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1990 - PMQT 29th November 1990

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 29th November 1990. This was the first PMQT answered by John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Roger King : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 29 November 1990. The first question to a great new Prime Minister, Sir.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) rose --

Mr. Skinner : Resign!

The Prime Minister : Now wait a while.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a longstanding engagement in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery).

Mr. King : May I preface my question by asking--

Hon. Members : No.

Mr. Speaker : I think that it would be more helpful if the hon. Gentleman encompassed it.

Mr. King : In congratulating my right hon. Friend on becoming Prime Minister, may I assure him of the total and united support of my constituency and every constituency in the country?

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the latest round of national health service cuts in the South Birmingham area--a cut of 17 per cent. in the past 15 months in the number of people awaiting an operation and a cut of 26 per cent. in the past five years in the same group? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the national health service continues to make such cuts?

The Prime Minister : That is certainly the intention of our reforms, our management and our financing of the national health service. I congratulate South Birmingham health authority. It has made good use of the extra resources that it had last year and I expect it to continue to do so in the future. Mr. Kinnock rose--

Hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am anxious to call as many hon. Members as possible.

Mr. Kinnock : May I offer my personal congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on becoming Prime Minister? As the right hon. Gentleman says that he was bounced into the poll tax, does he now intend to abolish it?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome to the Dispatch Box. I look forward to our discussions over the forthcoming years. On the community charge, I have made it perfectly clear what the position will be. We have decided that we shall look again to see what further refinements may be necessary to ensure that the community charge is accepted throughout the country.

Mr. Kinnock : May I offer some help to the right hon. Gentleman-- [Hon. Members :-- "No."] It is well intended. He could save himself a great deal of time and trouble and the British people a great deal of money by accepting Labour party policy and abolishing the poll tax now.

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will take forward a very thorough, constructive and fundamental review of the community charge. In doing so, he will take account of the points made by my hon. Friends both north and south of the Scottish border before we reach conclusions. On this side of the House we believe in examining matters before reaching conclusions.

Mr. Kinnock : Everybody, including the right hon. Gentleman, knows that there is only one fundamental, efficient and fair thing to do with the poll tax and that is to scrap it.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman forgets the alternative, to which he has decided to return. Was not it he who, in 1980, said that

"the most unjust of all taxes, local rates, take most from those who can afford least"?


Q2. Mr. Patrick Thompson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 November.

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

Mr. Thompson : Will my right hon. Friend accept the special congratulations and welcome that he will receive from East Anglian Members of Parliament and their constituents, particularly as he is an East Anglian Member of Parliament, representing Huntingdon? Will he confirm that shortly he will meet President Bush to discuss the Gulf and other matters of common concern so as to continue the Government's correct policy on these issues?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm that to my hon. Friend. The date has not yet been fixed, but I hope that it will be this side of Christmas.

Mr. Ashdown : May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Britain's Prime Minister? The whole nation will wish him success in the difficult task ahead-- [Hon. Members :-- "Speak for yourself."] For the sake of the nation, we wish the right hon. Gentleman success.

If in two weeks' time at the intergovernmental conference all 11 of our European partners say that they can accept the right hon. Gentleman's hard ecu proposal, provided that he will accept that it could be used as a transitional mechanism towards a single currency, perhaps by the end of the decade, will he agree?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generous welcome, which I appreciate. There will be a wide range of matters to discuss at the intergovernmental conference and we need to discuss them with great care before we proceed. The Government's position on the imposition of a single currency is clear : it is not acceptable.

Mrs. Peacock : After the recent turmoil and my right hon. Friend's uniting of the party, does he agree that his objective of a classless society in the future will be better served by a Conservative Government led by him than by the socialism offered by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to agree entirely with my hon. Friend about that. We need to continue to build on what has been achieved in the past 11 years to make this an open society of opportunity. The Government propose to do that.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : The Prime Minister in his recent meteoric rise has shown great dignity and pride in his humble origins. What priority will he now give to the problem of homelessness which he inherited from his predecessor? In particular, will he look at the issues of cardboard cities, people who live in damp homes and those who have no hope of a roof over their heads?

The Prime Minister : Everyone is entitled to dignity and pride. The Government's policies will endeavour to ensure that they can attain them.


Q3. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 November.

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

Mr. Coombs : May I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box?

Given the record rate of growth in the economy over the past 10 years, and as my right hon. Friend was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who relieved 6 million non-taxpayers of the need to pay tax on their savings at source, does he agree that the next decade of opportunity crucially depends on further tax reductions and further savings incentives of exactly the sort that have so reinvigorated the country in the past 10 years?

The Prime Minister : I assure my hon. Friend that I certainly favour further tax reductions when they are affordable and it is prudent to make them. I am extremely keen to see the growth of savings for two reasons : first, to provide the base from which the investment we need in the 1990s will come and, secondly, for the security and independence that savings give individuals and their families.

Mr. Blunkett : Earlier this week, the right hon. Gentleman's former boss, the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), described the poll tax as unworkable and politically catastrophic, whereas his predecessor as Prime Minister said that we had already had a fundamental review of the poll tax. Which of those two conflicting opposites has the Prime Minister advised the new Secretary of State to adopt in the new fundamental review of the poll tax to which he referred earlier?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made it entirely clear on a number of occasions from this Dispatch Box that when any new charge of this sort was introduced, it would need to be kept under review. That is what we are doing.

Mr. Shersby : At the commencement of his Administration, will my right hon. Friend declare continuing support for the police in their difficult task of maintaining law and order?

The Prime Minister : The police do a magnificent job in this country, often in difficult circumstances. I have no hesitation whatever in assuring my hon. Friend that I have the greatest admiration for the way they behave.


Q4. Mr. Patchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 November.

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

Mr. Patchett : If, as the right hon. Gentleman says, he is his own man, may I ask him to say in what way his policies will differ from those of his predecessor?

The Prime Minister : I am my own man and on that basis I see no need to beat my chest and tell the hon. Gentleman. Let him wait and see what we do.


Q5. Mrs. Maureen Hicks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 November.

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

Mrs. Hicks : I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend as Prime Minister. May I invite him to take some advice from a female colleague in relation to inner cities? Does he agree that to achieve his aim of a classless Britain, which is highly commendable, the Government need to give the highest priority to inner cities? Will he afford me the honour as soon as possible of coming to Wolverhampton and giving me the opportunity to demonstrate our success and illustrate the contraints of municipal socialism, which continues to deny choice and opportunity?

The Prime Minister : I find that an irresistible invitation. I am familiar with the problems of the inner cities. I regard them as a matter of great importance and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will bend his formidable energies to that problem.

Mr. Robert Hughes : With regard to the Prime Minister's desire for a classless society and social mobility, will he explain why there are no women in his Cabinet, or is the only woman in his Cabinet the back-seat driver?

The Prime Minister : In recent years, in all aspects of life in this country, women have been taking a higher profile : in the law, in commerce, in the civil service, in industry and in politics-- [Interruption.] --and that will continue. As those women would wish it to be, they will reach the top on merit-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : Oh yes, and if the hon. Gentleman is patient, he will find women aplenty in top positions in my Government. Indeed, if he had waited awhile, perhaps even to the end of today, he would not have asked that question.


Q6. Mr. Gill : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list his official engagements for Thursday 29 November.

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

Mr. Gill : I endorse the congratulations of my West Midlands colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks). My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will know of the tremendous support that exists for him in the west midlands. When my right hon. Friend visits Ludlow next July, will he take time to visit the Lady Forester memorial hospital in Much Wenlock, where Mrs. Major was born? He will find local people working hard to take over the management of their local hospital for the benefit of the local community.

The Prime Minister : I am certainly looking forward to visiting Much Wenlock. It is true that my wife was born at that hospital, so I have a good reason for looking forward to visiting it.

Mr. Radice : As a member of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on becoming Prime Minister? Now that he is Prime Minister, can he say whether the British economy is in recession?

The Prime Minister : As I have told the hon. Gentleman in the past, if he takes the classic definition of recession, it is never possible to determine whether we are in a recession until after the figures are available. As I have told the House more than once, I expect a small downturn in output for a brief period, but we shall be back in a growth pattern during the passage of next year, with inflation well down.