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1992 - PMQT 14th May 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th May 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. French : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 May.

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. French : Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it is desirable to have an easy flow of goods and people between countries, it is essential to maintain effective national border controls, not only as part of our fight against international crime and drug trafficking, but to preserve that extra security which we as an island nation have come to expect?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The benefits that we see from the freedom of movement could easily be lost if we could not protect ourselves against terrorism, smuggling and illegal immigration. On border controls, the Government do not agree that article 8A requires the abolition of all controls on people at the Community's internal frontiers. It is our policy to control the entry of nationals at the point of arrival. That is the most effective way of control for an island nation, and our European partners must understand that.

Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister aware that today's rise in unemployment is the 24th consecutive monthly increase? Is he aware that during the past year unemployment has increased by over half a million and that unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds has increased by more than 200,000? Against that background, does he think it right to continue cutting Government funding for training?

The Prime Minister : Any increase in unemployment is one too many. I accept that, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about it. The only way we shall create permanent jobs that will be sustained and will provide proper career opportunities is to have the return of confidence, the right levels of investment and the right economic background. That is what we are seeking to achieve. That is the right way to deal with unemployment in the short term, the medium term and the long term. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have one of the most substantial training schemes that this country has ever seen or any other country has ever seen.

Mr. Kinnock : Does not the Prime Minister yet accept that a critical part of any policy for future employment is a good, strong, continuing policy on training? The figures in the Government's White Paper on public expenditure-- [Interruption.] The figures in the Government's own White Paper show that there is to be a continuing cut in employment training and youth training. There are 800,000 young people aged between 18 and 24 who are unemployed now. Is it not clear that the Government's message to them is no jobs, no training, no hope?

The Prime Minister : I do not believe that that is remotely accurate. On the substantive part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, training is improving all the time. More workers are qualified--up to 73 per cent.--more people are staying on at school for more skills and more firms are investing in training, the figure for which is now £20 billion. This Government have created 300,000 training places whereas the Labour Government created 700. Just a few weeks ago the British people were well aware of which party would put the nation back to work and they made their choice decisively.

Mr. Kinnock : Since the Prime Minister wishes to refer to it, the fact is that under the last Labour Government unemployment reached a maximum of 1.25 million. It is now well over double that. This Government have never managed to get unemployment down to that level. Why will he not face up to the problem of unemployment, accept his own figures and understand that the Conservatives have not only sabotaged employment in this country and lost 1 million jobs in the last two years, but are not providing employment training in the way that should be provided in any modern country, let alone one with 2.7 million unemployed people?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should sometimes recollect that there never have been a Labour Government who did not push unemployment up dramatically. A higher proportion of our nation--70 per cent., a higher proportion than anywhere else--is in work. Our job creation record throughout the 1980s was better than that of most European Community countries, providing over 2 million more jobs than in 1983. The right hon. Gentleman takes a selective view of the rest of the world. He ignores it when he talks of recession. He accepts it when he talks of unemployment. He might need a more consistent line if he becomes leader of the Socialist International.

Mr. David Evans : I congratulate the Prime Minister on his stunning victory at the general election. Will he take this opportunity to congratulate the people of Welwyn Hatfield on getting rid of a Labour administration after 13 years? Will he assure me that we shall not hold the next Conservative party conference in Sheffield and that we shall not close the conference in total darkness with fireworks going off? [Interruption.] They might all turn out to be damp squibs, as happened to the Labour party.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes his own distinctive points in his own distinctive way, and I have no doubt that the voters of Welwyn Hatfield, in returning him, have seen him do precisely what they expected of him. In response to his direct question, I can certainly confirm that the next Conservative party conference will not be held in Sheffield.


Q2. Mr. Wareing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 May.

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

Mr. Wareing : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when his predecessor first entered the House, it was five months before she made her maiden speech and that, when she did, she introduced a Bill which opened up local authority meetings to the press and public? In view of the secrecy that presently surrounds the meetings of hospital trusts, will the right hon. Gentleman introduce legislation under which all management committee meetings are open to the press and public?

The Prime Minister : I have told the hon. Gentleman that the Chancellor of the Duchy is examining areas of government where it is possible to remove levels of secrecy. That has begun and will continue. We shall make the outcome known to Parliament in due course.

Mr. Bill Walker : When my right hon. Friend is carrying out his review, and is taking stock of the situation, of Scotland, will he bear it in mind that his leadership and the firm stand taken by him and the Secretary of State for Scotland against assemblies and parliaments in Edinburgh resulted in the splendid general election result and the subsequent splendid result at the district elections, in which Perth and Kinross district council was restored handsomely to Conservative control?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, I believe that the Union has ensured that Scotland plays a full part in the most stable political entity to be found anywhere in Europe. It has served the whole of the United Kingdom well. It has certainly served Scotland and England well. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said recently, Scotland is alive and flourishing. Indeed it is. We welcome that. It is alive and flourishing within the Union.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that, despite his attacks on our proposals for a carbon tax during the election campaign, we now greatly welcome his conversion to the case for a carbon tax to tackle global warming? Does he accept that the European Commission's proposals are too timid and too conditional to attack that problem effectively, that the next response must come from the Americans and that he has a role in persuading the Americans to make that response?

The Prime Minister : There are many ways to deal with the problem of CO and we still await the Commission's formal proposals. We cannot yet be certain what it will do. It is absolutely clear that it would make sense to adopt such a tax only if our major competitors in the world also did so, both for environmental reasons and because acting alone would harm competitiveness in this country and across Europe. I shall discuss with Japan and the United States what action might be taken, but I have no intention of prejudging what that action might be.

Mr. Brandreth : Did my right hon. Friend happen to see the punch-up in the Italian Parliament yesterday, when it was attempting to elect a new President? Does he see that as an example of the benefits of proportional representation or merely a dress rehearsal for the election of a new loser- -so sorry--new leader of the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I did not see that particular report, but I am aware of Italy's present difficulties as it tries to determine a new Government after an election that has split the political parties through using proportional representation.


Q3. Mr. Janner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 May.

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

Mr. Janner : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in the midst of a viciously high level of crime, the Leicestershire police force has been forced to cut its budget for the current year by more than £1 million? Will he, therefore, please take this opportunity to deny reports that the Government are placing pressure on his right hon. and learned and reticent Friend the Home Secretary to cut central funding for police forces, because to do so would be irresponsible, dangerous and totally unacceptable?

The Prime Minister : Those who know my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary would not suggest that he is readily susceptible to pressure. He will be as concerned as the Government have been in recent years to ensure that the police force is equipped for its battle against crime.


Q4. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 May.

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

Mr. Carrington : Some pensioners and other people on low incomes in Fulham often struggle to pay their heating bills. Will my right hon. Friend, therefore, join me in warmly welcoming the 3 per cent. reduction in gas prices announced today? Does not that show that privatisation, if properly and effectively regulated, is to the benefit of everyone?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I welcome the 3 per cent. cut in prices that has been announced. It adds to the reductions in recent years since privatisation took effect and illustrates clearly the benefits of competition.


Q5. Ms. Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 May.

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

Ms. Hoey : Does the Prime Minister agree that even if every single empty property in local authority and private sector control were used for families, there would still be a huge shortage of affordable, rented housing? Will the Prime Minister tell the House simply how many affordable, rented homes he plans to build in the next Parliament?

The Prime Minister : It would be a great improvement if all those empty properties, largely in the ownership of Labour authorities, were made available for letting. It would also make a tremendous difference to the availability of property if the Labour party would remove its long-standing prejudices against the private sector, which discourage so many people from bringing private property into the market for letting.


Q6. Mr. Hague : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 May.

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

Mr. Hague : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming today's report that, in line with the patients charter, the General Medical Council is to propose the biggest changes in the regulation of doctors for 150 years? Will he also welcome yesterday's statement by the British Medical Association that, from now on, it wishes to work with the Government in implementing health reforms? Is not the increasing acceptance of the Government's health policies by the medical profession a vindication at last of the work that has been done in the past few years to ensure that the health service today is better funded, better managed and provides a better service to its patients than ever before?

The Prime Minister : I very much agree with my hon. Friend and with the statement made by the chairman of the British Medical Association. We now have a far better working relationship. As a party, we are looking ahead. Indeed, it is only the Labour party which fails to look ahead to see the changes, improvements and benefits taking place in the health service as a result of our funding and our reforms.