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1991 - PMQT 12th December 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th December 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Butler : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 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. Butler : Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that, by rejecting the social chapter, he is rejecting the strikers' friend and the creep of socialism?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. At the end of the 1970s, 29 million days were lost in strikes whereas only 2 million days were lost in strikes last year. I have no enthusiasm for returning to the sort of legislation that applied at that time.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister tell us why Chancellor Kohl and his fellow Conservative Heads of Government do not agree with him that, by adopting the social chapter, they will jeopardise jobs?

The Prime Minister : Because they do not have the trade union structure that we have in this country or the record of trade union militancy that so damaged this country in the 1970s and to which we have no intention whatsoever of returning. If the right hon. Gentleman begins to listen to what many employers elsewhere in Europe are saying, he will learn that they recognise that we made the right decisions.

Mr. Kinnock : What those Heads of Government do not have is a record of losing 768,000 jobs in their countries in the past 12 months. Four out of every five of the jobs that have been lost in the European Community in the past year have been lost in Britain because of the right hon. Gentleman's policies. He is the last person to be entitled to think of himself as a protector of jobs ; he is the destroyer of jobs.

Mr. Major : Throughout the 1980s as a whole, more jobs were created in this country than in any other European country. Indeed, nearly as many jobs were created in this country as in the whole of the European Community. I need no lectures from the right hon. Gentleman about the social dimension. The social dimension to Europe was part of the Single European Act, against which the right hon. Gentleman voted.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that record? Is he aware that Britain receives almost half the total investment coming into Europe from the United States of America and Japan and that many of the companies involved have the good sense to choose Wolverhampton and the rest of the west midlands? Does he agree that those companies choose to come to Britain because our taxes are low, our industrial relations are good and, most of all, our Government understand business? Does he agree that none of that would be the case if the Labour party was in charge?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right in that diagnosis. She may have read the remarks made yesterday by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, which made its position perfectly clear on the agreement at Maastricht. It said :

"There will be many continental businesses today envying their competitors in the United Kingdom."

That is because they understand that the decisions that we have taken are in the interests of British industry, British commerce and jobs for British workers.


Q2. Mr. Patchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Mr. Patchett : Given the decision to opt out of the social charter in Europe-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]-- can the Prime Minister confirm that he is planning-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]--to fight the next general election on the slogan "Vote Tory for the lowest wages, least consultation and worst employment protection in Europe"?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."]--is in no position to talk about opt-outs, considering that his party has opted out of every necessary decision to assist this country in the past 10 years and has backed every inflationary wage claim, every piece of trade union militancy and every policy that would do damage to Britain and its future.

Mr. Wilkinson : Could my right hon. Friend find time today to think again about the significance of an historic referendum which took place in the Ukraine on 1 December, in which the people of Ukraine freely and democratically voted for their sovereignty and independence? Will Her Majesty's Government recognise the Government of Ukraine and show that they are on the side of democracy and freedom?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend said, the referendum in Ukraine showed overwhelming support for the independence of Ukraine. [Hon. Members :-- "Reading."] The Foreign Affairs Committee statement on 2 December gave the initial response from the European Community. We shall continue to consult--

Hon. Members : "Reading."

Mr. Speaker : Order. The House well knows the conventions here. It has always been in order for Ministers on the Front Bench to read their answers and it has never been in order for hon. Members to read their questions.

The Prime Minister : Most people would have regarded what is happening in the Soviet Union as a matter of some importance, not a matter for the fourth-form behaviour that we see on the Opposition Benches.


Q3. Mr. O'Brien : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Mr. O'Brien : Will the Prime Minister confirm that because of his decision to opt out of the social charter-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I cannot hear everything down here. Perhaps it is just as well.

Mr. O'Brien : Will the Prime Minister confirm that because of his decision to opt out of the social charter

Hon. Members : He has said that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Does the hon. Gentleman want to ask a question or not? Please get on with it.

Mr. O'Brien rose -- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is intolerable. Will the hon. Gentleman please ask his question.

Mr. O'Brien : Will the Prime Minister confirm that because of his action in opting out of the social charter, Great Britain will be the only country in Europe that will deny its people the legal right to paid holidays? Does not he feel ashamed of that?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman can know what we have agreed not to join. What we have agreed not to accept are the sort of damaging laws that nearly brought this country to its knees when we last had a Labour Government. That is what we are not prepared to accept. Matters such as the hon. Gentleman raised can be dealt with at present under the social dimension to which the British Government subscribe and against which the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) voted.


Q4. Mr. Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Mr. Hannam : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on helping to create a more outward-looking Europe. In that connection, and in view of the impending serious food shortages in the Soviet Union, may I ask whether he was able to take any initiatives at Maastricht to help move foodstuffs from the Community to the Russian people?

The Prime Minister : Yes, we were able to take such initiatives. The European Council reaffirmed its determination to act quickly to help the people of the Soviet Union and in particular those who live in the heavily populated areas of Moscow and St. Petersburg. A substantial package of help for the Soviet Union, totalling over $11 billion worth of emergency aid in 1991, has now been put in place by the Group of Seven, under my chairmanship, and the European Community. That includes new commitments of food and medical aid of over $4 billion. Logistical experts will be meeting shortly to ensure that that aid gets swiftly to those in need. I am pleased also to tell the House that the United Kingdom is sending £20 million worth of animal feed aid to St. Petersburg so that livestock need not be slaughtered this winter.

Mr. Ashdown : Is the Prime Minister aware that the Government's decision to pay the mortgage element of income support direct to lenders is a welcome but wholly insufficient response to the crisis facing thousands of families in Britain because of home repossessions? Does he not realise that unless he is prepared to be more imaginative--for instance, with schemes for converting mortgages to rents--we shall not avoid in the new year thousands of families facing misery, a further plunge in house prices and serious damage to the economy?

The Prime Minister : The Government are providing substantial help to those who risk losing their homes when they lose their jobs. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, we made new arrangements on 5 November to ensure that income support payments can be paid directly to the lender. The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the Government are looking urgently with mortgage lenders at what further measures might be taken to protect those faced with repossession.

Sir Teddy Taylor : As one who joined the Leader of the Opposition in voting against the Single European Act, before the right hon. Gentleman became a Euro-fanatic, may I appeal to my right hon. Friend to warn the voters about the huge dangers to the much-improved labour relations of Britain if they were to vote into power any Government who were prepared to pass over the power to wreck our trade union reforms by majority vote in Brussels? Will he warn the British people of the damage that could be done to them and the danger to their way of life and democracy?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that if my hon. Friend maintains his position with his normal consistency, the day will come when the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) will join him yet again in that view. On the substantive point, my hon. Friend will know that I agree with him, for I refused earlier this week to agree in Europe to the sort of laws that would have had the effect my hon. Friend sets out.


Q5. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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

Mr. Livingstone : Will the Prime Minister take time today to meet the Home Secretary to discuss how the Government should respond to the letter they have received from the mayor of Conservative-controlled Bexley drawing attention to the 140 per cent. increase in racist attacks in the area since the British National party moved its headquarters into the area? One of those attacks involved the stabbing to death of Rolan Adams by a racist mob. How does the Prime Minister think that the Government can respond to the Mayor's request that Bexley council be given the power to close that fascist headquarters before more lives are lost?

The Prime Minister : I was not aware of that incident, but I deplore such racist attacks without any reservation whatsoever. I will certainly discuss that incident with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Rowe : The channel tunnel is about to become a major part of the United Kingdom infrastructure. Will my right hon. Friend look with his Cabinet colleagues at the fact that Kent is receiving considerable capital-infrastructure funds but virtually all of that money is going on projects linked to the channel tunnel, to the great detriment of Kent's other needs?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is a powerful advocate for his constituency and for Kent generally. I will certainly examine the point that he raises.