HC Deb 06 February 1990 vol 166 cc758-60
Q4. Mr. John Browne

To ask the Prime Minister is she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 6 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Browne

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the United Kingdom cot deaths claim roughly 2,000 babies' lives each year and that the presence of certain fire resistant and preservative chemicals in cot mattresses appear to be the common cause? Will she agree to speed up the Government chemist's inquiry and, in the mean time, issue a Government warning to parents as a matter of urgency?

The Prime Minister

I share the great concern of parents and Health Service staff about the incidence of unexplained cot deaths, the suddenness of which is especially tragic for the families. The Department of Health has promptly commissioned the laboratory of the Government chemist to undertake a scientific assessment, which is under way. I understand that, so far, those tests have not reproduced the result obtained by the independent researcher who proposed a link with fire-resistant chemicals. We shall, of course, consider whether it would be right to issue warnings in the light of the scientific assessment currently being undertaken—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come on!"] One was concerned to get an accurate assessment of the report; Opposition Members perhaps are not.

Mr. Ashdown

Is the Prime Minister aware that, despite his welcome speech on Friday, President de Klerk's Government today kicked out two British journalists—Mr. Paul Weaver of Today and Mr. Gareth Forby of Independent Radio News—apparently for unwelcome reporting of the Gatting cricket tour? Will the Prime Minister now realise that this is not the time to relinquish sanctions but the time to continue international action until a true democracy is established and Mr. Nelson Mandela and his people are free?

The Prime Minister

President de Klerk's speech was very widely welcomed—I believe the world over. As we agreed both at the last meeting of the European Community and in the Commonwealth, it is necessary to have encouragement for such steps as well as chastisement for what has not yet been done. We believe that when Mr. Mandela is released it would be advisable to relax some of the very minor sanctions that we have—in particular, the voluntary ban on new investment.

The right hon. Member referred to the two journalists. As he knows, President de Klerk announced on 2 February that the state of emergency would be fully lifted as soon as circumstances on the ground permitted. We support the freedom of the press and we have told the South African authorities that we regret the expulsions. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will look at the reasons that have been given for the expulsions. I am advised that one of the journalists entered South Africa as a tourist, failing to obtain the necessary brand of visa and permit. The other gave a first-person account of a demonstration at Johannesburg airport that greeted the cricket tourists' arrival but it later transpired that he had not been present. I emphasise that that is the explanation that the South Africans have given of the incident.