against privatisation." Then, when he was asked why it was necessary in Liverpool, he said :

"Because the Liverpool people deserve a proper service."

If it is right in Liverpool, it is right everywhere.


Q2. Mr. Patchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 July.

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

Mr. Patchett : After 12 years of this Government, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reports today that Britain is at the bottom of the league for growth, employment and investment. Does the Prime Minister agree that if Britain were a football team, the manager would be sacked?

The Prime Minister : Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, even the legendary Bill Shankly would be proud of a record that had us top of the European growth league through the 1980s and that is where we will be in the 1990s.

Mr. Pawsey : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent education speech yesterday? It underlines the difference between the achievements and intentions of this Government and the failures of the Opposition.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are very concerned about choice, diversity and standards. We have the policies to ensure that they improve.


Q3. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 July.

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

Mr. Bennett : Does the Prime Minister recall that when the Labour Government introduced equal pay legislation in 1974 there were a large number of Jeremiahs in the Tory party who predicted that equal pay would decimate the catering and retail industries and cost about 1 million jobs? Will the Prime Minister confirm that that did not happen? On the basis of that evidence, and following his criticisms, why will the minimum wage produce the same problems? Might it not, like equal pay, simply produce social justice in this country?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman may be unwilling to take my views on a minimum wage, but he might consider the views of many external commentators, including yet another overnight--Phillips and Drew which show that the first stage of Labour's policy would add 1 per cent. to the rate of inflation and destroy 400,000 jobs and that the second stage would add 2.5 per cent. to the rate of inflation and destroy 1.25 million jobs. Those are not my views, they are Phillips and Drew's. The hon. Gentleman might also ask the long list of Labour trade union leaders who also attacked the minimum wage policy.

Mr. Butcher : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the German secondary school system is still predominantly based on selection and that pupils are allocated, according to their ability, to technical schools, grammar schools or to high schools? At the heart of the system is the realschule or technical school. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in due course we, too, should have in every town in this country a state-funded technical school?

The Prime Minister : I certainly wish to see a very dramatic growth in the number of state-funded technical schools. There is no doubt--and it is most clearly illustrated by the demand from parents for places in them that the city technology colleges have been an enormous success and will be a greater success in future. It is interesting that the Opposition deride a policy for which the parents vote with their feet.


Q4. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 July.

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

Mr. Michie : When will the Prime Minister wake up to the reality that, without a strong manufacturing base, there is no way in which we can compete with our competitors abroad, which means that the economic decline will continue, bringing poverty, homelessness, joblessness and hopelessness? Will he accept that he has no idea about how to stop the rot, and will he go to the country while we still have a nation and stop us being a sitting duck for overseas predators?

The Prime Minister : Everyone seeks to improve the position of manufacturing industry. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman when manufacturing was in decline--it was when the Labour Government lost control of inflation.


Q5. Mr. Squire : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 July.

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

Mr. Squire : Will my right hon. Friend consider tightening the law to protect those hon. Members who might otherwise be intimidated by the press? I refer to the Liverpool Echo, which has tried to force the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) to state which Labour party they are supporting in today's by-election in Walton.

The Prime Minister : That is certainly an ingenious proposition. I have been following the by-election in Liverpool with some interest. I was also interested in the answer given by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) when he was asked for whom he would vote. He replied

"I am not prepared to answer a ballot is a secret thing."

And so it is. If the Leader of the Opposition is serious about Militant, he should start by withdrawing the Whip from the Militant members on his own Back Benches.

Mr. Loyden : The Prime Minister may be aware--he should be aware-- that the problems facing Liverpool are deeply rooted in the policies that have been pursued by the Tory Government for the past 11 years. Does he agree that it is a pity that the Tory party did not pay the same attention to Liverpool that it has paid it during the past week or two when it took £62 million out of the coffers of the city of Liverpool, thus causing the problems that exist there today?

The Prime Minister : The problems of Liverpool over the past 11 years are certainly deeply rooted, but which party--perhaps I should say parties--have been in control of Liverpool for the past 11 years? Why is Liverpool such a unique shambles? It is because the Labour party, whether under Militant control or, as it now likes to claim, under moderate control, has made a complete shambles of the lives of the people who live in Liverpool.


Q6. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 4 July.

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

Mr. Nicholson : Given the tragic evidence this week of instability and uncertainty in eastern Europe and the continuing power of tyrants outside Europe, which is why Royal Marines from my constituency still remain in northern Iraq, will my right hon. Friend pledge that during the current reviews the Government will do all that they can to maintain the effectiveness and the morale of our armed services, which will ensure that the Conservative party can show strength on this issue, compared to the weakness of the Opposition parties?

The Prime Minister : I am entirely happy to give my hon. Friend that copper-bottomed assurance--and that applies both to conventional forces and conventional weapons, and to nuclear weapons. That is in sharp contrast to the Labour party with its policy of placing all Britain's nuclear capability into disarmament negotiations with the intention of eliminating it in concert with action taken by the super powers--in other words, Labour Members remain unilateral disarmers.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I wish that were true.

Mr. Ashdown : Is the Prime Minister concerned that even after a period of recovery--whenever that might come--unemployment is predicted to rise to 2.8 million, and stay there? Does he intend to do anything about that, or will he simply abandon the unemployed to pay with their jobs for his failure?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) spoke more effectively about Labour's defence policy than his Front Bench does.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) well knows our concern about unemployment. He is aware of the mitigating measures that we have introduced, and he should be aware that the greatest single destroyer of jobs is inflation. We are getting on top of inflation and bringing it down, and I am not prepared to take short-term action that would cost jobs tomorrow. Our policy is to get inflation down to ensure that there is growth and also secure, sustainable, permanent jobs tomorrow in every sector of industry.