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Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 31 March 1987

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is currently on a visit to the Soviet Union.

When Murdoch and company moved to Wapping, does my right hon. Friend recollect the bad jokes that referred to the Wapping big lies. Those lies are now a reality.

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his question to Government responsibility.

I shall certainly be doing that. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is now an orchestrated campaign to defame the Labour party to the extent that democracy is now threatened? Will he recall the Royal Commission on the press, which has not met for some 10 years?

It has been the prerogative of politicians through the ages to believe that they are misrepresented by the press, and I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that the difficulties of the Labour party are mainly self-inflicted.

Has my right hon. Friend been able to ascertain whether the Leader of the Opposition spent 20 or 28 minutes with the President of the Unied States, and how much of that time—[Interruption.]

Order. The same rule applies to both sides. Please relate the question to Government responsibility.

Has the British ambassador informed my right hon. Friend, and has the British ambassador been able to say, how much of that time was spent in apologising to the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) for mistaking him for the British ambassador?

I am in some difficulty, because I cannot believe that anybody could mistake the right hon. Member for Leeds, East—

I did not catch what was intended to be a helpful sedentary interruption. I think that there will be an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to make clear the nature of the success that he thought he secured in North America. All I can say is that I am sure it is not my responsibility.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

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

I am sure that the Leader of the House is well aware of the importance of the beef sector of the agriculture industry and, in particular, that Scottish beef production is of very high quality. Is he aware of the great concern over the EEC package in September, which is expected to knock £50 a head off the price of beef cattle, and does he appreciate that the farming industry is looking for an immediate and substantial devaluation of the green pound? Does he not think that, as Agriculture Ministers do not seem keen to take initiatives, when the Prime Minister returns there should be some push from the top for much-needed action?

I understand all that the hon. Gentleman has said only too well, representing the district that I do. He knows that the United Kingdom is not sovereign in the prosecution of its agricultural policy within the European Community. He further knows that it is a very easygoing solution to suppose that all these matters can be contained within the question of the devaluation of the green pound without fully taking into account the other factors. I take note of what he said.

Will my right hon. Friend do his best to persuade the Treasury to provide more money for trips abroad—[Interruption.]

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that when the Leader of the Opposition and his side-kick are away the former spends his time abusing his own country and the latter spends his time abusing the host country? Ought we not to see more of this?

I have to be as consensual as possible on this occasion and say to my hon. Friend that on the issue of trips abroad he speaks with great authority as Chairman of one of the major departmental Select Committees. The trips abroad essayed by them bring real value to this nation and to Parliament. Whether that can be said more widely, I leave for others to judge.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that tomorrow is the first day for the nurses' pay award, and the Prime Minister will be studying the review body's report? Will he use his influence to make sure that on this occasion, for the first time since the review body was established, the public are not deceived and the nurses cheated as they have been on each previous occasion, when the announcement has been that the Government will implement the report in full, but, by phasing it, they have ensured that they have not done so? For example, last year they gave only 75 per cent. of the review body's recommendation.

I am sure that the review bodies have played and very important part in securing the improved wages of the nursing profession over the years. I understand that in all parts of the House there will be sympathy for the view that any recommendation by the review body should be implemented as speedily and fully as is possible. Doubtless it has been the extent that that has been secured by this Government that accounts for an increase in real terms of nurses' pay of 23 per cent., in contrast with what happened under the Labour Government of 1974–79, when it fell by 21 per cent.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to scotch a rumour that is going round the Palace of Westminster today that President Reagan let the cat out of the bag, and that after our victory in the next election my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be appointing the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) as our ambassador in Washington?

Clearly, if the purpose of the visit was to secure widespread and continuing comment, it clearly was a success in those terms.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Has the Leader of the House seen the compelling evidence now coming to light about the damage being done to children's education because of inadequate funding to prepare for the GCSE? Why will the Government not divert funds from education gimmicks such as city technology colleges— described today by Conservatives as being both irrelevant and likely to create ghettos— and put that money into preparing for the GCSE so that 600,000 14-year-olds are not at risk of having their future blighted?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has a far greater role in public affairs than to be the foghorn of the Today newspaper. The Government are spending the £30 million in the current year on preparation for the GCSE, and next year that will rise to £115 million. Unless one is to be completely dismissive of the significance of public spending, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in hoping that the money was well spent.

Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity last night to watch a television programme based on Labour's rule in Brent, which beyond doubt is based on intimidation and fear? Does he agree that this clearly demonstrates the uncaring face of the Labour party?

Yes, I do, and I believe that this is a development of municipal Socialism which must be abhorrent to those who hitherto have carried the standard for Labour in our great cities, people such as Herbert Morrison. It is that development of radical Socialism that is doing more damage to the Labour party than any other single issue.

While I am not being dismissive of the money used by the Government for the GCSE, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that every teacher concerned in secondary education, and certainly all the parents who comment, agree with the NAS-UWT that the amount allocated is too little and too late? Is his attitude not typical of a Government who underfund this important examination reform, a Government the members of whom do not send their own children into state education?

I can cheerfully share the experience of state education with the right hon. Gentleman. To answer the wider issue, I accept, of course, that many in the teaching profession, and especially the leaders of teachers' trade unions, argue that the sums are inadequate. I do not think that that would necessarily come as a total surprise. But on any judgment of the prudent handling of public finances what is being made available is a very reasonable sum which I believe, if properly used, can help in the implementation of the examination.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us, therefore, why it is that when next year double the number of youngsters will be undertaking the GCSE examinations the Government are to reduce the funding for that specific purpose by half?

I have just given the right hon. Gentleman the figure of £115 million for next year.

In considering whether there is anything in the Opposition leader's attitude to foreign affairs that might usefully be recommended to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, does my right hon. Friend—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows what I am going to say about the Minister's responsibilities.

Does my right hon. Friend reject the Opposition Leader's reported comment—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his question to matters of the Government's responsibility.

When my right hon. Friend comes to discuss these matters with the Prime Minister, does he think that it would be a useful attitude for her to adopt in her conduct of foreign affairs to respond to a White House press spokesman by saying, "No, I bloody don't"? [Interruption.]

Order. That is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. He must not use unparliamentary language by attributing it to someone else.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that sort of petulant vulgarity—[Interruption.]—should be rejected?


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 31 March 1987.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Pursuant to the reply given by the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) last week on the question of Caspar Weinberger's statement to Congress about the modernisation of NATO's first-use nuclear weapons, why is it, if it was set out clearly at the Montebello meeting in 1983, that there was no reference to it in the 1984 Defence Estimates? Could it be that Caspar Weinberger was lying to Congress, or is it more likely that the Prime Minister and her Ministers have been miserly with the truth to the House of Commons and the British people?

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says and tell him at once that I am in no position to comment authoritatively on what he says. What he says is a sufficiently grave allegation and I prefer to leave it to those who are able to answer so to do.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Prime Minister, will he bring to her attention a radio programme that took place on Saturday morning last in Scotland in which the discussion was about the Government's policy on nuclear weapons and negotiations, and the Labour party's policy in the same areas, when 90 per cent. of the calls coming in from all over Scotland were supportive of the Government and 10 per cent. were supportive of the Labour party, which seems to be a reasonable picture of what is happening throughout the country?

I was unaware of the programme, but I am not in the least surprised that it should reveal the balance of preference indicated by my hon. Friend. I will, of course, refer it to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has made it clear to the nation that it is possible to be strongly in favour of balanced nuclear disarmament and still maintain an interest in national security, with the nuclear component that that requires.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

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

In view of the undoubted damage done to the British economy, particularly over the past 20 years, in the uncertain period before general elections, does the Leader of the House not think that it would be a good idea to move to fixed-term Parliaments?

I do not think that the uncertainty arid damage derive so much from the presence or absence of fixed-term Parliaments as from the uncertainty about who might win the election.

Will my right hon. Friend draw the Prime Minister's attention to the business section of last week's Sunday Times on her return, which, in a special five-page supplement, proved beyond peradventure that order books are at their best level for 10 years, that business prospects are at their best levels for 20 years, that exports, investments and manufacturing output are all rising and, as the article said, the economy is now going through its best transformation at any time since the industrial revolution?

I think that my hon. Friend alights upon one more piece of anecdotal evidence that reinforces the statistical indications that we now have a substantially expanding economy, which is at last resulting in a fall in unemployment. Nothing can be more discomforting to Opposition Members, not least the shadow Employment spokesman, to realise that we are now seeing a national recovery in output that is affecting unemployment.