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Volume 282: debated on Tuesday 15 October 1996

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To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October. [38380]

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.

As a fellow working class warrior—I will take my coat off—will the Prime Minister confirm that he sent his children to a private school?

I believe in choice. I do not seek to deny choice to other people.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October. [38381]

Which party controls the council with the worst GCSE results in England? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will take tough measures to tackle failing schools, rather than spouting about the family from thousands of miles away?

I am not sure which authority it is, but I know that the authorities with the poorest records are all run by the Labour party. That is undoubtedly true. As my hon. Friend intimated, we have now taken powers to deal with failing schools, and, when necessary, we shall use those powers.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the spate of reports of crisis in the national health service, culminating in a hospital refusing even emergency referrals of elderly patients because of a shortage of beds, are a disgrace? Will he accept the judgment of the head of the British Medical Association that that crisis is directly due to the Conservative Government's internal market reforms, which have undermined the health service?

No, I do not accept that for a second—nor do a large number of people in the health service up and down the country. I advise the right hon. Gentleman to travel up and down the country within the health service, where he will see in hospitals and in primary health care services the advantages that the reforms have brought about and will continue to bring about in the future. In particular, he may care to look at some of the group general practices that I have visited recently.

What I am putting to the Prime Minister is precisely the view of the doctors and nurses who work in the national health service. Perhaps he will confirm that, since he became Prime Minister, there have been 20,000 more senior managers and 50,000 fewer nurses. Since he became Prime Minister, in London alone there have been 2,500 fewer acute beds, and half the casualty departments in London have closed. When even doctors and nurses with a lifetime's experience in the health service say that that is due to the Government's internal market reforms, can the Prime Minister not see the fundamental damage that those reforms are doing to the very principles of the national health service?

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. If he wishes to test whether the reforms are working, I offer him the one that was suggested by the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) when he was shadow Health Secretary: he said that the acid test was whether more patients were being treated. More patients are being treated; patient waiting lists have fallen; 1.5 million more patients are being treated than before the reforms; health expenditure has risen and been provided for by the Government; there are more doctors and more dentists; and waiting times have decreased dramatically. That is a health service providing a wider and better service. I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman cherry-picks in order to criticise the health service when he should be supporting it.

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not dispute a single word I said. Furthermore, I do not know how he dare mention dentistry in the national health service after what his Government have done to it. He asked me to talk to those who work in the NHS. Does he recall what the chair of the consultants committee of the BMA said, just in the past few days? He said:

"I fear the hospital service will he close to collapse this winter."
Do not people know from their experience that waiting lists are getting longer, people are still lying for hours on end on trolleys in casualty departments, acute beds are scarcer and staff and nurse morale is lower? The right hon. Gentleman simply washes his hands of it. If that is the experience—[HON. MEMBERS: No."] This is the experience of people in the Tory national health service. If that is their experience, is it any wonder that people today know that the Tories cannot ever be trusted on the national health service?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that most of what he has just said about the health service is completely misleading and, in many parts, totally inaccurate. Waiting lists are falling. Since 1979, the health service has had the largest sustained building programme of any stage in its history. There are more doctors—that is a matter of fact. There are more dentists—that is a matter of fact. There are more nurses and midwives—that is a matter of fact. I regret very much that he chooses to run down a service that the people who use it know from experience is a better service, which is improving day after day. Treatments that were never before available are provided more speedily and are improving. That is a record in the health service of which we can be proud. Unlike his party, we have not cut building and nurses' pay.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October. [38382]

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the tremendous news announced today by Vauxhall at its plant in Ellesmere Port in north-west England of £300 million-worth of new investment and 200 jobs? Does he agree that that not only is good news but will create a raft of new opportunities for the region—opportunities that would not be there if a minimum wage and the social chapter were thrust on us?

Today's announcement is certainly more good news on top of a range of inward investment in different parts of the country that has brought a great deal of hope and employment to many parts of the United Kingdom. If we continue to pursue the same policies in future, I believe that we shall continue to attract very large-scale inward investment, partly using the United Kingdom as the base for operations in Europe and beyond, which I very much welcome. That will be lost if we follow the wrong policies. If Labour Members are so certain that the minimum wage will cause no harm, perhaps they will tell us what the minimum wage level will be, so that a judgment may be made.

May I ask the Prime Minister a simple question of general principle? Is it right for a Government to seek to interfere in or manipulate the outcome of a Select Committee of Parliament?

As you, Madam Speaker, said yesterday, allegations ought not to be bandied across the House. If the right hon. Gentleman has a complaint, he should put it to the appropriate Committee, and he will see that there is no one in this House more concerned than I am that it should be properly examined.

Would the Prime Minister care to confirm to the House a statement that he made in a letter to me on 1 October? The letter stated:

"The Coronation Oath is indeed regarded as a solemn undertaking by the Sovereign which is binding throughout Her reign. Ministers would not advise Her Majesty to sign into law any provision which contradicted Her Oath."

I can certainly confirm that that is my view of the Coronation oath.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October. [38384]

On the day the FTSE index of the top 100 UK companies soared to record new levels, will the Prime Minister spare a thought for the 12,000 Scottish teenagers and under-25s every year who register as homeless? Will he remember that they are but the tip of an iceberg that spreads throughout Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom? Will he resolve at least to stop preaching at them about decency, duty and responsibility, and instead begin to show a scrap of decency—a modicum of the duty and responsibility that his Government owe to them—by guaranteeing each and every one of them their human right to a decent and safe home to live in?

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that an extra level of taxation in Scotland would help those people—I very much doubt it. Throughout the past 17 years, we have followed policies that will widen opportunity for people, whatever strata of society they may be in and whatever their personal circumstances may be. That is the policy that we have followed. It is the policy in which I believe, and it is the policy that we shall continue to follow.

Has my right hon. Friend seen recent examples of the way in which female victims are sometimes treated in court, particularly where sexual offences are alleged? Did he read of the cases in which one young lady was cross-examined for six hours by her rapist and another was cross-examined for 12 days by lawyers acting for six defendants? Should it not be a matter of urgency that court proceedings are reformed to spare female victims that cruelty?

I think that there will be a great deal of sympathy for what my hon. Friend said. Certainly, the case in which the lady was cross-examined by the accused rapist struck deeply with many people throughout the country. I agree that it is something that we should examine.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October. [38385]

Does the Prime Minister agree that the price review announced today by the Director General of Water Services shows that the Labour party was right all along and that consumers have been ripped off for years under weak regulation, weak government and weak leadership?

The simple answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is no. It shows the Labour party to have been wrong all along. If the industries had remained in public ownership, we would not have had any regulator looking at price reductions, we would not have had a better service, and we would not have had the extra investment. We would still have had the massive amount of taxpayer subsidy to inefficient industries.

Will my right hon. Friend disregard the London-based bleat of the Leader of the Opposition and come to my constituency, where he will find the best health service in Europe at all levels, as my postbag proves, week after week?

I believe that my hon. Friend speaks not only for himself and for his constituents but for the many millions of people who use the NHS each year and who know from their own experiences how well they have been treated in it.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 15 October. [38386]

Does the Prime Minister agree that, if we are to have a high-speed rail link on the west coast main line—with all its environmental advantages, including a reduction in road congestion, and with all the advantages for the western part of the British Isles—there will be a need for public money to upgrade that line? If so, have the Government given any consideration to this matter?

We have put a great deal of public money into a number of rail lines—[Interruption.] I suggest that, if Opposition Members do not understand that, they go to look at the new services. I suggest that they also examine the extra investment after the privatisation of British Rail-a privatisation that they said could not be done, should not be done and would not be done. The fact is that it has been done, and that it is a great success. Investment is up, and the service is improving.