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1991 - PMQT 19th March 1991

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

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

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

Mr. Trotter : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when he visited the Gulf he heard the Challenger 1 tank had performed very well and that the Vickers work force gave stalwart support to the Army before and during the conflict? Does he agree that the new Challenger 2 is designed specifically for the British Army's requirements and that it meets them? Will those factors be given due recognition and is he aware of the need for an early order if Vickers is to maintain its manufacturing capability and win export orders for this world-beater?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I confirm what my hon. Friend says. The performance of the Challenger 1 tank in the Gulf was quite outstanding. Before we reach a decision on the replacement--on a Challenger 2 tank--we must analyse the lessons that we learnt in the Gulf. I hope that that will soon be done and then we shall move speedily to a decision.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister recall saying recently : "Michael's claim of taking education from the poll tax and putting it into central education has the disadvantage that it has to be paid for elsewhere, either in more borrowing, more taxation, or pre-empting money that would otherwise go to the health service"? Is that still the Prime Minister's view?

The Prime Minister : Government services have to be paid for, from whatever pocket they may come, and that is still the case.

Mr. Kinnock : I know all about that-- [Interruption.] --but from the way the Government are behaving, one wonders whether they know all about that, too. Will the Prime Minister now answer my question? Does he still take the view that he enunciated a short time ago, or does he now agree with Michael? If he does not, is he still dithering in between?

The Prime Minister : I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he knows that local government services have to be paid for. I just wish that he would tell some of his hon. Friends that--[ Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] The right hon. Gentleman will have all his answers by the end of this week.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Does my right hon. Friend accept that my appalling voting record over the past few months is no reflection on my wholehearted support for him and the Government?

On a more serious note, does my right hon. Friend agree that the united voice that went out from the House in support of our troops on the ground in the Gulf was of immeasurable help to them and that that, combined with the unsurpassed military leadership under which we served, led to the magnificent military outcome?

The Prime Minister : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I think that I echo the views of the whole House in saying that in recent weeks my hon. Friend has been in the right place. We welcome him back to the House-- to the place which is his by right.

Mr. Ashdown : If the Prime Minister will not recall his own words, will he recall the words of his predecessor, who, speaking in the House on 15 November for a Government in which he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that transferring education expenditure to central Government would result in huge tax increases and in a reduction in local services? Does the right hon. Gentleman still agree with his right hon. Friend?

The Prime Minister : There are many things about which I am in wholehearted agreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Those things include clear opposition to proportional representation and a reluctance to do deals with the right hon. Gentleman.


Q2. Mr. Simon Burns : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

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

Mr. Burns : Is my right hon. Friend aware that more than 12,000 of my constituents travel by British Rail from Chelmsford to Liverpool Street every day? Does he accept that although the service has improved somewhat in the past few years, it still leaves a great deal to be desired? Can he reassure my constituents that the current record levels of investment in British Rail will continue, so that services may be improved further?

The Prime Minister : I sympathise with my hon. Friend. I know that the views of his constituents are shared by my constituents and by the constituents of many other hon. Members. The Government's investment priority is to ensure that all routes are brought up to the high standard that commuters have a right to expect. That is, and has been, our policy.

Mr. Mullin : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to welcome the release of the six innocent men who were convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings? Does he agree that if confidence in our judicial system is to be restored it will be necessary for someone above the rank of police sergeant to take responsibility for the recent series of disasters?

The Prime Minister : No one in the House either now or at any time in the past, would have wished to see innocent men gaoled. As the convictions were insecure, it is entirely right that the gentlemen to whom the hon. Member referred have now been released. The whole House will be pleased about that. Clearly, we need to look at procedures. The royal commission on the criminal justice system will report speedily and comprehensively.


Q3. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

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

Mr. Nicholson : My right hon. Friend will recall personal tax rates of up to 98 per cent., a standard rate of 35 per cent. and weird taxes such as selective employment tax. However deep our party's hostility to those taxes might have been, no one doubted that they had to be collected and that they had to be paid. Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents in Taunton, where the community charge has been collected efficiently, are of the opinion that until the House changes tax measures, public authorities will have a duty to collect taxes and individuals, including hon. Members, will have a duty to pay them?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Everyone has a duty to uphold the law as passed by the House. That is particularly true of hon. Members. Those who seek to make the law should never break the law.


Q4. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

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

Mr. Bennett : Does the Prime Minister agree that an important principle of British public life is that when the Ministers or other senior public figures make grave errors of judgment they resign? In doing so, they restore confidence in their office and they salvage a little of their reputation. Will the Prime Minister draw that principle to the attention of Lord Chief Justice Lane?

The Prime Minister : I shall certainly not draw that to the attention of Lord Chief Justice Lane. I believe that he applied the facts of the case as he saw them; hindsight knowledge is never an attractive thing.


Q5. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

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

Mr. Field : Recognising the long hours worked during the Gulf war by my right hon. Friend and the distinguished service-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This takes up a lot of time.

Mr. Field : --and the distinguished service given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), may I invite them both to partake of the invigorating political air of the Isle of Wight during the Easter recess, where they will observe that the Conservative borough councils of South Wight and Medina have transferred all their housing stock to housing associations, making the Isle of Wight a unique county?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a tempting offer. If I may deal with the underlying concern of his point, to paraphrase Mr. Samuel Clemens, reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) and I would welcome my hon. Friend's invitation.

Mr. Salmond : Will the Prime Minister confirm that he told his Back Benchers yesterday that the Achilles heel of the poll tax was its uncollectability? Will he therefore acknowledge that the campaign of resistance to the tax has been a key factor in sinking his predecessor's flagship? When the Government make their statement on Thursday, will it contain any form of apology to the people of Scotland for the additional year under which we have suffered from this iniquitous tax?

The Prime Minister : I will confirm no such thing and if the hon. Gentleman played any part in any campaign of disobedience, he has no right to be in the House.


Q6. Mr. Haselhurst : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

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

Mr. Haselhurst : Does my right hon. Friend accept that London commuters generally will welcome the increased emphasis that the Government are putting on the quality of service in rail transport? As the Stansted airport rail link starts, from today, to place heavier burdens on the infrastructure of the West Anglia line, can commuters there hope that their interests will not be subordinated to the interests of airline travellers?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, improvement in quality is very much the objective of the Government's policies and of British Rail. He will know that modern rolling stock has been provided for the Stansted express and is intended to provide both fast and frequent services to the newly expanded airport. I shall draw my hon. Friend's concerns about normal commuter services on the West Anglia line to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.


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

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

Mr. Lofthouse : Will the Prime Minister tell us why he recently said that the poll tax would prove to be enduring and would be a vast improvement on the rates? As he appears rapidly to have changed his mind, does he expect the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) to change hers, too?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will find the answers to all those questions on Thursday.


Q9. Mr. Bowis : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

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

Mr. Bowis : Has my right hon. Friend had time to read the editorials pointing out that if Wandsworth had received the same amount of Government grant as neighbouring Lambeth, it could have put a cheque in the post to every charge payer? Does he agree that the lesson to be drawn from that is that whatever system of local government finance we have, the only one worth voting for is one run by Conservative councils?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a valid point--

Mr. Meale : No, he does not.

The Prime Minister : Yes, he does. Lambeth received almost £300 a head more in external grant than Wandsworth, yet most Wandsworth residents seem to think that they get better services than do the residents of neighbouring Lambeth. The reason is clear : Lambeth is a Labour council and that is why the service is so expensive and so rotten.

Mr. Clelland : Although I fully appreciate the need to review defence procurement policy following the Gulf conflict, does the Prime Minister agree that that would affect only the size of the order for main battle tanks, not necessarily the manufacturer which will provide them? Will he therefore have a word with the Secretary of State for Defence with a view to making an early announcement that the order will go to a British manufacturer, Vickers Defence Systems?

The Prime Minister : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and we shall seek to learn all the lessons possible from the Gulf conflict. As soon as it is concluded, we shall endeavour to reach an early decision. I hope that there will be no unnecessary delay.

Mr. Nelson : Will my right hon. Friend find time to reaffirm the Government's strong commitment to defence? Does he agree that one reason why our armed forces did the job in the Gulf was that, over the past 10 years, the Conservative Government have voted and spent the necessary money for the right equipment and training, while the Opposition parties have constantly called for disarmament and defence cuts?

The Prime Minister : I happily reaffirm that. Defence remains a matter of intense importance to this side of the House and, in case there is any doubt, I should make it clear that that includes nuclear defence.