The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1990Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 11 December 1990

The text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 11th December 1990.



Gulf Crisis

Q1. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister, pursuant to the answer of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) of 13 November, Official Report, column 446, if he will specify those figures which he possesses relating to oil stocks, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide which differ from those given by King Hussein, showing in each case the comparable figures and the source for those which he uses.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : No, Sir. The calculations rest on assumptions about the consequences of a conflict in the Gulf which, by their nature, are not quantifiable. The best way to avoid any adverse consequences is for Saddam Hussein to comply with the United Nations resolutions in full.

Mr. Dalyell : Is not the spine-chilling truth that no mining engineer, no scientist and no politician knows for certain what will occur if 300 deep-mined oil wells are detonated? In those circumstances, might not the fires rage for months, if not years, in a fashion quite outside human experience? In view of that, should not the damage to the planet, let alone the human slaughter and the Arab ecological disaster, rule out any talk of a military option?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman says, no one can be absolutely and precisely certain about the outcome. In so far as it is possible to make an assessment, we see no reason to agree with any of the views put forward thus far as to what the outcome might be.

Dr. Michael Clark : Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week I visited the Council for Higher Education in Amman, where the calculations were carried out for King Hussein? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the horrors of war, whether human or environmental, should be made abundantly plain to Saddam Hussein in particular?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about that, but, on the assumptions that King Hussein used, we believe that some of the difficulties to which he referred would not be precisely as described.

Mr. Livingstone : Will the Prime Minister take time today to read the recently published report of the Association of London Authorities– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I call Mr. Butcher.

Mr. Butcher : While my right hon. Friend is considering the risk of an ecological disaster from airborne pollutants in the middle east, will he bear in mind that there is a risk from Saddam Hussein himself? He has already used chemical weapons, he has developed illegal biological weapons, and he may soon possess nuclear weapons. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to safeguard the security of Iraq’s neighbours is for the United Nations to ensure that Saddam Hussein does not keep one piece of Kuwaiti territory that he has gained by armed aggression?

The Prime Minister : The risk to which my hon. Friend refers is there. It is for that reason that there is a most remarkable degree of international consensus that the Security Council resolutions must be met in full.



Q2. Mr. Nicholas Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 December.

The Prime Minister : This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall today be having further meetings. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Brown : In the course of his busy day, will the Prime Minister consider selling to me any of his personal possessions–one of his houses would be very nice–at 60 per cent. of the true market value? If he is not willing to do that with his personal possessions, why is he willing to do it with the nation’s?

The Prime Minister : I have only one house, and I propose to stay there and keep it.

Mr. Gregory : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the denationalisation of the electricity industry has been a great success and, furthermore, will ensure that Britain develops as a real share-owning and property-owning democracy?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The offer has been a huge success–clearly the most successful ever–and oversubscribed 10 times. It shows clearly that people are prepared and willing to become share owners in a share-owning democracy.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, as a result of the Government’s underpricing of electricity shares, the British taxpayer stands to lose £3 billion or more?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has said something like that about each privatisation. Every privatisation has been a success. Is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to renationalise?

Hon. Members : Answer!

Mr. Kinnock : I will, as Prime Minister after the next general election–do not worry about that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. How can the Leader of the Opposition answer with such shouting going on?

Mr. Kinnock : Selling public assets for 40 per cent. less than they are worth is, by anyone’s judgment, a national scandal. Today, with the electricity sale, the British people are being subjected to a national scandal and a great swindle by their own Government. Any Government who inflict that on their own people are guilty of infamous incompetence or great dishonesty, or both.

The Prime Minister : I reject absolutely the right hon. Gentleman’s charge, and I repeat the question–will he renationalise?

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister provide me and the British people with a justification for selling off a national asset for £3 billion less than it is worth and, in the course of that, showing the dishonesty of the Government and the willingness of the Government to swindle their own people?

The Prime Minister : There are two points in answer to the right hon. Gentleman. First, the share price absolutely reflects the aim of getting value for the taxpayer. Secondly, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, what on earth was the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) saying when he made the prediction that we would not succeed in privatising the electricity industry?

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the deep disappointment in the north-west that Manchester is not the venue for the Olympic games in 1996? Will he bear in mind that yesterday Manchester launched its bid to be the venue in the year 2000? As I expect that my right hon. Friend will still be Prime Minister at that time, may I have an assurance from him that the Government will totally support the British bid for the Olympics in 10 years’ time?

The Prime Minister : Not only that–I look forward to attending them.


Q4. Mr. Archer : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 December.

The Prime Minister : I refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Archer : Reverting to the loss to the Exchequer from the mismanagement in marketing electricity shares, when 3,500 hospital beds are out of commission because of underfunding in the health service, has the right hon. Gentleman reflected that if a local council had made a similar pig’s ear of its affairs councillors would face personal surcharges? What sanction does he suggest for incompetence among Ministers?

The Prime Minister : In my view, an offer that is oversubscribed 10 times is a success and not a pig’s ear.


Q5. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 December.

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

Mr. Marshall : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the chairman of the Haemophilia Society is one of my constituents? Has my right hon. Friend read the Adjournment debate that I initiated on 15 October, and when does he expect to be in a position to act on this deep human tragedy?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) raised this problem the other day. I can now tell the House that the Government have been examining this matter and have been able to agree in principle to proposals been put forward by the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Provided that the proposals are formally approved by individual plaintiffs–and, in the case of minors, by the courts–they should provide a basis for bringing the matter to an agreement successfully and soon. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will inform the House of the details. I am sure that hon. Members of all parties will welcome this development, as I do.


Q6. Mr. Matthew Taylor : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 December.

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

Mr. Taylor : When the Prime Minister was elected leader of the Conservative party, the House was aware that during his campaign he had referred to the difficulties facing teachers, and especially their low morale. As he is his own man, what does he intend to do to change policy and to increase morale among teachers?

The Prime Minister : I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that morale in the teaching profession is immensely important. It depends on a whole range of factors–not only salaries, but on job opportunities, the quality and nature of education, and the opportunities for advancement within the profession. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is examining all these matters.


Q7. Mr. Paice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 11 December.

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

Mr. Paice : Referring back to the earlier questions about electricity privatisation, is not it clear that the lesson from the many privatisation issues in the past few years is that what the public really want when they refer to “public ownership” are share certificates, property deeds and pensions with their own personal names on them? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is true public ownership and that the accumulation of personal wealth which it creates will bode well for the economic future of this country?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is also a matter of some importance that the sale of the 12 discos will raise £8 billion.

Mr. Spearing : Has the Prime Minister seen the document sent to the President of the European Council on Friday by President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl? Does he agree that it contains proposals for adding security, citizenship and foreign affairs to the competence of the European Communities, together with co-legislation of the Parliament and majority voting on all but a few issues? Does he further agree that that creates even more centralism than exists at the moment, thus increasing the democratic deficit? As the documents were placed in the Library after the House had debated these matters last Thursday, will the right hon. Gentleman tell his colleagues in Rome next week that such matters and the way in which the President can introduce business at such late notice is unacceptable and only increases the democratic deficit?

The Prime Minister : I share the underlying concern that the hon. Gentleman has raised about the shortness of notice in such matters. In another sphere, I have raised this issue at ECOFIN on a number of occasions. Decisions taken in the Community should be preceded by proper examination, proper costings and proper consideration. I shall certainly make that point.



Q8. Mr. Hunter : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a further statement on the United Kingdom’s contribution to international co- operation on environmental issues.

The Prime Minister : The United Kingdom plays an active part in the work of many international bodies dealing with environmental issues. We are fully involved in the preparations for the 1992 United Nations conference on the environment and development in Brazil, which includes negotiations on a framework convention on climate change and on biological diversity.

Mr. Hunter : Although I welcome such international co-operation and the Government’s part in it, will my right hon. Friend be on his guard against wasteful duplication and abuse of taxpayers’ money? In that context, will he look at the work of the European Environmental Statistics Office, the European Environmental Agency, the European Environmental Monitoring and Information System and the European Environmental CORINE Programme? International co-operation is desirable, but the duplication of bureaucracy in the EEC is not.

The Prime Minister : Environmental care is a matter of great importance to the Government, but my hon. Friend is surely right to draw attention to the dangers of duplicated expenditure. I shall bear in mind what he says.

Mr. Wigley : If, as is widely reported in the European newspapers, Chancellor Kohl and other leaders are likely to ask at the forthcoming conference in Rome for a level of elected regional government to be developed within Europe as a counterbalance to centralisation, will the Prime Minister give an undertaking not to rule out the idea out of hand?

The Prime Minister : That is a matter which may conceivably be raised at the weekend. Certainly, I have had no notice that it will be raised. The matter will need to be carefully examined.

Mr. Speaker : Mr. James Pawsey. Mr. Pawsey?

Several Hon. Members rose–

Mr. Speaker : Mr. Harry Ewing.

Mr. Harry Ewing : I am grateful both to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey).

May I take the Prime Minister back to his first answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) when the right hon. Gentleman talked about the military option in the Gulf? Do the Government have any contingency plans to reintroduce conscription and national service to sustain the military option in the Gulf?

Mr. Dickens : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Under the conventions of the House, should not any question that you call be related to question 8?

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is always so helpful. However I called question 9. I think that technically the hon. Gentleman may be right but I turned a blind eye to that in view of the absence of the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey).

The Prime Minister : I understand the important question that the hon. Gentleman asked about the Gulf which as he knows, is a matter that we debate frequently in the House.