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1991 - PMQT 20th June 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 20th June 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

NATO

Q1. Dr. Godman : To ask the Prime Minister if he has any plans to meet the leaders of other NATO member states to discuss, inter alia, the membership, structure, functions and policy objectives of the organisation and related matters ; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : NATO Heads of State and Government will meet in Rome on 7 and 8 November. Our main task will be to conclude the review of NATO's role, strategy and force structures set in hand by the summit in London last July. Good progress has already been made. The reformed alliance will continue to provide the essential basis for our security in the 1990s.

Dr. Godman : I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but may I point out to him that, in Scotland, there is growing concern over what appears to be a piecemeal and fragmented restructuring of the armed forces of all the NATO countries, including the United Kingdom? Will the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that the rapid reaction force will never be deployed outwith mainland Europe unless and until it receives the specific authority of the United St United Nations. [Interruption.] I said the United Nations and not the United States as I never want to see young Scots, or young men from anywhere in the United Kingdom, being turned into cannon fodder at the behest of an American President skilfully exploiting the sycophantic support of NATO leaders.

The Prime Minister : Let me say first how much I welcome the fact that the United Kingdom will command the future NATO rapid reaction force. That is a key role for the British Army and one which I think it will perform splendidly, both in the interests of this country and of NATO. The specific point that the hon. Gentleman raised is quite clear. The purpose of the rapid reaction corps is to defend NATO territory ; it is not a signal of a more interventionist NATO approach elsewhere.

Sir Robert McCrindle : When the Prime Minister comes to consider these matters, will he also take into account the enormous advantage of the participation of the United States and Canada in NATO, mapping it out, in the opinion of many of us, as a much more effective medium of western defence than any of the alternatives recommended?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about that. The presence of north American forces in Europe is absolutely essential; by that I mean US conventional and nuclear contributions, both of which are irreplaceable. They are here now and I hope, trust and believe that they will be here in the future.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. Janner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 June 1991.

The Prime Minister : 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 have further meetings later today.

Mr. Janner : Does the Prime Minister know precisely how much, in pounds and pence, a single old-age pensioner has on which to live for a week? Does he regard it as adequate?

The Prime Minister : It would depend on his individual circumstances : whether he received income support, whether he had any state earnings- related pension supplement or a raft of other special payments.


Q3. Mr. Roger King : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 June 1991.

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

Mr. King : Will my right hon. Friend give a pledge to the House that he and his Government will never increase funding for various aspects of Government by plundering the wage packet of the British working man and woman? Will he further compare his Government's spending-- [Interruption.] --spending policies with those alluded to by the Opposition, whose policies of spend, spend, spend-- [Hon. Members :-- "Spund, spund, spund."]--have no regard to how they will be paid for?

The Prime Minister : I believe that people in this country need only look at our record on cutting the direct rate of taxation to be clear about the fact that we would not be in favour of increasing it. The Labour party, by contrast, is in favour of much higher spending, which can be met only by much higher taxation, not just for the well-off, but for those on the standard rate of income tax. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary has shown that vividly this morning.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister recognise that in their recent comments, both of his Tory predecessors were only trying to help him? Which of them did he find most helpful?

The Prime Minister : The greatest help that this party often receives is from the right hon. Gentleman himself.

Mr. Kinnock : That must be why we are 10 points ahead and are winning by-elections. Why will not the Prime Minister tell us? It is a straightforward question--is he closest to the last leader of the Conservative party or to the last but one leader, or is he just piggy in the middle?

The Prime Minister : I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I can tell him that I have no intention of being distracted from the policy on Europe which I have set out clearly and repeatedly in the House.

I shall continue to negotiate in Europe for an outcome that I can safely recommend to the House. It will then be for the House to decide on it.

Mr. Waller : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider what the implications for taxation and public spending would be if the privatisation programme were to come to an end? Furthermore, what would happen if British Telecom, the water industry and the electricity grid were to be renationalised?

The Prime Minister : The privatisation receipts are about £5.5 billion a year. That is the equivalent of nearly 3p on the standard rate of income tax, so clearly to abandon those receipts would lead either to higher borrowing or to higher taxation. There can be no doubt about that.


Q4 . Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 June 1991.

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

Mr. Bennett : I am sure that the Prime Minister would want to be fair. If he is so keen to have everything costed, has he had Majorism costed, or is he merely sending the bill for that to the unemployed?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman plumbs new triviality with each question that he asks. In the past decade, conservatism has delivered a far higher standard of living for the people of this country than ever before and so it will in the next decade.

Sir Ian Stewart : When my right hon. Friend goes to the European Council, will he accept that he carries with him the good wishes of all Conservative Members and our gratitude for the constructive and responsible way in which he has tackled serious and important constitutional issues? Will he take the opportunity to point out to his colleagues in the other European countries that any rapid move to a single currency, before the economies of the various countries in Europe are very much closer in performance, would produce disastrous consequences which would be far more likely to blow the European Community apart than to lead to greater unity?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with every word that my right hon. Friend has said. I have made the point consistently over the past 15 months that until and unless there is proper convergence of the European economies, it would be utter folly even to contemplate a single currency.


Q5. Mr. Loyden : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 June.

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

Mr. Loyden : The Prime Minister will be aware of the stand taken by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the threat to ICI. What will the Prime Minister's stance be in the event of a hostile bid being made by Hanson to take over ICI?

The Prime Minister : There has been no such takeover bid and it would, therefore, be entirely inappropriate for me to comment.


Q6. Mr. Beaumont-Dark : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 June.

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

Mr. Beaumont-Dark : Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to look at early-day motion 902, which is an all-party motion tabled by, among others, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)? It concerns Guardsmen Povey, Hicks and Ray. Through no fault of theirs--whoever's fault it was, they were not on a holiday jaunt--they lost their legs in a tragic accident. With his well-known compassion and concern for individuals who have problems, will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that he will look at the problem with that compassion so that we can come to the right decision, which is to care for the individual who serves this state?

The Prime Minister : This is a very tragic accident. I am sure that the whole House feels that deeply and we offer our sympathy to the guardsmen concerned. The board of inquiry has examined the matter carefully and has reached the conclusion that it was a tragic accident and that no one was culpable for the dreadful affair. I am examining the matter, but I must do so on the basis of legal liability.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister agree with his predecessor when she said that joining the exchange rate mechanism relegated Ministers to the status of innocent bystanders at an accident? If he agrees, how would he describe himself--as the bystander or the accident?

The Prime Minister : We entered the exchange rate mechanism last year when my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was Prime Minister and I was Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was right to enter the mechanism then ; it is right for us to be members of the mechanism now. I made it absolutely clear at the time that I felt that that was the best way in which to ensure that we not only got inflation on a downward trend, but kept it on a downward trend. We are in the exchange rate mechanism ; we are staying in it. In due course, we shall move to the narrow bands.


Q.7 Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list he official engagements for Thursday 20 June.

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

Mr. Coombs : In considering local government matters in the light of the appalling record of the past eight years of the Labour administration in Liverpool--the appalling inefficiency, massive debts and uncollected refuse there, and the impending gravediggers' strike--does my right hon. Friend agree with the statement made yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition that the Labour council there--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is not the Prime Minister's responsibility.

Mr. Coombs : --with the statement made yesterday that the council there is merely trying to provide-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Coombs : When considering the reform of local government, does my right hon. Friend agree that the appalling inefficiency of Liverpool should be rate-capped and in future should be avoided by local government reform, or is the statement of the Leader of the Opposition merely pie in the sky?

The Prime Minister : The whole country will observe what has happened in Liverpool over recent years and will be perfectly well aware where the blame for that lies. As the Labour Co-ordinating Committee has written about Labour councils :

"They demonstrate as far as the public is concerned, what a Labour Government would be like".

Mr. Ashley : Is the Prime Minister aware that when considering the future of Britain the volatility of a couple of Prime Ministers is a trivial sideshow compared with the potential volatility of £84 billion sterling hot money as a result of the Government's incompetence? How far can the Prime Minister say that he is confident that there will be no sterling crisis before the next general election?

The Prime Minister : If there were to be a sterling crisis, it would occur only if there were no longer a Conservative Government.


Q.8 Mr. Quentin Davies : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 20 June.

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

Mr. Davies : Does my right hon. Friend agree that even marginal increases in taxation can have a serious effect on incentives and that even marginal increases in Government borrowing can have a serious effect on inflation and interest rates and that to increase borrowing and taxation by something like £35 billion would have catastrophic effects on the British economy?

The Prime Minister : There is absolutely no doubt about that. In practice it would mean either dramatically higher borrowing with consequentially much higher interest rates and mortgages, or it would mean up to an extra 15p on the standard rate of income tax to 40p in the pound. With a policy of adding national insurance contributions throughout the income scale, that would make us one of the highest-taxed countries in the industrial world.