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Engagements

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 17 December 1987

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Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 December.

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.

Given her actions in this period of goodwill and charity, will the Prime Minister keep in mind the many hundreds in my constituency who are living on an income of £2,000 a year or less? While the giving of gifts is in the right hon. Lady's mind, does she not consider it obscene that she and the rest of her Cabinet will be awarding themselves gifts — in her case, about £2,000 tax-free? When we talked about charity at home, we were not thinking of Dulwich.

I think that the hon. Gentleman will extend what he has said to the whole House, as I recollect.

Given the excellent unemployment figures announced today, and the continuing trend towards more employment, will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing appreciation to the job club and to all who have worked in my constituency to help lower the figures in what was once one of the worst unemployment black spots in the United Kingdom, but where, since 1 January, there has been a 15 per cent. fall in the figures?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out. Unemployment has now fallen for 17 successive months. Over the past year all regions have shared in that fall, and unemployment has fallen faster in Britain than in any other major industrial country. We should congratulate all who work in industry and commerce on their enterprise, because it is they who are providing the jobs that are extending all over the country.

Will the Prime Minister give attention to the plight of junior hospital doctors and their patients? Doctors have to work intolerable hours without breaks or sleep, causing danger to patients and harm to themselves. How will the latest health money assist those doctors, if at all? Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind that they are unwilling to complain because there are not enough consultancies, and they are afraid for their futures in a deteriorating service?

The number of hospital doctors and dentists has risen by some 6,200 in the hospital and community services, and by some 7,000 in the family practitioner service. There are, therefore, more highly skilled doctors, and increasing resources have been made available over the past eight years. The Health Service is operating more efficiently and treating more patients, for which we should say thank you to the doctors and nurses.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 December.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave some moments ago.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this is the first time in this Parliament, or the last, that I have tabled one of these rather odd questions? Will she ponder, during the course of her busy day, that, despite all the gloomy verbosity from the Opposition, in the famous Addenbrooke's hospital in my constituency so many young people are seeking to train as nurses that the hospital is unable to take any more until the end of next year?

It is good to know that a considerable number of young people are coming forward to train as nurses. My hon. Friend will be aware that there are some 64,500 more nurses than there were eight years ago. Their pay is very much better, and their standard working week is down from 40 to 37½ hours. The basic rate of tax that they have to pay is also very much lower.

Yesterday's announcement on National Health Service funding was very welcome. In the spirit — [Interruption.]

In the spirit of Christmas, will the Prime Minister convey the congratulations of the whole House to her monitors for their perspicacity in spotting the crisis only nine months into the financial year? Have her monitors told her that the supplementary sums allocated yesterday will ensure that during the remainder of this financial year no more beds will be lost, no more wards closed and no more operating theatres left unused, and that there will be no more shortages of nurses? Have they told her that the crisis is now over?

The announced increases for this year and the allocations for considerable increases next year have been widely welcomed. My advisers tell me that this year, taking into account my right hon. Friend's announcement yesterday, National Health Service spending will be £843 million more than last year. Contrast that with 10 years ago when the Labour party was in power, when National Health Service spending was being cut by £400 million.

As the season of good will is nigh, is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are recalling her remarkable achievements of the past year in enhancing the international standing of our country, and that we wish her a restful Christmas and a fabulous new year?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. May I warmly reciprocate his comments, and extend them to all people of good will in this House.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 December.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that the much-needed new maternity and gynaecology unit at Chesterfield hospital has been placed in mothballs because Trent regional health authority is skint? Has the Prime Minister a message of good will for my constituents, those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)— who no doubt would like to take part in this Question Time — telling of an improvement in matters there? Has she a message of good will for the 15,000 people in the area of Trent regional health authority—the worst-funded health authority in this country—who have been on waiting lists for over one year?

I understand that for the year 1987–88 the Trent regional health authority, has been allocated £989 million— [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] I am not merely reading it out; the taxpayers had to provide it. What is more, the share of the extra money announced yesterday that will go to Trent is £5·8 million. Contrast that with 10 years ago.

In this great period of the year between the feast of St. Andrew and the feast of St. Nicholas, will my right hon. Friend accept the thanks of the people of Scotland for what she has put in their stocking this year: 40 per cent. of regional grant for one eleventh of the population; £127 per head for every £100 spent on an Englishman and £80 per head spent on a Northumbrian; the announcement of an increase of £7·6 million for our hospitals and health services, which is a vast increase in our budget one last year; and for taking Scotland's industrial wage from the bottom of the league to the top not only of this kingdom, but of Europe? May we say that Scrooge Socialism is not something that we want?

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I could not have put it better myself, and I am sure that Scotland is quietly very pleased with these results.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 December.

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

Will there not be record levels of homelessness in London this Christmas because of the Government's policies? Will not the bed-and-breakfast hostels he full? Is that the Government's contribution to the Christmas story—no room at the inn?

The number of homes is far greater now than it was at the beginning of this eight-year period. There have been many Government steps to tackle homelessness, and young people can benefit, particularly from our hostels initiative. We have made it easier for council tenants to sublet. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, in London there are nearly 27,000 empty homes, and 10,000 of them have been empty for more than a year. Three boroughs — Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets — have more than 5½ per cent. of their stock vacant.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the increase in manufacturing output of 6½ per cent. in the past 12 months announced earlier this week holds out good prospects that the encouraging downward trend in unemployment, confirmed by the figures published today, will continue?

Yes, manufacturing has had a very good year—it is now 6½ per cent. over and above what it was a year ago—and so have other industries such as the construction industry, coal, oil and commerce in general. They are earning for this country a record standard of living and a record standard of care in pensions and social services.