The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 17 January 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 17th January 1991.




Q1. Mr. Butler : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Butler : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that our troops know that they have the overwhelming support of the House not only in liberating Kuwait but in realising the promise of a newly effective United Nations?

The Prime Minister : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that his views will be echoed throughout the House. I hope that that strong support will be sustained within and beyond the House in the difficult weeks ahead.

Mr. Kinnock : May I take this opportunity of supporting the feeling expressed by the Prime Minister earlier today that the current conflict was not wanted by those allied against Iraq and is, therefore, regretted? For the sake of our forces and their families, and for the sake of innocent civilians in Kuwait and in Iraq, people everywhere will hope that success in fulfilling the purposes of the United Nations is achieved as speedily as possible. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to make it clear that Saddam Hussein can quickly prevent further death and destruction by fully and immediately complying with the United Nations resolutions, by laying down all Iraqi arms and by respecting international law?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and I am grateful for the way in which he expressed his view. I hope that at an early stage Saddam Hussein will do what he should have done a long time ago –make it clear that he is prepared to leave Kuwait fully, wholly and unconditionally and spare the world the conflict that is at present going on.

Mr. Tredinnick : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the assessment by General Colin Powell of the United States joint chiefs of staff that 80 per cent. of the sorties against Iraq have been effective. Is not that a remarkable achievement and a great credit to the allied forces? Does not the pinpoint bombing that we have seen on the news illustrate that there will not be the civilian casualties in Iraq which some had feared? That is important, because our quarrel is not with the people of Iraq.

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. Our problem is not with the people of Iraq but with the dictator of Iraq who created the invasion of Kuwait. My hon. Friend is entirely right. I echo what he said about the precision bombing that we have seen thus far. I might add that much of that precision bombing is carried out at low level precisely to avoid civilian casualties, sometimes at risk to our pilots. I think that their bravery deserves acknowledgement.

Mr. Ashdown : We all heard the news of last night’s action with deep regret that this war had to be fought. Does the Prime Minister realise that in this House, and I believe in the nation, there is no mood of jingoism for war but a deep determination to see through a job that must be done, to support our forces and to back the United Nations?

The Prime Minister : I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We entered this enterprise with reluctance, but we shall pursue it with persistence until the end.

Mr. Thornton : Will my right hon. Friend accept my warm congratulations on the way in which he made his statement this morning and particularly on the way in which he answered the questions put to him by the press? Does he agree with the commentator on Radio 4 this morning who urged that we should not attempt through the many armchair generals who will commentate on this war to second-guess what the military are doing in Iraq?

The Prime Minister : I think that it is already clear from what we have seen today that the degree of care in the planning by the allied high command has been very successful. I believe that the conduct of those military operations is in very satisfactory military hands.


Q2. Mr. Clelland : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

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

Mr. Clelland : Does the Prime Minister recall that many of our hostages, who have now returned from Iraq, spoke of the friendliness and helpfulness of the ordinary Iraqi citizens during their period of entrapment? Will he confirm that this war is against Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, not against ordinary families in Iraq? Does he further agree that ordinary Iraqi nationals, living in this country, many of whom are refugees from the oppression of Saddam Hussein, should not be harassed or held accountable for the actions of the dictator?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. It is entirely true that there are a large number of Iraqi citizens in the United Kingdom who are here precisely because they have been persecuted by Saddam Hussein. I believe that their refuge here will be appreciated and understood by the British people.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have no quarrel whatsoever with ordinary Iraqi people. As I said a moment ago, it is the dictatorship of Iraq which we are opposing.

Sir Eldon Griffiths : Since President Bush this morning said that one of his war aims was to destroy the existing chemical and potential atomic war-making capacity of Iraq, will my right hon. Friend associate the United Kingdom with that war aim? Will he also confirm that, once those installations are destroyed, no British or European company will, in future, assist in their being replaced?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend may know, those installations have been attacked, but thus far we are not entirely sure with what success. I hope that that will become apparent later. Subsequently, I certainly hope that firms will take great care in any dealings they may have with those who may recreate that sort of facility.


General Colin Powell

Q3. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Prime Minister on how many occasions he has had a meeting with General Colin Powell of the United States joint chiefs of staff; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister : I met the chairman of the United States joint chiefs of staff on 4 December. British commanders, of course, have been in regular touch with General Powell.

Mr. Dalyell : If General Powell were to be instructed either to accept or to offer a call for a cease fire, would we have to wait until Kuwait was occupied by coalition forces? In the light of my letter of yesterday to him, could the Prime Minister clarify the differences between himself on the one hand and Secretary Cheney and General Powell on the other on the use and legal aspects of nuclear weapons?

The Prime Minister : On the first point, the conflict can cease when it becomes clear beyond doubt that the Iraqis are moving out of Kuwait and we are certain that that is the case. That has been and will continue to be the position.

On the use of nuclear weapons, I think that I made it clear in the debate the other day that we did not envisage the use of nuclear weapons. To the best of our knowledge Iraq does not have a nuclear capacity. Under the non-proliferation treaty, which has been signed by the United States and ourselves, we would not therefore use them.

Mr. Aitken : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the vital ingredients in the success of the military operation so far was General Powell’s request, courageously supported on 9 November by President Bush and the British Cabinet, to double the number of troops and aircraft deployed to their present high levels? Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate all those responsible on both sides of the Atlantic, from commanders to backroom boys, on this remarkable feat of military logistics and preparedness?

The Prime Minister : I would certainly be most happy to do that. When I was able to visit Dhahran and some of the military establishments a week or so ago, it was astonishing to see the way in which the sheer logistics of obtaining such a dramatic armada of weaponry, in terms of both land and air forces, had been achieved. It has been a remarkable logistical operation.

Dr. Owen : Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the significant achievements of General Powell has been to ensure that this is not just an American dispute with the Iraqi Government–he has also involved the Arab Governments? Should we not all like to pay tribute to the Saudi Arabian Government and the Kuwait Government in exile for agreeing to their aircraft flying into Iraq, in marked distinction to the French?

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister : I certainly believe that it is entirely welcome that there has been a multinational effort in terms of today’s attack on Iraq. My understanding is that it was a four-nation attack in the first wave. But, as the right hon. Gentleman may not yet have heard, France joined in the attack at a later stage. I understand that some of her aircraft have suffered damage.



Q4. Mr. Sayeed : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

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

Mr. Sayeed : Although it is difficult to consider any matter other than the middle east today, will my right hon. Friend bend his mind to the conventional forces in Europe treaty that, just two months ago, seemed to offer so much hope for peace in the world? As all 22 signatories are required to ratify that treaty, does my right hon. Friend believe that that will happen, after the brutal repression in Latvia and Lithuania and the undermining of the treaty’s spirit by some elements in the Soviet military?

The Prime Minister : I very much hope that that treaty will be signed. Clearly, there are a number of serious problems that need to be resolved, particularly the Soviet Union’s transfer of a large number of tanks from the army to the naval coastal command with the intention of bypassing the treaty–which has the absurd effect of ensuring that the Soviet navy has more tanks than the British Army.


Q5. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

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

Mr. Winnick : Is it not the case that Saddam Hussein must be held responsible not only for the present war and tragedy, but for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers who lost their lives during a totally useless, futile war against Iran? Who is this criminal dictator to lecture us about the loss of innocent lives?

The Prime Minister : I am delighted to share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Peter Emery : Will my right hon. Friend accept the praise of Conservative Members for the way in which he has handled the situation so far? Will he also accept that considerable congratulations should be given to the Leader of the Opposition and to the leader of the SDP both of whom have unified behind the Government? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that those initials are very difficult to remember.

I have been very pleased and heartened–but more importantly, our troops will have been pleased and heartened–to see the uniformity of support given to them by the House.


Q6. Mr. Alton : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

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

Mr. Alton : Following the decision of the Soviet Union earlier today to reject the call of the conference on security and co-operation in Europe for an international conference on the position in the Baltic, the first death in Latvia yesterday, the appearance of militia men with their black berets and President Gorbachev’s attempt to extinguish a free press in the Soviet Union, does the Prime Minister agree that, if we are to be even handed in our treatment of human rights abuses and the right of self-determination, it is now time to convene a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the position in the Baltic states? Does he agree with Boris Yeltsin who said that we are at the beginning of a mighty offensive against democracy?

The Prime Minister : As I made clear to the House in Question Time earlier this week, I deeply deplore the actions in Vilnius and I very much regret the reports that a Latvian civilian has been killed by Soviet security guards. We have made our views crystal clear to the Soviet Union. The Soviets can be in no doubt about the way in which we view that and we have also made it clear that the continued health of the European Community will depend on the Soviet Union pursuing a path of reform, not of repression.


Q7. Mr. Couchman : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

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

Mr. Couchman : The thoughts and prayers of many of my constituents will be with the sappers from Medway towns serving with our troops in the Gulf. Will my right hon. Friend seek to reassure them in their anxiety that the courage and superb professionalism of all our troops will contribute to a swift and satisfactory outcome to this conflict, which many of us had hoped would never happen?

The Prime Minister : I have no doubt that those qualities will contribute to a successful outcome. However, we should be under no illusions about the scale and potential might of the Iraqi forces and, while I am confident about the success, I cannot yet be confident about the speed of that success, and I think that we should prepare ourselves for that fact.