The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 2 May 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 2nd May 1991.




Q1. Mr. Sayeed : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

The Prime Minister : 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. Sayeed : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the local elections today should be about which party most efficiently delivers quality services at the lowest cost?

The Prime Minister : They certainly should be and I hope that in the eyes of the electors they are. If they turn out to be so, I believe that the cost of each Labour councillor, which is very substantial, will be noticed by the electorate, who will vote accordingly.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister agree with the British Medical Association’s judgment that there is a crisis for patients and for doctors in the national health service and that, in its words,

“The Prime Minister is unaware of what is happening throughout the country.”?

The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman will know, I had a seminar with many leading figures in the health industry at Chequers on Saturday morning. It is an odd question from the right hon. Gentleman, who admitted over the weekend that there would be no more money for health under a Labour Government. The point which I believe that the BMA should consider is that it is improbable, with £30 billion going into the health service, that each and every one of those pounds is being used to best effect. The purpose of our reforms is to ensure that that money is used to best effect on patient care so that the patient may get the best possible value for the contribution that he makes to the health service.

Mr. Kinnock : With that response the Prime Minister not only proves his desperation in misrepresenting me, but proves the BMA’s case that he really does not know what is going on in the country. The secretary of the BMA, Dr. Ian Field, reports that, because of the Prime Minister’s so-called NHS reforms, hospital clerks are having to take life-and-death decisions about which patients should be admitted and which should be turned away. If the Prime Minister does not think that that is evidence of crisis, just what does he think would constitute a crisis?

The Prime Minister : Perhaps the gentleman to whom the Leader of the Opposition has referred should have examined more carefully what is happening in many other parts of the country, quite apart from the general increase in NHS funding. For example, he might look at many of the trusts. In the case of North Western, no cuts are planned, and new staff posts are being created. The same applies to Mersey, West Midlands, Trent, East Anglia, Yorkshire and many other areas. It would be a great help to the national health service if people were to look at its achievements and its improvements, rather than carp, criticise and pick out difficulties that have always existed and, in an organisation of such size, may always exist.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister can be sure that the consultants and other doctors in the BMA are well aware of the qualities of the national health service. Indeed, they work in it continually and they support it continually. When they say that there is a crisis for patients and doctors in the NHS as a result of the Prime Minister’s reforms, does not he think that he owes it to them, first, to meet them very soon and, secondly, to stop opting out and adding to the crisis?

The Prime Minister : As I have said to the BMA in my letter, I will be prepared later this year to meet it to discuss the matter. If the right hon. Gentleman is inclined to quote the BMA, let him recall that the association opposed many past improvements in the health service. It opposed the very establishment of the service, in which case it was wrong ; it opposed the drugs list, in which case it was wrong ; and, only last year, it opposed the GP contracts, yet, in GP Magazine * (* See Mr. Speaker’s statement on 7 May at column 625.), it now says :

“Suddenly, targets don’t seem so bad after all Most GPs will find themselves significantly better off than they were last year.”

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should examine that more carefully.

Mr. Cash : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the draft treaty that the Luxembourg presidency has made available to only a very limited number of people–and certainly not to Members of this House–in the European Community? Does my right hon. Friend know that that draft treaty contains provisions that would result in a severe diminution in the powers of this House? Will he give us an assurance that, although we want to co-operate in Europe–we are pro-European–the proposals in this paper, which combine a reduction in the powers of the Westminster Parliament with an increase in the powers of the European Community, are unacceptable in their present form?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, I have on a number of occasions made clear our position in both intergovernmental conferences. The document to which he refers is, as he has said, a draft treaty prepared by the Luxemburgers. It has not been agreed by us–indeed, it has not yet even been discussed by us–and we have put forward our own particular proposals for both intergovernmental conferences.


Q2. Mr. Watson : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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

Mr. Watson : The Government’s proposed replacement for the poll tax promises 100 per cent. rebates for those on low incomes. Why will not the Prime Minister give an assurance today that the same principle will be applied to the nearly 6 million people who will remain liable to pay 20 per cent. of the poll tax for at least another three years?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, when the 20 per cent. arrangement was introduced, income support was also introduced to compensate, to ensure that people had the resources to meet those charges. That remains the position.

Mr. Jopling : Will the Prime Minister find time today to ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ensure that all advertisements are decent, legal and truthful–especially advertisements put in the press by trade unions on behalf of the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : That would certainly be an improvement, if it happened. I join my right hon. Friend in condemning the advertisements to which he refers, with their phoney pictures and fake statistics. How similar that is to so much of what we hear at present from Opposition Members.


Q3. Mr. Douglas : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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

Mr. Douglas : Does the Prime Minister accept that we are extremely interested in his addiction to seminars if he comes to Scotland we shall arrange one, at which he can explain to the people of Scotland why he is proposing to introduce a tax that is theoretically less onerous and less regressive than the poll tax, while at the same time allowing a rebate of 100 per cent. How can he explain the persistence of the 20 per cent. rule for the poll tax, and how does he view the difficulties of Scottish local authorities, because he knows that the poll tax is uncollectable?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman must have been asleep. I answered that question two minutes ago.

Mr. Burns : During his busy day, has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to see the latest diktat from COHSE, which orders its members to campaign for the Labour party during the local elections? In the light of that diktat, does he agree that nothing that the union says about the health service should be believed, because it is not objective and is politically biased?

The Prime Minister : Given its past activities, I should be surprised if COHSE did not operate in that fashion, and that applies to NUPE as well. But, as the Leader of the Opposition gets so many of his policies from them, that is no surprise to any of us.


Q4. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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

Mr. Dunnachie : Does the Prime Minister agree with the chairman of the Conservative party, who has declared that all voters are jerks, or does he agree with the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who has said that they are all morons? Or does he agree with the majority of the British people, who say that senior Cabinet Ministers are a disgrace to the country?

The Prime Minister : As none of those comments was made in the way in which the hon. Gentleman suggests, there is nothing to withdraw.

Mr. John Townend : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is still a Government priority for British business men and farmers, after the completion of the single market in 1992, to be able to compete on a level playing field with their Community competitors? If so, will my right hon. Friend have a word with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and advise him not to impose on the pig industry financial burdens that our competitors on the Continent need not bear–especially the competition from Denmark and Holland?

The Prime Minister : It is certainly our intention to see a level market, not only in agriculture but in all matters of European trade. All my right hon. Friends are aware of that and act accordingly.


Q5. Mr. Sillars : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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

Mr. Sillars : May I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to a statement made recently by the housing convenor of the city of Glasgow? According to that statement, given the present level of capital consents it will take 300 years to cure the damp problems experienced by the people of that city. That was said seriously, not facetiously.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the present level of damp in Glasgow poses a serious risk to the health of children in particular. Will he deliver to the citizens of Glasgow the same respite as his Government gave to the rich people who bought shares in privatised English companies? Will he wipe off the capital debt of the city of Glasgow and give the people there an opportunity to enjoy decent housing in a much shorter time than 300 years?

The Prime Minister : I think that we would all like everyone in the country to have increasing access to decent housing. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in the past 10 years–across the country as a whole–there have been 2 million more homes, which is equivalent in practice to a city twice the size of Birmingham. He will understand the extent of the improvements that have been made. As for the position in Glasgow, the way in which individual authorities use their housing receipts, their capital receipts and their revenue sums is a matter for them and they must determine what priorities they must meet.


Q6. Mr. Speller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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

Mr. Speller : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the horrific accident on the north Devon link road at 3 o’clock this morning when a van bound from South Molton was in collision with a minibus carrying several Icelandic tourists, three of whom are dead and six of whom are desperately injured? Does my right hon. Friend accept that, as the tourist season begins, we need adequate police resources to ensure that there is safety on the roads, which is best ensured by a police presence?

The Prime Minister : I was sorry to hear of that dreadful accident and I am sure that the House will join me in expressing sympathy to the families of those involved. As my hon. Friend will know, the Road Traffic Bill currently before Parliament will strengthen road traffic law and penalties. In addition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will spend well over £6 million in 1991-92 on direct road safety campaigns in an effort to minimise the terrible accidents that we so frequently see, to an example of which my hon. Friend has referred.


Q7. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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

Mr. McAvoy : The Prime Minister keeps making pious declarations about his personal commitment to the national health service, but is he aware that in my constituency Greater Glasgow health board has privatised care of the elderly? In other NHS hospitals there are to be en-suite toilets and bathrooms, but in that privatised hospital in my constituency there are to be communal toilets and bathrooms. When my frail and elderly constituents are being herded like cattle to use those communal facilities, will this personally committed Prime Minister feel any personal sense of shame?

The Prime Minister : Anticipating what the hon. Gentleman might touch upon, I looked at Greater Glasgow health board’s record. It has, as the hon. Gentleman neglected to mention, awarded 58 contracts under competitive tendering arrangements and the resultant savings of £32.7 million will go directly into patient care. It has also entered into a contract with a number of people to provide more beds for care of the elderly. Greater Glasgow health board has a good record which the hon. Gentleman neglected to mention.

Mr. Gerald Bowden : When my right hon. Friend comes to consider the route for the Channel tunnel rail link, will he look seriously at the alternatives to British Rail’s proposal? Will he take the opportunity to meet the professional partners of Bechtel and Ove Arup to discuss with them the benefits of their route at first hand?

The Prime Minister : We will certainly look carefully at all alternatives. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will do that with great care.


Q8. Mr. Andrew Welsh : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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

Mr. Welsh : Given that the Secretary of State for Scotland opposed test drilling for nuclear dumps in his constituency and the Secretary of State for Energy, who is in charge of Nirex, opposed similar test drilling in his constituency, how can the Prime Minister justify permission being given for such test drilling in Dounreay, against massive democratic opposition locally and throughout Scotland? Is that a case of double standards?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the decision at this stage is only to test the boreholes for repositories for nuclear waste. If a borehole turned out to be satisfactory, there would need to be a further detailed planning application before any waste could be deposited.