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1992 - PMQT 12th May 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 12th May 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Earth Summit

Q1. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister what are the specific objectives of Her Majesty's Government at the Earth summit.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : The Government's specific objectives for the Earth summit are signature of global conventions on climate change and biodiversity ; a statement of principles on forests ; a short "Rio declaration" of environment and development principles ; a comprehensive action plan ; and reinforcement of international institutions dealing with environment and development.

Mr. Hughes : As that was the Prime Minister's first parliamentary answer, will he make it his No. 1 priority this Session to tackle the global environmental crisis? Is he aware that the secret documents that we have seen contain proposals which amount to a watering down of the tough energy-saving commitment and replace specific targets with vague promises, and are to be put to the European Commission tomorrow? Will the Prime Minister ensure that, at the Earth summit and thereafter, tackling the global crisis will be his priority and that of his colleagues on the world stage?

The Prime Minister : This is an important conference--an important priority--and there is a great deal to be done. The political will is there, not just in this country but in countries around the world. It appears that the attendance at the Rio summit will be very high--and very high at Heads of Government level. I must emphasise that what is agreed at the conference is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done. Some people might set their expectations too high. There is bound to be a limited amount of success at Rio. There will be a good deal to be done subsequently in this country, in the European Community, and beyond.

Mr. Lester : If my right hon. Friend gets a chance to watch television, I am sure that in the past two or three days, and certainly this month, he has noticed the beginning of the one world '92 campaign, linking 66 nations' broadcasters throughout Europe as well as the general public in preliminary matters to the Rio conference. On 30 May, it will culminate in a day of action throughout Europe and the tree of life, for which I am sure he has signed his pledge. Will he support all the work that is being done to involve the public in this issue because, however much we feel that it is important, without general public support we shall never get anywhere?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. It needs a commitment by Governments, by which I mean Governments across the world. Little will be gained if some contribute while many others do not. A great deal of commitment by individuals will also be necessary. This may be one of the areas of policy where it is often the individual driving the Government, rather than the reverse, in terms of commitment to the environment. I have little doubt that individuals in this country and beyond will commit themselves to these environmental and desirable aims.


Engagements

Q2. Mr. Janner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 May.

The Prime Minister : 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. Janner : Will the right hon. Gentleman please tell the House the extent to which, in his own opinion, the Parliament of the United Kingdom should surrender sovereignty in the interests of European unity and what role he considers that a British monarch should play in influencing policy and opinion within the European Community?

The Prime Minister : Influencing policy and opinion in the European Community at a political level is a matter for the politicians. That has been a long-established tradition and it remains the position. The position of the sovereignty of this House is a matter which we have discussed on many occasions. The sovereignty of this House is not a matter that is up for grabs--that is perfectly clear. What we have said is that there are areas where we can pool decision making in the general interests of the whole of Europe and in those circumstances it is right to pool decision making, but perhaps one of the most essential parts of the Maastricht agreement was the agreement on subsidiarity--that things must be done on a national level when they can best be done at a national level.

Sir Anthony Grant : While recognising that miscarriages of justice are bound to take place from time to time and must be rectified, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no weakening in the attitude of the Government, of the police or of the courts in the relentless battle against terrorism?

The Prime Minister : I am certainly happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Terrorism is one of the most wicked and evil problems faced by this Government and by Governments across the world. There will be no weakening in our determination to fight terrorism and no weakening in our determination to work with our European partners at a European level to fight terrorism.

Mr. Kinnock : As the Prime Minister rightly says that he wants to sweep away the cobwebs of secrecy, is that a principle that he will be applying to the financing of the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister : The financing of the Conservative party is not a matter for the right hon. Gentleman.


Q3. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 May.

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

Mr. Banks : What representations has the Prime Minister made to President Bush to get the pilots of the A10 tank busters to submit themselves to the inquiry into the deaths of the nine service men killed by the so-called

Madam Speaker : Order. The matter with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing is sub judice. If he can rephrase his question, I will certainly hear him.

Mr. Banks : The Prime Minister will recall in principle terms that President Bush gave assurances to the parents of the service men who were killed that the pilots would come over here for examination. Will he tell us what representations he has made to ensure that President Bush carries out those assurances?

The Prime Minister : As I believe the House has been told on previous occasions, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be drawing the families' letters to the attention of Mr. Cheney, the United States Defence Secretary.

Mrs. Peacock : Now that my right hon. Friend has been returned to Downing Street for a further five-year term, may I invite him--when he is planning his visits--to visit my constituency of Batley and Spen in Yorkshire where he will find much manufacturing prospering as it has been investing during the recession? He would be made most welcome on such a visit.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her invitation and it is certainly one which I shall hope to take up during the course of this Parliament. I share her view about the prospects for manufacturing industry and, in particular, for the new areas of manufacturing which have flourished so much in recent years and which are so often overlooked when people talk about manufacturing in the generality.


Q4. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 May.

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

Mr. Dunnachie : What pressure has the Prime Minister put on President Bush in relation to the British soldiers who were massacred in the friendly fire incident and to fulfil the promise to their relatives? Will he tell them why nothing has been done in that respect? What does he intend to do in the future to bring that sorry state of affairs to an end?

The Prime Minister : I responded to that point a few moments ago, as the hon. Gentleman and the House heard. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that United States officials have discussed the handling of the evidence with the coroner, who has made it clear that he accepted the United States decision not to provide witnesses. That matter has been raised at the highest level with the American Government and Defence Secretary.


Q5. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 May.

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

Mr. Gill : As the first Conservative Member whose name appears on the Order Paper for the first Prime Minister's Question Time of the new Parliament, may I convey the congratulations of all Conservative Members to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on leading our party to its unprecedented fourth election victory? Does my right hon. Friend not agree that his strongly anti-federalist stance was instrumental in securing that general election victory? In view of today's press reports, will he reassure the House that British sovereignty is not "insignificant"?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I said a few moments ago, decisions need to be taken as close to the citizen as possible. That was the principle of subsidiarity that we fought for and obtained in the negotiations at Maastricht. Where the nature of a problem requires a European response, we believe that it should have a European response. That was the balance that we struck, and I believe that it was the right balance.

Mr. Wigley : The Prime Minister has again emphasised the importance of the subsidiarity concept that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people. How will that be applied to the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or is it a principle which starts in Brussels and ends in London?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows that we are one United Kingdom and the Government are determined that we shall remain one United Kingdom.


Q6. Mr. Quentin Davies : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 May.

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

Mr. Davies : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous sense of pleasure, relief and hope in the future generated by our victory at the election under his leadership? [Interruption.] There are obviously some sour grapes on the Opposition side. Does my right hon. Friend agree that after another five years of Conservative Government, instead of this country's performance being measured by how fast we are catching up with Germany, for the first time in 100 years we shall be a model for others in respect of economic performance, enlightened administration of public services, and social peace and cohesion?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I agree with him. We very much want wealth and welfare to go hand in hand, and I believe that the fear of the election of a Labour Government had been holding that back. Since polling day we have seen a dramatic change in the confidence of the markets and individuals. Share values have risen by about a seventh, sterling is up, and interest rates have been cut by a further per cent., bringing us almost level with German rates for the first time in a quarter of a century. That is good news for British industry, for British investment and, over time, very good news for British employment prospects.

Mr. Cryer : As the Prime Minister is so complacent about British manufacturing industry and claims that there is much good news about, will he assure the House that he is not prepared in the GATT negotiations to sacrifice the textile industry to gain advantages on behalf of the farmers who have supported the Conservative party? Will he give an unqualified guarantee that he will fight to keep jobs in the British textile industry, as many thousands of jobs have been lost in the past years of Conservative rule? We want to keep that industry going in Bradford and elsewhere. Will he give that guarantee?

The Prime Minister : What I have never understood in the hon. Gentleman's remarks about manufacturing is why he and his colleagues are always so keen to assume that British manufacturing industry is failing, doing unwell and needs special assistance and special subsidies to survive. The reality is that the United Kingdom share of world trade in manufactures rose in 1991 for the third successive year. Right across the country we have seen growth in areas of manufacturing industry which did not show signs of growth in earlier years.


Q7. Sir Thomas Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 12 May.

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

Sir Thomas Arnold : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent actions of Ofgas and Oftel to reduce prices still further show that the community charge has real teeth when it comes to protecting the interests of the consumer?

The Prime Minister : The work of Ofgas and Oftel goes right to the heart of the citizens charter. The principles of those two regulatory bodies are important and the citizens charter underlines our commitment to put the consumer first. The regulators have achieved significant price cuts. British Telecom's prices have been cut by 27 per cent. in real terms, British Gas has cut domestic prices and standing charges, and the regulator is demanding more cuts. The impact of the citizens charter will continue to put the citizen in the forefront of people's minds when state prices are determined.