The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1990Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 6 December 1990

The text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 6th December 1990.




Q1. Ms. Quin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 December.

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.

Ms. Quin : Does the Prime Minister recall that only two days ago he appealed to his party to close ranks? Can he explain why so many of his colleagues refused to support him in the poll tax debate last night? Can he also explain why the British people, many of whom have suffered hardship as a result of this tax, should be expected to have any confidence in the Conservative party, when it is now clear that Tory Members who originally voted to impose the poll tax on us clearly did not believe in it all along?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady is slightly mistaken. A large number of my ministerial and Back-Bench colleagues were abroad unpaired yesterday, and my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip saw no need to bring them back, because we are united.

Mr. Holt : Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has not gone unnoticed on Teesside and in the north-east that, on Tuesday night, he supported the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill in the Lobby, and that the Leader of the Opposition did not oppose it? My right hon. Friend will be most welcome throughout the north-east when he makes his frequent visits–unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who has occasionally dropped in on the Durham miners’ gala and then scarpered back to the south.

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I look forward to visiting Langbaurgh and the north-east on many occasions.

Mr. Kinnock : When he knows what he knows, why does the Prime Minister refuse to abolish the poll tax now?

The Prime Minister : Unlike the right hon. Gentleman and his party– who have, on the latest count, changed their policy on this matter on 52 occasions–we are conducting a comprehensive review to determine how best to deal with it.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister confirm for the British people that the poll tax will still be in place at the time of the next general election?

The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment made it perfectly clear yesterday that we were undertaking a fundamental review, and a fundamental review is what we shall undertake. We shall see how long that will take. I think that the country will notice that, although he professes to oppose the system, the right hon. Gentleman will make no constructive moves towards a constructive dialogue to correct it.

Mr. Kinnock : When the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal last night did not even convince his hon. Friends, how does he seriously expect it to convince anybody else? Will he now answer the question? Will he confirm that the poll tax will still be in place at the next general election–yes or no?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman might confirm that he has made it clear that under his plans the time scale for change may be considerable.

Mr. Fishburn : Will my right hon. Friend win the hearts of Londoners today by endorsing the proposals for leasehold reform put forward last week by the Lord Chancellor? Does he accept that the draft Bill for commonhold will allow London flat dwellers to own their flats on freehold for the first time, thereby ending the injustices of leasehold that make so many London flat dwellers into second-class home owners?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend will know, over the past 10 years we have done more to increase owner-occupation, with the personal security that that offers, than any previous Government. It is noticeable that that is not the policy of the Labour party.

Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that we welcome the proposal made last night for discussions with Opposition parties on a replacement for the poll tax? My party will contribute constructively to those discussions. We shall not play parliamentary games while millions out there are suffering from the effects of this unjust tax. In that context, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember the promise that he made in his 1974 election address, in which he said that he would abolish the rates

Mr. Speaker : Order. I do not think that we need visual aids.

Mr. Ashdown : –in which he said that he would abolish the rates–

Mr. Speaker : Order. The right hon. Gentleman can make his point without the visual signs.

Mr. Ashdown : He said that he would abolish the rates and replace them with a tax related to the ability to pay. Does he still agree with that and does he realise that the only tax properly related to ability to pay is a local income tax?

The Prime Minister : On the last point, the right hon. Gentleman knows that we are considering local taxation at the moment. On the first point, I share what I think is implicit in what the right hon. Gentleman said, which is that the House of Commons need not necessarily be a perpetual cockpit of confrontation. I regret very much that Labour Members, despite all that they said, have no intention of helping to determine common principles for the role of local government. If they do not wish to do so, that is a matter for them, but others will.

Mr. Speaker : Mr. Michael Lord. [Hon. Members :– “Who?”] Order.

Mr. Lord : As our new Prime Minister will have considerably fewer problems to deal with on taking over his appointment, may I urge him to bring to the top of the list the problem of haemophiliacs who have been infected with the AIDS virus through no fault of their own? He would earn the undying gratitude of the victims, their families and the House if he could take steps to bring about an out-of-court settlement as quickly as possible.

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made it clear that we are spending a considerable amount of money to deal with that problem, which we shall continually keep under review.


Q2. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 December.

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

Mr. Hinchliffe : Is the Prime Minister aware that in the past 12 months a baby has been abducted from a hospital in London, an 11-year-old girl has been raped at a hospital in Surrey, a 77-year-old woman has been indecently assaulted at a hospital in Leeds and last week two doctors were murdered at a hospital in Wakefield? As the Government are committed to spending about £200 million on allowing hospitals to opt out, but a mere £20,000 on hospital security, does the Prime Minister feel that he has his priorities right?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should bear it in mind that the direct management of hospitals lies with health authorities and, in the case of national health service trusts, with the management of those trusts in due course. I am sure that they will take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Cormack : Is my right hon. Friend aware that there would be almost universal delight and gratitude if, before Christmas, the problem of the haemophilia AIDS victims were solved by adequate compensation being paid without liability being admitted?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, we have already made a payment into the Macfarlane Trust. I understand the sensitive nature of the matter, but I have nothing further to add today.


Q3. Mr. Mullin : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 December.

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

Mr. Mullin : Is the Prime Minister aware that of the 181 children who left Pennywell comprehensive school in my constituency earlier this year, only 10 found some form of employment, 32 went on to higher education, and of the remaining 150 or so, half went on to Government training schemes, which will lead to the dole, and the other half went directly on to the dole? What hope can he offer the children of Sunderland that life in John Major’s Britain will be any different from life in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, there have been considerable improvements in every aspect of life in the past 10 years, and that will continue. On the specific point that he made, a larger percentage of our youngsters now go on to further education than ever before, a higher percentage of our population is in work than ever before and there is a higher level of opportunities and training than ever before. That bodes well for the young people of Sunderland and indeed for young people everywhere.

Mr. Riddick : Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that many local education authorities, including mine of Kirklees, are holding back far more of their education budgets for central administration than was originally intended by the Government? As the Government have announced that they intend to carry out a full review of the structure of local government, does he think that we should consider taking the control of education out of the hands of local education authorities and giving it to schools?

The Prime Minister : I have considerable sympathy with that point of view, not least because of the enormous success of local management of schools. I hope that education authorities will release as much money as possible to go directly into the classroom.


Q4. Mr. Chris Smith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 December.

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

Mr. Smith : Will the Prime Minister tell us whether, as a result of the frantic trawling for options and ideas that is under way in the Department of the Environment, there will be any reduction whatsoever in the poll tax bills that people will receive in April, or will the amounts be precisely the same as they were always going to be?

The Prime Minister : As for trawling for options, I remind the hon. Gentleman that his party has had 52 changes of mind on local government. That is not so much a U-turn as a merry-go-round.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton : Does my right hon. Friend accept that manufacturing industry is the only genuine source of non-inflationary growth and that the continuing use of high interest rates is damaging to investment and to competitiveness? Will my right hon. Friend look again at an alternative industrial manufacturing strategy?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, the central core of economic policy is to bear down on inflation. As it reduces–and I expect that it will reduce, which is the general view of external commentators as well- -the options may exist for a reduction in interest rates. I can give no indication of when that may be.


Q5. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 6 December.

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

Mr. Bennett : Does the Prime Minister agree that given that two of the Polaris submarines are no longer seaworthy and that the other two were on the Clyde earlier this week, he is the first Prime Minister for 20 years not to have had a nuclear deterrent at his fingertips? Does he further agree that that did not cause him or the country any problems? Will he now agree that, rather than trying to patch up the remaining Polaris submarines, he should abandon the whole programme and give a clear lead to the non-proliferation talks in January that we want to have a non-nuclear world?

The Prime Minister : Our nuclear capacity remains a deterrent and remains an important part of our defence.

Sir Robert McCrindle : As my former area Whip–which until now has, no doubt, been his greatest claim to distinction–will my right hon. Friend comment on the possibility of some change being brought to the hours that the House works? Will he tell me why, having had that matter raised on many occasions in the 20 years in which I have been in the House, I remain sceptical? What can my right hon. Friend do to reassure me?

The Prime Minister : I have fond memories of being my hon. Friend’s Whip some years ago. The hours of work in the House are essentially a matter for the Procedure Committee and for hon. Members themselves. Each will have his own individual views. If the House were to express views, I do not think that I would stand against them.