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1992 - PMQT 9th July 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 9th July 1992. Tony Newton deputised for John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Helen Jackson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

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

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is on his way to Helsinki to attend a conference on security and co-operation in Europe.

Mrs. Jackson : Will the Leader of the House be so kind as to ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees that the prompt and efficient administration of public money is his responsibility and therefore, that it is his and his Government's responsibility that many of my constituents are waiting more than six months to have their disability living allowance claims processed? Will he ask the Prime Minister to join me in commiserating with Mr. Michael Bichard who has had no fewer than 26 parliamentary questions and hundreds of letters of complaint referred to him from hon. Members?

Mr. Newton : I am not sure that I shall invite my right hon. Friend to agree with all that, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree about the duty that we all have to ensure the proper administration of public money, about the satisfaction, which the hon. Lady has not expressed, in the level of demand for the extremely successful new disability benefits, and about the Government's determination to ensure that those benefits are effectively delivered.


Q2. Sir John Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Sir John Hannam : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the tremendous success of the health service reforms, especially in my part of Devon where the general practitioner fund holdings and the trusts are working for the benefit of staff and patients? Will he welcome the changed attitude of the British Medical Association, which shows the popularity and success of the reforms?

Mr. Newton : Yes, I very much welcome that. It reflects the fact that practical experience throughout the country is demonstrating the benefits of those reforms. There is clearly also a wide welcome for the announcement made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, which will build further on their success.

Dr. John Cunningham : What reasons does the Leader of the House give for the Prime Minister's failure to achieve his objectives at the economic summit in Munich?

Mr. Newton : An economic summit, whether it takes place in Munich or anywhere else, is a gathering of people designed to achieve agreement on the pursuit of common objectives. No one member of such a gathering can force the others to agree. It is clear, however, that useful progress was made at Munich on key objectives relating both to western relations with Russia and to advancing the objectives of the GATT round. Progress was also made in a number of other ways.

Dr. Cunningham : Is it not clear that no amount of vacuous communiques can disguise the fact that, for the second year running, Britain is bottom of the G7 league in relation to growth, investment and job creation? As even Lady Thatcher is now warning of economic catastrophe in Britain, is it not time for new economic and industrial policies for our country? Will the Government act now or will they simply continue to wring their hands and do nothing?

Mr. Newton : It is clear that the action taken by the Government in recent months is creating a secure foundation for the country to emerge from the recession in the latter part of this year. If the hon. Gentleman is in a quoting frame of mind, he may wish to know that in a press release issued only three or four days ago the Institute of Directors said that half the directors questioned in June were more optimistic. That is the highest level of sustained optimism since August 1988.

Dr. Cunningham : Twelve months ago, the Prime Minister claimed a triumph for the economic summit in London, and the Government did nothing. Will they do nothing again about the appalling misery that they are creating in this country?

Mr. Newton : The Government will continue with the sustained application of policies which are producing the conditions for recovery, and doing so successfully.


Q3. Mr. Hague : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Hague : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming this week's announcement of an order for the fourth Trident submarine? Does he agree that the three best recent additions to the future security of the nation are the ordering of the submarine, the re-election of a Government who had the consistency and good sense to proceed with the order, and the defeat of Opposition parties whose recommendations vary from scrapping this important deterrent altogether to sending submarines out to sea with no weapons on board?

Mr. Newton : In a word, I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said.

Ms. Lynne : Can the Leader of the House explain how we can take the proposals on health promotion seriously when the Government are presiding over the collapse of national health service dentistry?

Mr. Newton : It is absurd to suggest that the Government are presiding over the collapse, as the hon. Lady puts it, of NHS dentistry, given the increases in NHS treatment, the number of dentists and their remuneration over the past few years.


Q4. Mr. Haselhurst : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Haselhurst : In the light of the targets set in the Government's White Paper, published yesterday, will the Government consider removing tobacco products from the calculation of the retail prices index? If we believe that price is the main deterrent to smokers, is it not ridiculous that the Chancellor should feel any inhibition about increasing duty on tobacco products because of the effect that that would have on the cost of living and on benefits related to it?

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend will know that an advisory committee looks carefully and independently at the proper make-up of the RPI. I would not wish to dictate to that committee how it should do its work. I should point out, however, referring to the figures given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, that the increases in tobacco prices in recent years do not suggest that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been suffering from any inhibition in that respect.


Q5. Mr. Barnes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Barnes : At 4 o'clock this afternoon in the Jubilee Room the Spastics Society will launch a report on the problems of disabled people in the 1992 general election. Is the Leader of the House aware that many disabled people could not gain access to polling stations in the election and also had problems with the postal voting system? Will he ensure that the report, entitled "Polls Apart", is studied at the highest level and that action is taken to ensure that everyone, able-bodied or disabled, who is entitled to exercise the franchise, is given access to the procedure?

Mr. Newton : As a former Minister for disabled people myself, I would not wish to do anything with such a report other than to examine it carefully and draw it to the attention of those concerned, returning officers and others. The hon. Gentleman's concern is legitimate.


Q6. Sir Peter Tapsell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Sir Peter Tapsell : Now that Germany has made it clear that it intends to continue for a long period in the maintenance of economic policies which are driving the rest of Europe from recession into slump, so as to re-equip its eastern provinces, is it not more than ever necessary for British Ministers to show the same resolution in supporting British industry? As this country has determined its own money supply for several centuries, why do Ministers suddenly find that they can no longer do that without having their hands held by a group of German bank clerks? Has not the time now come for us to leave the exchange rate mechanism, at least until such time as German interest rates are reduced to a level compatible with the needs of the whole of the rest of Europe?

Mr. Newton : The British Government--with support from both sides of the House, in my recollection--accepted the disciplines of the ERM as the essential basis for a British policy designed to bring down inflation and to create the conditions for a sound economy. I see no basis for departing from that.


Q7. Ms. Primarolo : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Ms. Primarolo : Will the Leader of the House explain why, under the citizens charter, someone whose train is late is entitled to claim compensation, but when the Government fail to ensure that people's applications for disability allowances are speedily processed, those people are not entitled to claim compensation against the Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman suggest to the Prime Minister that proposals for such compensation should be produced as a matter of urgency, to ensure the efficiency of government?

Mr. Newton : As I believe the hon. Lady knows, in certain fairly limited circumstances compensation may be payable for a failure of the Department--for negligence, perhaps. The key is to ensure, as the Department is actively seeking to do, that the high level of demand for the new disability benefits--having introduced them myself, I welcome that high level of demand--is met by the administration. That is what my colleagues in the Department are seeking to do.


Q8. Mr. Mark Robinson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Robinson : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming yesterday's White Paper on "The Health of the Nation"? Will he also welcome the fact that, at a time of vastly increased resources for the health service, the Government are pushing ahead to make further improvements to the health of the nation and will continue to do so?

Mr. Newton : I agree with my hon. Friend. Yesterday's White Paper is a significant development in the success of the national health service and in its further success for the rest of this century and beyond. It marks a significant move from the health service's being, in old-fashioned terms, an illness service, to its being a genuine health service.


Q9. Mr. Darling : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 July.

Mr. Newton : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Darling : Why did the Government forget to mention in their manifesto of just three months ago that they intended to privatise water supply in Scotland?

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman is aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has had those matters under consideration. He will also be aware that my right hon. Friend will set out the basis of Government policy in the appropriate way, at the appropriate time.

Mr. George Howarth : Is the Leader of the House aware that this is national housing week and that housing provision and the construction industry are gripped in a crisis? Would not this be an appropriate time to organise the phased release of the £7 billion of local authority capital receipts to solve the housing crisis and the crisis that the Government have engineered in the construction industry?

Mr. Newton : I am tempted to refer the hon. Gentleman to a reply that I myself gave on that point on Tuesday. The Government are in the process of making £6 billion available to housing associations over the next three years. That will produce about 150,000 new homes for rent or low-cost ownership.

Mr. Moate : Recalling the visit to London by thousands of fishermen earlier this week, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to ask Parliament to impose tough restrictions on British fishermen which will not be applied to Common Market fishermen--including those who fish in British- controlled waters, with some taking British quota? As the proposals are clearly unfair and will almost certainly be doomed to failure without the industry's co-operation, will my right hon. Friend consult his colleagues about withdrawing them now and starting new consultations?

Mr. Newton : I certainly cannot undertake to enter consultations with a view to withdrawing proposals which are most important in relation to the conservation of fish stocks and, therefore, to the long-term future of our fishing industry. Other member states will be subject to Community targets. Our aim is, and will remain, to ensure that the burden of adjustment is fairly shared.