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Volume 128: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1988

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

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 meetings with Secretary Shultz and with King Hussein later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is she aware that because of the high nonattendance rate of patients, currently at 20 per cent., the waiting list for appointments at Sheffield's Hallamshire hospital ophthalmology, ear nose and throat clinic is now several months? That is typical. Is that something that my right hon. Friend will take into consideration during the review of the National Health Service?

I am aware that from time to time people who are called for operations do not turn up, for one reason or another. I hope that local health authorities will look into the matter. We shall, of course, have a wide-ranging review and take this into consideration. I know that some local health authorities, finding that this was a great trouble which caused operating theatre facilities and skills not to be fully used, established a list of people who could come in at short notice, and thus they have been able substantially to reduce their waiting lists and the time taken to have operations. That is a good practice.

Does the Prime Minister stand by her manifesto commitment to bring more help to low-income families?

Of course we stand by our manifesto commitment. It is only because of the excellent growth that has been achieved by the Government that we are able to do that.

How can the Prime Minister sustain that claim when her own Minister for Social Security and the Disabled admits that, as a consequence of the social security changes coming into effect next month, a family with one parent in work, earning £100 a week, will lose £10·15 in cash, a lone mother in full-time work earning £80 a week will lose £12·60 in cash and all families with one wage earner earning less than £140 a week will lose some money? Is this what the Prime Minister meant, when she spoke about helping low-income families?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the overwhelming majority of low-income families will gain — [Interruption.]— from the social security changes. I think the right horn. Gentleman is referring to a particular list, which depends very much on whether or not they pay average rent. Many people in low-income families do not.

Is that all that the Prime Minister has to say to scores of thousands of people who are working, who earn relatively low incomes and who have one or two children? Are not those the very people whom the Prime Minister tells to stand on their own feet? How can they do that when she is deliberately dragging them down?

We are far from deliberately dragging those people down. They have much better prospects now, and they have had much better prospects, with increased tax thresholds, which they did not have under Labour. I am delighted, therefore, that we have a new recruit to the cause of reducing tax rates.

Would my right hon. Friend care to tell the House how much low-income families have already benefited from the fact that tax allowances have gone up much faster than the rate of inflation?

Yes, Sir. We have put up the tax thresholds very much. That has been one of our priorities, as well as reducing the standard rate of income tax, all of which is very helpful, particularly to people on low incomes. I cannot go any further, for reasons of which my hon. Friend is well aware.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Northern Ireland Ministers plan to introduce legislation imposing certain penalties, including contract compliance and grant denial, on firms alleged to be guilty of job discrimination? Does the Prime Minister intend to extend that legislation to the whole of the United Kingdom to satisfy the grievances, complaints and allegations of various minorities here in England?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome all efforts to ensure that there is no discrimination. It should be a matter only of merit as to who gets a particular job and I hope that he will welcome that piece of legislation for Northern Ireland very warmly.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange to have a Health Minister visit the county of Shropshire to comprehend the importance of cottage hospitals to such an immense geographic area? At the same time, will she remind those who harp on about the level of hospital spending that the Government are financing the building of a £26 million giant hospital in the centre of the county? There is no cut in health spending in Shropshire.

I congratulate the district health authority, which has such excellent results. Since we announced a review of the Health Service we have been receiving details from a considerable number of authorities which say, "We have no cuts in ward services and no cuts in beds. We are not short of money because we are managing our resources well. We have excellent capital improvement, far better than we have ever had under any previous Government. We have more money, more staff, more doctors and more nurses."


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March 1988.

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

Is the right hon. Lady planning to find time in her busy schedule to see a playback of the recent "World in Action" film "The Taming of the Beeb", in which she is portrayed as responding to criticism by declaring that the BBC must put its house in order? In view of the recent poll showing that the BBC is now seen as a Government poodle, is she satisfied that it has put its house in order? Is she now planning to send a similar message to the Church of England, the Bar Council, the Law Society, the British Medical Association, the British Dental Association, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and Conservative peers?

I have great faith in both the chairman and deputy chairman of the BBC.

In view of the recent discussion about the effect of high wage settlements, will my right hon. Friend state whether it is now her view that high wage settlements are a cause of inflation, or a consequence of inflation?

High wage settlements allied to high increased productivity do not have any effect on inflation. It is not a question of a wage settlement, but of a wage settlement in relation to what is obtained for it, and I am sure that my hon. Friend is very much aware of that.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March 1988.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Europe without nuclear weapons would be very much at the mercy of the Soviet Union, particularly because of the Soviet Union's preponderance of and superiority in conventional and chemical weapons? Will she therefore give an undertaking to the House this afternoon that, when she goes to the NATO summit in Brussels at the end of this week, she will urge her colleagues not to negotiate on the question of nuclear weapons in Europe until, on the one hand, we have parity of conventional forces in Europe and, on the other hand, we have been able to obtain agreement to negotiate away chemical weapons?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that nuclear weapons will continue to play a vital part in our defence in deterring any potential aggressor. The history of two world wars shows that conventional weapons alone are not enough to deter war. I agree with my hon. Friend that after the coming 50 per cent. reduction in strategic ballistic missiles between the United States and the Soviet Union, the next arms control that should be negotiated should be to get conventional and chemical weapons down to parity. Only then should we return to consider nuclear weapons further.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

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

Following the explosion at Crossmaglen last night and the revelation by Sir John Hermon that surface-to-air missiles, provided by Libya, are now in the hands of the Irish Republican Army, does the Prime Minister agree that the best way to counter terrorism is through the strengthening and consolidation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does she also agree about the need to establish a joint security commission, and that justice and security must march hand in hand?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should continue to try to achieve increased security co-operation through the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and it is in the interests of those north of the border and in the interests of the Republic south of the border to do so. I do not agree that it would be wise to set up a security commission. I believe that justice north of the border is for the United Kingdom, and south of the border for the Republic.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that direct international flights into our regional airports are vital to the continued economic regeneration of those regions? Will she remind her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport that three American airlines have made new applications for flights into Manchester, and that those negotiations should not become buried in matters related to landing charges at Heathrow or any other matters that do not directly concern Manchester?

Yes, I agree that it is important, for the prosperity of regional airports and to ensure that there is not too much congestion in the south, that international flights fly straight into regional airports. My hon. Friend will be aware that we have been active in helping Manchester to get more international flights. Indeed, when I have been on overseas missions I have been active in trying to get more. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be seeing people tomorrow about the matter that my hon. Friend has raised.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Will my right hon. Friend take the time today to consider whether an amendment might be introduced to the Local Government Bill to prevent Haringey council giving grants to a bookshop which is selling a disgusting comic called "The Scum", which mocks the death of PC Blakelock, who was killed only yards from that shop on the Broadwater farm estate?

Many people would be utterly revolted that any such thing should be on sale, let alone on sale from a bookshop which received a grant from a local authority —

If the report is correct, many people, including, I hope, most Opposition Members, would be utterly revolted by that. What is certain is that measures in the Local Government Bill will strengthen the ban on party political propaganda at public expense and will require local authorities to take proper account of the publicity code of practice that will shortly be placed before Parliament for approval.

The Prime Minister has always taken every opportunity to condemn any act of terrorism, with the notable exceptions of the invasion of Grenada —[HON. MEMBERS: "Question".] — the support for the Nicaraguan Contras and, of course, the air raid on Libya, which was launched from Alconbury and Lakenheath. In view of the recent incontrovertible evidence of South African involvement in terrorism in Angola and other front-line African states, will the Prime Minister tell the House this afternoon whether that is a form of terrorism that she condones or condemns?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that one always condemns utterly terrorism and violence, wherever they occur. They are not a way of solving problems. He will also be aware that there are many peace movements under way in connection with Nicaragua. We wish them success.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 March.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that tax harmonisation, which is being aggressively pushed by the European Commission, is not necessary for Community free trade and that, in fact, more genuine free trade has existed between states with very different taxation systems? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that tax decisions affecting this country are taken by this House?

I agree with my hon. Friend that tax harmonisation in the European Economic Community is not necessary for the completion of the single market in 1992. With regard to VAT, there are two quite distinct cases, one under the existing law, which is a directive approved by the Labour Government in 1977 and which became the existing law of the Community—and there have been recent cases decided under that — and the other, which my hon. Friend raises, which is a possible change in the law. In this case I have made it absolutely clear that we should vote against any legislation which deprived us of the ability to make our own decisions on the future of zero-rating for value added tax. Any such change could not go through the European Council except with unanimity, so we would be in a position to determine our own future.