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1991 - PMQT 3rd December 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 3rd December 1991.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Carrington : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Carrington : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in my constituency Labour-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council keeps many of its council houses and flats empty? Does he agree that the most effective action that could be taken to end homelessness would be if Labour-controlled London councils brought back into use the many thousands of empty homes under their control?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a valid point and I share his concern about homelessness. For that reason, we are spending more than £100 million over the next three years to provide accommodation for young single people. The Government's initiatives on rough sleeping are having a marked effect on the problem in London.

Mr. Hattersley : Is the Prime Minister aware that doctors working in the health service have said today that his promise to cut waiting lists to two years can be achieved only if desperately ill patients sacrifice their beds to less serious cases who have waited longer? Is he prepared to sanction such manipulation of waiting lists?

The Prime Minister : I have not seen that comment by doctors, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is not the situation. Long waiting lists are falling fast. Since March 1990, the number of patients waiting more than two years has come down by 47 per cent.--a substantial reduction--and the number waiting longer than one year has reduced by a quarter.

Mr. Hattersley : During the day, doctors from Nottingham University hospital and Chase Farm hospital Enfield have said that they can meet the target only if seriously ill patients are sacrificed. Is the Prime Minister prepared to abandon the target or the seriously ill patients?

The Prime Minister : There is no question of abandoning the seriously ill patients. For that reason, we have expanded expenditure on the health service, increased the number of medical staff and introduced initiatives to cut waiting lists. All those are practical methods, all of them are working, and all of them are delivering better health care and will deliver faster health care.

Mr. Hattersley : The Prime Minister's wilful refusal to answer a specific question demonstrates the underlying truth of the Government's health service policy : they are interested in public relations, not patient care. No wonder the people of this country know that the health service is not safe in their hands.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense on stilts, and he knows it.

Mr. McAllion : Is the Prime Minister aware of the survey published yesterday by the housing charity, Shelter, which revealed that on every working day in Scotland last year 84 children became homeless because the Government had failed to invest enough in decent, affordable rented housing? Is he not ashamed that so many children have been thrown on to the streets of Scotland while he has been Prime Minister? Will he now do something about it by calling a general election and making way for a Labour Government committed to ridding this country of the Tory scourge of homelessness?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman would do well to recall that the policies of so many Labour authorities leaving properties empty and voids untreated which significantly adds to the level of homelessness; until those Labour authorities operate properly with their housing resources, they will not make inroads into the housing problem.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I inadvertently called two hon. Members from the same side.


Q2. Mr. Franks : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

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

Mr. Franks : Will the Prime Minister state clearly and concisely that, irrespective of the place or the audience or the day of the week, he has but one policy for the fourth Trident submarine--to build it, equip it and send it to sea armed for the nation's defence? Will he find time to read recent Official Reports of debates and questions in the House where he will find "We will build a boat", "We won't build a boat" and "We will build a boat but it will have no weapons", all of which is official Labour party policy?

The Prime Minister : I am happy to confirm the Government's commitment to Trident, as so frequently set out in this House. As my hon. Friend makes clear, there is no comparable commitment from the Opposition, whose polices on defence vary from day to day.


Q4. Mr. Cran : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

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

Mr. Cran : Is my right hon. Friend aware that a senior Japanese industrialist has made it clear that if the European Community adopts the social action programme it will be committing industrial suicide? That being so, will my right hon. Friend give the House a commitment that he will not give way on that in the discussions next week? Does he also agree that the European Community should be an evolutionary community, not a revolutionary one?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right to say that we live in an increasingly competitive environment and that much in the social action programme would damage that competitiveness within the European Community-- to the interests of the Japanese, the United States and our other competitors. I confirm to my hon. Friend that I am not prepared to see our competitiveness lost in that manner.

Mr. Wallace : I congratulate the Prime Minister on the fact that at long last common sense prevailed and he was prepared to meet the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Can he give any indication of whether at that meeting he expressed the British Government's support for the United Nations human rights sub-commission report in relation to the expressions of concern about the violations of human rights in Tibet, and what proposals did he make to help the many thousands who have been refugees from Tibet in the past 30 years?

The Prime Minister : The substantive part of my discussion with the Dalai Lama was specifically concerned with human rights--most notably, though not exclusively, in Tibet. We discussed the present situation and the representations that we had made to the People's Republic of China, and I reaffirmed the fact that I would continue to make such representations.


Q4. Mr. Peter Bottomley : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

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

Mr. Bottomley : As this is "Youth and Parliament" day, led by the British Youth Council, would my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of investing in the young, overcoming unnecessary disadvantages such as handicap, and giving them the opportunity to contribute fully to a better future for the country?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps the most striking expression of the changed opportunities for young people is the increasing number now going into higher education. In 1979 it was one in eight--today it is one in four, and in the future, under the plans now projected, it will be an even higher percentage.

Mr. Vaz : Will the Prime Minister reflect on the continued hardship and anxiety facing depositors, creditors and former members of staff of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International? Will he join me today in thanking the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi for his recent proposals which form part of the crucial negotiations that are taking place? Will he for the first time publicly endorse those negotiations and wish them well? Will he ensure that his Ministers are actively involved in getting the best possible settlement for those who have suffered and who are the real victims of this awful tragedy?

The Prime Minister : We have repeatedly made it clear that we wish depositors to get back as much of their money as possible. I am pleased with the improvements evident from the negotiations that have taken place. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the recent adjournment is to allow the provisional liquidator to formalise details of the compensation package that he has been negotiating with the Government of Abu Dhabi. That is proceeding and I welcome it. I hope that it will reach a satisfactory conclusion and remove the substantial problem that it has laid over the lives of so many former customers of that bank.


Q5. Mr. Speller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

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

Mr. Speller : On our way to the single market, is it not time to give a healthy nudge to the metrication programme so as to enable our manufacturers and exporters to compete more fairly with our continental rivals?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, there will be a similar system by the end of 1994, which I believe will bring substantial advantages for industry.

Mr. Enright : Will the Prime Minister explain what attitude he intends to take at Maastricht to co-operation on development issues, and what practical result that will have?

The Prime Minister : We are content to develop on a co-operative basis a whole range of policies. Where we often have great difficulty with Community proposals is when co-operation is replaced not by agreement but by majority voting on issues of concern to us.


Q6. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

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

Mr. Evennett : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Secretary of State for Education and Science on devising tests for seven-year-olds which go back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic? Will he further commend the Secretary of State for pushing on with the tests, despite the opposition of the National Union of Teachers, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats? The parents of this country will welcome those tests most warmly.

The Prime Minister : I believe that my hon. Friend is right. We are concerned primarily about the quality of education and for that reason I very much welcome the tests. Testing is a crucial part of ensuring that we know what quality of education our young people are achieving, so that if a satisfactory level is not reached, appropriate action can be taken.

Mr. James Lamond : Is the Prime Minister fully aware of the importance for many industries in this country, including the textile industry, of a successful outcome of the GATT negotiations? Is he aware that the negotiations have been going on for five years, that we must have a replacement for the multi-fibre arrangement that will enable our textiles to penetrate the markets of countries which do not allow any textiles in and those with tariffs of 200 per cent., and that even the United States has a tariff of 36 per cent. on British wool cloth? Unless those tariffs are diminished our textile industry will have a tough time, and more jobs will be lost.

The Prime Minister : I share the hon. Gentleman's view of the importance of GATT and of all aspects of the negotiations. In recent weeks, I have had the opportunity of discussing the matter not only in the United States but with a number of colleagues in the European Community. It is clear that both sides will have to make concessions to reach a satisfactory GATT conclusion. It is to be hoped that that will happen before the end of the year.


Q7. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

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

Mr. Greenway : Bearing in mind Britain's good marine conservation record, will my right hon. Friend join some of us in the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, with a view to saving thousands of whales and dolphins from drift nets, from so-called scientific whaling and from industrial pollution? I have a form here, it will cost my right hon. Friend £5 or £10 to join, and I invite him to do so.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes me an irresistible offer. I have much sympathy with the aims that he set out. The Government have taken a strong lead in international forums to restrict the use of drift nets and to increase the safeguards for whales.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : In the context of the Prime Minister's duties in the House, will he advise us whether he will stay to listen to the statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland? Is the Prime Minister aware that the allocation of trust status to hospitals in Scotland is against the general and political will of the people there? Will he therefore spell out what he decides is democracy in Scotland? It seems that the Secretary of State for Scotland is to ride roughshod over the views of elected members at district, regional and parliamentary level.

The Prime Minister : I shall not be present for the statement because I have a series of meetings with hon. Members immediately after Question Time.


Q8. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 3 December.

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

Mr. Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people who choose to work more than 48 hours per week, and who thereby earn overtime and give greater security to their families, would be most upset if an edict from Brussels took the right to work such overtime away from them, especially as hon. Members would be excluded from the rules, as would the bureaucrats in Europe and all managers and executives?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend on that point. It goes wider than just the position of individuals, important though that is. It also covers the competitiveness of British industry and commerce, a point to which I referred some moments ago. If we were to have to suffer all the rigours of the directive to which my hon. Friend refers, it would cost employers substantial sums--billions of pounds--in the next year.