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1994 - PMQT 17th February 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 17th February 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Welsh : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 February.

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. Welsh : Does the Prime Minister accept that the withdrawal of guns from Sarajevo is not the end of the story if they are freed for use elsewhere in Bosnia? Does he accept reports from one of my constituents that Bihac has been under constant shellfire since the day after the Sarajevo massacre, that 18 people died in a direct hit on a hospital last Monday and that there is hand-to-hand fighting? In wishing him success in Sarajevo, can I ask him what follows from that?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is entirely right that, although Sarajevo is central to our concerns at the moment, there are many other areas of grave difficulty besides Sarajevo. The only satisfactory conclusion that we will get is by pursuing the political negotiations to achieve a satisfactory, agreed political settlement. Those political negotiations will proceed. The United States is clearly going to take a higher profile than previously in the peace negotiations and that will be extremely welcome.


Q2. Sir Ralph Howell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 February.

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

Sir Ralph Howell : In view of the Government's excellent record of and commitment to safeguarding the value of pensions, is it not remarkable that last night the Opposition voted against uprating? Is this not a case of fine words and weasel actions?

The Prime Minister : I think that my hon. Friend is right about the vote yesterday. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. This is enormously time-consuming. I urge the House to be quiet.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is still right in what he said a moment or so ago. We shall judge Opposition Members by their deeds and not just by their words, and last night they were in the wrong Lobby.

Mr. John Smith : Can the Prime Minister tell us why, in his article in today's Daily Express entitled "What I mean by Back to Basics", there is no reference whatsoever to taxation? Is this deliberate or accidental?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well--for I have told him from this Dispatch Box on previous occasions-- that "back to basics" runs right across the whole of Government policy, including the economy. He will know that, as a result of the sensible economic policies that we have been following, we now have growth unmatched by other countries across Europe.

Mr. John Smith : If "back to basics" covers all these things, why, in the article, is there no reference to taxation? I remind the Prime Minister that, speaking to a rally on 7 April--two days before the general election--he told his audience :

"More tax cuts for all : that is our basic Conservative belief." Why did such a basic belief disappear suddenly?

The Prime Minister : The reality is that the Conservative party is the one which cuts taxes, and it always has been. Not even the right hon. and learned Gentleman can conceive of any circumstances in which, or any occasion when, taxation would be lower under a Labour Government than under a Conservative Government.

Mr. John Smith : Is not the truth that the Prime Minister was so gravely embarrassed by the duplicity of his Administration before the election and by their incompetence since the election that he dared not even refer to taxation in his article on "back to basics"? The right hon. Gentleman, in his article, goes on to claim--perhaps understandably--that this is not a moral crusade, but he does say that it has a moral dimension. Does not that moral dimension include telling the people the truth about tax?

The Prime Minister : Over the last 14 years, the Conservative party has cut tax after tax after tax in Budget after Budget. What did the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) have to say? He said :

"The Budget decisions the Conservatives made in the 1980s" those that cut taxes

"were completely unacceptable."

The hon. Gentleman is nodding and confirming that those tax cuts were unacceptable. I am delighted, for we now know that the Opposition are not in favour of tax cuts, even when the opportunity presents itself. That can mean one thing and one thing only : the Opposition thought then that tax cuts were unacceptable, and they have no intention of cutting taxes in the future.

Mr. Quentin Davies : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in this country there is very widespread recognition of the fact that his decision that we should join in the ultimatum to the warring factions in Bosnia was a very difficult one, was characteristically courageous and, in the circumstances, was absolutely right? Will he give the House an assurance that if we have to take military action our troops will receive all the back-up support and air cover that they require? Does he share my conviction that, if called upon to act, our forces will behave with all the bravery and professionalism that they have demonstrated on similar occasions?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt that the British contingent of UNPROFOR has performed with the highest distinction and I am certain that it will continue to do so. The United Kingdom and a number of other countries have received several further requests from the United Nations. We are able to meet some, but not all of them. The most immediate is for help in consolidating and monitoring the ceasefire at Sarajevo. The Government agreed this morning to provide some urgent assistance. Two companies of the Coldstream guards will be redeployed from central Bosnia to help in the demilitarisation of Sarajevo. We shall also provide a mortar-locating troop of around 60 soldiers equipped with Cymbeline radar. The United Nations also asked for additional battalions from-- [Interruption.] I should have thought that the House might be interested in what is happening in Bosnia. The UN also asked for additional battalions for UNPROFOR from several countries. As Britain already had a large contingent there, we decided not to send an additional battalion as part of the general-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister is answering a-- [Interruption.] Order. [Hon. Members :-- "It is a statement."] Order. I am prepared to name people today. The Prime Minister is giving a serious answer and I want us to hear the end of it in silence.

The Prime Minister : The House may not have heard the last few words that I said. I made it clear that although the United Nations has asked for additional battalions from several countries, as we already had a large contingent there, we decided not to send an extra battalion as part of the general reinforcement.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that answer will be taken as a "no" to General Rose's request for further troops in Sarajevo? Does he realise that will be heard as music to the ears of the Serbs? Should the proper response of the British Government to a British general who asks for the resources to do the job that we have asked him to do, not be if, but and maybe, but yes?

The Prime Minister : Due to the noise from Opposition Members, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said a moment ago. I told him-- [Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will listen now and not ask such stupid questions in future. I said that the most immediate need is to help in consolidating and monitoring the Sarajevo ceasefire. That is what General Rose asked for and I said that the Government agreed this morning to provide that extra assistance. Two companies of the Coldstream guards will be redeployed from central Bosnia to help the demilitarisation. That is what I told the House a moment ago and, based on that, the right hon. Gentleman's question is an absurdity.

Mr. Bates : Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to see the latest edition of "Teesside 2000", which gives details of some 20 separate investments totalling some £3.5 billion in the Teesside area? Is not that good news for Teesside and an adequate demonstration of how the Government's policy of Government agencies and the private sector are succeeding in regenerating the north-east, whereas the policy of state hand-outs to inefficient nationalised industries from the Opposition failed?

The Prime Minister : There is no doubt about the attractiveness of Teesside and of other parts of the United Kingdom to investment from overseas. Of course, that relates to a number of things--the general economic situation, the tax structure and the fact that investment in the country is welcome and is producing a good return for overseas investors.


Q3. Mr. Denham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 February.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Denham : The Prime Minister is paid £78,292. Is he aware that only people who are paid more than £64,000 a year will have seen their tax bill fall under the Conservatives? Has it ever occurred to the Prime Minister that if people in his position were prepared to pay a little more tax towards funding the national health service, millions of tax losers would not be facing 50p on their prescriptions?

The Prime Minister : Even the hon. Gentleman should have heard about the vastly increased resources that taxpayers are providing for the national health service. When the hon. Gentleman's party left office, the expenditure on the national health service was about £8 billion. It is now well over £35 billion. That has come as a result of increased investment in the national health service by a Conservative Government.

Mr. David Atkinson : Following my right hon. Friend's successful visit to Moscow earlier in the week, will he assure the House that everything possible is being done to encourage and assist the Russian people to become good democrats and to avoid the fascist, ultra-nationalist policies of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his party in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia in two years' time?

The Prime Minister : We have to continue to do all that we can to build the relationship between the western nations and Russia. I reached a series of agreements with President Yeltsin during the visit over the past couple of days that contribute towards that. There is no doubt about the scale of assistance that is going to help Russia deal with its economic problems. I believe that it is right to provide that assistance ; right for Russia, and right for us because it is in our interest to ensure that Russia remains, not only in the short term, but permanently, a good neighbour to the democratic nations of western Europe.


Q4. Mr. Salmond : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 February.

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

Mr. Salmond : Does the Prime Minister recall the bit in the taking stock initiative about the Union being a partnership? If so, is he aware that British Gas has announced the locations of the headquarters of its five new business units? None is going to Wales and none to Scotland, which supplies the bulk of the gas; all five are going to England. Is the Prime Minister prepared to condemn the unequal distribution of headquarters units by a so-called British company--or is that something else which is not a matter for him?

The Prime Minister : I shall no more condemn that individual action than I would wish to condemn the actions of many companies that have specifically decided to invest in Scotland over the past decade, to such an extent that Scotland now receives more inward investment, and has made greater changes in its quality of life over the past decade, than in any previous decade.