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1994 - PMQT 19th April 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 19th April 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Garnier : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 April.

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. Garnier : During his many meetings with business leaders, has my right hon. Friend ever been asked by even one of them to introduce a minimum statutory wage?

The Prime Minister : No, in my many meetings I have not yet been asked to introduce a statutory minimum wage, but a number of employers have expressed concern at the prospect. They believe that it would cost jobs and harm competitiveness, and I agree.

Mr. John Smith : Given the threat of fatal catastrophe that now hangs over Gorazde and the undoubted confusion that sadly attends the efforts of the international community in Bosnia, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that a clear statement of future policy objectives is urgently needed. I propose that they should include a redoubling of efforts to secure a ceasefire at Gorazde ; the reaffirmation by this and other countries of their political, military and humanitarian commitment to the area ; and a clear decision by the international community to make safe areas safe, in the knowledge that the United Nations will require to be given sufficient resources to perform that task, but also in the knowledge that those safe areas may offer the only haven to the victims of a brutal civil war.

The Prime Minister : I have a lot of sympathy with much of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. There is no doubt that our objectives in Bosnia have not changed. Last week's setback in Gorazde--as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made clear to the House yesterday, it was a setback for the United Nations--does not alter the fact that we wish to secure a complete ceasefire in Bosnia. It should not be forgotten by the House or others that we have established a ceasefire between the Croat and Bosnian forces in central Bosnia as well as in Sarajevo. However, as latest events have tragically shown, the negotiators have not yet been able to extend that ceasefire elsewhere in Bosnia. At the moment, we are considering both here in the United Kingdom and with our partners precisely what needs to be done next. There will of course be meetings among NATO allies tomorrow.

Mr. John Smith : May I press the right hon. Gentleman on the question of safe areas? Will he undertake to discuss this fully with our partners? The United Nations, having resolved to create safe areas as havens for the victims of war, should resolve to make them possible by committing itself to that purpose and by using the necessary means to achieve it--Britain's contribution included, of course.

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we are concerned, and have been for a long time, to secure, as far as it is practicable for us to do so, the safety of people in areas of Bosnia, in Gorazde or elsewhere. Before we make any blanket assurance, we have to consider whether the practical will, not just in the United Kingdom but in other countries as well, exists to release the resources to enable us to do that. We have to be careful before we make any practical assurances.

Clearly, the objectives that the right hon. and learned Gentleman sets out are objectives that any sensible person would want realised ; but we have to consider what in practice can be done and whether the resources to deliver the objectives set out are likely to be available.

Mr. Tracey : Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the unacceptably high levels of local council debt, particularly among councils controlled by the Opposition parties? I refer to Liverpool and Manchester and to councils in London such as Islington, whose debt amounts to £5,500 per adult in the council's area. That adds unacceptably to the council tax. What will the Government do about it?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend turns to a point that will be much in evidence during the local authority debates and during the whole local election campaign over the next few weeks. Irrespective of the equitable method of funding local authorities, there is no doubt about which local authorities, under what political control, run up substantial debts : we know that those that are in debt are Labour local authorities. We also know that those that do not adequately collect rents are Labour local authorities. I believe that many people will see the connection between the first and the second.

Sir David Steel : Returning to the question of future policy for Bosnia, may I ask the Prime Minister to take this opportunity to make it clear that sanctions against Serbia will not be lifted and will not be open to negotiation until there is a full and secure peace settlement in Bosnia?

The Prime Minister : We have no proposals to change the present sanctions regime, which has been in hand for some time. We have consistently said that the sanctions are in place to try to encourage people to act moderately and reasonably in the future. I have no present proposals to change them.

Sir Ivan Lawrence : Has my right hon. Friend seen that the reported crime rate for over half the police areas in England and Wales is falling? Is not that evidence that the Government's law and order policy is working? And is not the fact that the courts have been imposing longer sentences evidence that, by taking the worst offenders out of circulation, the Home Secretary was right to say that prison works?

The Prime Minister : My hon. and learned Friend is right. There is no doubt about the immense public concern about crime and no doubt about the desire of all parties, in the House and elsewhere, that it should decrease. It has been most encouraging recently to note that, in a number of areas, innovative policing ideas--Bumblebee in the Metropolitan area, but operations in other areas, too--seem to have had a material effect on the crime statistics.

The most encouraging aspect of the statistics released today is the fact that the drop in crime on a quarterly basis appears to be accelerating. These are just one year's figures, and we must view them with a degree of caution, but the trend is certainly more attractive than any for some years.


Q2. Mr. Turner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 April.

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

Mr. Turner : In the excitement of last week's Question Time, the Prime Minister completely failed to answer my question. May I therefore ask it again? In the aftermath of his defeat in the local and European elections, will he continue to limp along with his battle-weary Government, or will he take the honourable path and resign?

The Prime Minister : I look forward to answering the hon. Gentleman's questions for a long time to come.

Mr. Cormack : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the past few days, some 12 foreign correspondents have had their accreditation withdrawn by President Milosevic, including Sky Television's chief correspondent, Mr. van Lynden? Is not that further evidence of the evil nature of the Serbian dictatorship and does not it show that it would be a very good thing if my right hon. Friend could meet Presidents Clinton, Mitterrand and Yeltsin at the earliest opportunity?

The Prime Minister : I know of the expulsions that concern my hon. Friend and I deplore that restriction of press freedom. We have made the Belgrade authorities aware of our views. As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I see no likelihood of an early meeting ; but I assure him that we are in very close touch with each of the Governments and Heads of Government whom he mentioned.


Q3. Mr. Olner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 April.

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

Mr. Olner : Why has not the Prime Minister properly consulted and listened to organisations such as the Royal British Legion and other veteran associations when preparing the events in commemoration of D-day?

The Prime Minister : I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. There has been a great deal of consultation and discussion; indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage met members of the Normandy Veterans Association and the Royal British Legion this morning, and--as the hon. Gentleman may or may not know--Field Marshal Lord Bramall is part of the committee discussing and organising events for D-day.

Mr. Evennett : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the national health service will continue to be available to all, irrespective of age or ability to pay? Will he condemn Opposition Members who are scaremongering, and worrying elderly people in particular? Is not the national health service for everyone in the country who needs health care?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely correct, and many millions of patients who are treated each day can attest to that. It is undoubtedly the policy that the national health service should in no way discriminate on grounds of age in allocating treatment. It is up to the clinicians concerned, in consultation with colleagues, to decide on the appropriate course of treatment for any patient, whatever that patient's age; but any patient, whatever his or her age, is entitled to the treatment that he or she needs under the national health service.


Q4. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 April.

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

Mr. Evans : Will the Prime Minister join me in deploring the decision of SmithKline Beecham--which made a profit of £1.22 billion last year--to close a factory that has stood in St. Helens for more than 100 years, sack 500 workers and transfer their employment to a non-union, low-pay firm in Devon? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me, and with the people of St Helens, that this is the unacceptable face of multinational capitalism?

The Prime Minister : I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I have no detailed knowledge of what has happened with SmithKline Beecham, and I am disinclined to comment on any case of which I have no such knowledge.

Mr. Day : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest threat to the things that we hold dear in this country--such as social services and the national health service--comes from the growth of highly competitive economies in the Pacific basin? Do not our party and my right hon. Friend's approach to Europe provide the only way of dealing with that competition, both for this country and for Europe in general?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. We are now operating in an increasingly competitive world. Nowadays, many parts of the world that were once readily prepared to accept British exports are manufacturing the same goods and competing with us in world markets. Unless we become as competitive as possible and keep that competitiveness, we shall lose jobs, income and influence, both economic and political.


Q5. Mr. Barry Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 April.

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

Mr. Barry Jones : Will the Prime Minister give stronger backing to Britain's manufacturing industries? Will he, for example, give help to the British steel industry in the European Union, where the German, Italian and Spanish Governments are cheating? Does he agree that Britain's steel communities have made their sacrifice in the form of tens of thousands of redundancies and many plant closures and that now is the time for the right hon. Gentleman's Government to back British steel?

The Prime Minister : Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that we have raised a number of cases of suspected illegal subsidies with the Commission --the most recent being that of the bankrupt German company, Saarstahl. The Minister for Industry will raise that case again on Friday in the Industry Council in Luxembourg.

On the more general point raised by the hon. Gentleman, we will continue to press for the fulfilment of existing commitments from the Commission and from member states to end all illegal subsidies in the steel industry. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Commission has a formal obligation to enforce the treaty of Paris and it has undertaken to pursue actively the monitoring commitments of a number of European Community countries.

Mr. Hayes : Will my right hon. Friend congratulate SmithKline Beecham on investing £200 million in Harlow, which is good news for this country and which will be the largest project, after the channel tunnel, in Britain?

The Prime Minister : I see rather earlier than I expected the wisdom of not responding to the question from the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) without having the details of the case in front of me. In view of what has been said by both hon. Gentlemen, I will certainly examine the matter.