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1991 - PMQT 28th November 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 28th November 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 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. Field : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the anniversary of his Prime Ministership. May I remind him that inflation has come down from 10.9 to 3.7 per cent., that interest rates have been cut by 4.5 percentage points and that we have the lowest level of inflation for 25 years--below that of west Germany. Is not that in marked contrast to the events of 25 years ago this very day, as reported by The Times , when the then Economic Affairs Minister warned the Confederation of British Industry that if it breached the inflation-wage restraint, there would be a prices and incomes policy? It brought the worst economic turmoil that this country had seen since the industrial revolution. Will my right hon. Friend set out his policy for 1992-- [Interruption.] --so that I can congratulate him on his anniversary again next year, when he will still be Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right about the success of the anti-inflationary policy. It is absolutely imperative that we get inflation down to the lowest level and keep it there, for most of our future prospects depend on that being the case. Happily, we are making excellent progress on inflation. It has come down and we shall ensure that it stays down.

Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister aware that in the past 12 months, because of his policies, 768,000 people have lost their jobs, 100,000 people have lost their homes and 45,000 companies have gone bankrupt? How does he square that record with his promise a year ago today to build a country at ease with itself?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman examines completely what has happened during the past year with that objective in mind, he will find that not only have we cut inflation, as I have just said, but we have cut interest rates. We have given Britain the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe. We have successfully come through a war. We have successfully produced a new initiative for the Kurds which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. We have introduced the largest debt relief package anywhere at any stage and we have made changes in both domestic and overseas policies which command the wide respect of people throughout the country.

Mr. Kinnock : Is not it clear that everyone knows that the Prime Minister has reduced inflation only by creating a deep and lasting recession? The right hon. Gentleman has lost more jobs, more businesses and more homes than any Prime Minister in modern history. He truly will be known as the Prime Minister of evictions, unemployment and bankruptcies and that is why, as soon as the people get the chance at the next general election, they will stop him.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman cannot seriously expect that the people of this country will buy the pig-in-a-poke policies that he produces. Now that inflation and interest rates are coming down, the economy is moving into an upturn and prospects are getting better, as even the Labour party's former adviser has agreed and written repeatedly in the newspapers.

Mr. Kinnock : If there are any pig-in-a-poke policies, the recession policies of the Government are the pig and 768,000 people have got the poke.

The Prime Minister : I can only assume that the right hon. Gentleman's last question was a knee-jerk reaction.


Derbyshire

Q2. Mrs. Currie : To ask the Prime Minister if he has any plans to visit Derbyshire.

The Prime Minister : I am making a series of visits to all parts of the country and very much hope to include Derbyshire.

Mrs. Currie : Is the Prime Minister aware that in south Derbyshire, having seen off Arthur Scargill, we have a vigorous, successful engineering industry, a high level of exports and a young and growing work force with a low level of unemployment? We know that we are far better off in Europe-- indeed, we are well off in Europe--and far better off in Europe than out. May I therefore pass on to the Prime Minister the good wishes of all my constituents for his efforts at Maastricht and hope that when he has finished there he will come up to Derbyshire and tell us all about it?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I share her view that industry, commerce and individuals in this country are better off in the European Community than outside it. Many companies are increasing their sales and increasing their relationship with Europe week after week. One of our objectives at Maastricht will be to achieve stricter implementation of Community measures to ensure that there is genuinely a level playing field for British industry and commerce in Europe.

Mr. Skinner : If the Prime Minister comes to Derbyshire, whatever else he does, he wants to avoid canvassing with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). When she went to Bolsover a few years ago at the time of the salmonella in eggs crisis, she went into South Normanton marketplace and met a woman there who said, "Hey you, are you Currie, the one about the salmonella?" The hon. Lady said, "Oh, yes. Are you going to vote Tory?" The woman said, "Look, I've got six of these eggs in my basket and if you don't sling your hook back to south Derbyshire, you'll have these on top of your head."

Mr. Speaker : I did not detect a question in all that, but carry on.

The Prime Minister : I suspect that many people in Bolsover will carry eggs in their basket in the hope of meeting the hon. Gentleman.


Engagements

Q3. Sir David Steel : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 November.

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

Sir David Steel : Does the Prime Minister accept that any reform of the government of Scotland implies some useful reform of the procedures of this place? As it is now three weeks since the Kincardine and Deeside by-election, when will he respond to our invitation to meet him to discuss these serious matters?

The Prime Minister : I have made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House that we believe that the Union between the United Kingdom and Scotland is important. We have no plans to change it.


Q4. Mr. Adley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 November.

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

Mr. Adley : Does my right hon. Friend recall the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) on Tuesday about monetary union? He said that he was surprised at the contradictory answers which the House had received from the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition on this complex issue. Why was my right hon. Friend surprised?

The Prime Minister : I am always hoping for something better from the right hon. Gentlemen although, alas, I rarely get it. The Leader of the Opposition claims that he has been a consistent supporter of the Common Market for years, but everyone knows that he was a consistent and bitter opponent of it for many years. Many of us doubt that he has really changed his mind.


Liverpool

Q5. Mr. Parry : To ask the Prime Minister when he plans to make his first visit to Liverpool.

The Prime Minister : I am making a series of visits to all parts of the country and hope to include Liverpool in them.

Mr. Parry : When the Prime Minister visits Liverpool will he meet some of the local trade union leaders and some of the long-term unemployed, especially the construction workers who lobbied Parliament last week? Unemployment is very high in Liverpool. My constituency has the highest level in England, Scotland and Wales with an average of 30 per cent. When the Prime Minister arrives, will he let people know that he is coming? His predecessor, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), crept into Liverpool and crept out again without letting people know that she was coming. That was an insult to the people of Liverpool and I hope that it will never be repeated.

The Prime Minister : I will certainly bear that in mind. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about unemployment in Liverpool and elsewhere. I know that he will join me in welcoming the announcement yesterday by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury at the start of the project to construct a new building for Customs and Excise at Queen's dock. When completed, it will provide more than 800 new jobs locally.

Mr. Michael Spicer : Will my right hon. Friend give his assurance that, neither explicitly nor implicitly will any deal be done at Maastricht?-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It will have to be done in Liverpool, I am afraid.


Engagements

Q6. Mr. David Martin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 November.

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

Mr. Martin : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Portsmouth, which is connected to the continent by the finest ferry services in the country, there is a growing realisation that success at Maastricht is crucial to trade and investment, on which jobs depend, and that the main prize to be achieved is an agreement which recognises the importance of closer co- operation between European nations rather than moves towards inevitable integration?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is crucial to our trade and investment that we continue to play a leading role in the Community. All the Governments of the Community, without exception, are working for an agreement at Maastricht, but there are important national interests at stake. I am negotiating for an agreement that reflects our national interests and is also in the interests of a wider Europe.

Mrs. Wise : Does the Prime Minister understand that his description of the Sunday trading laws as "bizarre" has encouraged law breaking? Will he withdraw that word and condemn the retail giant law breakers?

The Prime Minister : I should have thought that the hon. Lady would now recognise that the description that I gave was entirely apposite. The present situation is unsatisfactory. There are acute difficulties in changing that in the short term. The House of Lords has concluded that our Sunday trading laws are unclear and has therefore referred them to the European Court of Justice to clarify whether they are compatible with European law. We hope that the European Court will make its ruling at the earliest possible moment so that the House of Lords can give a judgment. In the light of that, the next step will be for the Government to identify proposals that will command the support of the House.


Q7. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 November.

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

Mr. Evans : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that on 15 May 1983 he said :

"We want out of the Common Market?"

Could he also tell me whether he said on 16 December 1983 :

"We are committed to a non-nuclear defence policy?"

Also will he confirm that in August 1991 he said :

"I think the people trust me. They trust me for my word and my attitude."

Would he also tell me--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that is enough.

The Prime Minister : I can confirm that, of course, I made none of those statements, but I believe that each of them can be attributed to the Leader of the Opposition. It was also the Leader of the Opposition who said that if he were to abandon socialism he would not be worth voting for.


Q8. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 November.

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

Mr. Michie : Will the Prime Minister tell the House where my constituent Joanne, who is on a vocational course, receives £35 a week, lives on her own through no choice of her own, occasionally goes without food and sits in the dark because she has no coins for the meter, fits into his citizens charter and the classless society?

The Prime Minister : I cannot comment on individual cases without all the information available in front of me. If the hon. Gentleman will provide me with all the information, I shall examine the case.


Q9. Dr. Twinn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 November.

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

Dr. Twinn : I thank my right hon. Friend for his clear and positive support for finding a solution in Cyprus. Will he now seek the urgent help of the President of the United States in making it clear to the new Government in Turkey that the west expects a positive and constructive contribution to the United Nations peace process from now on?

The Prime Minister : I have discussed Cyprus with President Bush on more than one occasion and we both actively supported the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General. A settlement will require good will on both sides and I hope that the new Turkish Government will play a full, constructive and early part in the Secretary-General's renewed efforts to find a settlement. A settlement in Cyprus is long overdue.


Q10. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 November.

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

Mr. Canavan : Have the Government finally abandoned the erstwhile Tory doctrine that the rule of law must be upheld in all circumstances, now that the Attorney-General is turning a blind eye to big supermarkets breaking the Sunday trading law and as the poll tax non-payment campaign has apparently recruited the architect's daughter?

The Prime Minister : The law must be obeyed. In the case of Sunday trading, it is not at the moment clear, because of the House of Lords' ruling, what the law may be. In the case of the community charge, the law is clear. People should pay their community charge. It might have helped if the hon. Gentleman had given people a better example in that respect.