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1991 - PMQT 10th December 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 10th December 1991. Mr MacGregor responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Ward : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 December.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : I have been asked to reply My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the European Council in Maastricht.

Mr. Ward : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join all his right hon. and hon. Friends in wishing the Prime Minister well in his important negotiations.

Has my right hon. Friend seen a recent public opinion poll which says that 66 per cent. of the people asked believed that taxes under the Labour party would be increased?-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I know, but the hon. Gentleman must relate his question to the Government's responsibilities.

Mr. Ward : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in contrast, the Government have been responsible and does he further agree that the policies of the Opposition seem to be-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is not very good, you see, on Government responsibility and this takes up a lot of time. The hon. Gentleman must bring his question to a conclusion, please.

Mr. Ward : Will my right hon. Friend further agree that the only hope of keeping low taxation is to return the Conservative party to Government?

Mr. MacGregor : I am sure that not only hon. Members on this side of the House but the majority of people in this country wish my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my other right hon. Friends well in their very important negotiations in Maastricht.

As for my hon. Friend's other question, I confirm that it is as a result of this Government's economic policies and the growth achieved over the years that we have secured not only higher public spending but a substantial reduction in direct taxes. I saw the report to which my hon. Friend referred and I am not at all surprised that the Opposition tried to shout him down, for the simple fact is that the report revealed that the majority of people in this country recognise that the Labour party has now promised to increase spending on just about everything under the sun, which would mean higher borrowing, higher inflation and much higher taxes.

Mr. Kinnock : The British people will also note that all that came from the spokesman for the Government who have raised the tax burden to its highest level in British history.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the draft of the treaty at Maastricht today provides for the improvement of employees' working conditions, for legal protection and for entitlement to consultation and to information. When other Community Governments are prepared-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Dickens rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not need any help from the hon. Member.

Mr. Kinnock : When other Community Governments are prepared to extend those rights to their people, is not it completely wrong for the British Government to refuse to do the same for the British people?

Mr. MacGregor : I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman avoided the first point, because the report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) referred produced the following answer within the Labour party :

"Some argue it will highlight one of our weaker points".

It certainly does. On Maastricht, we are opposed to a number of the points in the social charter because in practice it would damage employment and prosperity. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been arguing against the social text. It will put a huge burden on industry and will cost jobs. Another point is that it offends the important principle of subsidiarity. I agree with the point made by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) in today's edition of The Guardian. He said :

"It provides for an expansion of treaty-based Community competence into areas of wage bargaining and social security that should rightly remain with member states".

That is right and that is why we oppose so many elements in the social charter.

Mr. Kinnock : Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to tell us that other Community Governments, many with economies more successful than ours, do not care about employment, about costs and about competitiveness? Of course they do. Why is it that those countries can accept basic, decent minimum standards for their people whereas this Government will not accept them for the British people?

Mr. MacGregor : In trade union legislation and in other ways, there are different practices in different countries. The plain fact is that some elements of the social charter would run the risk--indeed, would make it a real possibility--of this country returning to some of the trade union practices that did so much damage during the 1970s. What is more, my right hon. Friend's position in Maastricht has the support of the Confederation of British Industry and of the majority of British industry which recognises the increasing burdens that the charter could impose on it, which would damage our competitiveness in relation to countries outside the Community which are not so burdened.

Mr. Kinnock : When it is obvious that the other 11 Governments are prepared to accept the draft before them at Maastricht today and that this Government are not, the Government are confessing to a unique combination of political prejudice and economic weakness which marks them out from the rest of the Community and which marks Britain down in the Community.

Mr. MacGregor : There is no question of marking Britain down. My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the dangers which lie within the social charter of making European industry uncompetitive in relation to Japanese industry and to others. It is no wonder that the right hon. Gentleman wants to support elements of the social charter being imposed here. That would result in a return to the period when 29 million days were lost to strikes and when substantial burdens were imposed on British industry. That is why we oppose the proposals.


Q2. Mr. Stevens : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 December.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Stevens : Will my right hon. Friend today find time to join my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in condemning Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, such as Nottingham, Derbyshire and Richmond, which have blocked the distribution of the parents charter? Does not that hostility to the charter give the lie to the Opposition parties' request for freedom of information?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend and I condemn those authorities. He is right to draw attention to the hypocrisy of those local authorities, as he has described it. They have advised schools not to make copies available to parents. It goes further than that. The Government's education policies in schools are designed entirely to raise standards, to increase choice and to improve information to parents. The parents charter is an important part of that and I am glad that most schools have ignored the attitudes of those Labour authorities.

Mr. Blunkett : In 1909, Winston Churchill, talking about workers' rights, said that there were necessary laws to be passed to ensure that the bad employer was not undercut by the very worst. Is not that why other Governments and employers across Europe understand well today that the Government are reneging on that and wish this country to undercut others by treating workers in the worst way possible?

Mr. MacGregor : This Government have implemented all 18 of the social measures that have so far been agreed under the social charter, which is more than can be said of a lot of our Community partners. We do implement such measures where we believe that it is right to do so, but we have opposed the working time directive, for example, because it could have added an extra £5 billion to British industry's costs. We believe that that would destroy jobs and make industry uncompetitive. We have been successful in going in the opposite direction--in increasing the number of jobs and in making British industry more competitive in the past 10 years.


Q3. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 December.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Gill : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the majority of my constituents believe that what they voted for in the referendum on Europe was a single market, not a single currency? Does he further accept that the failure of the common agricultural policy, coupled with doubts about the realisation of the level playing field for goods and services by the end of next year, mean that this is a singularly inappropriate time to extend the competence of the European Community? Does-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is enough.

Mr. Gill : Would my right hon. Friend--

Hon. Members : Sit down.

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Gill : Does my right hon. Friend agree-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. In fairness to everyone else, the hon. Gentleman should sit down.

Mr. Gill : Does my right hon. Friend agree-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is very unfair to other hon. Members.

Mr. MacGregor : I am afraid that I could not catch the last part of my hon. Friend's question, but I agree with him about the importance that he attaches to the single market. That, of course, is why the United Kingdom Government have been in the lead in pressing for the completion of the single market and that is why, in the current negotiations, we are arguing for steps to strengthen the observance of Community law to ensure that a level playing field is included in the single market.

As to the steps that are now being taken at Maastricht on the development of the Community, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that if he gets an agreement that is right for Britain and for Europe, he will sign, but if he cannot, he will not.


Q4. Miss Lestor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 December.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Lady to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Miss Lestor : Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Britain was one of the countries that ruled against the inclusion of the role of overseas development and co-operation as part of the discussions at Maastricht? Was that because it could mean that Britain would have to increase the amount that we spend on overseas aid and development to match the contributions of other European countries?

Mr. MacGregor : I cannot comment on details of the negotiations-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"]--because I do not know the details of what is actually happening today, but it is quite clear that we have been arguing that matters affecting foreign policy should continue to be decided under the auspices of intergovernmental co-operation. On overseas aid, the hon. Lady knows that this year we have yet again increased the amount of money that is spent on that.


Q5. Mr. Butterfill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 December.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Butterfill : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the courageous efforts of the European Community observers in Croatia? Does he share my concern that they have found almost universally that the aggression has been initiated by Serbia? Does he agree that it is desirable that today's events in Maastricht might lead to future improved co-operation on such matters by the European Community which may, in the end, lead to a reduction in the genocide in that country?

Mr. MacGregor : Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the efforts of Lord Carrington and others within the Community who have been endeavouring to obtain a ceasefire, and to the efforts made by Mr. Cyrus Vance. My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the benefits of Community co-operation. We have already seen much of that in the lead that has been given by the Community, which has taken special steps to limit the damage and the fighting to enable the parties to come together. Britain has played a large part in that. We have set up a peace conference, sent in monitors and have established ceasefires. I very much hope that that co-operation and the Community's continued efforts will produce the results that my hon. Friend seeks.


Q6. Mr. Nigel Griffiths : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 December.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Griffiths : Does the right hon. Gentleman think it right that under the Tory council tax every millionaire who lives alone will be entitled to a 25 per cent. rebate while the majority of pensioner couples with modest savings or occupational pensions will have to pay the full council tax? Is this the classless society but only open to millionaires?

Mr. MacGregor : The council tax will produce about 40 per cent. of total local authority revenue and people on higher incomes will contribute to local authority expenditure much more through the taxes that they pay.

Mr. Brazier : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Prime Minister on his initiative yesterday with President Mitterrand on the Soviet Union? Does he agree that it is a sign of considerable leadership that, right in the teeth of the complexity of the negotiations at Maastricht, the Prime Minister should have recognised that the awesome events on the other side of Europe may have an even larger say in the history of Europe?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I pay tribute to all the work that my right hon. Friend has done throughout the year with regard to events in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Yesterday he drew attention to the three matters of concern to which I have no doubt that he will turn, in co-operation with other countries who are equally concerned, as soon as the Maastricht negotiations are complete.