The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 5 March 1992

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 5th March 1992.




Q1. Mr. Austin Mitchell : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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. Mitchell : As the Prime Minister savours one of his last few busy days before the deluge, will he think back to the dinner that he gave at No. 10 Downing street last November on behalf of the Tory party [Interruption.] for what The Sun –I must quote it accurately because it is from The Sun — [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. No quoting ; paraphrase, please.

Mr. Mitchell : In that case, I will paraphrase, Mr. Speaker. For The Sun told us of members of Britain’s Asian community being brought together to win the votes of that community. [Interruption.] Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that nine of his 21 guests were tax exiles in this country who cannot even vote here? Will he also confirm that he was able to tell them that the loophole in the tax law which enables them to pay virtually no tax in this country will not be closed by his Government? Finally, will he tell us whether they were asked– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is a terribly long question.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken, and I will set out the position clearly for him. I give a number of dinners for industrialists at Downing street, and the dinner for business men was no different. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I should not have such occasions with business men. He also shows his usual willingness to exploit every leak that comes to him. He may care now to listen carefully.

What I said on that occasion was to confirm a policy agreed with the hon. Gentleman’s own party. He has obviously forgotten that the Government decided not to introduce a tax on world income in 1989, following consultation and representations from the Labour party.


Q2. Mr. Butterfill : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 March.

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

Mr. Butterfill : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the encouragement of savings is important not simply because it gives security to the saver but because it provides funds for investment in the future of our country? Will he give an assurance that a future Conservative Government will take measures further to encourage savings? Will he condemn the narrow-minded and vindictive savings tax proposed by the Labour party?

The Prime Minister : I shall happily do both those things. My hon. Friend makes a good point. We shall continue to encourage personal savings by keeping income tax rates low, and through special schemes such as the tax-exempt special savings account, which has been a remarkable success. The savings tax proposed by the Labour party is one of the most poorly thought out and damaging of its proposals. It would hit widows on ordinary incomes. It would hit people taking early retirement such as miners, policemen and soldiers. Now that the Labour party has finally decided to publish its phoney budget, it should think again and drop those damaging and vindictive proposals.

Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister aware that this morning the University College hospital cancer specialist, Dr. Jeffrey Tobias, said :

“30 per cent. of the time I have to say to my patients, Sorry, I had planned to give you chemotherapy today but that is not possible”

because the beds are not available? Does not the Prime Minister think that that is a terrible indictment of the health policy of a Government who have been in power so long and could have made things so much better?

The Prime Minister : But as the right hon. Gentleman knows, things have been made much better. Waiting lists are improving–are falling. More people are being treated and there are more resources for the national health service. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to swap quotes, perhaps he will listen to what Dr. David Colin Thorne, a Labour party member who stood for Parliament, said on fundholding. He said:

“I’m aware that what we’re saying may be used but we do believe it is the most energising thing that has happened in my 21 years as a GP It has been good for care, public health and management.” That is a Labour party former candidate, a doctor, supporting our Conservative party reforms of the health service.

Mr. Kinnock : Why does the Prime Minister never even try to answer the question? The reality is that cancer specialists are unable to treat patients because of a shortage of beds. Why do not the Government even now get rid of the tax concessions for private health insurance and put the £60 million saved straight into fighting cancer? That is what the Labour Government will do. That is the right thing to do.

The Prime Minister : That would have more credibility if we were not spending more on the health service than the right hon. Gentleman even promised to spend. It would have even more credibility if the Labour party was not pledged to introduce a minimum wage that would cost the health service £500 million. It would have even more credibility if the Labour party would claim and set out the funding that it would provide for the national health service, which it has expressly failed to do. We have repeatedly indicated in public expenditure round after public expenditure round that we are increasing over and above inflation substantial resources for the health service–far more even than the right hon. Gentleman dared to promise.

Mr. Kinnock : Just in recent weeks we have had public reports of a cardiologist who has had to turn seriously ill patients away because of the budget system– [Interruption.] I am telling the truth about the health– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The right hon. Member has a right to put his question.

Mr. Kinnock : We have had other public reports of closed accident and emergency units. We have had public reports of a mortally ill little girl being unable to gain treatment in a paediatric intensive care unit. Now we have a physician reporting that he cannot treat 30 per cent. of his cancer patients because of a lack of beds. Why does not the Prime Minister address those issues of life and death instead of parading false claims about his Government?

The Prime Minister : We have addressed those issues. That is why the waiting lists are falling by record amounts at this moment. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what was the test for our new health service reforms set by his hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). The standard test. The hon. Gentleman invented it. He asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health whether he was prepared to measure the success by the simple test of whether the trusts did more or less work for the national health service. They have done more work. During the first six months of operations English trusts treated 6.5 per cent. more patients than in the months before they became managed. They have treated 5 per cent. more out-patients. That is the Cook test, not mine. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman accept it? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to settle down.


Q3. Mr. Thorne : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 March.

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

Mr. Thorne : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the launching of the first Trident submarine yesterday, and the fact that three more are under construction, is the minimum insurance policy that the country can afford to accept in a dangerous and uncertain world? Does he further agree that, at this critical time of ordering, building and commissioning that submarine fleet, we should not pay attention to the recommendations of the two main Opposition parties, whose opinion appears to vary, not merely from day to day, but from hour to hour?

The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is right about defence and we have no intention of gambling with this country’s defence. My hon. Friend is also right about the Opposition’s position on Trident. They have said that they would order it, they have said that they would not order it, and they have even suggested that they would order it and send it to sea without any weapons. Frankly, one has no idea what they will say next on defence. This morning the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that Labour

“have nothing whatsoever to do with CND. We have no connection with CND.”

What can he have meant? According to the chairman of CND more than 100 Members still belonged to it late last year. Have they all resigned? Have they all let their membership lapse?


Q4. Mr. Wareing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 March.

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

Mr. Wareing : The Prime Minister has made much of the citizens charter and the need for openness in Government. Does he realise that many of our citizens would like to know whether and how much Mr. Vijau Mallya, an Indian millionaire, and Mr. Adam Polemos, a Greek shipping magnate, contributed to the funds of the Conservative party?– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is very unseemly behaviour.

Mr. Wareing : Will the Prime Minister emulate the Labour party by publishing the accounts of the Conservative party, so that citizens of this country may know the truth before the general election, about who donates to the finances of the Tory party?

The Prime Minister : It is difficult to take that seriously from someone whose party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the trade union movement. According to Labour’s own figures, in 1987 the Transport and General Workers Union gave more money to the Labour party than the whole of industry gave to the Tory party, and it gets votes for it, even on the leadership of the party.


Q5. Mr. Moss : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 March.

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

Mr. Moss : Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the reaction of the CBI to the proposal for a national minimum wage? Has he seen its estimates, which suggest that it would increase business costs by an extra £50 million and cut 150,000 jobs? Does he agree that to propose such a policy at this time is the economics of the mad house and that the Labour party should stop it at once?

The Prime Minister : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I have read reports of the CBI’s views. The Labour party claims that it listens to the views of business. The views of the CBI could scarcely be clearer than they have been on the subject of the minimum wage. As I said a moment ago, even in the national health service that policy would cost £400 million to £500 million a year. I wonder what the Labour party would cut elsewhere in the health service to make up for that loss of revenue.


Q6. Mr. John P. Smith : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 March.

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

Mr. Smith : The crime rate in the United Kingdom is the highest ever, the detection rate is the lowest ever and our prisons are the fullest ever. Would the Prime Minister explain why he thinks that deplorable situation exists?

The Prime Minister : I shall take lectures from the hon. Gentleman when he and the Labour party support the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989.

Mr. John Browne : I offer my sincere thanks to my right hon. Friend for the crucial personal role that he played in securing compensation for the three injured Grenadiers. Will he now look personally into the cases of some other very obvious cases of severe injuries to service men, in particular those of Mark Booth and Andy Konalyck of the Parachute Regiment and Martin Ketterick of the Royal Marines? In those obvious cases, they have not been compensated properly because they were not covered due to a lapse of cover in the law. Surely, it is time that some form of flexibility was introduced into the compensation legislation for armed services personnel who are severely injured in the course of their duties.

The Prime Minister : I am not aware of the particular cases to which my hon. Friend draws attention. He knows that wide-ranging compensation schemes are available. I will certainly ask to see the details of the cases that he mentioned.


Q7. Mrs. Margaret Ewing : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 5 March.

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

Mrs. Ewing : Does the Prime Minister accept that, when the people of Scotland vote for independence, Scotland will become an equal partner with England in the European Community?

The Prime Minister : I think that the hon. Lady is unwise to assume that Scotland will react as she proposes, but in any event, were that unlikely event to occur, Scotland would have to reapply for membership of the European Community. Every member state would have a vote on that application. The United Kingdom’s existing membership of the European Community would continue, but Scotland would have to apply.