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1991 - PMQT 14th May 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th May 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

The Prime Minister : 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.

Mr. Thurnham : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has excellent and detailed plans to increase spending on public services by £38 billion in the next three years? What would be the effect of substituting an uncertain £20 billion along with socialist cuts and taxes on earnings?

Mr. Major : If a £20 billion increase were substituted for our present plans, it would certainly mean a substantial reduction in services across the board, no doubt including the health service as well. On the other hand, if there is to be £20 billion in addition to the spending plans that we have proposed, it would undoubtedly lead to large and significant tax increases across the board.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister think that any citizens' charter should include giving people the right to vote on whether they want their local hospitals to opt out?

The Prime Minister : In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has previously said, I am very surprised that he has so little faith in the medical people who make those decisions.

Mr. Kinnock : Even the Prime Minister must know that the "medical people", as he refers to them, whenever they have voted, have voted by majorities in excess of 80 per cent. against opt-out. [Interruption.] I will provide a list later.

Does the Prime Minister recall saying, just last Friday, that he trusts the people? Why does he not trust the people enough to allow them to vote democratically on whether they want their local hospitals to opt out? What is he afraid of? Why is he always running away from the ballot box?

The Prime Minister : Why does the right hon. Gentleman always run away from the facts? He is wrong on the subject of medical people and, as for trusting the people, we have trusted the people to make decisions more in the past 10 years than any Labour Government ever would.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister now answer my question? Will he give people the right to vote on whether hospitals in their localities should opt out?

The Prime Minister rose-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is no use hon. Members' shouting, "Answer" unless they give the Prime Minister a chance to do so.

The Prime Minister : What a remarkable question from the leader of a party whose education spokesman would take away the right of parents to decide what nature of schools their children could go to.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : To people in unskilled work, wages or a salary of £20,000 a year may seem very good pay indeed, but does my right hon. Friend feel that a level of pay of £20,000 a year makes a person rich--rich enough to be taxed at the horrendous levels now being spoken of by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : Only a genuine Leveller would think that £20,000 a year was rich these days. Certainly, no doctors, police constables, police sergeants, fire sergeants and others would think that. The reality is that average earnings and take-home pay have risen substantially in recent years. Only the Labour party could produce taxation policies to penalise people on modest incomes. Were it to implement all its plans it would be penalising not only people on modest and average incomes but every taxpayer.


Q2. Mrs. Margaret Ewing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mrs. Ewing : As the Prime Minister has demonstrated his intention to hold the 1992 European summit in Edinburgh, would he also accept that Scotland's international diplomatic role could best be served not by inviting Europe to our capital city for a few days every other year but by enabling Scotland to play her full international role as a member of the European Community in her own right 365 days a year, especially against a background in which the people of Scotland have shown that independence is their preferred constitutional choice?

The Prime Minister : Scotland has played a very honourable role in international affairs as part of the United Kingdom for a long time and it will continue to do so in that fashion. I am glad that the hon. Lady welcomes the fact that the European Council will be meeting in Edinburgh. It think that the people of all Scotland, but especially Edinburgh, will welcome that too.

Mr. Simon Coombs : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government intend to raise £5 billion per year from the proceeds of privatisation in the next Parliament ? Will he also confirm that if that revenue were not forthcoming, it would be necessary either to reduce public services dramatically or to raise taxes and to increase public borrowing to an unacceptable level ?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. It would seem from what the Leader of the Opposition has said that the Labour party is planning either dramatically to increase taxation or dramatically to cut spending on public services. Privatisation has not only raised significant resources to liquidate parts of the national debt but has dramatically improved the performance of the companies concerned. We shall continue with policies of privatisation. I think that that will be much more welcome to people than increasing borrowing on the scale that a Labour Government would envisage and increasing taxation, which is what Labour has always delivered.


Q3. Mr. Bradley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. Bradley : To ensure that a citizens' charter for the health service has real meaning for the people in my constituency, will the Prime Minister confirm that as 100,000 people have signed a petition to protest at the proposed closure of Withington hospital and its maternity unit, and as 3,000 people joined hands around the two-mile perimeter to protest about the plan, such overwhelming support will mean that citizens have the right to retain their local hospital and that the Government have a right and duty to honour their views ?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, matters of that sort are dealt with in the first instance by the health authority, and I think it is better that they should be. What I can tell the hon. Gentleman about the citizens' charter--an idea that I first began to consider and to speak publicly about in 1987--is that it will provide far greater redress for the citizen than ever before.

Sir Richard Luce : Is it not becoming clearer day by day that the Labour party is coming out in its true colours as the party of high spending and high taxation

Mr. Speaker : Order. The right hon. Gentleman must ask a question about the Prime Minister's responsibility.

Sir Richard Luce : Did not my right hon. Friend reflect when he got up this morning that the Labour party is coming out in its true colours

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is no good.


United Nations

Q4. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Prime Minister when he next expects to pay an official visit to the United Nations.

The Prime Minister : I have at present no plans to do so. However, I am in regular contact with the secretary-general.

Mr. Cryer : In view of the withdrawal of the Valiant Churchill class of nuclear submarines due to dangerous defects in their nuclear reactors, would it not be prudent for the Prime Minister to withdraw all Polaris nuclear submarines, which have identical defects in their nuclear reactors? At the same time, he could cancel the Trident programme and announce that his Government are supporting the United Nations-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Hon. Members should give the hon. Gentleman a chance to get to a conclusion.

Mr. Cryer : The Prime Minister could announce that his Government were supporting the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty ; the 141 states which have signed that treaty have pledged not to deploy or manufacture nuclear weapons.

Mr. Speaker : Briefly, please.

Mr. Cryer : Billions of pounds could then be released for the national health service in this country and for the millions of poor in other countries throughout the world.

The Prime Minister : Someone spoke a moment ago about the true face of the Labour party. I think that we have just heard it. I happen to be in favour of our maintaining a nuclear defence. That will be our position in the future. I am interested to learn from what the hon. Gentleman has said that that may not be the position of the Opposition.


Engagements

Q5. Mr. Roger King : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. King : Does my right hon. Friend agree that education, and particularly the quality of that education, are paramount in many people's minds? Is he aware that in Birmingham we have excellent grant-maintained grammar schools which are under threat from the local Labour council, which intends to strangle them to death so that there is no choice for the people of Birmingham, despite 96 per cent. of them saying that they want their grammar schools maintained? Will my right hon. Friend join me in supporting educational excellence.

The Prime Minister : I was not aware of that proposal, but I am unsurprised to hear that that is the view of the Labour local authority ; it clearly has no concern for the views of parents about education--a point which the Leader of the Opposition neglected to mention. As a general principle, I agree with my hon. Friend that the Labour party opposes choice on assisted places, on city technology colleges and on grammar schools. Its top priority on day one, as the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, would be to take away parents' choice to keep their schools independent of council control.

Mr. Ashdown : As the Prime Minister has registered that some in his party regard the proposals put forward by our European partners next week on monetary union as a fudge, and as one of his Ministers has said that they are a fraud, although many others will see them as Britain's last opportunity to be at the heart of Europe rather than its periphery, will he now tell us his view of the proposals? Are they a fudge, a fraud or an opportunity not to be missed?

The Prime Minister : We are at a very early stage in the negotiations on economic and monetary union and on political union. As to the proposals to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor told the House in January that "the Government have made it plain to our European partners that we cannot accept any changes to the treaty of Rome which would bind us to a single currency or a single monetary policy without a separate decision by the United Kingdom Government and Parliament."--[ Official Report, 24 January 1991 ; Vol. 184, c. 470.]


Q6. Mr. Michael Morris : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. Morris : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the evidence is that, in local government, competitive tendering has given the public good value for money? Does not that mean that we should have similar policies throughout the public sector, including the national health service?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend has considerable knowledge of the health service and he is, of course, entirely right. Abolishing competitive tendering for support services would threaten the loss of the savings of £150 million a year that have been achieved in the national health service thus far. Opposition to those improvements and to efficiency improvements worth £400 million could only remove more than £500 million from the health service, year after year after year. That is the policy of the Opposition, but not of the Government.


Q7. Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West) : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. Archer : Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, prior to the last election, the Government gave a categorical assurance that if re- elected they would not increase VAT? Bearing in mind that, having been re- elected, the Government doubled VAT, will the Prime Minister invite the electorate to believe future election promises? If so, can he now say categorically whether the Conservative party, if re-elected, will increase VAT further?

The Prime Minister : Characteristically, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is telling only half the story. He utterly neglects to mention the fact that there was a precisely corresponding reduction in local tax by way of the reduction in the community charge.