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1993 - PMQT 15th April 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 15th April 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Cousins : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 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. Cousins : Does the Prime Minister agree first, that the supply of weapons to the states of the former Yugoslavia should be choked off and not increased and secondly, that arms and equipment dealers who may wish to dabble there, and their friends, no matter how well connected, will not find a safe haven in Great Britain?

The Prime Minister : The whole House views with dismay and despair the slaughter in the whole of Bosnia which we see daily on our television screens. For that reason, we have sought over the past few months, not least at the London conference and in a variety of other ways, to play our part in the international community in trying to bring an end to that particular conflict. I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the need to damp down and not to increase the supply of arms.


Q2. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 April.

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

Mr. Arnold : Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Staff for calling a strike for tomorrow and on other days which will be damaging to passengers, especially my constituents, and which could put in danger other people's jobs? What would my right hon. Friend do if his transport spokesman backed the strike? Would he back him or sack him?

The Prime Minister : I believe that the latest strike by the RMT will cause further hardship to the travelling public and that it will damage British Rail's finances. That does not safeguard jobs in rail or elsewhere ; it actually puts jobs in rail and elsewhere at risk. It is an utterly pointless strike. It is a throwback to the 1960s and it deserves the support of no one. It certainly does not have my support and it does not have the support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I regret that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) supports the strike. I hope that the Leader of the Opposition does not and I hope that he will take appropriate action.

Mr. John Smith : The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that just before Easter, he assured me during Prime Minister's Question Time that the Government were prepared to widen and to intensify sanctions against Serbia. In view of the appalling slaughter at Srebrenica, will the Prime Minister tell us what action the Government have taken since then?

The Prime Minister : I certainly stand by the remark I made to the House before Easter. We are keen both to widen and to deepen the sanctions against Serbia. To do that we need the complete support of our allies in the Security Council and elsewhere. I expect that a suitable resolution will be passed in the United Nations this month, but I cannot guarantee in advance of that the support of all other members, which is necessary to ensure that we have that resolution. The British position is clear. We wish to have that resolution as speedily as possible. We should have welcomed it today.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister recognise that even the existing sanctions are not being enforced adequately so that there is no real let or hindrance put upon the Serbs and their present barbarous behaviour? Instead of the Security Council resolution being delayed until towards the end of the month, ought not the British Government be urging that it be brought forward so that the international community can take effective action?

The Prime Minister : As I indicated delicately to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that is the position of the British Government, but we would not get it through the Security Council at this moment for reasons that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can well understand. One of the permanent members would not be likely to support it now, but will be later this month. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows who and why.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister understand that there is really deep anger and concern in Britain about the fact that the slaughter at Srebrenica is a daily affair? Ought there not to be more urgency than this leisurely diplomatic pace?

The Prime Minister : Let me say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that neither he nor anyone else has a monopoly of concern or conscience about the matter. His concern is shared throughout the House and the country. No one doubts that. The question at issue is what we can do, how best we can do it and what options will most successfully help to bring an end to the slaughter. In achieving that, we need the support of the other members of the Security Council and the international community. We have been seeking to obtain it for a variety of measures and we shall continue to do so. In the meantime, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will need no reminding of the leading role that Britain has taken in providing humanitarian aid and in the search for a diplomatic settlement. We were the first nation to put a substantial number of troops into Bosnia and to help people facing great difficulties through the winter.

Mr. Matthew Banks : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, contrary to the advice of the armchair generals and pseudo-defence experts, all suggestions of substantial military action in the Bosnian region should be totally resisted as in that terrain it would lead to guerrilla warfare and substantial loss of life among British service men and women and those of other countries, and would make no contribution whatsoever towards an early resumption of peace talks and a settlement of the problem?

The Prime Minister : I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes and agree with him. We are seeking a diplomatic means of ending the fighting. That is the only credible way forward for the international community. Other issues have been considered and discussed, but they involve substantial disadvantages. Many of them were cogently set out to the House yesterday by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Ashdown : The key question is whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to see Srebrenica fall into the hands of the Bosnian Serbs.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has shared for a long time the concern that everyone in the House feels about the issue. What he has never done is suggest a way-- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."]--I will answer the question in my own way. The right hon. Gentleman has never suggested a way in which we could physically prevent military action. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we should put British troops on the ground in Bosnia, will he please say so directly or stop implying it?

Mr. Roger Evans : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the respect of the public and parents for the teaching profession was not enhanced by the conduct of certain people at the National Union of Teachers conference last week, and that the proper way to restore public confidence in the education system and testing is the Government's review and not a campaign of sabotage?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about that. The concern that we have in education policy is to improve the quality of education and the success of all our children as they go through their schooling. I believe that the remark of the president of the NUT that the union's aim was "to annihilate the tests" was a disgrace. I hope that no right hon. or hon. Member in the House will give any houseroom to that sort of attitude.


Q3. Mr. Jim Marshall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 April.

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

Mr. Marshall : Is the Prime Minister aware of the increasing concern among the lower paid and many other people about the proposed increase in domestic fuel prices from April 1994? If so, what advice would he offer to those people who face massive bill increases in the winters of 1994 and 1995? Would he advise them to leave the heat on, turn it down or switch it off?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have made it clear on a number of occasions that we will provide substantial extra help for people in particular need ; we will announce the details of that in good time and the increases will take effect before any increases in the fuel charges. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might give me a straight answer at some stage as to whether he agrees with the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) when he called for an increase in value added tax.


Q4. Mr. Oppenheim : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 April.

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

Mr. Oppenheim : Bearing in mind the importance attributed to manufacturing by many, if not all, people, does my right hon. Friend recollect that manufacturing output fell under the last Labour Government, whereas, during the 1980s, Britain enjoyed the fastest growth in manufacturing output of any major European country and that manufacturing productivity in Britain during the 1980s rose faster than in any other major industrial country in the world? Do recent figures show that conditions are now in place to resume and build on that progress in the 1990s?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend clearly knows, the figures released yesterday show manufacturing output sharply up. They underline the fact that our manufacturers are taking advantage of the present opportunities. I very much welcome that. We need a strong and successful manufacturing industry. What we need to see is an industrial renaissance, not the propping up of lame ducks. The fact that we now have the lowest interest rates in the Community, very low inflation and a competitive exchange rate gives our industries and our exporters in particular every opportunity of growing, investing, expanding, and seeking and achieving success in the 1990s.

Mr. Hardy : The Prime Minister mentioned tests. Does he accept that the testing of English proposed for this year is so outrageously flawed that not only the test should be withdrawn but the present direction of the Department for Education should be withdrawn as well?

The Prime Minister : I do not agree with the principle behind the hon. Gentleman's question. I think that there is no doubt that the tests are the key to raising standards, as our main competitors around the world have shown. It is a straightforward matter of common sense. Without tests, teachers cannot identify pupils' weaknesses and cannot tackle them, parents cannot hold schools to account for their children's progress and the Government would not know what was happening in the schools. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members do not find the importance of education and tests a matter for seriousness.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research found that, at middle and lower ability, pupils in England learnt less than their contemporaries in France, Germany and Japan. That cannot be satisfactory to us and it cannot be satisfactory to teachers. It is vital that we have those tests so that we can identify those weaknesses, find out what the children have not understood and have not learnt and then take action to put it right. Hiding those tests and the results of them is no way to help our children in schools.


Q5. Mr. Robert B. Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 April.

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

Mr. Jones : Against the background of the scandals surrounding the European bank for reconstruction and development, and persistent reports of fraud involving the common agricultural policy and other European funds, is it not a matter for congratulation that the British Government, at any rate, have made a high priority of proper discussion of, and attention to, the reports of the European Court of Auditors? Will my right hon. Friend read up on his efforts in that direction? In particular, when he has a chance to have a word with Chancellor Kohl will he ask him why the Germans are not so keen as we are on discussing this sort of fraud?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt that the United Kingdom has taken the lead in action against fraud both in the agreements that we reached at Maastricht and on other occasions when European leaders have met. We have done that in the past and we will continue to do that in future.


Q6. Mr. Hoyle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 April.

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

Mr. Hoyle : Despite the Prime Minister's boasting about the engineering industry, has he not seen the Engineering Employers Federation report published today which suggests that engineering imports will rise twice as fast as exports? How will that balance of payments crisis help the country? Does it not once more show how far engineering manufacturing industry has declined due to the mismanagement of the economy by his Government?

The Prime Minister : I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is right about that. He needs to concentrate, as we are concentrating, on the opportunity that we have to expand and improve the industrial and manufacturing base as a result of the policies that we put in place, which are now clearly becoming successful. I regret that Opposition Members do not like that success, but it is becoming more evident week after week.