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1991 - PMQT 21st November 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 21st November 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 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. Pawsey : Does my right hon. Friend believe that there should be a referendum on the Maastricht summit? What is my right hon. Friend's opinion about a referendum to be held sometime in the future on the single currency?

The Prime Minister : The answer to my hon. Friend's question in both cases is no. The Government do not intend to hold a referendum on the outcome of the Maastricht negotiations. There is no case for one and the Government will not offer one. On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, that issue would, self-evidently, be a matter for a future Parliament, but my view remains that we are a parliamentary democracy and I see no need for a referendum.

Mr. Kinnock : I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that answer. Will he, therefore, confirm that for as long as he is leader of the Conservative party it will never accept referendums on European Community matters?

The Prime Minister : I have just made the point clear to the right hon. Gentleman. On this issue I do not see the need for a referendum.


Q2. Mr. Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Mr. Hannam : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to read the speech of Mr. Jacques Delors in which he said that no single group of nations had survived purely on the basis of intergovernmental relationships? Will my right hon. Friend remind Mr. Delors of the existence of NATO, where intergovernmental agreement has succeeded, and contrast it with the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, where excessive central control has undoubtedly failed?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a very telling point. The Community including the Commission, must adapt to the changes in Europe. There is a case for flexible arrangements and I set that out yesterday, but they are for Governments to determine. They are expressly not policy matters for the Commission to determine.

Mr. Ashdown : Having yesterday heard the views of his predecessor with regard to Europe, surely the Prime Minister must now realise that he has to make a choice. He can either have Finchley or Maastricht, but he cannot have both. Will he now choose Europe or her? Or will he stay lamely stuck on the fence?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman was here yesterday when I set out quite clearly and in some detail the Government's position on the negotiations at Maastricht. As I recall, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) began her speech by giving me her full support-- [Interruption.]


Q3. Mr. Batiste : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Mr. Batiste : Since our success in exploiting the opportunities of the European Community must depend considerably on getting the maximum benefit from our education system, is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that mixed ability teaching in secondary schools is causing widespread under-achievement by pupils at both ends of the ability spectrum? Will he therefore join me in welcoming the comment yesterday of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science that streaming is the only effective way of getting the best from all our children?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste) and with the remarks by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Over the past few months he has shown clearly that he will make one of the great Secretaries of State for Education and Science.


Q4. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Mr. Jones : Following his reply last Tuesday to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), will the Prime Minister now promise to restore the unemployment benefit rights which so benefited him when he was a young man in the 1960s and which he abolished in the 1980s? Is not the Prime Minister guilty of kicking away the ladder now that he has got to the top?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand the social security system any more than the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). If he did, he would be aware that since the early 1960s all sorts of care allowances have been introduced such as invalid care allowance and the hon. Gentleman clearly did not know about that.


Q5. Mr. Dunn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Mr. Dunn : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be aware that we have more inward investment than any other European Commission country, partly as a result of our lower taxation policies on income, profits and employers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are likely to lose our advantage in attracting inward investment if we sign up to a policy of binding minimum rates of taxation in Europe, a policy which is already supported and endorsed by the Labour party and was yesterday by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)?

The Prime Minister : Higher corporate taxes are bound to mean lower inward investment from abroad, particularly in many of the regions of this country. It would be particularly damaging for Scotland, and that is also why a Scottish assembly with tax-raising powers would be very bad news indeed for Scotland. We will leave it to the Opposition to advocate higher taxes on companies and individuals. That is not our policy. We will advocate lower taxes and in so doing will encourage more inward investment.


Q6. Mr. Callaghan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Mr. Callaghan : In view of the terrible brain damage suffered by two boxers in recent bouts, will the Prime Minister give the House his views on boxing? Does he agree with the British Medical Association that boxing should be banned in this country?

The Prime Minister : No. I do not agree with banning boxing in this country. It is important that there is proper medical attention and that the referee has full discretion to stop the bout whenever he wishes. Boxing should not be banned in this country, and any move to do so would not have my support.


Q7. Sir George Gardiner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Sir George Gardiner : Will my right hon. Friend give his assessment of the kind of man who, after declaring himself to be a reluctant European, can argue today in favour of an immediate signing-up to a single currency and joining a headlong rush to a federal Europe? In an attempt to resolve that enigma, will my right hon. Friend find time to have a private word with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)?

The Prime Minister : I have a busy day, and I doubt whether I will have time for that, but I share my hon. Friend's concern at the U-turns that we have seen, but not just from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)--although certainly from him--but from the Labour party. We should remember that, if we had listened to the Labour party, we would not be negotiating at Maastricht, we would be queueing outside the Community trying to get back into it.


Tibet

Q8. Dr. Godman : To ask the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with President Bush about the implications of that section of the State Department Authorization Act 1991 which relates to Tibet and the position of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile.

The Prime Minister : None, Sir.

Dr. Godman : The United States Congress, by way of that Act, holds to the view that Tibet is an occupied country whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile. It would appear, would it not, that President Bush also has that perception, as he signed that Act on 28 October? Does the Prime Minister share the belief that Tibet is an occupied country whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile?

The Prime Minister : Tibet has never been internationally recognised as an independent country. No country in the world regards Tibet as independent now. Having said that, we have taken every opportunity, including my recent visit to China, to set out our concerns about the way in which Tibetans are treated and to urge that they have proper human rights.

Mr. Quentin Davies : While rejoicing with the rest of the civilised world at the release of Terry Waite and the other hostages-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The question is about Tibet.


Engagements

Q9. Mr. Tim Smith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Mr. Smith : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, for the first time since the start of the recession, responses from Milton Keynes business to the latest quarterly economy survey show an increase in home sales and orders and that the more benign economic climate, with falling interest rates and falling inflation, has resulted in a further large increase in business confidence and an expectation of higher turnover and higher profits over the next 12 months? Is not that very good news indeed?

The Prime Minister : It is, indeed, but it was foreshadowed by the authoritative CBI survey which shows rising expectations for investment, output and exports. That means an increase in planned spending on training and innovation which has now returned to pre-recession levels.

Mr. Beggs : Can the Prime Minister assure the House that there will be no further concessions to the Irish Republic in order to obtain the extradition of terrorist suspects to stand trial in the United Kingdom? Further, will he assure us that, if Her Majesty's Government decide to appoint a commissioner to supervise terrorist interrogations, that commissioner will be a British citizen?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows that we do not bargain and that we do not do deals. That has remained, does remain, and will remain the position.


Q10. Mr. Cran : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 November.

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

Mr. Cran : Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents in the great northern constituency of Beverley would like to get away from the iron grip of Labour-controlled Humberside council? As the Boundary Commission has already asked for that council to be abolished, does my right hon. Friend agree that the local government commission that he is to establish should consider abolishing Humberside council before any other?

The Prime Minister : I know of my hon. Friend's particular interest in that matter, but it would be wise to wait until our new local government commission has examined the overall structure of local government before making any specific decisions. I assure my hon. Friend that we intend to ask the new commission to make that task one of its early priorities.

Mr. Benn : I rise to ask your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a point--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I called the right hon. Gentleman to ask a question.

Mr. Benn : In that case, Mr. Speaker, my question touches on a point that I will raise with you in a moment.

Mr. Speaker : I would much rather that the right hon. Gentleman asks his question of the Prime Minister, not me.

Mr. Benn : The whole House understands that the Prime Minister's view is that the British people have no right to be directly consulted on the constitutional changes that may emerge from Maastricht. However, the Prime Minister will know, having been present for yesterday's debate, that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House argue for a referendum. If the Prime Minister believes in parliamentary democracy, does he not agree that the House has a right to decide whether there should be a referendum, and will he provide an opportunity to hold one?

The Prime Minister : Many views can be held on the subject of referendums. I have expressed my own, and I do not intend to change it.