Skip to main content

Prime Minister

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 23 April 1987

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

Cereal Production (Balance Of Payments)


asked the Prime Minister by how much the balance of payments in relation to cereal production has grown since 1979; and if she will list those industries, services or sectors where the balance of payments has grown by an equivalent or greater sum.

In 1979 the cereal sector had a deficit on its crude trade balance of nearly £500 million; for the 12 months to September 1986 it returned a surplus of nearly £100 million. Similar improvements have occurred in some other sectors, including organic chemicals, aerospace equipment, insurance, banking and other financial services, oil and natural gas extraction.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that her reply is, in itself, a tribute to the efficiency and enterprise of agriculture and of the cereals sector in particular?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that farmers have made an outstanding contribution to the economy. They and we know that some things, including cereals, are now in surplus. We have to try to deal with those surpluses because they are taking far too much of the total European budget. We shall try to do so at a rate with which the farmers can cope.

What does the Prime Minister intend to do for those sectors that have not done quite as well as the cereal sector—for example, electrical machinery, textiles and vehicles? In those sectors, a combined surplus of £1,400 million has turned into a combined deficit of £6,400 million under this Government. What will she do for those important industries?

Textiles, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, have made a tremendous comeback and monthly improvements are being made, both in the amount produced and in the excellent textile designs for clothing and furnishings. It sounds to me as though the hon. Gentleman is proposing a good deal of protectionism, which, of course, we reject. We have a multi-fibre arrangement. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Opposition Members frequently ask for more aid for Third world countries while denying them trade.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it would be a disaster for cereal farmers if their agricultural buildings were rated, as the Labour party wants, or if their products suffered a two-tier price structure, which is what the alliance wants? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Conservative party is implacably opposed to the rating of agricultural properties and to a two-tier price structure?

Yes. We are totally opposed to the rating of agricultural property, which would not only have a disastrous effect on farming but would put up prices for the consumer.

Does the Prime Minister accept that, had the coal or textile industries received the same degree of protection that has been afforded to the cereal producers of Europe, their performance might have been rather better?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the textile industry has a multi-fibre arrangement, through the European Community, which is renewed each time that it runs out. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the difficulties of negotiations that we have with it. He is also aware of the massive subsidies that continue to go to the coal industry each year.



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 April.

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 today.

During her busy day, will my right hon, Friend find time to consider supporting the Leader of the Opposition in his plea to teachers to desist from strike action, not for the selfish reason of trying to preserve the Labour vote in the election, but for the much more genuine reason that it will do grave damage to pupils and will affect the reputation of their profession?

I believe that parents have no sympathy whatsoever with teachers who disrupt their children's education and deliberately set out to damage their children's educational prospects. Most of us want teachers to be regarded with high prestige and as a profession. Professional people do not set out to damage the education of children in their care.

Has the Prime Minister yet ascertained what message was intended to be conveyed to her by the recent spate of letter bombs?

I am not quite certain what the right hon. Gentleman intends, but I personally find his question rather offensive.

Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay), will my right hon. Friend send a message of encouragement to those teachers in my consitituency and elsewhere who are not taking industrial action? Is not the latest attitude of the appropriately named NUT a classic case of being willing to wound but afraid to strike?

I firmly believe, with my hon. Friend, that most teachers do not go on strike and will not go on strike. They appreciate the enormous increase in pay and the new salaries structure that has been granted to them. They wish to get on with the job of giving a good education to children. Those teachers deserve all our support and recognition.

In view of the various studies that have been undertaken under the Government's auspices into systems of welfare benefit payment, will the Prime Minister tell us whether she is opposed to any scheme that would make payment of full benefit to the unemployed or the families of the unemployed conditional upon their undertaking compulsory work or training?

We have no proposals for compulsory work or training. There are countries that have what is known as a workfare scheme. Such schemes vary enormously from state to state in the United States. At the moment we have the community programme in which people can engage, and we hope that they will engage in it. At the moment we have no proposals for compulsory work as a condition of receiving benefit. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have already put through the House legislation that shows the general structure of our future welfare benefits.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the widespread concern there will be at the use of her phrase "at the moment"? I address the question to her again: is she in favour of forced labour, required as a condition of unemployment benefit, or is she not in favour of such forced labour? That is a very direct question. There must be a very direct answer.

May I put to the right hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I am trying to answer in a reasonable and reasoned way. The Opposition are not used to that. I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman: young people from 16 to 18 can stay on at school, can stay on in further education, can undertake a youth training scheme—they have a guarantee that they can do that—or they can do a job. I think that we shall very soon be putting to the electorate whether young people who neither stay on at school, nor stay on in education, nor take training, nor take a job, are entitled to receive supplementary benefit.

Can the Prime Minister explain to the House and to the country why, if youngsters are rich and indolent, tax concessions must be offered to get them to work, but if youngsters are poor and despondent, they are punished and have to take compulsory schemes?

The right hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. These young people about whom we are talking have the chance of education, training and education through technical colleges, a youth training scheme for which they receive an allowance, or in many cases a job. They may choose to refuse all four, but it is not the Government to whom they then look to pay them. Any benefit they get then is found by working people, and many of us think that they are not entitled to call upon their neighbours to keep them under those circumstances.

Did my right hon. Friend hear or see the news last evening when one of the teachers' union leaders said that they hoped that pupils taking examinations would not be affected? Is this position not totally unacceptable? Will she ensure through the Secretary of State for Education that any teacher who withdraws his labour from pupils taking examinations will be dismissed, and furthermore that the union that encourages that will be prosecuted?

Teachers, if they wish children to do their level best in examinations, will not disrupt the education of those children, but will do everything to stay at their posts and help children study and pass their examinations. As far as dismissals are concerned, teachers are employed, not by Government, but by local educational authorities, and that is a matter for their decision.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 April.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great sense of injustice among Scottish universities in general. and Aberdeen and Dundee universities in particular, at the latest round of cuts in funding? Does she not accept that it is almost impossible for universities to get on with the job of attracting research and teaching students when they are faced with cuts that threaten their very viability?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, total funding to universities this year through the Universities Grants Committee was increased by 10 per cent. How that is distributed is a matter for the University Grants Committee, on criteria that it publishes. Some of it goes according to the excellence of research institutions in universities. The total amount is increased. Distribution is a matter for that committee.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of teachers in my constituency have written to me enclosing their ballot papers for the NUT-NAS ballot, complaining bitterly that the ballot is not secret and that they have to return these forms, with their name and the address of their school open, to their union representative? In these circumstances, they feel that pressure is being quite unfairly brought upon them.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend has brought up that point. I agree with her that undue pressure is being put upon them. It is not surprising that many teachers are leaving both the NUT and the NASUWT, when these matters are occurring.

As there has been great difficulty in retaining both nurses and midwives, and in some parts of the country great difficulty in recruitment, will the Prime Minister accept that it would not be acceptable, for the third year running, not to implement the independent pay review body awards in full, and that it should not be stage? It is of particular importance, if we are to persuade teachers to go for an independent pay review procedure, that they should have confidence in the capacity of the Government to accept independent pay review awards.

As the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, a written question is being answered this afternoon, within about half an hour, on the results of the Government's consideration of the review body reports. I am rather surprised therefore that he chose to ask that question.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 April.

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

Order. The hon. Gentleman must make his question relevant to the Prime Minister's responsibility.

They all want to know about the teachers over there, so I am going to tell them. I repeat the question. Will the Prime Minister agree with me that one of the fundamental principles that divides democracy from dictatorship is the right of working people freely to negotiate with their employers without any pressure from the Government such as to destroy their negotiating power? Now that the right hon. Lady and the most hated Secretary of State for Education and Science that there has ever been — [Interruption] — have totally disrupted our children's education, and intend to continue doing so, will she have a good talk to him? The Prime Minister has only to order the right hon. Gentleman to reinstitute negotiating rights for teachers for all children to be back at school being educated properly.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Burnham committee had not been working for quite some time. It did not work through the most recent negotiations and the teachers' unions could not agree on what they would have. It was because the committee did not work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science had to take the action that he took. He has given teachers the best pay deal that they have ever had in history, including a good teaching structure, and many teachers are grateful for it——

It is something to do with money if they do not get it or if they have not got it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the present negotiating position is temporary. There are many who say that they want a new negotiating position, and so do we. It is difficult, however, to get them to agree on what would be appropriate in the circumstances. We shall use the coming years to secure a new negotiating arrangement, which we want just as much as does the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman referred to matters that had taken place this week. I do not think that the teaching profession has enhanced its status by the performance this week that was seen on television.