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1996 - PMQT 18th January 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 18th January 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Pearson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 January.

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.

Mr. Pearson: In view of the renewed speculation about the right hon. Gentleman's leadership, can the Prime Minister tell the House what difference to his party or the country was made by his decision to precipitate a leadership contest last year?

The Prime Minister: We have this silly speculation almost every week in which there is a Thursday. It has been nonsense in the past and it is nonsense now.


Q2. Mr. Gallie: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 January.

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

Mr. Gallie: Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are more shareholders today than trade unionists? Indeed, many trade unionists are shareholders. Is he further aware of the Labour party's cynical plans to introduce shareholding for workers? Is not that a case of attempting to justify a tired and meaningless slogan?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is quite right about the growth in the number of shareholders and the fact that they now exceed the number of trade unionists.

Mr. Galloway: Resign.

The Prime Minister: Well, the trade unionists seem to have been doing that--that is one of the reasons why there are more shareholders than there are trade unionists. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) is equally right about the slogans from the Labour party. As the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) said last night:

"It is amusing that Labour's new slogan might be a long way round to rediscovering clause 4 and common ownership."

If the Labour party really believed in stakeholding and personal ownership, it would not have opposed every privatisation we have had--privatisations that have dramatically increased share ownership. The only stakeholders in their society would be the unions--Mr. Edmonds, Mr. Monks and their colleagues.

Mr. Blair: Can the Prime Minister confirm that, on the latest statistics, since 1989, when the Government changes to the health service were introduced, the number of nurses has fallen by 50,000 and the number of senior managers has risen by 18,000? Is not that a mistaken set of priorities for the health service?

The Prime Minister: The mistake is the misleading way in which the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and now the right hon. Gentleman talk nonsense by distorting figures in the health service, as elsewhere. What the right hon. Gentleman clearly has not been advised about, or has chosen to ignore, is that there are more than 50,000 more nurses and 4,000 more midwives today than when the Government took office. They are providing effective health care close to where people live and work. Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I take pride in the national health service and its achievements, and I very much regret that all that he and his colleagues can do is to take statistics, misuse statistics and try to run down the health service.

Mr. Blair: We take pride in the health service--we created the health service. We just do not like it being undermined by the Conservative party. The statistics that I quoted are from the Department of Health. The Prime Minister said that an extra 50,000 nurses had been created. Will he confirm that if one takes the full-time equivalent of nursing and compares like with like, there are fewer nurses now than there were in 1979? Furthermore, has not the decline happened entirely since 1989, when the changes were introduced? Does that not show that one is the consequence of the other and that there is a mistaken set of priorities in the health service?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is still distorting, and he overlooks the extra 1.5 million patients who are being treated. Patients statistics do not concern the Labour party. I will give the right hon. Gentleman a statistic that really shows what is happening in the health service--66 per cent. of health service staff are now involved in direct patient care, up from 60 per cent. only 12 years ago. That is because we have invested directly in front-line care and that is why more patients are being treated, and treated better and more speedily than ever before. I hope that, one day, the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge the improvements in the health service, congratulate the people in the health service on making the improvements and acknowledge that we have repeatedly put more funds into the health service to enable those improvements to take place.

Mr. Blair: I notice that the Prime Minister did not dispute the statistics on nursing. If he wants an objective view, why does he not ask the doctors and nurses in the health service? Does he not understand that many people fear that money is being pumped into bureaucracy rather going to front-line nursing care, and that they are angry that the party that the Prime Minister calls a one-nation Conservative party is breaking the health service in two?

The Prime Minister: Yet again, the right hon. Gentleman distorts and twists reality to make his political point. If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept what I say, I advise him to listen to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley), who told the Fabian Society,

"Labour's health policy will not look credible at the general election if we do not commit ourselves to matching the rate of growth delivered by the Conservatives."

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will contemplate that. The truth is that his party has no health policy. Labour lurches from one headline to the next and from one distortion to the next. Labour downgrades and runs down the health service day after day, as it moves to the next soundbite.

Mrs. Roe: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons why unemployment is falling is that British firms are now able to compete free from overwhelming union control? Does he further agree that that would all be thrown away under the Opposition's plans for a stakeholder society, which would simply hand power back to the unions?

The Prime Minister: That certainly seems to be the view of the trade unions, as Mr. Monks, the general secretary of the TUC, has confirmed. He said:

"This country needs more influential unions",

and added that the proposals for new rights to representation at work also rest on the stakeholder idea. He is not alone. Mr. John Edmonds said:

"I think ultimately we need changes in legislation."

The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) said:

"Labour cannot govern without the support of the trade unions."

Just to show that I do not always quote Opposition Back-Benchers, let me quote the deputy leader of the Labour party--who appears to be missing. He said:

"I am at heart a trade unionist before a politician."

And he is right. We know Labour's heart, we know who pays for the Labour party, we know who owns the Labour party and we know what the leader of the Labour party is now about.

Mr. Ashdown: When the Prime Minister's predecessor, Mrs. Thatcher, said last week that his Government had lost touch with the hopes of ordinary people, whom does he think she was blaming?

The Prime Minister: It hardly loses touch with ordinary people if one removes what wrecked their savings by producing the lowest inflation levels for 50 years, the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years, the lowest unemployment rate of any major European country, the lowest basic tax rate for 50 years, and the biggest fall in crime for more than 40 years. That is what my right hon. Friend, when Prime Minister, sought to achieve; it is what we have delivered.

Sir Michael Grylls: When my right hon. Friend next meets his fellow Heads of Government in Europe, will he do all that he can to persuade them to make progress on liberalising the energy market within the European Union? Is not one of the Government's great successes the fact that we have created a competitive market in the UK, and would not our firms benefit from a competitive market throughout the European Union?

The Prime Minister: Yes, my hon. Friend is entirely right. While the single market has been an enormous success, both for us and for the rest of Europe, there remain areas across Europe where it is still not operative, and my hon. Friend mentions one of them. We shall continue to press to spread the single market to that area and others.


Q3. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 January.

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

Mr. Mullin: I am sorry to see that the bastards are plotting again. The Conservative party's current difficulties are not the Prime Minister's fault. He simply has the bad luck to be Prime Minister when the bills for the Thatcher decade are coming in. May I offer him a word of advice? He should offer members of his party not a leadership election but a general election. That would shut them up.

The Prime Minister: I know that the hon. Gentleman has some experience of leadership elections. If I remember accurately, he ran the leadership election of a losing candidate in a previous Labour party leadership election, so although I take what he says with some interest, I shall not follow it to the letter.

Mr. Mullin: He got 49 per cent., though.

The Prime Minister: Maybe, but it was not enough.


Q4. Mr. Luff: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 January.

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

Mr. Luff: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that he will respect the constitutional freedoms of this country at all times and will not seek to undermine them by entering into shabby, shoddy backroom deals, like those promised by the Leader of the Opposition with the Liberal party, British Telecom and the trade unions?

The Prime Minister: I think that I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he requires without reservation.


Q5. Mr. Ainger: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 18 January.

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

Mr. Ainger: Has the Prime Minister seen the figures produced by the Royal College of Nursing, which show that the number of nurses qualifying each year has fallen from some 37,000 in 1983 to only 13,000 last year? The resulting staff shortages have caused a crisis in our accident and emergency and intensive care units. Do not those figures confirm that the NHS is no longer safe in Tory hands, and never was, or is the Royal College of Nursing distorting the figures?

The Prime Minister: I will just give the hon. Gentleman the figures. There are 22,000 more doctors than there were in 1979, and 34,000 more qualified nurses. It is not the Conservative party or the Government who have cut back on the health service. The only time that that has occurred was when the hon. Gentleman's party was in office. He should recall that and bear in mind that the Conservatives have delivered increased investment to the national health service, which means better service, more front-line care, which is better and earlier, and a wider range of care.

Mr. Key: My right hon. Friend will no doubt recall the excitement and pride shared by millions of children, including him and me, at the Festival of Britain, part of which for me meant visiting the capital city for the first time. May I, as a non-Londoner, assure him that it is unthinkable that the millennium celebrations should be held anywhere other than in our capital city, and that the best possible place would be Greenwich?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend touches on a matter that may be controversial in the west midlands and elsewhere. The reality is that the decision will be taken by the Millennium Commission, independently of the Government, and it is therefore not appropriate for me to comment on particular bids or to speculate about the outcome. I am sure that many others will do so, but I will await the decision of the Millennium Commission.