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1991 - PMQT 5th December 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 5th December 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Bradley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 December.

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. Bradley : Will the Prime Minister confirm that neither he nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken any action to ensure that the European central bank is located in Britain? Does he now agree that it should be based in Manchester?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that there have been no serious discussions yet about the location of the European system of central banks. It is possible, but not yet certain, that there will be such discussions next week in Maastricht.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Has my right hon. Friend had time to see the OECD report on unsatisfactory unemployment levels in France and the clear evidence that its minimum wage policy has served to make unemployment worse? Does he agree with the conclusions of the report? Has he noted that the Leader of the Opposition has turned this, like everything else, on its head?

The Prime Minister : I have not seen that report, but I have expressed before the dangers that a minimum wage policy would hold for employment levels. I believe that it would cost many people their jobs and would cause far more damage than good.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister recall telling The Daily Telegraph six months ago that economic recovery was coming, in his words, "within weeks"? How did he get it so badly wrong?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman would study recent CBI surveys he would see that domestic and export orders are rising, that export orders are at their highest level for over a year and that there is confirmation that business conditions are beginning to improve in line with confidence. That is not just my view, but the view of industry and commerce.

Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister aware that building employers say that conditions are worse than they have been in 40 years, that car sales are down 20 per cent. on the year and that Lord Prior, chairman of GEC, says there is no improvement in trading conditions? If the Prime Minister thinks that all that adds up to recovery, he is not living in the real world.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should get out of the habit of writing his supplementary questions before he hears the first answer. What is concerning the right hon. Gentleman is the fact that the economy is moving back into growth and he does not like it. Growth is good for the country but bad for the Labour party.

Mr. Kinnock : After years of pushing Britain down, the Prime Minister is in no position to make that kind of claim. He has taken Britain into negative growth, rising unemployment and falling output. It is time he was out.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is a specialist in talking this country down and does it week after week. The only way to get proper growth is to have an economic recovery based on low inflation and proper investment, not on the sort of policies that the right hon. Gentleman has advocated. The policies that he stands for--of high taxation and centralised control--are the policies that would drive this country to ruin.

Mr. Favell : As my right hon. Friend prepares for Maastricht, may he be reassured that to return without a treaty would be no failure? Our European colleagues' vision of Europe is fundamentally different from ours and a shotgun marriage would be in nobody's interests--and good luck.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his best wishes. I assure him I will return with a treaty that I can recommend to the House or come back without a treaty.


Q2. Mr. Galbraith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 December

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

Mr. Galbraith : As his experiences clearly influence his policies and following his recent interview in The Sun , can the Prime Minister now tell the House exactly when he was unemployed?

The Prime Minister : I was unemployed in the early 1960s. As to the precise dates, that is not a matter which I can immediately remember. It was in the early 1960s.

Mr. Churchill : Is not it unacceptable that pensioners should be defrauded of pensions to which they have contributed throughout their entire working lives, as is the case with the Mirror Group Newspapers pensioners? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be swift Government action to remedy that situation and will he commiserate with the Leader of the Opposition about the fact that his and his party's principal supporter should turn out to be a crook?

The Prime Minister : I am not able to comment on the Mirror Group pension fund as the Serious Fraud Office is examining it. We have greatly tightened the protection of pension fund members over recent years. Nothing, of course, can be complete proof against criminality.


Q3. Mr. Hain : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 December.

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

Mr. Hain : The future of the Daily Mirror is now in hock to City spivs and business tycoons-- [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen can shout as much as they like, but does the Prime Minister agree that citizens' rights are best protected by pluralistic ownership of the press? Or does he want to gag free speech and have every tabloid newspaper supporting the Tory party?

The Prime Minister : I do not think that it would be proper for me to get involved in what is happening in terms of the Mirror Group pension fund. I commented as far as I am prepared to a moment ago.


Q4. Mr. Roger King : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 December.

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

Mr. King : The news that millions of new investors are seeking to invest in British Telecom is good news indeed. Will my right hon. Friend extend to them his best wishes on becoming part of the property-owning democracy and will he send a message of best wishes to the management and employees of West Midlands Travel--the country's biggest bus company--who yesterday concluded a £70 million buy-out? Is not it obvious that when employees own their own business, that is the Conservative way forward?

The Prime Minister : Yes, Sir. The privatisation programme has been an enormous success in recent years and not the least part of that success has been the extent to which it has widened and deepened share ownership around the country. That will certainly increase in the years ahead.

Mr. Ashdown : Will the Prime Minister reconsider his answer to me two weeks ago on mortgage repossessions? Does he realise that his answer was not only factually wrong, but betrayed a depressing complacency in the face of the scale of the homes repossession crisis which is now upon us? Does he realise that if he will not act on the problem, it will not only produce a tide of human misery, but will bring to a clattering end any hope of economic recovery?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman touches on an important matter, but he misrepresents the views of the Government and he misrepresents what I said. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has announced help in terms of income support assistance for those facing repossession and the loss of their homes. That help amounts to £400 million a year, which is very considerable and is necessary. The right hon. Gentleman should not misrepresent what the Government have said and are doing.


Q5. Mr. Moss : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 December.

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

Mr. Moss : Does my right hon. Friend agree that privatisation receipts have helped the Government to increase public spending, to cut taxation and to pay off national debt? Does he further agree that it is sheer hypocrisy to oppose privatisation in principle and to promise more nationalisation, yet to claim that there will still be privatisation proceeds to spend, as did a Labour Front-Bench Treasury spokesperson this morning?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. If the privatisation programme were to cease, it would have a damaging effect on the inflow of funds, as would proposals to renationalise parts of industry which is what the Labour party proposes. There is no doubt that there is a huge gap between Labour's spending proposals and its capacity to fund those proposals without huge increases in direct tax for the vast majority of people.

Mr. Rooney : Does the Prime Minister have any intention of visiting Essex? If he does, does he have any retraining plans in mind for those of his hon. Friends who will not be here after the next election?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is ill-informed. We have gained four local council seats in by-elections in Essex recently.


Q6. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 December.

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

Mr. Nicholson : As a former Social Security Minister, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the importance attached by the retired to occupational pensions and to the great and successful expansion of those over the past 12 years. Given the crocodile tears on those matters from the Labour party, is not it essential that my right hon. Friend should as soon as possible launch an inquiry into how people's pensions were protected by the prominent Labour party members who were directors and trustees of the Mirror Group Newspapers pension fund?

The Prime Minister : It would not be proper for me to comment on individuals who may be trustees of that pension fund. Pension management is based on trust law and the good management of pension funds and the behaviour of trustees is, therefore, paramount. As I said some moments ago, we have strengthened the law requiring trustees to disclose key information to members, to pensioners and to trade unions. People listening to this Question Time may wonder why Opposition Members wish to drown out the subject.

Mr. Hume : Does the Prime Minister agree that it is impossible to have a genuine single market without a single currency? Does he also agree that the reservations in his party about a single currency have more to do with nationalism than with economics? Given that in the harmonisation process we have already got rid of the half crown and of the threepenny bit, what is the emotional difficulty about changing the pound coin to the ecu?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman bases his question on a premise that I do not accept. I believe that it is possible to have a perfectly satisfactory single market without a single currency. The question whether it would ever be right to move to one at some distant date is separate.


Balanced Budget

Q7. Mr. Janman : To ask the Prime Minister in what financial year he expects to balance the budget between Government expenditure and revenue received.

The Prime Minister : It remains our policy to balance the budget over the economic cycle. The balance between revenue and expenditure in any one financial year will depend largely on cyclical developments.

Mr. Janman : May I urge my right hon. Friend to keep as tight as humanly possible control on public expenditure so as to meet the objective of a balanced budget as soon as possible? Does he agree that the idea of spending an extra £35,000 million a year would be absolutely disastrous for the economy of this country? That is precisely what the Labour party seeks to do.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. We have repaid a great deal of debt over recent years. It remains our policy to move back to a balanced budget as speedily as possible. The Opposition always promise to spend more. They never say where the money is coming from and they never will, but the taxpayers know where it is coming from--it will be coming from them.

Mr. Tony Banks : Am I being completely cynical--[ Hon. Members :- - "Yes!"] Give me a chance! Am I being completely cynical in thinking that the Government's announcement about the great increase in public expenditure has something to do with a general election?

The Prime Minister : Yes, totally cynical.