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Prime Minister

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 7 June 1990

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Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I have been asked to reply.

Mr right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given an address at the luncheon of the North Atlantic Council at Turnberry. Later today she will begin a visit to the Soviet Union.

As the Prime Minister is about to leave for the Soviet Union to lecture people there about how to run a free market economy, will the deputy Prime Minister use his moment of freedom to tell the House and the nation why he thinks our economy is in such a shambles? What does he say to our constituents who cannot meet their mortgage instalments and to industrialists and employers facing ruin because of the high levels of inflation and mortgages? What does he say about the unparalleled trade deficit and to people labouring under the unfair chaos of the poll tax? What does he say—[Interruption.]

How can this Government lecture others when they have ruined our economy?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will find that the people and the leadership of the Soviet Union will envy the record of this Government's management of our economy over the past 10 years. The problems today are put into perspective by the fact that manufacturing investment this year is advancing on the record level of last year which was itself a record on the year before.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

In view of the link between listeria and French brie, the hallucinatory effect of French wines, the carcinogenous effect of Perrier water and the certain transmissibility of mad frogs disease, will my right hon. and learned Friend make contingency plans to impose a ban on all French agricultural products and comestibles lest France should fail to honour the agreement that was signed in Brussels this morning?

I understand why my hon. Friend is concerned about the way in which matters have proceeded in the last few days. However, he must understand that the most important conclusion is that there should be a properly operating free market in agricultural produce throughout the Community in compliance with the law. I am sure that he will be glad to know that this morning the European Council of Agriculture Ministers reached agreement to end the ban on imports of British beef to other continental countries. The agreement will be considered by legal and scientific experts this afternoon. The Council will reconvene to give its approval to the documents produced. All member states will accept imports of British beef from tonight, and the European Community Commission has reaffirmed its belief that British beef is safe.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food hopes, by leave of the House, to make a statement on these matters at the conclusion of proceedings on the Food Safety Bill.

Will the Lord President tell the House what the standard rate of income tax will be after the next Budget?

In all the questions asked by shadow spokesmen over many years that one beats all records for stupidity. One matter that Chancellors of the Exchequer like, properly, to reserve to their Budget statement is the level at which income tax will be fixed for the year ahead. The nation can take great comfort from the fact that for the past 11 years a succession of Chancellors have progressively introduced lower and lower rates of income tax.

My only criticism of that answer is that I think that the question is even more stupid than the right hon. and learned Gentleman made out. As there is unanimous agreement that he cannot predict the level of taxes under this Government in six months' time, will he ask the chairman of the Tory party to stop asking for predictions about the level of taxation under the next Labour Government?

I am glad to say that successive Chancellors of the Exchequer under this Government have set targets for the reduction of income tax and achieved those targets. This nation continues to display a constant interest in the prospect of tax policy from the Labour party, if that were ever to be relevant. The real point is that the Labour party cannot carry any conviction as a tax-cutting party when successive Labour Governments have always put taxes up.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it remains the Government's policy to protect working people from excessive mass picketing and secondary action, and will he take every opportunity to explain this policy to trade union leaders, perhaps by taking up some of the many invitations to attend trade union conferences that have been rejected by the cocoonist advisers of the Leader of the Opposition?

I am glad to take this opportunity to remind the House and the nation that if there were to be a Labour Government, introducing the industrial relations policies of which the Labour party talks, there would be a risk of a return to mass picketing and the disgraceful scenes, to which the House became accustomed, outside premises such as Grunwick. We should be interested to know why the Leader of the Opposition has shown himself so unwilling to explain his policies, even on this matter, to the trade union movement.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend turn his mind again to the subject of beef? Is not it now certain that the French and German Governments have contravened article 30 of the treaty of Rome, and must therefore compensate our farmers for the substantial financial losses that they have suffered over the past few weeks, or are we to have partners who want all the privileges of free trade but none of the obligations?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the need for the rules and obligations of the Community to be uniformly applied and observed throughout the Community. That is why it is so important that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has today been successful in securing the commitment that he has secured at the Council of Ministers.

My right hon. Friend will be able to deal with my hon. Friend's point in his statement this evening.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Has the deputy Prime Minister had the opportunity to examine what is happening in the water industry, with the £5 billion that the Government wrote off in debts, the £1·6 billion that was given for the so-called green dowry and the fact that the taxpayer lost in general over £3 billion on privatisation? Is he aware that water charges have increased by more than double the rate of inflation, that in Yorkshire the standing charge has doubled, which means that the people who use least pay most in unit costs, and that the connection charge in Yorkshire has increased from £300 to £1,150? Is not that a shocking and abysmal record? Is not it time that the House had a chance to discuss the situation in the water industry, and who runs it?

The hon. Gentleman would do well to remember that one of the closing acts of the last Labour Government—now many years ago—was savagely to cut investment in the then publicly owned water industry. A principal reason why the private sector, on assuming responsibility for the industry, must now make substantial investments is as the consequence of years of neglect under public ownership and Labour Governments.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that it is apparently possible to increase Government spending by many billions of pounds while, we are told, it is unnecessary to raise income tax on people whose incomes are equal to or less than that of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)?

I cannot begin to explain such reasoning. The House will remember that under previous Labour Governments spending, borrowing and taxes increased, and that income tax payers were especially affected.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Lady to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

The Government are on record as saying that they want to help the countries of eastern Europe to tackle the problems of environmental pollution. Of course, that is vital, but what example are we giving eastern Europe by failing to insist on a full programme of flue gas desulphurisation for our power stations? Moreover, the Secretary of State for the Environment—who is in Brussels today—will apparently argue for a weakening of the EEC commitment to curb emissions of carbon dioxide?

The lesson is that the Government have introduced an effective and comprehensive programme for environmental improvement in relation to all forms of pollution. The realism of our target for carbon dioxide reduction has been specifically confirmed by Dr. Houghton, chairman of the working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has the best evidence available in relation to our proposals.

Q8.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm the Government's support for Manchester as the venue for the 1996 Olympics? Does he agree that that would be good not just for the north-west of England, but for the entire country, and will he ignore the sour-grapes attitude that has been adopted by certain people in the Birmingham area?

I am not responsible for the attitude of people in the Birmingham area, but I gladly confirm that Manchester is Britain's preferred candidate. Manchester and the north-west have a long and illustrious sporting tradition, and we are glad to support it. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has written to the president of the International Olympic Committee in support of Manchester's bid.

Q9.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Minister aware that nearly all the textile mills in my area have closed? Is he further aware that three more are now to close, including the Mars mill at Castleton, with the loss of 540 jobs? Will he tell the House what the Government will do to help the textile industry, and those workers who have been thrown on the industrial scrapheap?

The Government will continue to support the textile industry in the negotiations that we undertake within the context of GATT and the multi-fibre arrangement. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the most recent survey produced at the beginning this week by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce shows that nearly two thirds of firms expect to increase their export orders, and nearly three out of five expect to increase their work forces in the year ahead. There is substantial evidence for the belief that export performance will continue to improve.

Q11.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

May I, in turn, refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to a question I put to the Chief Secretary a short time ago? He failed to answer it, so I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will do so. Will he confirm what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Tuesday—that manufacturing investment in this country would have been £30,000 million higher under this Government had the growth rate under the Labour Government been maintained? Does he think that that is a major factor in explaining why a surplus of £6,000 million on manufacturing trade has deteriorated into a deficit of £16,000 million?

The right hon. Gentleman must have failed to hear the point I made earlier, when I said that even in the current year manufacturing investment is expected to increase. Last year was itself a record for manufacturing investment, as was the year before. Total business investment has increased by some 40 per cent. during the past three years. That is a substantial record of achievement, and it will be maintained.