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1994 - PMQT 8th February 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 8th February 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Dowd : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 February.

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. Dowd : And very entertaining they were, I am sure. Will the Prime Minister admit that the Government's proposals in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill for the measure of a pint of beer represent a total surrender to the interests of a big brewers, who are such generous backers of the Conservative party? Taken together with the craven submission to the interests of tobacco companies over advertising, does not that demonstrate conclusively that whenever the interests of the Tory party's paymasters are involved, the customer is always the loser?

The Prime Minister : On both counts, the answer is no. In the Deregulation and Contracting Our Bill we are concerned about removing burdens on business. The principal reason for seeking to remove burdens on business is to encourage their competitiveness, their profitability and their success and to encourage the creation of jobs. It is no good the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues parroting remarks about wanting jobs if they then oppose the measures that will help to create them.

Mr. Cormack : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the progressive destruction of a great European capital city and the extinction of a sovereign state that we recognise are unacceptable?

The Prime Minister : I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the problems of Sarajevo and he will know that I will be discussing those with my right hon. Friends this afternoon and that the North Atlantic Council will have a further meeting tomorrow.

Mr. John Smith : On that point, does the Prime Minister appreciate that, if no action is taken to protect the people of Sarajevo from the pitiless shelling to which they have been subjected, the Serbs are bound to conclude that no action will be taken against them whatever they do?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, the United Nations Protection Force contingent is in Bosnia to help the civilian population. The United Nations cannot end the civil war by force. That is a point which is generally understood and I am pleased to see the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that. That has never been a feasible option. Ultimately, peace will come only at the negotiating table, but the United Nations may need to use force for specific purposes-- for example, to carry out its mandate and to protect its own people in Bosnia. It may need tactical air support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. We have always been prepared to see air power used for those purposes, provided that the commanders judge it appropriate.

On the question of Sarajevo, I do not believe that we can wait for action to follow an overall settlement. I do not believe that it is right to tolerate the continued mortar and artillery attacks against the civilian population. UNPROFOR, with support from NATO, must apply immediate and strong pressure to halt those attacks.

Mr. John Smith : I appreciate that we cannot end a civil war by military intervention, but should not we set ourselves some minimum objectives? For example, should not a political objective be set to remove all the weapons within striking distance of Sarajevo, with the threat that if that is not done, air attacks will be pursued? Why do the Government not say that that is one of our, and our allies', political objectives?

The Prime Minister : As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) a few moments ago, the North Atlantic Council will meet tomorrow to consider, on the advice of military commanders, what pressure can most effectively be applied and how. If we use air power, we must be clear about the objectives of that action. The aim must be to reinforce pressure to end the bombardment of Sarajevo. To that end, the United Nations command must be able to set clear and specific conditions, knowing that tactical air support is available to back it up if necessary.

Any use of force must be forward looking. It must seek to improve the situation in Sarajevo and contribute to the pressure on the parties to end the war. Those are not easy options and no one in the House believes them to be so. Any decision must take careful account of the importance of the humanitarian operation and the safety of the civilians and soldiers running the operation. Those are the objectives that NATO must consider tomorrow in determining how to proceed.

Mr. John Smith : On the precise point about the threat to Sarajevo, will the Government support a proposition that an ultimatum should be issued to the Serbs to withdraw the weapons of attack from striking distance of Sarajevo?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday made a clear recommendation that

"The aim should be to bring about the immediate lifting of the siege of Sarajevo, using all means necessary, including the use of air power"

but it then went on and looked to the North Atlantic Council to carry forward that process. That decision was precisely in line with the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Sir Donald Thompson : Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how he was received by textile workers at Firth's in my constituency 10 days ago, what their assembled customers told him and whether he was able to reassure them about the future?

The Prime Minister : It was a most enjoyable visit to Firth's. It is perfectly clear that the company is very successful. Its order book and exports are expanding, and it has invested in the most modern manufacturing equipment for textiles. There was no doubt about the success of that firm in the minds of either its management and work force or its customers who were present on that occasion.

Mr. Ashdown : The Prime Minister's new, more muscular mood on Bosnia is welcome, but may I remind him that it is now four weeks since he told us of his determination to open Tuzla airport as soon as possible, and probably five weeks since the launching of the Serb spring offensive aimed at obliterating what remains of Bosnia? Can he tell us of any progress in opening Tuzla airport to which he has set his hand?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that matter is under consideration within the United Nations and NATO. It is not a unilateral matter for the British Government. The United Nations, with NATO's support, is taking a firm line over the roulement of troops at Srebrenica, the opening of Tuzla airport, confronting obstacles to road convoys, warning off the Croatian army and demanding an end to the bombardment of Sarajevo. All those important and difficult matters are being considered by the commanders on the ground on a day-to-day basis. They are receiving the full support that they need at a political level.

I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would stop pretending, as he does so often, that there is some easy, magical and painless solution to a problem that is intensely difficult for the commanders on the ground and everybody concerned with the operation. The right hon. Gentleman has been consistent in one respect only : he has been consistently wrong on every course that he has advocated since this dreadful conflict began.

Mr. Paice : When my right hon. Friend was a banker, before he came to the House, how would he have reacted if a business man had presented him with a business plan that concentrated on building up overheads, increasing jobs at the expense of output and maximising wages whether or not the business could afford them? How would he react to a business plan with the social chapter, a minimum wage and returning to all the problems that beset business in the 1970s?

The Prime Minister : I suspect that I would have reacted to it in exactly the same way as business men will today. They are perfectly clear about the business environment that they want. They want minimum interference from the European Community, the Government or local government. They want low inflation, the lowest possible interest rates and the right business environment. They do not want a 1960s-style business plan.


Q2. Dr. Lynne Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 February.

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

Dr. Jones : Has the Prime Minister seen the report in The Times today that John Cahill, the chairman of British Aerospace who has just sold Rover to BMW, is to get a pay-out of nearly £10 million after only two years with the company? How can that be justified?

The Prime Minister : That is not a matter for me.

Hon. Members : Resign.

Madam Speaker : Order.


Q3. Sir Peter Fry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 February.

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

Sir Peter Fry : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best business plan for Britain is an economy with inflation at 1.9 per cent., the lowest rate of corporation tax in the European Community and the lowest interest rate for many years? Does he also agree that the business plan put forward by the Leader of the Opposition would put British business straight into the hands of the receivers?

The Prime Minister : We all know of, and see regularly, the hostility of Opposition Members to business but the economic conditions that we have now put in place--low inflation, low interest rates and low corporation tax--are precisely what business wants. The Governor of the Bank of England said the other day that economic prospects today are better than at any time in his professional career. We have the basics of the economy right and British business needs the opportunity to build on those basics to create the prosperity, the growth and the jobs that everyone in the country wants.


Q4. Ms Eagle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 February.

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

Ms Eagle : If the Prime Minister does not believe that a £10 million pay-off to somebody who has just sold our last remaining car industry to foreign competitors is not a matter for him, will he please explain to the House precisely what is a matter for him?

The Prime Minister : I am intrigued at what the two hon. Ladies say. What intervention and control would the Opposition propose?


Q5. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 8 February.

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

Mr. Gill : The House will be aware of today's announcement that British Telecom intends to extend its cheaper afternoon rate to peak periods. In welcoming those price reductions, will my right hon. Friend agree that they would have been impossible under a Labour Government because of the Labour party's pathological opposition to privatisation and competition?

Mr. Major : My hon. Friend is entirely right. Those changes have come about because we decided, against the opposition of Labour Members, to privatise the industry. I gather that many calls will now be 25 per cent. cheaper. That is very good news for everyone who uses the telephone. By privatising British Telecom, increasing competition and introducing a proper sense of regulation, we have helped to make the services more efficient, more reliable and better value for everyone who uses them. That is what happens when one leaves the private sector to run things, when one does not seek to over-regulate and over-control in every respect.