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1994 - PMQT 28th April 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 28th April 1994.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mrs. Anne Campbell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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 be having further meetings later today.

Mrs. Campbell : As the management of British Rail Maintenance Ltd. has announced the loss of 600 jobs at Eastleigh, following the fragmentation and privatisation of British Rail, what message can the Prime Minister give to the residents of Eastleigh who are to be made redundant, or does he feel that it is not a matter for him?

The Prime Minister : I seem to recall that on many occasions in the past when privatisation has been mentioned there have been such questions and imputations that the service would fall. In every instance, the service has improved for people and the costs have been maintained. We can see that most evidently in the energy industries, but in others as well.

Mr. Budgen : As it is suspected that no fewer than 60 of the employees of a respectable employer such as Southwark council may be unjustified overstaying immigrants in Britain, will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that there will be an urgent review of the possibility of introducing identity cards into this country?

The Prime Minister : As I have said on a previous occasion, there is a strong case to be made for identity cards. There are undoubtedly great practical difficulties in introducing them and there are other matters to be considered as well, but we have been looking at some of the options in that respect and we propose to continue doing so.

Mr. John Smith : Now that the Prime Minister has overruled his Health Secretary on the question of media access to Bart's, will he now overrule her on the far more important issue of her disgraceful decision to order the closure of the accident and emergency unit at Bart's?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there was never any question but that he or any other right hon. or hon. Member could visit Bart's or any other hospital. The right hon. Gentleman wished to do what he has done on so many occasions in the past and take the opportunity of turning the national health service into a political football-- [Interruption.] --and the expression on the face of the right hon. and learned Gentleman shows us that that is the case. So far as the accident and emergency departments at Bart's and the other London hospitals are concerned, perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will tell us whether he agrees with his own health spokesman who, apropos this matter, said :

"The status quo is not an option."

Mr. John Smith : If there was never any question about myself or other Opposition spokespeople being allowed to visit Bart's-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. I call the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) to order-- [Interruption.] Order. I call the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) to order. I have heard enough from both sides.

Mr. John Smith : If there never was any problem, why was I telephoned by the Department of Health to tell me that media access was not to be permitted, although the Prime Minister went to Basildon with precisely those facilities? Furthermore, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the Government rely, for their policy on London, on the Tomlinson report, which is now fully discredited by nearly everyone in London?

The Prime Minister : On the latter point, the Tomlinson report is not discredited by nearly everyone in London. On the question of accident and emergency cover in London, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman were more concerned with the realities of health care and less concerned with party politicking at the expense of the national health service, he might have looked at some of the proposed improvements to accident and emergency departments in London--at Homerton, King's, Lewisham, Royal London, St. Thomas's, UCLH, Whipps Cross and Whittington, none of which he wishes to mention at all. I said a moment ago that there was no difficulty about the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself going to Bart's. Many people will judge for themselves whether he was simply trying to make party political points. I took the view that it was a matter for his conscience, and I therefore decided that there should certainly be no ban. As for Basildon, for many years rules have been laid down by the Cabinet Secretary concerning the three weeks before elections ; those did not cover the time of my visit to Basildon.

Mr. John Smith : Does the Prime Minister not appreciate that the reality of the Government's plans for London is that 19 hospitals will be either closed or merged and that 2,500 desperately needed hospital beds are to be lost? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not halt this disaster for health care in London and order an immediate moratorium and the review that all of London wants?

The Prime Minister : Do I hear a pledge of more expenditure from the right hon. and learned Gentleman? What he is saying sounds very much as if he is in the business of spending vast extra sums of money. Either he is proposing to do so--in which case he should tell us how much and where the money is to come from--or he should withdraw what he has said in the last couple of minutes. If he is concerned about the national health service, he might also reflect on his own party's record--an NHS budget that fell by 3 per cent., capital spending that was cut by one third, nurses' pay that was cut by 21 per cent. and doctors' and dentists' pay that went down by 23 per cent. Perhaps he will also tell us which of his spokesmen he agrees with-- the one who said that the party would increase health spending to 7 per cent. of gross domestic product, at a cost of £6 billion, or the one who a few days later produced his "Health 2000" documents with every extra expenditure commitment removed.

Mr. Elletson : Is my right hon. Friend aware that this bank holiday weekend thousands of tourists will flock to Britain's leading tourist resort--Blackpool--to see the tower, which during the week was painted gold to celebrate its 100th anniversary? Does he agree that the Blackpool tower is now a glittering symbol of the success of the British tourist industry, which is the second largest industry in the country, employing thousands of people? Does he further agree that the greatest threat to jobs in tourism comes from the Labour party with its support for the European social chapter and the European socialist manifesto?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right in each of his points. There is no doubt that the Blackpool tower is a world famous landmark. I hope that this year and in future years it will continue to attract hundreds of thousands of extra tourists to Blackpool and other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ashdown : Is the Prime Minister aware that Liverpool city council appears to be preparing to suppress a report into the mismanagement of public funds amounting to £5 million on the city's cable television contract? Will he confirm that he supports the principle that the public have a right to know on these matters as much in Liverpool as they have in Westminster?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman makes his point very eloquently, but if I may say so I think that the point was not aimed quite so much at me as perhaps in another direction not so far away.

Mr. Jenkin : May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the level of the council tax in Colchester? Is he aware that substantial extra grants were given to Lib-Lab Essex and Lib-Lab Colchester and that they still chose to put the council tax up? Does not that demonstrate that they always put taxes up, even when they do not have to?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend draws an important distinction between the parties, in that the opposition parties are keen to raise tax specifically to fund extra and more ambitious spending programmes. There is no doubt that the average council tax for Labour authorities is very high, far higher than that of Conservative authorities, and that the average council tax of Liberal authorities is also substantially higher than that of Conservative authorities.


Q2. Mr. Jim Cunningham : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

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

Mr. Cunningham : Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking to carry out a drastic overhaul of the Child Support Agency following the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux report which highlights human misery and poverty inflicted by the agency?

The Prime Minister : I have not yet had a chance to study the NACAB report, but I think that no one--perhaps "no one" is a rash statement--or that there are few in the House who disagree with the basic principles behind the Child Support Act 1991, and I think that few would dispute that adequate financial maintenance for children is an important contributing factor to their overall welfare. Of course, the CSA has to balance a whole range of interests--the parent with care, the absent parent, the taxpayer. It is a new system and we are keeping it under review. As I have told the House before, when and if we determine that it needs change, we will look at that change and introduce it.

Mrs. Gorman : Does my right hon. Friend agree with Lord Young who, when speaking to the Institute of Directors, said :

"We are wasting our time in Europe and fiddling while the Treaty of Rome burns"?

The Prime Minister : I think that my right hon. and noble Friend made a number of points about the European Community and about the general position of Europe in its trading attitude with the rest of the world. On that point he was correct, for I have made the point in the House on many occasions. It is not a question of Europe competing within itself--the British with the Germans, with the French and with the Spanish--but of the competitiveness of the whole of Europe with our competitors around the world : in Japan, in the Pacific basin, in the United States and elsewhere. I entirely agree with my right hon. and noble Friend on the importance of that matter.


Q3. Mr. Kilfoyle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 28 April.

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

Mr. Kilfoyle : Can the Prime Minister explain why so many of his Conservative colleagues in local government in London wish to avoid being seen on the campaign trail with him?

The Prime Minister : I have spent some time on the campaign trail--perhaps unlike the hon. Gentleman--with my Conservative colleagues in London, and I think that he is incorrect.

Sir Peter Fry : Will my right hon. Friend, when he is on the campaign trail, point out that, of the 45 million cases dealt with annually by the health service, the vast majority are happy with the service that they have received? Is it not time to praise the health service rather than using every odd case as an opportunity to criticise the dedicated people in it?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right. Literally millions of people in Britain are treated by the health service every year, and they know from their own direct experience how good the health service is and what has happened to funding and the improvements in funding of the health service during recent years. If that funding had not been there, there would not have been an increase in the number of patients treated in hospital and as out-patients or in the quality of health care, and a wider range of treatments would not have been available. Every hon. Member knows that to be the case, and those who refuse to acknowledge it do a disservice to the dedicated professionals in the health service.