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1991 - PMQT 9th July 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 9th July 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 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. Griffiths : The Prime Minister must be aware of the 253 per cent. pay increase of the chief executive of Yorkshire Electricity--yet another in a long line of outrageous pay increases to the chiefs of former publicly owned industries. Is not it true that the right hon. Gentleman refuses to do anything about those pay rises because of his friends and former colleagues on the boards of those companies, who are stuffing their pockets with money as fast as it can be snatched from the long-suffering consumer?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman gives a prize example of Labour humbug. The Labour party's policy document "Opportunity Britain" states :

"British industry now needs a long term commitment from Government but not in the form of second guessing industry".

The hon. Gentleman should remember that.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : May I remind my right hon. Friend that, so far this year, his Government have supported the creation of 4,500 new jobs in Wales and nearly £352 million of investment for the Principality? Every announcement of such good news has been greeted contemptuously by Labour Members. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the tactics of the luddite left are the surest, fastest way of undermining investor confidence?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has just returned from the United States with a significant package of job-creating projects, promising more than 500 new jobs. I should have thought that the Opposition would welcome that.

Mr. Kinnock : When the Prime Minister meets the Heads of Government of the G7 major industrialised nations next week, will he explain to them how he managed to get an oil-rich country like Britain to the bottom of the employment, growth and investment leagues?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should look at what has happened over the past 10 years, when our growth has far outstripped that of almost every other industrial nation. Over the decade as a whole, we have one of the best job creation records of any nation.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister chooses to speak of the past. Will he therefore recognise that, for the past three years, we have been at the bottom of those employment, growth and investment leagues and that, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with his policies we will be in that position again next year? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that this is the first time that any country has been at the bottom for four consecutive years? As the right hon. Gentleman has been a Treasury Minister or the Prime Minister over the whole period, does he agree that he should accept unique responsibility for this unique failure?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should have read on in the OECD report, where it was made clear that lower inflation is the essential condition for sustained growth. Everybody recognises that except the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, only last week at the National Economic Development Council, trade unionists such as Mr. Jordan, Mr. Edmonds and Mr. Willis all supported the steps to reduce inflation. Only the right hon. Gentleman does not know where prosperity begins.

Mr. Kinnock : By pushing the economy into deep recession, the Prime Minister can, of course, reduce inflation. Does he think that, under his policies, he will be higher placed on the growth, employment and investment leagues next year? Does he recognise that, if he is not, he is just laying the seeds for further inflation?

The Prime Minister : We are absolutely refusing to take action now that may lay the seeds for future inflation. We are determined to ensure that we not only get inflation down but keep it down. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, we shall not take the easy option now at the risk of problems later.

Mr. Robert Banks : Has my right hon. Friend read the reports of the conference of the Transport and General Workers Union--the union which, incidentally, sponsors the Leader of the Opposition--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This must be related to the Government's responsibilities.

Mr. Banks : Has he read about its calls for the scrapping of all trade union laws, with the consequent return of Mr. Ron Todd's secondary strikes and flying pickets? Is not he thankful that in framing industrial laws, his party conferences have not been tainted by the block votes of the trade union ballots?

The Prime Minister : It is perfectly clear that Labour Members are sensitive about their relationship with the trade unions. They are right to be, because their idea of democracy is demonstrated every year when the leader of the Transport and General Workers Union visits the Labour party conference--one man, 1 million votes, and the right hon. Gentleman does as he is told.


Q2. Mr. Hoyle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 July.

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

Mr. Hoyle : When the Prime Minister takes time off from his engagements, will he do what the Home Secretary so conspicuously failed to do yesterday and accept total and unconditional responsibility for the appalling lapse in security that allowed two alleged terrorists to escape from Brixton gaol? Does not he realise what an enormous propaganda coup the Government have given the IRA?

The Prime Minister : Everyone shares the concern at the lapse in security yesterday which resulted in two prisoners escaping. That is a matter of genuine regret, not least by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Those problems have occurred before under previous Governments, but only this Government have taken action to tighten security, improve the conditions of prison staff and provide new and proper prison places.

Mr. Butterfill : Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that a minimum wage would be damaging but that a minimum wage based on median wages would be the worst of all, because it would continue to ratchet upwards as the median moved upwards? That would lead to a catastrophic rise in wages, destruction of jobs and a policy that could have been dreamt up only by a shadow Cabinet controlled by 18 trade union-sponsored Members out of 20.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is now generally understood by everyone except those on the Opposition Front Bench that a minimum wage policy would devastate British industry and create a substantial amount of unemployment.


Q3. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 July.

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

Mr. Banks : As the Prime Minister says that he believes in the creation of a classless society, will he assure the House that he will not recommend the creation of any hereditary peerages?

The Prime Minister : The subject of honours is not a matter that I am required to answer in front of the House and I do not propose to do so.


Q4. Mr. Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 July.

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

Mr. Hannam : Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the admission by Iraq that it has been developing a nuclear weapon? Does he agree that any responsible political party in this country should give a firm pledge not to give up nuclear weapons as long as other countries still have them and countries such as Iraq are developing them?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend and can certainly give him the assurance that he seeks. Iraq has now admitted to having a secret uranium enrichment programme. That is a clear violation of the nuclear safeguards agreement and of Iraq's non-proliferation treaty obligations. As I said some time ago at the Scottish conference in Perth, we shall ensure by whatever means it takes that Iraq can never again build up a capacity to threaten its neighbours with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Mr. Ashdown : Leaving aside for a moment the question of how the Bank of Credit and Commerce International got into its present position, will the Prime Minister assure the House that he personally understands the scale of the tragedy that is befalling BCCI investors? Is he aware that in some communities in Britain, up to 30 per cent. of traders are account holders in BCCI? Will he look at the rules governing compensation, which many regard as incapable of meeting the needs of those innocent people whose livelihoods are being destroyed?

The Prime Minister : I do, of course, understand the depth of tragedy that the apparent collapse of BCCI may mean. As yet, we are not sure what the outcome of the Serious Fraud Office investigation, the Bank of England investigation or other matters will be. The deposit protection fund was explicitly set up to protect small depositors, particularly those people with whom the right hon. Gentleman is most concerned, and it will apply in these circumstances.


Q5. Mr. Robert G. Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 July.

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

Mr. Hughes : Has my right hon. Friend had time to read the private Member's Bill that would give the National Audit Office power to cost Opposition policies? If the Bill becomes law, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the National Audit Office will be given sufficient staff to carry out that important task because it is a big job--commitments are added week by week and speech by speech by Labour spokesmen--or is it a task which would be beyond anybody?

The Prime Minister : I welcome my hon. Friend's tongue-in-cheek suggestion, but I fear that he suggests a little too much. Only last Friday, the Labour party explained that its regional assemblies would be funded by block grant from Westminster. As usual, no price tag was attached and we may yet have to determine what that price tag is. As many hon. Members may have seen on "Panorama" last night, a member of the Labour party, Professor Rowthorne, summed up the matter adequately. Asked about Labour's spending plans, he said :

"Frankly I think they don't add up. If you take their whole list of spending plans and say where's the money for this going to come from I think the answer is--I have no idea."

We have a very good idea--from the taxpayer's pocket.

Mr. John P. Smith : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reassure the people of Wales by condemning the ludicrous suggestion that the Royal Welch Fusiliers could ever be merged with the Cheshire regiment, or that the oldest and one of the finest regiments in Wales could ever be disbanded?

The Prime Minister : We have very great concern for the regimental structure, which is more than the Opposition have shown during the past few years. Final decisions on "Options for Change" will take account of all relevant factors. Those decisions have not yet been made. When they are, my right hon. Friend and I shall be here to answer for them.


Q6. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 July.

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

Mr. Riddick : When my right hon. Friend met the leaders of the trade unions yesterday, did he feel that his position was significantly enhanced by the fact that those same trade unions do not wield 90 per cent. of the votes at his party's conference and do not provide 70 per cent. of the funding for his party and that 18 of his Cabinet Ministers are not sponsored by trade unions?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree that that gives me a degree of freedom not open to everyone else. There is no doubt that Conservative employment laws have brought about a record on industrial relations which is currently the envy of the whole of Europe. We had fewer strikes last year than at any time since the war. In contrast, Labour's strikers' charter gives the unions exactly what they want and no one can doubt their ambitions. As Ron Todd said I shall read this slowly so that hon. Members can listen :

"We do not want to go back to 1979--things weren't that good even then."


Q7. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 9 July.

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

Mr. Winnick : As hostilities are being renewed, with accusations and counter-accusations by former Cabinet Ministers, is there any truth in the rumour floating round Westminster that a small EC peace-keeping mission is to come over here to try to restore some peace in the Prime Minister's party?

The Prime Minister : No, Sir.