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1992 - PMQT 30th January 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 30th January 1992. John MacGregor deputised for John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Martyn Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 January.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been having important discussions today with President Yeltsin, who is on his first visit abroad as President of an independent Russia. My right hon. Friend will be meeting President Bush this evening after my right hon. Friend's arrival in New York to chair a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Jones : I am sorry that I so rattled the Prime Minister with my question at the previous Prime Minister's Question Time that he has not come to the House today. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies spring budget report shows that Government borrowing is likely to reach £20 billion next year, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that the Prime Minister and his Chancellor have reneged on their promises to balance the books?

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman will have to await the Budget statement on matters relating to his question. As is absolutely clear, we have made our spending plans public. They are set out in detail and we have indicated how they are paid for. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that clear on Tuesday. I note that the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers says :

"Labour, if elected, would have little scope for increased spending in the early years unless it were willing to increase taxes by more than it has indicated."

The country now says, "And how!"

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that too often we lose sight of the fact that the national health service was born as a result of co-operation between three parties? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that the founders of the health service would be horrified at the resistance to the reforms so ably carried out by the Government for the benefit of patients throughout the country?

Mr. MacGregor : I entirely agree. It is clear that we have not only substantially increased expenditure on the national health service but that we are the only party proposing credible reforms, the results of which are already showing. I assume that that is why a consultant, who is the nephew of a distinguished former socialist in the House, said yesterday :

"I do not believe the health service would be safe in Labour's hands."

Mr. Hattersley : When the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that if the Conservatives were re-elected they would not increase VAT, was he giving the House and the country a categorical assurance?

Mr. MacGregor : My right hon. Friend made the position absolutely clear on Tuesday.

Mr. Hattersley : Is the Leader of the House aware that the Prime Minister also made the position categorically clear on 6 April, when he said :

"No honest Government could give a categorical assurance that they would not increase VAT. No Government ever has, and no Government ever will."

Was the Prime Minister telling the truth last Tuesday or last April?

Mr. MacGregor : What my right hon. Friend said on Tuesday is : "There will be no VAT increase we have published our spending plans and there is no need for us to raise VAT to meet them."--[ Official Report, 28 January 1992 ; Vol. 202, c. 808.]

That is absolutely clear, and it is in clear contrast to the position of the Labour party, which maintains its high spending policies and is all over the place in deciding how to finance them.

Mr. Hattersley : It is absolutely clear that the Leader of the House has either no authority or insufficient courage to say whether that promise was categorical or whether it was what the country believes it to have been-- evidence of a Prime Minister panicked into making a promise that he has no intention of keeping. Is not the truth about Tory policy on VAT revealed in the party's latest campaign document--that the way to raise taxes is "Wait until they spend the money as that is the right moment to tax them"?

Mr. MacGregor : I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made the position absolutely clear, as we have done on many occasions. It is also clear that in the last two weeks the whole country, as it heard different voices and different noises, has wondered who is speaking for the Labour party. Indeed, on Sunday the right hon. Gentleman was proposing that Labour's recession package should be introduced after the recession had ended.

Mr. Dykes : Has my hon. Friend noticed that in recent weeks, as the public have been able to assess our present policies and our future policy offerings, there has been a very sharp and noticeable increase in our opinion poll ratings? That is not just a coincidence. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opinion poll improvement in the past few weeks reflects not only our excellent policy range but the fact that the election is getting closer and the best is yet to come?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree that as we unfold our positive policies over the next few weeks, and as the electorate sees more and more of what Labour is offering--or not offering--what my hon. Friend has suggested will come about.


Q2. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 January.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. McAvoy : The Cabinet is split from top to bottom over the Prime Minister's policy of using Common Market grants for tax cuts instead of for the provision of help to deprived areas. Will the Leader of the House confirm the report in yesterday's Financial Times that the rules for allocating this money were changed in 1988 with the approval of the Government, and will he give an immediate assurance that the new rules will be obeyed? Why should Britain's areas of highest unemployment suffer because of Tory party internal divisions?

Mr. MacGregor : There are no internal Tory party divisions. The position on the particular issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers is that for some years now we have pursued the same policy that the money has been, in the formula applied, additional and is reflected in higher public spending plans, and that it is for the Commissioner to honour the pledge that we have had for years past.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Has my right hon. Friend noticed in the past few days the widespread support for our plans to seek better-quality services from councils? Has he noticed that much advice has been given to us on how that should be done? Some of the advice is bizarre. Will he confirm that he will reject advice to use as a role model councils such as Lambeth, Liverpool, Hackney and Southwark--in other words, councils which have high borrowing, rotten services and high community charges and which have lost control of their housing stock, and all of which are run by the Labour party?

Mr. MacGregor : It is clear that nearly all of the 10 worst councils in terms of rent collection and houses left empty are Labour controlled. It is also clear that many of the high-spending authorities are Labour. The country will draw its own conclusion that under a Labour Administration there are great inefficiencies, high spending and high taxation.


Q3. Mr. Kilfoyle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 January.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Kilfoyle : Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), and given the obvious confusion among Ministers about the implications of their electoral promises for the future level of value added tax, can the Leader of the House conjure up the actual figure for value added tax when his Government came to office in June 1979, and the level now as they go out of office?

Mr. MacGregor : We have, of course, in addition undertaken a considerable change-- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer."] I intend to answer. We have undertaken a considerable change from direct to indirect taxes, which is absolutely right because it enables many more people to spend their money as they wish. That is the policy which we have pursued consistently, with the result that direct taxation has come down substantially. However, we did not have the very high rates on many goods such as television sets, which are described as luxury goods but are essentials for many people--rates which we inherited and which I understand that the Labour party would consider again.


May Day

Q4. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has for the future of the May day bank holiday.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

The Government have no plans to change the present public holiday arrangements, although we shall continue to keep the situation under review.

Mr. Field : Why do we not throw off this hangover of socialism and instead celebrate a free enterprise day, a British export day or, better still, a low taxation day? Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who think that high taxation is the answer to recession are about to try to convince the electorate that suffocation is a form of first aid?

Mr. MacGregor : On the question about May day being a bank holiday, I can give my hon. Friend some comfort. Although I know that my hon. Friend is interested in switching it to the autumn, we have no plans to do that because there are different views about it. I think that he will agree nevertheless that on May day, instead of celebrating socialism, we now celebrate the end of socialism.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Will the Lord President of the Council, as a fellow Scot, tell me whether he has had the opportunity to study in depth the implications of the ICM opinion poll?

Mr. Speaker : Order. Sadly, the question is about May day.


Engagements

Q5. Mr. Bellingham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 January.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Bellingham : Will the Leader of the House find time today to plan a journey from south Norfolk to north-west Norfolk to look at the local health services? He is welcome to bring with him Sir Roy Griffiths. He will see that a number of general practitioner practices have become fundholders, that a local NHS trust has already reduced waiting lists by 1,200 in the last year, and that a district authority is about to merge with a neighbour to give itself more clout. Are not those the results of Tory policies working for the benefit of patients?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is right. The same is happening in west Norfolk, as well as throughout the country. As a result of the reforms, already in a very short period we see improved services, shortened waiting lists, and so on. Interestingly, we are also seeing increasing support for the reforms from the medical profession itself and increasing take-up of them.

Mr. Redmond : Will the Leader of the House convey to the Prime Minister the request that he restore to Back Benchers--

[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not know what the hilarity is about, but please carry on.

Mr. Redmond : --the right to examine Government legislation and that he stop the appalling use of the guillotine which stifles it?

Mr. MacGregor : We shall be discussing that matter in a short while. I shall make plain our position on today's business.


Q6. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 January.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Coombs : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is evidence of the growing success of the Government's education reforms that this year 28,800 people have enrolled for teacher training courses--20 per cent. more than last year and the best figure for 15 years? Is that not in stark contrast with the cynical disregard for educational standards shown by those Labour Members who filibustered on the parents charter Bill last night?

Mr. MacGregor : Later today we shall be able to debate further the great improvement in standards that we are achieving as a result of our reforms. My hon. Friend draws attention to one of them. I am delighted with the considerable increase in the number coming forward for teacher training. It reflects the fact that we have considerably improved the salary prospects and career prospects of teachers as a result of all the steps that we have taken in recent years.


Q7. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 January.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Bennett : Will the Leader of the House confirm that although few people in Britain would expect the Prime Minister to match President Yeltsin bottle for bottle, they will find it odd that the Government insist on increasing or doubling Britain's nuclear fire power when both the Russians and the Americans see good reasons for cutting theirs?

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue and I want to make the position clear. We welcome the proposals to reduce the super-power arsenals. They are wonderful news for all of us. We must hope that the current plans are implemented. But let us be perfectly clear about the scale of what is involved. The present arsenal of the former Soviet republics is 27,000 warheads, and it will take them many years to implement the current proposals. Even at the end of that process, they will have thousands of nuclear weapons. Our deterrent involves one boat on patrol at all times with no more than 128 warheads. So the scale is very different. I believe that the whole country thinks that with the uncertainties in the world--in the middle east and elsewhere, as well as in the Soviet Union-- and looking ahead to the next 10 years, it is essential that we maintain our minimum credible nuclear deterrent.