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Engagements

Volume 14: debated on Thursday 3 December 1981

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Q1.

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

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 having further meetings later today, including one with the chairman of the student academic campaign for Soviet Jewry.

Although I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply, does she agree that, in the week that the House has heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement, it is somewhat ironic that it has also been lobbied by the young jobless, teachers and members of local government? Do not such diverse interests illustrate the direct conflict facing the nation? What advice will my right hon. Friend give me to place before my constituents in Gravesend if public spending continues to rise at its present rate?

My hon. Friend has put his finger on two points. First, if those in the public sector demand more and more pay for doing the same amount of work, there will be less and less money with which to provide jobs for the unemployed. I hope that they will take that into account. Secondly, it is recognised that if people continue to demand more and more public spending for their constituents, they are at the same time demanding more taxes and contributions from their constituents.

Will the right hon. Lady answer the question that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not answer yesterday? By how much will the measures that the Chancellor introduced yesterday increase the right hon. Lady's own tax and price index?

How will increases on such a scale, together with increased rents, rates, health charges and national insurance contributions, assist the fight against inflation?

The right hon. Gentleman always tries to have it both ways. He always poses as a person who can hand out benefits to his constituents, but then refuses to allow the Supply to pay for them. The answer is exactly the same as the answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton). If the right hon. Gentleman demands more benefits for his constituents, he is, at the same time, demanding higher contributions to pay for those benefits.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the private sector, both corporate and individual, is becoming increasingly alarmed at being forced to pay not only the monopolistic prices but to finance the public, or the Socialistic sector of the economy, and that it is looking for strong and urgent privatisation? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that that hope is not in vain?

As my hon. Friend says, the efficiency of the private sector has gone well ahead of the efficiency of the public sector. Consequently, price increases in the private sector are much below price increases in the public sector. That is one reason why we are now taking powers to refer more of the public sector to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and why we are going ahead with more measures to privatise organisations such as the BNOC and to take away the gas monopoly.

What advice can the Prime Minister give to students, following yesterday's announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, given that some of their unavoidable costs, such as hall fees, have gone up by about 40 per cent. in the past three years, and that the allowance being given to them for next year is only a fraction of the Government's own estimate of inflation? What about the low-income families with sons and daughters at colleges and universities?

As my right hon. and learned Friend announced yesterday, student grants will go up by 4 per cent. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes it to go up by more, he must say what else he would cut or what other increase in taxes he would impose.

Is the Prime Minister aware that last month male unemployment in my constituency was 19·1 per cent. and that women's unemployment was 12·3 per cent.? Since then, the closure of Guy Motors has been announced, which means that another 800 jobs will be lost, and another firm—Britool—is in grave danger because of the probable withdrawal of the temporary employment subsidy. What words of solace and comfort does the right hon. Lady have for my constituents? I want no nonsense about wanting it both ways. My constituents want jobs and work, and that means investment of public money. What will she do about that?

As the hon. Lady probably saw recently, imports have risen. This country needs to get a larger share of our own market for those who produce in this country. That means moderate wage settlements and highly efficient companies. That is the way to get more jobs.

When my right hon. Friend considers Lord Scarman's remarks about positive discrimination, will she remember the 22 per cent. unemployed people in Bridlington town in my constituency, who have never rioted and who have just as much right to the Government's sympathy and aid as have the unemployed people in Brixton who, if they get on to a tube, have far more job opportunities than exist in the North-East?

I shall most certainly do that. Nothing in the difficult unemployment situation warranted rioting in any part of the United Kingdom. We are very conscious that many parts of the United Kingdom face difficult problems and that they must have the same amount of attention as those where riots occurred. It is much more difficult to get employers to go to places where riots have occurred than it is to persuade them to go to places where peace and good social conditions exist.