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Engagements

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24th January 1991.

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Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie , Argyll and Bute 12:00 am, 24th January 1991

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 January.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

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.

Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie , Argyll and Bute

In view of the Foreign Secretary's discussions in Paris today, does the Prime Minister agree that long-term peace in the middle east should be based on nations enjoying security within existing recognised national boundaries?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

That is one of the matters that have been under discussion for some time and which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is continuing to discuss with his colleagues. In so far as the particular problems of the middle east are concerned, as the hon. Lady knows, we strongly support the idea of a peace conference once the present conflict in the Gulf has been resolved.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 January.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, once Saddam Hussein has been expelled from Kuwait and reinvestment and reconstruction have commenced, those countries that have contributed most to the allied effort in terms of money, material and men should be at the front of the queue for jobs, work and contracts, and that those among our near neighbours who have contributed least should be firmly at the rear of the queue?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about that and I had the opportunity of raising the matter with the Emir of Kuwait during my recent visit to the Gulf.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is good for the morale of our forces and for the peace of mind of their families if there is easy, low-cost communication with home? What progress is being made in improving the current inadequate arrangements? Does the Prime Minister share my view that, just as our forces have long had access to free post, it is now appropriate in 1991 for them to have at least one free phone call from the Gulf?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with the general proposition put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is working to improve communications home. However, we have not yet produced a free telephone system.

Photo of Mr Michael Grylls Mr Michael Grylls , Surrey North West

Has my right hon. Friend had any further news from the Red Cross about the future treatment of British prisoners of war?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

We are trying hard at the moment to get access. The International Red Cross is trying as well and I believe that it has had a preliminary meeting with the Iraqi authorities, but we have not yet heard what the detailed outcome may be.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 January.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of the supplementary question that he intended to ask. No one wants a ground war in the Gulf—no one at all—and it can be avoided. [Interruption.] I am sorry—I will let the hon. Gentleman ask his supplementary question.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire

In the Prime Minister's answer to the question that I asked on Tuesday, he said that civilian casualties were to be avoided as far as possible and the instructions to the Air Force were to seek to avoid civilian casualties in Iraq. Will the Prime Minister therefore contact President Bush and tell him to desist from B52 carpet bombing, which is destroying vast areas around Basra where I loyally did my national service, to desist from napalm bombing in future and to desist from a ground battle which will lead to massive destruction and perhaps mutual destruction of both sets of troops?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for beginning to answer his question before he had asked it. As he knows, this was brought about entirely by his courtesy in giving me advance notice of the question, for which I am most grateful. It is a conspiracy which may not last for ever, but it is enjoyable while it does.

No one wants a ground war and it can be avoided if Saddam Hussein withdraws from Kuwait, as we have asked him to do for some time. We have made it perfectly clear before—and I reiterate—that we shall not use certain weapons, but I would not think it right to spare the Iraqi military at the possible risk to British soldiers at some future stage in the conflict. My prime and overriding concern must be, and will continue to be, for the safety of British soldiers and for the avoidance of unnecessary risk.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames , Crawley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the continuing presence in London of the Iraqi ambassador is not only offensive but unnecessary? After a suitable period for him to settle his personal affairs, will my right hon. Friend arrange for him to be removed forthwith?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

We have already reduced the Iraqi embassy to a minimum number of four members. The Iraqi ambassador will be leaving the United Kingdom very shortly and we are considering further reductions below the tiny number still there. Final decisions on the last point have not yet been made.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 January.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble , Upper Bann

I wish to express our concern about recent events in the Baltic states, where Mr. Gorbachev appears to be reverting to type—if he did not authorise the recent outrages, he is clearly compromising himself to the elements behind them. Will the Government now commit themselves unequivocally to giving every support to democracy in the Baltic states and does the Prime Minister agree that it would be entirely wrong for Moscow to impose direct rule?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point—it would be wholly wrong and I was able to say so to Mr. Jurkans, the Latvian Foreign Minister, when I had the opportunity of meeting him yesterday. I deeply deplore the actions that have taken place in both Vilnius and Riga, and the tragic consequences for those who have been killed. This is not what we have come to expect from the Soviet Union in recent years and we hope that it will stop without delay.

Photo of Dr Michael Clark Dr Michael Clark , Rochford

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 January.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Photo of Dr Michael Clark Dr Michael Clark , Rochford

At a time when I know that my hon. Friend has many things on his mind—including the plight of our prisoners of war who are in Iraqi hands—will he spare a thought for ex-prisoners of war from another campaign? Is he aware that in 1951 ex-Japanese prisoners of war received only £76 10s from Japan, which is equivalent to about £1,000 in today's money? Will he support their campaign to try to achieve a more appropriate settlement from their now wealthy ex-captors?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I understand and sympathise with my hon. Friend's point. The problem is that the question of compensation was settled under the peace treaty with Japan which was signed in 1951. Under that treaty, Japan subsequently met her obligations. I fear that I must tell my hon. Friend that, much to my regret, the Government can take no further action.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 January.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave some moments ago.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

Is the Prime Minister aware of today's reports that Secretary of State Baker has a list of 500 firms from 50 countries which have apparently broken the embargo on Iraq and that the list includes a large number of German firms which appear to be still supplying Iraq with biological and chemical materials? Will the Prime Minister reassure the House that no British firm is on that American list? Does he agree that the families of the young men and women who have been sent to the Gulf—as a result of a policy with which I still disagree—would be horrified to think that the sacrifice that they may be called upon to make in the days and weeks ahead will have been made so that mere shareholders can grow richer out of profiteering?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks. I am not aware of any involvement by British firms in the Iraqi chemical weapon programme. Although we stand ready to follow up energetically any advice to the contrary that we may receive, thus far I have no evidence whatever, from any source of any kind, of any British involvement.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings and Rye

Bearing in mind the very successful meeting that I understand my right hon. Friend to have had this week with the visiting Foreign Minister from Latvia, may I ask whether he will use the occasion to condemn before the House the Stalinist repression that has returned to the inventory of Gorbachev and the Government of the Soviet Union and get the whole of the west to condemn the abuse of human rights to which the people of the Baltic states are being subjected?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I am certainly content to do that. The present situation in the Baltics is clearly precarious. I must say that it is not entirely clear who is responsible for the latest actions there. It is not absolutely clear who gave the directions that led to the difficulties in Vilnius and Riga. In any event, we shall need to judge the Soviet Union by deeds and not words, and that is what we will do.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 24 January.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the answer that I gave a few moments ago.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

If nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out in the fundamental review of the poll tax, may we take it that there will be statutory provisions rather than merely guidance to local authorities, which is not always observed, to exempt from payment of the poll tax service men and service women who are serving abroad, which includes the 270 of my constituents from RAF Leuchars now serving in the Gulf?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

The power the hon. and learned Member seeks is already available to local authorities and has been for some time.