HC Deb 03 December 1987 vol 123 cc1098-9
Q1 Mr. Rooker

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 3 December.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

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 departing later today for Copenhagen to attend the European Council.

Mr. Rooker

Is the Prime Minister aware that Ministers have admitted that, on the introduction of the poll tax in 1990, slightly more households will lose than will gain, but that people living in the gainer households number 14.2 million, whereas adults living in loser households number 18.8 million in England alone? Where is the majority support for that idea? Is it in the Cabinet of gainers, or in the country of losers?

The Prime Minister

As a way of paying for local government the community charge will expand the base of payment to people who do not pay at present, but who we feel should contribute to paying for local government when they benefit enormously from the services that local government provides. We all pay income tax and VAT —[Interruption.] Most people pay income tax, but not all. All pay value added tax, and some pay rates as well, but rates have far too narrow a base.

Mr. Burns

During her busy day, will my right hon. Friend ensure that if Post Office workers go on strike the Government will immediately suspend the Post Office's monopoly in order to avoid suffering to millions of people in the build-up to Christmas, the time of good will?

The Prime Minister

If need be, we shall suspend the monopoly of the Post Office. I understand that a meeting is continuing this afternoon between the unions and management. I hope that they will reach a sensible settlement, because to attempt to go on strike at this time of the year would be totally and utterly cruel to business, which relies on the postal service at this time of the year, and totally heartless to all the people who make contact with one another by Christmas cards and presents.

Mr. Kinnock

Before the pay review body considers nurses' pay and the important question of regrading, and in view of the serious shortages in many of the specialties of nursing, will the Prime Minister now give an undertaking that, this time, the Government will fund the whole of the nurses' pay award and any costs that result from regrading?

The Prime Minister

The restructuring proposals are not yet ready to go to the review body. If they are agreed they will, of course, go to the review body, which did not exist under the previous Labour Government. When the proposals come from the review body, we shall consider them in the usual way and consider also the financial arrangements for any proposals that may be made. In the meantime, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, next year in the United Kingdom there will be an increase in resources of about £1.1 billion for the National Health Service.

Mr. Kinnock

In view of the scale of anxiety and indeed of the crisis in the supply of nurses in many areas, and in view of the fact that the health authorities simply do not have the money to fund a regrading or any significant award, will the Prime Minister take the unusual step this year of giving guidance to that pay body and ensuring that when it does make an award there really is money to pay the nurses? Does she not realise that it would be both stupid and cruel to ask the health authorities to pay the nurses' award out of cuts and closures in hospitals wards?

The Prime Minister

I will prejudge neither the evidence to the review body nor what it says as a consequence. We stand very much on our record on the Health Service and the 64,000 more nurses that we now have. In the right hon. Gentleman's own constituency the increase in Health Service funding was 6 per cent, in real terms over the whole period of the last Labour Government, whereas it has risen by 20 per cent, under us. So Gwent will be very pleased.

Mr. Kinnock

Does the Prime Minister not realise yet that neither nurses nor patients are interested in the past, but are interested in the future? [Interruption.] The jeering from the Tory Benches is only further evidence of the fact that, by going private, they manifest total ignorance of what the nurses and patients feel. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the awards are to be funded properly, or are to be paid for out of further closures?

The Prime Minister

I have already answered the right hon. Gentleman. The trouble is that he does not listen. But let me say that the last thing that nurses want is to be back under a Labour Government, to have their pay cut.

Mr. Gale

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to write to the Leader of the Opposition and invite him, on behalf of his constituents, to seek to ensure that in the forthcoming contest for the leadership of the miner's union the vote is carried out—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a part of the Prime Minister's responsibility.

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