The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 11 July 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 11th July 1991.




Q1. Sir Patrick Duffy : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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.

Sir Patrick Duffy : Is the Prime Minister aware that whatever reservations hon. Members may have about the rigour of his counter- inflation policy and its impact on growth, jobs and investment, it would attract more support if the Government had a more even-handed approach to it? How does he explain, for example, the statement last night by the latest power chief to receive a big pay rise–Mr. Weston of MANWEB–that the Government knew that his salary would soar?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman may know, the gentleman concerned has withdrawn that statement and withdrawn it unreservedly. As MANWEB said :

“the higher levels of pay were not agreed until after the offer for sale was announced in November 1990. The Government did not place any restriction on the regional electricity companies in announcing likely figures at any time.”

That was what was said and I endorse that as an accurate statement. Salaries after privatisation are and must be a matter for the company. But I have made my view perfectly clear; in my judgment those salaries should reflect what is reasonable. But it is a matter for the companies and not for me.

Sir John Farr : Might I ask my right hon. Friend whether he has had a chance today in his list of engagements to look at the recent announcement by the Labour party that it apparently intends to–

Mr. Speaker : Order. The question must refer to the Government’s responsibility. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been away for a while, but his question must refer to the Government’s responsibility.

Sir John Farr : I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will see it as his responsibility today to have an early debate on our nuclear deterrent and the need for us to keep it. Apparently the Opposition’s policy has suddenly changed. Rather than an announcement in the media, we should have a full, proper and open debate on the Floor of the House.

The Prime Minister : First, I welcome my hon. Friend back to the House after his absence. We are very pleased to see him back in his place.

My hon. Friend touched on defence, a matter of great importance not just to the House but to everyone in it and beyond it. I believe that there is considerable doubt about the position of the Opposition on defence, and I hope that they will take an early opportunity to make it clear whether they are unilateralist and in what circumstances they would use nuclear weapons.

Mr. Hattersley : Does the Prime Minister still stick to his prediction that the British economy will recover during the second half of this year?

The Prime Minister : Apparently the right hon. Gentleman does not want to discuss defence quite so soon. I remain of the opinion that I have expressed before in the House and which has been endorsed by the OECD and the CBI : that we shall begin to move out of recession in the second half of this year.

Mr. Hattersley : Has it escaped the Prime Minister’s notice that the second half of the year began 11 days ago.

Hon. Members : Oh!

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Hattersley : If the right hon. Gentleman’s prediction has any veracity why are we still at the bottom of the economic league? Why do we have the worst record of investment, unemployment and growth of all the G7 countries?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman might study the diary a little more closely to find out how long the second half of the year lasts. As usual, he is facing backwards. Five per cent. off the inflation rate and 3.5 per cent. off interest rates are both essential ingredients to get the economy moving again. That has happened and it will continue.

Mr. Hattersley : With reference to the diary, I take it that the Prime Minister is now saying that the economy will begin to improve by Christmas. Every time he makes a prediction about improvement, he gets further and further away. I shall therefore ask him a simple question based on his own pathetic analysis of when the economy might begin to improve. First, can we be assured that by Christmas and in the three areas about which I have asked the right hon. Gentleman–investment, unemployment and growth–this country will be doing at least as well as Greece, Portugal and Turkey? May we also be assured– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Hattersley : Will the Prime Minister now also answer the question from which he ran away last Tuesday? Since, during the three years of decline, he has been Chief Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister, will he accept his own responsibility for those three years of disaster?

The Prime Minister : On the subject of predictions, with which the right hon. Gentleman began his lengthy third question, he will recall predicting that unemployment would be 4 million in 1987–he is in no position to talk about predictions. As for the position at the end of the year, as a former sacked shadow Chancellor the right hon. Gentleman should know that we will set out our predictions in the autumn statement.

Sir Peter Emery : Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he and his Government will ensure that the military level of our forces will always be sufficient to meet the defence needs of the realm and of our military commitments overseas?

The Prime Minister : Yes, Sir.


South London

Q2. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister, when he will next pay an official visit to south London.

The Prime Minister : I am making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and I very much hope to include south London among them.

Mr. Hughes : Given that youth unemployment has risen in the four inner south London boroughs by 53 per cent. in the past year, and that more than one in two crimes in the capital are committed by young people, will the Prime Minister, as a south London boy who became the youngest Prime Minister this century, make a personal commitment to the young people of south London by coming to visit them and the youth service south of the river, to see their desperate state and to make sure that he and the Government commit the personnel, resources, training and jobs to ensure that young people today have the opportunities that he is glad he had?

The Prime Minister : I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the opportunities that are necessary for young people in the inner-London area. One of the principal problems for many years was the treatment of education under the regime of the Inner London education authority, which has been continued by the disgraceful attitude that some of the inner London boroughs take to the way in which they deal with education. That dramatically damages the employment prospects of youngsters. Another factor that caused unemployment in inner London was the capacity of Labour councils, under the old system, to put up business rates to such an extent that businesses left inner London.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : If my right hon. Friend gets the chance to come to south-east London, he will find himself in the area covered by the Greenwich building society and the Woolwich building society. Will he see whether it is possible, on Monday when clause 52 of the Finance Bill is considered in the House, to have an open debate on the way that that clause adversely affects the Greenwich building society, but not the Woolwich building society, so that Parliament can decide openly what should happen in the future?

The Prime Minister : Parliament is always in a position to decide openly on the matters before it, and that will undoubtedly be the case when we debate the Finance Bill.

Ms. Hoey : The Prime Minister knows that unemployment has risen in south London, and that he has cut training places there. When will he put more money into training there and give young people real training prospects?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Lady knows, quite apart from the general employment prospects and training that have been increased over the years, we have established two city technology colleges in south London. These will dramatically improve the prospects of the pupils in them. Prospects would be improved even more were other schools in inner London to adopt the same disciplines and to offer the same certainty of good education that CTCs offer.



Q3. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

Mr. Bruce : My right hon. Friend will know that the people of south Dorset believe in a strong, credible and clearly stated defence policy. Will he ensure that the policy for defence is both credible and will deter aggression, and that it is well understood? That will be in contrast to the party opposite, which believes in fudged words, so as to avoid the wrath of its Back Benchers.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right, and I believe that he speaks for many people who do not trust the Opposition on defence. Yesterday, they produced a defence policy which appeared to protect them rather than the country. People will have noticed that. One cannot defend the country with a couple of sentences tucked away in an article in The Guardian. This country knows the Opposition only too well and it knows their unilateralist tendencies.

Mr. Wilson : Less than a week ago, the Bank of England was giving a clean bill of health to the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. Less than a week ago, the Department of the Environment was issuing that bank’s name as one suitable for local authorities to deal with. If officials of these two organisations, sitting in the heart of London, can make such a catastrophic error, does the Prime Minister have any sympathy with the officials of small local authorities in far-flung parts of the country which might have taken the advice of the Bank of England and the Department of the Environment? Will the Government and the Bank of England face up to their responsibilities in this matter?

The Prime Minister : The Bank of England acted as soon as it had evidence on which to act, and that has been made clear. It would not be right to give preferential treatment to local authorities over other depositors of the BCCI. Any accountant of finance director should know that if an institution pays over the market rate of interest, it is in the form of a risk premium. Local authorities have a duty of care over the funds entrusted to them and that implies taking a prudent view of risk and spreading risk.


Q4. Mrs. Maureen Hicks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 July.

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

Mrs. Hicks : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in the drawing up of the Government’s Green Paper on industrial relations, he will take full account of the poll in The Guardian today, which shows clear majorities against a return to secondary action, flying pickets and unofficial strikes –policies which are all supported by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Our trade union legislation has brought unprecedented improvements in industrial relations. Of course, they are unprecedented improvements which are not welcome to the Labour party. As Mr. Ron Todd said earlier this week :

“Tory industrial relations law has got to go. There is no fudging the issue.”

Labour’s position is absolutely clear. As the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said when he spoke to the TGWU yesterday– [Interruption.] As the right hon. Gentleman said– [Interruption.] I can wait, Mr. Speaker– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us hear the end of the Prime Minister’s answer.

The Prime Minister : I know that Labour Members are embarrassed by what their leader said, but they are going to hear it. He said about the TGWU :

“This union is the Labour party in so many ways.”

He was right. The union calls the shots, it chooses the policies, and it even picks the leaders.