The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 15 October 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 15th October 1991. John MacGregor responded on behalf of John Major.




Q1. Dr. Goodson-Wickes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of The House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor) : I have been asked to reply My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Harare.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that nothing will prevent the dismantling of Saddam Hussein’s capability to manufacture nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend made a particular personal contribution in the Gulf war and I therefore understand why he has made that point. I am happy to give him that assurance. He will agree that this country has played a major part in securing resolution 687 which stated that we would seek, identify and destroy Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. As a result of the United Kingdom’s initiative and of the courage of members of the teams including scientists from several countries under United Nations auspices, it is becoming clear just how extensive and advanced was Iraq’s nuclear weapons capability. [Interruption.] I do not understand why Opposition Members are reacting in that way, because they must know that this is one of the most crucial international issues at the moment. The Iraqi Government are still trying to cling to it and are still cheating and lying. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) that they will not be permitted to succeed. One way or another, their nuclear capability must go, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a very important matter.

Mr. Kinnock : Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the Government propose to do to stop the process of privatisation of the national health service?

Mr. MacGregor : The first thing is to make it clear–time and again- -as I believe the right hon. Gentleman now knows, that there is no question of privatisation. [Interruption.] That is why the right hon. Gentleman is now retreating to his charge of creeping privatisation. Let me tell him what that amounts to. It amounts to issues like contracting out of services and competitive tendering. It amounts also to other issues to ensure better reforms of the health service. Even allowing for all the savings that Labour claims that it would make, the net loss to patient care as a result of Labour’s proposals for abolishing competitive tendering and charges and introducing a statutory minimum wage–proposals that would cost nearly £400 million a year–is equivalent to 400,000 fewer acute in- patient treatments or 16,000 fewer heart transplants, 12,000 fewer liver transplants or 40,000 fewer kidney transplants. That is the point the Leader of the Opposition has refused to answer. The policies that we are pursuing are not creeping privatisation, they are achieving proper reforms to ensure that the resources are better directed to patient care.

Mr. Kinnock rose–

Hon. Members : Tell the truth.

Mr. Kinnock rose–

Mr. Dickens : Lies– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Withdraw that remark.

Hon. Members : Withdraw.

Mr. Kinnock : Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows–


Mr. Dickens : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been a custom — [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. No point of order arises. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the comment.

Mr. Dickens : In accordance with your wishes, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the word “lies”. We do not lie in the House of Commons.

Mr. Kinnock : There is another withdrawal in order. It is the withdrawal of opt-outs and privatisation, for which the Government have no mandate.

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the closure of geriatric wards in NHS hospitals means that old and very sick people are forced into private medical homes? Is not he aware that people now have to pay the commercial rate for eye tests? Is not he aware that people are having to use their life savings for urgent operations? The people call that privatisation–so do we.

Mr. MacGregor : Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is engaging in the smears and fears again? There is no question of national health trust hospitals being outside the national health service. On eye test charges, he will know that about 40 per cent. of the population do not have to pay for those eye charges. Is he really saying that he would abolish them and thus deprive patients with serious hospital needs from getting the extra resources that he would take away? Is that what he is saying? On elderly people in homes, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the number of elderly people supported by public funds in residential care has more than doubled since 1979.

Mr. Kinnock : The more the Government protest, the less the Government are believed. Is it not clear to the right hon. Gentleman that, when people have to pay for services at the point of use that were free at the point of use, that is privatisation in anyone’s language?

Mr. MacGregor : May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that a Labour Government supported the idea of some charges in the health service? He simply has to answer the question that we have increased resources of more than 50 per cent. in real terms in the health service. He is putting forward the only proposals that seem to be different. The only proposals that he can possibly say are creeping privatisation, are actually designed to improve the amount of money that goes direct to patient care. He has failed to answer the question why he would pursue that policy and thus deprive patients of operations which are currently taking place.

Mr. Ken Hargreaves : When the Leader of the Opposition refers to opt-out hospitals, is it not the case

Mr. Speaker : Order. Please deal with Government policy.

Mr. Hargreaves : Will my right hon. Friend agree that in response to his recent remarks, the opting out of NHS hospitals is simply the return to their status before 1974, as in the case of teaching hospitals which were then hospital trusts? Is it not the case that a large number of those hospitals wish to have the management of their own affairs in that state to which they were accustomed before 1974?

Mr. MacGregor : I would go further than my hon. Friend. The reforms are ensuring better use of resources in the health service directly on patient care. The reason why we are getting wholly unfounded smears and fears is that the Labour party has nothing to say about improving the management of the national health service.


Q2. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Skinner : On the subject of facts and figures, does the Leader of the House recall that on 8 November last year the Prime Minister forecast that there would be a surplus on the Budget account of about £3 billion? He was wrong. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the budget for this year forecast a deficit on the Budget account of £8,000 million. He was wrong again, because the forecast for this year looks like being at least £18 billion. The truth is that the Government cannot get their economic sums right, and that is why they cannot be believed on the national health service or anything else. The Tory Government would not recognise the truth if it were sprayed on their eyeballs.

Mr. MacGregor : This Government have succeeded in achieving a rate of economic growth throughout the 1980s that has been a good deal faster than in previous decades. That is why we have been able to increase spending on the national health service and in many other areas. It comes very rich from the hon. Gentleman’s party to accuse us about issues relating to public expenditure when we know that the Labour party has already committed itself to an increased expenditure bill of £35,000 million.


Q3. Mr. Roger King : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. King : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the city of Birmingham is blessed with a superb education system based on choice? We have six grammar schools, a city technology college on our border, a growing number of grant-maintained schools and many church schools. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will maintain that element of choice in our education system, in contrast to the Labour party which is intent on nationalising all that choice?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. I have visited that city technology college and some of the grant-maintained schools. I also agree with my hon. Friend that the reforms that we are undertaking and the extra choice that we are giving are raising educational standards and increasing parental choice. It is very noticeable that grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges are increasingly popular with parents because demand for places at them is rising substantially. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Labour party would abolish that choice.

Mr. Ashdown : How does the Leader of the House reconcile a Government who say that they want to privatise British Rail with a Prime Minister who appears to want to run British Rail? Is not the problem the fact that the travelling public are now paying in full for the Government’s 11-year neglect of our rail system, and is not the answer to give BR access to the private markets to increase investment and to give private services access to the rail network to increase competition?

Mr. MacGregor : At present, BR is engaged on a massive programme of capital investment to improve services. I believe that the public are prepared to pay more in charges to secure that improvement in services. As for the charge about the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend had a view to express about those lines that were faced with a higher-than-average increase to reflect the benefits of extra investment and better services. In the case of one line, he said that that should happen only when the better services were delivered. That is the citizens charter already operating.


Q4. Mr. Bowis : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October.

Mr. MacGregor : I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Bowis : Has my right hon. Friend been able to study the case of my constituent who stands to lose his job and is being victimised at his place of work because of his support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the anti-poll tax campaign, despite the fact that 30 of his workmates take the same view and are not being sacked? Will my right hon. Friend look into this matter? He will understand that on this occasion I cannot name my constituent, but his job is as the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist)– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Time is getting on.