Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1991 - PMQT 14th February 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th February 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Sir Hal Miller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Sir Hal Miller : Does my right hon. Friend agree that reductions in interest rates following a fall in inflation will sharpen the already competitive position of our motor industry which increased exports last year by 18 per cent? Are not rising exports, rising investment and increased skill levels proof positive that we are achieving what Labour claims to want, and that we should stick with our policies, rather than cut and run?

The Prime Minister : I can scarcely disagree with my hon. Friend. The motor industry has a very impressive export record, which is a tribute to good design, increasing competitiveness and the increasing work rate of employees in the industry.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to explain to the 110,000 people who lost their jobs in the course of the last month that they did so as a direct result of his incompetent economic policy?

The Prime Minister : It is interesting that during the 40 months in which unemployment fell, month after month after month, the right hon. Gentleman made no mention of this matter. I regret the rise in unemployment, but the right hon. Gentleman will have to concede that the level of unemployment in this country, at 6.6 per cent., is not only well below the European Community average but very well below the average levels of most of our European partners.

Mr. Kinnock : Today's figures show the biggest January rise in unemployment since 1981--the time of the last Tory slump. When the Conservatives have done this twice in a decade--regardless of who has been the leader, or who the Chancellor--is it any wonder that they will always be known as the party of unemployment?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman may find it difficult to explain the following unemployment rates : 9 per cent. in France, 9.9 per cent. in Italy, 9.3 per cent. in Canada, and 6.6 per cent. here. He may also have overlooked the fact that there has been a considerable rise in the number of job vacancies.

Mr. Kinnock : Perhaps the Prime Minister--who is the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, not of France--will explain why, if Tory policies are to work, hundreds of thousands of people have to stop working.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman's track record on such predictions is simply not good. He will recall predicting that mass unemployment of 6 million was inevitable. It was not, and his predictions now are wrong.

Sir Anthony Grant : When my right hon. Friend reflects today on the position in the Gulf, will he consider that a dictator like Saddam Hussein, who has been unscrupulous enough to murder his own people over several years, will probably have no scruples about allowing innocent people to suffer in a bombing raid for propaganda purposes? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the tragic event in Baghdad and the sad loss of life should not mean that a single allied soldier should be put at risk by a premature land assault?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, we shall consider very carefully when it is right to launch a land assault. The position in that regard remains as I have described to the House in the past. Everyone regrets the death of civilians, particularly in the tragic circumstances of the past few hours. But the United States has explained why it attacked that particular site : it did so on the basis of an assessment that showed that it was a legitimate military target, which played a part in the Iraqi war effort.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister agree that, in considering the lessons of the terrible tragedy that took place in Baghdad last night, we should not forget that Saddam Hussein has, not through inadvertence, but through acts of deliberate policy, killed more Muslims than any other living person? Does he also agree that, as the terrible toll of the war rises, so should our determination to build a just and durable peace to follow it?

Will the Prime Minister answer the question that I fear he dodged last week and say whether he is prepared to give the United Nations, in whose name we are fighting the war, the lead role in building the peace that follows?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the observations that the right hon. Gentleman made at the outset of his question. To avoid doubt, I shall repeat the point that the allies are not targeting civilians, unlike Saddam Hussein, who continues to fire missiles wholly indiscriminately at built-up population centres. On the subject of the United Nations, clearly we must consider with all our colleagues in the allied forces, particularly the Arab states upon and around whose lands the conflict is taking place, how to proceed at the end of the conflict.

Mr. Dykes : Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the House on his successful visit to Germany on Monday? If he will forgive the pun, far from being a "brugeing" experience, it was a successful visit, both bilaterally and in terms of the resuscitation of European solidarity?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is important to ensure that we play a leading part in the centre of the Community, which means that we have the closest possible bilateral contact with all our European partners.


Q2. Mr. Nellist : To ask the Prime Minister if the will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Mr. Nellist : Was yesterday's massacre of women and children in Amiriya a good example, under the 1977 Geneva protocol, of precision targeting of the right or wrong target? Was not the burning and lasceration of those children's bodies, to correctly use a military euphemism, the degrading of nobody in Baghdad but of those in whose name that slaughter took place?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman puts the matter with his customary bad taste and inaccuracy. As I explained a moment ago, there has been precision bombing, and that site was bombed because there was legitimate reason to believe that it was a military target.


Q3. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Mr. David Nicholson : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the concern at the advertising and the unsolicited temptations to borrow pursued by banks and other lenders in recent years, for which many businesses and many individuals are now paying a painful price. As interest rates come down, will my right hon. Friend use his influence as Prime Minister, as former Chancellor and as a former banker to impress on the banking industry the need for responsible lending--and will he consider what role the Government might play in that?

The Prime Minister : I have done as my hon. Friend suggests. My views on this subject are well known. I am very glad to see that the banks and building societies are addressing the issue of the marketing and provision of credit. As the banks have freely acknowledged, the code that they have covers only banks and building societies. That is why, in December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry issued a consultative document proposing a number of specific changes to tighten the law on consumer credit. These measures will have a wider field of application than just banks and building societies.


Q4. Ms. Armstrong : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Ms. Armstrong : Did the Prime Minister notice the figures published yesterday that show that the top 20 local education authorities providing nursery education are Labour, and the bottom 20 are Tory? Given the abysmal performance of Tory authorities, when the Secretary of State for Education and Science two weeks ago abandoned any commitment to the expansion of nursery education, did he have the Prime Minister's approval?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady should look at the whole provision of education services throughout the country, and if she is looking at lists of the top and the bottom authorities she should also look at the authorities with the highest community charges.


Q5. Mr. Robert G. Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Mr. Hughes : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to send a message of congratulations to the voluntary bodies and statutory agencies that have worked so hard during the past few days to provide shelter for the homeless in London? Will he note the comments of the deputy director of Shelter, who said the other day that the arrangements made were magnificent and excellent?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all those involved--particularly the voluntary organisations that have co-operated so willingly with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. As a result of that swift response there should be no need for anyone to sleep rough on the streets of London during this period of extreme bad weather.


Q6. Mr. Foulkes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Mr. Foulkes : What is the Prime Minister going to do now that John Yates, the highly respected NHS management consultant appointed by the Government to advise on reducing waiting lists, has resigned, describing the Government's policy, of spending £100 million to find out that waiting lists have increased, as a total waste of money? Would not it be better to sack the Secretary of State for Health and keep Mr. Yates?

The Prime Minister : As it happens, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health invited Mr. Yates to see him to discuss the reduction in waiting lists. Mr. Yates refused.


Q7. Mr. Hague : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Mr. Hague : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to reflect on the successful expansion of higher education under this Administration? Are not the one in five school leavers going into further and higher education, compared with the miserable one in eight when Labour was in power, a crucial part of building a better trained and educated workforce? Are not this Government providing the resources for that?

The Prime Minister : Indeed they are. My hon. Friend is right and I entirely agree with his remarks about the importance of higher education-- both universities and polytechnics--and the role that they are playing in trying to equip our young people for a better start in life.

Mr. Andrew Welsh : Is the Prime Minister truly aware of the crisis facing agriculture, with farm incomes at their lowest in real terms since the second world war and record numbers leaving the industry? Why then is the Ministry of Defence supplying Argentine and Uruguayan beef to British forces in the Gulf when British cold stores are jam packed with intervention beef, subsidised and paid for by British taxpayers? Will the right hon. Gentleman assist taxpayers, the armed forces and agriculture by sorting that out?

The Prime Minister : It is because of such absurdities that we are keen to see a proper reform of the common agricultural policy. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made it clear that that is a top priority for us and we shall seek to negotiate it with our colleagues in Europe.


Q8. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that today's problems of homelessness have been caused, first, by the way in which the private rented sector has been regulated almost out of existence and, secondly, by the incompetence of many local authorities, mainly Labour controlled, which have more than 100,000 vacant council houses up and down the country? [Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that the Government will take the necessary radical action to free and deregulate the private rented sector in order to bring many hundreds of thousands of empty flats and rooms back on to the market?

The Prime Minister : Nothing could better have illustrated the Opposition's hostility to the private rented sector than their activities while my hon. Friend asked his question. It was absurd that the private rented sector was declining and properties were left empty because of rent control. We have introduced to the subsidy arrangements all sorts of incentives to encourage local authorities to bring properties into use. We continue to examine further ways to stimulate the private sector.


Q9. Mr. David Marshall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 February.

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

Mr. Marshall : What does the Prime Minister have to say to the record number of 40,000 home owners who had their homes repossessed during the past 12 months as a result of his high interest rates policy? What advice does he give those people?

The Prime Minister : All repossessions are a tragedy for those who are involved. The hon. Gentleman should bear it in mind that repossessions account for less than one fifth of 1 per cent. of home owners and that the overwhelming majority of those are as a result of marriage breakdown.