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1991 - PMQT 14th March 1991

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

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 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. Williams : Does the Prime Minister recall saying not so long ago that the poll tax system would be fairer, more acceptable and prove to be enduring? Does he think that he is still clear in his own mind about that?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will be a good deal clearer in his mind about the future of the community charge before very long. It is particularly surprising that, some months after the Labour party produced its own roof tax, it is still unable to answer even the most obvious questions about it.

Mr. Ian Bruce : My right hon. Friend, in paying tribute to the forces in the Gulf, has very often referred to the training that those people had received. Will he assure the House that, in the "Options for Change" review, while we may change where the training is carried out or the number of people being trained, we will certainly ensure that the quality of training, such as that provided in Portland, is not diminished?

The Prime Minister : The quality and nature of training is clearly very important. Whatever may happen as we consider "Options for Change" in future, that will not change.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister think that the Ministers who have been responsible for spending £10 billion of taxpayers' money on the utterly discredited poll tax system should now do the honourable thing and resign?

The Prime Minister : Shadow Ministers responsible for a scheme that they would foist on the country should explain how it would work. The right hon. Gentleman cannot even tell us, months after his scheme was introduced, what the levels would be in his constituency.

Mr. Kinnock : The Government have spent and are continuing to spend vast sums on trying to sustain the poll tax system--including the £400 million to set it up, the £300 million a year on trying to maintain it and the £6 billion in an attempt to sweeten it. Does not the Prime Minister agree that any company or public body responsible for spending so much money so wilfully would have the people responsible on their way to gaol, and rightly so?

The Prime Minister : Perhaps the people leading the queue to gaol should be those Labour local authorities which waste more money than anyone else in the country and whose average community charge is £78 higher than that of Conservative authorities.

Mr. Ward : When my right hon. Friend considers with his colleagues the lessons of the Gulf war, will he bear in mind the need for amphibious capability and in particular the need for amphibious craft for the Royal Marines and such services?

The Prime Minister : In the aftermath of the Gulf war, we shall need to consider a number of matters to ensure that our armed forces are up to date and relevant. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend says.


Q2. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Cryer : While the Prime Minister tries to control the warring factions in the Tory party over the poll tax, will he bear in mind the fact that he could bring immediate relief to the millions of people who are groaning under this vicious poll tax--especially those who have been thrown on the dole queue by his economic policies--by restoring Government grants to local authorities to their 1978-79 level under Labour? At the same time, he would get rid of the political corruption that gives an extra £64 a head to Tory-controlled Wandsworth, while low-paid areas like Bradford are left without.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is on shaky ground if he wants to discuss local government, given the attitude of Labour local authorities. If he really wants to see how money is wasted and badly handled, he should go to Lambeth.

Mr. Brazier : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, under the principle of accountability, it is long overdue that we should introduce into the House a Question Time for the Leader of the Opposition, so that we could ask what his policies are?

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that that is a matter for the Select Committee on Procedure.


Q3. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Wigley : Is the Prime Minister aware that the people of Wales want not only an early end to the poll tax, but something done about the iniquitous level of water charges? Since privatisation, there has been a 45 per cent. increase in Welsh Water charges, and the average bill of £195 compares to £137 in Severn-Trent, which gets its water from Wales? When will he start an inquiry into the monopoly profiteering in the water industry?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is right to say that charges have risen sharply under Welsh Water--[ Hon. Members :-- "It is absurd profiteering."] It is not absurd profiteering but the unprecedented £1.8 billion investment programme which is necessary to improve water and sewerage and bring them up to a standard that the people of Wales would wish to have.


Q4. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Amess : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the "buy British goods from Basildon" campaign that was introduced recently by myself and our local European Member of Parliament, Patricia Rawlings? Does my right hon. Friend agree that such local initiatives can make a useful contribution to reducing the trade deficit? Socialist Opposition Members should follow our lead in backing rather than bashing Britain.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend, as ever, is very inventive, and I am grateful to him for drawing that campaign to my attention. The key to reducing the trade gap is for British industry to produce goods that people want to buy at competitive prices, which is increasingly the aim of British industry. Many British companies already do just that, and I hope that more people will buy British. It is time that the Opposition supported British companies and stopped knocking Britain whenever they can.


Q5. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Ross : Has the Prime Minister had a chance to study the proposal that Prime Minister Mulroney made for some form of arms control initiative? Before the Prime Minister's meeting with President Bush in Bermuda on Sunday, will he immediately impose a moratorium on arms sales, particularly to the middle east? Will he assure President Bush that the whole country would support an immediate control on the sale and export of arms?

The Prime Minister : We have to look at the export of chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, in particular to the middle east. I expect that we shall take up that matter at the United Nations and elsewhere.


Q6. Dr. Twinn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Dr. Twinn : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the London borough of Haringey has set a community charge £171 higher than neighbouring Conservative Enfield? Does he share the sense of joy of 20,000 of my constituents and of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), who heard yesterday that the local Boundary Commission will not transfer four wards into Haringey? Will he join my hon. Friend and me in congratulating our constituents who fought hard with us to stop the daft idea?

The Prime Minister : I am unsurprised to hear from my hon. Friend about the level of charge in Haringey. It is, after all, a Labour authority. Perhaps, if Haringey gets a Conservative authority, it will, as in so many other places, get a far lower charge.


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

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

Mr. Fearn : Is the Prime Minister aware that the figures for housing waiting lists are now at a crisis level, especially in the north-west? Will he institute a crash building programme in local government which would help local government, the people in need and, indeed, the construction industry, which is on its knees?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will know of the estate action programme and the dramatic increase in the funding to many housing associations. I fear that a significant part of the problem is the large number of local authority dwellings that remain unlet with no apparent effort to let them.

Mr. Sims : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at a time when pressure had to be gently exerted on certain Governments to make a financial contribution to the costs of the Gulf operation, the Government and people of Hong Kong made a donation of £15 million? Will he take this opportunity to express the appreciation of the Government and the House of that gesture?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly grateful for that contribution. I expressed my thanks to the Governor of Hong Kong and the Executive Council some weeks ago.


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

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

Mr. Winnick : Which is likely to come first, a substantial fall in unemployment--the figures for which have risen yet again and which the policies pursued when the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer helped to create--or the ending of the poll tax, which he justified at every opportunity?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, unemployment rose to 7 per cent. across the United Kingdom in the figures announced today. That is high. It is still well below the European average. It is well below France, at 9 per cent., Italy, at 9.9 per cent., Canada, at 9.3 per cent., Spain, at 15.8 per cent. and Ireland, at 14.8 per cent. If Government policies alone determine the level of unemployment, our record is infinitely better than that of any of those countries.


Q9. Mr. Speller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Speller : Has the Prime Minister had any confirmation that poison gas has been used in Iraq in the past few days? What steps is he taking to see that the capacity for chemical and nuclear warfare is destroyed and that that destruction is permanent?

The Prime Minister : I have no evidence that poison gas has been used, but that is one matter which we shall wish to discuss with our allies in the weeks ahead.

Mr. Hardy : Would the Prime Minister care to compare his Government's treatment of the city of Westminster and of the metropolitan borough of Rotherham? Is he aware that Government support per head to Westminster will be 470-odd per cent. higher than that given to Rotherham? Is he aware that if we had had the same treatment, far from charging a low poll tax, our local authority would be giving everyone at least £250 next year?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the level of support is a good deal higher in inner London boroughs generally, although, as he will know, there is a sharp difference in the level of community charge even between adjacent London boroughs such as Lambeth and Wandsworth.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Has the Prime Minister been made aware of the statement by Jacques Delors in the European Parliament this week, that the Prime Minister had said that the United Kingdom had substantially changed its position on monetary union? Can he confirm whether this is so, or can he tell us what this change is?

The Prime Minister : I can confirm that that is not so. I also confirm that I had the opportunity of telling Mr. Delors that over dinner earlier this week.

Dr. Reid : Is the Prime Minister aware that, in about an hour and a half, the Select Committee on Trade and Industry will publish its report on British Steel's closure of the Ravenscraig hot strip mill and Clydesdale? Anyone who listened to the information given to that Committee cannot doubt that the report will be a damning indictment of British Steel's industrial relations policy. Does he recall telling me about three months ago, in a meeting that he was kind enough to have with me, that, should the worst come to Lanarkshire, he would not stand idly by? Since then, another 3,000 workers have been told that they will have to stand idly by, having been made redundant. Can he now tell the people of Lanarkshire what he intends to do, or does he find the same difficulty in making up his mind on that issue as he does on the poll tax?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows precisely what we propose to do. If he racks his brains, he will recall that I told him when we met some time ago. I made it clear to him at our meeting that the Lanarkshire working group had been established now to identify what measures might be needed at some future stage if the mill were to close. That remains the case, as the hon. Gentleman has known for some time.