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Volume 86: debated on Tuesday 12 November 1985

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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. I was present at Victoria station to meet the Emir of Qatar at the start of his state visit to this country, and this evening I shall attend the state banquet given by Her Majesty the Queen in honour of the Emir of Qatar.

Given the welcome news this morning that Lord Davidson, in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, ruled that the assets of the Trustee Savings Bank are indeed the property of the Scottish depositors, and given that my noble Friend Lord Taylor successfully moved an amendment to the Trustee Savings Banks Bill in another place on behalf of the alliance, seeking to protect those and other interests, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government, in the light of that ruling, will not now seek to introduce any orders to name a vesting day?

We shall be considering the judgment very careful indeed, and will make a statement when we have done so.

Is it not depressing that students at Manchester university should have attacked and abused the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington)? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is about time that people inside and outside universities stood up to be counted on whether they are prepared to defend the right of free speech?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Universities are places where, above all, free speech should be honoured, not prevented.

Reverting to Lord Davidson's judgment, may I ask the Prime Minister to give an assurance that, in her determination to press ahead with the privatisation programme, she will seek to sell only those items to which she has a valid title? Will she also undertake, in reviewing the judgment, to abandon the attempt to deprive the depositors of the TSB of their property?

The right hon. Gentleman seeks an instant reply to a judgment which we have not yet seen in full, but, obviously, the result of which we know. He must agree that it is better to see the judgment before commenting on it.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Will the Prime Minister tell the House which she thinks will contribute most to improving presentations and propaganda for the Tory party, her recent appointment of Lord Young as Secretary of State for Employment, or her earlier appointment of his brother, Mr. Stuart Young, as chairman of the governors of the BBC?

Will my right hon. Friend consider changes in the way in which accident compensation is awarded, so that people such as my constituents from St. Michael's, who received appalling injuries in the explosion at Abbeystead, and their dependants, who have already been waiting for 18 months without receiving a penny compensation, do not have to go through the courts to establish negligence so as to receive compensation?

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. I had the impression that the matter was still sub judice, but I shall consider it further.

The Prime Minister sought last night to give the impression that she is a recruit to renewal. Does that mean that her White Paper plans, published earlier this year, to cut expenditure in investment on construction, vehicles, plant and industrial support by 15 per cent. over the next two years have been abandoned? If it means that, we are delighted. If not, will she admit that last night she was up to her usual tricks of fabrication?

The right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Had he listened to the replies that I have given from the Dispatch Box twice a week during almost every week the House has been sitting, he would have heard me say that, last year, investment was at a record high of £55 billion, with the private sector outpacing the public sector. That is still true. I just wish that he had heard me say it about 20 times.

The Prime Minister never admits that manufacturing investment this year is still 20 per cert. in real terms below what it was in 1979. Does she share her Government's lack of concern for manufacturing investment? Does she believe that our future lies, as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said, in tourism? Will she now answer the question? Will she abandon those policies, or will she go ahead with cuts in construction, investment, plant, vehicles and industrial support during the next two years? If so, can she explain to the country how we can possibly afford it?

What matters is the return that one secures on investment. Because we have higher profits, we are now getting higher investment. The right hon. Gentleman always tries to ignore investment in the extractive industries, such as coal, which do not come under manufacturing industry. I also note how much he tries to disparage tourism. What matters is total investment, which is at an all-time high, and which we expect to remain high in the coming year. I am so sorry that he tries to run down tourism and other industries. We do not.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the people of Thamesmead on their recent vote to establish a community trust to run the town after the abolition of the GLC, and their complete rejection of a takeover by Left-wing Greenwich council?

The vote by the people of Thamesmead was very significant. They have chosen a route that gives them far more control over their futures. That is absolutely correct, and I congratulate them on their choice.

Before the Prime Minister makes a statement on the Trustee Savings Bank, Scotland, will she bear in mind the fact that to proceed with legislation in the light of the judgment in the Court of Session would be to expropriate assets without compensation? In the light of the assurance that she gave to me on 23 July that the findings of the Scottish court would be obeyed, will she assure the House that she will not instruct an appeal to the English House of Lords?

Of course, the law must be upheld, but one has a right to all the remedies that the law proposes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not asking for instant comment. He and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) would be the first to condemn that, and would think it right to consider the judgment before reaching decisions.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Will the Prime Minister drag herself away from all these banquets to consider for a few moments that a quarter of her Government's £100 million support for Johnson Matthey Bankers could provide security for tens of thousands of working people in Liverpool, who do not aspire to £400,000 retirement homes in Dulwich, but only to decent family homes with gardens? Is it not obscene that the Government should prepare for a lock-out of council workers in Liverpool, while at the same time running a gravy train for their friends in the City?

The hon. Gentleman is trying to compare two completely different things. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made several statements and has answered many questions about Johnson Matthey Bankers. The matter is in the hands of the police, and it is for them to decide what to do. The people who are running Liverpool have brought it to its present disgraceful state.

Following my right hon. Friend's excellent speech at the Mansion House yesterday evening, does she agree that, from a total public expenditure of £ 139 billion this year, about £24 billion will be spent on capital projects? That is about 17 per cent. of our total expenditure, which is not a bad record. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that percentage can be increased only in three ways: by cutting other public expenditure, by increasing the public sector borrowing requirement or by increasing taxes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that, at last, people are beginning to realise the amount that is going in capital expenditure by the Government. Had they listened earlier, they might have got the message earlier. If we want more capital expenditure, it must come either by reducing current expenditure or by raising taxation, which would be most unwelcome to most people, especially those on below average earnings. Increased borrowing would increase interest rates, which also would be unwelcome to industry, which is trying to start up afresh.

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to assure my constituents, who have survived numerous terrorist attacks launched on them from the territory of the Irish Republic, that she still considers them to be as British as her constituents and that she has no intention of diminishing that status by giving the Government of the Irish Republic any rule in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom?

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and will remain a part of the United Kingdom unless the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish otherwise. Negotiations are still under way with the Republic. Any result will still be in accordance with the rule that decisions north of the border are taken by the United Kingdom Government, and those south of the border are taken by the Government of the Republic of Ireland.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

Does the Prime Minister agree that, when she was Secretary of State for Education and Science, she believed that one of the best investments for a nation was a first-class education system? Will she confirm that, while she has been Prime Minister, the proportion of gross domestic product spent on education has fallen from 4·3 per cent. to 3·5 per cent., which means that education has lost about £2 billion—more than enough to have saved any cuts in higher education, to have protected student grants and to have ensured that teachers could be paid a professional wage?

But, since that time, the number of pupils in schools has fallen by about 1 million. One would therefore expect the proportion of gross domestic product to fall. However, the amount spent on each pupil has never been higher than under the present Government and the proportion of teachers to pupils has never been higher than under this Government. One is entitled to say that now, instead of spending more money, we must try to get better value out of the money that we are spending.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the latest quarterly report of the Confederation of British Industry, which says that the employment prospects of small manufacturing businesses are the brightest for the past decade? Does that not show that the manufacturing sector has as great a role to play in sustaining our economic growth as the services sector?

I have seen the CBI's latest report. I believe that employment prospects are better, especially as, in the past two years, some 650,000 jobs have been created—the highest rate of job creation since 1973. I see that the OECD is forecasting that Britain will create more jobs than other OECD countries.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

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

The Prime Minister spoke last night about the construction of new hospitals, but is she aware that there is a great scandal in most of our hospitals, new and old, because of dirty and unhygienic conditions, which are damaging many patients? Is she aware that those conditions are caused by negligent health authorities which are flouting the law by hiding behind Crown immunity? Will she consider abolishing Crown immunity to get rid of those conditions?

I think that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman will see that he has made an unwarranted slur on the vast majority of our hospitals, which are extremely well run and clean. There are some problems. He has asked me before whether Crown immunity should be lifted in regard to health and safety provisions. No decision has been made. My right hon. Friend is still considering the matter.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 12 November.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite massive regional aid, there are many parts of the north of England where there is grave concern about the low levels of private investment relative to the south-east? Will she give an assurance that all relevant Government Departments will continue to take actions designed to prevent the growth of the dangerous imbalance that is developing?

My hon. Friend will be aware that in July my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) was being quite optimistic about Bolton and saying:

"the success of Government policies in Bolton is evidenced by new factories and shops as well as a new road, a new railway and a new hospital to be built".—[Official Report, 11 July 1985; Vol. 82, c. 1260.]
We are trying to increase private investment, and the north-west has received about £80 million in regional development grant in 1984–85. That is meant to help investors to go to that area and to build new factories and new commercial offices.