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1991 - PMQT 30th April 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th April 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Prime Minister recall that when he was a parliamentary candidate in 1983 he gave a commitment, on the questionnaire he returned to the World Development Movement, that he would want to see British aid increased, over a period of five years, to the official United Nations target of 0.7 per cent. of the country's national wealth? Will he confirm that the level of official aid is now running at well under half that target figure, at a time when 27 million people on the continent of Africa face the prospect of imminent starvation? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that his credibility as Prime Minister is at stake? If he does not find the money to meet the commitment that he made in 1983, his credibility will be severely dented.

The Prime Minister : The important point is that our aid programme is both effective and growing. Where necessary, as the hon. Gentleman will have seen in the case of the Kurds, we provide extra and well-targeted aid. For example, we have now provided more than £60 million to aid the Kurds, and the amount is rising each week. We still accept the principle of the 0.7 per cent. aid target, and like other donors, we shall move to it as and when economic circumstances permit.

Mr. Dunn : Can the Prime Minister give a guarantee that the advanced level examination will be maintained, and not diluted or weakened in any way whatsoever?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will shortly announce comprehensive proposals for 16 to 19-year-olds. I agree with the point that my hon. Friend has made so clearly--that the Opposition's proposals for slimmed-down A-levels are likely to mean more certificates, but certificates of less value.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to reject the view of his Secretary of State for Health, who says that cuts in the numbers of doctors and nurses and cuts in patient care in opted-out hospitals are nothing to do with him?

The Prime Minister : There are two things that I hope that the right hon. Gentleman knows about the health service--first, the vast increases that there have been in the numbers of doctors, nurses and other people in the service and, secondly, that the purpose of the reforms is to make sure that the management of the service becomes as efficient as its medical delivery.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister tell us where he thinks responsibility lies? The managers of the the Guy's and Lewisham opted-out hospitals have said that there will be

"substantial and inevitable reductions in direct patient care." How can the Prime Minister justify turning his back on the consequences of his own policies? Does not he think that he has a moral obligation to ensure that the loss of vital patient care services at Guy's and Lewisham is not repeated anywhere else? Will he ensure that opting out is stopped right away?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman were really concerned about matters like hospital doctors, he might perhaps have looked at their pay record and have seen a real terms increase of 37 per cent. under this Government and nothing remotely like that increase under the Labour Government, for doctors' pay fell under the Labour Government.

Mr. Kinnock : Is not it clear from the Prime Minister's answers that when it comes to the national health service and patient care, he, like his predecessor, could not care less?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should know that I am personally committed to the national health service, and that I want the management of the service to be as efficient as the medical care in the service. Unless and until it is, we shall not deliver the level or amount of patient care that we need.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : If my right hon. Friend has read the latest Labour party document--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Even if he has, would the hon. and learned Gentleman please ask a question relating to the Prime Minister's responsibility?

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : To the extent that it is readable, will my hon. Friend endorse the fact that the poorest in the country will be poorer and the part of--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman please ask a question relating to the Prime Minister's responsibility? He may not ask the Prime Minister directly about the Opposition's policy.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Will my right hon. Friend, as a matter of his responsibility, having read that document, ensure that a Labour Government never return, so that the poor do not get poorer? The part of the country that would get poorest would be Scotland.

The Prime Minister : In answer to my hon. and learned Friend's direct question ; willingly I will make sure that a Labour Government are never returned to power. I think that Labour's policies will be of some assistance in that, for the electorate know that it has no fresh policies and no fresh ideas and that many of its policies, like renationalisation of British Telecom, it fails to put in its policy documents.


Q2. Mr. Archer : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Archer : Will the right hon. Gentleman find time to recognise in some way that today is the anniversary of the completion in 1821 of the first iron steamship, all the components of which were completed in one factory in the industrial black country, launching an industry which over the years offered employment to millions? Since over the past 12 months the numbers employed in manufacturing industry have fallen by 178,000, does the Prime Minister wish to remember our industrial history, or does he agree with his Secretary of State for Education and Science that history is unnecessary and perhaps better forgotten-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. We are taking a long time over this history lesson.

Mr. Archer : --or does he find it hard to make up his mind?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman, apart from misquoting my right hon. and learned Friend, has picked an odd day to raise that point because, as the Confederation of British Industry business agenda brochure shows, manufacturing output has just risen to new record heights, and in the last quarter of 1990 it stood 50 per cent. higher than in the first quarter of 1981.


Q3. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Greenway : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread support for his personal vision of a first-class education for everyone? To that end, will not the promised pay review body for teachers bring better professional status for them without the strikes that have so damaged education? Does not that mean a better deal for teachers all round, for children and in the end for the prosperity of the country?

The Prime Minister : I believe that it does. I believe that the introduction of a pay review body for teachers will be warmly welcomed. The House will have noticed that at the end of a six-hour debate yesterday, no one was clear whether the Opposition were for or against the pay review body, because the National Union of Teachers had not yet told them.


Q4. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Ross : Can the Prime Minister confirm that when Peter Griffiths was given the job of running the opted-out Guy's Hospital, the salary for that post was doubled to £90,000 a year, and both he and his wife were given cars? What possible justification for this scandalous misuse of public money can there be when much-needed doctors and nurses at the same hospital are facing the sack?

The Prime Minister : Peter Griffiths has the job of ensuring the adequate and proper delivery of services and he is committed to achieving that. What has so frequently damaged services in the national health service is that whenever there has been a move towards natural and necessary rationalisation, the Opposition have turned it into a political football.


Q5. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Colvin : If one man's pay rise is another man's job loss, how many jobs does my right hon. Friend think are being lost in Britain this year as a result of the astronomic pay rises which Britain's top business men awarded themselves last year? Is it not the duty of leaders to give a lead on pay restraint?

The Prime Minister : Pay must always reflect both performance and responsibility. In many countries, pay already includes a large performance element and I thoroughly welcome that. In the difficult months that we have recently seen many top managers have held or cut their pay, and that is an excellent example.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that many in our country will feel pride at the role that he and Britain have played in relieving the suffering of the Kurds? However, many will have felt dismay at the complacent answer which he has just given on the African famine. Does he not realise the scale of that disaster, in which not 1 million but more than 20 million lives are now at risk? Will he assure the House and the nation that he will apply the same determination to making sure that we play our part in relieving that towering tragedy that he applied to assisting the Kurds?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his first remark. As to his latter remarks, I would remind him that this country has committed something over £4 billion to Africa in the past decade and that we invariably play a significant part in dealing with the tragedies that occasionally occur, not only in Africa but elsewhere. Even as the right hon. Gentleman asks his question, we are examining what assistance might be given to Bangladesh in the aftermath of the cyclone.


Q6. Mr. Viggers : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Viggers : In the difficult international climate for business expansion and employment, is it not clear that the countries that will benefit first from a renewal of confidence will be those with flexible work practices? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the worst that could happen would be for us to adopt the statutory pay and training schemes advocated by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The greatest danger, of course, would be to adopt the Labour party's minimum wage plans which, were the right hon. Gentleman to implement them, would inflict not the 750,000 to 1 million job losses that we thought they would but between 1 million and 2 million job losses.


Q7. Mr. John Evans : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 30 April.

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

Mr. Evans : Has the Prime Minister had the opportunity to read early -day motion 747, which has been signed by 148 Members who are worried about the proposed takeover of the Tootal Group plc by Coats Viyella plc and the impact on jobs in the textile industry? Is he aware that 540 workers at the Tootal Slimma works in St. Helens fear that they will face the sack if that unnecessary bid succeeds? Will the right hon. Gentleman instruct the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to change his mind and refer this unnecessary bid to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?

The Prime Minister : That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are in no position to talk about unemployment while they hold to their minimum wage proposals.