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1992 - PMQT 27th February 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 27th February 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Loyden : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 February.

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. Loyden : Will the Prime Minister come out of his ivory tower across the road, put his photo calls on hold and face up to his responsibility for the past 13 years of Government mismanagement, which has culminated in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s? How long must we go on, how many more jobs are to be lost and how many more families are to be dispossessed of their homes? Will the Prime Minister now put it to the test through the ballot box and let the people decide on his record?

The Prime Minister : It is the hon. Member who is wrong. We grew throughout the 1980s better than any other major European country except Spain : we received the highest growth in manufacturing productivity of any Group of Seven country and faster growth in business investment than any other G7 country except Japan. By contrast, the hon. Gentleman might bear it in mind that Labour's plans for an extra £37 billion a year and policies of higher taxation, higher inflation and higher interest rates would drive this country into perpetual slump.


Q2. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 February.

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

Mr. Devlin : Does my right hon. Friend agree that higher taxes and minimum wages would put up the costs of British businesses, making them uncompetitive and costing them jobs? Does he agree that such twin torture is the very last thing that British business needs at the moment?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Only the Labour party could plan to cripple industry with both a national minimum wage and substantial tax increases when trading conditions are so difficult. Let me give my hon. Friend a quote :

"If our costs rise more rapidly than others' costs, particularly German costs, then British producers lose markets at home and abroad."

Those are not my words--they were the words of the Leader of the Opposition. If that is what he thinks, he should withdraw his tax plans and withdraw his minimum wage plans and do so today.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister recall saying that a "promise to cut taxes AND increase public expenditure is dishonest and absurd"?

When the right hon. Gentleman wrote that, did he think that he would end up making exactly that "dishonest and absurd" promise himself?

The Prime Minister : It is quite staggering to everyone who listens to the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) how terrified he and his party are of tax cuts. He still thinks that tax cuts are immoral. The Labour party has opposed every tax cut that we have introduced and now it threatens to raise taxes if we cut them. The right hon. Gentleman wants people to let him spend their money rather than spending it themselves. Labour opposes tax cuts when the economy is growing and when it is not.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister heads the Government who have imposed the biggest tax burden in British history. Perhaps he will now try answering the question. The Government have promised to increase public expenditure and are promising to cut income taxes. Is that not, in the Prime Minister's own words, truly a "dishonest and absurd" promise?

The Prime Minister : If the tax burden is so high, why does the right hon. Gentleman propose to increase it still further? When it was pointed out to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) that his taxes would rise, the right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed surprised : what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, in effect, was that taxes under Labour would "only" rise higher than those in any other G7 country--lower, perhaps, than taxes in Albania, but higher than those of all our competitors.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister, in the last couple of weeks left to him in that office, try answering the question? Does he not recall that he has promised to increase public expenditure, to cut taxes and to balance the budget? His promises do not add up. He was right-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister has made all those promises. He was right : those promises are dishonest-- [Interruption.] I am quoting the Prime Minister, and he will hear this again-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us have an end to this pointing across the Chamber.

Mr. Kinnock : Even deliberate disruption will not stop the country hearing this. The Prime Minister has described promises to cut taxes and raise public expenditure as "dishonest and absurd". He was at least right about that--and right about the Government who are making such promises.

The Prime Minister : In the 1980s we did cut taxation and raise public expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman makes an absurd point. Under the Labour Government, borrowing averaged more than 6 per cent. of national product ; since 1979, it has averaged not 6 per cent. but less than 2 per cent. Before the right hon. Gentleman starts to give lectures on borrowing, he should get his facts right. In one year under Labour, borrowing reached a crippling 9 per cent.--the equivalent of £55 billion today. That was the Labour party's half decade of debt and now they plan another £37 billion worth of expenditure. Which would it be : £37 billion of extra taxes or £37 billion of extra expenditure?


Q3. Mr. Hill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 February.

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

Mr. Hill : On the eve of the first anniversary of the Gulf war, will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing our gratitude to our armed forces, our commitment to the independence of Kuwait and our determination to ensure that Saddam Hussein and his generals comply with all international sanctions or suffer the consequences?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is quite right. The whole country is proud of the role that our armed forces played in the liberation of Kuwait. The way in which Saddam Hussein still behaves is unacceptable to us, to the United Nations and to the international community, and we shall continue to keep pressure on him.

Mr. Ashley : Is the Prime Minister aware that something far more valuable than the woolly citizens charter was brought before this House recently--a Bill to improve the rights of disabled people--but was talked out by Conservative Members? Will he now undertake to rescue the Bill? Or is this yet another example of the Government and their supporters talking up human rights in theory and knocking them down in practice?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has done a great deal during his period in the House for disabled people and everyone in the House admires him for what he has done, but he must know that there have been dramatic improvements in recent years in the scope, range and value of benefits and in the number of disabled people who receive them. No doubt there is still more to do, and it will be done in due course, but the right hon. Gentleman ought not to deny what has been done.


Q4. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 February.

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

Mr. Bellingham : Does the Prime Minister recognise that, because of privatisation, the water companies are spending £28 billion on improving water quality, including schemes in west Norfolk to upgrade drinking water and clean up our beaches? Is he aware that renationalising water would cost the taxpayer £8 billion and that the whole of this investment programme would be put at risk? Is that really what the Labour party wants?

The Prime Minister : I suspect that it is. My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Yesterday, Labour's spokesman made the point that nationalising water was a priority--yet another priority--which would cost £8 billion. There was no sign of where the money will come from, and no sign of any advantage from the policy--just sheer blind dogma.

Mr. Ashdown : With British industry burdened by record debt and Britain's trade deficit at its highest for a year, will the Prime Minister explain why tax cuts which will suck in more imports are right while public investment in the kind of things that Britain needs for the future is wrong?

The Prime Minister : There was a time in the history of the Liberal party when it trusted people with their own money and believed that they could make their own decisions. I note that, yet again, the Liberal party is aligning itself with the Labour party on social and taxation matters. The whole country will note that, too.

Mr. Kilfedder : I am sure that the Prime Minister will join me in expressing the utmost admiration for the Australian people and the great commonwealth of Australia. Will he therefore do his best to defuse the present unhappy situation and assure the people of that great continent that, although they may be on the other side of the world, they are close to the hearts of the people of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister : I will certainly undertake to do that. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend on that matter.


Wallsend

Q5. Mr. Ted Garrett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will visit Wallsend.

The Prime Minister : I am making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and hope to return to the north-east in the midst of those plans.

Mr. Garrett : I would like the Prime Minister to visit Wallsend because he visited the neighbouring Conservative-held constituency and saw the destruction arising from the Meadowell riots as a result of 13 years of Thatcherism. The Prime Minister would be most welcome to visit the Wallsend part of North Tyneside where he would have an opportunity to visit Swan Hunter and see a dedicated work force, a dedicated management and, above all, the pride of the people in Wallsend in building and refitting ships for the Royal Navy. He would also learn about a series of problems, the main one of which is the unfair subsidies to ship building companies in the European Community which are handicapping the British ship building industry in terms of merchant shipping orders.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point and I have considerable sympathy with what he says about that. The Government's plans for the future naval fleet, including those recently announced for amphibious forces, will provide excellent opportunities for Swan Hunter to bid to obtain more orders. On the subject of equitability across Europe, our aim is to establish that and competitive conditions for all United Kingdom ship builders as soon as possible at national and international levels. We shall certainly keep up the pressure to achieve that, in the interests of Swan Hunter and many other fine firms in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : On his way to Wallsend, will my right hon. Friend visit the north-west of the United Kingdom, and the borough of Macclesfield in particular?

If he does, he will find an area ready to respond to the sound foundations of the economy that he and the Government have established.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his very warm support. I had the opportunity to visit the north-west on Monday, where I found a good deal of buoyancy and confidence in the future of the north-west and of the country as a whole.


Engagements

Q7. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 27 February.

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

Mr. Skinner : Does the Prime Minister not have a guilty conscience about his role as an ex-social security Minister? Does he remember the period after 1985 when he came to the Dispatch Box and abolished the death grant and took away maternity grant and income support for 16 and 17-year- olds, while all the time pensioners were losing £14 a week? What is all this claptrap about a classless society and a citizens charter? The pensioners need more than that--and not that load of hypocrisy from the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman wants to know about claptrap, he should listen to what he has just said. If he examines the record, he will see that for people in need I dramatically increased the amounts available for the death grant.