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1991 - PMQT 14th November 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th November 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. French : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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. French : Has my right hon. Friend seen the opinion poll in The Guardian this morning which shows very strong support for his stand on Europe, with the vast majority of people having confidence in the benefits for business purposes of a single market, but showing understandable scepticism about the implications of a single currency? Did he also notice that twice as many people would trust him to negotiate on Europe for this country as would trust the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister : I did notice with some interest that particular survey. I believe that a majority of people in this country want to make a success of our membership of the Community. There have been many positive developments, a large number of them led by this country such as the introduction of the single market. I see no reason for us to be fearful of developments in the Community--it is often an opportunity, not a risk.

Mr. Kinnock rose -- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This takes a lot of time out of Question Time.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to tell us why over the last year the unemployment record of his Government is by far the worst of any in the European Community?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, unemployment is rising right across the industrial world almost without exception--in the United States, Japan, Italy, France and Canada. What we are beginning to see in this country--and I welcome it very much--is a sharp slowdown in the rise in unemployment. This is the third successive month that that has happened. I very much hope that that trend will be continued. It is too early to be entirely sure, but it looks as though the tide may well have turned.

Mr. Kinnock : In the last 12 months net unemployment in the whole of the European Community has gone up by 940,000. Of that total, 768, 000--80 per cent.--has been in this country. Is not it clear from those figures that the unique disadvantage suffered by the people of Britain is that they have this Government with the right hon. Gentleman's policies, which depend on putting people out of work?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman might look close to home before he makes that general assertion. Unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 37 per cent. since the last general election. The number of new vacancies notified to jobcentres is now beginning to rise. That is a welcome sign. The change in the unemployment position is welcome and I very much hope that it will continue. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that and not tried to isolate the problems of this country as he is well aware that they are occurring everywhere else.

Mr. Kinnock : My reference arose because the Prime Minister was trying to obscure his record. If he is interested in looking close to home, he should note the fact that while unemployment in my constituency has, tragically, gone up by the figure he mentioned in the course of the past 12 months, it has gone up in his constituency by 110 per cent. That is very close to home.

Will he now answer the question why in the other 11 countries of the European Community the total rise in unemployment in the past 12 months has been 130,000, while in this country, for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible, unemployment has risen by nearly 800,000?

Hon. Members : Answer!

Mr. Speaker : Order. Shouting of that kind does not help.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman mentioned his constituency and mine, but he neglected to mention that in both constituencies the latest figures show a fall in unemployment. If the right hon. Gentleman was genuinely concerned about unemployment, he would now withdraw from the table his minimum wage policy--a policy which would increase unemployment dramatically.

Mr. Butcher : Given the opinion poll results in The Guardian today, which show that a clear and growing majority of people are against further moves towards European monetary and political union, does my right hon. Friend find it rather curious that both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party favour unilateral disarmament on the question of federalism? To what does he attribute their unaccustomed bravery on that issue?

The Prime Minister : I find Opposition Members' position on Europe curious. They appear to be prepared to sign up indiscriminately to anything --to a federal Europe, to huge extensions in competence and to control over foreign policy, defence and immigration. There is no sign from either the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) or the Leader of the Opposition that they would draw the line anywhere on transfer of authority to Brussels.


Q2. Mr. Beith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Mr. Beith : Does the Prime Minister agree that although there is scope for compromise on many matters at Maastricht, the one issue on which it is impossible to compromise is the difference between those who believe that Britain could and should join in a single currency and those who believe that we should not do so at any price and that we should never even have joined the exchange rate mechanism? Had he not better make that clear to both the Conservative and Labour Members who still believe that Britain could stay out of the developments that will take place in Europe?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman might also bear in mind the fact that his party should take account of many of the dangers of what is proposed, for at the moment the Liberal Democrats seem prepared to sign up indiscriminately to what is proposed from anywhere within Europe.

Mr. David Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party is proud to have reduced the basic rate of tax from 33p in the pound to 25p and the upper rate from 98p to 40p? Can he confirm that we shall have one Budget next year and shall not burden the British people with a massive payment of back tax, as is suggested by crackpot Opposition Members?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm that we shall have one Budget next year--and that we shall have one the year after and the year after that, as well.


Q3. Mr. Flannery : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Mr. Flannery : When will the Prime Minister apologise to the British people for the disgraceful inequities and sheer misery caused all over the country by the poll tax, which he was one of the first people to promote? Does he realise that his failure to do so brings his integrity into severe question? May I suggest that he apologises in a broadcast from No. 10 Downing street, which I understand he occupies temporarily, and that he should give some thought--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is taking a long time. If that is done, I hope that it can be done here.

Mr. Flannery : He could then give some thought to the inequities of the council tax, so called, which is the nasty twin brother of the poll tax and which will leave debris--caused by the Prime Minister and the Conservative party--all over the country.

The Prime Minister : In case the hon. Gentleman has not noticed, we are in the process of replacing the poll tax.

Mr. Gwilym Jones : May I remind my right hon. Friend of today's unemployment figures for Wales, where both the actual and the seasonally adjusted rates have fallen? Does not that confirm that what we really need is a continuation of my right hon. Friend's policies, not a regional assembly for Wales, which would be an unnecessary quango that would cost the people of Wales £1 million a week?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree. Unemployment has fallen not only in Wales but in Scotland and in the northern region and I hope that it will soon fall elsewhere, too.


Q4. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Mr. Wigley : How does the Prime Minister reconcile the welcome emphasis that he placed at the Commonwealth conference on the extension of democratic government throughout the Commonwealth with the continuing reluctance of the Government to give any form of democratic control over their own lives to the people of Wales and Scotland?

The Prime Minister : As I have told the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions, I believe that union in the United Kingdom and the present system of government serve us extremely well. There was a referendum on devolution some years ago and the people of Wales forcefully expressed their view against the principle of devolution on that occasion.

Mr. Marlow : Could my right hon. Friend reinforce the point that he has just made? There are two alternatives. One is the preferred alternative for Scotland and Wales : the status quo. The other alternative for Scotland is independence. The crackpot halfway-house idea of the Labour party, in which Scottish institutions look after Scottish affairs and Scottish Members of Parliament dabble in English affairs, would be unacceptable to the people of England.

The Prime Minister : I am in no doubt that the right future for this country is to maintain the union between the United Kingdom and Scotland. Other proposals have no credibility. The self-styled Scottish convention was self-appointed and is unrepresentative, and the introduction of tax-raising powers for Scotland would make it the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom and would destroy and inward investment that has done so much for its standard of life.


Q5. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Mr. Livingstone : Will the Prime Minister take time this week to write to the broadcasting authorities to say that he is willing to take part in a live, televised debate between the party leaders during the next general election campaign?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows better than to put questions like that now.

Mr. Bill Walker : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Scottish Conservative party has debated devolution and that the proposals now on offer from the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats are flawed and fraudulent? Will he further confirm that they were not an issue in the recent by-election in Scotland?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, the Government remain fully committed to the union--a point which is well recognised in Scotland. The reality of change is certainly understood by the Scottish business community which well knows the impact that some of the alternatives would have on Scotland--they would not have a happy impact.


Q6. Mr. Sillars : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Mr. Sillars : When will the Prime Minister of England and that lackey of his in St. Andrew's house admit that they are bereft of all moral and political authority to govern the people of Scotland? Why will not the Prime Minister accept the challenge of a referendum? Is he feared that he will lose and that independence will win?

The Prime Minister : The right to govern Scotland flows from general elections. The hon. Gentleman may have noted what a Labour Member said the other day :

"The party which holds a majority in the United Kingdom Parliament has a mandate for the whole United Kingdom."


Q7. Mr. Arbuthnot : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 November.

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

Mr. Arbuthnot : Can my right hon. Friend comment on the recent improvements unveiled in the Guy's hospital patients charter, with 3, 500 more patients treated in the first six months, with better staff conditions and with lower waiting lists? Can he compare these facts about the national health service with the fictions put out by the Labour Front Bench?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Just a few months ago, Opposition Members were telling us that trust hospitals would fail and that they should be judged by the simple test of whether they do more or less work on NHS patients. With regard to Guy's, we now know that they do more and are a success. We will have more of them.