The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 17 December 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 17th December 1991.




Q1. Mr. John Garrett : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 December.

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. Garrett : Last week the head teachers association of Cambridgeshire wrote to the county council to say that because of critical shortages of books, equipment and facilities and because of oversized classes, it would have serious difficulty providing the national curriculum. Under those circumstances, what advice does the Prime Minister give to his constituents–to buy private education, as he does?

The Prime Minister : In Cambridgeshire the education standard spending assessment for the current year is £225 million, 16.4 per cent. higher than last year. There has been another substantial increase for 1992-93, an increase which safeguards the position of all children in Cambridgeshire.


Q2. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 December.

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

Mr. Bruce : Does my right hon. Friend welcome the British Medical Association’s somewhat belated conversion to the concept of fund-holding GPs? Does he agree with the BMA that that should now be extended to every GP who wants to hold a fund?

The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that GP fund-holding has been proving successful and has been extending quite dramatically. I welcome the fact that that is the case. We are currently considering how the benefits of fund holding can be extended and will make an announcement in the new year.

Mr. Kinnock : In the interests of establishing the causes of the present mortgage crisis, could the Prime Minister confirm that, as Minister of State for Social Security, he halved mortgage support for newly unemployed people and that, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he put the mortgage rate up to its highest in history?

The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman had done his homework–rather unusually–better than he has, he would know, first, that the change in the 16-week rule was introduced after lengthy consultations with building societies and, secondly, that at the time, they said that there was no reason for people to lose their homes because of that reduction; nor have they.

Mr. Kinnock : I think the answer that the Prime Minister was groping for was yes. Since he and his policies are uniquely responsible for the difficulties being experienced and the record repossessions and arrears, will he accept the obligation for introducing a proper mortgage rescue scheme, like the one recommended by the Labour party, instead of trying to shift the blame on to everyone else?

The Prime Minister : The alleged mortgage rescue scheme proposed by the Labour party is a farce and has been denounced as such and the right hon. Gentleman should know it. As for the real problem, we are in the midst of discussions with the Building Societies Association and others and in due course we shall make an announcement that will build on the assistance that we have already provided. We have been considering the problem for some time– [Interruption.] –unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who has only just discovered it.

Mr. Kinnock : What is a farce, a tragic farce, is the Government’s record–a Government who came to power to provide a property-owning democracy and ended with a debt-ridden recession. Since, because of the right hon. Gentleman’s policies, the building societies stand to lose £1 billion because of mortgage repossessions and since local authorities are having to spend £500 million on bed-and- breakfast and temporary accommodation, does not the Prime Minister think that the rescue mortgage scheme that we have promoted would be the effective way to ensure not only the relief of misery for scores of thousands of families, but that at least he did the honourable thing by his victims?

The Prime Minister : The alleged mortgage rescue scheme about which the hon. Gentleman boasts was described this morning by an independent commentator as

“a policy made in an Enid Blyton story book”


Mr. Speaker : Order.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman’s policy is ludicrous. As for the levels of owner occupation, there are 3.5 million more owner- occupiers today than there were in 1979 and no doubt 3.5 million more than there would have been had the right hon. Gentleman been in government.

Sir Hugh Rossi : If one were looking for the reasons for the present situation, does my right hon. Friend agree that it has been the departure of the building societies and other lenders from the traditional concept of not lending more than 75 per cent. of actual valuation, nor, from the point of view of personal status– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must be allowed to make his point.

Sir Hugh Rossi : –more than one quarter of monthly salary? If those criteria had been adhered to, many people would not be in their present position. Does my right hon. Friend agree–

Hon. Members : Too long.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is being rather long-winded.

Sir Hugh Rossi : Will my right hon. Friend consider legislation to ensure that those traditional criteria are adhered to in future to stop this cyclical problem arising every so many years?

The Prime Minister : It is a sad fact that many people over-extended their mortgage commitments and now face difficulties. The Government are playing their part to alleviate those difficulties and we expect the mortgage lenders–all the responsible ones–to play their part in that. The sensible ones know that it is in their interests to do so.

Mr. Ashdown : If the Prime Minister is really keen to assist families who now stand in danger of having their homes repossessed, will he recognise the anomaly that exists between those on low incomes who pay rent and receive housing benefit and those on low incomes who pay mortgages and do not?

The Prime Minister : I recognise that point very well. But the right hon. Gentleman should not pose, as he frequently does, as the friend of the home-owner– [Interruption.] –Oh, no. His policies are to put up taxes and abolish mortgage income tax relief. He should stop coming to the House pretending to support home-owners when his policies would discriminate against them.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark : Does my right hon. Friend accept that only the very wealthy or the very foolish can afford to go to the libel courts for justice? If ordinary people are to have justice, perhaps a jury should find whether somebody is guilty of libel, but these £250,000 and £500,000 judgments are not justice but folly. Should not judges be able to decide what award is justified?

The Prime Minister : That is a matter on which I should be wise to seek the advice of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and the Lord Chancellor. Even in the heat and battle of Prime Minister’s questions, it is best to go away and reflect on some matters.



Q3. Mr. Ron Brown : To ask the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to the port of Leith.

The Prime Minister : I am making a series of visits to all parts of the country and very much hope to visit the Edinburgh area again before too long.

Mr. Brown : That is welcome news. Leithers will give the Prime Minister a warm welcome, but they will put him in the hot seat because of mass unemployment, homelessness and general misery, which have been experienced not just in my constituency, but throughout Britain. Nevertheless, being constructive, members of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians have published a report entitled “Kick- start”, which makes various proposals on how to get people back to work and revive the economy. Will the Prime Minister read that report and, more importantly, act on it? If not, the lessons are clear–there will not be a kick-start come the next election, but the Tories will be kicked out. That message is clear in my constituency and I am sure that it is clear in others.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman neglected to mention that during the course of this Parliament, unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 32 per cent. The Scottish Office has taken a number of initiatives on homelessness, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In the four Scottish cities, £3.5 million in extra capital allocations have been made available for homelessness and a further £4 million extra capital for additional homelessness projects was made available last November. From April 1991, deficits on all local authority hostels met by Government subsidies will be worth an extra £1 billion a year. So a great deal has been done by the Scottish Office. In future, the hon. Gentleman should acknowledge the dramatic reduction in unemployment in his constituency during this Parliament.



Q4. Mr. Gwilym Jones : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 December 1991.

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

Mr. Jones : Does my right hon. Friend agree that inward investment from America and Japan has brought highly paid, highly skilled and highly trained new jobs to areas like south Wales? Does he also agree that to brand such investment as “sweatshops” is a grave affront to the employees of those companies? The Labour party is telling those investors that they are not welcome here and encouraging them to go elsewhere.

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is within the recollection of the House that, some Question Times ago, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) was boasting about the Japanese investment in his constituency. Perhaps he will tell us whether that is “sweatshop” investment. If it is not, will he denounce his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who made the comment?


Q5. Mr. Battle : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 December.

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

Mr. Battle : Does the Prime Minister recall when, as Minister for Social Security, he cut mortgage support in half and said that there would be no reason to suppose that repossessions would increase? He said, “It will not happen”. In view of that, does not he owe many thousands of families in Britain a personal apology?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman should check his facts more carefully. The Building Societies Association assured the Government at the time that, when the rule was introduced, there would be no reason to expect people to lose their homes as a result and they have not done so. The simplest inquiry by the hon. Gentleman would have ascertained that fact.

Mr. Watts : Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Councillor Mrs. Lydia Simmons, the Labour chairman of the housing committee in Slough, on her appointment as a member of the board of the NHS trust for Wexham Park hospital in my constituency? Does he agree that there is room for sensible people of all political persuasions to serve the community through NHS hospital trusts?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We need people of talent, whatever their political persuasions, in such public positions and I look forward to people of talent taking them up regularly.


Q7. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 17 December.

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

Mr. Dunnachie : Will the Prime Minister promise the House that no senior citizen, sick or disabled person need die from hypothermia or any illnesses resulting from it because they do not have the money to heat their homes? Does the Prime Minister agree that the elderly, sick and disabled should automatically receive a heating allowance every winter instead of having to go cap in hand to the Government? Does not he understand that it is action, not words, that the elderly, sick and disabled of Britain require of him?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will know that the House was advised in the summer of a new scheme to assist people during periods of very cold weather–well over 1 million payments are expected to be made for the recent cold spell. Those payments were not available under previous Governments.