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1992 - PMQT 17th November 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 17th November 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Heppell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Heppell : Will the Prime Minister inform the House why a trade mission from Nottingham chamber of commerce was allowed to go ahead on 22 June 1990 even though the products of the companies involved would have been useful to Saddam Hussein's war effort? Will he assure the House that the role of such trade missions will be part of the Scott inquiry?

The Prime Minister : I shall certainly examine the hon. Gentleman's point. As he may well know, my office receives about 3,000 letters and innumerable documentation each week so I cannot reply directly, but I will examine the point that he made.

Mr. Lord : Does the Prime Minister agree that the Chancellor's autumn budget contained excellent news for the building industry? Does he further agree that allowing housing associations more resources to buy empty properties and local authorities more discretion to spend their capital receipts will be an excellent boost for the housing market?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I think that my hon. Friend is quite right. There were a number of aspects of my right hon. Friend's statement that were very good news indeed for the housing market. As Abbey National has said, this may prove to be the point at which the housing market turns. That is the view of Abbey National, and I hope that it proves to be correct. My right hon. Friend had a meeting with mortgage lenders yesterday to discuss ways of ensuring that the money is used as effectively as possible to reduce the overhang of empty properties on the market. If it is, it will have a material impact on the housing market and a beneficial one.

Mr. John Smith : Last night, a Downing street spokesman briefed the press that the 1984 guidelines for exports of arms-related equipment to Iraq were changed in 1988. Can the Prime Minister tell why Parliament was not informed of this change?

The Prime Minister : I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is well aware that we have set out the most wide ranging terms of inquiry possible--far more wide ranging than most people imagined--and that all these matters will be discussed on that occasion. I hope that he will now accept that those terms are so wide ranging and cover so many aspects that nothing will not be fully examined.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister tell me, then, why the question whether Parliament was misled is not included in the terms of reference of the inquiry?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman is being extremely silly. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : If he reads the terms of inquiry more carefully he will see that they allow the judge to examine all the facts, all the decisions, the basis for those decisions and whether Ministers operated in accordance with the policies of the Government. The judge will have access to all the documentation as well as to individuals. So the right hon. and learned Gentleman's fears are wholly unfounded.

Mr. John Smith : The Prime Minister will recollect that he quoted the terms of reference as being whether Ministers operated in accordance with the policies of Her Majesty's Government. But the allegation which is made, and which I also make, that this Government consistently, over a long period of time, misled Parliament, is not included in these terms of reference. If the Prime Minister and his colleagues have nothing to hide, why not include the misleading of Parliament in the terms of reference of the inquiry?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman should read the terms of reference, when he would see that this is entirely implicit in them. The suggestion that Ministers misled the House is a serious charge, a scurrilous charge and has no basis whatsoever in fact. It is typical of the charges that have been made by the Labour party before. It is typical of the charges over the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which were utterly unfounded and which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues have never apologised for making.

Mr. Fabricant : Is my right hon. Friend aware that despite the ever growing recession in Germany over £360 million worth of property in central London has recently been bought by German investment trusts? Is not this a demonstration, by putting their Deutschmarks where their mouths are, of confidence in British economic policy?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, there is a very large amount of inward investment in this country from both within and beyond the European Community. Indeed, in terms of investment in countries within the Community by countries beyond it, by far the lion's share comes to this country, because of this Government's policies over recent years.


Q2. Mr. Morley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

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

Mr. Morley : Is the Prime Minister aware of the effects of his economic incompetence on companies such as British Steel in Scunthorpe, and on unemployment? Is he aware, further, that long-term unemployment has risen by 48 per cent., to stand at 302,000? Is it not a matter for regret that of all the things that the Prime Minister mentioned in his speech at the Lord Mayor's banquet unemployment was not one?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly understands even less than I thought he did. He clearly has not read my speech or the press reports. The speech was nearly all about the strategy for growth to provide long-term secure jobs. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, he does not understand anything.

Mrs. Roe : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House will settle down. Let us have some order. Front-Bench Members are bawling and shouting. Order.

Mrs. Roe : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his autumn statement, which did so much to preserve the Government's capital programmes : programmes for new roads, new railways, new hospitals and new schools? Does he agree that this will not only help modernise Britain's infrastructure but create new jobs in our construction industry?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about that. It is, of course, in sharp contrast to what happened under the last Labour Government, when they would always cut capital as the first and easiest cut, while avoiding the difficult decisions on current account. We have taken the difficult decisions on current account precisely to preserve capital, build up our future, create jobs and build up prosperity.


Q3. Ms. Hoey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Ms. Hoey : Is the Prime Minister aware of the revulsion in the country caused by his Government's inhumane, shameful and sickening policy on Bosnian refugees? Why was the Prime Minister so ready to provide a safe haven and air support for the Kurds when they were running from Iraqi aggression when he is not ready to provide a similar safe haven or air support for women and children fleeing from Serbian aggression in central Europe?

The Prime Minister : Let me say to the hon. Lady that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will deal with this at greater length in a few moments. Let me say to her now that we have welcomed more than 40,000 visitors from Yugoslavia this year of whom more than 4,000 have applied for asylum, and we have agreed to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and with the International Red Cross to take the priority refugees they want us to take under the 1951 Geneva convention. With the best will in the world we simply cannot take everyone who, for understandable reasons, wants to leave Yugoslavia and, in this case, the group concerned were warned in advance that they should not go ahead with their mission to Yugoslavia.


Q4. Mr. Luff : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

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

Mr. Luff : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his determination to bring a successful outcome to the current GATT round will bring enormous benefits not only to Britain and Europe, but to the countries of the third world whose interests the Government so clearly protected last week in the welcome and substantial increase in our overseas aid budget?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about the importance of the GATT round to the third world. It is entirely unreasonable for the west to say to the third world, on one hand, here is some aid to help with your difficulties and, on the other hand, close our markets, which are of even greater benefit to them. It is imperative that we have the GATT round for the industrialised world, but it is no less imperative for the non-industrialised world.


Q5. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Could the Prime Minister spare a few moments at 3.30pm to go downstairs to the Grand Committee Room and explain to a lobby of several hundred people from residential drug and alcohol projects why the Government have gone back on a clear commitment to ring-fence their funding with effect from 1 April next year? Is he aware that the decision will result in several of the projects closing, with obvious human consequences? It would be especially appropriate during European Drug Prevention Week for the Prime Minister to do a U-turn on the matter.

The Prime Minister : The Government recognise that there are special circumstances for alcohol and drug misusers and we have met the specialist service providers. We will be encouraging fast-track assessment procedures, encouraging good practice in identifying who is responsible for each client and setting up special monitoring arrangements for those services for the first three months following implementation. That is in addition to the action we have already announced to ensure that the community care grant is spent on services that reflect people's wishes and causes minimum turbulence and disturbance to them. The hon. Gentleman should be more accurate about our proposals.


Q6. Mr. Adley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

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

Mr. Adley : I am sorry that I am in the wrong place, Madam Speaker, but these young whipper-snappers show no respect to us old fogies. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the retention of a national timetable is an essential element in changes that are made to railway policy? Is he aware that this morning, Select Committee on Transport members visited Crewe? Incidentally, we got back eight minutes early and were back here in time for lunch. We went to the national timetable centre and were somewhat dismayed to find that not only Ministers, but officials from the Department of Transport had not been there. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the civil servants responsible for the documentation to do a little more homework please?

The Prime Minister : I suspect that my hon. Friend has just done that, and in the most effective way possible.


Q7. Mr. Loyden : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Loyden : Given the Matrix Churchill debacle of the past few weeks and the Government's obvious inadequacy in dealing with that matter-- giving rise to questions regarding the very accountability of the Government--will the Prime Minister now accept that the only way to overcome such difficulties is to introduce a freedom of information Bill so that such situations can be avoided in future?

The Prime Minister : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point, and, on the substantive matter that he mentioned, I have already said to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) that there will be a full and wide-ranging inquiry to which every Minister concerned will give evidence, all papers will be available and all civil servants will make themselves available. There will be a full and total disclosure of all those events.


Q8. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

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

Mr. Greenway : Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say what further steps he can and will take to press banks to lower their interest rates in line with reduced bank rates so that businesses can profit and, more particularly, so that young home owners and mortgage payers in my constituency and throughout the country can benefit?

The Prime Minister : Clearly, lower interest rates should benefit businesses and consumers alike and thus help the economy. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made clear, he will be taking the matter up with the individual clearing banks, and the Bank of England will be reviewing current practice by the banks.