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South Africa

Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a further statement on his policies towards South Africa.

I welcome the meeting of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa in December. The Government will continue to encourage all parties to play a constructive role in the reform process. In order to encourage the growth that the South African economy desperately needs, we shall continue to work for the removal of the remaining economic and financial sanctions.

As many United Kingdom citizens live and own property in South Africa, or in other ways invest there, will my right hon. Friend discuss with President de Klerk the increasing violence there, and seek clarification on how the new South Africa can be built without the effective and practical renunciation of violence by all parties?

I agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend said, and I shall have the opportunity to discuss that with President de Klerk when he visits London early next month. I believe that all parties have a role to play in implementing the peace accord, but of course the South African Government have the primary responsibility for the impartial maintenance of law and order.

Will the Prime Minister throw his full weight behind the proposition that an interim Government should rule South Africa during the transition period to democratic elections? As the situation is so delicate and as negotiations with the CODESA committees are currently under way, will he not—please not—do anything to damage that process by precipitate action on sanctions?

On the latter point, I do not think that precipitate action on sanctions is the point at issue. One of the great difficulties faced by the South African Government and people at the moment is the need to see growth in their economy, which runs at present with no growth, as against a population growth of around 3 per cent. a year. That is leading to very real hardship for all the people of South Africa—most notably those in South Africa who have least—so I think that the progressive removal of sanctions is desirable for economic and social reasons, and I hope that that progressive removal of sanctions will take place.

On the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I wish to see progress made in South Africa. I think that that can best be done through the constitutional conference rather than by remarks from across many hundreds of miles.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 January.

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.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is good news that, even in the teeth of an international recession, the Government have achieved reductions in interest rates, which means that the family man with an average, typical mortgage of £30,000 pays £100 a month less? Does not that augur well for the home owner and the property market in 1992?

Yes, I do welcome the reductions in interest rates and, of course, in mortgage rates that we have seen. In particular, I welcome the cuts in interest rates which three more building societies have announced this morning. The background of lower interest rates and a continuing reduction in underlying inflation provide what we most need—the opportunity for steady, sustainable, non-inflationary growth.

Why is the United Kingdom the only economy in the European Community that is in recession?

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that a number of European economies either have been in recession or are moving towards recession at precisely the moment when the United Kingdom economy is poised to come out of recession. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that there is a recession in many other parts of the world as a result of the general world trading conditions.

It is a pity that the Prime Minister did not answer the question that I asked. Perhaps he should refresh himself with the facts. Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland and Italy all have growth rates of over 1 per cent., Spain, Portugal and Holland over 2 per cent., and Germany and Luxembourg over 3 per cent. They are all growing; our economy is shrinking by 2 per cent. Is not that because this country and its people are paying the price for having a Government of unique incompetence?

No, Sir. Almost every country of the industrial world is experiencing economic problems. French unemployment has now reached its highest level. Unemployment in the United States is at its highest level for five years. In recent months, unemployment has risen in every European Community country except the Netherlands. It is higher than a year ago in every EFTA country and in every G7 country except Japan. The right hon. Gentleman cannot live in a cocoon and overlook those facts.

On the subject of cocoons, the Prime Minister should acknowledge that the USA, Japan, Australia and Canada are not actually in the European Community. In this country, under his Government, unemployment is going up faster, investment is lower and production has fallen more than in any other European country. Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question? Why is that happening only in Britain under his Government?

The fact of the matter is that it is not, as I have explained to the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions, happening only in this country. If the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned about unemployment and recession, why does he not acknowledge the impact that his minimum wage would have upon unemployment? Why does he not acknowledge what the £6 billion-worth of cuts in defence would do to employment? Why does he not acknowledge what the impact of his tax on savings would do to investment? Why does he not acknowledge what his strikers charter would do to industrial relations? Why does he not acknowledge what his party's attitude to inward investment would do to jobs in the north-east, in Wales, in Scotland and in many other parts of the country? The policies that the right hon. Gentleman follows will ensure a long-standing and deep recession in this country.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of policy proposals which would introduce a new payroll tax on every job in this country, policy proposals which would reintroduce secondary picketing, and policy proposals which would introduce a minimum wage which would put literally hundreds of thousands of people out of work? Is my right hon. Friend aware that those policy proposals go under the somewhat misleading title of "Labour's help to the unemployed"?

The Prime Minister should answer the first part of that question, but not the second.

We have no plans to introduce any such policies. Industry knows that such policies would be absolutely disastrous to it and knows from what source those policies would come, which is why its hostility to the Opposition's policies is so severe.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 January.

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

Does the Prime Minister recall that, on 26 February 1991, I met him to discuss the case of my constituent, John Hall, who is seriously ill with leukaemia, an illness contracted while he was serving on Christmas island? At the meeting, the Prime Minister told me of his personal knowledge of the suffering of cancer victims and of their families and friends. He also told the Minister of State for the Armed Forces that he hoped that the matter would be expedited as quickly as possible. Almost a year later, nothing has been done. John Hall has spent the last year receiving chemotherapy and blood transfusions in order to stay alive. Will the Prime Minister please show some compassion and award John Hall and the other nuclear test veterans the compensation that the House and the country believe they richly deserve?

I am not sure that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) renders Mr. Hall's case particular assistance in raising it in this fashion. I cannot go into the details of Mr. Hall's case. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Government are willing to consider any claim where any evidence can be adduced of exposure to radiation. We are conducting a validating study into the background of this, and as soon as it is complete, we can reach a general policy conclusion. Until then, I simply have no evidence on which to base a response to individual cases such as Mr. Hall's.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 January.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to consider the tax implications of an extra £35 billion of spending pledges? If any Government were to bring in these pledges, they would either have to dishonour them and thereby deceive the public, or income tax payers at all levels of income would need to cough up and pay more to fund them. Is it not true that spending pledges such as those made by Labour politicians would mean that nothing would happen?

Order. Before the Prime Minister answers, let me repeat that a Member must ask questions about matters for which the Prime Minister is responsible; he cannot answer for Labour party policies. Answer the first part, please.

The implications of such spending increases are either that borrowing would rise to unprecedented levels, and no doubt interest rates with them, or, alternatively, that taxes would rise to a remarkable extent. It is noteworthy that those who advocate these policies also themselves concede in surveys that they would welcome an increase in the basic rate of tax as well as other tax increases.

Does the Prime Minister recall that the cause of reconciliation in Northern Ireland was tragically set back in the aftermath of the 1974 election? Will he agree that it would be appalling if we were to allow history to repeat itself after this election? Will he therefore support a cross-party approach to Northern Ireland affairs during the election and unequivocally reject any partisan trading with the Anglo-Irish Agreement in a way that would reverse the peace process after the next election?

This party stands four square against terrorism, and we have set out our policies from this Dispatch Box on many occasions. I see no imminent change.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 January.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a diabolical liberty for people to suggest that they can increase people's taxes by the underhand method of raising national insurance contributions, as is proposed by the Labour party? Is it not true that the choice for the British people is between our party, which calls for lower taxes and greater spending by the people, and the Labour party, which wants to take people's money and spend it itself? Is not that robbing Peter to pay Paul?

My hon. Friend makes her point in her own individual manner. As I have said before, if people advocate spending and tax increases, they should be prepared to defend them. The Labour party knows that its spending and taxation plans have been rumbled—and they dislike it.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, this morning, the Selby group of the British Coal Corporation announced more than 1,100 job losses at four coal mines? Will he get his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy to take action now, as he has been urged to do by the European Energy Commissioner, to stop pit closures in this country, given that we produce the cheapest deep-mined coal in the European Community? How long will the country continue to lose jobs and to lose access to the great national asset of our coal, given that the Government want to sell off British Coal overnight at a cheap price, for the benefit of the Treasury?

I am sorry to hear of the job losses to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but the only secure future for the coal industry or, indeed, for any other industry, is for it to produce something that people want at a price that people can afford. That is the only long-term future for the coal industry.

I ask the House to calm down. I cannot even hear the words, "point of order". I shall take Mr. Andrew Faulds first.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If, in your judgment, Sir, a question is out of order, how can it be in order for the Prime Minister to have a response?

What I said to the Prime Minister was that he should answer that part of the question to him that was in order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Opposition Members can fully understand why Conservative Members do not want to ask the Prime Minister questions about Government policy, but can you confirm that the purpose and function of Prime Minister's Question Time is to ask the Prime Minister questions about the performance of his Government? Opposition Members would welcome the opportunity to debate Government and Opposition policies during the general election campaign, but, given that the Prime Minister does not have the guts to call an election, can you please ensure that, during the few remaining weeks of the Government's period of office, Prime Minister's Question Time will he used to ask the Prime Minister questions about Government policy?

In my judgment, the election campaign started when we came back from the Christmas recess —[Interruption.] Order. It has ever been thus. If the hon. Gentleman will think back to days gone by, he will remember that such questions have been perennial in the few weeks before a general election. However, I say again to the House and especially to Government Members that they should ask questions relating to the Prime Minister's responsibility—

No, please sit down.

The first part of the question that was asked by the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) was in order, but the second part was out of order, as was the second part of the question asked by his hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick).

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it is in order for Conservative Members to put various policy options to the Prime Minister, and surely what really provoked the rabble opposite to make such a din is that they are embarrassed at the sound of their own policies.

Is it not in order for Back Benchers at least to ask the Prime Minister whether the policies that are being promoted by the Opposition will most emphatically not be adopted by this Government? The Opposition are worried about their own policies.