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Prime Minister

Volume 229: debated on Thursday 22 July 1993

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.

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.

Is it not a fact that the Government's position on the social chapter is totally at odds with the views and real interests of the British people? If the Prime Minister loses the vote tonight, will he do the honourable thing: resign, go to the country and let the people decide?

That was a brave stab in the dark at the beginning of Question Time. I think that the hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong about the social chapter. Perhaps I may quote to him what the president of the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe has said of the social chapter that, if it were enacted, it

"would result in the closure of many small and medium-sized businesses, creating even higher unemployment".
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to see that in his constituency or any other.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures released yesterday, which show that retail sales are now at a record high level, are good news for British high streets and further evidence that our economy is recovering and that prosperity and confidence are being restored?

I believe that it is good news for everyone, not just retailers. Retail sales were up 1¼ per cent. in June, up yet again to another record level. and have been on an upward trend for more than a year. They follow a run of good economic figures and are further compelling evidence of the fact that we are coming out of recession into recovery, with sharply brighter prospects than many imagined some weeks ago.

Following the collapse of Astra Training Services less than three years after the privatisation of the skill centre network, what do the Government intend to do to clear up the shambles that privatisation has caused to skill training?

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is wholly wrong about the position of skill training in this country and about privatisation. One of the matters that the President of the French Republic will wish to discuss with me next Monday is the success of our privatisation programme, as there are plans to introduce a similar programme in France.

Bearing in mind that Group 4 recently delivered a prisoner to a museum instead of a court, does the Prime Minister think that it might be time to review the mania for privatisation?

I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like the Government to own everything, control everything and determine everything, but we believe in private enterprise, private ownership and privatisation, which has served this country well. Although the British Labour party does not like it, countries all around the world are following the privatisation trail blazed by the Conservative party in the 1980s.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government today face two problems—first, the budget deficit and, secondly, over-regulation, much of which comes from Europe and which is destroying many of our small businesses? Will he make an announcement that will help both those problems and announce a reduction of 10 per cent. in the number of inspectors, which would not only save money, but would show that the Government are serious in reducing the burden of regulation on business?

I do not have an announcement to make of precisely the sort urged on me by my hon. Friend, but we are looking at regulation—domestic regulation, European regulation and the enforcement of regulation in this country—in order to reduce the burdens on businesses, both large and small. Regulation has got out of any reasonable context, there is a need for action, and we propose to take it.

Are Her Majesty's Government prepared to allow the city of Sarajevo to fall to the Serbs?

The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of what I have said to the House on a number of occasions. He may be an enthusiast for putting British troops in the middle of Bosnia; I am not.

Has my right hon. Friend seen today's survey by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the Lloyd's bank commercial service review, which show that in 180,000 firms throughout the country confidence and orders are improving, output is up and investment is being generated? Is that not a massive vote of confidence in Her Majesty's Government's economic policies?

Yes, I have seen that survey and I agree that its message is very encouraging. I am delighted that the good news seems to be shared by both service and manufacturing industries. They have gone to great efforts to shake off the problems of recession. It is now clear that economic recovery is under way—there has been no help from the Labour party, but recovery is nevertheless under way.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.

Can the Prime Minister tell the House of any occasion on which a Government have ratified an international treaty against the wishes of the House of Commons? Does he agree that a Government adopting such a course of action would deservedly lose the confidence not just of the House but of the whole country, and would not such a Government rightly stand condemned for acting as an elected dictatorship?

On the understanding that the hon. Gentleman is talking about a contemporary treaty, may I say that the Act carrying that treaty into law has been passed with massive majorities on Second and Third Readings, both here and in the House of Lords.

When my right hon. Friend meets the French Prime Minister on Monday, will he congratulate him on the launch of the French privatisation programme? Will he assure him that privatised companies are better companies once the dead hand of state control has been removed?

I entirely share my hon. Friend's view, which is increasingly shared by companies, countries and Governments in every part of the world.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.

Is the Prime Minister aware that an all-party group of which I was a member went to visit the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation headquarters recently and were told that preparations are being made for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution on safe areas, which only requires 8,000 troops and changes in the rules of engagement? That has not been done and Sarajevo will fall. Has not the Prime Minister allowed that to happen?

As the hon. Lady knows, we have had a substantial troop presence in Bosnia for some time. A large number of other countries said in the past that they may be prepared also to put troops into Bosnia. We have made our contribution. A large number of other countries were signatories to that particular Security Council resolution. I think that it is right for them also to make their contribution to the collective carrying out of that resolution.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the social chapter issue is a red herring and that if we sign up to Maastricht the European Court will have the power to impose the conditions on us, whether we vote in this House for them or not, and that therefore those people who do not want the social chapter conditions should vote tonight to try to defeat the ratification of the Maastricht treaty?

This is one of those rare occasions when I am unable to share a view with my hon. Friend. I believe that she is entirely wrong and I hope that she will reconsider her position before 10 o'clock. [Interruption.]

Given that the Prime Minister has informed us of his official engagements for today, can he inform the House of his plans for tomorrow?


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.

My right hon. Friend will have seen yesterday's trade figures, which show that our exports to non EC countries have improved once again and are hitting record levels, and that our trade gap has narrowed for the fourth consecutive month. Are not those figures the clearest possible evidence of the underlying strength of British industry and of the rapidly improving strength of the British economy?

I think that my hon. Friend is right, both on the specifics of exports and on the general point. [Interruption.] Exports to non-Community countries were up 15 per cent. last year. [Interruption.] That is a real credit to British industry.[Interruption.]

Order. The House is using up valuable time. Members are waiting to put important questions to the Prime Minister.

I am delighted to see the support for British exporters. British industry is becoming more competitive and I think that British industry can take great credit for it.

Can the Prime Minister tell us whether he believes what he says about the social chapter? What do he and his Government believe will happen to this country if we endorse the social chapter? Does he believe that the Governments of the 11 other member states are mad?

I do not think that I would put it in precisely that way myself. What I can do is to repeat what the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe has said about the impact of the social chapter. In case the hon. Gentleman did not hear, it said that it would

"result in the closure of many small and medium-sized businesses, creating even higher unemployment."
That is the view of every CBI employer group across Europe.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 July.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the largest chamber of commerce and industry in the country is in my constituency, which is the centre of a vital industrial area, and that the opinion of the entire west midlands industrial community is that we must stick to the principles that he negotiated at Maastricht and assure the industrial sector that we will not have the social chapter?

I think that the business men in my hon. Friend's constituency share the views of business men right across the country about the social chapter. They know that it would be a serious mistake, that it would add to costs, that it would cost jobs and wreck our competitiveness. It is not a chapter that is of any use to the British at present or in the future and it should not be part of British law.