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1991 - PMQT 22nd October 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 22nd October 1991. John MacGregor responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Dr. Twinn : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 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 returning from a highly successful performance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare.

Dr. Twinn : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consult our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the effects of a 27 per cent. cut in the defence budget? Will he further consult about the effects--especially on Scottish regiments--of a 50 per cent. cut in the defence budget?

Mr. MacGregor : I think that my hon. Friend is referring to the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties on defence. The Labour party's conference proposals, which a future Labour Government would be pressurised into accepting, would mean defence cuts of about £6 billion-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Leader of the House must put his own interpretation on the question.

Mr. MacGregor : He is also answering the question. That would be more than the nation spends on the Army and Navy together. The Liberal's proposals would mean a cut in the Army of nearly 50,000 men below the level set out in "Options for Change". That is the equivalent of no Scottish regiments and no soldiers from Scotland. I hope that the whole nation and especially those with interests in defence and defence jobs will note the consequences of their policies and the contrast with ours.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to agree with the Secretary of State for Health in repudiating tax relief on private health insurance for the over-60s, or does he agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the scheme should be commended as

"definitely a way of getting more resources into the Health Service."--[ Official Report , 12 July 1989 ; Vol. 156, c. 1024.]

Mr. MacGregor : My right. hon. Friend was making it clear that he did not believe that there should be an extension of that particular scheme. Obviously, tax proposals are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Mr. Kinnock : The right hon. Gentleman's memory is not serving him well. Just 48 hours ago the Secretary of State for Health said that he would not be at all surprised if the whole scheme was dropped in the next Budget. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that over a three-year period the Government are spending £150 million on supporting private health insurance. Would not that sum be better spent on maintaining and improving services in the national health service for elderly patients who are being hit by the closure of geriatric wards?

Mr. MacGregor : The right hon. Gentleman knows that the figure is £60 million. Perhaps he should now answer the question that was put repeatedly yesterday and that has not been answered. How does the Labour party propose to fund and find the additional £650 million which would result from its changes in policies on charges, contracting out and the minimum wage? Those policies would reduce patient care and the Labour party refuses to answer.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the right hon. Gentleman, deputising for the Prime Minister, now answer the question that I asked him? The Secretary of State for Health has repudiated the private scheme. The Chancellor of the Exchequer supports the scheme. What does the right hon. Gentleman think? Does he agree that the money would be better spent in the national health service helping the elderly with their needs instead of funding private health insurance?

Mr. MacGregor : I have already made it clear that what my right hon. Friend said was that he did not believe that there should be any extension of the scheme. The point is that the £60 million being devoted to the scheme is very small compared with the £650 million that would be taken away from patient care as a result of the Labour party's changes in policy.


Q2. Mr. Michael Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Brown : Will my right hon. Friend reflect today, as we complete the 12th Session of this Government, that after those 12 years, 1.4 million people now own their council homes and 9 million people are now shareholders for the first time? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those people will look forward to the Prime Minister's proposals for the reform of inheritance tax? Will he condemn those who oppose that reform, who are displaying not only the politics of envy, but the politics of revenge?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. One of the many great achievements of the 1980s has been the big increase in and wider spread of ownership throughout the community. It is no wonder that the Labour party looks to inheritance tax as a means of financing its high-spending policies. As my hon. Friend points out, Labour opposed all the policies that have brought about the greater increase in home ownership and the much wider spread of share ownership.

Mr. Cousins : Is not it disgraceful that neither the Prime Minister nor any Cabinet minister has met representatives of the people and the police from Newcastle upon Tyne, where every day police and fire officers face more incidents than anywhere else in Britain, where every day, because of poll tax capping, care, schools and youth clubs are being cut and where every day, old people and women face a relentless campaign and a wave of crime and harassment? Is not that the real city challenge and have not the Government failed?

Mr. MacGregor : It is this Government who have constantly increased resources to the police, who have put police pay on a competitive level, who have considerably increased the numbers of police, who have supported them in all the difficult tasks that they do and who throughout have taken many steps to deal with the sort of problems that the hon. Gentleman mentions. It is this party which has put substantial resources and substantial support behind them.

Mr. Allason : Has my right hon. Friend read early-day motion 1286 on today's Order Paper? Will he ask the Prime Minister, as head of the security and intelligence services, to order an immediate inquiry into the alleged relationship between the Israeli intelligence service and Robert Maxwell and especially Mr. Nicholas Davies, the news editor of the Daily Mirror?

Mr. MacGregor : If any questions are raised about export sales to Iran--about this issue--which justify an investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry and any evidence is provided, I am sure that it will do so.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the right hon. Gentleman feel any remorse at the fact that, over the next few months, thousands of business men and tens of thousands of their employees will pay with their jobs and their livelihoods for the Government's economic mismanagement?

Mr. MacGregor : The right hon. Gentleman knows that the most important way to ensure long-term prosperity and competitiveness is to get inflation down to competitive levels, as we have succeeded in doing. The right hon. Gentleman also knows that, throughout the 1980s, we saw substantial increases in the number of new businesses that have lasted, in the number of growing businesses and in new jobs. Of course, we regret the increase in unemployment, but I believe that it is our policies that will give us the path for growth in the 1990s that we had in the 1980s. It is important to recollect that about half those who become unemployed find a new job within three months. The policies that we have been pursuing have enabled that to happen.


York

Q4. Mr. Gregory : To ask the Prime Minister if he has any plans to make an official visit to York.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to make a series of visits to all parts of the country and very much hopes to include York.

Mr. Gregory : My right hon. Friend will no doubt recall the campaign by animal lovers in York and, in particular, by the York branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to outlaw the export of live horses. Will he accept the grateful thanks of all those involved for the determined stand taken by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last night, to ensure that our national rules continue and that such deplorable exports do not take place?

Mr. MacGregor : I am well aware of the feelings in York. All hon. Members--certainly Conservative Members--are well aware of the concern felt by many at the possibility of changes in relation to our existing trade in horses policy, especially our restrictions on the export of live horses for slaughter. I am sure, therefore, that the whole House will wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on securing a most successful outcome to the Community negotiations and on ensuring that our policies on that issue can be maintained.

I would go further. On the directive as a whole, there is no doubt that the United Kingdom has taken the lead in ensuring proper welfare safeguards in the transport of animals and that we have achieved significant improvements. That shows the high priority that we have attached to the matter.


Engagements

Q4. Mr. Morgan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Morgan : Following the statement by the Secretary of State for Health to the House yesterday, to the effect that it was illegal for NHS patients to be charged for services--except for the three categories prescribed by law--what redress does the right hon. Gentleman, who is standing in for the Prime Minister today, suggest to my constituent, Mr. Charlie Harding of Ely, who was charged £100 for his nebuliser by Llandough hospital's chest medicine department and who is still paying £32 a year for the nebuliser to be maintained? Mr. Harding was torpedoed during world war 2 and is now being torpedoed again by this two- faced Government, who say that charging is wrong but who do not do anything about it? What redress does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind to help Charlie Harding get his money back?

Mr. MacGregor : I understand that the health authority has provided the nebuliser on loan and the hon. Gentleman will know--

Mr. Morgan : It is a different case.

Mr. MacGregor : In one particular case, the equipment has been provided on loan. With regard to other cases, I wish to make the position absolutely clear. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that there will be no charges for patients on the national health service and we will look at cases where payments have already been made.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo : Like my hon. Friends, I know that my right hon. Friend very much welcomes the statement by the Secretary of State for Health yesterday, especially with regard to our additional provision for residential homes. Will my right hon. Friend note, comment upon and compare our caring approach on residential homes with the approach of the Labour party, whose friends in Nottinghamshire have spent the past six months trying to close the 12 homes in our county?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. The policies that we have been pursuing in respect of care in the community, which includes residential homes, have very considerably improved the care and resources devoted to such elderly residents. I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome the additional resources--well above the level of inflation--that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security announced yesterday for them.


Q5. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 22 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 : Will the Leader of the House now settle the dispute between the Secretary of State for Health, who told the House yesterday that it is illegal to charge national health patients for fertility treatment, and the Scottish Office Minister with responsibility for health, who claimed that it is perfectly legal? No matter who is right or wrong with regard to the legal technicalities, will the Government intervene now to ensure that such treatment is available free on the NHS?

Mr. MacGregor : The position is absolutely clear. It is illegal for the NHS to charge NHS patients except in the limited respects allowed by statute. The NHS has, of course, never provided every service in every area. It is up to local health authorities to decide local priorities-- [Hon. Members :-- "Ah!"] That has always been the case and it was the case under the previous Government. There is nothing unusual about that. As I said to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), if there are specific examples of NHS bodies overstepping the law, we shall investigate them.