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1992 - PMQT 15th December 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 15th December 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Angela Knight : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

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.

Mrs. Knight : May I tell my right hon. Friend that taxpayers in my constituency-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady is finding herself in a rowdy House because we expect a question from her.

Mrs. Knight : May I let my right hon. Friend be aware that taxpayers in my constituency of Erewash and across the country are delighted that he successfully defended the rebate for Britain at the Edinburgh summit? May I also congratulate him--

Hon. Members : No.

Madam Speaker : Order. The House should have a little more tolerance. I am sure that the hon. Lady has taken to heart what I have said and will try again.

Mrs. Knight : Will my right hon. Friend also accept our congratulations on so successfully holding down the increase in the Community budget which was sought by the European Commission and some European leaders?

The Prime Minister : I can sense that it is a Christmas House today. My hon. Friend is right : it was vital that we defended the rebate, worth £2 billion a year. It is now protected until the end of the century. It was an issue on which our European partners knew that we were not prepared to compromise. It is fortunate that we were not represented by the Labour party. The shadow Chancellor would have negotiated on the rebate, and the Leader of the Opposition would have signed up the complete Delors 2 package, costing us hundreds of millions of pounds.

Mr. John Smith : In view of the appalling suffering being endured by the inhabitants of Sarajevo and other besieged towns and cities in Bosnia, will the Prime Minister join the French and United States Governments in urging the speedy adoption of the United Nations Security Council resolution to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia?

The Prime Minister : There has been a great deal of comment about enforcing the no-fly zone. The issue is being discussed at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Stockholm and it will be discussed further at the London conference in Geneva tomorrow and the North Atlantic Council on Thursday. The imposition of a no-fly zone by the United Nations has already had the effect of stopping combat flights by the Serbs ; so far as we can see, there are still breaches by helicopters and small aircraft, but no clear evidence of their being used for combat purposes.

We are considering our policy with our allies and partners, but we must weigh the desirability of enforcing the no-fly zone against the possible impact of that on the United Nations humanitarian effort and on the safety of our own troops. If enforcement of the no-fly zone put the United Nations operation at risk, the main losers might well be the people of Bosnia, and we need to consider that carefully before a decision is reached.

Mr. John Smith : While appreciating the concern that the Prime Minister expresses for the humanitarian efforts, and for the safety of our own troops on the ground, does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that there is a growing feeling in this country, as there is in the international community, that there is no point in a no-fly zone which can be defied with such impunity? The time has come for effective international action. I hope that the Prime Minister will take the message from the House that he would be widely supported if Britain supported the other countries in making the resolution effective.

The Prime Minister : We have never ruled out the possible need to enforce the zone, but, with our allies and partners, we must consider very carefully how the zone is to be enforced and what the effect of enforcement would be on the maintenance of humanitarian effort, which none of us wishes to see end, either this side of Christmas or long after, and on the safety of our troops. Other measures may be brought to bear, and those are all being considered.


Q2. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

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

Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the great success of the Edinburgh summit, we have seen a further example of European co-operation--the successful agreement on the development of the European fighter aircraft? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that that aircraft is vital to Britain's defence interests, and is good news for the defence industry and for the 40, 000 people throughout the country whose jobs are closely associated with the project?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The agreement reached by the four Defence Ministers on 10 December means that the development of a new fighter--to be known as Eurofighter 2000--will go ahead. I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on his part in ensuring that. The agreement is very good news for our aerospace industry and for everyone who works in it. It will also mean that the Royal Air Force will have a combat aircraft with the capabilities required in the first quarter of the next century.

Mr. Beith : Can the Prime Minister give miners and their families an assurance that not one of the pits recently closed will be prevented from reopening by failure to maintain them while the review takes place? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot do that, what value can we place on the review?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman can place great value on the review. It is open, and we have made it perfectly clear that it is open. It is clear, too, that British Coal is perfectly aware of the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to maintain the pits during the interim period, and I believe that it is doing that.


Milton Keynes (Visit)

Q3. Mr. Butler : To ask the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Milton Keynes.

The Prime Minister : I am making plans for a series of visits to all parts of the country, and I hope to include Buckinghamshire among them.

Mr. Butler : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past 12 months the private sector has invested a record £374 million in Milton Keynes, helping to create 6,500 new jobs? Is that not an excellent example of something that we are seeing throughout the country--a fully justified growth in business confidence?

The Prime Minister : I think that we shall see a good deal more of that in the months to come--not least because of the very good news on inflation, which on Friday fell to 3 per cent. We also had figures today to show that factory gate inflation is at its lowest level for a generation. That is the clearest possible sign that we have yet seen that we are winning the battle against inflation, which is vital to industry, commerce, investment and jobs. It is precisely because of those successes that we now have the lowest interest rates in the European Community and a very solid platform for industrial recovery next year.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Gareth Wardell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

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

Mr. Wardell : As Christmas approaches and we witness the crisis of despair among the homeless not only in London but in cities such as Swansea, will the Prime Minister recognise that his vision of a classless society is rapidly receding and that our failure to embrace a growing underclass is beginning to undermine the very basis of Britain's being considered a democracy?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman may not know that the latest count by voluntary organisations last month found a drop of nearly 60 per cent. in the number of rough sleepers since the Government's initiative some time ago. The hon. Gentleman appears not to have heard about that initiative : with Government funding of nearly £100 million, it is providing new hostel places in central London and 3,000 more permanent places are being provided or planned. More action is being taken to help the homeless now than has been taken for many years.

Mr. Trend : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the Housing and Urban Development Bill, especially the parts that establish rent-to-mortgage schemes? Does he agree that it will create an excellent low-risk opportunity for young people to begin the process of owning their homes?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. We certainly want to continue to expand home ownership for young people and others. [Interruption.] Labour Members heckle, but then they have fought all our reforms of choice and ownership, time after time. They fought the right to buy, and now they are fighting the rent-to-mortgage scheme. The fact is that they do not trust people to make their own decisions about housing. They do not want people to be independent of the state, but we do : we believe in independence, home ownership and low taxation. That is why we are here and they are there.


Q5. Mr. Enright : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

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

Mr. Enright : Is the Prime Minister aware that his right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Thatcher has been gallivanting through the United States of America, rubbishing Her Majesty's Government's presidency of the European Community and making huge sums of money out of it? Will he persuade her to give some of that money to the miners, who have been cruelly deprived--

Madam Speaker : Order. I hardly think that someone's travels have much to do with the Prime Minister. I think that we had better move on now.

Mr. Deva : I welcome the agreement secured by my right hon. Friend in Edinburgh, which will lead to the immediate start of negotiations for the entry into the Community of Austria, Sweden and Finland. Does he agree that the British agenda is now an agenda for the whole of the EC?

The Prime Minister : I agree : that is increasingly the position. We have achieved a significant turnaround in attitudes to the enlargement of the Community. At Edinburgh we won agreement for the immediate start of negotiations with Austria, Finland and Sweden, and for negotiations with Norway before too long. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we also won support for the eventual membership of the Visegrad countries. When I first proposed that in Paris less than two years ago, very few people supported it ; now it is Community policy.


Nuclear Non-proliferation

Q6. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

The Prime Minister : The treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, of which the United Kingdom is a depository state, remains the cornerstone of international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. Ten states have become parties in 1992, bringing the total to 155. We continue to work for universal adherence to the treaty, and for its indefinite extension in 1995.

Mr. Dalyell : Can the House have a clear, unambiguous statement-- given the contrary views of Mr. John Gordon, who was head of the Foreign Office nuclear energy unit from 1986 to 1988--that at no time did Britain infringe either article 1 or any other article of the 1968 non- proliferation treaty in relation to the sale of arms to Iraq or other countries in the middle east?

The Prime Minister : It is Government policy to meet all our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty. Allegations that the United Kingdom may not have done so will be matters for Lord Justice Scott, and I think that that had better wait for his inquiry. I am aware of Iraqi claims. They are matters for Lord Justice Scott to investigate.


Engagements

Q7. Mrs. Jacqui Lait : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 December.

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

Mrs. Lait : Has my right hon. Friend seen today's reports that 1 million more free eye tests were given in 1991 than in 1990, and that there were 7 million more private tests? Is that not a demonstration of the success of the Health Secretary's publicity policy on free tests?

The Prime Minister : Indeed, it is. In this, as in much else to do with the national health service, the Labour party got it wrong in everything that it said at the time. It peddled stories that people would not have eyesight tests, but the reality is now clear : more people than ever before are doing so. They know that there is no purpose in listening to the Labour party on the national health service--it is always wrong.