The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 7 May 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 7th May 1991.




Q1. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Immediately after Questions I shall depart the House to attend a guard of honour for the Prime Minister of Spain. I shall have further meetings later today.

Mr. McAllion : In the past week we have heard some Scottish Tories describe Scottish devolution as an immovable force which their party ignores at its risk. Other Scottish Tories have described it as a fantasy and a dead duck and yet others have described it as a London-based plot hatched by the chairman of the Conservative party to win cheap votes in Scotland. With which of those views does the Prime Minister agree–or is this yet another important issue on which he does not know his own mind?

The Prime Minister : Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain fully so.

Mr. Quentin Davies : Does my right hon. Friend agree that during the past 12 years this country has gained tremendous advantages through substantial reductions in income tax levels? Does he further agree that to increase income tax rates again, even for those on moderate levels of earnings, such as classroom teachers in London, would be a retrograde step and a major blow to the aspirations of millions of people and to economic output?

The Prime Minister : I certainly would agree with my hon. Friend about that. It applies also to national insurance contributions, because what matters is the net disposable income that people have left in their pockets to spend. People will have noticed the Opposition’s plans in that regard.

Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity publicly to oppose a two-tier system in hospitals, such as Watford general hospital, where the patients of non budget-holding general practitioners must wait longer and take second place, regardless of their clinical need?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. Operations are done on the basis of clinical need. There will be no reductions in existing operations in Watford. Instead, as a result of our reforms, some people will get operations faster than otherwise they would have done. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister has just confirmed the existence of a two-tier service. Does he realise that a two-tier system such as he supports is, as the British Medical Association says, “unethical”? Does he recognise that even in its existence it is a violation of the basic principle of the national health service that treatment must be determined according to clinical need, not contracts or commercial decisions? Is not it obvious from what he says and allows that although we believe in a national health service on the basis of need, the Prime Minister believes in one according to deals?

The Prime Minister : None of that remotely follows. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman did not listen to my first answer. Operations are done on the basis of clinical need. I shall repeat that in case he did not fully hear it first time : operations are done on the basis of clinical need. What we are seeking and attaining are a more efficient system and more efficient use of the large resources in the NHS. The right hon. Gentleman’s plans would take money away from the NHS as a result of many of his spiteful proposals. He has made it clear that he will provide no extra funding. We need no lectures on health care from him.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister not only misrepresents me, he misrepresents what is going on– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister misrepresents what is going on now. Will he take this opportunity to say that there are no cases that he will allow in which the patients of non budget-holding GPs will be allowed to take second place to the patients of budget-holding GPs who have made contractual arrangements with hospitals to gain preference for their patients?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman should read what I have said twice already : that operations are done on the basis of clinical need.

Mr. Alexander : Does my right hon. Friend recollect his past criticism of the unsatisfactory nature of the laws on Sunday trading? In the light of recent events, does he agree that it might now be appropriate to bring our laws in England and Wales into line with those of Scotland, where the commitment to the Sabbath and keeping Sunday special goes hand in hand with sensible Sunday trading laws?

The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend will know, a number of cases are being considered by the courts. Some may go to appeal. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office is consulting interested parties to see whether a consensus can be found on Sunday trading law that would be acceptable both to them and to the House, which has repeatedly expressed a view on the matter. I believe that that is the right way ahead on a matter of conscience such as this. Experience in Scotland suggests that a suitable consensus is possible. I hope that we can find one south of the border.


Q2. Ms. Ruddock : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

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

Ms. Ruddock : Does the Prime Minister know that last year in Lewisham there were only 320 employment training places when there were 10,000 unemployed people? Can he tell me, therefore, why today, when unemployment has increased by a third, to over 14,000, the number of employment training places is to be cut by a third? What faith does he expect the British people to put in his commitment to a fairer society?

The Prime Minister : As the hon. Lady will know, the United Kingdom is the only country in Europe to guarantee a training place to everyone under the age of 18 who is not already in full-time education or employment. Spending on training is £2.7 billion this year. That is two and a half times more than was spent by the previous Labour Government.


Q3. Mr. Speller : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

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

Mr. Speller : Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will fight for the interests of the small family farm in Britain at the common agricultural policy discussions that are to come and also by providing assistance for such items as expertise in marketing and help for farmers’ incomes, which have fallen to an unacceptable level?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. We will defend the interests of all farmers, including small family farmers, in the forthcoming Community discussions. The House knows that, as currently framed, the Commission’s plans for CAP reform would discriminate against United Kingdom farmers, largely because our average farm size is greater than that in other member states. We have given considerable help to small farmers recently, in particular by increasing milk quotas and by means of the hill livestock compensatory allowance. We shall continue to help.


Q4. Mr. Hain : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

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

Mr. Hain : Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to repudiate the views of the Conservative candidate in the Monmouth by- election who yesterday advocated the opting out of not just the Royal Gwent hospital but the Nevill Hall hospital as well?

The Prime Minister : Opting out–that is to say, putting control in the hands of local people within the national health service–is the right way to produce better management and local choice. I note that the hon. Gentleman does not favour local choice, just as his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made clear in terms of education yesterday.


Q5. Mr. Wilshire : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

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

Mr. Wilshire : Given the Government’s desire to extend choice in education further, and given the public’s desire to see the highest possible standards of education everywhere, will my right hon. Friend find time today to look for ways to extend further choice in education?

The Prime Minister : We are very pleased to see extended choice in education. The new grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and open enrolment have provided considerable extra choice. I hope that parents will take advantage of it. It is clear that the Opposition do not like choice. Grant-maintained schools, CTCs, the assisted places scheme, charitable status for private schools and the existing A-levels would all go and, with the Opposition’s tax plans, most of the teachers would go as well.


Q6. Mr. Campbell-Savours : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

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

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Having clearly misled Parliament last week–

Mr. Speaker : Order. No hon. Member misleads Parliament. The hon. Member knows that and he must rephrase his question.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Having misrepresented to Parliament last week the attitude of the British Medical Association and Britain’s doctors as to GP contracts, why did the Prime Minister seek to cover up his mistakes by doctoring Hansard? Is that not true and does not the Prime Minister owe someone an apology?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and Mr. Speaker will make a statement about that matter at 3.30 pm. In advance of that statement, let me say this to the hon. Gentleman. Like every hon. Member, he knows that it is normal practice, when a Minister uses a quote, for the precise words and their source to be provided by Hansard. In this case, the name of the correct source was put into the record, but I am entirely happy for the original words to be reinstated. The magazine from which I quoted was GP Magazine but similar sentiments to those that I quoted, endorsing the reforms, have been expressed in the British Medical Journal, published by the BMA– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us hear the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister : I quote from a recent editorial in the British Medical Journal, which said :

“The reforms may not address all the problems of the NHS, but they do improve our capacity to specify the quality of services and to price improvements.”

The point that I was making is entirely justified. If any apology is required, it is from the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham).


Q7. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

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

Mr. Arnold : Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity, over the weekend, to reflect on the damage that would be done to our representative democracy by a system of proportional representation? This system would deprive people of their solely responsible local representative to satisfy the Liberals, the statisticians and the pundits who enjoy smoke-filled rooms.

The Prime Minister : I am not in favour of either smoke-filled rooms or proportional representation. I share my hon. Friend’s view that it leaves minority parties determining Government policy and striking bargains for their support. That is not democracy, it is horse trading, and I will have no part in it.


Q9. Mr. Paice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 7 May.

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

Mr. Paice : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to reflect on the fact that we, by reducing the top rate of tax to 40 per cent. from 83 per cent., have increased the proportion of total yield of income tax paid by the highest 10 per cent. of taxpayers from 20 to 30 per cent? Is not this because many of the most wealthy people are now staying in this country and bringing their money back, so that we get 40 per cent. of something, whereas the Opposition would get 59 per cent. of nothing?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. The evidence as to the amount of tax collected with lower rates is clear for all to see. It is equally clear that, under the Labour party’s proposals, 14 out of 15 taxpayers would not be better off, as the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said a year ago. The figure is now one in eight. When the shadow Chancellor gets at the figures they change daily, and when we have finished costing Labour’s programme they will change again.

Mr. Simon Hughes : The Prime Minister will be aware that, in relation to his policy on local government finance, only after huge public protest and widespread cuts in services did he decide that he had better review the policy inherited from his predecessor and then to ditch it. Does he agree that his policy on the opting out of hospitals was equally widely opposed and that it is now clear that it, too, will result in widespread cuts in services? For the sake of consistency of principle, will the Prime Minister carry out a wholesale review and then ditch the policy?

The Prime Minister : No. I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s views, and I do not believe that his analysis is remotely correct. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman must wait and see how it turns out. He will find that he is wrong. For many years we have had to ensure that the national health service uses its resources to the most efficient extent. At last the present Government have had the courage to introduce a system that will ensure that the money is used to best effect for patients. I believe that, for the national health service, that is the right way to proceed and the one which will produce the maximum amount of good patient care. That is what we propose to do.