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1991 - PMQT 5th November 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 5th November 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 November.

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. Hinchliffe : Is the Prime Minister personally in favour of a single European currency--yes or no?

The Prime Minister : At this moment, in these circumstances, no.

Mr. Onslow : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is general support for the emphasis that the Foreign Secretary has placed on the importance of keeping the European Commission out of the nooks and crannies of our national life? Will he, in any negotiations with our European partners, give the highest priority to getting the European Commission under some sort of genuine parliamentary control?

The Prime Minister : I share the views expressed by my right hon. Friend yesterday. One of the things that we shall be seeking to do in the negotiations on the political union treaty is to try to ensure that the Commission--at present under no effective control--increasingly comes under the control of the most appropriate Parliament, in this case the European Parliament.

Mr. Kinnock : Since the Prime Minister acknowledges convergence to be a matter of considerable importance in the development of the European Community, why is it, now that the Engineering Employers Federation, the Confederation of British Industry and his noble Friends in the House of Lords have all made cause for new investment incentives for British industry, that he and the remainder of the Government refuse to take such initiatives in order to support this very best way of securing recovery?

The Prime Minister : On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, convergence is not just important ; it is absolutely vital if there is to be any success whatsoever, or any prospect of a single currency that would not damage the whole of Europe. The most effective way of ensuring that there is investment in this or any other country is to ensure that we have low inflation and the right economic environment.

Mr. Kinnock : When unemployment has risen by 800,000 in Britain during the last year, when 50 per cent. more companies are in receivership and when manufacturing investment is down by 19 per cent., how can the Government justify taking such a listless attitude to the needs of British industry? Why do the Government refuse to give the same backing to British industry as our European Community competitors give to theirs?

The Prime Minister : It is not all that many months ago that the right hon. Gentleman was saying to the House and to people beyond it that the most important thing was to get inflation down from its then level of 10.9 per cent. and to recreate the conditions in which people would feel secure to invest. I agreed with the points that he made then and that is precisely what we have done. We are now reaching a position in which growth and investment will reoccur and, as we saw throughout the complete period of the 1980s, there will be a growth in the absolute number of jobs.

Mr. Kinnock : Since the Prime Minister said that it is important to create the conditions for economic and industrial success, will he listen to the CBI which, in its report asks the Government to take proper account of the interests of manufacturing industry instead of pursuing the policies that they are pursuing? After 12 years, is there any hope of the Government ever taking the interests of manufacturing industry properly into account?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman had paid more attention to the CBI yesterday, he would have heard the director general say that since the crash of October 1987, real take-home pay is up by 11 per cent., manufacturing productivity is up by 20 per cent. and manufacturing exports have increased by £76 million for each and every working day.

Mr. Sayeed : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the two essential components for a policy of nuclear deterrence are that one possesses the capability and that a potential enemy does not doubt one's willingness to use it in order to defend oneself? Does he agree that a few weasel words in a newspaper do not constitute a policy of nuclear deterrence, particularly when the leader of that party has stated clearly that he would never use nuclear weapons, even if Britain were under nuclear attack?

The Prime Minister : I share the view expressed by my hon. Friend. The fact that we have had a nuclear deterrent for a number of years has added materially to our security and I believe that we should continue to sustain that deterrent. It is a matter of regret that the Opposition's commitment to that deterrent is not generally accepted. The words of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), "If we change to win, we could change when we have won", show that British people will not trust the Opposition with defence policy.


Q2. Mr. Flynn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 November?

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

Mr. Flynn : Why is the Prime Minister trying to turn the national health service into a family business for card-carrying Conservatives? Why did he appoint two Tory ex-Ministers, the sister of a Tory Minister, the wives of two Tory Members of Parliament and the husband of a Tory Member of Parliament to run opted-out hospitals? Is that what the Prime Minister means when he says that he believes that Conservatives want to use the national health service? They are using it--milking it for their own financial gain.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has clearly forgotten that, for example, Lady Callaghan was an excellent chairman of Great Ormond Street hospital and a number of other wives of eminent people in public life have held that position. It is extremely odd that the Labour party should propose that women should be barred from jobs because of their husband's position in public life. Among those whom the hon. Gentleman has maligned is someone who has a decade's experience of working in the NHS. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that that is a proper contribution to the health service or a proper qualification for the job that she holds, I am very surprised indeed.


Q3. Mr. Viggers : To ask the Prime Minister to list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 November.

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

Mr. Viggers : Will my right hon. Friend anticipate the Chancellor's statement tomorrow to the extent of confirming that funds will be made available to ensure that our armed forces, although smaller, are even better equipped? In particular, will he confirm that conventional submarines will continue to play an important role and that the story broadcast by the BBC last night as a hard fact--that the HMS Upholder class of submarines is to be sold--is completely untrue and without foundation?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm my hon. Friend's last point. We have shown our commitment to better equipment by our recent purchase of the Westland helicopter and our decision to re-equip the Army with the Challenger II tank. Both were expensive but necessary purchases to ensure that our armed forces have the best possible equipment. That is our policy and will remain so. I am bound to say that that does not seem to be the policy of the Opposition. The principal Opposition party is committed to cutting defence expenditure by a quarter, and the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) is committed to cutting it by a half.

Mr. Ashdown : The Prime Minister insists that even if the other 11 go ahead he is prepared to reject an agreement on Europe at Maastricht. Will he describe how he sees the future of this country, should he allow that to happen?

The Prime Minister : I have repeatedly made it clear in the House and beyond that I am working to seek an agreement at Maastricht that will be acceptable to the House and this country. That remains the position. I have set out our determination to work for that agreement and the principles on which the agreement will need to be based. I have arranged a two-day debate in the House so that I may express that clearly and listen to the views of the House. If I judge that the agreement is in the interests of this country I will sign it. If I judge that the agreement is not in the interests of this country, it would not be right for me to sign it and I will not sign it.


Q4. Mr. Paice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 November.

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

Mr. Paice : As this is the first Prime Minister's Question Time since the Commonwealth conference, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his constructive and positive approach to the issues? Will he confirm that he was not detained or locked up and was widely recognised as the leader of this party--unlike the experience of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) after four years as Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm that it was an excellent Commonwealth conference. The Commonwealth came closer together than it has been for a long time. There was substantial agreement on changing policies on South Africa, which I much welcome, and there was a warm welcome for our decision to implement the Trinidad terms arrangement, which, if fully implemented by every member, will relieve the poorest countries in the world of $17,000 million of debt.

Mr. Harry Ewing : Is the Prime Minister aware that just over an hour ago I received a letter from British Alcan, which has a factory in my constituency at Falkirk, informing me that 169 of the work force will lose their jobs, not because they are inefficient but because the machinery on which they work is 50 years old? If that is not proof of lack of investment, what is? Is the Prime Minister further aware that those men like their jobs and that, with his help, they would be able to keep them, but he is not prepared to help them? Try telling men in Falkirk that the economy is on an upturn.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is clearly under the misapprehension that I have been Prime Minister for 50 years--not yet.


Q5. Mr. Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 November.

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

Mr. Hannam : When my right hon. Friend next meets the British Medical Association, will he raise the success of the first wave of national health service trusts, particularly the success story of the South Devon Healthcare trust? In the past year, it has increased the number of patients by 10 per cent., the number of doctors and nurses by more than 50 and reopened two wards. Will he congratulate the BMA on its wholesale condemnation of the latest Labour party smear leaflet that has been distributed at the Langbaurgh by-election?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to join my hon. Friend in those remarks and to join the BMA in its scathing remarks about the Labour leaflet. The BMA said that the leaflet was in bad taste, and it must be very frightening to the people of Langbaurgh. Like my hon. Friend, I read the report of Labour's latest scare story about the NHS. I hope that people will realise that what Labour is saying is inaccurate. It is a tissue of falsehoods. I hope that people will look at the real record of improvement in the NHS, not the misrepresentations that they get from the Labour party.


Q6. Mr. Strang : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 November.

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

Mr. Strang : Has the Prime Minister noticed that the major issue in the Kincardine and Deeside by-election is the widespread public opposition to the application by Foresterhill hospital in Aberdeen to become a self- governing trust? As the Minister with responsibility for health in Scotland clearly favours trust status and as the Conservative candidate has come out publicly against it, will the Prime Minister tell the House who he agrees with--his Health Minister or the candidate?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the application for that hospital to have self-governing status has been submitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He has an obligation to study that application and to determine whether it is in order. That is what he is doing. When he has done that, he will announce his decision.