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Engagements

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 26 May 1987

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Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 March 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 this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a state banquet given by King Fand of Saudi Arabia.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when she goes to Moscow next week and raises human rights issues, with all-party support in this House, Britain's case will not have been helped by the extraordinary article in the Soviet press attacking Britian's record on human rights written by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? Would it not help if those remarks were immediately disowned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition?

I agree that it would, but if the right hon. Gentleman, who has used so extensively the liberties of this country over many years, finds that he can no longer tolerate them, I should be delighted to ask Mr. Gorbachev, on his behalf, for a resident's permit in the Soviet Union.

When did the Prme Minister first become aware of the Health Education Council's report — [Interruption.] —"The Health Divide: Inequalities in Health in the 1980s", which the chairman of that council attempted to suppress on Tuesday?

I first became aware of it when I read the newspapers this morning. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the report has not yet been endorsed by the chairman of the Health Education Council or by its members. The Government have not attempted in any way to prevent publication. The chairman of the council has emphasised that at no time did Ministers intervene.

I should have realised that the Prime Minister would be more interested in the political machinations than in the content of the report. Let me ask her about that. How does she justify the fact that, during her eight years in office, health inequalities have so increased and the health of the lower paid and unemployed has so deteriorated that the life expectancy of these people has been reduced?

I have indicated to the right hon. Gentleman that at no time did Ministers intervene to prevent the publication of that report. I do not know whether he has read it in full. I have not read it in full, but in view of what is in the newspapers this morning I had a quick look at it. Overall, health in the United Kingdom has improved steadily. Life expectancy continues to rise, infant mortality has fallen by one third since 1979, and the study found that every country experiences to a greater or lesser extent differences in health between regional, occupational and income groups.

I am not suggesting that Ministers wrote or even read the report. I am suggesting that they are responsible for the circumstances that the report reveals. Does the right hon. Lady understand that that report proves conclusively that there is a lower life expectation for men and women in the lower income groups than there was eight years ago, and that is the result of their deteriorating health prospects? In the light of that report, how can the right hon. Lady justify a system that does not concentrate resources on pensioners, on child benefit and on reducing unemployment? In the light of that report, how does the right hon. Lady justify a policy which, over eight years, has cut taxes by £50 a day for the best paid and will not provide £5 a week for the pensioners?

The Government have vastly increased support for the National Health Service—the right hon. Gentleman chooses to ignore this—from £7½ billion in the year when I went into No. 10 Downing street to £20 billion next year. Moreover, this Government have attempted to deal with regional health problems by a policy which was started by the last Government—the policy of re-allocation of National Health Service resources to those areas in greatest need. We London Members have occasion to learn that what we have given up has benefited the other regions.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the renewed reports that the Japanese Government intend to squeeze Cable and Wireless out of its planned investment in the Japanese telecommunications industry? What do the Government intend to do about that deplorable situation?

As my hon. Friend is aware, I wrote to Mr. Nakasone, the Prime Minister of Japan, on 4 March to express our interest in the Cable and Wireless bid. I have not yet had a reply—[Interruption.]

Order. Those hon. Members who were in the House yesterday will know that this is a matter of grave concern.

We see this as a test case of how open the Japanese market really is. I remind the House that we shall shortly have more powers. When, for example, the powers under the Financial Services Act 1986 and the Banking Bill become available, we shall be able to take action in cases where other countries do not offer the same full access to financial services as we do.

Will the right hon. Lady, on her visit to Moscow, on which we wish her well, raise three questions? First, on the comprehensive test ban treaty, in which we are a direct participant in the negotiations, will she explore the possibility of an interim agreement for a reduced number of tests at a much lower threshold? Secondly, on the 1977 treaty on the prevention of accidental use of nuclear weapons, will she build on article 4 and improve the direct communications between Downing street and Moscow? Thirdly, will the right hon. Lady raise with the Soviet Union the serious problems of the danger to shipping in the Straits of Hormuz, on which there should be united action and on which Soviet assistance in saying that the Iranian threat to shipping will be reduced internationally would be very helpful?

On the first matter, I have already made clear our view that there should be a step-by-step approach. I do not think that there is anything further to report. With regard to the 1977 treaty, it is possible that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary will deal with that matter with the Soviet Foreign Minister. On shipping, we are already very active in the Security Council of the United Nations. There must be no question ever of closing that sea highway to international shipping. We are already very much concerned to see what we can do. As for the other matters, I think that the right hon. Gentleman realises that there are even more important matters to raise in Moscow than those to which he has referred.

I wish my right hon. Friend well on her visit to the Soviet Union. If she raises the issue of human rights with Mr. Gorbachev, she will undoubtedly be told that that is an internal matter for the Soviet Union. Will the Prime Minister then make it clear to Mr. Gorbachev that to us in the West matters of human rights are the foundations of democracy, and that if he wants to deal with us he must understand that once and for all?

Yes. We will raise matters of human rights. I have had a tremendous number of names and personal cases submitted to me, but it is not only an internal matter. Ever since the Helsinki accords were signed we have had standing to inquire into these matters. If we are to get the reductions in nuclear weapons and other weapons that we seek and would wish to have, we will be able to have full confidence and trust in the Soviet Union only if we feel that the she treats her people more like we treat ours than is the case now.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 March.

Was the Prime Minister consulted before Austin Rover was instructed to hand over confidential information to Ford during the abortive merger last year, or did the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) feel confident that he already knew the Prime Minister's attitude to this act of industrial sabotage?

I believe that matters were handed over between the two companies on a reciprocal basis.