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Volume 202: debated on Thursday 23 January 1992

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

The Prime Minister will be well aware of the appalling environmental problems in the Fal estuary arising from the water pollution after the closure of the Wheal Jane mine. I do not think that people in Cornwall want to allocate blame at the moment, but they do want to ensure that the environmental clean-up is carried out both in the short term and the long term without hold-ups. Will the Prime Minister ensure that there are no financial problems at any stage in ensuring that the long-term and short-term clean-ups take place?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we set up the National Rivers Authority specifically to respond in the first instance to the sort of pollution incidents to which he refers—this one is a very serious incident. The NRA has been closely monitoring the situation since the mine closed. It had developed contingency plans before the incident and put them into effect when water in the mine began to overflow. I am sure that the NRA considers that it will be able to deal with the problem with the resources that it has.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 23 January.

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

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports from the German chambers of commerce which show that German industry has invested £7.8 billion in this country in recent years? Does not that demonstrate that low taxation, low inflation and good industrial relations are the basis for strong investment, including inward investment; and does it not also show that the future of this country is excellent under this Government?

I have seen the report to which my hon. Friend refers. I have also seen the important comments of the CBI, which set out the fact that Britain now attracts nearly half of all the inward investment from Japan that comes to the European Community. I believe that, by investing here, German and Japanese companies and those of other countries have shown their confidence in the British economy. It is a shame that some of the gloom and doom-mongers in this country do not share that confidence.

Will the Prime Minister confirm that under his Government the British economy is in its longest recession since the second world war?

I will confirm to the right hon. Gentleman, as I am sure that he will be pleased to hear what the European Community has to say, that the United Kingdom is the only country where signals of a sustained economic recovery are discernible, by contrast with a tendency towards gradual slackening of growth continuing in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Portugal.

Slightly closer to home, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the British chambers of commerce today report that this is the seventh consecutive quarter in which the United Kingdom economy has suffered from recession, with levels of economic activity continuing to decline? Is not it clear that the recession caused by the Prime Minister's policies is continuing because of the Prime Minister's paralysis?

The British chambers of commerce are clearly wrong about the seventh consecutive quarter. That would imply that the recession started in the second quarter of 1990, which it clearly did not, because output rose between the first and second quarters of 1990.

I notice also that the president of the chambers of commerce said that British industry and commerce were on
"an improving trend of slowly and steadily climbing out of the recession".

Will not the Prime Minister refer to the report and listen to the voices of business and commerce from all over the country when they say:

"A worsening position on employment expectations,"—
higher job losses—
"and a major down-grading of business confidence, however, give no cause for comfort in this survey"?
How can the Prime Minister be so complacent and so indolent when he is receiving advice that something now needs to be done?

The right hon. Gentleman was clearly not listening. I quoted from the president of that particular group of chambers of commerce. The report itself says:

"an improving trend of slowly and steadily climbing out of the recession."
The right hon. Gentleman should look at other surveys and forecasters. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund both forecast recovery. What is equally clear among business men is that they have no enthusiasm whatever for a Labour Government. A survey of the top hundred British companies showed that 63 per cent. of them believed that recession would get worse under a Labour Government, and not one of them believed that it would get better.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to tell the House of the decision made yesterday to restore to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the gold deposited for safe keeping in the Bank of England but misappropriated by the then Labour Government with the support in the Division Lobby of the leader and Chief Whip of the Liberal party at that time?

I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that when I met President Landsbergis yesterday I was able to indicate that we would be returning the gold. As the House well knows, the Labour Government in 1967 ordered the gold to be sold. The then Conservative Opposition roundly opposed that, and I am delighted that this Conservative Government have been able to correct that smear of dishonour.