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Engagements

Volume 82: debated on Tuesday 2 July 1985

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Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.

This morning I 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 shall be attending a dinner given by the United States ambassador to mark the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

During her busy day will the Prime Minister reflect on the fact that at least two people have committed suicide since the Government introduced new and punishing board and lodging regulations? Will she take into account the fact that the Minister for Social Security admitted to the House last week that the regulations were fatally flawed? How many people have to die before she will withdraw these evil and ill thought-out regulations?

The regulations that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services brought before the House are reasonable. Action had to be taken because expenditure had risen from £100 million in 1980 to nearly £600 million in 1984. My right hon. Friend has issued extended exemptions and I understand that many of the cases to which reference has been made fall within existing exemptions.

Bearing in mind the current debate on standards in education, will my right hon. Friend try to find time today to remind all headmasters of their legal obligation to hold morning assembly and to insist that they carry on this vital part of school life?

I know that the suggestion that morning assembly should be dropped has caused great concern both among Conservative Members and among many parents. I remind headmasters that it is part of the Education Act 1944 and must continue.

Does the Prime Minister realise that as well as turning thousands of young unemployed people into vagrants the changes in board and lodging allowances mean that thousands of old and chronically sick people may be denied care in residential homes, or even evicted from charitable and private homes that may have to close? As the results of the regulations are so obvious and horrific, will the right hon. Lady have the plain decency to reverse the policy so that old and sick people, who are among the weakest and most defenceless members of society, can have the care that they need?

As I said in reply to an earlier supplementary question, I believe that the steps that we have taken are reasonable. Expenditure had risen from less than £100 million in 1980 to nearly £600 million in 1984 and there was considerable evidence of waste and abuse in the system of supplementary benefit board and lodging payments. With regard to the effect on people in residential care and nursing homes, the new limits should allow reasonable charges to be met in homes satisfying the registration requirements.

I hope that the Prime Minister will reconsider that. How can the changes be reasonable when they may lead to the closure of many homes run by charitable organisations and, in the view of responsible people in those organisations, may result in the denial of homes to people who need them? How can the changes be reasonable when disabled people may have to find a further £90 a week, which they do not have, to pay for reasonable standards of care in private and charitable homes? Will she please reconsider the whole policy, as plainly it is neither rational nor reasonable to treat old and sick people in this way?

The new limits should allow reasonable charges to be met in satisfying the registration requirements. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the limit is £110 a week plus the attendance allowance. For handicapped children the limit can go up to £170 a week. Existing claimants are protected by the transitional arrangements introduced by my right hon. Friend. We shall review the new limits within 12 months of their coming into operation.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that the energies of football hooligans, which are extraordinary but misdirected, suggest that a move towards a form of national community service would be constructive?

We have to deal with football hooligans in a different way and take all action that we possibly can to prevent their activity on football grounds and outside. The problem would not necessarily be solved by the kind of action suggested by my hon. Friend, although I understand the point behind his question.

Would the Prime Minister like to vote in the political fund ballot for the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union on 5 July? If so, I can offer her a ballot form. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, you may like to have a ballot form. The ballot forms are freely available in Liverpool at the place of work, despite the fact that at that place of work there are only two members of the trade union. Is that not disgraceful? It demonstrates——

Order. The same rules apply to everyone. The Prime Minister can answer only questions for which she has responsibility. She does not have a vote, and neither do I.

Order. I am trying to hear the right hon. Gentleman's rephrased question.

Under legislation which the House passed only a year ago workplace ballots are allowed. They are a rotten farce, as is demonstrated by the free availability of ballot forms. Will the Prime Minister change that legislation to make workplace ballots the exception and postal ballots the norm?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said. If his facts are correct, it would certainly be a great abuse, and a matter for the union to consider. Regarding legislation, the right hon. Gentleman knows that, whether it is a workplace or a postal ballot, it must be a secret ballot. If it is not, it is up to those affected to take action before the courts.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.

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

Will the Prime Minister today explain why the Conservative candidate in Brecon and Radnor has made no reference to her in his official election address? Does she—

Order. The same rules must apply to all. Again, that is not the Prime Minister's responsibility.

Does the Prime Minister share the view held by many people that the fact that her Government's candidate does not mention her name is a sign of the Government's weakness, and means that in future the Government cannot carry out their policies, or does she hold the view, shared by many people in Brecon and Radnor, that the Conservative candidate is merely trying to bring himself closer to the electorate?

I shall be glad to welcome him here as the new hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.

As First Lord of the Treasury, will my right hon. Friend consider increasing public expenditure so as to give more money to the Leader of the Opposition's Private Office, since Mr. Ron Todd has said that the Labour party's economic policy is unacceptable, Mr. Scargill tells the right hon. Gentleman what to do and the parliamentary Labour party is for the most part, apparently, on holiday? Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman recruited some new people, went back to the drawing board and started again?

It is rare to hear my hon. Friend asking for increased expenditure, but for such a good cause I shall give his request my most earnest attention.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.

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

When the Prime Minister has dinner tonight with the American ambassador, will she express the general feeling of relief and welcome that is felt on both sides of the House and throughout the country on the release of the American airline hostages after their long ordeal? Since President Reagan stated yesterday that he is committed to combating terrorism whenever and wherever it occurs, would not his fine words seem a bit more genuine if he were to stop aiding and abetting the terrorists who are trying to overthrow the democratically elected Government of Nicaragua?

I have already sent a message to President Reagan saying that we share his joy and relief at the release of the hostages, and I am sure that the entire House will join in that. As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I point out to him that sometimes the stance of the Labour party on terrorism would be better if it voted for the prevention of terrorism legislation.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 2 July.

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports in today's press of Mr. Scargill's address to the National Union of Mineworkers? If so, does she agree with me that the only reason for Scargillism being defeated during the long strike was that the Government had the strength to withstand it? Is it not a fact that that is the only way of combating Scargillism?

Yes. If a Labour Government ever took office led by the present Leader of the Opposition, he would be an absolute pushover for the leadership of the NUM.

Is the Prime Minister aware that what we desperately needed after the long coal strike was statesmanship from the Government and understanding from the National Coal Board? Instead, we have had bombast from Ministers, including the Prime Minister, and arrogance from the coal board, including its chairman. Is she aware that this has created such deep bitterness in the coal industry that it will damage if not destroy the mining industry and the chairman of the board?

No. I believe that we need to give great understanding to the difficulties of the working miners and ensure that we give them all the help and assistance that they need. We must turn the coal industry into a profitable industry so that people, especially young people, can be sure of its future. We must follow the colliery review procedure and ensure that, when pits have to be closed, the National Coal Board enterprise agency moves in after the closures to help those who need assistance to find other jobs in their areas.