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1991 - PMQT 29th January 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 29th January 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Cran : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 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. Cran : Would my right hon. Friend care to take this opportunity to assure foreign business men and tourists--and indeed, almost everyone else who comes to the United Kingdom--that they have been grossly misled into thinking that coming into the United Kingdom is a dangerous occupation? Would he confirm that using British aircraft and British airports is almost as safe as using those anywhere else in the world and that stringent security arrangements are in place? Will he confirm that they will stay in place as long as the threats, to which we are accustomed, continue?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. A great deal of effort has gone into ensuring that our aircraft and all other modes of transport are entirely safe. My hon. Friend is quite right. There is no question of people in this country being intimidated by terrorism. I hope very much that the usual clutch of visitors will come to this country, where they will find the usual warm welcome.

Mr. Kinnock : Is it not clear to the right hon. Gentleman that, with unemployment rising, and output and investment falling, his interest rate policies have pushed Britain back into slump? Will he now change those policies before he inflicts further damage on British jobs, on British enterprise and on British competitiveness?

The Prime Minister : I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that the thrust of policy is geared to dealing with the principal economic problem in front of us--the reduction of inflation--so that the economy may again begin to grow. That is the thrust of policy and it will continue to be so.

Mr. Kinnock : Can the Prime Minister tell us how on earth cutting investment combats inflation? Is it not obvious to him that weakening British industry now will weaken the British economy in the future?

The Prime Minister : As the Confederation of British Industry said yesterday in its report, it is encouraging that most employers expect to maintain spending on innovation and to maintain or increase spending on training. The right hon. Gentleman must recognise the substantive point that what really destroys the effectiveness of investment in this country is inflation, when it gets out of hand and when people can see that investment will not yield a proper reward.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that, if British industry is to begin recovery in the course of this year, he must cut interest rates now and find a sensible way of restraining consumption? What is happening now is ruinous.

The Prime Minister : When it is appropriate to reduce interest rates, people do so. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was urging us to join the exchange rate mechanism when the exchange rate was DM 2.95. We will reduce interest rates when it is appropriate to do so.


Baltic States

Q2. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a further statement on the Soviet Union's handling of the Baltic states and their bid for independence.

The Prime Minister : We have made our concern known very clearly to the Soviet authorities, in particular about the actions of Soviet troops in Vilnius and Riga and their tragic consequences. We believe that the Soviet authorities should withdraw their troops and negotiate with the elected authorities in the Baltic states on their aspirations.

Mr. Hunter : In the light of the Soviet Union's oppressive policies in the Baltic states, will my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the factors that will determine future United Kingdom aid will be the Soviet Union's acknowledgement of the Baltic states people's right to self- determination?

The Prime Minister : We have always supported the right of the people of the Baltic states to decide their future status through negotiation with the Soviet Union. That will continue to guide our policy in the future.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Is the Prime Minister aware that President Landsbergis will host a conference entitled "a free Lithuania in Europe" between 7 and 16 February in Vilnius and that, concurrent with that, he will conduct a national poll to establish changes within the constitution of the state of Lithuania? Does the Prime Minister agree that such a conference would be an ideal opportunity for an all-party delegation from the House to visit the Baltic states to see what is happening? Will the Prime Minister consider such a delegation?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her suggestion. That is a matter for hon. Members, not for me.

Mr. Wilkinson : Will my right hon. Friend make it perfectly plain to the Soviet authorities that aid to the USSR as a unitary state is conditional on the maintenance of human rights and democratic freedoms within the constituent republics as they now are?

The Prime Minister : I have previously done that, as my hon. Friend will know. I must add that, over the past few years, we have invested a great deal of time and effort, as has the United States, in improving the relationship and atmosphere with the Soviet Union. I hope that we can suspend judgment on some activities until we have further information. What appears to be happening in Vilnius and Riga is quite unacceptable, but I hope that we can suspend judgment until we see matters more clearly. Yet again, we make it clear to the Soviet Union that our support for Mr. Gorbachev is support for him and his reforms, not for repression.


Engagements

Q3. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 January.

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

Mr. Dunnachie : Is the Prime Minister aware that there is total support for his concern for the welfare of British troops in the Gulf? Will he put his money where his mouth is and give councils the money that they need to relieve their troops in the Gulf of the poll tax burden?

The Prime Minister : As I indicated to the House the other day, authority already exists for local authorities to relieve troops during their period there.

Mr. Cormack : Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the chairman of the Post Office this afternoon about the supply of the blue letter forms on which families write to forces in the Gulf? Is he aware that families of the Staffordshire regiment have been complaining that the forms are not readily available in many rural post offices?

The Prime Minister : I can say to my hon. Friend that more have been distributed because of concern about that matter. About 600 sacks of mail are being moved each day to and from the Gulf. It is a massive operation. Hon. Members will have seen on television some of the difficulties that there are in delivering it.


Q4. Mr. Corbyn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 January.

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

Mr. Corbyn : Will the Prime Minister spend some time today considering the effects of 13 days of war in the Gulf, the deaths of service people, the massive losses of Iraqi civilians, the environmental destruction throughout the region, and the loss of some civil liberties in this country? Will the right hon. Gentleman accordingly join King Hussein of Jordan and the Pope in calling for a ceasefire in the war to enable the problems of the region to be addressed peacefully, as they will all be there at the end of the fighting?

The Prime Minister : It was not the allies who ensured that the problems of the region could not be solved peacefully ; it was Saddam Hussein. It is perfectly clear what needs to be done before they can be addressed peacefully.


Q5. Dr. Michael Clark : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 January.

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

Dr. Clark : Will my right hon.Friend confirm that the coalition forces in the Gulf are striving to uphold the United Nations resolutions and that it is hoped, therefore, that as many members of the United Nations as possible will contribute towards this effort? Does he agree that there is every indication at the present time that this will happen, and that it is to be hoped that our friends and allies, particularly those that have not sent forces to the Gulf, will recognise their responsibilities and find ways of contributing to the war effort?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. A number of Governments have already made financial contributions towards the cost of the forces in the Gulf and a number of others have announced their intention to do so. I understand that Germany has made such an announcement just today. We are grateful for that and we will be in touch with the Governments concerned.

Mr. Ashdown : Will the Prime Minister confirm that the objective of the coalition forces in the Gulf remains to secure the liberation, peace and stability of Kuwait and does not extend to the occupation and dismemberment of a defeated Iraq?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to confirm our war aims to the right hon. Gentleman. We have made them clear consistently. They are those set out in the United Nations Security Council resolutions. They have been and remain the aims of the allies.


North Yorkshire

Q6. Mr. Gregory : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to North Yorkshire.

The Prime Minister : I am making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country and very much hope to include North Yorkshire among them.

Mr. Gregory : Will my right hon. Friend encourage those banks and building societies that are offering mortgages to home owners in North Yorkshire to extend the facility to European currency unit mortgages, thereby reducing the interest rate by some 3 per cent?

The Prime Minister : Banks and building societies have the capacity to do that at present. It is a matter for their judgment whether they do so and for their mortgage borrowers whether they seek such a facility.

Mr. O'Brien : In the course of his visit to North Yorkshire, will the Prime Minister take note of the importance of the link from the A1 servicing North Yorkshire to the M1 to ease the congestion of traffic on the A642 through Oulton and Rothwell?

The Prime Minister : I will do better than that ; I will tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Dickens : Prime Minister, are you aware -  [Hon. Members :-- "No."] Are you aware--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I have sympathy for the hon. Member. Give him a fair hearing.

Mr. Dickens : Prime Minister, are you aware--

Mr. Speaker : Why not proceed with the question? I think we have got the first bit.

Mr. Dickens : Is the Prime Minister aware that my eldest son, Clive, signed on for the Gulf last week, and this week

Mr. Speaker : Order. Did he do it in Yorkshire, that is the point?

Mr. Dickens : Is this not more commendable than the behaviour of a lot of yellow-bellied Labour MPs?

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman absolutely spoiled a good opportunity.


Engagements

Q7. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 January.

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

Mr. Skinner : When the Prime Minister is travelling around North Yorkshire, will he pay a visit to York and take note that the Conservative club is having a closing-down sale because it has gone bankrupt as a result of the Government's business rate having increased from £5,000 to £15,000? Is it a Government policy to achieve a classless society by closing down Tory clubs in marginal seats? However, every cloud has a silver lining. When Labour comes into power we shall abolish the poll tax and there will be jobs in York, Derbyshire and everywhere else in Britain.

The Prime Minister : But not, I think, for most people working today, for they will have long since retired.


Q8. Mr. Holt : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 January.

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

Mr. Holt : Is my right hon. Friend aware that this year the Northern regional health authority is receiving the largest sum that it has ever had? That is welcome news in the north of England. The 10.2 per cent. increase over last year means that the people of the north of England are getting a marvellous deal from the Government. In particular there will be the opportunity for increased capital investment in a new hospital in my constituency for which we have waited for over 10 years.

The Prime Minister : I am pleased to hear that. I am always pleased when my hon. Friend is pleased. He is a doughty fighter for the north and has been for many years.

Ms. Abbott : Will the Prime Minister confirm that there is nothing explicit in the appropriate United Nations resolutions that authorises an allied invasion of Iraq? Does he accept that although there is a widespread consensus in the House and internationally that Saddam Hussein must leave Kuwait, there is no such consensus for an allied invasion of Iraq to smash its military machine, with all the casualties and damage to Iraq's people and infrastructure that would result?

The Prime Minister : Resolution 678 authorises all necessary means to implement the objective of freeing Kuwait and restoring peace and security to the area. At this stage it is impossible to determine in detail precisely what that may mean. We shall need to judge that in the light of circumstances and we shall judge our actions against the security council resolutions.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether you have had a request from the Secretary of State for the Environment to make a statement about possible cuts in fire service provision which are the subject of an enormous lobby today by firemen and women worried about the cuts imposed by the Government on fire services?

Mr. Speaker : I have had no such request.