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1993 - PMQT 29th June 1993

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

PRIME MINISTER:

Malnutrition and Infant Mortality (Iraq)

Q1. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister what is his most recent information from UNICEF about the alleged infringements of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child involving malnutrition and infant mortality in Iraq.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : No such information has been received from the United Nations Children's Fund, but we remain in close touch with United Nations agencies about the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Mr. Dalyell : Has the Prime Minister been briefed by the Foreign Secretary and by Sir Michael Burton about the visit by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and Tim Llewellyn to the paediatric hospital in Baghdad, where we saw lines of infants with swollen tummies and swollen private parts expiring as a result of malnutrition- related diseases such as marasmus? Does the west have any obligation to do something for injured infants who are without pharmaceuticals or medicines as a result of the missile attack on Baghdad? Would it not be wise, for reasons that I gave to Sir Michael Burton and the Foreign Secretary, at least to hear what the Iraqi people have to say?

The Prime Minister : I am, of course, aware of the hon. Gentleman's humanitarian concerns and of his discussions and his report to the Foreign Secretary. However, I think that he is misguided in the way in which he attributes responsibility. To be frank with the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that it is not the responsibility of external countries that the difficulties in Iraq, which led to the devastating situation, have been brought about. We very much wish that this were not the situation. However, it is, and over recent months we have done what we could to put it right. With regard to the attack, I shall not respond directly to the hon. Gentleman as the matter was widely discussed in the House yesterday.


Engagements

Q2. Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

The Prime Minister : 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.

Sir Michael Neubert : Does my right hon. Friend share my sense of injustice about the fact that, on the only occasion this Session when I have the good fortune to be able to ask him a question on television, the BBC is showing Wimbledon on both channels? Would not the watching public be immensely encouraged to learn that we are today considering the Criminal Justice Bill and that the police are going to make fighting crime and protecting the public their top priority, unencumbered by unnecessary paperwork?

The Prime Minister : With no disrespect to my hon. Friend's question, I think that that is the best decision by the BBC that I have heard for some time--game, set and match to the BBC, I think. I agree with the substance of my hon. Friend's question. What most people in this country wish to ensure is that our police service is doing the job we most wish to see it do, that is to say, not pushing paper but catching criminals.

Mr. John Smith : Is the Prime Minister aware that it is three months to the day since the House debated the Government's White Paper on the coal industry? Does he recollect that the public, the press and some of his own Back Benchers were led to believe that 12 pits would be saved by that White Paper? Why is it that, only three months later, three of the 12 pits face closure?

The Prime Minister : I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that there have been severe geological problems at some of those pits, resulting in an excessive level of cost. British Coal has talked to the men about the problems. I understand that at Rufford the men voted to close the pit when the existing face is exhausted and at Markham they agreed to immediate closure. British Coal is still committed to the market-testing exercise.

Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister not understand what is happening to the miners--that if they do not vote for closure they lose redundancy payments? Does he not understand what is happening in the market? British Coal is now offering coal at a knock-down price which would give the consumer much cheaper electricity than he or she could get from any other source. If the two privatised generators still will not buy at that price, does that not prove that the market is rigged against coal and that, if it goes on, pit after pit will close and will shall lose a vital industry?

The Prime Minister : The reason for taking the decisions on coal some months ago was to make sure that there is a viable industry that can continue in the future. It will be a smaller industry than once it was, for it has been shrinking in size year on year over the past 30 years. That is a fact of life which the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I and every hon. Member well understand. It is the market for coal which will determine the size of the industry. The Government have made it clear that they are willing to provide a subsidy to help the deep mining industry secure supplementary coal to generators at world prices. That was and is the position.

Mr. Smith : Does the Prime Minister not remember clearly that the House was led to believe that 12 pits would be saved as a result of the White Paper? Why does he not come clean and admit that the White Paper was a fraud and is now exposed as a fraud? Is it not a perfect example of the style of the Prime Minister and his Government that they produced a White Paper for 36 hours' publicity, which has not survived for three months in the real world?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman might perhaps have observed what Mr. Scargill had to say at lunchtime when he said :

"The Labour leadership is more interested in opinion polls and images rather than principles and real policies."

Miss Emma Nicholson : During his busy day, has the Prime Minister had the opportunity to read the letter from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in The London Literary Review, in which he gives inaccurate medical information on the state of child health in Iraq? Will the Prime Minister remind the hon. Gentleman that United Nations Security Council resolutions 706 and 712 of August and September 1991 authorised Iraq to export $16 billion worth of oil to buy medicines over a six-month period but that those arrangements have never been implemented?

The Prime Minister : I have not seen that particular letter, but my hon. Friend is quite right about the proposition that has been available to Iraq for well over a year whereby it could export oil and, in return, have medical and other equipment. The Government of Iraq--Saddam Hussein--chose not to take up that option. For that reason, he is primarily to blame for the present difficulties in treating people who are sick and ill in Iraq.


Q3. Mr. Hanson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

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

Mr. Hanson : Will the Prime Minister confirm to the House and to the many pensioners lobbying Parliament today that the Conservatives have spent millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on tax relief to the wealthiest members of Lloyd's, while continuing to persist with their policy of putting VAT on gas and electricity? Does he appreciate that that is typical of the present Government?

The Prime Minister : It is typical of the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent the position. The fact is that the success of Conservative policies over the years has enabled pensioners' incomes to increase by 30 per cent.--37 per cent. net of housing costs--since 1979. The hon. Gentleman should perhaps remind himself, and tell others, which party tried to cut the Christmas bonus, cut spending on the national health service, failed to uprate pensions and let inflation get out of control and wreck the savings of millions of pensioners.


Q5. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

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

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : I share my right hon. Friend's approval that Wimbledon is monopolising all channels, but, in the context of the necessary review of public spending, may I ask for an assurance that there will be a rigorous clamp-down on all those who are claiming benefit on fraudulent grounds at the expense of those most worthy of help in society, to whom benefits should be targeted?

The Prime Minister : I can give my hon. Friend both assurances. I assure him that the Government will honour their pledges to uprate state retirement and child benefits and so protect the most vulnerable in society. I also assure him that those who try to defraud the benefits system will find it increasingly difficult to do so. They will come up against a Government anti-fraud policy which expects to net savings of nearly £1 billion this year. We want those resources so as to make sure that they are available for those who need them most. I make no apology for protecting taxpayers from those who seek to abuse the system.


Q6. Dr. Lynne Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

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

Dr. Jones : In view of the revelations at the trial of Christopher Clunis, who stabbed and killed Jonathan Zito, will the Prime Minister accept that although most people suffering from schizophrenia are not dangerous, the failure of the Government's care in the community policy means that dangerous mentally ill people are walking the streets? What does he intend to do about that, and will he now order a public inquiry into the case and its implications for community care, as requested by Mr. Zito's widow?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady may not know it, but the care in the community policy has been a cross-party policy in the House for many years. Everyone is deeply sorry to hear about that tragic case, and I have deep sympathy for Mrs. Zito and the other relatives concerned. Nevertheless, I am sure that our community care policy is right for the patients concerned. It is right to encourage them generally to lead as independent a life as possible away from large-scale institutions. To that end, we now devote spending of more than £2 billion per year, and we have increased it substantially to ensure that the resources devoted to it are able to meet the problems which exist.

I have to say to the hon. Lady that picking out a tragic case such as that in the way that she did does no credit to her.


Q7. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

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

Mr. Evennett : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the United Kingdom is the only leading country in Europe experiencing economic recovery? Will he further confirm that while other countries in the European Community languish in recession, our economy has low inflation, falling unemployment, low wage settlements and the highest growth rate in Europe? Does he agree that that is good news for British business men and exporters and will help the nation to get roaring forward again economically?

The Prime Minister : I believe that it is good news for everybody, with the possible exception of some Opposition Members for whom good news is extremely bad news. Britain was the first country in Europe to go into the recession ; it is now among the first to emerge. Although conditions abroad throughout the Community may be difficult for some time, the Community itself and others are now forecasting that we shall have the highest growth rate in the Community this year and the highest growth rate again next year.

Mr. Molyneaux : Have Her Majesty's Government given any commitment to the Labour party's proposals for joint authority over Northern Ireland, as set out in the documents published this morning?

The Prime Minister : The first I heard of the apparent proposals by the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland was when I read that astonishing story in The Guardian this morning. I have no means of knowing whether The Guardian story is right or wrong. I hope that it is wrong, but, as Opposition Members seem to have questions planted upon them by The Guardian, it does not seem unreasonable to me that they may plant their policies upon The Guardian themselves. I can only say that that policy, if it is the policy of the Labour party, is a recipe for disaster. If it is true, I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will request the resignation of his spokesman this day. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has the obligation to tell the people of Northern Ireland whether or not that is the policy of the Labour party.

Mr. Brandreth : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on literally flying the flag in support of Manchester's Olympic bid? Does he agree that the bid is bringing more money, more jobs and more prestige to an area of this country which is already world class?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that hosting the Olympic games in Manchester would be good for the north-west, good for Britain and good for the Olympics. That is why the Government are determined to do all that they can to back Manchester's bid to bring the Olympics here for the millennium. We have provided full support for that bid. I was delighted to welcome the International Olympic Committee to Downing street yesterday. I shall be meeting the president of the IOC next month, and I look forward to going to Monte Carlo to help to promote the bid in September. The Olympic games which mark the year 2000 will have a special significance and I want to see those games here in Britain--in Manchester.