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1991 - PMQT 5th February 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 5th February 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Mr. Winnick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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. Winnick : Is the Prime Minister aware that, as the recession bites even deeper in all parts of the country, not least in the west midlands, the country will simply not buy the nonsense that it is all due to the Gulf war? Is he aware, further, that people recognise that the recession and the devastation that are occurring in so many parts of the country are due to the disastrous policies of a discredited Government who simply do not know from day to day where they are going?

The Prime Minister : I certainly accept that there is a downturn in the economy and I have made that clear. But the hon. Gentleman must recognise that that downturn, in terms of investment and growth, comes from a very high level after a very lengthy period of growth. It is absolutely essential that we take the appropriate decisions now to ensure that we have a lower rate of inflation in the economy in the 1990s.

Mr. Hayes : Is not my right hon. Friend greatly encouraged by the fact that British investment outstrips that in Germany, France and Italy? Does not he think that British industry is getting rather fed up with the Labour party continually saying that there is no end to the recession in sight and no economic good news? Does he agree that it is becoming the party of the abominable no-men?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, our investment record over recent years has been extremely good--a record unmatched elsewhere in the Community.

Mr. Kinnock : Since it is clear that before too many weeks have passed the Government will be forced to cut interest rates, why do they not do it now and save British industries and British home buyers absolutely pointless pain?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should not be so desperate. If he panics in opposition, what might he do in government?

Mr. Kinnock : First, all observable panic is on the right hon. Gentleman's side of the House. Secondly, he will soon have a very good opportunity of finding out the strength of Labour in government.

It is all very well for the Prime Minister to try to avoid the question. It is not his business which he spent a lifetime building up that is now threatened ; it is not his factory that is facing closure ; and it is not his mortgage that threatens to put him and his family out of their home. Is he not ashamed that Britain, alone of all the major industrial countries, is facing, under his Government, prolonged slump--extended slump--because of his policies?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has clearly overlooked the fact that-- [Interruption.] --I shall come directly to the question. The right hon. Gentleman has clearly overlooked the fact that there is a recession in a number of countries. The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands the importance of interest rates. Nobody wants interest rates to be unduly high, but we need to ensure that we have a low inflation economy. That is the means to ensure that we have it.

Mrs. Peacock : I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the many Gulf support groups that have been set up throughout the country to offer help and support to those families who have loved ones fighting in the Gulf. Will he join me today in sending best wishes to the two groups in my constituency, in Batley and Cleckheaton, who are doing a superb job?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly happy to do as my hon. Friend requests. I am delighted by the number of Gulf support groups that have been set up around the country and I wish them all well.


Q2. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Mr. Skinner : Can the Prime Minister tell us how this war can have any moral or democratic purpose when British troops risk being slaughtered on the desert sands while the Kuwaiti royal family is gallivanting around the gambling dens and casinos, living it up? When the war is over and those Kuwaiti American stooges are back in power, with all their luxury, some British troops will be coming back to the dole queue, the poll tax and cardboard city. Is that the classless society that the Prime Minister talks about?

The Prime Minister : I always thought that the hon. Gentleman was against the sort of actions that we have seen in Kuwait by the Iraqis. I am sorry that I am wrong.


Q3. Dame Peggy Fenner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Dame Peggy Fenner : During my right hon. Friend's busy day I am sure that he will share my concern about the current proposals for reform of the common agricultural policy. Does he agree with me that we should not accept any reform that penalises the efficient British farmer, since that will not help the British consumer?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. I share the view of the majority of hon. Members that further reform of the common agricultural policy is needed, but that must make European agriculture more, not less, open to market forces. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been making clear in Brussels, we shall very strongly resist any proposals that penalise the efficient farmer and, in so doing, place the burden upon consumers.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister recall the very welcome words of the Foreign Secretary at the weekend when he said that when the fighting is over we must be prepared to use the peace wisely? May I therefore put to him this proposition : if the United Nations provides the authority for fighting the war in the Gulf, the United Nations should have the responsibility for building the peace that follows it. Does the Prime Minister agree?

The Prime Minister : We shall certainly be discussing, both within the United Nations and beyond--with the Arab states that have the primary interest--what is necessary for the future security of the region.


Q4. Mr. Nicholls : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Mr. Nicholls : Has my right hon. Friend noted that for the last four months inflation has been running at about 1.9 per cent. per annum? Does not that show that the Government's policy of reducing inflation is working? Does not such a policy offer a far more certain way towards eventual interest rate reductions than the soft option advocated by the Leader of the Opposition by way of a devaluation?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right. Soft options tend to lead to hard times. Our policies are succeeding in reducing inflation. As inflation comes down there will be the opportunity for sustained interest rate reductions.

Ms. Ruddock : Does the Prime Minister agree with me

Mr. Dickens : I saw the hon. Lady on television.

Mr. Speaker : So did I.

Ms. Ruddock : Does the Prime Minister agree with me that, in keeping with the spirit and purposes of the United Nations, consent to the allied military action is limited to ending Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, that peace and security in the region can be achieved by other means, and that those means must include the removal of nuclear and chemical weapons throughout the region?

The Prime Minister : The present aims are set out perfectly clearly in Security Council resolutions. As to the second point in the hon. Lady's question, I think that it is a matter that everyone will wish to address after the conclusion of the conflict.


Q5. Mr. Wilshire : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Mr. Wilshire : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever our party politics, we should all welcome the proposed abolition of the apartheid laws in South Africa? Does he agree also that, whatever we may think about that country's past, the best way to support its Government now is to help them make those changes as quickly as possible and to begin the process of reintegrating South Africa into the community of nations?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is necessary to support the South African Government. But perhaps even more relevant is support for the people of South Africa--all of them. President de Klerk has made a truly massive move forward and it is now for the international community to respond. I hope very much that it will do so. I have already discussed the matter with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and with President Bush, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised it with European Community Foreign Ministers yesterday. I spoke about it this morning with Mr. Hawke, the Australian Prime Minister. He and I agree very strongly that the time has come to begin lifting the Commonwealth measures, especially the sports sanctions, particularly in the case of those sports that are integrated in South Africa. All in all, the announcement by President de Klerk was a most welcome move forward.


Q6. Mr. Norman Hogg : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Mr. Hogg : Is the Prime Minister aware that the naval base at Rosyth in Scotland employs 5,000 naval and civilian personnel? Is he aware that we have received ministerial assurances that, in the defence review, all the options will be considered impartially? Is he aware of a secret study report showing that there is an intention to close Rosyth in the shortest possible time? Does not he agree that it is disgraceful that at a time when our naval personnel are serving in the Gulf, their home base is being threatened in this way?

The Prime Minister : No decision has been made to close Rosyth or any other naval base. We fully recognise the implications that closure would have for employment in the area. Those implications would be fully considered and examined before any such decision was taken.

Mr. Haselhurst : Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that if President Bush raises the question of transatlantic air routes he--the Prime Minister--will sustain the Government's position, as outlined by the Secretary of State for Transport, in a very strong and sensible defence of British civil aviation?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is discussing these matters. I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend will defend our interests very robustly.

Mr. Eadie : How does the Prime Minister justify the salary of £225,000 per annum being paid to the new chairman of British Coal? Previous chairmen had a large industry and a comparatively small salary, whereas the present chairman is inheriting a very small industry and will have a large salary. Some of us suspect that his terms of reference are to make the industry smaller still.

The Prime Minister : The gentleman concerned is being paid according to his ability.


Q7. Mr. Moate : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Mr. Moate : Reverting to reform of the common agricultural policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that if, for social reasons, the Germans and French wish to subsidise their small farmers, they should be free to do so?

As the British taxpayer will next year spend £4 billion on agricultural subsidies, apparently to produce inadequate incomes for farmers and excessively high prices for consumers, is not it time we considered repatriating agricultural policy so that we can decide what is best for Britain?

The Prime Minister : The common agricultural policy is an established element of the European Community. I share my hon. Friend's view that it is an unsatisfactory one, and for that reason we are seeking to reform it.

Mr. Alan Williams : Is the Prime Minister aware that a measure of the underlying weakness of our economy is the fact that, excluding North sea oil, in the past three and a half years, at constant prices, we have had a trade deficit of £85 billion? Why does he believe that we can solve that problem with the same rate of exchange that caused it?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is selective in his criticism. He wholly forgets that we had eight successive years of growth, a period in which our investment has grown faster than that of Germany, Italy, France and anyone else in the European Community and we now have a wholly different industrial position from that which we inherited in 1979.


Q8. Mr. Irvine : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Mr. Irvine : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern of many firms operating in the financial services sector about the European Commission's draft directive on capital adequacy? Does he agree that some of the requirements imposed on capital adequacy are excessive, and will he make vigorous representations to ensure that, where appropriate, they are reduced?

The Prime Minister : I am aware of the concerns that my hon. Friend raises. He will know that firms that act purely as advisers are exempt from the requirements of the capital adequacy directive. We do not wish to see inappropriate or unnecessary capital requirements imposed on any United Kingdom investment firm.


Q9. Mr. Barron : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 5 February.

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

Mr. Barron : Under the private Bill procedure, the Government have always accepted their neutrality to be one of support for a private Bill. Last Thursday night, the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill was defeated by the use of the payroll vote, including 10 members of the Cabinet, two of whom are members of the War Cabinet, which was suspended when that vote took place. What has changed the Government's mind? Was it political judgment or political spite?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should know that that was the individual decision of Members of this House.