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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 10 December 1987

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

Northern Ireland

Rating Reform

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to publish proposals for a poll tax in Northern Ireland, including a proposed timetable for its introduction.

The Green Paper of January 1986, "Paying for Local Government", which forms the basis of the Great Britain reforms, made it clear that the proposals did not apply to Northern Ireland. That reflects the fact that local government arrangements in Northern Ireland are significantly different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend has therefore decided to monitor the development of the proposals in England and Wales before deciding whether, or to what extent, they should be applied in Northern Ireland.

If that reply is not an Irish joke, is it not at least an inversion of logic to suggest that one monitors what one does to 97·5 per cent. of the population before applying it to the remaining 2·5 per cent.? As all local government services of any note in Northern Ireland are now administered by central Government, and as central Government now collects all the local government rates in Northern Ireland, should not the poll tax have been applied first to the 2·5 per cent. and monitored, and then applied to the 97·5 per cent.?

I suggest that the position is eminently logical, as 90 per cent. of local government functions in the Province are carried out centrally rather than by district councils. In those circumstances, and when making a major change in the local government financial system, given that there is a completely different base for local government in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of Great Britain, it seems eminently sensible to monitor the change in Great Britain.

Labour Statistics

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the current level of unemployment in Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Peter Viggers)

At 8 October 1987, the latest date for which unemployment figures are available, there were 124,701 unemployed claimants in Northern Ireland, representing 18·2 per cent. of the working population. Compared with the same period last year, that is a decrease in unemployment of almost 6,000.

Is it not a scandalous reflection of the failure of the Government's economic policies for the United Kingdom as a whole, and Northern Ireland in particular, that nearly 20 per cent. of adults in Northern Ireland are unemployed? Does that not contribute to the maintenance of the secretarian divide, because there are two and a half times more male adult unemployed Catholics than there are Protestants? When does the Minister expect the Government's economic policies to start working to produce some jobs in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom?

As regards unemployment generally, Northern Ireland is now benefiting from the general upturn in the economy of the United Kingdom. If I may amplify my earlier figures, unemployment is now down by 900 a month over a three-month average. We regard that as satisfactory, and the signs are that it will continue. Of course, it is still too high, and we are doing everything that we can to reduce it.

As for the level of sectarian distinction between the Catholic and Protestant communities, we accept that having two and a half times as many Catholics as Protestants unemployed is unacceptable, and we propose to introduce legislation as soon as possible on that point.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the largest numbers of employed people in Northern Ireland are in agriculture? Does he also agree that if the so-called remedies from Europe are applied to Northern Ireland agriculture they will have a very adverse effect on Northern Ireland's family farms? Will he declare the devastated areas of Northern Ireland disaster areas in order to give short-term employment?

The Government have been active in remedying the damage by flooding and in assisting those people who suffered damage. On the general issues, it is not possible for Northern Ireland to stand aside from the main trend within Europe. It is necessary for this to be handled on a European Community basis rather than on a Northern Ireland basis.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that in Northern Ireland a Catholic is two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than a Protestant. If we are to solve this problem, we must tell the truth about it. The unemployment problem in Northern Ireland as it stands today cannot be laid entirely at the feet of the Government. As the New Ireland Forum said in its document "The cost of violence", the paramilitary campaign of violence by the Provisional IRA over the past 20 years has directly cost 39,000 jobs in manufacturing industry between 1970 and 1980, and there are only 90,000 people employed in Northern Ireland in manufacturing industry. That campaign has caused £11 billion worth of damage to the economy of Ireland, north and south. If that money were floating around in the economy, fewer people would be unemployed. If we are to tackle the problem of discrimination, we must do it on all fronts, not just on some. We need fair employment laws, but we also need inward investment in the areas of high unemployment in Northern Ireland.

I strongly support the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman's points. If we were merely to remove unemployment from one area and allocate it to another, we would not be doing a good service to Northern Ireland. We need further investment in Northern Ireland, leading to further jobs. I endorse and support the hon. Gentleman's activity in promoting investment in his part of Northern Ireland and in the rest of the Province.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Anglo-Irish Agreement provides the best opportunity to solve many of these problems? Does he further agree that the steps that will be taken to introduce that legislation—which will be agreed between the Government and the Government of the Irish Republic — will provide an equitable basis on which to improve the ratio in favour of fairer employment opportunities for Catholics?

It is this Government's duty to bring forward the legislation, and we hope that it will have broad support within Northern Ireland.

Does the Minister agree that one of the causes of unemployment in Northern Ireland is the IRA's vicious campaign of threats and murder against business men and workers? Will he explain to the House what steps are being taken to improve that unacceptable situation?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other ministerial colleagues are working hard to improve the political and security climate. My narrow area of responsibility is the economy. If we can improve the quality of investment and the level of employment in Northern Ireland, that will make a contribution to Northern Ireland generally.

Given that nine further states in the United States are proposing to introduce legislation on the MacBride principles and bearing in mind the question mark that that puts over further investment in Northern Ireland, is it not in the interests of the Government to publish early their White Paper showing how far they embrace the recommendations of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights? Is it not also important for the Government to state precisely their attitude towards the goal of reducing the ratio of unemployment of Catholic and Protestant males from 21/2:1 to 11/2:1 over five years? If the Government are unable to accept that goal, will they say why not? If the Government say that they seek to improve the situation in other areas rather than in some, can the Minister tell us the areas in which he hopes to have that improvement and the number of jobs that will be involved?

We are giving the most urgent and careful consideration to the proposals of the Standing Advisory Commission and we intend to bring forward proposals for legislation very soon. If we were to react too quickly, the hon. Gentleman would be the first to say that we had not given careful consideration to the commission's proposals. I hope that when, in due course—it will be soon—the proposals are put before the House, they will have the support of the hon. Gentleman.

Universities (Research Places)

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to fund an increase in the number of research places available to postgraduate students at Queen's University and the University of Ulster; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

On 30 November 1987 I announced a new "Distinction Awards" scheme designed to attract to the Northern Ireland universities postgraduate students of the highest ability. Under the scheme, the Department of Education will fund up to 20 additional research awards each year tenable at the Queen's University of Belfast or the University of Ulster. Each award holder will receive £2,000 per annum in addition to the normal postgraduate award.

That is welcome news. May I ask my hon. Friend for his assurance that the extra places will be allocated fairly across the religious divide? I should declare an interest: I am a Catholic married to an Irish Protestant.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the welcome that he has given to the proposals. I assure him that there will be no religious discrimination whatsoever in the giving of the awards.

Joint Educational Projects

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make available more resources to enable schools from different religious backgrounds to undertake joint educational projects; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to make further resources available. On 14 September I announced the availability of an extra f200,000 for new initiatives in cross-community contacts. The scheme, which is directed at young people under the age of 19, has already encouraged those working in this field to submit 65 applications for grant from the special fund.

I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in welcoming the previous decision and hoping that the future will see more resources allocated. Already too many children grow up in an atmosphere of prejudice in Northern Ireland and become fuel and recruits for terrorist organisations. If the problems of Northern Ireland are to be solved, is it not necessary to find ways to increase contact between young people in that troubled Province?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support and I entirely endorse the sentiments that he has expressed. It is important that we should find ways to bring the people of the Province together, to foster their relationships and understanding of their differences, and to ensure that those differences do not become points of division later in life.

Does the Minister accept that in answer to the previous question he may have uncon-sciously given a wrong impression—

It will indeed relate to the question, but I must put on record that the tertiary—

Does the Minister accept that joint community education imposes tremendous responsibility on the voluntary schools system to teach even civics, which would allow us to move together as people and as a nation, rather than have two separate identities? Will he acknowledge that the separation and division are at that level of education rather than at the tertiary level, as implied earlier?

I certainly endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. If I gave any impression in an answer given from the Dispatch Box that there is division at the tertiary level, that is quite untrue and it was not my intention. I do not think that I gave that impression, but if I did it was not intended.

Part of the reason for the project in secondary schools is to explore ways in which schoolchildren from the two communities can be brought together to carry out joint projects, so that they will have an opportunity to learn together and about each other. The idea is that the absence of money should not hinder the bringing together of our young people in special projects.

Is it not time to end the religious apartheid in education in Northern Ireland? Both education systems, which are supported by the taxpayer, divide youngsters from the earliest age, even from kindergarten, when they should be learning to live and play together and getting to know each other, so that Northern Ireland will have a future.

There will be much support for the sentiment expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and I take careful note of what he has said.

I welcome what the Minister has said and his speech on the establishment of the community relations unit, but what progress has been made to assist Hazelwood college? Does he agree that integrated education should be actively promoted, especially in his discussions with members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy?

I have had a meeting with representatives of the governors of Hazelwood college in the past few days. We have agreed jointly that I will reach a decision on their application to become grant-aided in the first half of next year. That decision is acceptable to the governors and to me. It will give them an opportunity in the meantime to increase numbers in the school.

With regard to integrated education, the Government see a role—perhaps even a marginally increased role—for integrated schools in the Province. It is not part of my responsibility or intention to do anything that would make the development of integrated education within the law and the constraints that we all know apply more difficult than it is at the moment.

Will the Minister bear in mind that when the project got off the ground in Enniskillen the parents were kept completely in the dark? The children were told that they were having a holiday and no parents were consulted. As the Roman Catholic Church runs its own schools in Northern Ireland, will the Minister give a categorical assurance to the Protestant community that there will be consultation with the parents of all Protestant children and that they will have the right to say yes or no to any such project, just as the Roman Catholic Church has already said no to integrated education?

I am not quite sure to what specific event the hon. Gentleman is referring. I want to make it clear that the scheme is entirely voluntary. People are invited to apply for money for projects if they wish to do so. The initiative does not lie with me. I am not forcing anyone to do anything, and I am not applying pressure. I am responding to what I identify as demand in the community for people to be allowed to come together and to do things together. That is good, and I am willing to finance it for the future of Northern Ireland. There is no sense in which anyone is being allowed to exercise a veto. It will be for the schools, parents and pupils to decide for themselves.

We are all pleased to hear the Minister say that he wants to bring both communities together and to provide finance for that. How does he square that with the view of the Department of Education, as expressed in a letter to a constituent of mine on 22 October.

"there is no need in Northern Ireland for teachers who specialise in Multicultural Education."
That is the view of the Department of Education. Is it the Government's view? If not, what steps do the Government intend to bring forward to reverse that policy decision?

The hon. Gentleman has a slight semantic difficulty. There is no great need for teachers in multicultural education in Northern Ireland because 'we do not have a multicultural society in the sense in which that term is understood in England. Society in Northern Ireland is divided on religious grounds. The policy of the Department of Education is of education for mutual understanding. As hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies will be aware, I have been increasing pressure on training schools in the matter of education for mutual understanding in general. I believe that it is very difficult for teachers to teach about the other community if they have no experience of that other community. We are strongly and firmly committed to education for mutual understanding, but we do not have a multicultural society in Northern Ireland.

Does the Minister agree that apartheid in education does not exist in Northern Ireland, but that there is the exercise of parental choice? Does he also agree that the voluntary sector embraces both the Catholic and Protestant community and state schools? Does he accept that there is ample opportunity for inter-religious communicational projects between schools if proper encouragement is given, and will he ensure that his Department encourages such intercourse in the immediate future?

The hon. Gentleman will know that last April I announced that a new policy on parental choice would come into effect in our schools in September 1988. This has been widely welcomed, not least by parents, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his additional support.

As for bringing people together, the hon. Gentleman will have noticed that, at the educational level aimed at the under-19s, the Government have much increased their determination to try to achieve that very desirable goal. I should be grateful for the hon. Gentleman's help, and that of his hon. Friends and other right hon. and hon. Members in Northern Ireland, in doing what they can to encourage our young people to spend more time contacting one another, and less time drifting apart and causing social or perhaps other and worse problems in the future.

Security

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the effect of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about cross-border security co-operation.

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Since 23 November a major security operation has been mounted by the Irish security forces, supported in Northern Ireland by the RUC and the Army, which has resulted in a number of important arrests and some finds of explosives and munitions.

Since I last answered questions in the House on 12 November, two civilians have died in sectarian attacks. The security forces have continued their determined and courageous work. So far this year 431 people have been charged with serious offences, including 27 with murder, while 247 weapons, approximately 18,000 rounds of ammunition and nearly 13,000 lb of explosives have been recovered.

In addition, the Garda Siochana has recovered, up to the end of October, 123 weapons, 10,000 rounds of ammunition and some 4,000 lb of explosives. That does not include a product of the recent search operation, which I understand will be announced this afternoon. It included 50 weapons and four bunkers which are believed to have been for storage of possible shipments.

Recent events north and south of the border have emphasised most clearly the vital need for both Governments to co-operate closely in the defeat of terrorism throughout the island of Ireland.

While thanking the Secretary of State for his answer, may I point out that the linking of the two other questions with mine is not quite correct? I am grateful for his information about the security position, and I deplore the terrible events that have occurred. However, my question is quite separate from the orthodox questions on security, which could well have been asked before the Anglo-Irish Agreement question. What I have asked in the question is what effect the right hon. Gentleman thinks that agreement has had on security. I am anxious that his answer should convey to me that, as I hope, the present accelerated rate of killing is temporary and will settle down.

With respect, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer.

At the start of my answer I drew attention to what I believe is the most significant security operation ever conducted within the Republic of Ireland. It was conducted in the closest co-operation and preparation with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army north of the border. It is the most tangible and obvious demonstration of the close security co-operation that is absolutely vital if we are to defeat terrorism, which is now so clearly perceived as the evil that it is for both communities, north and south of the border.

Despite the promising words from Dublin after the Enniskillen atrocity, is my right hon. Friend aware of the scepticism about the full political will of the Irish Republic to defeat terrorism, when it still withholds the direct contact of its armed forces with those of the United Kingdom? What is being done about that?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not wish in any way to encourage scepticism on the subject. Rather, he will wish to do all that he can to work for the closest possible co-operation. His knowledge, which is profound, of the circumstances of the island of Ireland will make him well aware of the vital importance—given the difficulties posed by the border and the two jurisdictions—of close co-operation. I assure him of our commitment to achieving the closest and most effective co-operation in working with the Government of the Republic.

Given the failure to discover the Libyan ground-to-air missiles that are known to be concealed in the Irish Republic, will the Secretary of State make representations to ensure that British aircraft using Dublin airport are afforded the same protection as that given at Shannon airport to Russian aircraft on their way to Cuba?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to discuss the particular detail of this matter across the Floor of the House. We are anxious to respond effectively to any problems that may face us.

What could be worse for the image of Northern Ireland than the appalling sight of sectarian killings, which make it look like Sicily or Don Corleone's New York? How can anybody with an ounce of decency continue with such horror, particularly after Enniskillen?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. There are evil tendencies among some extremes of the population in Northern Ireland that are all too easily inflamed. A heavy responsibility lies on everybody, whatever position they are in—particularly those in any position of responsibility or representational position—in Northern Ireland to do everything that they can to ensure that no such passions are aroused and, rather more, that they are condemned.

Does the Secretary of State recall the seemingly inevitable confusion that attended the recent application for the extradition of Paul Anthony Kane, which received the customary misdirected criticism? Will the Secretary of State say why errors on warrants continue to bedevil the system?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the circumstances of the matter and that I am unable to comment on something that is sub judice.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is the duty of all hon. Members and parties in the House to give the security forces — the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Army — unequivocal support in their fight against terrorism? Will the Secretary of State comment on the fact that the five members of the SDLP including the chairwoman, who is a justice of the peace, clearly and definitely voted against such support when a resolution was put to Magherafelt district council?

I am unfamiliar with the terms of the motion, but, without entering into the detail of the case, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. It is the responsibility of everyone who is determined to defeat the evil of violence and terrorism to give total support to the RUC and the security forces in the tough challenge that they face.

I listened to the Secretary of State's comments about the security position in the Irish Republic, for which he seemed to be claiming some degree of responsibility. Will he say what he has done since he last answered questions in the House to improve progress in the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland, for which he is totally responsible?

I certainly was not seeking in any way to claim responsibility for the search operation in the Irish Republic. I should make it clear that we sought to give them every support. The security forces put themselves at some risk and suffered casualties in their support of that search. With regard to the work that is continuing and the activities that are progressing, I am unable to discuss in detail a number of the steps that I have been taking, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are totally committed to that work.

In which other countries of Europe does Her Majesty's Government have less satisfactory arrangements for extradition than with the Republic of Ireland?

With no other country in Europe do we have the system of the backing of warrants, which is an important point to recognise in this regard. If the point that my hon. Friend is making concerns the vital nature of an effective, speedy and fair extradition process, I can assure him that we are committed to that. There is a later question on the Order Paper on this subject, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to work to that end.

Following the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), will the Secretary of State please confirm that my party is the only one from Northern Ireland represented in this House that has no association of any description, and never has had, with any paramilitary or violent organisation?—[Interruption.]

Furthermore, will he confirm that the hon. Member in question and his leader—[Interruption.]

Furthermore, will he confirm that the hon. Member in question and his leader have on many occasions been seen in the streets with masked men, taking salutes from masked men, and using paramilitary organisations when it suited them? May I restate for the benefit of the House that my party fully and unequivocally supports the security forces in seeking out anybody who commits a crime in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I have noted, and the House will have noted, the categorical statement of the hon. Member. But what his intervention has clearly brought home to the House is that, of all things at this time—and I say it to hon. Members in all quarters of the House—what Northern Ireland needs is people who try to reduce differences, who try to build cooperation, and not those who seek the whole time to exploit division.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we on the Opposition Benches welcome the great improvement in cross-border security evidenced in the past few days and salute the work of both the forces of the Republic and our own in Northern Ireland, and the degree of cooperation which they have shown over those exercises? But will he also recall—going back to the earlier statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) — that one of the provisions of the agreement was the securing of greater confidence in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland? Is he yet in a position to announce any further steps in that direction and, in particular, as it hits mostly the poor of both communities, is he yet in a position to say whether the Government are prepared to repeal the Payments for Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971?

I cannot comment on the latter point, which the hon. Gentleman bowled in rather unexpectedly, but I will certainly look into it.

The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the vast improvement in cross-border security co-operation, and that is what we are striving for. I have never concealed from the House the very considerable task that lies ahead of us. The very exercise that he referred to, the scale of the search and the problems of what actually emerged from the search, leave some very difficult questions to be answered and still pose a considerable challenge to the security forces, both north and south of the border. It is certainly a good start, but I do not underestimate the scale of the job that has now to be done.

One of the benefits of the Anglo-Irish Agreement—I use the term advisedly—was that in times of emergency police forces on both sides of the border could cross it in hot pursuit of a criminal. Has any agreement to that effect been signed, and have any incidents taken place recently?

Not on that specific matter, but there are certain understandings of the ways in which co-operation can take place and certain arrangements that can be made, so that the security forces can give extremely close support in that sort of incident.

Police Authority

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had with the chairman of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland; and what matters were discussed.

My right hon. Friend last met the chairman of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland on 23 November to discuss matters relating to the authority's responsibilities. The details are confidential.

Following that discussion, will the Minister give an assurance that the Army uniforms, which were apparently supplied by Mr. Frank Turner of QED to the RUC for cash and sent to Northern Ireland in an unmarked lorry, were not, and will not at any time, be used by RUC personnel or others to pose as British service men?

The hon. Gentleman has tabled a considerable number of written questions about that matter. I hope that he will wait until we give the answers to them.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, since 1965, 733 people have been extradited to Great Britain from the Republic of Ireland and 158 from the Republic of Ireland to the north of Ireland, giving a total of 891? Given the views of the Chief Constable of the RUC about extradition—

The views of the Chief Constable of the RUC on this issue are very important. In the light of his views and the figures that I have given, is the view that Britain is a less-favoured nation in respect of extradition very inaccurate?

The Government attach profound importance to the fact that there should be no hiding place for terrorists either north or south of the border and that extradition arrangements must reflect that policy.

Is the Minister aware that the spirit of rapprochement, generated as a result of the atrocity in Enniskillen among ordinary people, is being dissipated by sectarian killings? Will he make it clear to the chairman of the Police Authority that we must do everything possible to get people to support the police and to reduce the number of unemployed in Northern Ireland by encouraging them to join the police force? I ask the Minister to appeal to the people of Northern Ireland fully to support the security forces.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we make that appeal at every possible opportunity. It is of profound importance that the entire community gives every support to the security forces. That is a fundamental requirement and we shall continue to make that point clear at every opportunity.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether, when he had talks with the chairman of the Police Authority, he discussed the fact that none of the SDLP representatives have ever called upon their people to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment or the British Army? Will he remedy that position by calling upon them now to do so, after the attack on the Ulster Democratic Unionist Members, when their own leader refused to talk to the Unionist party leadership and chose to talk to the IRA?

It is the Government's clear policy that the security forces in the Province, whether the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the Ulster Defence Regiment, should be open to people from both communities. We wish to see the strongest representation from representatives of all religious denominations in the security forces in the Province.

Anglo-Irish Agreement

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the progress of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

We are making worthwhile progress in our work under the agreement and are giving particular priority to our aim of enhancing security co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. The agreement has great potential to benefit all in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all those who believe in the Union should support the Anglo-Irish Agreement in that the agreement is a guarantee from both Ireland and Britain that the status of Northern Ireland will never be changed against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland?

That assurance of the principle of consent is at the heart of the agreement. It is very important indeed, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend, even in his present condition, for his support.

Extradition

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the extradition of terrorists from the Republic of Ireland to the United Kingdom, in the light of recent problems in this area.

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the implications for his policy on seeking extraditions from the Republic of Ireland of the new extradition arrangements agreed by the Irish Government.

We welcome the Irish Government's decision to ratify the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. We note, however, that they have now introduced further procedural steps in the hacking of warrants process. We are naturally concerned that these should not impede the extradition arrangements within these islands, and we welcome the Taoiseach's commitment to review them if they are not working satisfactorily.

In the light of the Prime Minister's statements in the House on several occasions, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government believe that the regulations put in by the South of Ireland Government inhibit rather than help the extradition of terrorists, which is not helpful in the fight against terrorism? When will the British Government call for the extradition of Owen Carron?

Obviously, I am not prepared to comment on individual cases, but on the general matter I have made clear our views on the importance of effective extradition arrangements and our commitment to work for those in the defeat of terrorism.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that many Conservative Members are bitterly disappointed with the new extradition arrangements, because they will give precisely the wrong signal to the Loyalist community. In reality, will the new arrangements make any difference, or produce any obstacle, to the extradition of terrorists?

We have made clear our concern about the inclusion of the role of the Irish Attorney-General and the problems that that could cause. We are obviously anxious to ensure—and we hope— that our fears are not well founded, and we shall be working closely with, and making our representations clear to, the Irish Government to try to ensure the most effective arrangements possible.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

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.

Are we to have a statement before the Christmas recess on what action, if any, is to be undertaken to deal with the present acute crisis in the National Health Service? When beds are not available for young children, as at the Children's hospital in Birmingham, and when at the Queen Elizabeth hospital cancer and kidney patients continue to wait for beds, what evidence is there, if any, that the NHS is safe in the right hon. Lady's hands?

If the hon. Gentleman had been here when I last answered questions, he would have heard of the enormous number of operations that are now taking place—about 2,360,000 a year; of the 6·5 million inpatients a year in hospital; and of something like 38 million out-patient attendance in hospitals. He would also have heard of our excellent record on perinatal mortality, which means that some 3,000 babies are now surviving who would not have survived some 10 years ago.

Has my right hon. Friend, during her busy schedule, observed that, for the first time, the miners have now produced 4 tonnes per manshift, and that is double the production during the time of Lord Robens? Is that not partially attributable to the wise policies conducted by Her Majesty's Government?

It is very good news from the viewpoint of the miners and it shows how ridiculous is the overtime ban. It also shows the Government's wisdom in their excellent investment in mining equipment.

In an unprecedented statement this week, the presidents of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons, and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said—I shall use their word — that there is a deep financial "crisis" in the National Health Service. Does the Prime Minister agree with them?

No, Mr. Speaker. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, spending has gone up enormously on the National Health Service. Spending on the family practitioner services has gone up by 43 per cent in real terms since the last Labour Government. It has gone up by 26 per cent. in real terms on hospital and community services. Capital spending on hospital and community services has gone up by 42 per cent. Indeed, the Government's record on health services far exceeds that of any other. As I have indicated to the right hon. Gentleman, expenditure on health services will continue to increase further.

The House and the country will note that the Prime Minister rejects the advice of the presidents of the royal colleges. Is that not further evidence that she is suffering from incurable complacency as well as untreatable arrogance in these matters as in many others? Following her litany of figures, may I say, in the words of Sir Raymond Hoffenberg, the president of the Royal College of Physicians:

"We know we will be hit by all the statistics … but the basic fact is that we are spending less on our health service than any other developed European country. The bottom line is that we had a service which was the envy of the world which we ran very cheaply. We are now trying to run it too cheaply."
The statement says:
"In spite of the efforts of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, patient care is deteriorating."[Interruption.]
The House and the country are listening to those boos, when the Presidents of the royal colleges, are saying:
"Patient care is deteriorating. Acute hospital services have almost reached breaking point. Morale is depressingly low."
Does the Prime Minister not think that that is a crisis?

No, Mr. Speaker. Had the right hon. Gentleman listened to the figures, I would have thought that he would commend the Health Service on the excellent work that it is doing. I gave the annual figures for in-patients, for out-patients, and for operations. May I also point out that the Government have increased the proportion of the GNP spent on the National Health Service from 4·8 per cent. under the last Labour Government to 5·5 per cent. Not only has the GNP gone up, but the proportion spent has also gone up in real terms. Other countries are able to devote more to health care services because more is contributed privately, both from private insurance and from families' pockets. If the doctors think what they have written, they must be very thankful that there is not a Labour Government in power.

In the 40-year history of the National Health Service the presidents of the royal colleges have never found if necessary to speak to any Government in the terms that they have spoken to the Prime Minister's Government. Can she not learn from that, or from the evidence of patients, nurses and other professions in the National Health Service? When Mr. Ian Todd, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons says:

"Managers are telling surgeons to do less work to balance the books."
does she not recognise that she is responsible for setting lives against sums? What will she do about it?

Order. How can the Prime Minister possibly answer with all this noise going on?

In the 40 years of the NHS there have never been more patients treated, whether as inpatients or out-patients. There have never been more accident and emergency cases treated. There have never been more heart bypass operations or hip replacements —[Interruption.] Of course hon. Gentlemen will interrupt, because they cannot bear to hear the facts.

There are more cataract operations, more bone marrow transplants, more kidney transplants, more cervical smear tests, more people treated for kidney transplants and for chronic renal failure. —[Interruption.] Opposition Members will shout because they cannot bear the fact that the Government have a far better record than they have ever had. With regard to the future, if the Leader of the the Opposition had listened to me earlier he would have heard that next year spending on the NHS will increase by £1·1 billion. I mentioned that figure because I have heard Labour Members on the radio suggesting that an extra £200 million would do the task. Next year there will be an extra £1·1 billion—five times as much.

Bearing in mind that the demands for health care are never-ending and the fact that private spending on health care in this country is among the lowest in Western Europe, does my right hon. Friend believe that the time has come to introduce tax relief for individuals who take out health care insurance?

No. It is more important to leave people to make their own decisions about what they do with their money than to increase reliefs for a particular sort of expenditure.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

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

Irrespective of the statistics that the Prime Minister throws out, and irrespective of the light attitude that she has adopted towards the statement from the Royal College of Surgeons, will she take notice of the National Association of Health Authorities, which reported that the hospital service is £200 million underfunded? Will she give an assurance to the House that the much needed increase in nurses' pay will not have to be found from the existing area health budgets?

The hon. Gentleman has given the figure of £200 million which I mentioned earlier. I have already told him that next year the increase going to the NHS will be £1·1 billion. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the previous Labour Government slashed the NHS programme. They cut new hospitals by one third, cut capital spending for two years running and, having supported a strike against patients, presided over an increase in waiting lists of 250,000, to record levels under Labour.

On the matter of those employed in the Health Service, nurses in particular, and the community charge, will my right hon. Friend confirm that among the options which she and her right hon. Friends considered as a replacement for the present unfair and outdated system was capital valuation, coupled with a local income tax? Does she agree that that would bring hardship and chaos to every individual and their families, and that the Labour party, whose policy it is, is discredited for having pursued it?

Capital valuation would have been infinitely worse than even the present basis of valuation. A local tax, similar to a local income tax, would put an even heavier burden on those who pay income tax and would mean that the amount they had to pay would be greatly in excess of a community charge.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

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

Instead of burying her head in 10-year-old NHS statistics and repeating them like a cracked record, what would the Prime Minister say to Adrian Woolford, a seven-year-old Coventry lad, who has waited two years for a heart operation? What would she say to the parents of Chintu Kumar, a one-day-old baby, who died after a 100-mile dash from Coventry to Liverpool because half of Birmingham children's hospital beds were closed? What would she say to the parents of dozens of kids in the midlands who, tomorrow night, will meet midlands Members about the crisis? She might be able to buy her health and the health of her kids, but our families cannot. Does she not care?

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that the statistics that I give are not out of date but are updated. The number of bypass operations, cataract operations and many other operations that are now performed on children could not have been performed 10 or 15 years ago. The number of nurses on paediatric work has greatly increased over and above what it was under Labour, and the number of paediatricians is also up. Services are rapidly increasing. Under this Government, not only have we had a great increase in the gross national product, but we have devoted an increasing proportion to the National Health Service, and the amount of care far exceeds that which occurred under Labour or anything that could ever occur under Labour.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 10 December.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to consider a survey that was published by the Department of Trade and Industry? It shows that of the 300 foreign-owned companies in this country 90 per cent. said that industrial relations had improved in recent years, and that 96 per cent. said that the performance of their British subsidiaries was equal to or better than that of their foreign-owned subsidiaries. Is that not yet another endorsement of the Government's policy?

Yes, it is excellent news. The success of this Government and the response of people to their policies are being recognised the world over. That is good news for everyone in this country.

Given the Prime Minister's concern for independent companies, will she spend some time today considering the implications of British Petroleum's likely doubling of its shares in Britoil? Britoil is an independent company in Scotland. Given that that company employs so many people in Scotland and that the smell of the Guinness takeover still lingers in the nostrils of the people of Scotland, will she assure us that. first, the Government will use their golden share to protect Britoil and, secondly, that they will use every opportunity to safeguard against insider dealing?

Insider dealing is a matter of the criminal law. It is not a matter for me. With regard to I3P's purchase of shares in Britoil, I understand that it is a commercial transaction, and it is not for us to interfere.