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1992 - PMQT 23rd June 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 23rd June 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 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.

Mr. Hall : The Prime Minister is aware that local authorities nationally have had £15 billion of assets frozen in the bank because of his Government's policy. In the light of the national housing crisis we now face, will the Prime Minister give the House a straightforward answer to my question? Why do we not allow local authorities to build houses for rent, which are much needed, with the money that they already have in the bank?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, local authorities are perfectly able to use a portion of their accumulated receipts and that has been the position for many years. It is the right position for us to keep and we have no intention of changing it.


Q2. Mr. Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 June.

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

Mr. Amess : I believe that what is good news for Basildon is good news for the rest of the country. Does the Prime Minister share my constituents' delight in Basildon at yesterday's historic European air fares agreement? Is not it the case that yesterday's agreement is a particular triumph for Britain and for Basildon, as we pressed for the liberalisation of air markets?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right. I have no doubt that the triumph of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is the very talk of Basildon at the moment. The Community reached an historic agreement yesterday on the final phase of aviation liberalisation. I believe that that is excellent news for the travelling public and it should mean more choice, better services and lower fares. It has been a long time coming, but it is a very welcome agreement.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister now serve the public interest by ensuring that the report by the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation into the Maxwell companies' pension fraud is published without delay?

The Prime Minister : I well understand the concerns generated by the whole Maxwell case. I understand that the Securities and Investments Board intends to publish a report on IMRO's findings and conclusions. However, the House will understand that it will be essential to ensure that publication does not jeopardise either civil or criminal proceedings in the Maxwell affair, including those currently under way against Kevin and Ian Maxwell.

Mr. Kinnock : I am grateful for that answer. However, I must express the hope that there will not be a delay, even given the requirement to take account of the implications for possible proceedings. Does the Prime Minister accept that the report, as so far recorded in the newspapers, says that the organisation fell short of the high standards which it should have expected of itself and that, therefore, publication is a pressing necessity so that everyone can know just how the organisation fell short, what is the Government's full responsibility in the matter and how that bears on the future of the Maxwell pensioners who have been robbed?

The Prime Minister : I understand the important point that the right hon. Gentleman has made, but, as I said a moment ago, the report will be published in due course. The SIB intends to publish a report of the findings and conclusions, but neither the right hon. Gentleman nor I would wish to prejudice in any way either the civil or criminal proceedings--nor, I believe, would any hon. Member.

Mr. Kinnock : May I in the meantime put it to the Prime Minister that we now know that in 1987 the Bank of England blocked an attempt by Robert Maxwell to take over a bank, that in the following year, 1988, the Department of Trade and Industry granted an investment licence to a main Maxwell company and that later that year IMRO renewed that licence? Is it not clear that in those circumstances both the Government and the system that they established have a clear and serious charge of negligence to answer and that they must answer it? The main responsibility is not with the SIB to publish the report ; it must remain with the Government and they must account for their actions and omissions in the whole disgraceful episode.

The Prime Minister : I think that the right hon. Gentleman still has not addressed his mind to the necessity of ensuring that nothing is done to prejudice civil or criminal proceedings. That is a matter which the right hon. Gentleman well understands. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I am equally anxious to ensure that the report is considered alongside the SIB's assessment.

Mrs. Chaplin : Has my right hon. Friend seen the report that shows that many 14-year-olds like taking tests, in direct contradiction of the many so-called education experts? Is that not another example of how Conservative policy is good for pupils, parents and those who are employed in education?

The Prime Minister : I warmly welcome the news contained in yesterday's report about testing. It confirms that we were absolutely right to press ahead with testing in the teeth of opposition from the teaching unions and, indeed, from Opposition Members. I hope that, in the light of what has been said in the last couple of days, the Labour party will stop fighting testing, will support it and will change its policy, as it seems to have done on grant-maintained schools.


Q3. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 June.

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

Mr. Ross : Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that it was a profound error of judgment for the British Government to press the European Community to lift its package of economic and oil sanctions against South Africa earlier this year? At the European Council meeting in Lisbon this Friday, will he press the EC to reconsider that decision, urge it to support the establishment of an interim Government in South Africa and seek international monitoring of the violence there?

The Prime Minister : No, I do not believe that that would be the right way to proceed. I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety about the recent violence in South Africa. I also note the commitment of the South African Government to bring to justice the people responsible for that violence. The prime responsibility for law and order rests, as it must do, with the South African Government. But they have made enormous strides towards representative democracy. I understand the strength of feeling that exists at the moment, but it is of great importance that the talks do not break down and that they continue, for great progress has been made. The people who will stand to gain most from the successful conclusion of the talks are the people in South Africa who have least and about whom we should be most concerned.

Mr. John Carlisle : In the tragic and violent disorder that is now regrettably taking place in South Africa, is my right hon. Friend not absolutely right to send a message of support to President de Klerk, who has come so far in his brave and courageous attempt to find a democratic solution which is satisfactory to all parties? In those circumstances, should not the message go to Mr. Mandela and the African National Congress that empty gestures such as suggestions of Olympic boycotts and sanctions will only hinder their chances and restrict the people of South Africa in the wonderful opportunities that they now have in front of them?

The Prime Minister : Over recent months I have had many opportunities to discuss the present situation in South Africa with both President de Klerk and Mr. Mandela. I remain closely in touch with both of them. What is necessary at the moment is that both of them stand back from the present difficulties and then determine how it will be possible to continue the talks and reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister recall saying on 26 January that the Government's mortgage rescue scheme had "stopped repossessions"? Is he aware that since then, for every family mortgage rescued, 2,000 homes have been repossessed and that repossessions are now running at 140 families a day? Does he recognise that what he did then, although welcome, was too little and too late and that he now needs to do something more?

The Prime Minister : No. I have made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that the proposals set out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor were there to diminish the number of repossessions--where people are in receipt of income support, the repossession does not proceed. Repossessions are falling and that has been acknowledged, not merely by the Government but by many others. The right hon. Gentleman should examine the facts.

Mr. Jenkin : Following my right hon. Friend's meeting with Members of the European Parliament last week and in the spirit of subsidiarity and our right to govern our democratic processes, is the Prime Minister able to assure the House that the European elections in 1994 will be conducted under the present voting system?

The Prime Minister : That is certainly my intention.


Q4. Mr. Betts : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 June.

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

Mr. Betts : Would the Prime Minister like to commiserate with the millions of English football fans who have had to endure their team's performance during the past few weeks? Would he like to reflect on Graham Taylor's commitment to deal with his European problems by playing it long? Indeed, Graham Taylor might only be happy once he has picked the whole Wimbledon team to play for England. Does the Prime Minister agree that his European problems look just as difficult and troublesome? Does he further agree that, like the tactics of the England team manager, his commitment to play his European problems long, and to avoid an early debate on them in the House, is just as likely to prove to be unsuccessful?

The Prime Minister : I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman carries me with him on either proposition. I offer the same support and encouragement to the England football team that I was happy to offer to the Scottish team after its excellent performance in the recent championships. On the European policy of the Government, I have made it clear that we shall have a further debate before the Committee stage of the Maastricht Bill. That remains the case, but the time is not yet right to bring the Bill back.

Mr. Churchill : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the British Government's part in negotiating the first-ever global ban on chemical weapons. Does he agree that one of the gravest threats to peace in the years ahead will come from the acquisition of a non-conventional weapons capability by third-world military dictatorships, many supplied by European countries? Is it not time that steps were taken to put on notice British defence contractors and others in European countries that they cannot expect Government contracts if they forge documentation, as evidence shows has been happening, to avoid the Government's embargoes on the export of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right in his strictures on chemical weapons. If he has any detailed information on the second aspect of his question, I should be happy to receive it.


Q5. Mr. Enright : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 June.

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

Mr. Enright : Does the Prime Minister recall that in February the Government announced a settlement of RECHAR and promised action with all expedition? It is now July-- [Hon. Members :-- "June."] It is now almost July and no ground rules have been agreed. I have sent two questions to the President of the Board of Trade and have written him one letter, but he still has not replied. Will the right hon. Gentleman sack him and get something done?

The Prime Minister : It is almost July and I am sure that my right hon. Friend is almost ready to reply.

Mr. Dunn : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative Members welcomed the abolition of the National Economic Development Council, or Neddy, last week for it meant an end to trade union domination and the running of the country through the union block vote?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I think that, in its day, Neddy did have a role to play, but that day has passed. I think that the right decision was taken by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade.


Q6. Mr. Meale : To ask the Prime Minister if he will lists his official engagements for Tuesday 23 June 1992.

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

Mr. Meale : Now that the Prime Minister has returned from Rio, where I hope that he learnt a lot about the environment, will he support moves in this Parliament to ban the hunting of animals, with dogs, for the pleasure of people? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister : I am sorry, but if the hon. Gentleman repeats his question, I will try to answer it.

Madam Speaker : Order. If the hon. Member repeats his question, we will all be able to hear it.

Mr. Meale : Now that the Prime Minister has returned from Rio, where, undoubtedly, he learnt much about the environment, will he support legislation in the House to ban the hunting of animals, with dogs, for the pleasure of people?

The Prime Minister : No, Madam. That is a matter of personal choice.