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1991 - PMQT 26th November 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 26th November 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Robert Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 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. Hughes : Can the Prime Minister remember those heady, happy days a year ago when his predecessor was tossed out of office? Now that his policies, the economy and everything around is in disarray, and with the right hon. Lady making a comeback, who will be the first to put him out of his misery in Downing street--the people at the election or his right hon. Friend?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has clearly not observed that in the last year inflation has fallen to 4 per cent. and the interest rate to 10.5 per cent., the tax burden on business has been lightened, there is a pay review body for teachers and better standards and choice for parents--all of which were opposed by the Labour party. When the time comes, the hon. Gentleman will have the pleasure--if he holds his seat--of staying on the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Haselhurst : Does my right hon. Friend agree with the comment made on Sunday that we should not commit ourselves now in advance of 1997 to a single currency as a point of agreement that all sensible people could hold? Will he contrast that with the words of the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that Labour would sign up to a single currency now, irrevocably?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. That was certainly the view of the right hon. Gentleman in the debate last week, but it was flatly contradicted by his right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor on television at the weekend. Of course, he did say that not committing ourselves to a single currency was the point of agreement that "all sensible people" would have.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister still take the view, as he told the House last Thursday, that he has the full support of his predecessor?

The Prime Minister : My predecessor supported me in the Lobby last week, as did the vast majority of the House.

Mr. Kinnock : That answer demonstrates just how hollow was the vote for the right hon. Gentleman last Thursday night. Does the Prime Minister not remember saying just a year ago on the steps of Downing street that the Conservative party was

"fully united for the future"

and is that not patently false now when, in the approach to the vital meeting at Maastricht, the Tory party is in a state of open warfare?

The Prime Minister : It is within the recollection of the House that there were around 28 Labour abstentions in the Division last week. We also know from the honest remarks of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) that around two fifths of the Labour party opposed its Front Bench's policy on Europe.

Sir John Stokes : Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is the first time that I have asked him a question since his appointment, and I intend to enjoy it? Is he further aware that he carries the good wishes of the party behind him in the difficult few months to come and should go to the talks in great confidence, knowing of the great contribution that this country has made to Europe since the days of William Pitt?

Mr. Speaker : Will the hon. Gentleman get on with it, please?

Sir John Stokes : Does my right hon. Friend realise that in dealing with things that we hold so dear we want to make sure that the European Community gives us a good bargain and that what we give to it will be given back to us?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I am pleased to be in a position to answer his question. He is entirely right about the British contribution to Europe, both in the long term and in the past few years when much of the present shape of the Community has arisen from initiatives by this country. We can play a role in developing Europe or we can turn our backs on the Community. By turning our backs, we would forfeit our right to influence what happens in the Community and I am not prepared to do that.

Mr. Ashdown : As the Prime Minister approaches the first anniversary of his move into his new home, will he spare a thought for the tens of thousands who, because of his policies, are now losing theirs? Does he realise that mortgage repossessions were 16, 000 in 1989 and 44,000 last year, and that this year they are predicted to rise to 120,000, or 1 per cent. of all mortgage holders? Does he realise that he cannot sit on the fence on this one, and what does he intend to do about it?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman should have noticed, a few days ago my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People announced further steps to help all those in receipt of income support who have mortgages. The right hon. Gentleman says that that helps nobody, but it costs £400 million a year, so it must help rather a lot of people.

Mr. Soames : Will my right hon. Friend contrast the judicious, prudent and honourable way in which he and his right hon. Friends are negotiating in the European talks with the cynical sell-out proposed by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock)?

The Prime Minister : It is the case that we have set out our position perfectly clearly so that our European partners know what is acceptable to the House and what is not. The Labour party's position is now perfectly clear. If somebody else in Europe wants it, it will sign up to it.


Q2. Mr. Eadie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

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

Mr. Eadie : Will the Prime Minister consider the abolition of standing charges to pensioners by the private monopolies? Does he agree that with the massive increases in salaries for those bodies' chairmen and the ridiculous spend on advertising that we are witnessing, those companies can well afford to drop the standing charges? Why does not the Prime Minister arrange to meet pensioners' representatives at No. 10 Downing street and listen to their powerful case on the matter?

The Prime Minister : The abolition of one or other of the energy standing charges has been a popular mission for many people for many years, but abolition would undoubtedly lead to a higher unit cost and as many of the most vulnerable people use the most electricity or the most fuel generally, they would in fact be net losers and not net beneficiaries.

Mr. Thornton : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the chairman, trustees and staff of the Aintree national health service hospital trust on the establishment of a new £7 million project that will give it the largest accident and emergency unit in Europe? Is that not the best possible example of how the Government's commitment to the NHS is working?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was not aware of that investment, but I very much welcome it. It shows the huge investment currently being made in the national health service and the excellent way in which many trusts are using the resources available to them.


Q3. Mr. Turner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

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

Mr. Turner : How does the Prime Minister justify sending his son to a private school where nearly £4,000 a year is spent on each child when at present half the children in Tory-run Cambridgeshire's secondary schools receive only half that amount and when that authority is currently reducing its budget by almost £2 million? [Hon. Members :-- "What about choice?"] I ask that question in terms not of choice, but of equity for all children.

The Prime Minister : Our party believes in choice. I note yet again the Labour party's hostility to any persons exercising any choice in the interests of their family. I believe that millions of people in this country will acknowledge that there would be no choice for them if there were a Labour Government.

Miss Emma Nicholson : Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that the 1992 legislation does not come into force until 31 December 1992 and that the same is true of the 1986 Single European Act? Will he confirm to the House, the country and the international community that he will then be in his second term as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to confirm that to my hon. Friend. One reason why that will be so is that we have a coherent approach to Europe, not one that changes every weekend.


Cyprus

Q4. Mr. Cox (Tooting) : To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to visit Cyprus.

The Prime Minister : I next plan to visit Cyprus for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1993.

Mr. Cox : As Cyprus is a Commonwealth country and we are one of the guarantor powers for that island, how does the Prime Minister justify the ongoing occupation of much of that island by the Turkish army? Against that background and the highly critical comments of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 8 October about the attitude and behaviour of Mr. Denktash, when will the Government--and the Prime Minister in particular-- show some evidence of active involvement in the affairs of Cyprus for the benefit of both communities, Greek and Turkish? When does he intend to do that?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have had a number of meetings with President Vassiliou during the year and that I have already met Turkish Ministers, as has my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. We continue to give support to the United Nations Secretary-General's efforts to promote a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement. The United Nations is soon to resume discussions with both sides. I hope that sufficient progress can be made for the Secretary- General to convene an international meeting soon, as endorsed by a number of Security Council resolutions. We shall continue to do all that we can to resolve the problem.

Mr. Nelson : Will my right hon. Friend confirm today that the Conservative Government are planning to spend more next year on local--

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


Engagements

Q6. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

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

Mr. Mullin : Does the Prime Minister agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who said on Friday

"We are not accepting the principle of a single currency"

Yes or no, please?

The Prime Minister : It is entirely clear from the documents in front of us in the treaty that we are enabling ourselves to have the option to opt in. We are not committed to opting in by anything in either clause 2 or any later part of the treaty.


Q7. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

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

Mr. Gill : Does my right hon. Friend agree that any proposal to double the European Community structural funds will inevitably result in higher tax bills for the British taxpayer? Will he therefore assure the House that that proposal, which is supported by the Labour party, will be resisted most strenuously at Maastricht on the basis that one man's subsidy is another man's tax bill?

The Prime Minister : I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, although the issue is not directly on the table at Maastricht. We have made it clear that we see no case for a further massive increase in the structural funds. They are already substantial. They were doubled in real terms in 1987 over a five-year period. The contribution from some member states represents as large a share of gross domestic products as Marshall aid did after world war two.


Q8. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 26 November.

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

Mr. Ross : Has the Prime Minister had time to study the excellent article in the Glasgow Herald yesterday by the last Conservative leader of Glasgow district council, reflecting on the problems facing the Tory party in coming to terms with the need to give Scotland its own Parliament? If the Prime Minister gets a chance to read it, will he accept that it more accurately reflects the views of the people of Scotland than his Front Bench team does?

The Prime Minister : The strict answer is no, Sir, I have not yet studied that article, but in view of what the hon. Gentleman says I will most certainly do so. I do not believe that people in Scotland wish to break the Union. That is the direction in which the Labour party's policies are going.