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Prime Minister

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 9 April 1987

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Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 April 1987.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later this afternoon, including one with King Hussein of Jordan.

Will the Prime Minister find time today to ask her Ministers to reconsider the treatment that they give to disabled people in relation to the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986? Does she know that, despite the barrage of Government propaganda, over 1,000 severely disabled people came to Westminster yesterday to voice their resentment because they feel cheated and betrayed? However, they did not receive any concessions, and not one Minister from the responsible Department was there to listen to them. What kind of treatment is that?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, sections 4, 8(1), 9 and 10 of the Disabled Persons Act were implemented on 1 April. These sections clarify the duty of local social services authorities under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 —[interruption]—to consider the needs of disabled people when requested, and provide for local social services authorities to improve their assessments of the needs of disabled people. On sections 5 and 6 of the Act, which undoubtedly arose yesterday, we have said that we should like to bring these provisions into effect in time to benefit disabled school leavers leaving full-time education this summer and we are urgently consulting the local authorities about achieving that.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the process whereby bishops of the Church of England are appointed, her role in that process and the criteria that influence her judgment?

Before my time, and by agreement with the leaders of the Opposition and the other main parties at the time, a procedure was set up. It has been honoured scrupulously since 1979, as I am sure it was honoured before that time.

Does the Prime Minister recall saying a fortnight ago to her hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and to the House that she saw the Cable and Wireless issue as a test case of how open the Japanese market really is? In the wake of the fruitless visit to Tokyo of her hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, does she think that the Japanese have passed, or failed, the test?

The Cable and Wireless issue is still under discussion with the Japanese Government —[Interruption.] Opposition Members may not like it, but that is the fact. My hon. and learned Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary has not yet returned from his visit to the far east.

That does not make the visit any less fruitless — [Interruption.] The Prime Minister made it clear that we got the brush-off on all counts in Tokyo. [Interruption.] What will she do—[Interruption.]

Will the Prime Minister tell us and, indeed, an interested country, what she will do to protect British interests in relation to the Japanese? Will she operate fully the powers under the Financial Services Act 1986? Will she operate powers under the Telecommunications Act 1984? Most important, what will she do to turn round a trade deficit with Japan that has increased fourfold while she has been Prime Minister?

In relation to the right hon. Gentleman's opening remark, he is an expert in fruitless visits. My hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made clear our willingness, if necessary, to use reciprocity powers under the Financial Services Act, and the right hon. Gentleman is aware that an order was laid for that purpose about a week ago. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary discussed trade with Japan with his European counterparts last weekend — the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that trade matters and initiatives must be taken by the Community—and they agree that urgent consideration should be given to the issue by trade experts, who will meet in Brussels tomorrow. Those experts are expected to examine proposals put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on more effective protection against dumping of components, possibly unbinding of tariffs on certain products as a result of Community enlargement, and measures that may be necessary to avoid diversion if the United States acts against Japan — [Interruption.] The answer is long because a great deal is being done.

We heard all that, but what action will the Prime Minister take under existing statutes?

The right hon. Gentleman can neither know nor understand the provisions, arrangements and agreements that we have with Europe. That is precisely why I had to tell him that as a result of the initiatives of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary a meeting is being convened tomorrow to discuss the three matters that I outlined. I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman of them again. The matters to be discussed are effective protection against the dumping of components by Japan, possible unbinding of tariffs on certain products as a result of Community enlargement, and measures that might be necessary to avoid diversion if the United States acts against Japan. The committee is to meet tomorrow. It is within the competence of the European Economic Community. Would the right hon. Gentleman leave the Community?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on 5 May the all-party committee on overseas development is to launch a report on managing Third world debt? With her powerfully increased reputation since her visit to Moscow, can I tempt her to undertake another initiative on an intractable international situation and to find a way to solve the Third world debt problem, as the report suggests? Could she find a way in which we may help the impoverished countries of Africa to resume growth and at the same time begin to cut unemployment in the United Kingdom by increasing our exports to those countries?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the United Kingdom has converted aid loans to grants, particularly in respect of many sub-Saharan countries, because they are the poorest. Indeed, we have almost completed that process. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is proposing that other countries follow suit. We are fully aware that those countries are not only heavily indebted, but grindingly poor and many are unlikely to be able to repay interest or some of the capital that has been loaned. That is why we have taken this action and why my right hon. Friend proposes that other countries follow suit.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the European Community is the right mechanism for dealing with unfair trading practices by the Japanese Government'? But would it not assist the European Community and our other partners to take firm action if the British Government would help the European Community science and technology initiative to build up our industry so that we can compete with the Japanese?

We have proposed that the framework agreement should consist of some 4·2 billion ecu over five years. The amount of European research and development on these matters is only about 2 per cent. of the total that takes place. Many people say too easily that research and development are of necessity good, without looking at the results. The right hon. Gentleman is very much aware that we have spent a great deal on research and development without getting out the industrial results that we should have had. It is that aspect to which we must give our attention. With respect, I do not think that the first and second parts of the right hon. Gentleman's question were really related.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the Government's stand on trade with Japan the vast bulk of the British people will be firmly behind her and her Ministers and relieved that at long last the British Government intend to take a strong line? That will make a change from what previous Labour Governments have done. Will she please bear in mind in the negotiations that she has announced that there are some British industries that are particularly heavily penalised? I put in a plea on behalf of the British leather manufacturing industry, which, after a very small quota, has to surmount a tariff of 60 per cent. to export to Japan? Will she please ask our negotiators to do their best for that industry?

I am, of course, aware of that particular industry and the problems that Japanese imports cause. As my hon. Friend is aware, if we were to take action alone, first, we should probably be taken to the European Court and, secondly, it would probably not be effective because the Japanese would just export into other countries of the Community and the goods would then have the right to come over here. That is why we have to try to get the rest of the Community with us. I believe that more and more members of the Community are willing to take action, although we often meet resistance from Germany, Holland and Denmark on these matters.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 April 1987.

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

When will the Prime Minister start to treat the pensioners of this country as decent, dignified human beings? When will she stop her cold, inhuman actions, such as ending the death grant this week, defeating free TV licences and ending heating allowances? Why will she not immediately restore the link with earnings as per the last Labour Government, which would make single pensioners almost £8 a week better off and married couples over £12 a week better off? When will she stop this nonsense of saying that pensioners are better off than ever before, when it is just not true? Why will she not treat our pensioners as princes of Europe and not as the paupers of Europe?

Our record on looking after the elderly is second to none. Spending on the elderly is the third highest in Europe as a proportion of national income. Denmark and France are above the United Kingdom. We are better than Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman refers to the previous regime. I would remind him that in 1979 this Government made good an uprating deficiency against earnings created by the Labour Government in 1978 and gave full price protection to pensioners. Thirdly, — [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked a long question. I shall continue to give the answer.

Thirdly, with regard to the payments for pensions and the numbers, there are 1 million more pensioners now than in 1979 and they have received the full amount. The payments for pensions are made by the working population in this country. If the Opposition's proposals were followed there would be substantial increases in the working population's national insurance contributions. That is what the Labour Opposition are complaining about.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 April.

During the remainder of the day will my right hon. Friend find time to talk to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and draw his attention to the front page of the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette yesterday, which showed that we now have record steel output in Teesside and that the workers in that industry will be receiving record bonus payments this week? Is that not in complete contrast to the report of gloom and doom by the Northern Region Councils Association? That association does not know what is really happening in the north of England.

May we congratulate the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette on providing that excellent news. May we congratulate even more the workers in the British Steel Corporation, all of whom have achieved that excellent result. They have turned round a loss in 1979 to a considerable profit of £76 million in the British Steel Corporation as a whole. Last year the corporation is likely to have made a profit of £170 million. Most workers like to work for profitable industries and that means that they like to work under a Conservative Government.