Major insists Gatt talks must continue

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR pledged yesterday to do all in his power to keep the Gatt trade talks on the rails and flatly rejected comments by the French foreign minister that there would be no serious discussions for several months.

'Let me make it absolutely clear, I could not disagree more strongly with that view,' the Prime Minister told MPs at Question Time as he also expanded on his policy shift to economic growth.

With the Commons atmosphere calmer than earlier in the week, John Smith asked what Mr Major had in mind for his next U- turn. The Labour leader said the public was 'not impressed by a government blown about by events which has a simple rule - a policy a day keeps the backbenchers at bay'.

But the Prime Minister said Mr Smith had 'fallen rather below the level of events. It was his U- turn on tax policy that helped Labour lose the election'. Pressed by Sir James Spicer (C, Dorset W) to do all he could to get the Gatt talks started again, Mr Major said the view of Roland Dumas, the French foreign minister, was not shared by the British government, the European Commission or by the majority of EC member states.

At last week's Birmingham summit, the 12 had authorised the commission to negotiate for a Gatt settlement by the end of the year. 'Over the last two weeks the narrowing gap between the community and the United States was very welcome,' Mr Major said. 'It is a gap that can be bridged. What is needed is for both sides to stay at the negotiating table and I will do all I can to bring that about.'

First to invite the Prime Minister to enlarge on his commitment to growth and job creation was Roger Moate (C, Faversham), who asked to hear more about ways of stimulating new capital investment, particularly private and public sector joint ventures.

Mr Major said everyone would welcome the reduction in interest rates, and went on: 'When it is safe to make further reductions without imperilling our inflation objectives, that would certainly be the Government's objective.'

But he added: 'There is no doubt that, across Europe and beyond, the economic circumstances have darkened and have become more difficult.' Tough decisions would have to be taken in the public expenditure round, but the Government would look carefully at those elements that had employment and growth potential. 'We will certainly look more carefully at ensuring we seek to get the private sector working more effectively to assist in capital projects.'

He told MPs: 'It is certainly our intention to pursue a strategy that will bring recovery, with it jobs and with it prosperity. It is essential that moves right to the centre of thinking in each and every aspect of government policy.' Richard Tracey (C, Surbiton) said Mr Major's words on growth and sound investment were 'much to be welcomed'. What London MPs wanted was the completion of the Jubilee line and the benefits that would flow from it.

Nigel Jones (Lib Dem, Cheltenham) said when the people of his constituency marched, as they did at the weekend, then Mr Major should ask himself what was going on. He added: 'The Prime Minister and his office say there has been a change in economic policy. The Treasury says there has not. Who is telling us the truth?'

Mr Major replied: 'There has been no movement away from the inflation objectives. There has been no movement away from the belief that we need non-inflationary growth . . .'

Norman Lamont, the Chancellor, will make his Autumn Statement on public spending and economic policy on 12 November.

Gatt crisis, page 8