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1991 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Interview in Harare

Below is the text of Mr Major’s doorstep interview in Harare, held on 17th October 1991.


QUESTION:

Can we ask you why you felt it was necessary to threaten that Britain would go it alone in forgiving this debt?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not threatening anything at all, what I am saying is that there are a very large number of very poor countries out there and the Trinidad Terms initiative can help them to a greater extent than they have ever been helped before. And I want to push that snowball down the hill a little, that is what we are doing, it will make a material difference. What it will mean for really the poorest countries in the world is that they have some incentive to put their economy to rights and not see all the virtues of that disappear in debt relief.

QUESTION:

But is the initiative meeting resistance from other members of the Paris Club?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think the Paris Club will support it, it has been under discussion for some time and I think there will be general support for it. Immediately I announced it the Prime Minister of Canada announced that he would follow suit, the Australians have said they will look at it very carefully and I suspect others will too. I think it is very important that we actually get this initiative off the ground and the debt written off.

QUESTION:

Are you going to link this to human rights?

PRIME MINISTER:

The help we have proposed with the right offer of Trinidad Terms is related to a good IMF programme and the IMF themselves look at matters of that sort. So there is a natural link.

QUESTION:

How do you feel as a former bank manager wiping out 500 million pounds of British debt with one stroke of a pen?

PRIME MINISTER:

I looked at it also from the point of view of the countries who are receiving the assistance. I think it is often very hard to get a proper perspective of what life is actually like in some of these countries. I do emphasise again that these are the very poorest countries in the world, the average income for people in these countries is about 400 pounds a year or less. The people with least income in those countries are therefore by definition very poor indeed and the best way to help them is to help their countries actually produce a better performance for the future. Removing the debt burden by writing it off seems to us to be the best way to help.

QUESTION:

Will this relieve starvation in the short or long term?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do not think it will deal with the immediate food problems, no. I think what it does do is help countries put themselves in a better position to invest and to build up a secure economy of their own, it certainly does that but it will not remove the need for emergency help from time to time.

QUESTION:

Does this relieve you of increasing the foreign aid through the normal channels?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are in the middle of the public expenditure round and this is a separate matter from that, this is a write-off of debt. I think it is fail to remind people that it was the British government that first introduced Toronto Terms when Nigel Lawson was Chancellor, that was an innovation in its day and way ahead of what anyone else was even contemplating. We have now carried that a really very significant step forward with Trinidad Terms.

QUESTION:

What was the response from the other Commonwealth countries here apart from Canada?

PRIME MINISTER:

They welcomed it, the Australians have welcomed it. There has not been much time to talk to the others, there was a very warm response from the conference hall itself.

QUESTION:

What about from Mr Mugabe?

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Mugabe was particularly warm about it but you must ask him.

QUESTION:

Did you do this mainly for economic reasons or compassionate reasons?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think both. I do not think you can compartmentalise them, it is not a sudden idea that suddenly emerged from the top of our head.

I floated the idea of Trinidad Terms and announced what our policy was at the Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting at Trinidad - hence the name - two years ago. Since then we have refined it. What it amounts to is a straightforward write-off of two-thirds of the debt of those countries. Now that is infinitely greater than anything that has been seen before. What has often happened in the past is that the developed countries have offered help but they have offered help by saying keep the debt, we will reduce the interest rate or we will roll over the date at which you pay it. And what that has effectively meant is that this huge amount of debt actually remains there and however much countries improve their own economy, as they improve their own economy they just run into this wall of debt that then has to be met.

Now that is not a great incentive so I think the time has come when we actually offer them a clear-cut, practical and significant incentive so that they can see the improvements in their own country of improvements in their own economy and I think this will do that.

QUESTION:

Do you think your unilateral action today will shame others into joining you?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is not a question of shaming others, I am setting out what the British position is. I believe others will follow suit, the Canadians have already said they will, I would be surprised myself if that is not a fairly general reaction and I think it will be widely welcomed by people.