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1991 - PMQT 12th March 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th March 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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 have further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Marshall : During his busy day will my right hon. Friend consider Lambeth council's decision to impose a community charge which is more than four times as high as that imposed in neighbouring Wandsworth? Is he aware that in Merton where there was a change of control last year community charge payers will pay 50 per cent. more this year than last, while the Leader of the Opposition can look forward to a 10 per cent. reduction in his community charge? Does not this show that Conservative councils give value for money and that Labour councils squander it?

The Prime Minister : It is what one has come to expect from Lambeth council and from a number of other councils. One might call it Labour local government in action--if they are not on strike at present.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister still take satisfaction from the leading part that he played in introducing the poll tax?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are reviewing the community charge. He will be interested to know that we are making good progress and are on track for the announcement.

Mr. Kinnock : Why is the Prime Minister so coy about his poll tax past? Is he not the man who said just last Friday

"I think I'm clear in my own mind which way we're going on the poll tax"?

Can he tell us today : does he want the floor tax or the roof tax, the bed- and-breakfast tax or the bedroom tax, the capital value tax or the extension tax? Does he want one tax or two? Surely he can tell us what he wants.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman will find out the answers to those questions before too long, and when he does he will perhaps, having introduced a roof tax some months ago, tell us what will be the average rate bill under his tax--even in his constituency--how much people in the midlands and the south will have to pay extra under his proposals and how many people will be eligible for rebates under his tax. None of those questions can he answer.

Mr. Kinnock rose [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : From his answer it is obvious that the Prime Minister has not made up his mind about making up his mind. Why does he not do the sensible thing, abolish the poll tax completely, which is what the whole of Britain wants and introduce a new system--[ Hon. Members :-- "No."]- -very interesting. But despite his hon. Friends and their enthusiasm for the hated poll tax, why does he not introduce a system calculated on the basis of property and charged according to ability to pay? A fair system-- and Labour party policy.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman will find out soon enough. Was not it the same right hon. Gentleman who said that the Labour party would produce several different tax bases and bung the figures into a computer?


Q2. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that children need protection not only from abusers but from officials who fail to provide proper protection? Will he instruct local authorities to use some common sense instead of carrying out secret dawn raids on innocent families?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend may know, my hon. Friend the Minister for Health said that further guidance would be issued this summer to local authorities and, of course, the Children Act 1989 comes into force this October. That will ensure that the welfare of children is paramount. I hope that those steps will make it less likely that another situation such as that in Rochdale will occur in future.

Mr. Ashdown : May I congratulate the Prime Minister on the sea change in both the tone and substance of his European speech last night? If he does as he says--place Britain at the heart of Europe, play a constructive part in steps towards a single currency and encourage political and foreign policy integration--he can count on our united support-- [Interruption.] --even if he has to cope with splits in his own party.

The Prime Minister : It is a generous offer, but I am not sure if it is a fair swap. There are only three ways to go in the Community--to leave, which is unthinkable ; to stand aside and let ourselves be dragged along by others, which is untenable ; or to be at the very heart of the Community and to help frame the decisions, and that is our policy.


Q3. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Mr. Townsend : During my right hon. Friend's admirably timed talks with the crown prince in Kuwait last week, what assurance was he given about the protection of the large Palestinian community there and about future democratic developments in Kuwait? As the Kuwaiti police force was destroyed by the Iraqis, will Britain play a part in rebuilding it and in training the Kuwaiti defence forces so that they can play their full part in the excellent plans for the Gulf, which were recently agreed in Damascus?

The Prime Minister : I raised the first part of my hon. Friend's question with the crown prince when we met last week. He gave me a firm assurance, which he has subsequently repeated to others in public and in private, that the Kuwaiti authorities would not tolerate retaliation against the Palestinians. In the present circumstances in Kuwait, it is difficult for the Government to exert control, but I understand that law and order has, to a large extent, been restored.

In reply to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, we should be prepared to provide the training that he suggests, as we have done in the past. We are discussing the terms and conditions with the Kuwaiti Government.

Mr. Hoyle : Will the Prime Minister stop darting, dithering and dodging and tell us that he is ready for turning by announcing the abolition of the poll tax which, as he knows, is unfair and unworkable and which, as he knows to his cost, is also unpopular?

The Prime Minister : As I have explained, the hon. Gentleman will not have long to wait for the answer.


Q4. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Mr. Devlin : If the Government's policy is to stand up for small nations that are invaded by their larger neighbours and to prevent atrocities and the trampling underfoot of cultures by invaders, why will not my right hon. Friend meet the Dalai Lama when he visits the United Kingdom next week?

The Prime Minister : The Dalai Lama is visiting the United Kingdom on a private visit and no conditions have been imposed by the Government. I have no wish to be discourteous to a distinguished spiritual leader. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor will see the Dalai Lama at a meeting that he will chair.


Q5. Mr. Douglas : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Mr. Douglas : Will the Prime Minister find some time today to reflect on his words yesterday about producing a more tolerant, more efficient and more just society? Will he tell us how those words relate to the continued imposition of the poll tax on the people of Scotland? Will he relate those words to the problem and, instead of disparaging votes cast against him and his party as votes cast into a dustbin, would not he do better to look back on the Scottish votes cast against his poll tax in 1987? How can he justify continuing to impose the tax on people who are on income support and on students? Would not it be best to cast the poll tax into the dustbin?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman will endure with the same patience as his hon. Friends, he will soon know the answer. I may come to Garscadden and make a speech about the matter there.

Mr. Budgen : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the good relations that he has achieved with Herr Kohl, demonstrating that there does not need to be ill will when there are differences of interest? However, will he give the House and the nation leadership and tell us whether he personally favours a single currency?

The Prime Minister : As I have said to my hon. Friend on previous occasions, we have set out in detail our proposals for economic and monetary union, and we have produced treaty language to that effect. There is now welcome evidence that a number of European nations are following our proposals and moving closer to us.


Q6. Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Mr. Taylor : Is the Prime Minister aware that within the past fortnight, his Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has finished off 2,000 years of tin mining in Cornwall? That decision has been taken despite the pledge of Government support. The cost to the Department of Social Security and to other Departments will exceed the money saved by the Department of Trade and Industry. Will the Prime Minister look again at the way in which Departments operate? At present, one Department may attempt to save money, although there will be an all-round cost to the Treasury in excess of the savings, and there will also be the cost of the jobs of people who lose work as a result.

The Prime Minister : An overall look is taken on these occasions to see what is the right policy. We have to examine the matter not just in the short term, but in terms of what is sustainable in the medium and long term. That is what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will have done.

Mr. Mills : Will my right hon. Friend comment on whether his discussions with Chancellor Kohl and his speech last night are likely to be more fruitful in achieving European unity, while maintaining national sovereignty, than the more fundamental and more difficult to accept proposals of Commissioner Delors?

The Prime Minister : The proposals of Commissioner Delors are not generally acceptable in the House and they are not acceptable to me. We have made that clear on a number of occasions and nothing in that respect has changed.


Q7. Mr. Galbraith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 March.

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

Mr. Galbraith : In view of the Prime Minister's strong words against the property tax, which the whole House will have noted, can we take it that he is now in favour of the poll tax, or is he still dithering on the matter?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is as unoriginal as his hon. Friends. He will soon know.


Tourism

Q8. Mr. Gregory : To ask the Prime Minister if he has any plans to appoint a Minister with responsibility for United Kingdom tourism.

The Prime Minister : I fully recognise the importance of an industry that contributes more than £22 billion a year to the economy and which provides work for 1.5 million people. The present arrangements allow for the separate interests of England, of Scotland, of Wales and of Northern Ireland to be effectively represented, while ensuring the necessary co- ordination of the policy for the country as a whole.

Mr. Gregory : As tourism is Britain's fastest growth industry and is the major employer in cities such as York, will my right hon. Friend look closely at the possibility of appointing a Minister who has overall responsibility, rather than leaving this important area to junior Ministers in England, in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : It would be difficult precisely to do what my hon. Friend suggests without raising difficulties over territorial responsibilities and the territorial Departments. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has a co-ordinating responsibility for tourism as a whole in Great Britain, but the day-to-day responsibility in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland rests with my right hon. Friends the relevant Secretaries of State.

Sir Bernard Braine : In view of the importance of tourism between our country and all the other countries in Europe, particularly Germany, is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us on both sides of the House who, over the years, have worked hard to promote friendship and understanding with the Germans and who recall their special efforts in our three attempts to enter the European Community, warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's efforts to establish a trusting and lasting relationship with the Germans in Europe? Does he recognise that the relationship between our two Parliaments which has involved a certain amount of tourism-- [Interruption.] is closer than it has been for many years. Indeed, it is closer than the relationship between any other two Parliaments in Europe.

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, who expresses his view with great clarity. I hope that, in view of that clarity, he will see many German tourists in south-west Essex.