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1991 - PMQT 19th November 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 19th November 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 November.

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.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Has my right hon. Friend seen the excellent report of Lancaster health authority, a copy of which I sent him, showing the immense progress that it has made during the past year--all within its budget? Is he aware of the vast increase since 1979 in the number of hip operations--from 60 to 197--in knee operations--from 16 to 90 --and in cataracts of 216 to 685. Is he aware that when the hospital becomes a trust it will make even more rapid progress being run by local people for local people?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that excellent report to my attention. I think that patients can see that the reforms are working--there are better clinic hours, with evening and out-of-hours clinics, and improvements in service and the patients' environment. Such improvements are taking place in Lancaster and elsewhere, and I have no doubt that they will continue to take place everywhere.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to join me in expressing joy at the release of Terry Waite and Tom Sutherland from their long and terrible captivity? May I also express--as I am sure he will --boundless admiration for the great courage and inner strength shown by the two men and all the other released hostages. Those qualities were brilliantly manifested yet again in the remarkable speech by Terry Waite at RAF Lyneham at lunchtime today. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking everyone, including the service given by the British Government, who have worked and still work to secure the release of hostages? I particularly thank the United Nations Secretary-General and his envoy, Mr. Picco. Does the Prime Minister agree that the statement by Terry Waite's captors that they now recognise that they did wrong and that what they did has served no useful purpose should be understood by all those who engage in the vile practice of taking hostages, anywhere?

The Prime Minister : I agree unreservedly with the right hon. Gentleman's comments and believe that they will be echoed throughout the country. This morning I spoke briefly to Terry Waite while he was on board the aircraft returning home and was able to express the delight that I and the whole country felt at his safe return and at Mr. Sutherland's release. We owe a great deal to the United Nations Secretary-General and to Mr. Picco who have worked tirelessly with others to secure the release of the hostages. In welcoming the release of Mr. Waite and Mr. Sutherland, may I express the hope that none of us forget that there are still more hostages whom we wish to see speedily returned to their homes. The developments that we have seen vindicate the policy of not doing deals with hostage takers. I share the right hon. Gentleman's view about the remarks by the hostage takers. Let us hope that the lesson has been learnt and that never again shall we see this vile practice recur.


Q2. Mr. Colin Shepherd : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 November.

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

Mr. Shepherd : During his busy day, will my right hon. Friend take time to look at the Harris poll in last Sunday's issue of The Observer which clearly showed that two thirds of the people of this country, including 60 per cent. of Labour voters, support my right hon. Friend's policy of reducing the standard rate of tax from 25p to 20p in the pound? Is it not clear that at the next general election the public will face a clear choice between lower personal taxes under a Conservative Government or swingeing increased taxes under Labour?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend certainly puts the point crisply, and I entirely agree with him. Conservatives believe that people should be left with as much as possible of their own money to spend in their own interests, in the clear belief that they will spend it better in their interests than any Government will do for them. We leave it to the Opposition to advocate higher taxes. That is not our view.

Mr. Watson : Is the Prime Minister aware that under the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, to which this country is a signatory, all Governments are obliged to provide asylum to those fleeing from serious human rights violations? Given that the Asylum Bill will deny genuine asylum seekers entry to this country,--[Hon. Members :-- "No".] Yes it will, and the few who slip through the net will be denied legal aid to argue their case. Will the Prime Minister tell us how his Government will meet their obligations under the convention?

The Prime Minister : The Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will not deter genuine asylum seekers. It will prevent the misuse of asylum procedures while protecting the position of genuine refugees. It seeks to accelerate decision making, and it will find strong support in the House and in the country.


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

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

Mr. Evennett : Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will not agree to binding minimum rates of income tax in Europe, which have been advocated by the Socialist Confederation in Europe and are supported by the Labour party in this country?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. If the Labour party has signed European documents to that effect, I hope that it will have the courtesy to place them in the Library so that we may all see them. It is clearly Labour's vision to have high tax rates, but it is the hope of the people of this country to have the lowest possible tax rates, and that is what we shall offer.

Mr. Matthew Taylor : Does the Prime Minister agree that the draft proposals on economic and monetary union and on political union involve far-reaching constitutional change to our present arrangements? If he does, why does he reject the sovereignty of the British people in taking the final decision on the matter in a post-legislative referendum?

The Prime Minister : Because we are a parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Gregory : Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the importance of the popular music industry and its contribution to overseas earnings? Would he echo the view of music lovers everywhere about the release of a certain rap record which shows the statesmanlike approach of the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend's suggestion is tempting, but I have not heard the record and I am not sure whether it ought to be released.


Q4. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 November.

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

Mr. Skinner : Does the Prime Minister recall that, in 1962, when he packed up work to look after his parents, he received unemployment benefit under the terms of the legislation introduced by the Labour Government of 1945-50? Is he aware that anyone placed in that predicament today, and who decided to go on the dole so as to look after his sick parents, would not receive a single penny piece? Who is the person responsible for that change? It is none other than the Prime Minister who, as Minister for Social Security, introduced measures to prevent people from receiving benefit in those circumstances. Coming from a man who claims to be in favour of the classless society, is that not hypocrisy?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should, for once, get his facts straight and stick to them. I remind him that great improvements have been made not only in the amount of assistance that is available to people who are unemployed, but in the amount of assistance to ensure that people receive training so that they can get back into work. When the last Labour Government left office-- [Interruption] --there were 6,000 training jobs. There are now 350,000.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us settle down.

Mr. Gale : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in sharp contrast to the open-door policy apparently espoused by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and his party, the measures contained in the Asylum Bill will be fair and of great benefit to genuine asylum seekers?

The Prime Minister : Yes, I am happy to confirm that. It is necessary to provide a proper asylum law to make sure that genuine refugees can be dealt with speedily and adequately. Without the Asylum Bill, that would no longer be the case.


Q5. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 November.

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

Mr. Barnes : Why is it that £22.50 is spent on advertising and publicity for each expatriate voter who chooses to record his vote in this country, while only one tenth of a penny is spent in the United Kingdom encouraging people to vote? Is this one of the reasons why 1 million people are missing off the electoral register? What does the Prime Minister intend to do between now and a general election to put those 1 million people back on the register?

The Prime Minister : Both at home and abroad, the intention is to ensure that the people who are entitled to vote are aware of that fact. The hon. Gentleman should ask himself why he is so keen to see people who are entitled to vote not able to do so.


Q6. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 November.

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

Mr. Arnold : Has my right hon. Friend noted the vote of parents in Gravesham, in the case of one school by a margin of nine to one, to take control over the management of their schools through grant-maintained status? Has he also noted the Labour party's policy proposal to reverse the decision of the parents and to claw back the education funds concerned to a centralised bureaucracy?

The Prime Minister : There is nothing surprising in the Labour party's policies on that. It dislikes choice and parents having authority and power. We are determined to give both choice and power back to parents and that is why more schools are becoming grant maintained. After the general election, an avalanche of schools will seek to become grant maintained.


Q7. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 November.

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

Mr. Dunnachie : In what circumstances would the Prime Minister contemplate using nuclear weapons?

The Prime Minister : The Government's position has always been clear --nuclear weapons are there as a deterrent. The difference between our position and that of the Labour party is that people accept that we would be prepared to use nuclear weapons and know that Labour Members would not be, so they would not have a deterrent. That is why the Opposition's defence policy is incredible.


Q8. Sir Anthony Durant : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 19 November.

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

Sir Anthony Durant : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reduction of the inflation rate to 3.7 per cent. is extremely good news for business, for householders and for those on a fixed income, and will he continue the policy of reducing the inflation rate?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that that is our intention. The present inflation rate is, of course, precisely one half of the inflation rate when it was at its very lowest--just briefly--under the previous Labour Government.

Rev. Martin Smyth : This nation has been a nation of volunteers. How can we encourage volunteering if we cut community volunteering and the numbers engaged in the territorial volunteer reserves?

The Prime Minister : We are examining and consulting on the particular position of the Territorial Army. As for volunteering generally, the hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a vast increase in volunteering in the whole range of voluntary services in the last decade. That has been a continuing trend. I welcome that and we encourage it.