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Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 28 April 1987

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 28 April.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to come to Wolverhampton and explain that strict control of immigration is essential to any improvement in race relations? Will she stress that the number of people coming to this country for settlement from the New Commonwealth and Pakistan has dropped from 34,000 in 1980 to 22,500 in 1986? Will she, further, allow the Opposition parties the opportunity to explain how their proposed repeal of the present system of immigration control, and its relaxation, is likely to improve race relations?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the numbers coming to this country through immigration have dropped. It is our intention to remain firm on immigration control. I agree with my hon. Friend that we should question the Opposition about their proposals to repeal the Immigration Act 1971 and the British Nationality Act 1981, which are the heart of our immigration control.

Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she is actively opposed to any increase in the rate of VAT or any extension in its scope?

There is no way in which a Government of any political colour can say that they will never increase either value added tax or income tax. It was a Labour Government who extended the standard rate of VAT to petrol and snack foods. In November 1974 that Government put a new value added tax of 25 per cent. on petrol, and later extended the higher 25 per cent. rate to television sets, radios, electric domestic appliances, cameras, jewellery, boats and caravans. There is no way in which a responsible Government can say that there will be no increase whatsoever in any particular tax.

I did not ask the Prime Minister to make guesses. I asked her whether she is opposed to an increase in the rate of value added tax, yes or no? Is she opposed to an extension in the base of VAT? Does the Prime Minister accept that as she said in 1979 that the Government had no intention of raising VAT and then increased it by 87 per cent., the people of this country are rightly concerned when she dodges in the way that she does?

I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the entire record on value added tax. — [Interruption.]

VAT was introduced at the standard rate of 10 per cent. The zero rate covered food, fuel, new housing, public transport, young children's clothing, and so on. On 1 April 1974 the Labour Government extended the base of VAT to petrol and snack foods. Just before the next election they cut the standard rate to 8 per cent. Following that election they raised the rate to 25 per cent. on petrol. Following that, they raised the rate to 25 per cent. on television sets, radios, electric domestic appliances, cameras, jewellery, boats and caravans.

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to distract attention from his party's colossal public expenditure, and it was the Labour Government who put up value added tax.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the bogus election propoganda—[Interruption.]

Order. There is so much noise that I cannot hear whether the question is in order. I hope that it is.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the bogus manifesto on the Conservative—

Is my right hon. Friend not aware, too, that the Labour party has put forward this manifesto as it has no policies of its own?

We are used to smears and scares from the party in opposition. May I give the House an example? During the last election campaign the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that if the Tories were allowed to win the election they would within five years put an end to the National Health Service—[Interruption.]

Since 1978 expenditure on the National Health Service has increased from £7·5 billion to nearly £20 billion this year, an increase of 31 per cent. after allowing for inflation. We have had the VAT scare before, when it has been alleged that we were going to put VAT on food. I gave an undertaking in 1984 that we would not put VAT on food. It was the party that is now in opposition that did that.

Will the Prime Minister agree that there can be no cover-up of treason and that the secret services cannot be allowed to operate as a state within a state? Would it not be healthier if, instead of spending time and effort trying to stuff various cats back into their bags, the Government were to make a frank statement to the House and set up a new inquiry into the operation of the secret services?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, I have no ministerial responsibility for events before this Government came to office. There is nothing that I can add to the statement made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callaghan) in 1977, and Lord Wilson associated himself at that time with that statement. I believe that there was a Lib/Lab pact at the time, too.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if only half the promises of the Labour party were implemented there would be not only a massive increase in VAT but a massive increase in the standard rate of income tax?

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. The fact is that we are the party that reduces taxation, and the Opposition are the party that increases public expenditure and votes against the reduction of income tax.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 28 April.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that when Lazard Brothers was advising Westland at the time of the takeover, a closely associated Swiss bank, Fils Dreyfus, took part in an illegal concert party to buy Westland shares? Is she further aware that that conspiracy to achieve her policy objectives looks even worse when one considers that her former Defence Secretary, Sir John Nott, is chairman of Lazards, and that one of her advisers, Mr. Gordon Reece, is a public relations adviser with that bank? In view of the nasty smell arising from that, does the Prime Minister agree that a Companies Act investigation should be set in motion urgently?

The hon. Gentleman knows that a decision was taken not to do that because there was insufficient evidence at the appropriate time. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence, which, I suspect, he does not, perhaps he will give it to the proper authorities.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 28 April.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children holds its annual general meeting tomorrow? Will she join me in paying tribute to that organisation for the important and sensitive work that it undertakes on behalf of children? Furthermore, will she approach our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and give him every support and encouragement in introducing new ways to enable abused children to give evidence without added trauma?

I gladly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the NSPCC, which many hon. Members on both sides of the House have supported for many years. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will issue a paper next month on the use of video and other evidence to enable children better to give evidence about what happened in their case.

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read yesterday's edition of The Independent and the serious allegations that are contained therein? Can she give the House an explanation of why the Government are trying to cover up those matters rather than trying to investigate them, as they should do? Does the Prime Minister not realise that—

I am trying carefully to do that, Mr. Speaker. Does the Prime Minister not realise that she is giving the country the impression that the Government regard themselves as the beneficiaries of past MI5 mistakes?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, in spite of his attempt to get round it, that I have no ministerial responsibility for things that happened before I came to office. He will also be aware that there was a statement in the House that those events had been inquired into at the time, and that the previous Prime Minister, Lord Wilson associated himself at that time with the statement. He will be further aware that I have been the first to make statements on specific security matters when I have thought it proper to do so.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 28 April.

Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents and the many other people who live around the Severn estuary by saying that, at least as far as she is concerned, the substantial risks that are posed to the environment, industry, ports and public health from the threat of the Severn barrage will be overridden only if there is a clear and overwhelming national need for such a barrage?

The studies of the barrage by the Severn Tidal Power Group are supported by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Department of Energy. Those studies include environmental and regional issues and they will be discussed with all interested parties. Any future decision on the barrage will include consideration of all the relevant factors, including those two important factors.

The Prime Minister is undoubtedly aware of the turbulence and unease in the Province of Northern Ireland due to the increased terrorist activity of the Provisional IRA. She will now also be aware of the conclusions of the security conference that was held in Stormont castle last night. What new measures does she intend to introduce to combat the increased activity of the terrorists in the Province?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would and probably did join yesterday in condemning the vile and cowardly acts that took place against Lord Justice and Lady Gibson and other members of the security forces. I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and will continue to be in touch with him later this week. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that we do not make statements about extra security measures.