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Volume 128: debated on Thursday 25 February 1988

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

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.

I recognise that my right hon. Friend, in her pre-eminent position as First Lord of the Treasury, will not share any Budget secrets with the House today. Nevertheless, will she confirm that she has impressed on her right hon. Friend the Chancellor that the experience of the last nine years shows that there is nothing contradictory or irreconcilable about raising tax thresholds, lowering tax rates and increasing public expenditure, notably on the National Health Service, in the sensible and prudent way that we have done and that we discussed last night? Is it not a fact that a low-tax economy increases incentive and productivity and ultimately leads to a higher tax yield for the services that we all desire?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Lowering direct taxes is an essential part of getting the growth that we have seen over the last few years and therefore getting the resources to spend on such things as the National Health Service and increased nurses' pay. We also have to remember that nurses, too, pay income tax, and that when a nurse on £170 a week knows that she pays £46 a week in tax and national insurance contributions together she is not going to say that she wants taxes to be kept at that level. She would much prefer to have more net take-home pay through reduced taxation.

If the banning of organisations completely dedicated to securing peaceful change in South Africa does not make the Prime Minister stop her pathetic appeasement of apartheid, what will?

We do not appease apartheid in any way. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we spend considerable sums of money in helping black South Africans to get the education that some of them might otherwise not get, and on helping security in the front-line states. I wish to make it quite clear that I condemn the latest move by President Botha to suppress free argument and debate. It will be a great setback to the possibility of peaceful negotiations. However, the application of universal sanctions would not improve, but only make worse, a very difficult situation.

When the Prime Minister's words of condemnation are mocked by the Botha regime and held in contempt by the victims of that regime, is it not plain to everyone that those words deserve that contempt and encourage further repression by those in charge of apartheid? When Bishop Tutu says that South Africa is heading for war, and when her own Foreign Secretary says that he thinks that the latest bannings make violence more likely, why does she not convene the Security Council, press for comprehensive sanctions and make an effort that is really worth while?

We do not make a difficult situation any easier by adding to it starvation and poverty for those whom we wish to help.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Will my right hon. Friend condemn the actions of those head-in-the-sand trade union leaders in the National Health Service in Scotland who led the strike yesterday, against the interests of the patients who could benefit enormously from the extra funds that would become available if the Health Service in Scotland had the benefit of the privatisation of services that applies to the Health Service in England?

Yes. It was a political strike in Scotland yesterday on the part of the nurses. Competitive tendering in England has released some £100 million a year that will go direct to extra patient care. It is appalling that there are people in Scotland who would rather waste money than save it by competitive tendering, and thus have more money to spend on patient care. We utterly condemn that strike, which led to about 400 operations being postponed.

Will the Prime Minister explain to the House how the current cuts in the family planning provisions in the Health Service will save money in the long run, given that the likely result will be greater occupancy of maternity beds or more abortions?

I hope that those who need and want such advice will continue to take it. I do not believe that any changes would have the effect that the right hon. Gentleman says.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the murder last night of two members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the return of terror tactics to the centre of Belfast? Does she agree that if foreign Governments wish to look at the security forces in Northern Ireland, they also should look at the use of the bomb-to-kill policy of Republican terrorists?

It is a tragedy that two more members of the Ulster Defence Regiment were killed last night, bringing the number of the security forces killed in Northern Ireland this year to six, in addition to the 27 who were killed last year. I hope that those who seek to undermine or criticise the security forces will remember the merciless attacks to which they are subjected and be thankful for the work that they do.

Does the Prime Minister recall how, in the wake of the Enniskillen tragedy, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) urged her to agree

"that no one should use the terrible suffering of those people of Enniskillen for political reasons?"— [Official Report, 12 November 1987; Vol. 122, c. 558.]
Does she believe that the same restraint should now be shown in regard to the tragic shooting in Aughnacloy last Sunday? Does she agree that it is unjust, unhelpful and uncharitable for Cardinal O'Fiaich to preach in his pulpit that that incident was murder?

Northern Ireland has suffered a great deal of violence, and that violence is continuing. Some individual tragic incidents have come to the public notice more than others. Our task should be the same on both sides of the border —to do everything we can to increase security and reduce the violence, because it is aimed not only at Northern Ireland; it is fundamentally aimed at the future of democracy in the Republic of Ireland.

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind what happened in Belfast last night? She will appreciate how I feel today, when I say that one of those young men was a member of my church, engaged to a young lady who is a member of my church, and the last time I spoke to them was to arrange their marriage. The other young man who was murdered last night was from the same district. I ask her to have a word with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the circumstances of the killing. Is she aware that a hoarding erected by the Lang company obscured the vision of the patrol, preventing it from seeing what was happening in the Smithfield area? The patrol had made representations to its superior officers about this, and no action was taken. Will she see to it that the matter is thoroughly investigated and that young men who go on duty are listened to?

Yes, we understand how the hon. Gentleman feels. He may rest assured that we all feel the same way and express our sympathy to the families of those people, and to the families of those who were injured. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the hoarding. The matter is being thoroughly investigated. I echo the sentiment, which I know he feels, that men of the Ulster Defence Regiment are particularly brave. We really are very fortunate that, whatever happens in Northern Ireland, and whatever the number of tragedies, people are still prepared to volunteer to come forward to protect democracy.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in Scotland since the general election her party has lost 2 per cent. support, and it was very poor before the general election? Can the right hon. Lady tell us whether it is part of her Government's strategy that we must lose 7,000 jobs in the mining industry as the price of privatisation? Why did she bring in aid the brief supplied by the SSEB, when she knew perfectly well that the matter was about to go to the courts?

If one is interested in jobs, and we are—although I note that the Opposition support many strikes aimed at the destruction of jobs and at moving jobs elsewhere—one is interested in each and every industry being highly competitive and able to supply its material to other industries at a world competitive price as delivered to the power stations. I understand that the latter matter has now been set down for a date for hearing and, therefore, I can say nothing further.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in August 1986 the National Institute of Economic and Social Research forecast, for the calendar year 1987, growth of 1·8 per cent. and a PSBR of £11 billion? As it is now clear that growth in 1987 was 4·8 per cent. and there was no public sector borrowing requirement at all, will my right hon. Friend advise the Treasury to ignore the latest forecasts from the institute, except perhaps to advise it to buy a new computer?

Economic forecasting is, of course, notoriously difficult. I noticed an article in one of last Sunday's newspapers, which compared the actual forecasts with the outturn, and the forecasters did not come off very well. I have noticed the one to which my hon. Friend referred, but I think that it is now well understood and agreed that the most respected forecasts are those of the Treasury, and I am proud to be First Lord of it.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). Question No. 4.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

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

Does the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security that families should be urged to forgo a second holiday abroad to fund private health care, or does she join the Labour Benches in urging people to forgo a 1p reduction in tax to secure the health of the whole nation?

I am all for families being able to keep a bigger proportion of their own earnings, so that they can make their own choice.

Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the hospital matron was unique, in that she was able to deal with consultants and doctors, understood the needs of patients and nurses, and was at the same time able to keep a very careful eye on such basic items as bed linen and bandages? I ask the Prime Minister to look at the matter urgently and reintroduce this valuable post as quickly as possible.

Yes. I think that many members of the public regret that there is now no official post of hospital matron, because they believe that it kept up the standard of hospitals in a unique way. It is possible for the head nurse still to have that title in hospital, but that is not quite the same as a post. A number of people have the title. More local health authorities can have it if they so wish. It is a matter that we shall look at in our general review.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 February.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that thousands of pensioners who live in houses with community alarms and similar apparatus, including up to 300 in Sunderland borough, have been waiting months for the NTVLRO to make a decision about whether they qualify for concessionary licences? Will she speed up this process and, further, when she instructs the Chancellor of the Exchequer what to put in his Budget, will she make sure that he leaves some money so that these folk get what they deserve, a 5p licence for their television?

I will of course call the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to what the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) has said. It is not our policy to have 5p television licences for all old-age pensioners, as he knows, although that is the case in certain homes. Such a licence would only put the burden on all other television licence payers.