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1991 - PMQT 25th April 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 25th April 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Agriculture Spending

Q1. Mr. Teddy Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will raise at the next meeting of the European Council the discussions of the Council of Agriculture Ministers on the level of agriculture spending in 1991.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : The Agriculture Council is currently considering proposals to keep spending on the common agricultural policy in 1991 within the agricultural guidelines. I hope that the issue will be resolved before the meeting of the European Council.

Mr. Taylor : Does the Prime Minister accept that, despite the brave battle that is being fought alone by Britain and Holland to maintain the legal limits that his predecessor fought hard to achieve, Brussels will inevitably find some device or accountancy fiddle to break through, as has happened before? As the agricultural policy is causing damage to taxpayers, consumers, the third world and, now, to farmers, and as we are suffering from an uncontrollable protection racket which is riddled with graft, will my right hon. Friend consider suggesting to Brussels that it would strengthen the Economic Community and everyone else if agriculture were repatriated to individual member states?

The Prime Minister : I confirm to my hon. Friend that we shall continue to insist that the guidelines are respected. I am not sure that it would be in the interests of the United Kingdom to see the break-up and repatriation of the common agricultural policy. The danger I foresee is that separate national agricultural policies would lead to increased protectionism and considerable distortions of trade. I believe that our interest is best served in this area by common policies and by seeking to improve them. In essence, we need to win the match in Brussels, and that we shall seek to do.

Mr. Cryer : It is outrageous that the British Government are allowing to continue a common agricultural policy that is costing every family in this country £16 a week as part of the policy of the Conservatives, who have handed over in 10 years more than £40 billion to the Common Market. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is time that the food mountains were made available to the starving nations of Africa and to help the Kurds? Instead of that, the CAP ensures that food is bought on the open market. Stocks continue to soar and the Prime Minister is doing nothing about it.

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been in the forefront of the battle in the Community to impose guidelines and to prevent unnecessary agricultural production. The answer to his second point about food mountains being used to assist people in need is that I agree that whenever that can be done, it should be done.

Mr. Colin Shepherd : In his consideration of United Kingdom agriculture within the context of the European Community, will my right hon. Friend continue to bear it in mind the remarkable contribution that has been made by agriculture to the rural economy? Will he also bear it in mind that farm incomes are now about half what they were two years ago and that the Samaritans have expressed grave concern about the increase in suicidal thought in the farming industry? Will he bear those points in mind at all stages because we must protect the foundation of our rural economy?

The Prime Minister : I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to bear those matters in mind. He will know that some of the direct assistance that we have been able to give within the common agricultural policy has been aimed at areas like hill farming, where there are particular difficulties.


Engagements

Q2. Mrs. Irene Adams : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 April.

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

Hon. Members : No.

Mr. Speaker : We had better have the answer.

The Prime Minister : I made the mistake because of the tedious aspect of the regular questions that I am asked.

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 will be having further meetings later today.

Mrs. Adams : Has the Prime Minister seen the letter in today's Evening Standard from the private secretary of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) which says that the Government's new local tax is

"not fair--grossly inequitable and hurtful"?

The lady goes on to ask why she should pay more for a small, one-bedroomed flat on her own in one part of London than the entire family of the Secretary of State for the Environment will pay in his luscious home in the west end? What answer will the Prime Minister give to that lady?

The Prime Minister : The answer that I will give to the lady is that she lives in one of the most expensive houses in London. The hon. Lady and her hon. Friends need to make up their minds. They allege with one breath that the council tax will benefit the rich, who, they say, are Conservative voters, and with the next breath that it will hurt Conservative voters.

Mr. Fry : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to examine the illustrative bills for the new council tax for those authorities where householders will pay substantially more than under the existing community charge for two people? Will he note, for example, that for the dearest house in Westminster, the tax will be less than for the cheapest house in Wellingborough? Whereas Westminster has benefited from large Government grants, Wellingborough has been penalised by loss of grants because it has traded profitably and passed the profits on to its charge payers. If I am to propose that the new tax is fair to my constituents will my right hon. Friend initiate an investigation without delay into Wellingborough's position?

The Prime Minister : If councils spend at the same standard spending assessment, they will pay the same in each band. That is the essential equity of the scheme that we have proposed. Over 70 per cent. of people will be gainers under the scheme that we have proposed. Where there are losers, there will be transitional protection and, for people on low incomes, the generous rebate scheme. That is by far the best deal that the ratepayer, the community charge payer, or in future the council taxpayer, has ever received.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister agree with the considered view of the Governor of the Bank of England, who recently testified that Britain's deep and worsening recession is, in his words, "home grown"?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, for he has asked me that question on previous occasions, I do not accept the proposition that the recession is home grown. There are a variety of causes of the downturn in world trade here and elsewhere and we cannot be immune from all those.

Mr. Kinnock : Did not the Prime Minister notice the comments of the Governor of the Bank of England on the subject of the recession's origins? He said that, while Britain

"is in recession, Japan and Germany undeniably are not and our other EC partners"--

[Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will permit me to quote the Governor of the Bank of England, who is not yet a member of the Labour party. He said that, although the economies in the remainder of the European Community have slowed down, they are not in recession.

Is the Prime Minister aware that that view is borne out by the International Monetary Fund and that Britain's condition is the direct result of the Prime Minister's policies? Why will he not accept his responsibility or, better still, take action to reverse the recession that he has caused?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman had examined the matter more carefully, he would have seen that the United Kingdom is coming out of its economic difficulties, while other countries are still facing deepening difficulties. He might also have observed that we have been in a position, since joining the exchange rate mechanism, to make five cuts in interest rates--four in the past 10 weeks. At the same time, we have seen an appreciation, not a depreciation, in sterling.

Mr. Kinnock : I wish that the Prime Minister's optimism was well placed. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer testified to the Treasury Committee a few weeks ago, rather diffidently :

"I think that there are cautious grounds for believing we, somewhere about the middle of this year, may begin to come out of recession".

The Confederation of British Industry, the Engineering Employers Federation, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the International Monetary Fund and anyone else with eyes to see, and who is concerned about the condition of our economy, knows that the right hon. Gentleman has plunged Britain into deep recession. What will he do to combat the rises in unemployment and the depression of our economy?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman, who has policies for a minimum wage that will create another million unemployed, has nothing to say about that. With interest rates and inflation having fallen and being set to fall significantly further, and with a balance of trade gap narrowing, it is difficult even for the right hon. Gentleman to deny the improvements now coming about.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : In the course of his busy day, might my right hon. Friend find a moment to visit the organ transplant exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall? If he does so, he will be told that there are 5,000 people awaiting transplants in this country and that current organ donation must double to meet that demand. In those circumstances, will it be possible to include an item on organ transplantation and the increase in the programme at the weekend meeting at Chequers that my right hon. Friend is having with health service managers?

The Prime Minister : I hope that, at my weekend meeting in Chequers, I shall be able to discuss with health professionals a wide range of matters and I shall endeavour to include that subject among them.


Q3. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 April.

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

Mr. Mullin : Is the Prime Minister aware that last year, in a secret ballot supervised by the Electoral Reform Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the employees of the North of England building society voted by 257 to 81 to join the Banking Insurance and Finance Union? The response of the management was to embark upon a programme of intimidation designed to get employees to resign from that union. Will the Prime Minister confirm that it is Government policy that employers as well as employees should be bound by the outcome of properly conducted secret ballots? Or am I being naive?

The Prime Minister : I would never accuse the hon. Gentleman of being naive. The strict answer to the first part of his question is that I was not aware of that incident. However, if it is as he describes, I can confirm that both sides should be bound by the agreement.


Q4. Mr. Arbuthnot : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 25 April.

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

Mr. Arbuthnot : What would happen to the figures produced for the local council tax if we were to abolish capping and competitive tendering, and raise a higher proportion of local funding from local taxes--the policies of the Labour party? Would the figures, like those in the Labour party's unfair rates proposals, go through the roof?

The Prime Minister : There is absolutely no doubt about what would happen to council tax bills under Labour's proposals--that is precisely why the figures that it has produced are wholly bogus.


Refugees (Kuwait)

Q5. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister what is Her Majesty's Government's policy towards receiving ecological refugees from Kuwait and surrounding countries into the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister : All applications for entry to the United Kingdom are individually considered against the requirements of the immigration rules and in the light of compassionate considerations outside the rules.

Mr. Dalyell : Are not thousands of Kuwaitis now taking residence in countries as far away from the photochemical smog and respiratory diseases as they can, and is not the root of the problem that, frankly, Kuwait is so paralysed that Kuwaitis cannot tackle the oil inferno? In those circumstances, would the Prime Minister consider the advice from the Saudi sources that I have named that, with the Americans and the Saudis, we should step in and tackle the oil fires, as we did with operation Desert Storm?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the point that he wished to raise. I can assure him that the United Kingdom Government are treating the matter of the oil well fires in Kuwait very seriously. The United Kingdom industry, together with officials from both the Department of Energy and the Department of Trade and Industry, are examining how best to contribute to the resolution of the problems faced in Kuwait. A number of possibilities have been identified and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will tomorrow lead a delegation of key British industrialists to Kuwait to pursue the specific proposals that have already been put to the Kuwaiti Government.