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1991 - PMQT 12th November 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th November 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 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. Trimble : Now that the by-election in Kincardine and Deeside has focused attention on the issue of Scotland once again, and with the continuing difficulties in establishing a democratic local administration in Ulster, will the Prime Minister consider initiating consultations with other parliamentary parties with a view to reaching agreement on common structures of government throughout the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister : I understand why the hon. Gentleman makes that point, given all the difficulties in Northern Ireland and the historical perspective there. It is precisely to deal with those problems that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been having so many discussions over the past year.


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

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

Mr. Ashby : Has my right hon. Friend seen the good producer price figures issued today? Do not these support the contention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the economy is beginning to turn around?

The Prime Minister : I saw the producer price figures issued this morning, and they are good news. They show a continuing collapse in inflation and that can only help the competitiveness of industry and thereafter the growth of the economy and the creation of jobs.

Mr. Kinnock : Given that the Prime Minister correctly said last night that Maastricht will be an important stage on the road to even closer European union, what does he say today to those of his right hon. Friends who say that he has already gone far enough down the road to political and monetary union and, in their words, we should stay where we are?

The Prime Minister : I have made it clear over recent months, and am happy to repeat today, that we are seeking an agreement at Maastricht that will be acceptable to the House and will enable Europe to move forward together. That is true on economic and monetary union and on political union. There is some way to go before I could sign the political union treaty that is before us. There are still matters to be agreed on the monetary union treaty, but in both cases we are making progress.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister says that he recognises, in his words, the

"potential impact on our influence and prosperity were we to take a different decision from our principal competitors".

In saying that, is he recognising that isolation would mean the sacrifice of influence that is essential to the vital interests of the British people -- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take this advice : "We have nothing to gain by sitting on the margins while others frame new structures without us"?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this Conservative Government have been the leader in Europe for the past 12 years. The single market would not have come about but for this Conservative Government. The change in rebates would not have come about without the Conservative Government. The Fontainebleau abatement would not have come about without the Conservative Government. We propose to remain within the centre of the Community, framing the future of the Community in the interests of the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.

Mr. Kinnock : So now perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will answer my first question; what does he have to say to those of his right hon. Friends who say that he has gone far enough and should stay where he is?

The Prime Minister : I answered that question some moments ago.


Q3. Mr. Day : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Mr. Day : Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends for the massive increase in health spending that the Government recently announced, which shows beyond doubt the Government's commitment to the principles of the national health service? Does he agree that that is in stark contrast to the contributions that have been made by Opposition Members, who have nothing to offer the NHS but smears and attacks on staff and patients, and on the care that patients receive? Will he give the House some positive information about the success of the reforms that the Government are making, which will save the NHS for the year 2000?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. There has been yet another substantial increase in resources for the NHS, and that will enable a continuing reduction in waiting lists and better service for all those who use the NHS. Trusts are effective and efficient and they are the future. Increasingly, they are proving that.

Mr. Ashdown : Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity of the vote that will take place on Thursday to think again about Scotland? Does he realise that the real potential danger to the Union of Scotland with Britain lies not with the separatists but with his Government's refusal to listen to the voice of the people of Scotland? So I ask him again : will he listen and will he think again?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman sounds from what he has just said as though he is a separatist. I can tell him frankly that the Government are not separatist. The Government remain fully committed to the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Roe : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the £24 billion programme for public housing over the next three years detailed by the Department of the Environment yesterday? Will he join me also in condemning the inefficiency of Labour councils, whose failure to collect rents and fill empty properties is a major barrier to the provision of homes for the homeless?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As people can see throughout the country, the reality is that Labour authorities leave houses empty even when people are in need of them.


Q4. Mr. Andrew Smith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Mr. Smith : Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Cowley workers, the trade unions and the management on the launch today of the excellent and new Cowley-designed and Cowley-built Rover 800? Will he explain why, at the hands of his high-tax Government, the car will face total sales taxation of 27.3 per cent., when its BMW competitor faces tax in its domestic market of only 14 per cent ? Is it not time that he started backing the British car industry in the way that the Germans support theirs?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman can certainly be certain that I congratulate Rover on its splendid new product, and I hope that it will be immensely successful. As an owner of Rover cars for many years, I am sure that it will be. Rover and other car manufacturers are now so successful that they are exporting to Japan and elsewhere.

Sir Gerrard Neale : Can my right hon. Friend find time during his busy day to congratulate the management and staff of Rover on the fact that over the past 12 months not one single minute of production time has been lost through industrial disputes? Will he contrast that excellent achievement under Conservative trade union law with the undoubted industrial chaos that would result in the unlikely event of the Labour party's returning to government?

The Prime Minister : What my hon. Friend has said is certainly the case at Rover, but it has also been the case throughout industry during the past year, when there was the lowest number of strikes for more than 45 years. I welcome that very much. Of course, if we were to revert to legalising secondary action, flying pickets and the other actions that the Opposition propose, I do not doubt that strikes would return.


Q5. Ms. Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Ms. Hoey : What has the Prime Minister to say about the comments of the last Conservative leader of Lambeth council, who in a letter published in The Guardian on Saturday said-- [Interruption.] I want to quote it, and he said, "The Government is failing in its treatment of the mentally ill"-- [Hon. Members :-- "No quoting."]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady can paraphrase, and she is doing so.

Ms. Hoey : Conservative Members do not want to hear what a former Conservative leader has to say. He said that the Government were out of touch with homelessness and with the hopelessness of large sections of society, and that they had forfeited their right to govern.

The Prime Minister : I have not seen the remarks quoted by the hon. Lady, and neither have I seen the context in which they were put or what else was said. However, I say to the hon. Lady and to the alleged author of that statement that, frankly, I disagree. As a former Minister with responsibility for the disabled, I am well aware of the immense amount of work and care that has gone into the care of the disabled. As a former Lambeth housing chairman, I do not take lectures from anyone in Lambeth about housing.

Mr. Burt : Is my right hon. Friend aware that he carries the support of the vast majority in this House and in the country in his refusal to rule out a single currency on our terms at some future time? In displaying the consistency of involvement and leadership in the Conservative party with regard to Europe, is he not finally giving this country the role that it lost with the empire?

The Prime Minister : We must consider the long-standing interests of this country when we make decisions on the treaties, and that is what I will do.


Q6. Mr. Cohen : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagement for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Mr. Cohen : As crime in London increased yet again last year--by 13 per cent.--has the Prime Minister read the comment by police commander David Stevens that the police are not responsible for crime any more than doctors are responsible for disease, and that crime is an indicator of economic and social malaise? As the Conservative party has been in power for 12 years, who does the Prime Minister think is responsible for the economic and social malaise?

The Prime Minister : Crime prevention begins in the home and in the treatment of people from an early age. On the questions of prevention and punishment of crime, the Government have taken committed and sustained action for more than a decade. That includes providing a strong and effective police force. We are spending 67 per cent. more, over and above inflation, than in 1979. No Government could have done more against crime than we have, and no future Government would be able to do more than we will.


Q8. Mr. Bowis : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the level of community charge or council tax depends partly on the efficiency of the local council and partly on the proportion of local government spending which is required to be raised by local taxation? Does he further agree that if that proportion were to be raised to 20 per cent., overnight every household bill would rise by 50 per cent? Is he not astonished that that is the Labour party's proposal?

The Prime Minister : No, I am not astonished because, two years after announcing its local government plans, the Labour party still does not know how they would work. My hon. Friend makes some pertinent points. We will make sure that local tax bills are restrained and, where councils are extravagant, unlike the Labour party, which would let extravagance run wild to the cost of the local taxpayer with no let or hindrance, we will cap them.

Mr. Speaker : Mr. Sillars--question 9.

Hon. Members : Where is he?

Mr. Speaker : I call Mr. Dennis Turner.

Mr. Turner : Has the Prime Minister one shred of sympathy for Britain's beer drinkers? Prices have increased way beyond the rate of inflation and the Government's legislation to check monopolies is a complete fiasco. When will the Government do something to protect the British beer drinker?

The Prime Minister : With regard to having sympathy for them, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I am one of them.