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1991 - PMQT Written Answers 16th December 1991

Below is the text of the written answers relating to Prime Minister's Question Time from 16th December 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

Government Achievements

Mr. Nicholls : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the achievements of Her Majesty's Government over the past year.

The Prime Minister : Over the past year the Government have continued to pursue policies designed to remove barriers to choice and provide opportunities for all the people of this country, to lay a sound basis for future prosperity, to play a full part in Europe and to contribute to international peace and stability.

Our firm financial policies, reaffirmed by our commitment to the exchange rate mechanism, have reduced inflation sharply and permitted interest rates to be substantially reduced. The conditions necessary for resumed growth have now been established.

We have brought forward a Bill to provide for a new council tax, to replace the community charge in financing local government spending. The Budget helped businesses, large and small. We have taken initiatives to encourage innovation in industry and improve export performance. We have initiated joint action with industry to help identify and pursue export opportunities. Its first use in Kuwait in March 1991 has already led to orders worth £480 million for the United Kingdom. We have opened up telephone services to allow consumers to benefit from more competition.

We have continued to promote wider share ownership. National Power, PowerGen and the non-nuclear electricity companies in England, Wales and Scotland, have been privatised, and a second tranche of shares in British Telecom sold to the public. One in four members of the adult population now owns shares.

We have provided more effective training opportunities and are now offering a wider range of help than ever before to assist unemployed people in obtaining new jobs.

We attach the highest priority to ensuring that everyone, whoever and wherever they are, will have access to high quality public services. The citizens charter White Paper announced a programme of radical initiatives to improve efficiency and standards in the public services and the privatised utilities. Measures to implement the charter feature strongly in our legislative programme for 1991-92, and we have published a number of charters relating to individual public services.

In education we have taken action to raise standards and improve parental choice. The new School Teachers' Review Body for England and Wales provides the means of improving teachers' status. The development of the national curriculum will encourage concentration on basic skills. Our legislation to provide parents with more information about the performance of schools and to improve school inspection will give parents the basis on which to exercise the choices they are now able to make.

We have also introduced legislation to widen access to an expanded higher education system, to abolish the distinction between universities and other higher education institutions, and to raise the status of vocational education and of further education colleges. Spending on science by the Department of Education and Science will top £1 billion for the first time next year and will rise in real terms for the remainder of the planning period.

The Government's health policies have led to an increase in the number of patients treated, a reduction in waiting times and lists, better quality of care and greater awareness of health promotion. The consultative document "The Health of the Nation", setting out a comprehensive strategy for better health, has been warmly welcomed. Record levels of resources have been made available : spending on the NHS in 1992-93 will be nearly £36 billion, a 55 per cent. increase in real terms since 1978-79.

The NHS reforms are already yielding tangible benefits for patients. Fifty seven NHS trusts have already been established and 99 more approved for start-up in 1992. The growing enthusiasm for trust status within the NHS means that many more will follow. GP fundholding is also proving a success. The patients charter has set out patients' rights for the first time and the standards which will be set nationally and locally by the health service, including the first waiting time guarantees.

We have maintained our determined efforts in the fight against crime. We have established a royal commission on criminal justice to examine the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in securing the convictions of those guilty of criminal offences and the acquittal of the innocent.

In September we published "This Common Inheritance--The First Year Report" reporting progress on the whole range of environmental policies and concerns, and listing 400 separate measures taken during the year.

We have continued to raise standards of food safety, ensure consumers are better informed, make environmental considerations central to agricultural policy, with significant extension of environmentally sensitive areas, as well as raising standards of animal welfare in Britain and taking the lead in setting higher standards throughout Europe.

We have continued to invest record sums in the improvement of the United Kingdom's transport infrastructure, and to encourage greater private sector involvement in the provision of transport facilities. We have introduced legislation to enable the structure of English local government to be reviewed so as better to reflect the identities and interests of local communities.

We have continued to work for the regeneration of our cities. The city challenge initiative encourages local authorities to work with their private, voluntary sector and local community partners, to regenerate key areas of their cities.

In the housing field, the new emphasis on quality of performance will further improve the renovation and management of council housing in England and Wales. We have introduced pilot rent-to-mortgage schemes, to extend tenants' opportunities to buy their homes, and brought in new arrangements to ensure that tenants are actively consulted in local authorities housing plans. A special programme of hostels and permanent housing is reducing the numbers of people sleeping rough in central London.

We have improved the position of children. We have increased child benefit, and pledged to increase it in line with inflation in the future. The Children Act, which came into effect this year, is a far reaching reform of children's rights. The new Child Support Agency, for which legislation was passed earlier this year, will improve the assessment, collection and enforcement of child maintenance. We are continuing to enhance the opportunities for disabled people to play an independent part in society. In 1991 we enacted legislation providing for two new social security benefits for disabled people. Nineteen-ninety-one has seen momentous events internationally. The United Kingdom's contribution to the liberation of Kuwait enhanced our standing in the world, strengthened the power of the United Nations and proved again the outstanding abilities of our armed forces. We responded rapidly to the Iraqi Government's persecution of their own people, proposing the safe-haven initiative to provide an effective response to the plight of ordinary Iraqis. Building on the experience of this we launched the United Kingdom's disaster relief initiative in August to provide the capacity for an immediate informed response to disasters round the world.

The United Kingdom contributed significantly to the successful outcome of the Maastricht European Council. We have fully protected the United Kingdom's right to take its own decision at the appropriate time on a move to the final stage of economic and monetary union. On political union, we have agreed a series of pragmatic reforms, many as a result of our proposals, which will make the Community more efficient, accountable and effective internationally. The new treaty on European union will also strengthen inter-governmental co-operation outside the framework of the Community in important areas like the fight against crime. We have continued to make steady progress towards completing the single market by the end of 1992 and to the conclusion of the GATT Uruguay round. The Government welcomed the determination confirmed at the Maastricht European Council to keep the Community open to our European neighbours who are eager for closer links and eventual membership. It was agreed that in 1992 negotiations would take place on applications from countries of the European Free Trade Area to join the Community, and, in due course, consideration would be given to the further possibility of expansion towards eastern Europe. I chaired the successful G7 economic summit in July and the historic meeting between summit leaders and President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union. The Government vigorously denounced the attempted coup in the Soviet Union and supported President Yeltsin's courageous stand against it. I have co-ordinated the G7 programme of aid for the republics of the Soviet Union.

The Government played an important part in concluding the treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe. We have continued to make a substantial contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, participating fully in adapting the alliance, and developing a stronger European defence identity in the Western European Union. We have taken steps to restructure the armed forces to reflect the changed international situation.

We have made a determined effort to promote democracy and good government in the developing countries, as a means to improving the prospects for development and the reduction of poverty. My announcement at the Commonwealth conference in Harare in October that the United Kingdom would implement the Trinidad terms debt reduction initiative for the poorest and most indebted countries was widely and warmly welcomed. If all official creditors followed this lead, the total debt of the countries concerned would be reduced by some $17 billion. At our instigation, the European Community and the Commonwealth have taken a more positive attitude to the welcome developments in South Africa, and sporting links have now been re- established with that country.

These policies will ensure that the United Kingdom is well placed and fully prepared to meet the challenges of the 1990s.


World Memorial Day

Mr. Flynn : To ask the Prime Minister what contribution Her Majesty's Government intends to make to World Memorial Day on 1 January 1992.

The Prime Minister : The Government note the inauguration of World Memorial Day on 1 January 1992 by the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief. Her Majesty's Government will continue to do all they can to promote a safer and better world which is the stated object of the fund.


Packaging

Mr. Flynn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make it his policy to require Her Majesty's Stationery Office to use biodegradeable rice paper chips in place of styrofoam chips in packaging of parcels.

The Prime Minister : This question falls within the scope of the policy announced in Cm 1263; arrangements have therefore been made for the controller and chief executive of HMSO to respond direct. Copies of the letter will be placed in the House Library and with the Public Information Office.


Nuclear Weapons

Mr. Michael Welsh : To ask the Prime Minister what evaluation has been made of which countries have the know-how for safely dismantling nuclear weapons.

The Prime Minister : The five declared nuclear weapon states have to dismantle and reassemble their own nuclear weapons in order to maintain their stockpiles. The break-up of the Soviet Union may pose a range of problems, including the safe disposal of nuclear warheads. We are addressing these problems, in consultation with our allies and Soviet and Republic authorities.


Junior Doctors

Mr. Norris : To ask the Prime Minister if he has yet received the supplementary report from the Doctors and Dentists Review Body on pay for out-of-hours work for junior doctors.

The Prime Minister : This report has been published today and copies are in the Vote Office. I am grateful to the review body for the work they have put into preparing it.

The report recommends new rates of pay for out of hours working by hospital doctors and dentists in training, following the agreement reached earlier this year which introduced new working arrangements and set limits on contracted hours of duty for such staff. The recommended rates of pay are : --

100 per cent. of the basic rate for full shift working

70 per cent. of the basic rate for partial shift working 50 per cent. of the basic rate for on call rota working The recommendations, which arise from a major restructuring of working arrangements, are estimated to increase the paybill for hospital doctors and dentists in training by 5.8 per cent., given certain assumptions about the proportion of staff who will be contracted under each working pattern.

The Government have decided to accept these recommendations and we shall seek to implement them as soon as possible in order to help to deliver our objective of reducing the hours of work of hospital doctors and dentists in training. The costs of the award will be met by health authorities and boards from the resources which we have made available to them this year and which we shall be making available to them in future years.