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1997 - PMQT 4th March 1997

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 4th March 1997.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Soley: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 March.

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. Soley: Does the Prime Minister agree that, if the negotiations in Northern Ireland result in a devolved assembly, Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland should continue to be able to speak and vote in this House on matters affecting England, Scotland and Wales? If he does agree with that, why would it not be a threat to the Union?

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the powers that are likely to go to a Northern Ireland Assembly with those proposed for a Scottish Assembly. As he knows, they are not remotely comparable.

Mr. Soley indicated dissent.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but they are not comparable. That is why his corollary is the wrong one.

Mr. Budgen: Will my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great successes of the past 18 years has been the strict control of immigration, which has much reduced racial tension in this country? Will he condemn the proposals, even by new Labour, to abolish the primary purpose rule and to grant immigration rights to the extended family? Does he agree that that will increase racial tension and create resentment even among sections of the Asian community?

The Prime Minister: In the past 18 years, we have seen the most extraordinary changes and improvements in race relations in this country. I think that is immensely important. I am certainly not going to lend my voice or my policy to anything that would damage that improvement.

Mr. Blair: The Prime Minister deserves credit for that answer. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Hon. Members must come to order. Mr. Jamieson.

Mr. Blair: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Does the Prime Minister agree, following the past 48 hours, that it would be better for the Secretary of State for Health to concentrate on dealing with the crisis in the national health service, rather than adding to the crisis in the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend has done a great deal to improve services in the NHS, and he has also tackled many social service matters that required examination and improvement. I think that he has been an outstanding Secretary of State for Health, and I believe that many people who are treated in the health service these days appreciate the improvements that have occurred.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister at least accept the evidence contained in a report due to be published on Thursday? A survey of 300 accident and emergency departments across the country shows that many are in acute and chronic crisis and that many simply cannot make do. The survey says that the problem has been made worse by the Conservatives' internal market reforms.

If the Prime Minister is to stumble on in office until 1 May, would it not be better for Ministers to use that time not playing games about who the next Tory leader will be but showing real leadership and tackling the problems facing the country?

The Prime Minister: Over the past five years, as we have tackled the problems facing the country, we have had nothing but opposition from the Labour party. Whatever fresh proposition was put forward--whether for health, education or controlling public spending--we could be certain that the Labour party would oppose it, and it did.

The fact is that we are creating a modern health service fit for the 21st century. Instead of carping about the health service, it would make a change if the Opposition offered some constructive proposals because, as yet, we have seen none. They say that they oppose bureaucracy, but they opposed us when we abolished the entire regional health tier. They say that hospitals are underfunded, but they will not match our pledge to increase funds. They say that they would increase efficiency, but they would abolish our reforms and set up a new tier of bureaucracy. The very last thing that the national health service needs is an ideological Labour Government causing chaos and disruption.

Mr. Blair: The very problem that the health service has had is an ideological Tory Government causing difficulties. That is why we have 20,000 more managers and 50,000 fewer nurses. If the Prime Minister believes his case on the health service, education and other issues, let him have the courage of his convictions and put the matter to the country now.

The Prime Minister: I shall certainly be taking our case on the health service and other matters to the country. I look forward to discussing the reality of what has been done in the health service.

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying that he seeks to improve the health service. The Opposition opposed national health service trusts, which are delivering better hospitals; they opposed fundholders, which are transforming primary care; and they attacked managers despite the fact that, before the reforms, no one could tell anyone where the money was going in the national health service.

The Opposition also attacked compulsory competitive tendering, despite the fact that it is saving millions of pounds that can go to patient care; and they are committed to a minimum wage, without saying how much it would cost the health service and whether they would fund it.

The Opposition will not match our pledge to increase funds in real terms for the health service in each successive year of the next Conservative Government.

Sir Michael Shersby: Is my right hon. Friend aware that accidents involving NHS employees are costing £154 million a year, according to evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee only a few days ago? Will he therefore ask the Health and Safety Executive to ensure that the guidance given by the national health service executive to hospitals is put into practice? That would lead to great savings from fewer accidents; that money could be redeployed to acquire more nurses, more doctors and more services.

The Prime Minister: We are certainly keen to ensure that the money goes to patient services. That is happening increasingly now that we know how the money is being spent in the health service--before our reforms, we did not have that information. Of course I shall ask my right hon. Friend to consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.

Mr. Ashdown: When last week the Prime Minister instructed members of the Conservative party to start the fight back immediately, did he expect them to take him quite so literally? Lord Tebbit attacks the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord McAlpine seeks to duff up the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary seems to want to take on the whole Cabinet. In deciding how to deal with these delinquents, has the Prime Minister ever considered making use of secure accommodation and electronic tagging?

The Prime Minister: If that is an indication from the right hon. Gentleman that he does support measures such as electronic tagging, I am pleased that in some areas he is moving towards the Government's policy.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my right hon. Friend agree with the proposition propounded by the post-war Labour Government that constitutional measures should always be taken in Committee on the Floor of the House?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I do. That has been the constitutional position in this House. It is the way in which matters have normally been handled. I cannot conceive that anyone would wish to change that long-established tradition.


Q2. Mr. Winnick: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 March.

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

Mr. Winnick: Is Lord McAlpine correct to say that the Prime Minister asked him to collect a very large sum of money and that the person concerned turned out to be a Greek shipping tycoon, a very dubious character who had supported the Greek military dictatorship? Do the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General feel any responsibility for the fact that stolen money--and it is stolen money--from Asil Nadir is being used by the Conservative party for its election campaign? Should not all those matters be referred to the Nolan committee?

The Prime Minister: The Labour party has just been canvassing for resources in the United States, presumably from overseas donors. It is interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman, of all Members of the House, propounding the idea that it is acceptable to take money from Americans but not from people of other nationalities, were it to be offered. If he is concerned about funding, he should concern himself with the funding of his leader's office and his deputy leader's office, and with the trade unions buying votes in the Labour party.

Mr. Luff: Is it not all really rather simple, when properly understood? Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this country has the most successful economy of any major country in Europe? Are not the Government determined to protect the interests of the United Kingdom in Europe and to protect the unity of the United Kingdom and its interests and influence throughout the world, and would not all that be put at risk by the Labour party's policies?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. The most important element of the economy's success is the fact that success and growth yield the resources to fund the services, such as education and health, that we wish to improve but which could not be improved without an improving economy.


Q3. Mrs. Helen Jackson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 March.

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

Mrs. Jackson: Following the very decisive statement by the voters of Wirral last week, will the Prime Minister take the opportunity today to redeem his long-established reputation for indecisiveness and tell us whether the election will be on 1 May?

The Prime Minister: I warmly congratulate the new hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) on his success, but I would advise him not to unpack his bags.

Mr. Richards: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the rate of unemployment in every constituency in Wales is lower than that in Germany and France? Does he agree that if the United Kingdom were to copy the European social model, as the Dollies opposite would have us do, unemployment in Wales would double?

The Prime Minister: The levels of unemployment have fallen dramatically across the United Kingdom over recent years, as a result of the policies that we have followed. For example, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), they have fallen by 25 per cent., and by 36 per cent. in the constituency of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). Unemployment has fallen by 31 per cent. in Sheffield, and by 40 per cent. in Sedgefield. On the back of that, one would expect the Opposition to agree that the policies that we have been following create jobs, whereas the policies that they are following have created unemployment across Europe.


Q4. Mr. Illsley: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 March.

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

Mr. Illsley: Would the Prime Minister care to comment on the attack by Lord Tebbit on his Deputy Prime Minister, whom he described as

"tasteless, tacky if not dishonourable, and self-centred"?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister replied for himself quite adequately on that matter.