HC Deb 23 February 1988 vol 128 cc143-5
Q1. Mr. Dykes

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 23 February.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

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. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Mr. Dykes

As this is such a crucial moment, will my right hon. Friend today and in coming weeks continue her determined and much appreciated efforts to secure an international peace conference and a lasting settlement in the middle east, bearing in mind that this must be done without preconditions on either side, that the credibility of the United States is inevitably reduced by its historic and strategic closeness to one party to the dispute, and that Europe and the United Kingdom have a unique role to play in this process?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, our policy has not changed, over the past year in particular, when we have espoused the cause of an international conference as a background for direct negotiations between King Hussein and the Palestinians and Israel. It has not been possible to get that going because it has not met with a sufficient degree of support from Mr. Shamir. We shall continue to espouse that course because we think it is the best one. The other side of the problem arises as to who shall negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians, but I believe that that particular part is soluble.

Mr. Kinnock

First, I warmly welcome the reply that the Prime Minister gave on the international conference.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that her refusal to give a commitment fully to fund the Health Service pay award is, in the words of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, causing "damaging uncertainty" and in some areas continued ward closures. Will she now make the necessary commitment to funding so that health authorities can plan and provide properly without cutting staff and without closing wards?

The Prime Minister

No, Mr. Speaker. This is about the fifth time that I have had the same question, so the answer will be precisely the same. The pay award will be dealt with in precisely the same way as previous awards, and of course previous awards have been highly beneficial to the nurses. I did look up to see precisely the dates upon which we dealt with it last year. All the reports of the review bodies came in between 1 and 14 April. We like to deal with them altogether. The nurses, doctors, dentists, the profession supplementary to medicine, the armed forces and the top salaries pay review bodies' reports all came in within a fortnight and we announced all our decisions by 23 April. I hope that if the reports come in in a similar group this year we will be equally expeditious in announcing our decision.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister says that she has made the commitment before, but never before have we had a Select Committee with a majority of her hon. Friends saying publicly that the absence of a commitment is causing "damaging uncertainty", and never before have we had the same Select Committee saying that the Prime Minister has up to £2 billion extra that she could spend on the National Health Service without changing the proportion of GDP spent on the service. When that service has such desperate and immediate need today, and when she plainly has the money, why does she not use the money?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary gave a very effective reply to the Select Committee. With regard to GDP, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that not only has GDP gone up—there is further good news on that today; it is up 5 per cent. on what it was a year ago—but the proportion of unincreased GDP spent on the Health Service has gone up from 4.8 per cent. under Labour to 5.6 per cent under the Government.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister quotes her right hon. Friend. In response to him, her right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said that coded messages were not enough and that his reply was not good enough. Today, now, wards are being closed and uncertainty is causing damage because the right hon. Lady will not make a commitment. Why does she not make a commitment and relieve the health authorities of further weeks of uncertainty, causing further damage to the Health Service?

The Prime Minister

The nurses have had great action under Tory Governments, and have had pay increases of 30 per cent. over and above inflation, compared with a 20 per cent. reduction under Labour. The nurses have done very well under Tory Governments, and I shall deal with the report as I have indicated.

Mr. Knapman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that vast sums of public money have been given to the Rover car company and that further sums of money should not be given to that company to fund excessive pay demands?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct. During the lifetime of this Government about £2.9 billion has been given to the Rover-Leyland group. There is no intention of providing any more money specifically to fund the demand for an increase greater than that which the management has decided to offer. It is for the management and the work force to resolve the strike. I hope that it will not last long, because strikes do not help anyone, least of all those who work in a particular company. My fear is that that would be handing jobs and business to Japan.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

I am pleased that the Prime Minister is a regular visitor to Cornwall, but is she aware that in so doing she and many others are adding to the burden on the Health Service in Cornwall? Roads are congested and ambulances are less able to move around the county as hospital closures increase. Will the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question, please.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Prime Minister ensure, within the review of the Health Service, that a new commitment is made to tackle the problem of rural scatter in areas such as my constituency?

The Prime Minister

We shall have a very thorough review of the Health Service, taking into account many representations. If the hon. Member has specific and rather more definite representations to make, perhaps he will let me have them in writing.

Mr. Colvin

When does my right hon. Friend expect the flotation of the National Freight Corporation, a business that was previously owned by the state and is now owned by its workers? Are not the privatisation and flotation further examples of the transfer of wealth in favour of working people and their families?

The Prime Minister

I very much welcome the progress that the National Freight Corporation has made since it was privatised by a management buy-out. It has done very well by its work force, and the work force has done very well by the National Freight Corporation. Profits have increased by about nine times since privatisation, and those who helped with the buy-out have had a very good deal. I wish the company well for the flotation.

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