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1991 - PMQT 28th February 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 28th February 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Robert Hicks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 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. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Hicks : I am sure that the whole House will wish to pay tribute to those who have been involved in the successful liberation of Kuwait and especially to our own armed forces whose courage, professionalism and inspiration have been an example to us all. We offer our deepest sympathy and gratitude to the families who have lost their loved ones.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that very real problems still exist in that part of the world and that it is incumbent on all nations, through the United Nations, to ensure that a middle east peace conference is established at which all the issues, including Israel, the Palestinians and the rest, can be discussed? Does he agree that we should give every encouragement to the Arab nations to formulate their own security arrangements for the future?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall, of course, be making a full statement on those matters very shortly. The fact is that Kuwait has been liberated and that one of the most remarkable military campaigns of recent years has been concluded. I want to pay the warmest possible tribute to the commanding officers of all nations out there and especially to General de la Billiere, who has commanded our own troops with such skill. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We must now look to the future and secure peace, especially by the means mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Kinnock : May I say to the Prime Minister that today, in this Parliament and throughout the country, we share the feelings of satisfaction at the defeat of aggression, and the feelings of sorrow at the deaths and misery caused directly as a result of that aggression? Does the Prime Minister agree that the only fitting memorial to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is to build, through the United Nations, lasting peace and lasting justice?

The Prime Minister : I share the emotions expressed by the right hon. Gentleman and the conclusion that he reached.

Mr. Temple-Morris : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if politicians do half as good a job in sustaining the peace as the armed services have done in winning the war, we shall not be doing at all badly? In sustaining that peace, will my right hon. Friend differentiate between the Iraqi people on the one hand, and Saddam Hussein and his Baathist clique on the other? Does he further agree that the longer that Saddam Hussein and that clique remain in power, the more difficult it will be for all nations to have a charitable attitude towards Iraq?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. We have never opposed the Iraqi people ; it is their leadership and Saddam Hussein who have been the enemy on this occasion.


Q2. Mr. Home Robertson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Mr. Home Robertson : Will the Prime Minister pay tribute to the 300 service men and their five minesweepers from the Rosyth naval base on their skilful achievement in the long and hazardous task of clearing mines for the allied fleet? Is he aware that the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said on Tuesday that Rosyth naval base was the "easiest and most suitable" target for closure, in spite of the assurance given by the Prime Minister to the House on 5 February? Is that the kind of welcome home that our returning heroes can expect from Ministers in this Government?

The Prime Minister : I willingly join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the men from Rosyth and the Royal Navy who have done such a magnificent job in sweeping the northern Gulf of mines. I do that with the greatest warmth and willingness. As the hon. Gentleman knows, for I have told the House before, a whole range of possible options concerning the armed forces generally is being considered to reduce the cost of defence support. In the case of the Royal Navy, that is bound to mean the closure of some naval establishments. At this stage the Ministry of Defence is looking at various possibilities and studies are being carried out. It is essential that those studies are carried out before any decisions of any sort can be made. I repeat my assurance to the hon. Gentleman : no decisions whatsoever have been made about the future of Rosyth.


Q3. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Mr. Devlin : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the profound joy and relief among families of service men in the north of England at the news of the ceasefire today and, in particular, at the extremely low level of casualties. Will he confirm that the troops will be brought back from the middle east as soon as possible and be replaced by a United Nations peacekeeping force?

The Prime Minister : We shall certainly be bringing our own troops home shortly. Precisely what will happen thereafter is a matter yet to be determined. No doubt I shall have more to say about that shortly.

Mr. Ashdown : May I associate myself with the words of other hon. Members on the role of our armed forces? The use of their professionalism and skill has been put to the service not just of the freedom of Kuwait but to the rule of international law and the authority of the United Nations. May I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister for the calmness and authority with which he has led the nation at a difficult time? Is his view about the future the same as mine? If the coalition invests the extraordinary victory in the United Nations, we will have created a powerful instrument not just for peace in the middle east now, but for peace in the world in the future as well.

The Prime Minister : I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for his kind words. The attitude taken by the Leader of the Opposition and by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has led to a unity in the House which can have been only a comfort to all our troops.


Q4. Mr. Speller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Mr. Speller : Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations through me of the people of north Devon on his leadership over the past few months? Now, as he turns his view towards domestic problems, will he see whether he can right some of the inequalities that have bothered people about the community charge? In particular, will he consider the case where a husband and wife both have to pay community charge even though only one is at work?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he knows, we are examining the community charge and we will make announcements on that when our examination is concluded.

Mr. James Lamond : Is there any chance of Governments at the United Nations applying the same energy and enthusiasm to trying to stop the sale of arms to dictators like Saddam Hussein throughout the world, in which case it might not be necessary to sacrifice young men such as those who were sacrificed in the recent war?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been an embargo by this country on sales of arms to Iraq for a considerable number of years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) imposed a strict embargo on sales to Iraq many years ago.


Visits

Q5. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to visit Dover, Deal and south- east Kent.

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

Mr. Shaw : Will my right hon. Friend confirm the commitment of his Government to completing the dual carriageway A20 into Dover and-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is a perfectly legitimate question.

Mr. Shaw : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Government is committed to completing the A20 dual carriageway into Dover and to completing the A2 dualling between Lydden and Dover? Furthermore, will he send his best wishes to Bob Bale, Trevor Povey and all my constituents who have been fighting for Britain in the Gulf?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to send the best wishes that my hon. Friend suggests. My hon. Friend has raised his first point with me before, both privately and publicly, and I am happy to confirm that part of the A20 between Folkestone and Dover is under construction and, as my hon. Friend is aware, a scheme for the improvement of the A2 entered the road programme last year.


Engagements

Q6. Mr. Eastham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Mr. Eastham : With the welcome end of the Gulf war, will the Prime Minister ensure that the same endeavours are used to reduce hospital waiting lists, which now stand at 980,000, as were used to open wards and provide beds for possible casualties? If he bothers to visit Ribble Valley during the by-election will he try to explain why the waiting list for beds there has doubled during the past four years and now stands at 4,380?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman should know, the health service is now treating more people more efficiently than ever before, not least due to the reforms introduced by the Government and the funding provided by them.


Q7. Mr. Dykes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Mr. Dykes : I thank my right hon. Friend for his incisive and decisive War Cabinet leadership which has led to success in the Gulf and I add my words of admiration for the unsurpassed and brilliant performance of our armed forces. As I have RAF Bentley Priory in my constituency, from which the Battle of Britain was directed 50 years ago, I particularly think of the performance of the Royal Air Force. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the particularly brave performance of the Tornado pilots in low flying on the Iraqi airfields did, contrary to rumours, substantially neutralise many of the Iraqi airfields and prevent the Iraqi air force from fighting?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm that. The bravery of the Tornado pilots in the early part of the campaign played a material part in ensuring that casualties in the land war were so few. I am happy to pay tribute to all those pilots.

Mr. William Ross : Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that considerable expense will now be put to trying to find a better means of identifying friendly ground troops?

The Prime Minister : That is a matter to which we shall certainly give attention. The House will understand the tragic occurrence that leads the hon. Gentleman to ask that question. It is certainly a matter which will have the most careful examination.


Q8. Mr. Arbuthnot : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Mr. Arbuthnot : In view of the recent murder of an innocent civilian by the IRA and the attempted murder of the War Cabinet, does my right hon. Friend agree that now is not the proper time to water down the prevention of terrorism Act?

The Prime Minister : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The prevention of terrorism Act has served us well in recent years and for the moment we still require it.

Mr. Mallon : On this historic day when people throughout the world can again savour peace, may I as an Irishman express the anger and revulsion felt by the vast majority of Irish people at the murderous attempts on commuters in Victoria and other stations? Does the Prime Minister agree that the contrived security alerts that we saw again yesterday are causing enormous suffering and disruption to thousands of people going to and coming from work? Does he share my view that to kill and to heap suffering on people in furtherance of political ends is a sad and cynical perversion of the very concept of patriotism?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is wickedness beyond belief, and it deserves the contempt of everyone.


Q9. Dr. Twinn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Dr. Twinn : May I join in the warm congratulations of the House to my right hon. Friend for his conduct of the war? In looking to the future, will he bear in mind the problems caused by the division of Cyprus and the fact that United Nations Security Council resolutions have still not been implemented there?

The Prime Minister : I shall certainly put my mind to that problem. I share my hon. Friend's hope that the Cyprus question will be resolved. Indeed, I am sure that everyone in the House wants to see that. I do not believe that question of Cyprus can be directly related to the Gulf conflict.


Q10. Mrs. Alice Mahon : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 February.

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

Mrs. Mahon : Has the Prime Minister had time to read the recent Amnesty International report on the people of East Timor? Will he now make a commitment to the achievement of a peaceful and just world by banning the sale of weapons to Indonesia, given that that country has illegally occupied East Timor for 15 years and has committed the most atrocious acts of violence against its population? Is not this a good time to do something about the evil of the arms trade?

The Prime Minister : I have not read the Amnesty International report to which the hon. Lady has referred, but I shall certainly seek to do so and reflect upon what she has said.