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1991 - PMQT 16th July 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 16th July 1991. John MacGregor responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Trotter : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : I have been asked to reply My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is hosting the economic summit.

Mr. Trotter : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many members of the electricians' trade union on Tyneside play a great part in the economic success of our region? That union is not tied to out-of-date practices. Did my right hon. Friend know that Eric Hammond had recently warned his members of the dire consequences of socialist policy and does he agree that those consequences should be made known to all trade union members?

Mr. MacGregor : I think that all trade union members are becoming increasingly aware of them. Eric Hammond was talking about the minimum wage policy, which he said would

"cause industrial unrest, discourage training, harm the economy, put more people on the dole and create a cycle whereby inflation continues to rise."

No wonder Opposition Ministers do not want to hear what a trade union leader has said. That is only one in a long line of devastating indictments of Labour's minimum wage policy. It is beginning to look like Napoleon's retreat from Moscow : bad news and more bad news every day.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to confirm that the Bank of England and the Treasury have known since the publication of the March 1990 Price Waterhouse report that serious irregularities were operating in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International?

Mr. MacGregor : The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Bank took action as soon as it was satisfied that it would have evidence--[Hon. Members-- : "Answer the question."] This is a very important point. It took action as soon as it was satisfied that it would have evidence to support the use of its statutory powers. It cannot act on mere suspicion.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the right hon. Gentleman now confirm that the 1990 Price Waterhouse report said that BCCI was then virtually bankrupt and that hundreds of millions of dollars were being given in unsecured loans? Does he not think that if businesses, individuals and council treasurers had been aware of those conditions, they would then have formed an appropriate opinion on whether to use BCCI? A great deal of hardship and misery might thus have been avoided.

Mr. MacGregor : The point is that the Bank must act according to the Banking Act 1987. Actions under that Act are subject to appeal and the Bank must therefore have evidence that would stand up in court before it does anything. It cannot act on rumours ; it must have good evidence before acting. In this case, it acted as soon as it had such evidence.

Mr. Kinnock : We are not talking about the Bank or the Government acting on the basis of rumours. We are talking about both bodies acting on the basis of a serious report from the auditors. The bank has now closed, 200,000 people have lost all or part of their savings and councils of all political descriptions have lost scores of millions of pounds. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is time that the Government accepted their share of the blame for these conditions instead of trying to shift the blame to the shoulders of people who simply could not have known what was going on in the same way as the Government could?

Mr. MacGregor : There is no question of shifting the blame. On the question of the individuals concerned, the right hon. Gentleman knows that under the deposit protection scheme compensation is paid to depositors up to certain levels of deposit. That gives considerable protection to small depositors. It is essential for the Bank to act on evidence that would stand up in court and it did so as soon as it had that evidence.


Q2. Mr. Charles Wardle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Wardle : Will my right hon. Friend take an early opportunity to reconsider the laws governing prison visits and the number of visitors allowed at any one time so that all 28 Labour Members who agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) about non-payment of the community charge may visit him together in gaol?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend asks an intriguing question, but it has a serious point. Since he raised the matter of the 28 Labour Members, it is worth mentioning that three years ago the Leader of the Opposition said that he would wipe out the Militants once and for all. He failed then, which is why we have called upon him to take action ever since. My hon. Friend has made the good point that the influence of Militant in the Labour party is still strong.

Mr. Rees : Will the Leader of the House bring to the Prime Minister's notice the serious allegations made in The Guardian today about a "World in Action" programme which reported the comments of a former member of the Joint Intelligence Committee and the fact that serious matters are not brought to the attention of Cabinet Ministers or Parliament? They are serious allegations which should be investigated. Will he ask the Prime Minister, when he has finished today, to institute an inquiry, because such allegations cast doubt on matters that should not be in question?

Mr. MacGregor : I have not seen that "World in Action" programme, but I shall arrange for it to be looked at and will draw the right hon. Gentleman's point to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.


Q.3 Sir Michael Neubert : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Sir Michael Neubert : Will my right hon. Friend find an opportunity to get a message to the Prime Minister at the economic summit to ask him to express regret at the assertion revealed today in The Sun that the election of Mr. Bush to the Presidency was based on a disgraceful campaign of slurs and attacks? Those assertions are apparently made in a letter from the general secretary of the Labour party.

Mr. MacGregor : I have seen the report and I hope that it is not true. If it is true, it is a disgraceful slur and I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition would wish to have it withdrawn.

Ms. Walley : With so many international leaders meeting in London this week, will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to tell the House why his Government have no policy on British shipping? Now that the House has been denied the opportunity to debate and vote on this matter, will he tell us why he is not giving the support to British shipping that other countries enjoy?

Mr. MacGregor : There already is support for British shipping, but it was made clear in one of the debates last night that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was considering proposals put forward during that debate.


Q4. Mr. Knowles : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Knowles : Will my right hon. Friend ensure that when he sees the Prime Minister--

Mr. Tony Banks : Will he recognise him?

Mr. Knowles : During the Group of Seven conference and discussions with President Gorbachev, will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister make it clear that the Baltic states have not been forgotten, that none of the G7 countries has ever accepted the Soviet conquest of those three states and that that must be a starting point for any discussions about aid and investment?

Mr. MacGregor : I certainly take note of my hon. Friend's point.

Dr. Kim Howells : Is the Leader of the House aware that at this morning's annual general meeting of British Airways, Lord King announced that, because of the appalling incompetence of the Secretary of State for Transport in his dealings with American airlines, British Airways is considering selling off all but its core operations, including an aero overhaul plant in my constituency which employs 1,000 men and women? What is he going to do to prevent such a calamity for south Wales?

Mr. MacGregor : I certainly reject the allegation about my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The whole House knows of the way in which he has conducted these matters.


Q5. Mr. William Powell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Powell : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to re-read the excellent speech made a few days ago by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the future of our education system and will he pay special attention to the passage which deals with the future of city technology colleges? Can we expect early action by the Government to ensure a great increase in the number of CTCs?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I thought that it was an admirable speech which showed the tremendous progress that has been made under our education policies. My hon. Friend makes it clear that one programme--only one among many--is that for city technology colleges. There are now 13 in operation or about to be in operation and two more in the pipeline. They are undoubtedly making a big impact in inner-city areas by extending technology and involving industry and commerce. My right hon. Friend mentioned two other ways in which the programme can be carried forward--allowing local education authorities to invest in CTCs and allowing grant-maintained CTCs. It is worth pursuing both ideas and I am sure that we shall do so as soon as legislative time permits.