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1993 - PMQT 1st April 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 1st April 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mudie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 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. Mudie : Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the Home Affairs Select Committee on its decision to inquire into party political funding? Will he also join the Opposition in urging full co- operation and disclosure--that disclosure to cover items such as the £17 million secretly paid to the Conservatives to cover the cost of the previous election?

The Prime Minister : Of course the Conservative party will submit a memorandum as requested and will of course be available to submit oral evidence. We have always said that we are consistently opposed to state aid for political parties. If the hon. Gentleman is being so sanctimonious, I hope that he might consider whether his party is truly in favour of state aid or not.


Q2. Mr. Sykes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

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

Mr. Sykes : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to express his condemnation of the proposed rail strike tomorrow--

The Prime Minister rose-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Sykes : -- and does he agree that the state monopoly should be broken up as soon as possible? Has he noticed, by the way, how many Labour Members have scurried off to their constituencies before their union paymasters go on strike tomorrow?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt that it was worth waiting for the rest of my hon. Friend's question. I entirely agree that the strike is deplorable. What is equally deplorable is the deafening silence from the Opposition who know very well that, when it comes to strikes, they are on strike in terms of condemning them. They are still the strikers' friends.

Mr. John Smith : The Prime Minister will, I hope, be aware of the deep disquiet in the country about the events in Srebrenica. Does he agree that it is vital that the United Nations is enabled to resume its humanitarian relief convoys as a matter of urgency? Will the Government make it crystal clear to the Serbs that their barbaric disregard for humanity is simply not tolerable?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on both points. We are appalled by the plight of Srebrenica. It is terrible, and we believe that the Serbs must co-operate with the United Nations humanitarian effort. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, British aid workers and British troops have been instrumental in providing more aid in Bosnia than any other country. That is a proud record, and we wish to see it continue. I align myself entirely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comments about Srebrenica.

Mr. Smith : May I associate the Opposition with the tribute that the Prime Minister paid to British aid workers and British troops, who are performing an invaluable role in assisting the humanitarian effort? But does the Prime Minister accept that if there is to be a lessening of the sickening events involving innocent women and children which, sadly, we have been witnessing on our television screens, sanctions must be applied more comprehensively and effectively against Serbia, and that the international community simply must insist that humanitarian convoys be accompanied by military escorts?

The Prime Minister : I certainly support the idea that there should be much stricter enforcement of sanctions ; we would be perfectly prepared to contemplate the widening of sanctions as well as the stricter enforcement of existing sanctions. That matter is under discussion between our allies and ourselves at the moment.

Mr. Fry : As we enter the era of the council tax, will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Conservative-controlled Wellingborough borough council, which is to levy an average tax of £177--by far the lowest in the country? Is that not a wonderful achievement, considering that services have not been cut, and is it not the clearest possible signal to the electorate of this country to vote Conservative in this year's local government elections?

The Prime Minister : I believe that there is widespread understanding around the country that the council tax is the fairest method that we have yet had of dealing with local government finance. Not only that, but those people who are fortunate enough to have a Conservative council will find that, band for band, they will pay less council tax than those whose council is Labour controlled.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister not realise that being appalled by Srebrenica is not good enough? Being appalled by Srebrenica will not save a single life. The question is what the Prime Minister and the British Government intend to do about Srebrenica. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that town and its 60,000 Muslim inhabitants are designated by the Vance-Owen plan as part of the Muslim territory. Will he therefore recommend to other western powers that we protect Srebrenica from being annihilated by the Serbs--or is this to be yet another example of our standing by the side, wringing our hands and saying that nothing can be done until it is too late for anything to be done?

The Prime Minister : I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will weigh carefully what he says on that matter, because I think that what he has said will be deeply offensive to the 2,300 troops that we have in Bosnia, to their families and to the many other people who are concerned about their safety there. They are doing a magnificent job ; in many ways we have led the assistance being given to all parts of Bosnia over recent months. We strongly welcome the Security Council resolution enforcing the no-fly zone. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will have more to say about that after Question Time.

Mr. Page : May I make my right hon. Friend aware that the trustees of the Maxwell pension fund will meet later this month to discuss the common investment fund, which now stands at about £180 million? I urge him to contact those trustees and beg them to have a distribution or a partial distribution of that fund so that, in conjunction with the Cuckney fund, the pensioners can be paid while the missing millions are traced and a long-term solution is put in place.

The Prime Minister : I certainly join my hon. Friend in urging the trustees and the liquidator of the common investment fund to restore advance payments as soon as possible. I understand the difficulties, and I hope that the trustees will be able to respond.


War Crimes (Yugoslavia)

Q3. Dr. Godman : To ask the Prime Minister when he last met the leaders of other member states of the Security Council of the United Nations to discuss the implementation of UN resolution 808 ; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister : The United Nations Secretary-General is due to produce a report by the end of April on the most effective and rapid means of establishing an ad hoc tribunal. United Nations member states have been invited to contribute views on an informal basis. Several states, including the United Kingdom, have so contributed.

Dr. Godman : This is the first time since Nuremberg and Tokyo that an international war crimes tribunal has been set up. Unlike Nuremberg and Tokyo, however, is it not likely that the implementation of United Nations resolution 808 will turn out to be an exercise in futility? Has not the United States State Department already labelled those murderous leaders, Milosevic and Karadzic, as potential war criminals? Are they to be granted immunity from war crimes proceedings? Who will apprehend the criminals? Will British soldiers be involved? Will British police officers and lawyers be involved? It is surely a charade.

The Prime Minister : I do not believe that it will be an exercise in futility. There are complex matters of international law to be determined, which are still under discussion within the United Nations, but it is intended, where possible, to ensure that people who commit war crimes face a tribunal and are punished satisfactorily and suitably.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Hendry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

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

Mr. Hendry : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the opposition of the police, my constituents and myself to the proposed all-night rave scheduled to take place in my constituency at the end of May. Does he agree that such events have less to do with entertainment than with organised crime and pushing illegal and dangerous drugs? Does he agree that the High Peak, as one of the most popular national parks in the world, is a wholly unsuitable venue for such an event? May I assure him that he has the support of the Conservative side of the House for the Government's proposal to give the police more power to tackle these people? Will he ensure that the measures are brought forward as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend touches on a point which will concern many parents. The statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary yesterday shows beyond doubt that the Government are determined to crack down on those who ignore the rights and property of law -abiding citizens. It is wholly unacceptable behaviour. That is why we are giving the police tougher powers to deal with it.

Mr. Simpson : Is the Prime Minister aware of the report recently highlighted in the Nottingham Evening Post, which illustrated that claims for severe hardship payments had increased in the east midlands by over 750 per cent. in the last three years, leaving large numbers of young people with no jobs, no cash and no hope? Will he explain how he has failed to deliver jobs to those young people and when will he restore entitlement to benefit payments to them?

The Prime Minister : I should mention to the hon. Gentleman that payments from the social fund could not have been made until we introduced the legislation to do so. No such comparable payments existed. As for jobs, it is interesting to note that for the first time in several weeks--in fact, since the unemployment figures fell last time--an Opposition Member has mentioned unemployment. We continue to take measures which will seek to increase jobs for all sectors of the community.


Q5. Mr. Kynoch : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

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

Mr. Kynoch : I welcome the support given to small businesses in the recent Budget. Is my right hon. Friend aware that my area of Scotland has benefited significantly from the oil and gas industry, and in particular from oil exploration in the North Sea? Is he further aware that the changes in petroleum revenue tax have provoked enormous support from my constituents? Will he ensure that the transition to what many oil companies regard as a better low tax regime is smooth and does not cause undue disturbance and disruption in the industry in the meantime?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend will know, many people have welcomed the changes in taxes, not least because of the big encouragement to development that is clearly evident in the new structure. That development will create future jobs, a matter which every hon. Member is concerned about. I take the figures from memory, but I seem to recall that in the year 1991-92 the previous petroleum revenue tax system actually cost the taxpayer £200 million net.

Mr. William Ross : Has the Prime Minister noticed that the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic said that the idea that the Republic was a haven for terrorists is a fallacy? Does he understand that my constituents were surprised about that until they realised that today is the first day of April?

The Prime Minister : I know that the hon. Gentleman feels very strongly about the matter, but I must say to him that he should not confuse the actions of a minority with the views and instincts of the majority of people. I do not believe that the majority of people in the Republic of Ireland support the activities of the IRA, and I believe that their response to recent events is a clear illustration that that is the case. I hope and believe that the vast majority of people in the Republic of Ireland will join the hon. Gentleman and every other hon. Member in the House in condemning the IRA and all its murderous activities.


Q6. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 April.

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

Mr. Amess : As we approach the first anniversary of the re-election of my right hon. Friend's Government, does the Prime Minister recall that only four weeks after that event a Conservative council was elected in Basildon? What conclusions does my right hon. Friend draw from the fact that, under the council tax, Conservative Basildon will, for the first time, not be capped while nearby socialist-controlled Harlow district council will be?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend has made a profession of making Basildon world famous and is doing it remarkably well. As it is also the anniversary of my hon. Friend's re-election, I offer him my congratulations on that. When he won, we knew that we had won, and it was an especially sweet victory.

It is no coincidence that a Conservative council produces a lower council tax charge than a Labour council. That is what we would expect. That is what we see in Conservative councils up and down the country at all levels of the council tax.