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1992 - PMQT 18th June 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th June 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Official Visits

Q1. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to pay an official visit to Bury.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : I shall be making further visits to many parts of the country and hope to include my hon. Friend's constituency among them.

Mr. Sumberg : Is my right hon. Friend aware that at tonight's annual general meeting of the Bury, South Conservative association we shall celebrate our recent victories in the local and general elections and welcome my right hon. Friend's recent speech on the citizens charter to the Adam Smith Institute, in which he made it absolutely clear that in the battle between the Goliaths, who want greater state intervention, and the Davids, who want greater individual freedom, he backs the Davids every time?

The Prime Minister : I wish that I could be with my hon. Friend this evening for his celebrations. The people of Bury, South made a wise choice, and they certainly did in the general election. My hon. Friend is right : I want to see a change in attitude in many areas of public services. We need public services that meet what the public want, not what the so-called experts tell them they should have.


Q2. Mr. Austin-Walker : To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has to pay an official visit to Woolwich.

The Prime Minister : I will be making further visits to many parts of the country and hope to include different parts of London among them.

Mr. Austin-Walker : Does the Prime Minister share the enthusiasm of the President of the Board of Trade for the economic regeneration of the east Thames corridor? Does he share the views of previous Secretaries of State for Transport that the Jubilee line is essential for that economic regeneration and that it can be achieved at far less cost to the Exchequer than building the east London river crossing and without the environmental damage that would ensue from the road?

The Prime Minister : I hope that in due course we shall be able to proceed with the Jubilee line, but we shall wish to see the private sector contribution that we previously set as the sum necessary to ensure that we can proceed. Providing we can achieve that, I hope that we will be able to proceed with the Jubilee line. Economic regeneration is welcome everywhere.


Engagements

Q3. Sir Anthony Durant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 June.

The Prime Minister : 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.

Sir Anthony Durant : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reduction in nuclear weapons that was agreed between President Bush and the Russian President is good news and is to be welcomed? However, will he assure the House and the nation that he will maintain strong United Kingdom defences within NATO and will continue with the Trident programme?

The Prime Minister : I warmly welcome the announcements that were made after the meetings in Washington between President Bush and President Yeltsin. We shall certainly continue to maintain our own independent nuclear deterrent. We shall maintain it, build it, arm it and deploy Trident.

Mr. Kinnock : On this day on which unemployment has gone above 2.7 million again, does the Prime Minister recall that it is exactly a year since he said that economic recovery would begin--and I use his words-- "within weeks" and that Britain would come out of recession by the end of 1991? Why was he so absurdly wrong?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman will have been very pleased to see the economic indicators this week in the light of that remark--very pleased indeed. He will have been pleased to see that manufacturing production has risen for three months in a row for the first time in two years, that retail sales are up again, that the rate of increase in average earnings has slowed further to 7 per cent. and is now at its lowest level for 25 years. While the increase in unemployment is very unwelcome, it is clearly now slowing, so I think that the right hon. Gentleman can now see that we are on the road to recovery.

Mr. Kinnock : I am always glad to see any movement out of the trough into which this Government's policies have pushed the British people and the British economy, but, after the Chancellor's statement yesterday that Britain is three years away from full recovery, as he put it, is not it clear that whenever the Prime Minister or the Chancellor have made optimistic comments about the economy, they have simply not been telling the truth to the British people?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should not be misled by everything that he reads in newspaper headlines ; he should read the speech itself. He should recall that in January he relied a touch too heavily on a press report and criticised me when he was confusing taxes and interest rates. The reality was that what my right hon. Friend actually said yesterday was :

"In two or three years' time people will look back and see that it was now, at this critical juncture, that the right decision was taken."

He did not say that it would be two or three years before recovery.

Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister giving us a date for recovery? He used to be very anxious so to do. I remind him that this time last year he said that it would start "within weeks". This time last year he said that there would be recovery by the end of the year. Why is he much more coy now, a year later, in giving us a firm forecast on when Britain can rejoin the countries that enjoy some growth, since we have now had two years with negative growth under his Government?

The Prime Minister : I think that the right hon. Gentleman should now know that we are on our way to recovery, and if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to know perhaps why the recovery was later than it might have been, I quote the words of the general secretary of the Labour party who claimed that the Labour party did not win the election because of the

"fear of high tax, plus general unease about [Labour's] economic competence."

That did no good at all while the right hon. Gentleman was boasting that he would be sitting on this side of the Chamber.

Mr. Renton : While I hope that the Irish people will reach a positive conclusion in their referendum today, does my right hon. Friend agree that the holding of referendums on major constitutional issues runs contrary to the practice of parliamentary sovereignty in this country and that further, it would be impossible to boil down the many complex issues of the 134-page treaty of Maastricht into one short, but fair and comprehensive question? Further, has the Prime Minister noted--

Madam Speaker : Order. One question.

Mr. Renton : --the recent twists and turns on the European issue by the Labour leader?

Madam Speaker : Order. The right hon. Gentleman is being very unfair in putting so many questions in a short space of time. I call the Prime Minister to answer the first two.

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend's comments on the subject of referendums. I believe that he states the classical position concerning parliamentary democracy.


Q4. Mrs. Fyfe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 June.

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

Mrs. Fyfe : As the Prime Minister says no to a devolved Scottish Parliament, against the wishes of the majority of the Scottish people, and also says no to a referendum on how Scotland should be governed, will he tell us to what, after 10 weeks of taking stock, he is prepared to say yes?

The Prime Minister : I shall tell the hon. Lady when we have concluded taking stock.


Q5. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 June.

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

Mr. Evennett : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent speech to the Adam Smith Institute, in which he advocated more choice and opportunity for the less privileged in our society. Does he agree that we have a lot to do for our inner cities--and in particular that we must ensure that standards in inner-city schools are raised?

The Prime Minister : I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about that. We are determined to raise standards in all our schools, and especially to deal with the problem that clearly exists in many of our inner-cities. I believe that school governors and education authorities must act quickly where inspectors' reports show that standards are unacceptably low. That is too often the case in many of our inner-city schools, and the Government do not intend to stand idly by and see it continue.

Mr. Ashdown : What will the Prime Minister do about unemployment, which is now rising inexorably towards 3 million? It is now two months since the election, and only a handful of weeks until school leavers come on to the register. Are the Government so consumed by self-satisfaction and so sunk in lethargy that they offer no hope, no policies and no action for those who are losing their jobs?

The Prime Minister : I am in no sense satisfied with the level of unemployment in this country, and I have made that clear before. We need the right sort of economic policy, which will sustain long-term employment prospects ; that is what we are putting into place and we shall ensure that we achieve it.

When the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) asks for action he means short-term subsidy--that is what he is really asking for. His only answer is to subsidise the inefficient, the uneconomic and the out of date. No wonder the Liberal Democrats have so much in common with the official Opposition.


Q6. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 June.

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

Sir Michael Neubert : Is the Prime Minister aware that a distinguished predecesor and former Minister for administrative affairs-- Mr. Jim Hacker--reaches pensionable age today? In the spirit of that great statesman, I, too, welcome the Prime Minister's speech to the Adam Smith Institute this week. I also ask my right hon. Friend to urge his colleagues at tomorrow's citizens charter seminar at No. 10 to press forward with further improvements to our public services. In particular, will he tell us whether we can expect the publication of a courts charter, to deal with the interminable delays to which so much of our law is subject?

The Prime Minister : Yes, my hon. Friend touches an important matter, which causes frustration for many of our fellow citizens. We are proceeding to produce a courts charter and I hope that we shall be able to make announcements about it before too long.


Libya (Sanctions)

Q7. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on representations from Arab countries about sanctions against Libya.

The Prime Minister : We have had various approaches from Arab countries about sanctions against Libya. We and the Arab League share the same objective--to see a satisfactory outcome to the Lockerbie problem. This, as the Arab League well knows, will require Libya's full compliance with United Nations Security Council resolution 731.

Mr. Dalyell : In the light of my two letters to the Prime Minister on this subject, will he consider putting in the Library a response to the cover story of Time magazine--not exactly a publication of the left--which challenges the whole basis of the Anglo-American position? Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider approaching Spain on the legal proceedings relating to Monzer al Kassar, a Syrian drugs and arms dealer?

The Prime Minister : I saw the article in Time magazine ; I examined it and sought advice on it. The theories about involvement and links with drugs are not new. They were thoroughly examined by the police during the investigation and were discounted at that stage, at the conclusion of the investigation. No evidence has yet been found to link the Syrian, al Kassar, to Lockerbie--but I shall, of course, examine the matter again in view of the hon. Gentleman's representations.

Mr. Wilkinson : Can my right hon. Friend enlighten the House about any dealings between Government officials and the Government of Libya over links between the Libyan regime and the Irish Republican Army? Has the IRA received any supplies from Libya recently? Have the Libyan authorities given assurances to the Government that they will not continue to supply the IRA?

The Prime Minister : The Libyans have provided some information to the Government about their relationships with the IRA ; they did so in Geneva on 9 June. The preliminary assessment of that information suggests that although in places it was incomplete and unsatisfactory, it contains some positive elements which may well prove useful. One positive development is the fact that the Libyans have indicated to us that they wish to cease providing assistance to the IRA. We are not convinced that that is yet the case.