HC Deb 26 November 1987 vol 123 cc375-6
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 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.