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1993 - PMQT 14th December 1993

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th December 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Etherington : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Etherington : Will the Prime Minister explain to the House how, at a time of national financial restraint, he can justify the expenditure of £15 million of taxpayers' money by him and his Cabinet colleagues on entertainment? I understand that that fund is appropriately known as the drinks cabinet. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that expenditure is little less than a scandal, when public service workers are being told that they face an indefinite wage freeze and does not it provide yet again that under his Administration there is one law for the powerful and another for the powerless?

The Prime Minister : At least the hon. Gentleman may be remembered for having made the worst pre-Christmas joke of the year. I happen to have the figures for No. 10 in front of me and I can tell him that expenditure on official hospitality at No. 10 was 27 per cent. lower than in previous years.

Mr. Pickles : Is my right hon. Friend aware that all the upper schools in my constituency have opted out of local authority control-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Pickles : Is my right hon. Friend aware that all the upper schools in my constituency have opted out of local authority control and that one of them--the Anglo-European school, which has an international reputation--is under threat from Essex county council because of a decision by the Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition to withdraw discretionary fares? That school has been the jewel in the crown of Essex. It has a high reputation for language training, and represents-- [Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying-- [Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning this.

Madam Speaker : Order. I have heard the hon. Gentleman now. Thank you.

The Prime Minister : I share my hon. Friend's pleasure in the number of schools that have become grant maintained, which now exceeds 1,000. I have not heard about the specific problem concerning a particular school in Essex, under the control of the Liberal Democrats, and I am sorry if there appears to be discrimination against the school.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister agree that it is disgraceful that the sums of money being spent in the health service on increased bureaucracy, huge salaries and perks for managers and glossy public relations seem totally out of control?

The Prime Minister : I do not share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion that the expenditure is out of control. I do not believe that it is. The amount of expenditure on administration in the health service is very tightly examined and very tightly controlled. What I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that when I examined the control over health expenditure some years ago, as Chief Secretary, there was virtually no reasonable control over expenditure. It is necessary to have such control and I believe that it is right that we should have it.

Mr. John Smith : Has the Prime Minister looked at the affairs of the National Health Service Supplies Authority? If there is control, why did it waste hundreds of thousands of pounds on changing a single word in its name --£5,500 for a new logo, £61,000 for artwork, £67,000 on publications, £40,000 to replace signs and £20,000 to repaint the vans? That is £200,000 of which not a penny was spent on patient care. What kind of control is that?

The Prime Minister : Administrative costs in the health service are about 2 per cent. of total costs. There are very few companies that could match that. There has been no time in our history when so many resources were devoted to patient care within the health service.

Mr. John Smith : Is the Prime Minister reluctant to condemn the example that I gave him because the chairman of the National Health Service Supplies Authority is Sir Robin Buchanan, a former Tory councillor and, until recently, the chairman of Wessex regional health authority, in which the grotesque mismanagement of public funds was exposed by the Public Accounts Committee?

The Prime Minister : What the right hon. and learned Gentleman utterly neglects to mention is the fact that there is more money in the health service and more patients are being treated in the health service than ever before. He may seek to throw sand in the eyes on other matters, but that is the reality of the health reforms and no sensible person would wish to reverse them.

Sir Peter Emery : Does my right hon. Friend accept the view of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe and of parliamentary delegations in Moscow monitoring the elections that the elections were full, free and fair? Will he make it clear that a Parliament or a Government, whether democratically elected or not, which show antagonism to Britain or the west, cannot expect to have economic aid poured in? Will he also make it clear that any move to annex nations that are now free and border on Commonwealth of Independent States countries must obtain the condemnation of the whole world?

The Prime Minister : We have not yet received the formal report from the observers of the elections, but the preliminary indications are that the elections were conducted freely and fairly. I look forward to the official reports in due course. It is, of course, too soon to say what the Russian Parliament will look like. There are a lot of results on a first- past-the-post basis that still have to come in. We shall have to examine that and examine the implications for British policy thereafter. It is undoubted that both the United Kingdom and the international community have recognised the independence of countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. We have recognised that and we expect their sovereignty to be respected.


Q2. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 December.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Banks : As we have been talking about wasting public money, will the Prime Minister tell us why he spent £292,000 on decorating No. 10 Downing street and improving the catering facilities? We thought that he had an outside caterer. Does he think that it is obscene that he should be spending that amount of taxpayer's money when, within yards of Downing street, thousands of people are living in cardboard boxes and in shop doorways? Is not it rather strange that a simple Brixton boy has become the Imelda Marcos of Downing street?

The Prime Minister : I seem to recall that the hon. Gentleman, as chairman of the Greater London council, used to arrive in the House of Commons in a chauffeur-driven car, paid for by the ratepayers. I also seem to remember that that same south London boy blew ratepayers' money on a giant binge to celebrate the end of the GLC as well as on parties, fireworks and river trips. He even spent it on silver medallions for his GLC colleagues.

The money that the hon. Gentleman referred to being spent on Downing street --a public building--was used largely to repair the kitchens and other parts of the public aspect of the building.


Q3. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 December.

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

Mr. Riddick : With recent events in mind, does my right hon. Friend share my confidence that the Government will get their parliamentary business through this Session, bearing in mind the figures recently made public showing that out of the 200 Members with the best voting records, 191 were Conservatives and only six were Labour Members? Surely those figures show that the campaign of so-called non-co-operation is the hypocritical sham that we know it to be.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend understates the problem, as is his wont. Sham is precisely the right word. We know that the Labour party has broken off relations because it made a total mess of tabling an amendment on value added tax. It is now trying to hide the shambles that it made.

The idea that the Government are not allowing enough time to discuss budgetary measures is total and absolute nonsense. The Budget debate was extended by a day this year, and what happened? Hardly any Opposition Members turned up for that debate. I am not remotely surprised that only six Members out of the 200 with good voting records are Labour Members.

As for guillotines, I recall that five were introduced in a day by Mr, Michael Foot and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) voted for them.


Q4. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 December.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Griffiths : Has the Prime Minister had time to read the excellent research conducted in America and Britain, which shows that the best and most cost-effective investment in education is that in nursery education? Will he prove the Daily Express right, for once, and commit his Government to providing nursery places for all three and four-year-olds? That would be a much better way of spending money than wasting it on Downing street, fripperies in the health service and paying off retired Cabinet Ministers.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman may look, for example, at a Conservative education authority such as Wandsworth, which provides nursery education. He should also bear it in mind that, on other occasions, he and his colleagues have asked for diversity of choice to be given to education authorities about how they spend their money.

Mr. Viggers : Will my right hon. Friend join me in applauding the progress towards fair and democratic government in much of central and eastern Europe? Does he agree that NATO must continue to develop the links and resources to ensure that that progress is safeguarded?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about that. The future of NATO and its role from here onwards is an important subject to be discussed at the NATO summit in mid-January.


Q5. Mr. Jim Cunningham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 December.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Cunningham : Is the Prime Minister aware that widespread concern will be felt throughout the country and particularly in Coventry about the £1 billion error which the Chief Secretary to the Treasury admitted yesterday? Does that mean more cuts in benefit for low-income groups? Is the Prime Minister also aware of the concern felt by many about the breathtaking incompetence of the Government, as demonstrated by their admittance of that £1 billion error?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman would do better to go back and read the evidence that was taken and then frame his question in a more accurate way.

The reality of what the Chief Secretary said yesterday makes no difference in practice. All social security– [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen would be wise to listen. The point about the £1 billion was not that it was in error, but simply that it was scored in the wrong place.


Q6. Sir John Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 December.

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

Sir John Hannam : When my right hon. Friend was in Brussels at the weekend, did he have the opportunity of exchanging views with the other European leaders about the state of their economies, particularly the levels of inflation, interest rates and economic growth--all areas in which my right hon. Friend is leading the way?

The Prime Minister : We had the opportunity of discussing the position across Europe. The fact is that, across Europe, the European Commission is forecasting a fall in GDP of around 0.5 per cent. In Germany, it is expected to fall by 2.25 per cent. in the current year and in France by 1 per cent. Industrial production is down in a number of countries. It is, of course, now rather different here : we have the lowest rates of interest in the Community; our inflation has been below the Community average for two years; unemployment is falling consistently in this country while it is rising elsewhere; and we have the fastest growth rate among European Community countries this year and by far the highest forecast for growth next year.