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1991 - PMQT 18th April 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th April 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Leighton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 April.

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. Leighton : Has the Prime Minister noticed the growing chorus of concern and complaint, from organisations like the London Chamber of Commerce and the London tourist board, about the shabby state of London, the increasing congestion and the deteriorating quality of life? Why is it that London, alone among the great cities of the country and among the capital cities of the western world, has no democratic authority to give strategic guidance or leadership to the city? For example, should we bid for the Olympics? There is no forum in which to discuss the matter. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time for new thinking? Surely the Prime Minister, who has had a number of addresses in London, should put his mind to this question.

The Prime Minister : If parts of London are scruffy, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, it is because they have Labour local authorities.

Sir Peter Hordern : Is not this a very sad day for the Leader of the Opposition--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he is putting a question to the Prime Minister.

Sir Peter Hordern : Is not it the case that the rate of inflation is falling fast, that mortgages are being reduced as of today, that sterling stands firm in the exchange rate mechanism and that the largest rescue operation in modern times--the one to assist the Kurds--is now going strong? Are not these things due entirely to the initiative and leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? Does not the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) face another five years of hard and fruitless labour?

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will the Prime Minister answer only the hon. Member's first question?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I think that he underestimates the record of the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman has lost practically a record number of elections and will in due course lose another.

Mr. Kinnock : On the question of records, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees that today's record rise in unemployment is a personal tragedy for those people who have lost their jobs and a personal failure for him? Does he agree that anyone who has been the cause of so many other people losing their jobs should lose his?

The Prime Minister : I certainly share with the right hon. Gentleman very considerable concern about the people who have lost their jobs ; we all share that concern. However, although the right hon. Gentleman is against unemployment in principle, he supports in practice policies that would create it--not least, as a Welsh Member, failing to be here earlier this week to vote for the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, which would provide 25,000 jobs.

Mr. Kinnock : The reason why I was not in the House on that occasion was that Her Majesty did me the enormous honour of inviting me and my wife to spend the night with the royal family at Windsor castle. I thought that the Prime Minister's many advisers might have drawn his attention to the Court Circular.

I heard what the Prime Minister said in his efforts to rebut the charges relating to unemployment. Since he became Prime Minister, 330,000 more people have lost their jobs, all as a direct result of his economic policies. Is not it obvious that he is truly the Prime Minister of unemployment?

The Prime Minister : I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will now confirm to the House that he will support the Government Bill on Cardiff bay which will provide 25,000 jobs. While he is about it, perhaps he will explain why he wants to introduce a minimum wage, which would cost 1 million jobs in this country.

Sir Peter Blaker : Is not it significant that the first group that my right hon. Friend was able to persuade of the merits of his bold initiative for safe havens in Iraq was the Heads of Government of the European Community? Did not that strengthen his hand a great deal in persuading President Bush, who was initially reluctant to agree to that initiative? Does not that show the potential and importance of European political co-operation?

The Prime Minister : We have worked very closely throughout this matter with the European Community, the United Nations and the President of the United States. I believe that that coalition of forces has now provided the right answer to deal with the immense tragedy that we are currently seeing in Iraq.


Q2. Mr. Norman Hogg : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 April.

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

Mr. Hogg : Is the Prime Minister proud of today's unemployment figures? Do they represent what he calls the bottoming out of the economy or the bottom falling out of the economy? Which is it? Does he have any bold and heroic initiatives to help the growing army of unemployment?

The Prime Minister : The policies that the hon. Gentleman and his party support would create a level of unemployment never previously seen in this country. The way to ensure secure employment is to bring inflation down and keep it down, and that battle we are winning.

Mr. Bill Walker : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Scotland realise that there are more people in work today in Scotland than at any time and that they are earning much more money, their take-home pay in real terms being 30 per cent. above what it was in 1979? There is no point in hon. Members shaking their heads ; these are facts.

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that the British people respect the leadership that he has provided during the Gulf war and in proposing policies which have resulted in troops being assembled to provide safe havens for the Kurds?

The Prime Minister : The people of Scotland also know that across the United Kingdom there are substantially more jobs now than there were in 1979, that the rate of unemployment in this country is below the European average and that in the past year we have had more jobs than we have had for many years-- [Interruption.] --and far more than we ever had under the last Labour Government.


Q3. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 April 1991.

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

Mr. Jones : Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the problems of the upland hill farmers in my constituency and elsewhere who, on top of crippling interest rates and pitifully low livestock prices, are now having to face paying for the disposal of the carcases of their dead animals? What does he intend to do for family farms to keep employment in the countryside in my area and elsewhere?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, some time ago my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced substantial increases in hill livestock compensatory allowances. They were well received by the agricultural community and should specifically help farmers similar to those in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Michael Brown : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was this Government who gave the opportunity to trade unionists to vote in secret ballots, this Government who gave the opportunity to council house tenants to buy their homes, this Government who gave people the opportunity to opt out of local education authority control and this Government who gave people the chance of better opportunities generally?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. The only opportunities that people will get from the Opposition is the opportunity yet again to do what their trade union leaders tell them to do, what their council leaders tell them to do and what any future Labour Government might tell them to do.


Q4. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 April 1991.

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

Mr. Grocott : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity finally to dispel allegations of dithering by announcing decisively what the country wants to hear, which is that there will be a June general election? If, as I suspect, he is still not clear in his own mind on that subject, will he be issuing a consultation document?

The Prime Minister : I can tell the hon. Gentleman crisply that when we hold the election we shall win it.


Nuclear Test Veterans

Q5. Mr. Higgins : To ask the Prime Minister, further to his answer to the right hon. Member for Worthing on 4 December 1990, Official Report, column 170, when he intends to complete his consideration of the case for compensation for British nuclear tests veterans and their widows ; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister : An independent study is currently being conducted. The Government's position is that they are ready to pay compensation if there is firm evidence that participation in the United Kingdom's nuclear test programme caused the cancer.

Mr. Higgins : The Prime Minister will recall that in answer to a previous question he gave a sympathetic and urgent reply in response to the plight of haemophiliacs. This case is clearly more complex, although in many respects it is even more deserving. Hon. Members who, at their surgeries and interview evenings, see constituents suffering from appalling cancers who were given no protection from the atomic tests in the south Pacific, believe that action is long overdue and that compensation should be paid urgently. Will my right hon. Friend proceed with his inquiry with the greatest possible speed?

The Prime Minister : I assure my right hon. Friend that we shall proceed in that fashion and try to ensure minimum delay. The practical problem is the limited number of appropriate medical experts. Nevertheless, I shall do what I can to ensure that the report is produced as speedily as possible.

Mr. Orme : If the Cabinet agreed this morning on the poll tax provision--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am afraid that this is a definitive question.

Mr. Orme : But, Mr. Speaker--

Mr. Speaker : I do not think that it would be right to have a second bite at it. The question before the House is about nuclear tests. Perhaps we had better move on.


Engagements

Q6. Mr. Maclennan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 April.

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

Mr. Maclennan : Can the Prime Minister explain, in the light of the discussion that he had this morning, how any local tax which combined the poll tax and the rates could possibly be related to ability to pay?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that we propose to publish early next week, with exemplifications, the way in which we think that we should proceed in terms of local government taxation. He will find no difficulty in seeing the answer to his question then.

Mr. Gerald Howarth : Does my right hon. Friend agree that with the Soviet Union still in turmoil it would be folly for the United Kingdom unilaterally to dispose of its independent nuclear deterrent so long as other potential aggressors possess theirs? Does he agree that those who in the past have been passionate supporters of unilateral nuclear disarmament should not be trusted by the British people with the defence of our country?

The Prime Minister : I agree entirely. The maintenance of an independent nuclear deterrent is absolutely vital to the future security of our country. I am surprised that some others are less consistent in their principles on this point.