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1993 - PMQT 20th April 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 20th April 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Parry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

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. Parry : Will the Prime Minister today decide when he intends to visit Liverpool, where he can meet local trade union leaders to discuss the very high level of unemployment? Incidentally, he might visit Liverpool, Riverside, which has the highest level of unemployment in England, Scotland and Wales--32 per cent. Will he also consider visiting Liverpool next month for the commemoration of the battle of the Atlantic and western approaches? Her Majesty the Queen is coming and, in 1940, Mr. Winston Churchill, the then Prime Minister, came several times, as did King George VI. Will the Prime Minister consider coming there?

The Prime Minister : I have indeed received an invitation to attend the 50th anniversary of the battle of the Atlantic, in which Liverpool and its people played such a significant part. I have accepted that invitation and I look forward to that event very much indeed.

I am aware of the very high level of unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It has fallen over recent years, but it is still far higher than in many areas in the United Kingdom and is one of the worst pockets of unemployment anywhere in the country. I will not be able to visit Riverside on this occasion, but I understand the particular problems faced by the hon. Gentleman and if he, with a small delegation of his constituents, wishes to come to see me to discuss the problem, I will be happy to meet them.

Mr. Ottaway : Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of Norway's largest ship owners, Gearbulk, has recently decided to relocate to London, giving as its reason that it wants to be at the centre of things? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this demonstrates that Britain, with a low corporate tax structure and a Conservative Government, remains the best place in the world in which to do business?

The Prime Minister : I was not aware of that piece of welcome news and I am delighted to hear what my hon. Friend has said. We very much welcome inward investment from both within and beyond the European Community. We are determined to maintain in this country the economic circumstances and the relatively low on-costs to employment which will continue to attract inward investment.

Mr. John Smith : While it is essential that the sanctions against Serbia be intensified and properly enforced, as indeed they should have been months ago, is it not now necessary for a clear ultimatum to be issued to the Serbs that they will not be allowed to continue their aggression unchecked and that, if they continue that aggression, their lines of supply within Bosnia will be subject to air attack?

The Prime Minister : We had a lengthy statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs yesterday in which he set out the present position and the discussions we are having with our partners in the United Nations. The House recognised yesterday that the road to further action, particularly if it leads to military action, which is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman's question implied, is fraught with peril. Once one goes down it, there is no turning back. We must first be confident that that is the right direction.

Mr. John Smith : While there are risks in any course of action, and I would not seek to minimise them, do not they have to be weighed carefully against the possibly greater risks of non-action? Surely what is badly needed is a demonstration of United Nations determination. How will the Government respond, for example, if the Serbs proceed to take the crucial towns of Gorazde and Zepa? Should not they be warned now that such action on their part will not be tolerated?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman heard my right hon. Friend say again yesterday, we are not excluding those options ; we are considering them seriously and discussing them with our allies. I have spoken recently with both the French and American Presidents, but we have not yet reached a decision about the balance of advantage in those particular courses. They could cause fighting to escalate, civilian casualties to rise and an end to the humanitarian operation.

On that last point, I remind the House that it was the expectation in the House some months ago that over the winter hundreds of thousands of Bosnians would die of starvation and lack of medicine. That has not happened because we have managed to sustain the humanitarian operation. Neither my right hon. Friend nor I would willingly throw that away.

Mr. Dickens : Following the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of many British citizens who were members of a cult in the United States of America, will my right hon. Friend have conversations with the Home Secretary with a view to setting up a working party to see how we can best limit the recruitment of British citizens into those evil cults?

The Prime Minister : There are a number of undesirable cults and I share my hon. Friend's concern. It would be difficult to focus legislation to restrict the establishment of cults or religious movements because it would be difficult to determine what groups should be included in the legislation and what groups should be excluded. However, we have powers under the criminal law and we are prepared and willing to use them to regulate the behaviour of individuals when they may infringe the rights of other people. We also have powers under the immigration laws to prohibit the entry of people who may wish to establish such cults, if it is thought that they would be damaging to our interests.

Mr. Ashdown : In the Prime Minister's previous answer, he rightly referred to the importance of humanitarian aid. Has he noticed that today the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called for the establishment of a United Nations protected safe haven in Zepa and Gorazde? How will he respond to that question?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman will know that the UNHCR wants to set up safe areas by agreement with the parties in those areas and does not want the United Nations to be an active participant in the conflict. To that extent, it differs quite radically from the proposals that the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to write to me about some days ago.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there has to be further military intervention in Bosnia, it should be done under NATO command with American participation, backed by United Nations resolutions supported by Russia?

The Prime Minister : I see no other circumstances in which it would be practicable to expect any military authority to be there and to succeed. Anything short of action in the circumstances set out by my hon. Friend would be unacceptable and would be unlikely to be agreed. Those are only the circumstances, but I stress that that would be a very grave step and it is not yet the policy of any of the major Governments in the United Nations.


Q2. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

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

Mr. Ross : Has the Prime Minister had a chance to study the public sector borrowing requirement figure announced today? Does he realise that £9.5 billion is the highest recorded figure of any Government for any one month? It is £1 million more than the Chancellor announced in his Budget last month. Does the Prime Minister share the concern of many forecasters, who believe that that points to a real underlying problem about our economy? What is he going to do about it?

The Prime Minister : It is an interesting question from the hon. Gentleman. I hope I can assume from it that the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about borrowing that he will support our new controls on public spending. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us in imposing limits on public sector pay and on keeping caps on council spending. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain why he supported the Delors proposals for Community spending which would have cost us millions. He might explain why his hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor said that he was prepared to debate with the Community over our rebate. All those matters relate to our borrowing requirement ; upon none of them have we ever had the support of the hon. Gentleman or any right hon. or hon. Member in his party. Words from him about restraints on public spending are very hollow indeed.


Q3. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

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

Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that teachers have a moral duty to do their very best for their pupils and that that means carrying out testing this summer? Is my right hon. Friend aware that Britain spends a higher percentage of its GDP on education than Germany and Japan, but that in Germany children are taught and tested over 1,260 hours per year, whereas children in Britain are taught for as little as 850 hours per year and would remain untested if some teacher unions have their way, supported by the disruptive attitude of the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : As a former head teacher, my hon. Friend speaks with particular authority on this matter. A boycott of testing would certainly not be in the interests of our children. We need tests--and need them this year--as Sir Ron Dearing, among others, has made clear. My hon. Friend is right that our principal competitors have national curricula and regular testing. Any attempt to sabotage our reforms could damage our long- term ability to compete and damage the education of our children.


Q5. Mr. Llwyd : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

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

Mr. Llwyd : The Prime Minister will be aware of the recent integrated administration control system forms which have been issued at the behest of the European Community. These are a great headache to the farming community because they are time limited ; they have to be in by 15 May. Farmers also have to have plans mapped out in hectares. In my constituency, for example, only two thirds of land has been surveyed for that purpose. I urge the Prime Minister and his colleagues to ask the EC to extend the time limit and to consider defraying the expenses of those who have spent on survey fees privately for this purpose.

The Prime Minister : There are difficulties with this and I sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Although I doubt whether it is feasible to extend the time limit, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture is seeking to help farmers in that situation within the rules of the terms of the scheme. Maps that can be used are available, but we have always recognised that some farmers may have difficulty getting maps of the right scale. Where maps cannot be obtained, farmers should provide the best alternative that they can.


South Africa

Q6. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Prime Minister what representations he has recently made to, or received from, the South African Government regarding political change in South Africa.

The Prime Minister : We are in regular contact at all levels with the South African Government and other parties involved in the current constitutional negotiations. I shall be seeing Mr. Mandela and Chief Buthelezi in the next few weeks. I am also in touch with President de Klerk.

Mr. Hunter : As the tragedy of South Africa unfolds and, for the time being, the men of violence have their way, will my right hon. Friend urge President de Klerk not to give ground to the enemies of democracy or mob rule, but, rather, to continue negotiations, especially with moderate black leaders, so that the new South Africa may be better than the old?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend knows South Africa well and I agree with him that negotiations are the only way to reach the goal of a non-racial, democratic South Africa. The concessions that the ANC is seeking, covering both the election date and the establishment of a transitional executive council, are matters for the constitutional negotiations. I urge all parties to address issues in that forum.


Engagements

Q7. Mr. Connarty : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

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

Mr. Connarty : Has the Prime Minister had, as I have, the shared joy of being present at the birth of his children? Does he share with me and the Royal College of Midwives deep concern at the massive increase in the use of Caesarian sections in all parts of the United Kingdom? Is he aware that I have been told in parliamentary replies that the rate has risen from 5.3 to 13 per cent. in England and to 14 per cent. in Scotland and that women are now threatened in one out of eight cases with surgery in what should be the pleasant experience of childbirth? Does he think that it is time that we had a childbirth charter to protect women from the scalpel when they should have a normal childbirth?

The Prime Minister : The answer to the first part of the question is yes, on two occasions. The second part is essentially a matter for the individual mother and her surgeon and doctor. I confess that I was not aware of the growth of Caesarian section births and it is a matter which, in the light of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I shall refer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.