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Engagements

Volume 77: debated on Thursday 18 April 1985

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 April.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to attend a banquet given by President Banda.

In thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask her if she has yet had time to study the people in work figures published yesterday, which show that there were 340,000 more people in work last year? Will she also confirm that, at 65 per cent., the proportion of people in work in this country is among the highest in the major industrial nations and well above the European average?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the subject of the increasing number of people who found jobs in 1984. If one takes the period since March 1983, one sees that some 613,000 more jobs have been created. Had we said in March 1983 that it was our policy to create 600,000 more jobs by March 1985 we would not have been believed. In fact, they have been created. As my hon. Friend has said, the proportion of the population of working age in work is higher in this country than in West Germany, France or Italy, and equal to that in the United States.

Does the Prime Minister know that while she was away 39 shire counties were told that they were to receive less rate support grant than they had been promised? Does she know that the reduction in that rate support grant is the direct result of the Greater London council levying a lower rate than the Government anticipated? How does she justify penalising Kent, Lancashire and Essex because the GLC has not raised its rate as much as the Government anticipated?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is customary to give an expected rate support grant and later to correct it. In this case it was corrected because the GLC decided to agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. In fact, in spite of all its posturings it set a rate below the limit that he had specified.

That may be customary under the new system, but it is clearly absurd. I ask the Prime Minister again to explain why Lancashire should be penalised because the GLC set a lower rate than the Government anticipated. Does it not demonstrate that the present system of rate support grant is preposterous and should be abolished, and that the Secretary of State for the Environment should go with it?

No, Sir. The GLC has bent towards my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the system used in this respect, the corrective system, was also used previously.

As always, the Prime Minister has scored high marks for irrelevant stridency. But I ask again how she justifies Lancashire being penalised because the GLC has raised a lower rate than she anticipated.

Because that is the system that has applied not only under this Government but under previous Governments as well. There is —[Interruption.] It does no earthly good to get excited and hysterical about it. That is the fact. The right hon. Gentleman may not like it, but it is a fact.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to try to understand the shadow Cabinet's shambles of a policy on mortgage relief? Can she confirm that mortgage relief is safe under the Conservatives?

I note that it is now Labour policy to abolish tax relief on mortgages. It is Conservative policy to keep tax relief on mortgages, and will continue to be.

Has the Prime Minister seen the forecast, given by her former adviser, Sir John Hoskyns, of 10,000 job losses as a result of the national insurance changes in the Budget? Will she consider a reduction in the overall rate of the employers' contribution to offset the welcome effect of the restructuring at the lower end of national insurance?

No, Sir. The restructuring of employers' national insurance contributions, taken across the board, was slightly favourable towards employers. As the right hon. Gentleman will recall, if he looks at the figures in the Red Book, the restructuring was slightly favourable overall towards employers because they received more relief at the lower end than imposition at the higher end. Of course, it will vary from employer to employer.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware that today's statement that the Government are to get their act together in the inner city areas will be met with utter disbelief by those who live in them? Is she unaware of what her policies have meant for the inner cities? There is massive unemployment, inadequate housing and the people there have had to mount a continuous campaign to try to keep their hospitals and local social services. If she is unaware of the result of her policies, why does she not go to those inner city areas and meet not the local Tory party officials but those who live there? Why does she not do that? No amount of dressing up Tory policies will solve our problems unless the money is provided to do that.

A statement has been put out and task forces are to be set up in certain specific city areas. No matter what the hon. Gentleman says about hospitals and the Health Service, it remains a fact that after inflation has been taken into account 20 per cent. more has been spent on the NHS under this Government——

That is a fact. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to challenge it, perhaps he should table a question. He will find that the answer to it is exactly the same as mine today.

This Government have a far better record on the Health Service than the Labour Government ever had, and a far better record on building hospitals and on providing doctors and nurses than the Labour Government had. That is true, despite the hon. Gentleman's shouting and hysteria, which we have come to expect from him.

My right hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that the investigations into the social security system are viewed with considerable interest and that their results are also awaited with some interest. Will she give an undertaking that, when the results are considered, she and the Government will bear in mind the interaction between the social security and taxation systems, and that any reforms will be wide enough to consider including a basic income guarantee scheme, or a negative income tax scheme, or a variation thereof?

As my hon. Friend is aware, the results of the social security reviews are expected to be out within about two months. I think that it is better to wait until they come out before we make further comment. With regard to my hon. Friend's specific question about the interaction between social security and taxation, it was with that in mind that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the employees' national insurance contributions at the lower end of the income scale.

Now that the Prime Minister has returned from places where democracy and working people are not of much account, will she turn her attention to visiting places in this country —for instance, the Llandarcy refinery where 750 people who are shareholders of British Petroleum have been told that they are to lose their jobs? Will she, as the trustee of the nation's shareholding in BP, tell BP that this sacking must not take place, especially as it has been suggested that it would break European Community rules?

As the hon. Gentleman is very much aware, there is a surplus of refinery capacity over the world as a whole, as well as in this country. Nothing that either of us says can avoid that fact. I am afraid, therefore, that it is likely that corrective action will have to be taken.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 18 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will the Prime Minister accept that the reason her support is crumbling is not least because everybody, apparently—except the Cabinet—sees the country crumbling all around her? The setting up this morning of city action teams to co-ordinate con tricks, without one penny of extra money going to the inner city areas, conceals a real cut in money for inner city areas of £150 million in the next three years and displays nothing but a complacent and callous attitude.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his Budget he mentioned that public expenditure was increasing, unfortunately, despite everything that we have done. If the hon. Gentleman wants more money to be spent on the particular project he specified, can he say from whom he would take it away?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the abolition of domestic rates would be one of the most popular steps that this Government could take and that her proposals to this effect are eagerly awaited in South Suffolk and by ratepayers all over the country?

It will be some time before the detailed results of rating reform come out. When they do, they will be published for consultation and discussion in the House. I hope that they will be out in time for legislation before the next general election.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider whether she is serious about imprisoning, surcharging or making bankrupt local councillors whose only crime is that they carried out their mandate and the wishes of the local electorate?

Local councillors are subject to the law of the land, as is everybody else, and I hope that they will duly carry it out.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to use both blades of the scissors to cut unemployment? Is not any suggestion that a return to an all-party, simplistic, Keynesian solution would cut unemployment just as fraudulent as any suggestion that one might just leave it all to the market place?

There is no simplistic solution to unemployment. If there were, it would not be found all over Europe. The solution lies in the creation of genuine jobs. I repeat that 613,000 more jobs have come into existence since March 1983, that the United Kingdom is the only major European country in which employment is currently increasing and that the proportion of the population of working age in work is higher in the United Kingdom than it is in West Germany, France and Italy.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 18 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago and I thank him for giving me notice of the supplementary question that he wishes to ask.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great sense of outrage in the north-west of England at the decision of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries to launch a bid for Matthew Brown pubs and breweries in the north-west of England? Is she aware that Scottish and Newcastle has repeatedly refused to give undertakings about the future of jobs in the breweries in Blackburn, Carlisle and Workington or about the future of the low barrelage pubs? Will the Prime Minister now intervene personally and ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to put the matter to the Monopolies and Merger Commission, because we object to the proposed merger, and it is for the Secretary of State to use his powers to obstruct it?

That was indeed the subject of which I was given notice, although the terms in which the question was asked were a little different. As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is not a matter for Cabinet decision. It is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—in the light of the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading, who I understand the hon. Gentleman has met—to decide whether the proposed merger or takeover should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. My right hon. Friend will take into account all representations, including those of the hon. Gentleman, and the decision will be made as soon as practicable.