The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 20 February 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 20th February 1992.




Q1. Mr. Salmond : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 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. Salmond : When the Prime Minister visits Scotland this weekend, will he be big enough to acknowledge that, sooner rather than later, he will have to bow to the wish of the Scottish people for self-determination? Does he not understand that, at a time when even he is forecasting a Europe of up to 30 member states by the end of the century, it is inevitable that the Scottish nation will demand to be a full part of that process of change?

The Prime Minister : No, Sir. I disagree fundamentally with the hon. Gentleman. The Union between England and Scotland is greater than the sum of its parts, and always has been. I understand what activates the hon. Gentleman, but I believe that he is profoundly misleading Scotland and treading a path that is damaging Scotland and the Union.

Mr. Fishburn : At a time of economic difficulty and rising unemployment across the world, does not this nation–as a great trading nation–need, more than anything else, constant tax policy, the lowest possible income tax and competitive rates of corporation tax? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a disaster to adopt a policy that changed almost from hour to hour under Labour, with no constancy or purpose of any sort?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of clear-cut and low corporate and personal tax rates. I note that the Opposition’s tax plans have gone back to the drawing board ; after five years of careful preparation, they have been ditched in a period of five weeks. I also note that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)–who said, when he took on the job that there would be

“no more phoney shadow Cabinet Budgets”–

has now promised that there will be a phoney shadow Cabinet Budget.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister confirm that today’s official figures show that the British economy is in its longest recession for over 60 years? As the right hon. Gentleman was Chancellor before it started and has been Prime Minister throughout its course, is it not clear that he is not only the Prime Minister of recession, but the prime cause of recession?

The Prime Minister : Before the right hon. Gentleman goes into overdrive, perhaps he will confirm that, in the past three months, industrial production has fallen faster in Germany, faster in France, faster in the United States and faster in Japan than it has in this country ; and that, if we take the last year as a whole, industrial production fell more in Japan, and more in Germany, than in the United Kingdom. Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that is, if he blames me for everything?

Mr. Kinnock : To put it into perspective, let me point out that since 1988 the German economy has grown by 10 per cent. The British economy, under the Conservative Government, has not grown at all. Will the Prime Minister recognise that and stop groping round to try to find excuses for his own failure? Does he recall that it is exactly a year since he told us in this House, “Our policies are working”? Does he recall that in that 12 months the British economy has contracted by 2.5 per cent. and that unemployment has gone up by 750,000? Do not today’s figures make it clear that it is official–Majorism isn’t working?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman is now keen to look at a longer period than just the last year, he will also be interested to know that between 1981 and 1991 the British economy grew faster than the German economy, the French economy, the Italian economy or the economy of any other country in Europe. Will he now confirm, since he seems to regard all problems as being entirely domestic, that over the second half of the last year industrial production fell in the United States, in Japan and elsewhere and that Germany’s gross domestic product has now declined for three quarters in succession and Germany is in recession? How can this be if, as the right hon. Gentleman claims, it is all a British problem?

Mr. Kinnock : In the last 18 months of recession– [Interruption.] British people are not on the dole in Germany ; they are on the dole in Britain.

In the last 18 months of recession, unemployment in Britain has gone up by 1 million and the British economy has contracted by nearly 4 per cent. The figures speak for themselves. During the course of the time the right hon. Gentleman has been Chancellor and Prime Minister he is convicted by his own record and condemned by his own inaction in the face of the slump that he caused.

The Prime Minister : The House will have noted that the right hon. Gentleman cannot understand the facts and cannot handle the questions. He may recall that in Germany more than 3 million people are unemployed and he may bear it in mind that a higher proportion of people are in work in this country than in Germany or in any other European country except Denmark. Let me try again to help the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that the world is in an economic slow-down, as even the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has now acknowledged. That makes domestic politics even more important. That is why we have cut interest rates seven times in a year and halved inflation in a year, have the lowest number of strikes for half a century and have cut the basic rate of tax. As a result of our action, real earnings are rising and we have lower interest rates, lower mortgage rates, lower inflation and the right circumstances for recovery. The people of this country will not let the right hon. Gentleman throw that away.

Mr. Stanbrook : When my right hon. Friend sees the new Irish Prime Minister soon will he tell him that the biggest contribution the Irish Republic can make to peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland is to renounce its claim to sovereignty over Northern Ireland, as that claim encourages Irish Republican terrorism and gives it legitimacy, as well as being the strongest stumbling block in the way of all-party talks aimed at constitutional progress?

The Prime Minister : I have already spoken to the new Taoiseach and we have agreed to meet shortly. I think that we must wait and see what his detailed policies will be, but everything that I have seen and heard suggests that he is certainly very understanding of the situation in Northern Ireland. Amendment of the Irish constitution is, of course, a matter for the Republic, but I am glad that it continues to be an issue that could be tackled in fresh political talks.

The Government remain committed to the Anglo -Irish Agreement unless and until agreement can be reached on new and more broadly satisfactory arrangements.


Q2. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 February.

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

Mr. Kirkwood : Has the Prime Minister had time today to study the Department of Trade and Industry’s figures that were released on Tuesday, which showed that over the last five years Chinese quotas for the importation of cashmere garments into the European Community have been exceeded by 500,000 units and that in 1991 the actual importation exceeded the quotas by over 400 per cent? Is the Prime Minister aware that 500,000 cashmere jerseys are worth £75 million to textile communities such as my own in the central borders in Scotland? Will he take a personal interest in stopping this scandalous dumping and make sure that the overshoot is clawed back during the next two years, the time remaining to the EC-Chinese trade agreement?

The Prime Minister : I am aware of the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises, not least because he was courteous enough to give me an indication of what he was going to mention this afternoon. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to look into the matter and to contact the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Robert McCrindle : To revert to the Scottish question that was raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), has the Prime Minister noted the statement today by the leaders of the financial services industries north of the border that in the event of a measure of devolution or independence, to which the Opposition parties aspire, the likeliest result would be that many of the financial services companies would move south of the border? In his forthcoming visit to Scotland, will the Prime Minister underline the fact that these are matters which the Scottish people should also take into account before moving in the direction Opposition Members would like them to go–in favour of devolution or independence?

The Prime Minister : I did notice those remarks, which were widely reported this morning. We have made it clear for a long period that we believe that devolution or independence would damage very severely the degree of inward investment into Scotland and the degree of self-generating investment within Scotland as well. The Union has been in the interests of both this country and Scotland for many years, and it remains so.


Q3. Mr. Fatchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 February.

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

Mr. Fatchett : May I also raise a matter with the Prime Minister, of which I have given him prior notice? It concerns the tragic death on 5 February of six-year-old Carley Reavill who died in hospital of meningitis. That is the reason why I gave the Prime Minister prior notice of the question. She died not because, as the Department of Health says, she was too ill to be moved, but because, according to her paediatrician, Dr. Alison Schurtz, no intensive care hospital bed was available at St. Mary’s hospital or Great Ormond Street hospital. Is not that a tragic waste of a life? Does it not provide further evidence for the argument that if money is available it should be spent not on tax cuts but on our health service?

The Prime Minister : I asked for a report on this tragic case this morning. As the hon. Gentleman has raised it, I reply assuming that he has received the permission of the family for it to be the subject of a public exchange. I am advised that doctors at the Queen Elizabeth II hospital have confirmed that Carley could not have been transferred when the hospital test results showed that she had meningitis and the test results were available within one hour of Carley’s admission. Carley’s decline, I am informed, was sudden and fast. Medical advice is that paediatric intensive care is unlikely to have arrested this.

The House may wish to know that between 1979 and 1990 the perinatal mortality rate for England and Wales dropped by 45 per cent. It is now at its lowest ever recorded level. As for national health service resources, the hon. Gentleman will know of the very large real-terms increases that have been made–in excess, in fact, of the real-terms increases promised by the Opposition at the last general election.


Q4. Mr. Brazier : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 February.

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

Mr. Brazier : Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of those who live on their income from savings are either widows or those who retired early, very often to look after an elderly dependant? Does he further agree that it would be a grave injustice indeed to put swingeing extra taxes on the savings of these people as a result of the profligacy of socialism?

The Prime Minister : I believe that such people would find it inexplicable if that were to happen. We have sought to encourage savings by abolishing the investment income surcharge and by introducing tax-exempt special savings accounts. It is the Labour party which wants to increase tax by extending national insurance. Its plans would hit more than 1 million people, three quarters of whom pay tax at the basic rate. So much for the Opposition’s promise that no one earning under £20, 000 a year would be hit. That promise is worthless and that pledge by the Opposition illustrates why the promise is worthless.


Q5. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 February.

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

Mr. Livingstone : Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the stabbing to death of the young black schoolboy Rolan Adams and in the year since then 15 black families–council tenants and owner-occupiers–have been driven out of their homes on the Thamesmead estate. The campaign, including a fire-bombing, has been orchestrated by the local headquarters of the British National party. Is there anything that the Government can do to change those events? Will the Prime Minister support the unanimous decision by Greenwich Conservative councillors to support the demonstration called by the Anti-Racist Alliance for Saturday at noon in Plumstead High street to demand the closure of the British National party headquarters?

The Prime Minister : I have every sympathy for Rolan Adams’s family at this sad time and I wholeheartedly condemn racial attacks and those who commit or incite racial hatred. The hon. Gentleman raised this matter with me in December and my office subsequently corresponded with the mayor of Bexley. Although the location of the British National party office is a matter for Bexley council, we have drawn the council’s attention to the laws available to deal with racial hatred.

The local police searched the BNP premises in January and evidence has been submitted to the Crown prosecution service which is considering a prosecution. Rolan Adams’s murder a year ago led to the speedy identification and prosecution of the attackers and the murderer subsequently received a life sentence. I very much hope that in the future that will deter similar attacks which are a blot on our country.