The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 2 December 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 2nd December 1993.




Q1. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 December.

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. Jones : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the vital importance of the north Wales railway line to the economy of north-west Wales, an importance recognised by the European Community? Yesterday’s announcement about improvements to the west coast main line omitted to include any reference to the section to Holyhead. The Chancellor in his Budget statement did not even mention north Wales. May I impress on the Prime Minister the need to include the north Wales section in that programme, which should also include new rolling stock as well as track improvements?

The Prime Minister : I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any immediate commitment to that section of rail. Of course, in due course that will be a decision for Railtrack in conjunction with operators on the line. They will have to determine whether a commercial case exists for upgrading, electrifying or whatever appears to be appropriate for the north Wales line.

Our commitment to the west coast main line is now clearly stated. The introduction of private finance can play a very substantial part both in the improvement of the line and in the renewal of much of the infrastructure.


Q2. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 December.

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

Mr. Bruce : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to condemn the merciless way in which Opposition spokesmen tried to frighten pensioners–

Madam Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister is not responsible for Opposition policy or activities.

Mr. Bruce : Indeed, Madam Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government have fulfilled their commitments to pensioners? Will not the tough fiscal stance that we are continuing to take ensure that low interest rates and low inflation, which are the cornerstone of our recovery, continue to benefit both industry and the public?

The Prime Minister : I certainly condemn scares, from wherever they may come. The Budget is delivering our policies to pensioners. We are delivering low inflation to protect their savings, we have uprated the pension to meet the cost of VAT on fuel, and we have introduced an income bond to give them a guaranteed income month after month. At the same time, we have been able to give a boost to business and to deliver sound public finance. The Budget is well on track to deliver, in due course, rising prosperity to all our citizens. I am glad to note that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) agrees with the Government that the proposed assistance to pensioners for fuel bills is adequate.

Mr. John Smith : At a time of high unemployment, what is the moral justification for cutting entitlement to unemployment benefit from 12 to six months?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we have made substantial contributions towards both training and getting the unemployed back to work, which is the priority. Through unemployment benefit and subsequently, where necessary, through income support, we are ensuring that there is assistance for those who remain unemployed.

Now, thankfully, we are seeing unemployment beginning to fall in every part of the country, and that is beginning to affect the long-term unemployed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will know also that the majority of people who become unemployed are back in work within the six-month period for which they will still be entitled to unemployment benefit.

Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister not begin to understand that it is a fraud on the public to raise national insurance contributions by a full 1 per cent. at the same time as cutting a benefit to which people have contributed all their working lives? Why do the Government not attack unemployment instead of attacking the unemployed?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman had his own, rather more dramatic, plans for increasing national insurance contributions. At the same time, he has his own plans for unemployment– plans which would put it up. A new training tax on employers would put it up. A minimum wage would put it up. Businesses with new taxes levelled up to the higher rates in other European countries would put it up. Forcing employers to introduce a 35-hour week would put it up. That is the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s prescription for the economy. It would make more people unemployed, and for longer.

Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister not understand that in the real world in which, unfortunately, unemployed people have to live, if their partners work more than 24 hours per week they move from unemployment benefit to nothing– [Interruption.] –No, it is 24 hours per week. It was changed by the Government, as the Secretary of State for Employment should understand. Does the Prime Minister not understand that, however low the income that the working partner earns, the unemployed partner will receive no benefit? Is that not disgraceful in a country with so many unemployed?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman grows indignant in his usual fashion. Will he drop the policies that would make people unemployed, which he parades month after month? If not, what does he have to say to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who said of a national minimum wage : “I knew the consequences were that there would be a shake-out in unemployment. Any silly fool knew that”?

Not quite any silly fool, it seems.


Q3. Sir Thomas Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 December.

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

Sir Thomas Arnold : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread support for measures announced in the Budget to help small businesses? In particular, is he aware of the support for the announcement that the statutory audit for very small firms is to be abolished?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I am aware of the support from many small business men and every small business organisation for the measures in the Budget. They do in a substantial way take the burdens off small businesses, abolish the audit requirement, and make matters simpler for more than 500,000 companies in this country. We are also raising the value added tax threshold to take 75,000 traders out of VAT. Ours is the only party committed to taking such measures to help small businesses.

Mr. Ashdown : As the country waits to back the Prime Minister if he will take further risks for peace in Northern Ireland, will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to reaffirm that he has no difficulty with the principle of separate and parallel self-determination for the people of the island of Ireland–north and south?

The Prime Minister : For us, there is one fundamental point. It is that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom will not change without the freely expressed consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Gillan : Has my right hon. Friend had time to reflect today on the overwhelming vote of support that the other place gave the Government last night?– [Laughter.]

Madam Speaker : Order. This is a waste of time. [Hon. Members :- – “Yes.”] Order. The House is using up precious time.

Mrs. Gillan : Is not that great success and the overwhelming support for the Budget on Tuesday further proof that the Labour party is totally out of touch with the British people, both in the other place and in this House?

The Prime Minister : I do not know that my hon. Friend’s last comment about the Labour party being as out of touch in the other place as here can possibly be true. The reality is that it is rather odd to table a motion of no confidence in the Government in the other place the day after failing to vote against the Queen’s Speech. I rather suspect that the outcome of the vote in the House of Lords, where fewer than 100 Labour Peers were prepared to support the Opposition, shows a great lack of confidence in the Labour party in this House and nationally as well as in the leadership in the House of Lords. That may be because it used to be a serious party, but it is no longer that because it has no policies.


Q4. Mr. Gordon Prentice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 December.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Prentice : Will the Prime Minister admit to any embarrassment or even mild contrition at presiding over the biggest tax rises in British post-war history? Is it not a grotesque betrayal of the people who voted for his party 18 months ago that he should now be introducing these colossal tax rises?

The Prime Minister : I did not notice a great deal of complaint from the hon. Gentleman over the expenditure to protect people who were vulnerable during the recession. I did not hear a great deal from the hon. Gentleman about that. Broadly, had the Labour party won the election and were its members sitting on the Government Benches having implemented their programme, the increase to the average taxpayer now would have been about £24 a week.

Mr. Dykes : Does my right hon. Friend feel that on Northern Ireland we can do without the shifting and swinging influence and suggestions of the Liberal Democrats, in view of the utterances of that party’s leader at the weekend? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government’s policy is clear and well balanced and provides the only way forward to a lasting and durable solution? I wish my right hon. Friend well for the meeting with the Taoiseach tomorrow.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to other hon. Members who have indicated their support for the meeting tomorrow. I hope that we shall be able to make some further progress. There is an overwhelming feeling in Northern Ireland and elsewhere that we should seek to produce peace in Northern Ireland if we can, but there are parameters to those discussions and that must be understood. The first parameter is that to which I referred in answer to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, a moment ago.


Q5. Mr. Milburn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 December.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Milburn : Is the Prime Minister aware of my constituent, Michael Gibson, who died in August this year 16 months after being violently assaulted in Darlington town centre? Is he also aware that Michael’s killer is now free to roam the streets again because the current law stipulates that a charge of murder can be brought only if a victim dies within 366 days of an offence taking place? Will the Prime Minister join me and the Gibson family in urging the Home Secretary to review a law which not only takes no account of advances in medical technology, but which simply fails to deliver justice?

The Prime Minister : I was not aware of the particularly tragic case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I should like to send my sympathy to the family. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is looking at precisely that matter now.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : Is my right hon. Friend aware that all of us who entirely endorse his total and complete commitment to peace in Northern Ireland believe that one way of solving that desperate problem is to integrate Northern Ireland completely and entirely in the United Kingdom? Will he give the matter some consideration because many Members on both sides believe that that could bring the problems of Northern Ireland to a speedy conclusion?

The Prime Minister : Among the principles agreed last year was an agreement, accepted across the House, that we were looking for an agreement that would stretch right across Northern Ireland and all the individuals who live in Northern Ireland. It is for that reason that we are pursuing, as we are at present, the objectives that I set out earlier.


Q6. Mr. Michael : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 December.

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

Mr. Michael : Will the Prime Minister face up to the implications of his Government’s Budget? Does he accept that not only the car worker, for whom he cried crocodile tears before the last election, but the average experienced police officer will pay well in excess of £500 extra in tax on their basic pay? Is the right hon. Gentleman proud of presiding over the biggest tax bill ever for the British public?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman might bear in mind that probably the car worker whom he is talking about is now exporting and making more cars than ever before and therefore has a more secure future, not least because of the policies that we have followed to get down inflation and interest rates.