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1992 - PMQT 2nd June 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 2nd June 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Ms. Primarolo : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 June.

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.

Ms. Primarolo : Does the Prime Minister recall that on 6 May he told the House that he wanted to sign the global convention on biodiversity at Rio? Does he agree that it would be indefensible for any major power to refuse to sign a treaty that halts the mass destruction of species by human intervention?

The Prime Minister : We are working hard to make sure that we shall be in a position to sign the convention. As the hon. Lady knows, this country leads the world in scientific expertise on biodiversity, not least at Kew, and we play an important international role in attempts to achieve a convention that can be signed generally. A number of countries have financial concerns about the convention, and the particular concern, which I hope we shall be able to overcome, is that the financial articles imply an open-ended commitment to provide developing countries with additional finance, without the necessary corresponding commitments to conserving biodiversity. That is not of any interest to us or to them.

Sir Teddy Taylor : Has the Prime Minister heard of the threat issued yesterday by Commissioner Scrivener to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he would be taken to court and Britain would be in real trouble if we did not agree, next Tuesday, to the long-term charging of VAT on food, gas, electricity and children's clothing? Will the Prime Minister give us a clear undertaking that there will be no surrender next Tuesday?

The Prime Minister : There is no question of the United Kingdom being forced to give up zero rates, which are guaranteed in the sixth VAT directive. The question at issue is whether the Council should agree to a legally binding minimum rate of VAT. We do not believe that that is necessary for the completion of the single market. A number of related issues remain to be resolved, including excise duties, but we cannot accept an agreement that would force member states to impose large increases in duty on spirits, to the detriment of our industry. The sixth directive is the key point on the substance of my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister agree that widespread poverty in the third world is a major cause of damage to the world environment? If he does agree, what new action will he be proposing in Rio to combat that poverty more effectively?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have one of the most effective development aid programmes of any country in the world-- [Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members appear not to recognise that fact. I repeat, we have one of the most effective aid programmes anywhere in the world. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, with the Toronto terms and the Trinidad terms Britain led the way in encouraging countries across the world to write off large amounts of debt specifically to help the poorest countries.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister really cannot defend the Government's record on development aid. The Government have cut by half the amount and the value of official development aid to the third world since they have been in power. When the poorest countries in the world are putting a net £50 billion in debt repayments back into the richest countries in the world, does not the Prime Minister think that those industrialised countries should make much bigger investment commitments to the conservation and protection of the world environment, not only to combat poverty in the third world but to conserve our global environment?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman touches on a matter on which there is agreement in substance across the House. There is no dispute about the need for help. Where I part company with the right hon. Gentleman is in his assertion that Britain has not led the way in the quantity and quality of assistance and aid that it has given for many years, not just in direct aid but in the substantial debt write-offs, to which I just referred but to which the right hon. Gentleman did not, and in the substantive amount of private sector investment that also goes into third-world countries. If the right hon. Gentleman is unwilling to take my word for that, I suggest that he talks to the leaders of the third-world countries and hears what they have to say about the quantity and quality of our assistance to them.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister will, no doubt, be speaking to some of the Heads of Government of third-world countries in the course of the next week or so and perhaps he will faithfully report to us the view of Britain's cut by half--I repeat that, because it is true--in overseas development assistance during the past 10 or 12 years. The crisis of poverty and environmental degradation is continuing. Will the Prime Minister now tell us what he will specifically propose in the way of action in Rio and afterwards in order to arrest the increasing tide of poverty and the increase in degradation, both of which are linked?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman really ought to know that we address the question of direct financial resources to overseas aid at the time of the public expenditure round. We have done so consistently and we have dramatically increased in real terms the amount of aid, and directed the aid better to those areas where it most needs to go. I shall certainly discuss that with fellow Heads of Government from other parts of the world, as I have done repeatedly in recent years. I am in a better position than the right hon. Gentleman to know their view on our contribution.

Mr. Jessel : When my right hon. Friend is in Rio, will he have the opportunity to mention to the Government of Brazil the concern in Britain about the murder of children on the streets of Rio?

The Prime Minister : I shall have a number of opportunities in Brazil to discuss matters with other Heads of Government and I shall certainly take the opportunity where appropriate to raise the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that the answers that he has given today to the massive challenges that face us at Rio are frankly pathetic? Does he not have any understanding that this is probably the last best chance that we have to allow the planet to heal itself and that if he and his fellow leaders will not rise to that challenge they will be condemned?

b The right hon. Gentleman is talking copper-plated nonsense. The reality is that Britain has led the way in the preparation of much of the work that comes to fruition in Rio. It is this country which has led the way. This is the start of a continuing process. This is not, as the right hon. Gentleman apparently rather inaccurately believes, the beginning and end of the process. As I told the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) three weeks ago in the House, it will take a long time for all our ambitions on the environment to be reached. We are dealing with practical measures. The right hon. Gentleman may dream, but we have practical action to take.


Q2. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 June.

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

Mr. Evans : Will the Prime Minister take a few minutes off dithering as to how or whether he will vote at the Earth summit, to explain to the British people why, at a time when British unemployment is heading towards 3 million and the public sector borrowing requirement is on course to reach £40 billion, Britain's balance of payments deficit in April was in excess of £1,300 million? Is this country headed for an economic miracle or for an economic nightmare?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is, as usual, remarkably selective in what he says and looks at. If the hon. Gentleman had looked at what business men have said in the period since the election-- [Interruption.] Well, business men know rather more about it than the hon. Gentleman will ever do. The hon. Gentleman might have seen the Confederation of British Industry report on small business men, who are more confident about growth now than at any time in the last few years. He might have noted also the EC Gallup survey, which shows a strong increase in confidence, and the sharp rise in confidence and activity in other CBI surveys. The hon. Gentleman might have seen a great deal more if he had removed the blinkers from his eyes.


Q3. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 June.

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

Mr. Arnold : During his visit to central Europe last week, did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to meet the leaders of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, to discuss their potential applications to join the European Community?

The Prime Minister : Yes. I assure my hon. Friend that I had discussions with the leaders of each of those three countries on precisely that point. The freedom of those countries and their removal from the old Soviet bloc is one of the most welcome international developments since the second world war. They are now committed to democracy and to free market economics. During our presidency of the Community, we want to put solid flesh on the association agreements that we signed with them. We look forward to the day when they join the Community, even though that may not be until the turn of the century. Our judgment is that the best way to enhance democracy is to share it--and that is what we intend to do in the case of those countries.


Q4. Mr. McMaster : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 June.

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

Mr. McMaster : Does the Prime Minister recall that during Question Time two weeks ago, he promised to respect the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland? If it was right to give that commitment to one part of the Union a fortnight ago, is it not right to give the same commitment to the people of Scotland today? When the Prime Minister visited Scotland yesterday, why did he promise only to think long and hard about Scotland's future--so long and hard that four hours later, he ruled out a Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom? If the right hon. Gentleman is a democrat, will he give to the Scottish people the right to decide their own future in a multi-option referendum?

The Prime Minister : The answer to the hon. Gentleman's latter question is no. As to his point about a tax-raising Parliament in Scotland, I ruled that out some time ago in the House and elsewhere for reasons that were sound then, are sound now and will remain sound in the future. The hon. Gentleman need not ask me about that matter--it is settled.

Mr. Alexander : Has my right hon. Friend taken note of the effectiveness of the temporary abolition a few months ago of stamp duty on house purchase? Bearing in mind that the Exchequer forwent very little revenue, will my right hon. Friend recommend to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that when the temporary abolition expires in August, it be made permanent?

The Prime Minister : No. I am afraid that I cannot undertake to do that. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor will examine that matter in August. The original proposition was that stamp duty exemption would last until August and not longer.


Q5. Mr. Pendry : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 2 June.

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

Mr. Pendry : Is the Prime Minister aware that the staggering increase in crime in London that was revealed yesterday is symptomatic of a worrying concern throughout the land? That includes my constituency, where crime has doubled in the past decade. With that reality in mind, will the Prime Minister do something positive, such as unlocking the handcuffs from the Home Secretary so that he can get to grips with the Government's own crime prevention report--the Morgan report, which said something positive about crime in this country and which the Government shelved last August? Would not that be the way for the Prime Minister at least to appease the chairman of the Police Federation, who said only last month that the Government were blaming the police because they had no ideas of their own?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman might care to examine the increased resources in both manpower and equipment, quite apart from the increased legal facilities that have been made available to the police. I also think that we should not be blind to the achievements of the Metropolitan police, such as the improvements in the clear-up rate that we have seen in recent years. They have made dramatic improvements in a number of areas.

Another point, with which I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree, is that tackling crime is not just a matter for the police. Increasingly, people in society at all levels can be seen playing their own role, and it is essential for that to continue.