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1991 - PMQT 19th February 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 19th February 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. John Carlisle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 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. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Carlisle : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the one event in these troubled times that has given much pleasure to people, and especially to our troops in the Gulf, has been the comprehensive English rugby victory at Twickenham? In that context does he further agree that we should begin to think about providing them with some real opposition which can now come only from South Africa? Is my right hon. Friend encouraged by the meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers at the weekend which virtually saw the beginning of the end of the infamous Gleneagles agreement? Will he take further initiatives to restore British-South African sporting relations?

The Prime Minister : In answer to my hon. Friend's first point, I am not sure that many Scots troops in the Gulf would necessarily agree with him. I recall occasions when both the Scots and the Welsh had rather too satisfactory results at Twickenham and elsewhere. I agree with my hon. Friend's substantive point that the time has come to resume sporting links with South Africa in areas where there is now proper integration of sport within the Republic of South Africa. I have discussed that matter with other Commonwealth leaders and I hope to take it forward.

Mr. Kinnock : The Secretary of State for Education and Science today said :

"I'm not interested in proposals that transfer expenditure on education from the local taxpayer to central Government taxation". Does the Prime Minister agree with his Secretary of State?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are examining a whole series of options in the community charge review. If the right hon. Gentleman will be patient we shall announce the result of that as soon as possible.

Mr. Kinnock : But the Secretary of State could not have been clearer in ruling out the idea of transferring expenditure from local taxation to central taxation. Will the Prime Minister make his position clear on this aspect of concern? Does he support his Secretary of State for Education and Science?

The Prime Minister : I shall make the position entirely clear on the matter under review when we have finished the review.

Mr. Kinnock : Why does not the Prime Minister save a great deal of time and the country a huge amount of money by abolishing the poll tax and accepting the Labour party proposal for a modern system of fair rates? That is the best way to deal with the poll tax.

The Prime Minister : I am sure that the whole country will have listened with interest to the right hon. Gentleman. What a shame that when he announced his proposals in Scotland they did not meet with the acclaim that he expected.

Mr. Malins : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the man who was so cruelly murdered by the bomb at Victoria station yesterday came from Thornton Heath, which is in my constituency, and leaves a wife and baby son. Will my right hon. Friend send the sympathy of the whole House to that family, and can he assure us that no expense or effort will be spared, to bring the callous killers to justice?

The Prime Minister : The whole House will share the views that have been expressed by my hon. Friend. I certainly offer to the family of the gentleman who was killed, and to all those who were injured, our very warmest sympathy. One is bound to ask what sort of people it is that can carry out attacks of this kind. They are certainly consumed with hate, and they are certainly sick of mind. And they can be certain of one thing--that they will be hunted and hunted until they are found.


Q2. Mr. David Marshall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Mr. Marshall : With unemployment soaring past 2 million, with record numbers of homeless people and home repossessions, with pensioners freezing to death because of his penny-pinching policies, is not the Prime Minister reminded of the tale of the king's new clothes? Can he tell the House just what is different about his premiership, when it is apparent to all that, if he is not altogether naked, he is simply wearing the threadbare clothes of the previous Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister : I am not entirely sure that they would wholly suit me. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, I have to say that he left something out of his catalogue. For example, he omitted the work on the £55 million programme to transform a rundown area of Glasgow's east end. I should have thought that he would know about that. He also forgot that that programme will create 1,000 jobs in that part of Glasgow.

Mr. Gale : My right hon. Friend is aware of the level of public concern that has been expressed about media coverage of Gulf events-- particularly reports from Baghdad. Does he agree that it is not incumbent upon either the BBC or ITN to sink to the levels of some foreign news organisations? Is not it particularly important at this time, when the wives and families of service men are watching television, that every effort should be made to ensure that the public are made well aware that any report coming out of Iraq is subject to very severe censorship?

The Prime Minister : I think it is clear to people that reports coming out of Baghdad are subject to censorship, and I hope that the BBC and the other transmission channels will make that clear on every occasion.


Q4. Mr. Livingstone : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Mr. Livingstone : In the light of the news from Moscow that President Gorbachev has given Saddam Hussein 48 hours to reply to his peace proposals, can the Prime Minister assure the House that no ground war will be launched by the coalition while those negotiations continue?

The Prime Minister : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can seriously expect me, on this occasion or on any other occasion, to give information of a military sort. Certainly I can confirm that President Gorbachev sent to me late last night the proposals that he had put to Tariq Aziz.


Q5. Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Has my right hon. Friend seen this excellent report of the North Western regional health authority, a copy of which I sent him? If so, he will have noted that the health authorities of Lancaster and Blackpool top the league in the immunisation against diphtheria of children under two. Those districts also have the lowest rates of death from cancer at all ages.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating all those concerned-- the administrators, the doctors, the nurses, the ancillary staff and all others involved--on their splendid team effort?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I have seen the brochure that my hon. Friend sent me. I congratulate all those concerned in the Blackpool and Lancaster districts on their achievement in respect of immunisation rates and the low rates of death from cancer. The national target for immunisation is 90 per cent., and that has been achieved. It is worth mentioning that the accelerated immunisation schedule for younger children and the introduction of the new GPs' contract should further improve the immunisation uptake figures nationwide. It is becoming clear that the health reforms are improving preventive medicine in a remarkable way.

Mr. Kirkwood : Has the Prime Minister had a chance to study reports in today's press on the progress made to date on the internal Government review of the poll tax? Is he aware that those reports imply that no one involved in those review negotiations is in favour of the Government retaining the poll tax? If that is true, does not the right hon. Gentleman have a duty to make an early statement to the House and the country that, whatever options are still being considered, the poll tax is now well and truly ruled out?

The Prime Minister : We will make a statement at the end of our review and not before.


Q6. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Mr. Greenway : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his commitment to an excellent education for all our children is widely supported and welcomed throughout the House and the nation? To that end, is he pleased that Her Majesty's inspectors' report shows that the first year of national curriculum maths is going extremely well for five and 11-year-olds and throughout the age range, and that children and teachers are working well to achieve that? Will my right hon. Friend congratulate them?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I am happy to do as my hon. Friend suggests. The report demonstrates that the national curriculum has stimulated a range of improvements in schools and that teachers have worked hard to take advantage of the opportunities. That can be only to the benefit of the children and I look to see it continue.


Q7. Ms. Primarolo : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Ms. Primarolo : Given the expected statement this afternoon by the Secretary of State for the Environment giving poll tax exemption to forces serving in the Gulf, will the Prime Minister this afternoon agree to extend exemption from this vicious tax to all deserving groups, such as the nurses?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady and her colleagues will carry more weight on the community charge matter when all of them pay their community charge and their fair share of local government taxation. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady has already done so. [ Hon. Members :-- "She has not."] I note that the hon. Lady has not and I hope that others will have noted that, too.

Ms. Primarolo : The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have paid my poll tax.

The Prime Minister : The community charge reduction scheme will help 18 million people who face community charge bills.


Q8. Mr. Knowles : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Mr. Knowles : Despite the scaremongering from some local authorities, I welcome the community charge relief scheme, but will my right hon. Friend comment on the effects of that scheme throughout the country? If he had available the figures for Nottingham in particular, I and my constituents would welcome them.

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, the community charge reduction scheme will make a significant difference to a large number of people this year with more than 18 million people being eligible for rebates under it. If Nottingham city council sets the same level next year as it did this year, a couple living in an averagely-rated property would receive a reduction of £238 between them.

Mr. Turner : Will the Prime Minister comment on the recent statement by the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) that unless substantial funds are made available to the NHS before the end of the financial year, elderly people and people from other groups might die? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with that statement? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I did not hear that.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) sitting behind me says that he said no such thing.


Q9. Dame Jill Knight : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Dame Jill Knight : Has the Prime Minister any up-to-date knowledge of the British airmen who were shot down or who ejected over enemy territory? Will he assure the House that any peace terms that are accepted will include as a priority the return of those airmen unharmed?

The Prime Minister : I wish that I could say to my hon. Friend that I had the information that she seeks. We have tried repeatedly but thus far have had no success in getting it. I share my hon. Friend's great concern about Iraq's failure to fulfil its commitments under the Geneva convention and to grant the Red Cross access to prisoners of war. We remain in constant touch with the International Committee of the Red Cross and are urging it to do everything possible to get Iraq to live up to its obligations. I agree very much with my hon. Friend that the immediate release of prisoners of war, including our airmen, must be part of any ceasefire.


Q10. Mr. Strang : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 February.

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

Mr. Strang : If President Saddam Hussein responds to the Soviet peace initiative with an undertaking to withdraw all his forces from Kuwait unconditionally, does the Prime Minister agree that the allies should respond by stopping the bombing and halting moves towards a ground war in Kuwait?

The Prime Minister : We are all aware that proposals have been put by President Gorbachev to Iraq. I confirmed that to the House earlier. In his message President Gorbachev specifically asked me to keep the proposals confidential. Therefore, upon those I can offer no substantial comment. In any case, as the hon. Gentleman intimated, we have to bear it in mind that it is the Iraqis who have been asked to respond, not us. We await a response from them. Nothing has yet happened which would incline us to agree to a ceasefire or a pause in the conflict. If Saddam Hussein wants to avoid a land battle, he knows what he must do : he has to withdraw unconditionally and immediately from Kuwait and implement the Security Council resolutions in full. Unless and until he does that, the conflict will continue.