The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 31 January 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 31st January 1991.




Q1. Mr. Patchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 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.

Mr. Patchett : Has the Prime Minister seen reports this morning that the Italian cargo vessel the Karin B is returning to Britain with a cargo of toxic waste? In view of the grave public anxiety on the matter, will he ensure that under no circumstances will the ship be allowed into any British port with its deadly cargo?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that waste will be allowed into this country only if it is safe to treat it. We shall certainly apply that principle to the Karin B and its cargo.

Sir Ian Lloyd : Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that in the nuclear weapons age the much pilloried phrase, “Careless talk costs lives” is a dramatic understatement? Does he further agree that the intolerable position in which Admiral Sir Tom Woodward was put in a public discussion on television early yesterday morning by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was a serious threat, especially as the right hon. Gentleman asked that the relationship between the President of the United States and British use of nuclear weapons be brought out into the open? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that shows the importance of the existing convention which applies to the matter?

The Prime Minister : It is an important convention. However, I did not see the interview and I should prefer not to comment too directly upon it.

Mr. Benn : Is the Prime Minister aware that Admiral Woodward was a great deal more candid than Ministers have been about the use of nuclear weapons in the Gulf? Is he also aware that there is widespread anxiety in Britain about the extension of the war aims well beyond the United Nations objectives relating to Kuwait and about the possibility of an extension of the war? Will he welcome the initiative of the French Government in going to Tehran to see whether at this late stage some progress might be made by negotiation leading to a ceasefire?

The Prime Minister : I repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that I did not see the interview with Admiral Woodward and I have no comment on it. On the war aims, I have made it clear consistently that our aims are those set out in the United Nations Security Council resolutions. That is and remains the position.

Mr. Colvin : Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the somewhat fragile political climate in South Africa, following the welcome meeting of reconciliation between Chief Buthelezi and Mr. Nelson Mandela? What action can the Government take to encourage the nations of the world to take a more positive attitude towards South Africa to encourage that country faster and further down the road to reform which we all want to see it travel?

The Prime Minister : I very much welcome the meeting between Chief Buthelezi and Mr. Mandela. It is an extremely welcome development. As my hon. Friend will know, the European Community nations lifted the investment sanction some time ago because of the progress that has been made. If, as I hope, further progress on dismantling apartheid is made soon, I hope that we shall see a further gesture from the European Community, the United States and the Commonwealth on lifting sanctions.


Q2. Sir David Steel : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 January.

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

Sir David Steel : After the Gulf war, bearing in mind what was done after the Falklands war, will the Prime Minister consider setting up a high-level inquiry into the acquisition by Iraq of British arms and technology, including some from private companies, quangos and Government Departments, so that lessons may be learned, and so that never again will our forces be faced with an enemy armed partly by ourselves ?

The Prime Minister : There is a considerable degree of sensitivity about the supply of arms and equipment. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, for some considerable time we have not supplied arms to Iraq for precisely that reason. We will take great care in future to ensure that we are careful about that matter.

Sir Jim Spicer : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the record of loyalty and service to NATO of the republic of Turkey in the last 45 years, and also to the United Nations in Korea and to United Nations endeavours in the Gulf, is worthy of great praise and should be considered carefully by other NATO members and members of the European Community?

The Prime Minister : Turkey certainly has a distinguished record in NATO, and I am happy to acknowledge that fact.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to confirm that any interest rate rise in Britain in response to today’s rise in German interest rates would be disastrous for industry?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we will set interest rates and reduce interest rates when we think it is appropriate. As he knows, we have made our position on the subject perfectly clear. When it is appropriate and in the interests of the economy to reduce interest rates, and when we see that the reduction will be sustained, we will take action.

Mr. Kinnock : The Government have been telling us for years that they have been curing inflation. Is not it the case that they have always made the mistake of combating inflation only with high interest rates, with the result that they have hit investment? How does the Prime Minister expect the country to become more competitive in advance of the completion of the single market if all the time he is wearing down investment, skills, training and the other things that are essential to enable Britain to compete?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should know that as our inflation differential with the European Community narrows, we will be in a position to reduce interest rates. The right hon. Gentleman, who invariably advocates the cutting of interest rates, may recall that he also advocated a further cut in interest rates in 1987. Had we then followed his advice, we would have faced a far greater problem today.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister will have great difficulty in saying to anyone that he could have greater difficulties than those caused by 1,000 redundancies a day, a reduction in output, a reduction in investment and the highest interest rates in the developed world.

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman is serious about Britain’s success in the 1990s, he needs to bear it in mind that we must get inflation down to the rate of our competitors. We are prepared to take action to do so. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman, as ever, wants the soft option.


Q3. Mr. Cran : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 January.

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

Mr. Cran : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the contribution made by Germany yesterday to Britain’s war expenses is extremely welcome? Can he indicate to the House whether he expects contributions from any other source?

The Prime Minister : I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the further contribution of £275 million from Germany is very welcome. So also is the offer to provide some military material. I spoke to Chancellor Kohl this morning and was able to thank him for the generosity of the German people.

Mrs. Heal : Following the visit yesterday by hon. Members, all of whom happened to be women, to the wives of the service men serving in the Gulf, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity to write a letter of support to the wives, many of whom feel isolated and lonely? Will he agree to do that? Will he also agree to a delegation of the wives coming to Westminster to explain to hon. Members their difficulties and feelings while they are supporting their husbands who are serving in the Gulf ?

The Prime Minister : I certainly agree with the hon. Lady about the remarkable contribution made by the wives of our service men. I hope shortly to have the opportunity of visiting a number of the wives in Germany and I look forward to that. I would be happy to send the letter that the hon. Lady suggests.


Q4. Mr. Bowis : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 January.

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

Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there can be few worse examples of the inhumanity of Saddam Hussein than his cruelty to the prisoners of war and their families in refusing the International Red Cross access to them? Will he do everything in his power to ensure that that access is achieved?

The Prime Minister : I assure my hon. Friend that we are certainly doing that. The action by the Iraqis in refusing access is intolerable and unforgivable. We are in daily touch with the Red Cross in Geneva and are doing our best to support its efforts. I shall be meeting the president of the Red Cross early next week.


Q5. Mr. Lewis : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 January.

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

Mr. Lewis : Does the Prime Minister share my view that it is obscene that the lives of coalition forces in the Gulf are threatened by arms and weapons probably made by their own families in their own country ? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an unequivocal assurance today that he will take Britain out of the international arms trade, which includes the training of personnel from other countries and providing technical know-how?

The Prime Minister : The obscenity lies in Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and the sooner that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the better.


Q6. Mr. Day : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 January.

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

Mr. Day : Does my right hon. Friend agree that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was an act of naked aggression, but Israel’s occupation of the west bank and Gaza was brought about by decades of Arab intolerance of the state of Israel and that, because of those two different scenarios, there should be no linkage at any future date?

The Prime Minister : It is clear that the situation is different because in 1967 it was Israel which was attacked. But we now have to look to the future and a solution to the Arab-Israel problem based on territory for peace. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait has made that task much more difficult, but as I have said to the House on a number of occasions in recent weeks, we shall certainly be looking to see whether we can bring that peace forward as soon as the conflict is over.

Mr. Molyneaux : Does the Prime Minister share my admiration for the prompt response of senior members of the Commonwealth to the invasion of Kuwait? Does he share my hope that those ties with the Commonwealth will endure long after various temporary entanglements have disappeared?

The Prime Minister : I most certainly do, without qualification.


Q7. Mr. Thorne : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 January.

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

Mr. Thorne : As justice delayed is justice denied, will my right hon. Friend, in his usual caring fashion, be kind enough to examine the efficiency of the courts and whether it is right that people, particularly from abroad, should be obliged to wait so long for their trial? I am thinking in particular of Mrs. Dina Le Tarle, the American wife of a surgeon, aged 29, who has been prosecuted for her actions while responding to muggers on the underground. She has now been waiting three months for her trial.

Mr. Speaker : Order. If the case is sub judice, the hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind.

The Prime Minister : I understand the general point that my hon. Friend makes. The Government are concerned to reduce to a minimum delay in all criminal cases.

Mr. Michael J. Martin : The Prime Minister will know that many of the soldiers who are serving well in the Gulf are in the Army because they could not get jobs in civvy street and when the Gulf war is over there will be soldiers who, unfortunately, will be unfit for Army service. Can the right hon. Gentleman guarantee them jobs in Glasgow and the north of England?

The Prime Minister : The early part of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks will be widely resented by many of our forces in the Gulf. I heard from him no talk of employment during the 40 successive months when unemployment was falling.


Q8. Mr. Page : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 31 January.

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

Mr. Page : My right hon. Friend is hearing from those who wish to see extensions to the sanction period in respect of the Gulf calls to bring about a ceasefire. For the benefit of the House, will my right hon. Friend surmise why those people are trying to put our troops in extra danger by giving Saddam Hussein the breathing space to develop a nuclear weapon?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. He makes a valid point. We are not interested in a pause or a ceasefire, which would simply enable Iraq to regroup, resupply its forces and place our troops in greater peril. The conflict over Kuwait will be concluded only when all the provisions of Security Council resolution 678 have been met.