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1991 - PMQT 7th March 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 7th March 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

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. Colvin : The House will wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on being the first allied leader to visit the Gulf since the successful cessation of hostilities. When he spoke to our forces there, he spoke for the whole nation. Can he now tell the House when we can expect our forces home so that we may give them the heroes' welcome that they deserve? Does he agree that it might not be a bad idea to send out to the Gulf 10 builders to assist with the reconstruction of Kuwait for every service man and service woman whom we welcome home?

The Prime Minister : I can assure my hon. Friends that we are making plans for an appropriate welcome home when the majority of our troops are back. We hope to announce details of that quite soon. I am sure that the House will be pleased to have the excellent news that our forces will start to return home this weekend. The first to come back will be medical reservists, including 205 general hospital, which is returning to Glasgow. The first Tornados, their crews and support staff will also be starting for home in a few days' time. Some ships are already on their way home. The House will be especially pleased to know that 7th Armoured Brigade, which has been in the desert under the command of Brigadier Cordingley since last October, will begin to leave early next week and we hope that its withdrawal can be completed in two weeks or so. That brigade includes one of the Scottish regiments in the Gulf--the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will publish details later this afternoon.

Mr. Hattersley : I, too, congratulate the Prime Minister on his visit to the Gulf yesterday, but may I now ask him to turn his mind to domestic politics? Why is Britain the only western European economy in which manufacturing exports are falling, manufacturing output is falling, manufacturing investment is falling and manufacturing employment is falling, all at the same time?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks, but less so for the rest. As the right hon. Gentleman knows--but, alas, neglected to mention--the United States and Canada are in recession and growth is slowing in France, Italy and a number of other major economies. In our own economy, inflation is falling and interest rates are beginning to fall. The effects of our policies are beginning to be felt benevolently.

Mr. Hattersley : The Prime Minister has not even attempted to answer my question. He will not be able to run away from these issues for ever. As he has failed to attempt an answer, I offer him the answer provided to my question by the House of Lords yesterday--that the problem for British manufacturing industry is doctrinaire Government policies and incompetent Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should read the report more carefully. If he does so, he will find a number of recommendations welcoming actions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has taken in recent months. They have advanced further since their report's publication and include, for example, the doubling of support for technology transfer and extra support for smaller firms. The right hon. Gentleman should be less selective and more accurate.

Mr. Hattersley : The Prime Minister must know that the two criticisms that I quoted are exactly the view of the House of Lords. I have no doubt that even the least literate members of the other place will regard the Prime Minister's answer as a bogus sham.

The Prime Minister : I had not expected to find such a literate right hon. Gentleman guilty of such tautology. The policies that we have followed are those which assist success in all sectors of the enterprise economy. The right hon. Gentleman forgets the reductions in inflation, on which his party had no policy, the change to one of the lowest rates of corporation tax in the world, when his party would raise taxation, and a labour market surplus which has given this country the lowest number of days lost in strikes for 50 years.

Sir Peter Tapsell : Does my right hon. Friend agree that a start cannot even begin to be made to bringing Iraq back into the peace-loving family of nations while Saddam Hussein remains in power in Baghdad?

The Prime Minister : I can most certainly agree with my hon. Friend about that. As I said in the House last week, and am happy to repeat, I believe that Iraq will remain a pariah among nations while Saddam Hussein is there and rules it.


Q2. Mr. Leadbitter : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

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

Mr. Leadbitter : Will the Prime Minister now turn to some specifics of the highly critical report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, which was published this week? Is he aware that the report makes it clear that there has been no support for industry from the Government's policies? The report concludes that there is a grave risk of having no British owned and based manufacturing industry as a result of present policies. Does the Prime Minister agree with the final conclusion in the report--that the Government's policies show no commitment to industry and no commitment to the national interest?

The Prime Minister : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can explain why manufacturing productivity grew faster in this country in the past decade than in almost any other major industrialised country. As the hon. Gentleman should know, a great deal of the ground lost in previous decades has been made up. We still need to be better at implementing the scientific discoveries made in this country and we are determined to improve on that.

Mr. Jessel : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the victory parade will include British Army bands trained at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller hall in Twickenham?

The Prime Minister : I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have heard my hon. Friend, even if my right hon. Friend is not at the House.


Q3. Mr. Archy Kirkwood : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

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

Mr. Kirkwood : I congratulate the Prime Minister on his recent visit to the Gulf. Now that he has been able to see for himself the ecological consequences of the Gulf war, does he agree that it is necessary to mount an ecological task force almost on the same scale as the military task force that was needed to liberate Kuwait in order to deal with those consequences? Will he do what he can to ensure that the United Nations takes an international initiative to deal quickly with the pollution in the Gulf?

The Prime Minister : The action necessary to cure the pollution in the Gulf will require an international effort. Quite how that will be organised is a matter which is still open. The hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made a cash donation yesterday towards clearance of the pollution.

Mr. Oppenheim : Bearing in mind the Government's economic policy and the fact that some people claim that credit controls represent a painless cure for inflation, would my right hon. Friend care to comment on where, under such a system, home buyers might come in the queue for credit, and how, in any case, such a system could be effective without the reimposition of exchange controls?

The Prime Minister : It is extremely unlikely that credit controls could make any worthwhile contribution to economic management. They are a legacy of the sort of economic management that existed in the 1950s, to which the Opposition seem keen to return.


Unemployment (Scotland)

Q4. Mr. Tom Clarke : To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss unemployment in Scotland.

The Prime Minister : I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Clarke : Does the Prime Minister recall that during his last brief visit to Edinburgh he said that he would not forget Lanarkshire? Given the huge job losses that we have seen since then, including 3,000 in the steel industry, is not the Prime Minister appalled at the stage of employment training in Lanarkshire? Do a 32 per cent. reduction in funding, trainer job losses and lost trainee places, including places for those with special needs, represent the Government's commitment? Will the Prime Minister, tomorrow, meet real people with real problems or will his visit to Lanarkshire be simply a public relations charade?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that the Lanarkshire working group has been set up to co-ordinate action to tackle the problems facing Lanarkshire on the back of the steel job losses that have occurred. The working group met for the first time on 11 January and will report to me around the end of April.

Mr. Teddy Taylor : Does the Prime Minister agree that the admittedly serious problems in Lanarkshire and elsewhere in Scotland would become much worse if the House of Commons were daft enough to accept the Labour party's proposal for an elected assembly with tax-raising powers? Does he agree that such an arrangement would simply scare jobs away from Scotland?

The Prime Minister : I am in no doubt about that. Were Scotland to have a tax-raising assembly, it would undoubtedly become the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom. That, in turn, would drive away the investment which in the last decade has increasingly made Scotland more efficient, effective and wealthy.


Official Visits

Q5. Mr. Allen : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Nottingham.

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

Mr. Allen : The right hon. Gentleman will be very welcome. When he comes, will he make a point of meeting mothers and children who have been robbed of £2.30 per week by the Government's failure to link child benefit to inflation? Arising from the deceitful words in the Conservative manifesto, which said

"Child benefit will continue to be paid as now",

will the Prime Minister, first, answer a question--something he has not done so far today--and, secondly, will he tell the House, and mothers at home-- [Interruption.] May I continue, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is making rather a meal of it.

Mr. Allen : Will the Prime Minister tell mothers at home of his own complicity in the drafting of those very words in the 1987 manifesto--words which cheated mothers and their children?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have an obligation to review child benefit annually, and do so. On each occasion that child benefit has not been fully uprated, those on the lowest incomes have been fully compensated or more through other social security benefits.


Engagements

Q6. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

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

Mr. Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that under his outstanding leadership we have become a united party determined to defeat inflation and the Labour party when the general election comes? Does he approve of all of us on this side of the House paying our community charge, supporting the prevention of terrorism Act and supporting our troops in the Gulf? If so, is that not in stark contrast with that lot on the other side who are busy scheming to remove their leader and his deputy through supper clubs-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that that is enough.

The Prime Minister : I certainly hope to be in sharp contrast with Opposition Members on many issues. I am delighted to see that normal service has now been resumed.