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1996 - PMQT 1st February 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 1st February 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Dr. Goodson-Wickes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming another successful year for the Manor House private hospital, which is funded by the Transport and General Workers Union and other unions to provide private health care for their members? In view of the Labour party's long-term opposition to private health care, does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a classic case of the Labour movement saying one thing and doing another?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a fascinating point. I think that he mentioned the Transport and General Workers Union. It sponsors many prominent hon. Members, so they will certainly be familiar with its activities. I was not aware of the case my hon. Friend raises, but if it is true it certainly calls into question the deep and apparently sincere hostility of so many Opposition Members to the private sector of medicine that they have set out for so many years. It is surprising that they seem keen to use the private sector, but are keen to condemn it.

Mr. Blair: Perhaps I could ask the Prime Minister about the national health service. Can he confirm the figures of the Consultants Association and the Audit Commission that show that, under his Prime Ministership, within the past five years, the costs of administration have doubled? Given today's news about the pay awards to top administrators, does not the Prime Minister think that the Secretary of State for Health should say clearly to the trust boards that, in future, the average pay rises for managers should be very similar to those for doctors and nurses?

The Prime Minister: I cannot confirm the detailed figures that have been released--I have no reason to believe that the right hon. Gentleman is wrong about them, but I cannot immediately confirm them. The right hon. Gentleman should take great care before he returns to his old line of attacking management in the national health service and its costs.

Mr. Skinner: Why?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman asks why. I shall give him several reasons. First, because that is precisely what the Socialist Health Association told him not to do. Secondly,

"I don't think it's really in question any more that the NHS has been under-managed in the past".

[Hon. Members: "Undermanaged?] I am sorry that Opposition Members scoff--those are not my words but those of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) when she was Labour's health spokesman. [Hon. Members: "Oh."]

Of course one would wish to ensure a fair division of pay among all people in the health service. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the present Government, under my Prime Ministership, gave the nurses a pay review body, whose recommendations we have always honoured.

Mr. Blair: Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to tell the Secretary of State to do as I ask? [Interruption.] "No," say Conservative Members, but I was quoting the words of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). [Hon. Members: "Oh."] Instead of the Prime Minister saying things that are in his folder and my putting things to him, will he answer the basic question? Why have administrative costs increased by more than £1 billion a year in the past five years--when the number of nurses is falling, when patients are on trolleys and when there is a shortage of acute beds? The question that the Prime Minister must answer is, why is the national health service safe in the hands of a Government who place administrators before nurses?

The Prime Minister: I am sorry to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he is mistaken on almost every point that he puts to me, but let me deal directly with his point about management costs. It is fair to raise the important issue of management costs. If the right hon. Gentleman is worried about management costs, and I am sure that he is sincere in what he says about them--[Hon. Members: "Oh."]--can he explain why he does not support the 8 per cent. cut of administrative costs next year that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health proposes? The right hon. Gentleman does not support that. Can he explain why he voted against the abolition of regional health authorities, which saved a whole tier of management?

We have provided the resources for more medical staff and for the treatment of 1.5 million extra patients. A few years ago, it was impossible to check properly how resources were used because there was no proper management in the national health service. As the right hon. Member for Derby, South said, that had to be put right. We have put it right. Now that we have put it right, the right hon. Gentleman criticises it.

Mr. Blair: Let us debate at least on the basis of facts. Does the right hon. Gentleman dispute that the extra costs are more than £1 billion a year? If they are, instead of spending that money on bureaucrats, administrators, company cars and pen-pushers, why does he not spend it on nurses, doctors, patients and beds?

The Prime Minister: The money is being spent on patients. The right hon. Gentleman does not appear to be able to grasp that point. To spend it on patients, it is necessary to do what we have been doing--put resources into medical care and manage them so that money is available for medical care. Until the right hon. Gentleman understands that, he will continue to ask me questions that are, literally, senseless. I suggest that he examines the matter again with the right hon. Member for Derby, South, who understood those matters when she was Labour's health spokesman, but who obviously disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman--which may well be why she has almost disappeared from public view in recent months.


Q2. Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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

Mr. Jenkin: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that boot camps are for the punishment of young offenders, humanely but firmly? May I urge my right hon. Friend to make use of the military corrective training centre at Colchester garrison and ignore the blandishments and objections of Liberal Democrat and Labour Colchester councillors, who once again demonstrate that the Opposition parties are the villain's friend?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I shall certainly examine his suggestion. We hear much from the Opposition parties about their approach to crime, and in some cases about how tough it is. We do not see it at a national level and, if my hon. Friend is correct--I have no reason to doubt that he is--those parties clearly take the same inadequate approach at local level as we have seen them take at national level.


Q3. Mr. Hain: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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

Mr. Hain: Does the Prime Minister recall telling the House on Tuesday that the British economy is now the best in the western world, when in fact seven European countries are growing faster? Does he also recall telling the House that crime in Britain is falling for the first time for 40 years, when in fact crime fell in 1977 and 1978, under Labour? Was he deliberately misleading the House or just reverting to his old, routine incompetence?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is quite right on crime figures, but I understated what I might have said to the House. The fall is not the first for 40 years--the hon. Gentleman is right about that--but the largest fall in crime since records began 100 years ago. It was achieved against the opposition of the hon. Gentleman and many other Opposition Members to almost every measure that we have brought forward in recent years.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to the economy. I said that we have the best performing economy in western Europe, and I think that the hon. Gentleman should look at exactly what I said. The facts are that we have the lowest level of inflation for 50 years, the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years, the lowest unemployment of any major European country and the lowest basic rate of tax for 50 years. We are number one in Europe for foreign investment and we export more per person than Japan or the United States. Which European country can match that record?


Q4. Sir Roger Moate: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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

Sir Roger Moate: Does my right hon. Friend agree that privatised companies are a very attractive proposition to investors? Is he aware of a pamphlet issued recently by a Labour Member of the European Parliament that shows that nearly £1 billion has been invested in privatised companies by Labour local authorities, including Southwark, Lewisham and Islington? Is not that yet another example of Labour hypocrisy? They opposed privatisation, but now they profit from it.

The Prime Minister: I have seen the brochure and I commend it to hon. Members. It was written by a Labour Member of the European Parliament and has a foreword by the leader of the Labour Members of the European Parliament. Its case is set out as my hon. Friend claims. I am delighted to welcome Islington, Lewisham and Southwark to the stockbroker belt, but it strikes me as odd that the Opposition opposed privatisation, they fight privatisation in the House, they go on television to attack privatisation, they attack the management of privatisation, and yet they buy shares in privatised companies and enjoy profits from them. As usual, they are saying one thing and doing another.


Q5. Mr. Hardy: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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

Mr. Hardy: How does the Prime Minister think the British people will recall his widely publicised promises in the 1992 general election campaign to cut taxes year after year, given that he then increased them by more than at any other time in British history? Is not that the most glaring example of saying one thing and doing another?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman will know that taxes are now going back on a downward trend. He might like to hear some examples of saying one thing and doing another. The Opposition are claiming that they will not put taxes up; but what did the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) say some time ago?

"Well, I would say is this: that if the Chancellor, to raise money to do things, did raise the tax level on the top rate from 40 to 50 per cent., we would not oppose it".

That is not what the Leader of the Opposition says. Of course, the deputy leader of the Labour party, who is temporarily absent--[Hon. Members: "Where is he?"] I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman is--he has decided to heckle someone else this afternoon. He said, however, that Labour

"should not follow the Government down the road of reducing the basic rate of tax".

How does that square with the promises made by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) about taxation?


Q6. Mr. Mark Robinson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 1 February.

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

Mr. Robinson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the assisted places scheme provides an excellent opportunity for thousands of children? Is it not another example of hypocrisy and double standards that the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition health spokesman have benefited from the excellent facilities in private education, yet wish to do away with the scheme?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is quite right. The assisted places scheme is another policy that increases choice and opportunity, particularly for people on modest incomes. That is why we are committed to doubling the scheme.

The Labour party is opposed to the scheme--or at least that is what I thought until the Labour leader gave the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) an assisted place in the shadow Cabinet.

Mr. Alfred Morris: When does the Prime Minister expect to be able to respond to the motion on Members' and Ministers' pay that stands in my name and in those of 300 other right hon. and hon. Members? Meanwhile is there any comment he can offer the House on the subject today?

The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there needs to be a new mechanism for determining Members' pay for the future, as the existing link to civil service pay grades disappears following civil service restructuring. That has been the case for some time. We have been considering how to take the matter forward. Of course we shall take account of the views expressed by the House in the early-day motion standing in the right hon. Gentleman's name. We have not concluded our consideration and consultations. As soon as we have, we shall bring our conclusions to the House.