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1991 - PMQT 17th October 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 17th October 1991. John MacGregor responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Illsley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 October.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : I have been asked to reply My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare.

Mr. Illsley : Will the Leader of the House ask his right hon. Friend to join me in condemning the waste of money by Barnsley district general hospital, which is paying for a number of employees to go on a luxury holiday fact-finding mission to a Paris hotel as part of the hospital's move towards NHS trust status? Is that another example of the Government allowing hospitals to waste money in pursuit of their NHS reforms?

Mr. MacGregor : I did not know of that incident. Our reforms are achieving considerable savings right across the board, all of which are being directed at patient care.

Sir Ian Lloyd : If, as has been reliably reported in the press this morning, the Government are--doubtless from the most admirable motives-- offering training and education to civil servants from the African National Congress, are not we in danger, first, of assuming an outcome to the constitutional process in South Africa which may be disproved by events? Secondly, are not we in danger of racial discrimination against a significant and admirable people, the Zulus?

Mr. MacGregor : What is being proposed is training for people who will participate in the Government. The training that we could offer should greatly help with the whole question of race relations and the future of South Africa.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that unemployment in Britain has risen by over three quarters of a million in the past 12 months, that there have been more than 340,000 job losses in manufacturing industries over the same period and that unemployment in our country is rising faster than in any other European Community country? Is not it clear that the Government's policies are doing long-term damage to the British economy? Is not the right hon. Gentleman ashamed to belong to a Government who are doing Britain down in so many ways?

Mr. MacGregor : I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at his own policies and realise that they would lose more jobs more permanently.

Mr. Kinnock : As a direct result of the policies of the Government in which the right hon. Gentleman serves, output and investment continue to go down. Government borrowing continues to rise and unemployment is heading towards 2.5 million for the second time in 10 years under this Government. Is not it clear that the longer that Cabinet members hang on to their jobs the more other people will lose theirs?

Mr. MacGregor : For every day that the Government have been in office, on average 220 new jobs have been added, nearly 100 new businesses have been created and 880 families have bought new homes. That is our record. Employment is higher than it was four years ago and higher than it was under the last Labour Government and it is higher than the European average. Investment over the period is substantially up. That is why we have been able to achieve this record, which is way ahead of anything that a future Labour Government would do.

Mr. Kinnock : For the past three years and for next year Britain will be bottom of the investment, jobs, growth and other leagues of the major industrial countries. In Britain, more than 1,000 jobs a day are being lost in industry and services and manufacturing is bearing the brunt of that. Surely the right hon. Gentleman can be proud of nothing in that record. Is not that manifested by the shuffling off of the autumn statement until the end of November because the Government are afraid to bring it forward at the proper time?

Mr. MacGregor : That latter point is entirely irrelevant. The decision on when the autumn statement should be made will be taken in the normal way. In the period as a whole, just as in recent times, there has been considerable success in getting inflation down to the levels of our major competitors overseas. That is the issue that most guarantees jobs long term.

As for manufacturing industry, the director general of the CBI said in the summer :

"Virtually everything associated with our manufacturing base is better than it was"

in the era of Government interference, lost orders, strikes and horrific inflation. That was the era of the last Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to talk about policies that effectively improve competitiveness, investment and productivity. That is what we have been achieving.

Sir William Clark : Does my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition spokesmen seem to take particular delight in talking down the British economy-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. MacGregor rose--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This takes up time.

Sir William Clark : --and the Government's achievements in the economic sphere? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the amount of inward investment is proof positive that the foreigner has confidence in this country because the economy is not only sound but is better than it ever has been?

Mr. MacGregor : I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend and I apologise if I interrupted him. The Labour party simply ignores all good news and there is a deal of it at the moment. My right hon. Friend is right to draw to our attention examples such as the substantial bringing down of inflation and the high regard of overseas companies, which is shown by their rates of investment in this country.


South London

Q2. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister when he will make his next official visit to south London.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made an official visit to south London in September and intends to do so again in the future.

Mr. Hughes : When the Prime Minister or other Cabinet Ministers next come to south London, will they say whether they agree with the comment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, made half an hour ago in Church house, that the inner cities of Britain suffer from severe and divisive inequalities and severe deprivation? If they accept that that is the case, is it Government policy to increase the gap between the richest and the poorest, as has happened over the past 12 years, or will Government policy change under the new Prime Minister, so that the gap between the well off and the poorest will narrow in the years to come?

Mr. MacGregor : I understand that the Archbishop also paid tribute to the Government's inner cities programme, which has been substantial--

Mr. Simon Hughes indicated assent.

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman acknowledges that now, but he forgot to include it in his supplementary question. The inner cities programme and many others, including the urban initiative, have greatly improved the prospects for all our inner cities. There are many examples of that. One of the things from which inner cities suffer is Labour councils.

Mr. Brazier : Does my right hon. Friend agree that an improvement in the teaching of economic history in our schools--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This question is about inner London.

Mr. Brazier : I should have said inner London schools, Mr. Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that every child in inner London should be taught that every Labour Government, without exception, have increased unemployment?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is right. Labour Governments have increased unemployment, increased waiting lists in hospitals and hugely increased the public sector borrowing requirement to the level to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury referred. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, if the PSBR were at the level that was reached under the Labour Government, it would be about £50 billion.


Engagements

Q3. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Prime Minister if the will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Canavan : Is the Leader of the House aware that the Minister of State with responsibility for health in Scotland is still hell-bent on pushing the Royal Scottish National hospital to opt out, despite opposition from the overwhelming majority of the staff, the local community and relatives of the mentally handicapped patients? Given the Prime Minister's fine words last week about the power to choose and the right to own, will the right hon. Gentleman defend the people's right to choose that their hospitals remain owned and administered by local health boards instead of self-governing trusts?

Mr. MacGregor : There is no doubt that self-governing trusts are already considerably improving the management of the hospitals concerned. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be considering the application to which the hon. Gentleman referred, as others, in the light of consultations.


Q4. Mr. Robert G. Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Hughes : Does my right hon. Friend agree with the chairman of Granada Television, who said yesterday that the Independent Television Commission had exercised its judgment in favour of quality? Does he recall that it was a Conservative Government who created ITV? Conservative Governments also created independent radio and Channel 4 in the teeth of opposition from the Labour party. Will not yesterday's decisions mean that the second rate and the incompetent will give way to those who are professional and entertaining? We could not expect the Labour party to begin to understand that.

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is right. Both choice and quality of television have increased under Conservative Administrations and there will soon be a fifth television channel. We have seen the birth of satellite and cable television, which has expanded the range of programmes that people watch. My hon. Friend is right, too, to suggest that in setting up the Channel 3 and Channel 4 licensing systems, the Government aim to achieve a balance between market forces and quality and to maintain quality. I believe that that is what is happening.

Mr. Cohen : When the Government did their U-turn on child benefit in the Budget and finally increased it after freezing it for several years, in a peculiar act of meanness they took £1 from the allowance of widows with dependent children. Will the Government recant on that act of meanness and give widows back their £1?

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a considerable increase in all social security benefits over the years. There has been a considerable increase also as a result of the targeting of priorities.


Q5. Mr. Robert Hicks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 17 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Hicks : Does my right hon. Friend recognise the need to revise the arrangements for the payment of European regional development funds, with specific reference to additionality? Is he aware that many people in the regions that have been identified as in need of additional investment believe that we are unable to benefit from the additional resources? Of the £45 million allocated to Cornwall and Plymouth, it will be possible to take up only £27 million because of restrictive measures.

Mr. MacGregor : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has taken steps to resolve the problems arising from the specific targeting of aid at local level and I shall bring my hon. Friend's concern to his attention.

Dr. Reid : Given the Prime Minister's personal pledge to assist in the regeneration of Lanarkshire and the precedent that has now been set of political intervention in the decisions of British Rail, will the Leader of the House assure us that the Government will be using their influence to ensure that the new Eurofreight terminal in Scotland is sited at Mossend in Lanarkshire? If it is justifiable politically to intervene in the decisions of British Rail to protect political interests in the south, is not it equally justifiable to protect the economy and the regeneration of employment in Lanarkshire and Scotland?

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman knows that I am familiar with Lancashire-- [Interruption.] I am familiar with Lancashire because I have just been there, but I meant to say Lanarkshire, where I was born and brought up. The hon. Gentleman's specific point is not one with which I am familiar, so I shall draw it to the attention of the appropriate Minister.