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1996 - PMQT 11th January 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 11th January 1996. Michael Heseltine responded on behalf of John Major.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Mike O'Brien: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 January.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine): I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is in Paris representing Her Majesty's Government at the commemorative service for the late President Mitterrand.

Mr. O'Brien: Tonight's speech by Baroness Thatcher is set against the background of her well-known opposition to a single currency. As the one who wielded the knife that did her in, will the Deputy Prime Minister take this opportunity to reassert the Prime Minister's view that Britain should be at the heart of Europe, and his own stated view that there can be no truly unified single market without a single currency?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The whole House understands that there is a massive national self-interest in our policies in Europe. The purpose of our presence in Europe is to fight for British self-interest. That was very much the view of my right hon. Friend Lady Thatcher and it is the view of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Each of us does it in his own way and in his own context.

Mr. Stephen: Has my right hon. Friend received his £50 electricity rebate? Does he agree that the family silver is still there and that it is working for us better than ever, that millions of people have been turned into stakeholders and that the money that they have paid the Government for their shares has been invested in hospitals, schools, transport and in many other essential services?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I share his anticipation and that of the electricity consumers of this country that their average bill will be £90 less next year than it would have been otherwise.

Mr. Prescott: Will the Deputy Prime Minister comment on today's damning report from the British Medical Association which says that patients' lives are being put at risk because of the crisis in the provision of acute hospital beds in our country?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that very important issue. The fact is that there has been an increase in the number of emergency and accident admissions to hospitals in some parts of the country. The increase is not universal, as there has actually been a decrease in some areas.

However, this is obviously a matter of concern for the Government. It is being examined by the chief medical officer and the Government are determined to see that all proper steps will be pursued in terms of the improved management of bed utilisation which has flowed from the immensely more sophisticated treatment that is now available. We are determined to preserve the reputation of the health service as one of the most important aspects of public service.

Mr. Prescott: Even so, is it not true that yesterday an elderly man who had suffered a heart attack died because none of the 12 Yorkshire hospitals could admit him owing to a shortage of beds? Is it any wonder when one looks at how the money is spent by the Government? They have spent an extra £1 billion on bureaucracy and an extra £25 million on company cars, the number of accountants has doubled, and the number of managers has increased from 500 to 20,000--while they have cut the numbers of beds and nurses. Is that not the real reason why there is a crisis in the national health service?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The whole House is deeply preoccupied with the standards of the health service and with ensuring that they are maintained. It does no service at all to people who are sick or elderly to raise concerns and fears in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has done. Since 1948, the number of beds in the national health service has been falling under all Governments. One of the reasons why that has been happening is that today patients spend less time in hospital, because the means of treating them enable a speedier recuperative process.

I can reassure the House that, since our reforms of the health service were put in place, 1.5 million more patients have been treated every year. That is the fact that the patients of this country should hear, because it is the reassurance to which they are entitled.

Mr. Prescott: Why is it that the Deputy Prime Minister will not admit what everyone knows--the Government are destroying one of our greatest assets? They are destroying the national health service, which was given to the nation by a Labour Government and opposed tooth and nail by the Tories.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The reason why I will not say it is that it is not true. The fact is that we are treating more patients and building more hospitals, the queues are coming down and the health service is safe with the Conservative party.

Mr. Jessel: On the subject of hospital accident and emergency admissions, is my right hon. Friend aware that at West Middlesex hospital, which I visited at 11 o'clock last night, staff told me that on 30 December, the day of black ice, they had admitted 60 fracture cases compared with the normal daily total of 10? That is bound to have a knock-on effect for the next week or two when taken with the increase in asthma cases this winter. However, the staff are working hard, their morale is good and they should be warmly commended.

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend raises a most important point. There is no question whatever about the dedication of the staff in the health service and their ability to cope with those problems. Nor is there any universal agreement as to the causes of the increase in the number of admissions. The BMA and the chief medical officer are looking closely at the problem. It is a matter for concern, and it will remain so until it has been dealt with.


Q2. Mr. Pike: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 January.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Pike: The Deputy Prime Minister will recall that Tuesday of this week marked the 10th anniversary of the day on which he marched out of Baroness Thatcher's Cabinet. In view of her much trailed speech tonight, can the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House and the nation why, in 1990, he considered that it was essential that she be removed from office?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The whole House will know that after leaving Baroness Thatcher's Government I did all in my power to secure her re-election. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I look back on a long life of public service, I regard the fact that I played such a conspicuous role in the 1987 general election campaign, in which Baroness Thatcher was re-elected, as no mean achievement.


Q3. Sir Colin Shepherd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 January.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

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

Sir Colin Shepherd: Has my right hon. Friend yet had the chance to give careful consideration to the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore? If so, has he yet been able to figure out just what a stakeholder economy is?

Mr. Skinner: Mine's a sirloin.

The Deputy Prime Minister: How typical of the hon. Member for Bolsover to choose one of the most expensive and luxurious parts of the animal. At least he has the advantage of having found an answer to the question-- which is more than his hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) succeeded in doing. According to The Guardian this morning, when asked much the same question he had this to say:

"It's warm words time again. I haven't a clue what it means. If anyone does could they let me know?"

If I may trespass on the time of the House, I shall explain what it means. The stakeholders that the Labour party would bring back are all our old familiar Labour friends--the unions, the single-issue pressure groups, the local authorities and the co-operatives. A stakeholder society in a Conservative world, on the other hand, is all about home owners, share owners, pension owners, choice, freedom and a competitive society.


Q4. Mr. Gunnell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 January.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Gunnell: Further to the Deputy Prime Minister's replies on the question of the elderly man from Bradford who died while waiting for a hospital bed, is he aware that the admitting consultant at the intensive care unit in Leeds general infirmary described the case as just the tip of an iceberg, and said that there were hundreds of such cases? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Yorkshire Evening Post that that is a disgrace? What is he going to do about it?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have tried, when answering questions similar to the one put to me by the hon. Gentleman, to express the concern of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who shares the anxieties of all hon. Members and the wider community. These are regrettable individual cases; they evoke nothing but sympathy from everyone involved. But it is quite wrong to believe that they are typical of the treatment that people can expect from the health service. It does this House no good in the public's esteem to try to undermine the high reputation enjoyed by the health service.

Mr. Garnier: Will my right hon. Friend take an early opportunity to come to Leicestershire--and my constituency in particular--where he will see a growing economy, falling unemployment and increasing confidence? All those things are a direct consequence of the Government's economic policies. Will he come to Market Harborough and the constituency generally to make sure that that message gets home even more loudly than hitherto?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The fact is that we have one of the fastest growing economies in western Europe. Unemployment has been falling for 27 months. Our inward investment is growing, and all we must ensure to keep it going is that the Government remain in charge of managing the economy.


Q5. Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 January.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Bruce: I wonder whether the Deputy Prime Minister would like to comment on today's opinion poll in The Guardian showing a six-point drop in Conservative support and a corresponding six-point increase in Liberal Democrat support. That could of course be explained by the decision of my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Miss Nicholson). May I just point out that if that effect is repeated every time a Tory crosses the Floor to our Benches, after four more defections we will lead both Labour and the Tories?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not find it greatly surprising that the hon. Gentleman should seek to draw our attention to the views of the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon. I find the views that she expressed in June this year slightly more reassuring:

"In troubled times such as we are experiencing at present when we have been wrongly assaulted for our Government's many fine achievements by an irresponsible press, our task is to stick together. Those old Conservative virtues of loyalty, thrift, hard work and vision must be our priorities whenever we are under fire."

The hon. Lady was right then.


Q6. Mr. Stewart: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 11 January.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have been asked to reply.

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

Mr. Stewart: Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to underline the success and importance of inward investment into the United Kingdom, especially into Scotland--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Let us have a little less noise on the Government Benches below the gangway. Mr. Stewart, repeat your question. I could not hear because of the noisy ones there.

Mr. Stewart: Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to underline both the success and importance of inward investment in this country? What would be the impact of inward investment in Scotland if people who work in Scotland were subject, uniquely in Europe, to the imposition of the iniquitous tartan tax?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to draw this matter to the attention of the House and of Scottish people in particular. Under the excellent conditions that the Government have created, 100 inward investment projects, worth more than £1 billion and creating or protecting some 12,000 jobs in 1994-95, were delivered to Scotland in that one year alone. There is no question but that the only thing that would flow from the introduction of a Labour Government and the consequent establishment of a tartan tax would be that inward investment, flowing not to Scotland but to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That would be good news for everyone except the Scots.