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1991 - PMQT 15th January 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 15th January 1991.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Arnold : In the course of his busy day, will my right hon. Friend spare a thought for the Kuwaiti people who are now in the sixth month of brutal occupation? Does he agree that if British forces have to go into action, they will be fighting in support of the United Nations for the principle that small nations may live in freedom and in peace?

The Prime Minister : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I shall of course, seek to deal with those matters in the course of my speech later this afternoon. If we are to have a safe world--and, clearly, that is our objective--we need to safeguard the positions of small countries with large and potentially aggressive neighbours.

Mr. Kinnock : In view of the brutality-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : In view of the brutality against unarmed people in Lithuania and in Latvia in recent days, will the right hon. Gentleman today make direct contact with the Soviet Government to make it clear, beyond all doubt, that for Britain and the European Community any improved relations with the Soviet Union will relate directly to the extent to which the authorities conduct affairs peacefully and with proper respect for basic human rights in all parts of the Soviet Union? Will the right hon. Gentleman give notice that continued violence will severely deter support for economic development in the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I can confirm that we have already made such representations to the Soviet authorities. I deeply deplore the actions in Vilnius and, of course, their tragic consequences. I regard them as unnecessary and undesirable, and I hope that they will never be repeated. I will be happy to pass the right hon. Gentleman's remarks direct to the Soviet authorities.

Sir Trevor Skeet : May I ask the Prime Minister a direct question? In the event of poisonous gas or bacteria being used in the middle east in the event of war, will he reserve the option to use a nuclear device if that is necessary for the protection of our own troops?

The Prime Minister : We have made it very clear to the Iraqis that we would take a very serious view indeed of the use of any chemical or biological weapons, but I must say to my hon. Friend that we have a wide range of weapons and resources at our hands and I do not envisage needing to use the sanction that he suggests.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that he has the overwhelming support of the people of this nation and of this House in his determination to ensure that international law is upheld by the enactment in full of the United Nations resolutions requiring Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait? But does he also realise that, consistent with those terms, it is right to pursue every last possibility for peace? Notwithstanding the fact that the French initiative no doubt has very little chance of success, would not it be wiser to pursue rather then reject it?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support today and for his strong support in recent weeks, which has been most helpful and much appreciated. We certainly subscribe to the principle of a last appeal to Saddam Hussein to obey the Security Council resolutions and leave Kuwait, but we have considerable reservations about the particular wording proposed by the French, which seems to us materially to weaken the Security Council resolutions and to have some other drawbacks as well. While we subscribe to the principle of a last appeal, I fear that I cannot agree with the precise wording proposed by the French.

Mr. Conway : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Iraqis' ability to avoid the effectiveness of sanctions will be aided by the £4 billion worth of gold and foreign reserves looted from Kuwait? Will he assure the House that if we discover that any country breaking sanctions is in receipt of United Kingdom aid, that aid will be stopped immediately?

The Prime Minister : We certainly take a very serious view indeed of sanctions-breaking, when one considers that sanctions have been working and, to a degree, effectively--although, alas, not remotely effectively enough to achieve the end that we wish, which is the removal of the Iraqis from Kuwait. I will certainly bear in mind the advice that my hon. Friend has given me.


Q2. Mr. Nicholas Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 January.

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

Mr. Brown : When the right hon. Gentleman met President Mitterrand, was he told the details of the French initiative and, if not, why not? If he was told the details, did he have any proposals of his own to make?

The Prime Minister : I am bound to say that I think that the substantive part of the hon. Gentleman's question would be more appropriately directed to President Mitterrand than to me.


Terrorism

Q3. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a further statement on the United Kingdom's contribution to international co- operation against terrorism.

The Prime Minister : We condemn all acts of terrorism wherever and by whomever committed. We shall maintain our firm stand against terrorism at home and overseas. We remain in very close touch with our partners and allies in these matters.

Mr. Hunter : As so many terrorist organisations have declared their support for, or received support from, Saddam Hussein's ally the Palestine Liberation Organisation, can my right hon. Friend assure us that there will be effective international co-operation against acts of terrorism which may be committed in support of Iraq and will he ensure that there will never be any surrender to terrorism?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm the last point to my hon. Friend and I very much hope that his earlier point is also the case. I can also assure him that we take the threat of terrorism very seriously indeed and have taken the appropriate cautionary measures. In particular, we have been urging other Governments to improve security at their airports. Very great vigilance will be required both at home and abroad and we are making it clear to everyone that that will undoubtedly be necessary in the weeks ahead.

Mr. Madden : In view of the gathering support for the French initiative--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a definitive question about terrorism.

Rev. Martin Smyth : I welcome the Prime Minister's statement that we take a firm line on terrorism, but in the light of the two recent kamikaze bombings in Londonderry and Fermanagh is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that he is getting full co-operation from the Republic of Ireland?

The Prime Minister : The Irish Government have made clear to us their continuing commitment to cross-border co-operation against terrorism. We will, of course, continue to discuss improvements to that cross-border co-operation, through the mechanism of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as we now have better relations with Syria, urging Syria at the end of this conflict to make peace with Israel would be an extremely good way of ensuring that international terrorism is dealt with?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, we have restored our relationship with Syria and we hope that that will herald a greater degree of co-operation between our two countries. I hope that in future Syria will turn away from any form of terrorism.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Galbraith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 January.

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

Mr. Galbraith : During the Prime Minister's recent visit to Scotland he re-emphasised his position on the poll tax that nothing was ruled out and nothing was ruled in. Yet in the previous week, when interviewed by David Frost, he said that proposals for the abolition of the poll tax would not arise. Can he explain the apparent contradiction?

The Prime Minister : First, the whole House is pleased to see the hon. Gentleman back in the House and looking a good deal fitter than he was. On his remarks about the community charge, we have repeatedly made the position clear. It is a fundamental review and until it is concluded we cannot be precisely certain about what will emerge. I offered a contingent thought in my early interview with Mr. Frost. What the reality will be, we shall have to see.


Q5. Mr. Butler : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 January.

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

Mr. Butler : What urgency does my right hon. Friend give to compensation for coal mining subsidence?

The Prime Minister : I confirm to my hon. Friend that that is an important matter. He will know that the Government have been considering it for some time. I can now confirm to my hon. Friend that it is the Government's intention to bring forward a Bill in the current Session. The Bill will improve the arrangements for compensation and the repair of houses for those affected by mining subsidence and provide for quicker settlement of disputed claims.

Mr. Livingstone : Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the Government have not issued any contingency orders for the printing of call-up papers for men aged 18 to 25 who are unmarried?

The Prime Minister : We have no such arrangements in hand.


Q6. Mrs. Currie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 January.

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

Mrs. Currie : Has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister noted the unanimous vote in the Iraqi National Assembly backing Saddam Hussein in his efforts for war? Does he agree that a unanimous vote in this House today would also demonstrate the determination of Britain, if it must, to put Saddam Hussein to flight and obtain justice for the Kuwaiti people?

The Prime Minister : I most certainly did notice the vote in the Iraqi assembly. I share my hon. Friend's view that the largest possible degree of support from the House for the Government's position would be most welcome, not only as an indication of international solidarity but, perhaps more importantly, as the clearest possible indication to our troops in Saudi Arabia that they have the full and united support of the House.

Mr. Leighton : Having invaded Kuwait to grab the oil, is it not true that Saddam Hussein has been unable to sell a single pint of it and has been unable to sell Iraqi oil either? While the two pipelines are closed, do not those effective sanctions render his position untenable in the long run? Would not it be better to maintain those effective sanctions, rather than resort to the early use of force, which could have unforeseen consequences?

The Prime Minister : I can only say that I wish that the hon. Gentleman was right. The reality is that sanctions have been in force for a considerable period of time. They may have caused some economic harm to Iraq. What they have not done is cause Iraq to remove itself from Kuwait and end the terrorism that is continuing there day after day.


Q7. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 January.

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

Mrs. Gorman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that on a cold day such as today, young people should not be sleeping in our streets when they could be in the ample bosom of some kindly landlady who, but for the twin bogey men of the Rent Acts and the taxman, could be encouraged to let spare rooms? On such a cold day as this, we should be concentrating our minds on removing all the obstacles that prevent people from letting rooms in private houses.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend puts the matter most colourfully and is undoubtedly an encouragement to us all. As my hon. Friend will know, we reformed the Rent Acts in 1989 and we believe that the legislation now strikes a better balance between landlord and tenant. None the less, I agree with my hon. Friend that further measures are necessary to increase the supply of rented accommodation. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning will be examining that matter.


Q8. Mr. Trimble : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 January.

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

Mr. Trimble : We applaud the Prime Minister's determination that aggression in the Gulf shall not be rewarded and we only hope that the same determination is applied here as well. I refer the Prime Minister to recent press reports about indirect negotiations and contacts between the Northern Ireland Office and Sinn Fein. I ask the right hon. Gentleman for an assurance that there will be no such contacts, direct or indirect, and to ensure that the aggression and terrorism of the IRA and Sinn Fein are not rewarded.

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have taken a consistent view that Irish terrorism, or terrorism of any sort, should not be rewarded. That has, been, is and I assure the hon. Gentleman, will continue to be our position.