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1993 - PMQT 29th April 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 29th April 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Couchman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 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. Couchman : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he contact President Clinton today, as he contemplates new measures against the Bosnian Serbs, and convey to him the grave reservations of many people in Europe about the possibility of air strikes against any targets, strategic or otherwise, in Bosnia? Will he remind the President of the paramount need to secure the safety of United Nations troops presently serving in Bosnia, including British soldiers, in giving vital humanitarian aid?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital to minimise the risk to the United Nations troops and, of course, to the humanitarian aid civilians who are also there and who, for so long and so bravely, have carried out the humanitarian operation. We will take whatever steps are necessary to achieve that.

Our other objectives in Bosnia are to do all we can to deter further Serbian attacks and to maximise pressure on all parties to accept the cease fire and a negotiated settlement. But at the moment we are not excluding any viable option which might help to achieve those objectives. We are consulting our allies, especially the United States and our United Nations allies in France and elsewhere, and have expressed our views very clearly to them.

Mr. John Smith : As the horrendous situation in Bosnia worsens even further and as no clear policy has yet emerged from the international community which would effectively deter continued Serb advance, is it not the case that the acknowledged risks of limited air strikes are increasingly outweighed by the very real dangers of continued inaction? Is there not a serious danger that if another policy is not adopted, moves will be made to lift the arms embargo, which would merely intensify the conflict?

The Prime Minister : I share the observations that the right hon. and learned Gentleman made about the lifting of the arms embargo. That does present special difficulties. As I have said before, and reiterate now, we cannot rule out further measures for maximising pressure on the Serbs. We are consulting closely our allies and partners. We must, of course, weigh carefully the implications of air strikes for the removal of the arms embargo or, indeed, any other proposals that may arise in our consultations or in the debate in the House this afternoon.

We must bear particularly in mind the need to sustain the United Nations humanitarian effort. It is all too easy to overlook the fact that, but for that effort over the winter, many hundreds of thousands possibly would have died. The fact that it has continued has been of immense benefit.

Mr. John Smith : As the days and weeks go by, and the Serbs continue to flout the authority of the United Nations, is it not increasingly clear that if the Serbs are to be stopped, they must be given an ultimatum that is backed by a credible threat to their lines of communication and supply in Bosnia?

The Prime Minister : I have told the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I will reiterate it, that we have not ruled out options. We are discussing options and it is best to consult on them, consider them, examine the probability of success and the possibility of difficulties and then reach a final conclusion.


Q2. Mr. Duncan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 April.

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

Mr. Duncan : While I recognise our success in bringing down the level of inflation and thereby laying the foundations for economic recovery, does the Prime Minister agree that a rapid rise in house prices is not necessarily good news? Should not we aim for a sustainable recovery, based on exports and investments and, at all costs, avoid a return to the cycle of boom and bust?

The Prime Minister : I share that objective with my hon. Friend. We have said from the outset that we want a recovery that is steady and sustainable, and that is what we have repeatedly taken action to achieve over the past two years. We have said that recovery would follow the reduction of inflation. We got inflation down from 11 per cent. to 2 per cent., and it seems that recovery is now following. As a result of that, we were able to cut interest rates, but that had to follow the reduction in inflation and not precede it. We have worked extremely hard, and it has been extremely difficult for everyone during that period, to get the fundamentals right. We now have them right and I have no intention of throwing away that advantage.

Mr. Ashdown : Will the Prime Minister pause for a moment in his campaign of self-congratulation-- [Interruption.] --and recollect-- [Interruption.] Will the Prime Minister pause for a minute in his campaign of self-congratulation and recollect that the price of his policies for Britain has been 3 million unemployed, borrowing at £1 billion a week, a devalued pound and a burden of debt that will not be paid off until the end of the century? Does he really think that that is cause for self-congratulation?

The Prime Minister : I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman carried the House with him in the introductory part of his question. I acknowledge the difficulties that there have been for many people, not just hon. Members but throughout the country, as we have dealt with the effects of the recession. As the right hon. Gentleman will observe, that recession is not unique to this country. We are emerging from it when many others are still going into it. As we come out of the recession, perhaps I might quote the words of the chairman of Grand Met, Sir Allen Shepherd, who said :

"Today, in British Industry we have almost everything that we've been asking for : low inflation, competitive exchange rates, higher productivity and good industrial relations. On top of that, the skills revolution' is well under way and will add value to everything we do."

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that and go out and encourage people across the country to take advantage of that position.

Sir Edward Heath : Does my right hon. Friend recognise that until he and the Government give an absolutely clear and categorical assurance that no British forces, of any kind, will become involved in the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia, except for humanitarian reasons, any other suggestion will be suspect and will make it extremely difficult to persuade people to support the effort that we make? It will be suspect because it will be thought that we shall be dragged, stage by stage, into a European war or that we shall be pushed there by Washington. Both would be intolerable.

The Prime Minister : As my right hon. Friend knows, we were among the first specifically to put troops into Bosnia to deal with humanitarian matters. We need to consider precisely how we can play a part both in seeking to end the terrible conflict that exists within Bosnia and in ensuring--for this is a clear-cut British strategic interest--that the conflict does not spread beyond Bosnia and lead to a realisation of the greater fear on which my right hon. Friend touched : a wider Balkan war. Those are issues of great complexity, which we need to discuss with our colleagues and friends in the United Nations and NATO.

I take to heart my right hon. Friend's remarks, as I know will every right hon. and hon. Member. This is an emerging and changing situation. We shall keep at the forefront of our minds the concern to keep British troops off the ground in Bosnia, but also the need for us to play a part, with our partners, diplomatically, in humanitarian aid, and in using political pressure to bring this dreadful conflict to a conclusion.

Mr. Hoon : Is the Prime Minister at all embarrassed by the fact that last year some £7 million, or two thirds of the cost of his general election campaign, was received by the Conservative party from foreign sources?

The Prime Minister : I have to say that that is just a touch rich coming from a member of a party whose entire shadow Cabinet is sponsored by trade unions. As Mr. Tom Sawyer of NUPE said, "It's as crude as that no say, no pay."


Q3. Mr. Bates : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 April.

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

Mr. Bates : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the gross domestic product figures produced on Monday clearly show that the recession is over and recovery well under way? Does he further agree that those same figures point to growth in the United Kingdom economy commencing in the middle of last year? Does that not further point to his leadership winning the essential battle against inflation and the equally essential battle against the Opposition?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right that getting inflation down was the key. We were elected in the spring and the figures that we now have for growth in the second half of last year show that recovery began in the summer.


Q4. Ms Coffey : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 April.

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

Ms Coffey : Is the Prime Minister aware that Ferranti International, a company in my constituency, is awaiting the outcome of a bid for a high technology contract from the Saudi Arabian Government to which I understand he gave personal support in his talks with the Saudi Government earlier this year? Can he tell me what action he is taking to ensure that the contract is awarded to a major British industry to prevent the job losses that will surely follow if we do not get the contract?

The Prime Minister : Defence Ministers are following the programme closely and doing all they can to progress it. The awarding of the contract in due course is a matter for the Saudi Government, but we are doing what we can to assist.


Q5. Mrs. Ann Winterton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 April.

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

Mrs. Winterton : Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that the British taxpayer should not be expected to pay towards the administration costs of the social charter throughout the EC, when the United Kingdom, quite rightly and properly, has opted out of all its provisions?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is well aware of and shares the Government's view on the social chapter. The administrative costs of dealing with the social chapter are de minimis and in no sense a burden on the economy.


Arms Exports (Iraq)

Q6. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make it his policy to instruct Government Departments to make full disclosure of all documents requested in connection with legal proceedings relating to unlawful export of arms to Iraq; and if he will make it his policy not to issue public immunity interest certificates in connection with any such proceedings.

The Prime Minister : Government Departments will continue to disclose documents in any legal proceedings in the manner prescribed by law.

Mr. Dalyell : If that is the answer, why is it that the Crown did not exercise its discretion, when Ministers knew perfectly well of his service to MI5 and MI6, in favour of Paul Grecian in the Ordtech trial?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows as well as anyone in the House that it is quite inappropriate for me to comment when such cases are in the courts. He knows that it is inappropriate and I will not do so.


Engagements

Q8. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 April.

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

Mr. Pike : Will the Prime Minister rethink the Government's approach to low pay and the abolition of the wages councils? Will he consider the information prepared by Lancashire county council which not only highlights the scandal of low pay but shows that in areas with no wages councils there is a much higher incidence of low pay, clearly identifying the dangers of their abolition?

The Prime Minister : I am hardly likely to take any advice from Lancashire county council, given its record in recent years. The sheer scale of the increase in Lancashire's council tax--I think from memory that it is an extra £84--as a result of the council's maladministration is remarkable. Therefore, it is most unlikely that I shall take its advice upon that matter.

On the general subject of wages councils, we have made it clear on a number of occasions in the past that their principal drawback is that they cost jobs to people who would otherwise be employed, and that is something which we care about, even if the hon. Gentleman does not.