The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 21 May 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 21st May 1991.




Q1. Mr. McFall : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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. McFall : “It ain’t working, but it’s really hurting” is what one of my constituents told me in Dumbarton High Street last Saturday. After a lifetime of work, at the age of 54 he now finds himself made redundant. When I next meet my constituent, can I tell him that the Prime Minister echoes the comments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that my constituent’s tragedy and that of the hundreds of thousands who will surely follow in the coming months is a price well worth paying, or will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to add substance to his new caring image by dissociating himself completely from the Chancellor’s remarks?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has no monopoly of concern about unemployment. It is shared by every Conservative Member as well. It is precisely because we care about the impact of unemployment that we are determined to remove its cause–which, predominantly, is inflation–and we are now making substantial progress with that. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about unemployment–I return to the point that the Opposition have ducked on every occasion–may I say that the minimum wage proposal will put many people out of work.


Q2. Mr. Ashby : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mr. Ashby : In view of the recent spate of horrific incidents involving certain breeds of dogs, do the Government intend doing anything about that and, if so, what?

The Prime Minister : Everyone will have been shaken by the attacks during the past few weeks, particularly the horrific attack on Rucksana Khan at the weekend. I have discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and we are persuaded that urgent action must be taken. From midnight tonight, the import of dogs bred for fighting, such as the American pit bull terrier and the Japanese Tosa, will be banned. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will wish to make a statement to the House tomorrow setting out further action to deal with the problem. But it is clear that such dogs have no place in our homes.

Mr. Kinnock : I strongly support what the Prime Minister just said about fighting dogs.

If, as the Prime Minister insists, hospital trusts are not outside the national health service, why does he refuse to allow people to have a vote on the future of their local hospital?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support on the subject of dogs. It if comes to legislation, which it may well do after my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s statement tomorrow, I hope that his support will hold good. It is a matter that the whole country will be keen to see brought to a conclusion at an early stage.

On the subject of the health reforms, the right hon. Gentleman is aware, for he has clearly heard what has been said by many people in the health service in recent days, that he was wrong about health care outside the national health service. [Interruption.] Health trusts are outside the bureaucracy of much of the national health service, but they remain within the national health service. They will treat NHS patients. That is the position now and it will remain the position in the future.

Mr. Kinnock : What we are hearing, Mr. Speaker, is the hysteria of defeat. The Prime Minister does not appear to understand his own legislation. The trusts are not owned by the national health service. They can buy and sell, hire and fire and make contract deals without regard to the national health service. They are not part of a national health service. [Interruption.] That is the big truth and the Prime Minister should face it.

The Prime Minister : There are none so deaf as those who do not wish to hear because they know they have been wrong. The right hon. Gentleman has now been told by sufficient people who are professionals in the national health service that trusts are part of the national health service. If he is not prepared to correct the mischief that he and his party enunciated last week, that is a matter for them, but the whole country knows that he is wrong and that trusts are part of the national health service.

Mr. Kinnock : On the subject of listening, the Prime Minister should hear what was said in Monmouth last Thursday. The people of Monmouth spoke. The right hon. Gentleman and his party were beaten fair and square, so why does he not listen to them and stop the second wave?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman and his candidate won the Monmouth by-election, and I congratulate the candidate on so doing, but I cannot congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the accuracy of the campaign that was run on that occasion. The Monmouth literature was deceptive and untruthful, because

“self-governing hospitals continue to fulfil the crucial criterion of being a part of the NHS : they provide, free of charge, health care that is funded by the taxpayer’s contributions. What they have opted out of is the central bureaucracy of the NHS”.

Those are not my words ; they are the words in a leading article in The Independent. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is true.

Mr. Amery : My right hon. Friend will have noted that the dictator of Ethiopia appears to have left the country. Will he seize the initiative now and instruct our representative there to make immediate contact with the successor Administration to find out how we can help to lead the country towards democracy? Britain liberated Ethiopia from the Italians in the second world war. We now have a chance to lead the country towards democracy.

The Prime Minister : President Mengistu’s resignation this morning is welcome. We hope that it will facilitate the peace process and enhance donors’ ability to help those in need in Ethiopia–a matter of considerable importance to us all. I urge both the Government and the opposition movements to take this opportunity to negotiate a lasting settlement of their differences and, above all, to put an end to the civil war from which Ethiopia has suffered for too long. We shall do what we can to help to bring that about.


Q3. Mr. Beith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mr. Beith : Does the motion about Europe signed by 105 of the Prime Minister’s colleagues represent Government policy? The Prime Minister has often repeated the assertion that not this Parliament but a future Parliament must decide whether we should adopt a single currency. Is that assertion based on the belief that a future Parliament would contain more people who hold our view that Britain should take the lead in the development of Europe and its currency and fewer of the type of people who signed the motion?

The Prime Minister : We are increasingly taking the lead in the European Community. That will become more and more evident as month succeeds month. Discussion in the two intergovernmental conferences is still at an early stage and negotiations will continue throughout the rest of this year. The Luxembourg paper that is identified in the early-day motion is but one part of that negotiation. The early-day motion rightly identifies elements in the paper that need to be changed, and will be changed, before the negotiation is complete.


Q4. Mr. Hannam : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mr. Hannam : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the health service reforms are already working well– [Interruption.] –and gaining the support of most hospital staff throughout the country? Is he aware that this year Exeter health authority will purchase some 200 hip and knee operations from the London hospitals? That will reduce waiting lists and help the London hospitals. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend continue to champion the rights of the patients, in contrast to the Labour party, which champions bureaucracy and the trade unions?

The Prime Minister : Indeed, I will, for that is the basis of the reforms. I welcome the example provided by my hon. Friend of a health authority using the opportunity of the reforms to secure better and, in many cases, speedier treatment for patients in the local area. Similar improvements are evident in many parts of the country for those who wish to look and see.

Mr. Jim Marshall : May I take the Prime Minister’s mind back to his meetings with Ulster Unionist leaders last week? [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members should listen. Will the Prime Minister confirm that there has been no change in the basis of the discussions between the constitutional parties in the Province as a consequence of his meeting with those two Ulster Unionist leaders?

The Prime Minister : I can certainly confirm that there has been no change in the nature of the discussions. As we speak, there has been no session of the talks yet. Discussions are continuing with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the hope that the talks can soon begin. For the sake of all the people of Northern Ireland, I hope that all concerned will speedily find a basis on which the talks can go ahead.


Q5. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mr. Arnold : Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the polytechnics were given control of their own affairs– [Interruption.] –they have recruited a further 36,000 students? Now that colleges of further education have been given the same freedom, what does my right hon. Friend think will be the result?

The Prime Minister : From what I could hear of my hon. Friend’s question over the hubbub, I think that he was commending the way in which the polytechnics have flourished since they were given their independence. That is certainly the case. Any director of a polytechnic will confirm that to anyone who seeks the information.

Miss Lestor : Referring to what the Prime Minister said about the economic consequences of the minimum wage, we do not have a minimum wage in Eccles or, indeed, anywhere else, yet unemployment increased in Eccles by 100 between last month and this month. Can the Prime Minister explain why that is happening?

The Prime Minister : I suggest that the hon. Lady reads the Fabian pamphlet, which is about to be published, which lists a substantial number of jobs that would be lost if a minimum wage were introduced. There is no way in which the hon. Lady can get away by wriggling. The minimum wage proposals will cost jobs and it is Labour party policy to destroy those jobs.


Q6. Mr. David Amess : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mr. Amess : My constituents in Basildon–indeed, people throughout the country–would be grateful if my right hon. Friend confirmed that the Government, in their spending plans, are able to distinguish between overriding priorities, key priorities, top priorities and urgent priorities. Opposition Members certainly cannot. [Laughter.]

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend makes a point that is so telling that it has even caught the imagination of the Opposition. Our priorities are indeed clear, but that is certainly not the case with the Labour party. Labour’s campaign co-ordinator has said that education is a first priority ; the overseas aid spokesman has said that aid is a top priority ; the shadow Chancellor has said that manufacturing industry is a key priority ; and just this morning it happened again. Asked for Labour’s plan about “Son of the GLC”, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said, “It’s a first- term commitment.” [Interruption.] I shall wait until Opposition Members are silent.

Mr. Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : I am prepared to wait until the Opposition listen. The reality is that their programme does not add up. It never has, and it never will. It all points towards higher taxation, and that is what we should get.