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1992 - PMQT 10th March 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 10th March 1992.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

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 have further meetings later today.

Mr. Hughes : Is it not an appalling indictment of 13 years of this Government's economic policy that yesterday one of Her Majesty's coroners described the shortage of beds in one of Britain's principal hospitals--a shortage that has led to the death of a pensioner from Southwark--as appalling due to a 2 per cent. insufficiency in gross domestic funding of the national health service? As a result of the Government's policy, the pensioner's widow is more than £17 per week less well off in real terms than she was when the Government came to power. Is that not an example of private wealth at the expense of public underfunding? Are the Government to continue with the same policy or enact a U-turn at the last moment?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman well knows that there has been a dramatic increase in national health service spending on any measure one cares to take, far and above the amount necessary either to keep pace with the general level of inflation or to keep pace with the level of inflation in medical costs. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is the case, and he also knows that there has been an increase in net spending at all levels of income in this country.

Mr. Onslow : Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the important report on occupational pensions by the Select Committee on Social Services? Does he agree that it contains a great many lessons for many people, particularly on the Maxwell scandal? Will he give the House an undertaking that, when the report calls for action from the Government, we can rely on my right hon. Friend to take action without delay?

The Prime Minister : I have seen the report. Our first step must be to examine it thoroughly and look at all the recommendations made by the Select Committee. It raises a number of complex and inter-related matters, some of which are for the pensions industry, some for the banks, some for actuaries, auditors and regulators. Some relate to the present legal framework. We need time to examine fully the findings of the Select Committee and to give our response. It is necessary to bear it in mind that the vast majority of occupational pensions schemes operate successfully in the United Kingdom--some 100,000 of them. The cause of the problem with Mirror Group pensioners is all too clear ; There appears to have been a massive fraud, perpetuated under the very eyes of the trustees.

Mr. Kinnock : May I strongly recommend the report in question to the Prime Minister? I hope, it will lead, after the election, to his supporting us in putting its main recommendations into effect. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall giving the House, from that Dispatch Box, the assurance that the Government would not achieve the objective of tax reductions

"on the back of a burgeoning Government borrowing requirement now or in future"?--[ Official Report 14 July 1988 ; Vol. 137, c. 588.] Does he still stand by that assurance?

The Prime Minister : Nothing that my right hon. Friend does or announces later this afternoon will change our objective, or our intention of maintaining medium-term balance in the fiscal situation.

Mr. Kinnock : I asked whether the Prime Minister stood by the assurance that borrowing requirement would not increase to pay for tax cuts, now or in future, under any Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was leader. Does the Prime Minister still stand by that opinion-- yes or no?

The Prime Minister : I did answer that question. Before asking his second question, the right hon. Gentleman might have consulted the shadow Chancellor, who said last week that-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is very unseemly behaviour.

The Prime Minister : I am sorry that Labour Members do not like to hear what they themselves said, but I intend to repeat it. As the shadow Chancellor said last week, "I"--that is, the shadow Chancellor--

"am prepared to go on the basis of accepting the PSBR which emerges from the Budget."

Clearly the Opposition have no independent judgment whatsoever.

Mr. Sumberg : Will my right hon. Friend take time this afternoon to watch the recent interview by Mr. David Frost, which revealed the success of the Government's health service provisions, and also that the Opposition's figures are totally bogus? That interview revealed also that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) does not know his NHS from his NUPE.

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes his point extremely clearly. The bogus statistics of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) have been finally revealed.

Without the steady drip-feed of leaked documents, clearly the hon. Gentleman is in some difficulty with his figures. As was pointed out to him in that interview, this year there has been a 7.1 per cent. increase in the number of patients treated compared with last year, which is higher even than the Government's forecast increase in patient care. I remind the House of the so-called Cook test. The hon. Gentleman said that the success of the trusts must be measured "by the simple test of whether they do more or less work for the national health service patients."

The trusts have clearly passed that test, and I look to the hon. Gentleman to admit that.


Q2. Mr. Patchett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

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

Mr. Patchett : Given the proposed increase in pensions, does the Prime Minister honestly feel that it is sufficient--yes or no?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows what is the pensions increase. It has been announced, it is Government policy, and I stand by that policy.

Sir Donald Thompson : My right hon. Friend will have heard in recent Question Times much about medicine in London. Will he turn his eyes to the country as a whole and to the north--to the West Riding and my own constituency, where the health service is thought to be one of the best in Europe?

The Prime Minister : It is not only thought to be so but it undoubtedly is so, and getting better in each and every part of the United Kingdom. That is largely because of the dedication of the staff and the increased resources provided by this Government.


Q3. Sir Patrick Duffy : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

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

Sir Patrick Duffy : I refer the Prime Minister to the barrage of criticism from the Select Committee on Defence over the Government's handling of Army cuts, and its implied call for a defence review. Is the Prime Minister aware that among right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House who understand the Government's overall objectives, there is still a genuine fear that the outcome will be overstretch in peacetime and a dangerous shortage in times of tension? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is one risk--one national lottery--which we can well do without?

The Prime Minister : The Army of the 1990s will be structured to meet our needs in the face of a changed threat, in particular the end of the Warsaw pact and the millions of Warsaw troops who previously were geared immediately to face us. Our forward planning is designed to enable us to take stock precisely as the Select Committee advocated. I stress that we believe our proposals are right, and we set them out clearly in "Options for Change."

The hon. Gentleman says that all parts of the House take that view. Although I know that he does, I do not believe that all parts of the House do share that view. The occupants of the Opposition Front Bench appear to advocate 25 per cent. cuts in defence expenditure while the occupants of the Liberal Benches advocate 50 per cent. cuts in defence expenditure, both of which are irresponsible and both of which would have a devastating effect on our capacity to defend ourselves.


Q4. Mr. Evennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

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

Mr. Evennett : Does my right hon. Friend agree that proportional representation reduces democracy and effective government? Will he confirm that after he has won the general election and is back in No. 10, he will have no intention of changing our voting system? Will he condemn the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench for using the issue in a squalid attempt to lure Liberal voters into their camp and for indulging in two- faced opportunism?

The Prime Minister : I am not sure that Liberals generally need much luring into Labour policies ; they are very similar. My views on proportional representation are well known. PR does not lead to effective government and I do not support it. Indeed, I agree entirely with what the Leader of the Opposition said a few years ago, that

"proportional representation is fundamentally counter-democratic in any case."

I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has told the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) that, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman is putting down an early marker for after the next election.


Q5. Mr. Jack Thompson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

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

Mr. Thompson : Will the Prime Minister explain what compensation is available under his supposed citizens charter for the late arrival of economic recovery? Does he realise that it is not just an hour but a year and a half late?

The Prime Minister : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity. I can tell him precisely what will be there. It will be a very low level of inflation, lower than we have known at any time in recent years, and steady sustainable growth leading to secure jobs, sustaining the Conservative party in government for many years.

Mr. Burns : Will my right hon. Friend tell me how best to reply to a constituent of mine who has recently completed a course of treatment at Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford and who tells me that the nurses and doctors were fantastic, that the treatment was magnificent and that he is fed up to the back teeth with the constant efforts of the Labour party to undermine and talk down the achievements of the health service?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend's constituent speaks for many people who have enjoyed the splendid services of the national health service in the last year or so.

I advise my hon. Friend to tell his constituent that his experience is not unusual and that it is a tribute to the service that is available from the national health service. He might add that the reforms that are bringing that about are in danger under the plans proposed by the Labour party and that nobody could guarantee the increasing support and assistance from the NHS if those reforms were turned back.


Q6. Mr. Bidwell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

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

Mr. Bidwell : Is the Prime Minister aware that the Home Office is withdrawing section 11 funding from all the colleges in the London borough of Ealing and that that adversely affects the Pathway further education centre in my constituency, where we have the largest concentration of people from the new Commonwealth? I find that totally objectionable from a Government who are shaping up to borrow and spend to save their necks.

The Prime Minister : I am not aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman raises but, as he knows, a tremendous amount of support has been made available through the Home Office and other sources to assist members of the ethnic minorities in this country. That continues to be the case.

Mr. Thornton : With not a red rose in sight on the Opposition Benches, does my right hon. Friend realise that the traditional red rose of Lancashire is alive and well on the Government Benches? What message would my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancashire give us to take back to our constituents in the light of recent research showing that nearly 200 of the top British firms believe that the best way to increase unemployment and inflation and decrease investment would be the calamity of a Labour Government?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right. I share his remarks about the red rose belonging to Lancashire. It also belongs to the Rugby Football Union, which shows the red flag on its grand slam tie that it was generous enough to send me this morning. My hon. Friend is also right about the calamity of a Labour Government, because 86 per cent. of companies in that survey thought that Labour would be bad for the economy. I am concerned about what on earth is wrong with the other 14 per cent.