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Engagements

Volume 80: debated on Tuesday 11 June 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I was present at Victoria station to meet President de la Madrid of Mexico at the beginning of his state visit to this country. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a state banquet given by Her Majesty the Queen in honour of President de la Madrid.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing resentment in the country over the activities of the European Court of Human Rights? Is it right that a court dominated by foreign judges should dictate who enters Britain, should prevent naughty schoolchildren from being caned and should discuss the future of Myra Hindley? Is it not time that these decisions were brought back to the House and the Government? Will my right hon. Friend give notice that we shall terminate our membership and recognition of this body?

I can understand why my hon. Friend feels deeply about some of the judgments that have been given. However, we have signed that declaration and we must abide by its rules. The court held, for example, that the immigration rules applying to the admission of husbands had the legitimate aim of protecting the domestic labour market. It is worth noting that Myra Hindley has tried previously to get her case before the European Court and has failed. It was ruled inadmissible.

Will the Prime Minister join me in deploring the concentration of television interviewers and Conservative Central Office on something called the TBW factor? Does she agree that it is merely a pathetic excuse for the failures of the Government's economic and social policies?

I note that the right hon. Gentleman cannot find a more effective and more important supplementary question than that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the victory of Barry McGuigan was a great victory and one which symbolised the capacity of the different communities in Northern Ireland to live together when they have the will to do so?

I agree with my hon. Friend and I congratulate the winner most warmly. We are all delighted at the reception that he received in both parts of Ireland.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

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

How many people will have to pay increased national insurance and pension charges if the state earnings-related pension scheme is abolished, which apparently the right hon. Lady is determined to do?

Any increases will be nothing like those that would have had to be paid had SERPS continued. There will be a certain number of increases, because SERPS will continue until the end of the century for those who are entitled to it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the money that is paid out in pensions this year has to be met by contributions, a factor which I wish he would remember more often.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if she decides to intervene in the current moves to find a peace settlement in the middle east she will have the wholehearted support of the House, and no one will criticise her for visiting Cairo, Amman and other centres in that area, or suggest that she should take a holiday instead?

We cannot intervene directly, as my hon. Friend knows, but we keep closely in touch with these matters, both with the parties concerned and the United States. I have often been asked to visit Egypt and Jordan as Prime Minister, and by the time that the long recess comes it will be about time that I accepted those kind invitations.

The right hon. Lady gave an evasive response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans). Is it not the plain truth and the plain fact that every worker, whether contracted in or contracted out of SERPS, will have to pay more as a consequence of any abolition of the scheme? Why does she not come out and admit that?

As long as SERPS carries on, yes, more contributions will have to be paid to meet the liability. The right hon. Gentleman must be well aware that the contributions paid so far towards SERPS are not being accumulated to pay out SERPS but are used to pay out existing basic pensions as well as increments on former graduated pensions that have built up. The situation will be far worse under the system that he proposes. If SERPS were fully in operation for the period in which it was arranged for it to be in operation it would cost £661/2 billion, compared with the £15 billion now on the same price terms.

The Prime Minister wants us to forget that not only did she vote for the scheme but that she endorsed it at the last general election. Setting that aside, how does the abolition of SERPS meet the problems about pensions that are bound to be encountered? We know that contributions are going up because of the right hon. Lady's deliberate act trying to abolish SERPS. Is she now saying that there will be a real cut in pensions in 20 or 30 years' time, and that she favours that? Is the alternative that extra payments will go in extra subscriptions to private pensions, without any particular advantage for anyone now having to pay for pensions?

No, and if the right hon. Gentleman read it all carefully, he would find the answers for which he is asking. SERPS goes on, for all those entitled to it, up to the end of the century. The outgoings on SERPS have to be met by incoming contributions. As to beyond the century, the contributions that people will make to new occupational pension schemes will be accumulated and will therefore be there, saved and ready to be paid out. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Labour's proposals for pensions alone at the last general election would have already added—[Interruption]—£10 a week to the national insurance contributions of the working population. The right hon. Gentleman never thinks of the working population, which has to pay for all his promises.

Why does the Prime Minister never want to talk about her pensions policy now or in the future? What is she trying to evade now? What does she have to hide about the future? Is she in favour of a real cut in pensions in the future simply because she will not bear the obligations, through a state scheme, that people are willing to bear?

SERPS could not be delivered, in spite of all the right hon. Gentleman's promises. At the next general election, at any time, I will stand on our record and on our proposals compared with his. He is proposing to quadruple spending on pensions in real terms over the next 50 years, but he is refraining from saying that the majority of his constituents, the working population, will have to pay for his extravagant promises.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when the earnings-related pension scheme was introduced, its actuarial value was far too optimistic? Does she further agree that, whereas the working population is today paying 9 per cent. of its earnings in national insurance contributions, if SERPS were not altered, some 15 per cent. of every worker's gross income would have to be paid out? The working population could not sustain such a burden.

I do not believe that the working population could sustain the burden. What is more, the figures on which SERPS was calculated took no account of the number of pensioners after the year 2010, which will now be 3 million higher than the figure taken account of in SERPS.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the bizarre background to the secrets trial currently in progress at the Old Bailey? Can she assure me that when the verdict is announced—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman's question may well be sub judice.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

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

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read the article prepared by supporters and members of the Federation of Conservative Students, for publication in the Aston university student newspaper? The article is so outrageously offensive that it can even express pleasure at seeing black people die in the fire at Bradford City football ground. Will the Prime Minster repudiate such vile rubbish which comes fom members of her party? Will she take this opportunity to assure the House and the country that that rubbish in the Federation of Conservative Students will be cleaned out? Does she agree that the article represents a true sickness in the FCS?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will send me the evidence that he has to support his assertions—

I do not know who prepared the alleged article. I do not know whether the alleged article, which the hon. Gentleman has sent me, was published. Perhaps he will send me supporting evidence for his contentions. If the article was published, that is disgraceful, whoever wrote it.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

Although the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill has now been effectively killed off, the fact remains that the House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly against experimentation on human embryos. As it was possible to deal with surrogacy in isolation, does my right hon. Friend agree that experimentation on human embryos is also a matter that could be dealt with in legislation soon? Does she further agree that, if it is true that we must wait at least two years, and probably longer, for a Government Bill, that would be unacceptable to many hon. Members and reflect grave discredit on the Government?

As my hon. Friend said, we introduced a Bill to deal with commercial surrogacy, which we felt had to be dealt with urgently. We intend to bring in a comprehensive Bill with regard to the Warnock proposals as soon as it is practicable. As my hon. Friend said, there will be a good deal of contention about the Warnock proposals and it is as well that that should be resolved before we bring forward a Bill. I am well aware of the strength of views expressed by hon. Members during debates on the Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). Indeed, I share many of those views.

Although I welcome the visit of the President of Mexico, was it really necessary for the streets of London to be snarled up for two hours? Traffic was unable to move and constituents were unable to get into the House. Is it really necessary to plan visits in this way?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that it is the habit and custom for those on a state visit to be met at Victoria, or sometimes at Windsor, and for them to proceed through the streets of London. I think that most of the populace of London would wish that to continue.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 11 June.

In the light of my right hon. Friend's interview on Sunday, can she now produce a word that would describe an Opposition party more interested in analysing the reason for past military success than in producing a defence policy designed to avoid future military defeat?

I hope that my hon. Friend will think that I showed great restraint in not quoting the remark in full, since it has a great pedigree. In full, it would have been "stark staring bonkers."