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1994 - PMQT 3rd March 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 3rd March 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Kashmir

Q1. Mr. Cox : To ask the Prime Minister how many independent observers have been allowed by the Indian authorities to visit the Indian occupied area of Kashmir since his visit last year.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : A number of independent observers have visited Kashmir since January 1993. They include parliamentarians, jurists, diplomats, journalists and human rights groups. The Indian Government have also recently agreed to a visit by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Mr. Cox : I note that reply. Is the Prime Minister aware, however, that the Indian Government are reluctant to allow independent observers to visit the occupied area? Indeed, they refused to allow an all-party group from the House to go there.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the forthcoming visit of the Indian Prime Minister gives him an opportunity to make known to that gentleman the deep revulsion felt by many hon. Members about the on-going attacks and brutality perpetrated by the Indian security forces against men, women and children in occupied Kashmir? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will make that known?

The Prime Minister : I look forward to Prime Minister Rao's visit to this country. We have excellent relations with the Indian Government, and I look forward to discussing a range of matters with him. As for access for independent national groups, we have encouraged the Indian Government to allow independent access to India. There have been steps towards greater openness in recent months, and I thoroughly welcome that.

Mr. Jessel : Is this not just one more attempt by Opposition Members to wreck Britain's excellent relationship with a most friendly Commonwealth country? Will my right hon. Friend not only welcome India's own decision to set up a human rights commission but remind all the independent observers that terrorists are murderers, and that the most important human right is the right to stay alive?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend says, we have an excellent relationship with the Indian Government, both politically and in terms of a greatly increased flow of two-way trade with India. As for my hon. Friend's second point, I think that we shall soon have a report from the Indian human rights commission, and I look forward to that. I understand that it will deal with a wide range of issues that have been drawn to the commission's attention.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. O'Hara : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 March.

The Prime Minister : 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. O'Hara : Does the Prime Minister share the President of the Board of Trade's low opinion of the legal advice offered by the Attorney- General?

The Prime Minister : That is not the position of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend welcome the news that nearly 2 million North Western electricity board--NORWEB--customers are to benefit from a 6 per cent. cut in the price of their electricity from 1 April? Coming on top of a cut of nearly 2 per cent. last summer, does that not prove that privatisation works?

The Prime Minister : I believe that that is certainly the case. There have been significant reductions in fuel prices in recent years, and I welcome that.

Mr. John Smith : Madam Speaker-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. What a total waste of valuable time in Prime Minister's questions.

Mr. John Smith : Concerning the excessive pay awards of top executives, does the Prime Minister agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer's comments today, or does he maintain his own response of a few weeks ago, that it is not a matter for him?

The Prime Minister : I set out in the House, from memory, to the former right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent and, before that, to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), my view that excessive pay awards are not justified. I equally maintain the point that that is a matter between employer and employee or company and management rather than a matter for the Government, but my personal view remains as first set out in the House to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook in 1991.

Mr. John Smith : The Prime Minister has clearly said contradictory things, because he told us that it was not a matter for him. Whatever he says, does he not notice that those top executives do not pay a blind bit of notice? They carry on regardless, relentlessly increasing their pay and their perks. At the same time, pay restraint is imposed on millions of people with modest incomes. Is that not inconsistent, unfair and hypocritical?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor and I have said precisely the same thing on that issue and, as I indicated to the right hon. and learned Gentleman and he might have the grace to acknowledge, I first said it in 1991.

Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister yet appreciate the anger felt throughout the country at massive pay increases for top people occurring at the same time as massive tax increases for the rest of the country? Why are the Government so soft and indulgent on the very rich but hard and unfair on everyone else?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has returned to the same point three times after having two answers, I will now quote to him what I said to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook in 1991 :

"I made it perfectly clear when I was Chief Secretary that I do not believe that excessive salary increases are right."--[ Official Report , 1991 ; Vol. 193, c. 857.]

That still remains my view. [Interruption.] For the hon. Gentleman who shouts, "What are you going to do about it?" may I say that this happens to be a free capitalist country, in which companies determine their wages. I take it from this that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would himself interfere with companies in the payment of employees and the payment of management by the companies themselves. If that is so, it blows out of the water any of the Labour party's modernising ideas of understanding free enterprise.

Mr. Churchill : Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week's sacking of 7,000 British soldiers from the Army is deeply regrettable, and indeed mistaken, bearing in mind that the British commander of the UN force in Bosnia has now repeated three times his request for more troops? Can my right hon. Friend now give a positive response to that request by a British general in the field?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, we set out the position in "Options for Change" some time ago and the redundancies that were announced--

Mr. Churchill indicated dissent .

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend may shake his head, but it happens to be a matter of fact and record. We set out the decisions on "Options for Change", and this measure implemented that decision, taken some time ago.

As for the request for troops in Bosnia, my hon. Friend will know that we have a significant contingent already in Bosnia, who have done magnificent work. If a request is made to the United Kingdom, we would of course consider providing more forces proportionately as part of a wider international effort.

Mr. Ashdown : May we take it from that answer that our Prime Minister and our Government really are prepared to let go to waste the peace that has been obtained by General Rose in Sarajevo during the past two weeks, rather than this country backing a request, made by a British general and supported by his own chiefs of staff, for more troops to ensure that that peace succeeds?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman yet again mistakes the position. It was the British Government who moved troops in to Sarajevo to ensure that the peace negotiated by General Rose and the corralling of weapons brought about by General Rose was able to be properly monitored. For once, the right hon. Gentleman might have the grace to acknowledge what we have done rather than carp and criticise inaccurately.

Mr. French : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the British economy is to remain competitive in the future, it is essential that our children are trained now in the skills that they will require in the 21st century? Will he therefore join me in welcoming the announcement of the 12 technology schools, one of which is in my constituency and one of which I attended?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right in his diagnosis. We certainly face greater competition in the years ahead and we will certainly need greater skills. One of the ways of obtaining them is the greater diversity in education brought about by the new technology colleges. I hope that many other schools and businesses will follow the lead set by those colleges.


Q3. Dr. Wright : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 March.

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

Dr. Wright : In the light of the Prime Minister's emphasis on the importance of personal responsibility, does he welcome the clear statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he will resign if his conduct is criticised by Lord Justice Scott's report ? Will the Prime Minister make an equally clear statement and will he expect the same of other Ministers?

The Prime Minister : I have said repeatedly that I propose to make no comment on Lord Justice Scott's report. I propose to make no comment of any sort on Lord Justice Scott's report until he has reported. I set up that report and I gave it very wide terms of reference. I have assured Lord Justice Scott-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Ms Armstrong.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker. I have assured Lord Justice Scott that he will have the power and authority that he needs to complete his report satisfactorily, and I believe it follows from that that I should make no comment until I have that report.


Q4. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 March.

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

Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend welcome recent surveys which show that council tax bills this year will rise less than the rate of inflation? Does he agree that the revenue support grant settlement was correct in estimating needs for local councils, and is not that in stark contrast to the waste, inefficiency and nepotism of many Labour-controlled councils, especially that in the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister : I believe that the news that council tax bills are on average likely to rise less than the rate of inflation is very welcome indeed and I believe that it shows that the local government settlement was very finely judged. That is, of course, very different from what was said by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) who predicted at the time that the council tax would rise by four times the level of inflation. Clearly, he was scaremongering or wrong, or both.

Mr. Galloway : Does the Prime Minister have a message for Nabil Shaath, the chief Palestinian negotiator, who is in Parliament this afternoon? In view of the fact that, since last Friday's massacre in Hebron, the Israeli army has shot down more people than were shot by the murderer in the mosque, will the Prime Minister support a protection force made up from the United Nations or at least the co-sponsors of the peace process to protect the Palestinians under illegal Israeli occupation?

The Prime Minister : I think that violence from any source in that powder keg of the middle east is to be regretted, whether it comes from the dreadful massacre at Hebron or any other source. There are some United Nations observers there and I believe that they are doing an extremely good job. I had the opportunity of discussing that with the Secretary-General just the other day. What would be most helpful would be if, as soon as it seemed politically practicable, the two sides were to sit down again and continue with the negotiations that have made more progress in the past 18 months than for many years past. I believe that everyone wishes to see a comprehensive peace settlement that will enable the people who live there to live a decent, civilised and safe life.


Q5. Sir John Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 3 March.

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

Sir John Hannam : During his visit to the United States, and remembering his excellent record as a former Minister with responsibility for the disabled, did my right hon. Friend observe the remarkable increase in the number of disabled people in America who are now attaining full, normal employment as a result of President Bush's anti-discrimination legislation? Will my right hon. Friend support our efforts in the House further to remove the barriers facing disabled people?

The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's desire to end discrimination against disabled people. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People to identify further practicable and affordable ways to combat discrimination. There is much that may be done and I have asked my right hon. Friend to examine that matter.