Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1987 Nov 26 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [123/375-80]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2613
Themes: Executive, Parliament, Defence (arms control), Industry, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, NHS reforms 1987-90, Law & order, Local government, Northern Ireland
[column 375]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Hind

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I also received the Soviet ambassador, who informed me of Mr. Gorbachev 's acceptance of my invitation to make a short stop in the United Kingdom on his way to the United States/Soviet summit meeting in Washington. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Hind

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be a wide welcome for the improvements announced yesterday in primary health care, which will mean that there will be more immunisation and cervical screening as well as health checks for the young and old, and the ability for patients to change doctors?

The Prime Minister

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. Since 1979 there have been major improvements in health care provided by doctors and dentists. For example, the number of people on doctors' lists has gone down from 2,200 to an average of 2,000, and overall expenditure on primary health care has gone up by 40 per cent. in real terms, and is planned to rise by another 11 per cent. during the next three years. We have proposed a radical set of reforms to raise the standard of care further.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the Prime Minister tell us whether, if charges are imposed on a service that was previously free, more or fewer people be inclined to use it?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that it will make very much difference. All the records show that after substantial increases in dental charges imposed by the Labour Government in 1976 and 1977, and some by us, the number of courses of treatment in England went up from 29 million in 1979 to 32 million last year.

Mr. Kinnock

All the figures, and indeed the practitioners, do not agree with what the Prime Minister claims about the effects of charges. When it is known that health charges inhibit people from seeking treatment and testing, and when testing is itself an essential part of preventive medicine, is not the imposition of charges on testing economically stupid as well as being completely morally disreputable?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was listening to the figures I gave. There were substantial increases in dental charges during the 1970s, imposed by the Labour Government. In 1977 they increased the maximum charge for routine treatment by more than 40 per cent. They increased the charge for a [column 376]course of treatment by 150 per cent., for a set of dentures by more than 67 per cent. and for metal dentures by 150 per cent. The number of courses of treatment has gone up from 29 million in 1979 to 32 million last year. That was against a background in which many children had no dental decay largely because of the inclusion of fluoride in water and toothpaste.

Mr. David Howell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the visit of Mr. Gorbachev, which she has just announced, is very welcome? Will she tell her visitor that we have read with interest his plans and indeed his book for a perestroika, or restructuring? Will she tell him that if he cares to make his stay a little longer she might be able to give him tips on how to make the enterprise culture work, which he would find useful in further Soviet reforms?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. As he is aware, we firmly support the bold and courageous changes that are being made internally within the Soviet Union and wish them well. We support the new intermediate nuclear weapons treaty that will so soon be signed. I hope that Mr. Gorbachev will accept my invitation for a longer stay, but I am pleased that he is coming to visit us and that we can have talks before he meets President Reagan.

Mr. Beggs

In the course of her busy schedule, has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read pages 1 and 24 in The Times today, where there is a description of a high-speed IRA chase which took place in the Republic? Does she agree that the article outlines the close relationship between the IRA and Sin Fein and also highlights the failure to date to secure proper co-operation from the Republic on extradition in that an IRA man, who had escaped from the Maze prison and who was under surveillance in the Republic, was arrested and then released 10 minutes after an extradition warrant had been signed in a Belfast court?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the case of Mr. Kane. Our understanding is that Mr. Kane is in custody in the Republic of Ireland on charges of assault and of breach of the peace. A warrant for his extradition on a charge in connection with the Maze escape was handed over early this morning to the Garda.

Mr. Marland

During the course of her busy day, will my right hon. Friend have a chance to consider the possibility of the Treasury funding the community charge safety net rather than ratepayers in low-rated councils, many of whom have striven to get thrifty councils elected?

The Prime Minister

I am happy to have the chance to point out to my hon. Friend that the Treasury has no money, save what it takes from the taxpayer.

Public Accounts Committee (Reports)

Q2. Mr. Allen

To ask the Prime Minister if she will take steps to ensure that the Government's replies to all outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee are issued within a specific period to be agreed by the Government.

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of any need to change the existing arrangements for replying to Public Accounts Committee reports.

Mr. Allen

Is the Prime Minister aware that there have been 500 reports from Select Committees since 1979 and [column 377]that only four have been taken on substantive motions on the Floor of the House? Is she aware that the PAC, which is meant to supervise on behalf of the House £160 billion of public expenditure, has only one day's debate? When will the Prime Minister side with parliamentary democracy and accountability rather than with Executive power?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware that the PAC is dissatisfied with the existing arrangement. At present the Government reply to PAC reports in groups. I believe that has also been for the convenience of the Public Accounts Committee. If we were to move away from the existing system, we should need to get the Committee's views. Since 1979, 60 reports from departmental Select Committees have been referred to on the Order Paper as relevant to debates in the House. With regard to further debates, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully to what my right hon. Friend John Wakehamthe Leader of the House has to say in the business statement.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, my view is that we have had full debates on those reports? More important the Government have responded positively to the Treasury Minutes in response to our recommendations. Will my right hon. Friend note also that the work of the Public Accounts Committee would be enhanced if we could have the attendance of the three Labour Members who have been missing for many weeks?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend makes his own point very effectively. I do not think I can add to it.

Mr. Rees

Is it the Prime Minister's view that extradition orders——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This question is about the Public Accounts Committee.

Engagements

Q3. Ms. Ruddock

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Ms. Ruddock

Is the Prime Minister aware that, following the Barber baby controversy, it has now been revealed that the lives of 34 children are similarly at risk, and that one has died while waiting for a bed?

Does she agree that the catastrophic nursing shortage arises because of the miserable pay and conditions in the Health Service? Did agency nurses have to be brought into that hospital for the operation to take place?

The Prime Minister

There are 64,000 more nurses and midwives now than there were during the lifetime of the Labour Government. There are 20 per cent. more paediatric nurses now than during the lifetime of the Labour Government. The number of paediatric nurses working on intensive care cots went up by 127 per cent. between 1981 and 1986. That shows an enourmous improvement in the services that are available.

I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is aware that the number of children who are surviving at birth and within the first seven days—usually quite a number of them die in that period—has increased, because the number of deaths during that period is down by a third. That is a good record.

[column 378]

Mr. Devlin

Will my right hon. Friend take time during her busy day to receive a report from the chairmen of the urban development corporations; and, in particular, from the chairman of the Teesside development corporation, who has some extremely good news for her since her visit there in September?

The Prime Minister

I cannot promise that I will do so today, but we shall certainly look at it. That urban development corporation was set up quickly and set about getting contracts of great benefit to the area. I am sure that its early success will be continued.

Q4. Mr. Wareing

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Wareing

As 34 cases are still awaiting operations at the one hospital in which the David Barber case caused such problems, what advice would the Prime Minister give in the light of the fact that David Barber received his operation only as a result of a tremendous amount of publicity being raised by his parents? What advice would she give to the parents of the 34 other cases in that hospital alone? Is it not time that she shook herself out of her arrogance and complacency in dealing with the matter?

The Prime Minister

I believe that David Barber has received his operation, that it has gone well and that the hospital has coped well. I have already said that the number of paediatric nurses—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to give the Prime Minister an opportunity to answer.

The Prime Minister

I shall give the facts, because what one can do is governed by the professional staff that are available, whose numbers have increased over the past eight years. The numbers of doctors, nurses and paediatric nurses, and the amount of money, have all increased.

I think the hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the work of those increasing numbers of doctors and nurses. It might be better if he would thank them and congratulate them on the work that they do.

Sir Peter Blaker

May I support the warm welcome that my right hon. Friend has given to the stopover in this country by Mr. Gorbachev? Will she say whether his stay will be long enough to allow her to resume the fruitful dialogue that she had with him in Moscow? Is she aware that there will be a warm welcome, too, for the INF agreement that Mr. Gorbachev is going to Washington to sign, which is a complete vindication of the policy that NATO has followed for the past six years?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I hope that Mr. Gorbachev will be here for a few hours so that we can have a good discussion both on matters affecting the Soviet Union and on the future beyond the intermediate nuclear weapons treaty, which I agree with my right hon. Friend is a vindication of the firmness of NATO and, in particular, a vindication of the attitude taken by this country.

Q5. Ms. Short

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.

The Prime Minister

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

[column 379]

Ms. Short

May I ask the Prime Minister what she proposes to do about the desperate health situation in Birmingham? It is not just one baby. Many babies have had operations cancelled and are waiting for operations and this has been going on for months. There are cancer patients awaiting treatment. I have a constituent with a secondary cancer growing in his lungs and he has not been taken into hospital because beds are temporarily closed. We had kidney patients down from Birmingham yesterday who know that there is not enough money for their treatment after April and who fear that they will die. Everyone in Birmingham—everyone in Britain—knows that the Health Service needs more money. Will she stop giving us these party political points and give us a pledge that there will be more money? The situation is now desperate and people are dying as a consequence of a lack of money for the Health Service.

The Prime Minister

I shall go on giving the hon. Lady facts, because she and everyone else knows that greater provision for the Health Service can be made only out of greater growth in Britain's economy, and that is being provided by the Government. Out of that [column 380]greater growth about 6,000 extra doctors, 64,000 extra nurses, more specialist paediatric nurses, far more provision and far more operations have been provided. This is paid for not by the Treasury or by some mythical person, but by the taxpayer. When we came to power the average family—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order.

Mr. Faulds

People are dying. We do not want the Prime Minister's faked-up figures.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must contain himself.

The Prime Minister

The Health Service is not free, it is paid for by the taxpayer. In 1979 the average family contributed £11 per week to the Health Service. That is £570 a year—[Interruption.] Now—if I can make myself heard—the average family contributes £29 each week, which is £1,500 per year. Families are paying for the Health Service, and their money has gone to provide an increased number of hospitals and an increased number of doctors and nurses, who are doing a very good job increasing the number of patients that they are treating.