Questions on health led to statistic swapping, as Blair must have known. Given this, he could have had more figures to throw at Major.
Major had had his fingers burnt by Blair on health before. This time he was better briefed, concentrating on the Conservative pledge to increase investment, and peppering his replies with figures.
Blair's first statistic, "two-thirds of health authorities and one third of hospital trusts are in deficit to the tune of pounds 300m" was dismissed by Major as "blown out of all proportion". Only the Conservatives have pledged to increase funding, Major said, and it was about to rise by pounds 1.6bn which would cover the deficit. Blair replied that it would not cover the deficit, and spoke of cancellation of non-emergency surgery, closure of Accident and Emergency departments, waiting lists and staff shortages, contrasting Major's "complacency" with "what people know is happening". He used a favourite health statistic, of "20,000 new managers and 50,000 fewer nurses". Major replied with yet more statistics and a new slogan: "They may have set up the Health Service but we have built it up."
THEMES OF THE DAY
The timing of the prorogation of Parliament (Simon Hughes, Lib- Dem, Southwark and Bermondsey)
The success of the McLaren motor-racing team (Sir Cranley Onslow, C, Woking)
The 'low-status' Shadow Cabinet (John Sykes, C, Scarborough)
Major's sell-by and use-by dates (Robert Wareing, Lab, Liverpool West Derby)
GOOD DAY.. ...BAD DAY
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington N) pinpointed specific NHS failings in London. Major replied that the NHS was creating more "consultants . . . nurses . . . and, er, patients".
Betty Boothroyd reprimanded Hughes who was struggling to be heard above the din: "Spit it out, come on. There's no point in waiting for silence, the Hon Gentleman is not going to get it."
THE UNANSWERED QUESTION
Sykes: "What would my Right Hon Friend do if all he had to choose from for his Cabinet was a group of failed teachers, a group of ex-trade union officials, one TV director and a bar steward." Major, who once applied to become a bus conductor, avoided a direct answer.
THE QUIP OF THE DAY
Major told Hughes: "One of the reasons for making the announcement on Monday and arranging for Parliament to be prorogued Friday was to give the Hon Gentleman time to finish his question."
THE CREEP OF THE DAY
Onslow: "Following the very successful visit this morning to the headquarters of the McLaren Formula One team in my constituency, would my Right Hon Friend agree with me that what counts is not who is ahead at the first corner, but who has the skill, expertise, the stamina and the nerve to see the race right through to the winning post?"