Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1991 - PMQT 21st March 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 21st March 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Eastham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 March.

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 will be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Eastham : Noting that unemployment has gone up by more than 300,000 in 10 months, to the highest rate in any EC country, may I ask why we have the second deepest recession in 10 years when we have our own coal, our own natural gas and our own North sea oil bringing in £90 billion? The CBI is telling us that by the end of the year 2.25 million people will be unemployed and that unemployment will increase further next year. What is the Prime Minister's excuse for that?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will also have seen the very strong welcome from the CBI for the measures in the Budget that will help the cash flow and reduce the taxation of businesses. He will also be aware of the unprecedented amount of help available for people who are unemployed. We have geared that particularly to the areas where unemployment is most severe.

Sir Timothy Raison : Will my right hon. Friend consider the grave famine that is developing in Africa? Will he make sure that we and the European Community deliver quickly as much aid as possible?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development is studying precisely that matter at the moment.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister agree that Question Time is an appropriate moment for him to apologise to taxpayers for the £14.3 billion that his Government have wasted on the poll tax fiasco?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should explain his phoney figures, for he will know that included in his figure is £3 billion for non- payment created partly by his own side urging people not to pay and that the vast majority of the remainder is money that is available to provide extra money for local services. Would he remove that extra money for local services?

Mr. Kinnock : It was the Prime Minister who described the poll tax as uncollectable when he spoke to his hon. Friends earlier this week. After wasting all that money, why is he not big enough simply to say sorry?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman did not listen. The money that he has counted as wasted is money that will be available for local services. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that money is wasted on local services he should make it clear.

Mr. Batiste : Will my right hon. Friend try to find time to reschedule his visit to the Vickers tank factory in Leeds which he had to cancel a few weeks ago due to bad weather? Is he aware that many people there would like to hear from him, following his visit to the Gulf, how the Challenger tank performed and would like to express to him the urgent need for the Government to come to a decision on the replacement contract for the Chieftain tank?

The Prime Minister : I was certainly sorry-- [Interruption.] --that I was unable to make that particular visit. [Interruption.] I am always happy to spread a little amity in the Chamber, so I repeat to my hon. Friend that I am sorry that I was unable to visit the factory, when I would have been able to tell the workers that the Challenger tank performed absolutely magnificently in the Gulf--far above the expectations that anyone could have had of it. I hope that we shall soon be able to draw all the lessons that we need from that and make a decision on Challenger 2.


Q2. Mr. Sillars : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 March.

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

Mr. Sillars : Is the Prime Minister aware that the toast in Scotland tonight will be to absent enemies--Thatcher and the poll tax-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. We use the constituency name here.

Mr. Sillars : It will not really matter in Scotland, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : But it does here.

Mr. Sillars : I am talking about the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and the poll tax. When will the Prime Minister acknowledge his personal political debt to the non-payers who destroyed the poll tax by making it uncollectable? If we had not done so, it would still be here, she would still be here and he would not be the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : In what he has just said the hon. Gentleman makes clear precisely why his party is so unattractive and undesirable. I am sure that his remarks are not remotely the feelings of the people of Scotland.

Mr. Tracey : Will my right hon. Friend sympathise with the disgust of the great majority of the British public at those people who have not paid their share towards local government finance? Will he give an undertaking that people who have not paid their community charge will be pursued?

The Prime Minister : I certainly will. My hon. Friend might share my view that the disgust is redoubled at those people in elected positions who have perhaps persuaded people not to pay.


Q3. Mr. Kennedy : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 March.

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

Mr. Kennedy : As regards the scheme for a reduction in overall poll tax figures, announced by the Chancellor in the Budget statement this week which has become known, I gather, as the Ribble Valley rebate, will the Prime Minister explain why those who will benefit most are those best able to pay and why the people who are still on rebates in the lowest category of income, by the Government's definition, will not enjoy the same degree of reduction from the real poll tax figure which they have to pay? Can that possibly be just?

The Prime Minister : I would not have expected such a stupid question from the hon. Gentleman. Even he should recognise that one cannot give a rebate to people who are not expected to pay in the first place.

Mr. Burt : Should not the real apologies in local government come from the spendthrift Labour councils which have broken ceiling after ceiling and from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen who still refuse to spell out their proposals to control local authority finance?

The Prime Minister : Of course, they will not spell out their proposals. They do not know what they are. They are still dithering.


Q4. Mr. Lofthouse : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 March.

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

Mr. Lofthouse : Does the Prime Minister recall that on nine occasions he supported the poll tax legislation through the House and cast his vote accordingly? Does he now regret that? If he had his time again, would he give such strong personal support to that legislation?

The Prime Minister : I indicated clearly throughout the debates on the community charge that I thought that the principle was correct. The hon. Gentleman will know our new proposals in a matter of moments and he might reserve judgment until then.

Mr. Lester : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from what Opposition Members say, the greatest contribution that this place makes to society is that we all believe in the rule of law and in the ways in which one can change laws within the democratic framework, not by protesting or refusing to pay the poll tax?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the principle of what my hon. Friend said. However, I think that he was being over-generous when he said that everyone in the House believes that. Clearly, some Opposition Members do not.


Q5. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 March.

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

Mr. Williams : Does the Prime Minister recall that in the 1989 autumn statement he predicted that inflation would be down to 5.5 per cent. at the end of last year and that he revised that figure to 7.25 per cent. in the last Budget? In fact, it turned out to be over 10 per cent. What credibility should we give the Chancellor's forecast that inflation will fall to 4 per cent. by the end of the year when the rise in average earnings is 9 per cent., electricity prices are to go up by 13 per cent., water charges are to go up by 16 per cent. and petrol will rise by 20p a gallon?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is accurate in saying that inflation is currently higher than I expected it to be. However, he will also know that it is not just my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's forecast that inflation is falling dramatically. That forecast is shared by almost every independent forecaster and I think that the hon. Gentleman will see the accuracy of it in the months to come.


Q6. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 March.

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

Mr. Bellingham : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the part played by small firms in turning west Norfolk into an economic success story? Is he aware that during the past few weeks they have lobbied hard for various Budget measures? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Chancellor listened to them and that Tuesday's Budget was an outstanding Budget for small businesses?

The Prime Minister : It certainly was an outstanding Budget for small businesses and my hon. Friend, who has a long-standing interest in them, is in a good position to judge that. His view was reflected by the National Federation of Self Employed and Small Businesses, which described my right hon. Friend's Budget as

"one to bring a smile to small businesses."

That is the clearest possible illustration of the way in which small businesses have accepted the Budget.


The Gulf

Q7. Mr. Corbyn : To ask the Prime Minister what further plans he has to visit the Gulf region.

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

Mr. Corbyn : That is rather strange since the question was about the Gulf.

The Prime Minister : I have no immediate plans to do so-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Corbyn : I am quite good at lip-reading and I assume that the Prime Minister said that he was not preparing to go to the Gulf region again. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister should visit the Gulf region and assess the results of the war. There were 150,000 casualties and deaths, there is martial law in Kuwait and environmental destruction throughout the region. It is the product of arms sales. Does the Prime Minister consider that all the money that has been spent by the Government on the Gulf war compares unfavourably with the miserly figure of £28 million spent on the African famine? Should not the right hon. Gentleman now create peace in the Gulf and give resources to solve the African famine?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman in his litany missed out one or two material facts--the liberation of Kuwait for a start. He also missed out the fact that the Iraqis were murdering Kuwaitis, dismantling Kuwait, damaging the environment and committing unpardonable sins. I very much regret that the hon. Gentleman does not recall that.


Engagements

Q8. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 21 March.

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

Mr. Carrington : The proposal in the Budget to establish high street share shops is greatly welcomed by all of us who want shares in public companies to be more widely held by the public at large. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that high street share shops must conform to all the provisions of the Financial Services Act?

The Prime Minister : I confirm that to my hon. Friend. The proposed high street share shops will be subject to the Financial Services Act. That will certainly be made clear and I very much hope that this new way of distributing shares will be successful.