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1991 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Interview in London

Below is the text of Mr Major’s doorstep interview in London, held on Thursday 3rd October 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

The meeting we have had this afternoon was a meeting that came about as a result of a discussion I had in The Hague a week or so ago with Prime Minister Lubbers. We decided on that occasion that we needed a tripartite discussion with the Commission, the Presidency of the European Council and myself as Chairman of the G7 to look at the economic situation in the Soviet Union and the particular problem that the Soviets may face this winter in terms of food shortages. That is what we have been discussing for two and a half hours this afternoon.

It seems possible, perhaps even probable, that there will be food shortages this winter in the Soviet Union but we do not yet have accurate information to tell us what food will be short, where it will be short or in what scale food assistance may be needed.

What we have been discussing today is the scale of contribution that the European Community itself would be prepared to make available in case of need. We have hammered out what we think would be appropriate this afternoon and the details of that will be laid before the Economic and Finance Ministers on Monday so that they may discuss the matter and deal with the question of resourcing it.

If they are able to agree that on Monday, as I hope they will, I then propose to write to our G7 partners, particularly of course the United States, Canada and Japan, and invite them to make also on a contingent basis a similar gesture to ensure that there is ample food available for any shortages that there might be in the Soviet Union this winter.

When that has been agreed, as I hope it will be, we would then anticipate that there would be a political delegation comprising members of the Community and members of the G7 who would then go to the Soviet Union to deal with the practical matters that still need to be determined: how the food is distributed, in what volume it is distributed and how to deal with the shortages and ensure the food is there when it is actually needed. There is a very substantial logistics problem to be solved and we believe that is unlikely to be solved unless there is a Round Table discussion between those prepared to provide the food - the donors - and those who are likely to be in need - the Soviet Union and the individual republics.

So that has been the substance of what we have been discussing this afternoon. I am not yet in a position to let you have details of that, I think the proposals that we have determined this afternoon need first to be discussed by our Community partners in ECOFIN and then a statement will be made on Monday.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, have you a headline figure for aid that we may be giving?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I have not a headline figure I can give you this evening. We have a proposal to put before our partners in ECOFIN but it is for the Finance Ministers I think properly to determine that and they will do that on Monday.

QUESTION:

Will this be food?

PRIME MINISTER:

It will be food and humanitarian assistance and the figure I would imagine will be released on Monday after the ECOFIN meeting.

QUESTION:

Was there any discussion of European union and Maastricht?

PRIME MINISTER:

No that was not the purpose of the meeting this afternoon and all the time that was available to us was taken up with discussion on various aspects of the Soviet Union.

QUESTION:

Do you feel that this shows a way ahead in terms of developing a common foreign policy on an issue like this, that you have shown that Europe can cooperate very effectively when it comes to presenting a united face?

PRIME MINISTER:

Europe has been cooperating very effectively on the basis of a common foreign policy agreed at government level through the European Council for several years, it is very effective and very efficient. That is the way that we would wish to continue to do things, but that is not of course what was proposed in the Dutch text some time ago. But that matter was not discussed today.

QUESTION:

Is the amount of aid a substantial increase on the amount that is going at the moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it is but I cannot give you the figures, that is a matter still to be finally determined by our Finance colleagues.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

We were discussing food and humanitarian assistance today, that is the most immediate and most urgent matter and that was the substance of our discussion at the moment. Information to discuss wider matters frankly is not yet available.

QUESTION:

Do you think the Soviet Union is now capable of absorbing large scale aid or will it just get lost in the confusion there?

QUESTION:

It was for that reason that I said this would be a contingent package and it would only be released as and when we could see where the shortages were and the scale in which they arose and that is why we envisaged there would be a meeting after these packages had been finalised with representatives with the appropriate authorities in the Soviet Union.

QUESTION:

Can you match the 10 billion dollars they are talking about?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our colleagues in ECOFIN are going to discuss what we can make available as our share of the general assistance on Monday.

QUESTION:

Are you now confident that the Soviet economy can actually deal with the sort of aid that you can offer?

PRIME MINISTER:

I repeat, we are talking about humanitarian aid, we are talking about food aid and medicines this winter and I do not think the West is likely to stand by when they can see a positive shortage if they are in a position to assist. We do not yet know what the scale of the shortage might be. If I can draw it back into your memory, there was a suggestion two or three years ago that Poland would be in similar difficulties throughout one winter and in practice Poland was not in those difficulties. So what we are preparing is a contingency package to be available if it is needed and to the extent that it is needed it will then be disbursed but we need a proper mechanism for doing it.

QUESTION:

Did not Mr Yavlinski, who is in charge of coordination of the economy in my country, provide you with any particular information about the scale?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Yavlinski provided us with various interesting information that we are at present absorbing.

QUESTION:

Although you did not discuss political union, does the subject of Europe, along with the domestic problems of rising unemployment, make a considerable gamble out of a delayed election for you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have been saying for months for those who wish to listen that I wanted to see this country come out of recession and see it through recession and that I did not want distractions in the run-up to the two important inter-governmental conferences that we will have at Maastricht this winter. That has been my position, publicly stated, on many occasions in recent months, it is still my position.

QUESTION:

No hesitation at all about the delay then?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have made the point on numerous occasions over recent months and I repeat it again tonight.