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Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 March 1988.

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.

Is the Prime Minister aware that not many days hence, in the month of April, there will be many cuts in social security, including, in particular, housing benefit? Does she realise that there are millions of people across this nation, in my constituency, and in Finchley, too, who will lose because of her Government's policies? Does she realise that many of those people are elderly and that during their working lives they made a massive contribution to the success of this nation? They were even prepared to give their lives for this country. I have a heart, and it has feelings. Has the Prime Minister a heart of stone?

With regard to housing benefit, after the changes have been made, the money spent on housing benefit will still be considerably higher in real terms than was expenditure to help with rent and rates in 1979. May I also point out to the hon. Member and to the millions to whom he referred that expenditure on social security this year, because of the very successful running of the economy, will be as high as £46 billion?

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the new £4 million maternity unit at the Ealing hospital, to be opened on 24 March? Will she note that in the current year the caring Ealing Labour council increased the rates on Ealing hospital by £299,000, but that rate capping by this Government will reduce those rates by £175,000 next year? What effect on treatment does she think that the additional rate bill of £299,000 imposed by the Labour council would have had?

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the development at Ealing hospital and in condemning the high-rating policy of the local authority, which has put up the rates on the hospital and placed great strains on its budget.

The Government's opposition to the execution of the Sharpeville Six is long-standing and well known. In further assertion of that opposition, will the Prime Minister make a direct personal appeal to the President of South Africa, asking him to grant an indefinite stay of execution for the Sharpeville Six, who are recognised by the trial and appeal courts not to have had any causal complicity in the death of the deputy mayor of Sharpeville?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Britain and other Western Governments have already urged the South African Government to exercise clemency in the particular circumstances of this case, to which he referred. In addition, my Office saw relatives of the Sharpeville Six this morning, as I know the right hon. Gentleman did. I have also spoken to Archbishop Tutu. Although it is not our normal practice to intervene in such cases, in the particular circumstances of this one, our ambassador in South Africa is speaking this afternoon to the South African Government to express my hope that President Botha will see fit, even at this late stage, to exercise the prerogative of mercy. I have made inquiries, and I understand that Chancellor Kohl will be making a similar appeal on behalf of the 12 Governments of the European Community, and I further understand that the United States Government will be making parallel representations in President Reagan's name.

May I thank the Prime Minister for that reply as a very positive step that she has taken in addition to the other actions that are afoot both at home and abroad. Could she possibly reflect further and consider the advantage of making a direct personal appeal to the President of South Africa? She need not give a final reply at this stage, although, plainly, time is tragically running out.

No. As I indicated to the right hon. Gentleman, our ambassador is speaking to the South African Government this afternoon to express my hope that President Botha will see fit to exercise the prerogative of mercy. That is the usual way to do it, and it is the way in which other pleas have been going in. Of course, they have to go to President Botha. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that everything possible has been done. I stress that it is because of the very unusual circumstances of this particular case, which he alluded to in his initial question.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the report in The Times this morning that the Government are considering abolishing the county councils, or say whether the Government intend to consider such a proposition?

Naturally, I will comment. It was news to me, but reading the newspapers gets more like a voyage of discovery of things that are not so, every day.

If, indeed, the South African regime goes ahead with these appalling executions, will the Prime Minister be prepared to think again on the question of sanctions?

No. Sanctions would not help in any way. They would only make matters a great deal worse for those whom the hon. Member, and most other hon. Members in the House, are seeking to help.

Has my right hon.Friend had time to study the latest immigration figures, which I understand show that immigration to the United Kingdom last year was at the lowest level for decades, and is she aware that this will be warmly welcomed by the British people?

I have not studied those figures, but I knew that they were down. I believe that that is in the interests of everyone in the United Kingdom, not least those who have previously been immigrants to this country and who now have a permanent right of abode here.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Government's social fund is so small that charities are being asked by the Department of Health and Social Security to prepare to give handouts to the poor and to pensioners on income support? Will the Prime Minister tell the House the level of income support for a pensioner over the age of 60; and could she live on that amount?

The social fund is of the order of £200 million. With regard to what the hon. Gentleman said, only where there are crisis loans will social fund officers by asked to consider any help that might be forthcoming from charities.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

Will my right hon. Friend find time to congratulate the Southern Vectis Bus Company on the Isle of Wight, which is the first of the privatised bus companies to purchase a municipal bus company from the Portsmouth city council? Does that not show that, like the Chancellor, the Isle of Wight is going along the route to a free enterprise culture, unlike the Opposition parties, who have either missed the bus or caught the wrong one?

I congratulate the Southern Vectis Company on its success in the private sector and I congratulate it on its enterprise. I understand that the matter of the Portsmouth purchase will be considered by my right hon. Friend.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Now that Mr. James Abra has been set free as part of Libya's general amnesty, thanks to individual Members here, will the Prime Minister respond in some way? Does she know, for example, that there are some 5,000 Britons working out there on all sorts of contracts and that many British companies do quite well? Does she also appreciate that Libyans are detained here and that they should be considered for parole? We know that the Prime Minister does not intervene in judicial matters, but, if that is not possible, why should not those individuals at least be given the right to serve out their sentences in their home country? Why should they not be given the right to go back to Libya to serve those sentences? [Interruption.] Even if the Prime Minister will not consider that —[Interruption.]—will she at least allow the parents of those prisoners the right to come to this country freely to visit them in prison? I say that remembering a certain individual who was lost in the desert.

In so far as I heard the hon. Gentleman's question, we welcome the release of Mr. Abra from prison as part of a general amnesty. The 5,000 British people who work in Libya do so at their own risk, knowing the circumstances in that country. Parole for prisoners here is dealt with as usual, and there are no exceptions to that rule. The possibility of serving sentences at home applies only to those countries that have signed the European convention. I do not think that that applies to Libya.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the decision of Nissan to build on its successful investment in the north-east and to locate its design centre in Britain? Does not that news and the announcement by Sanyo last week of 500 jobs in county Durham confirm the industrial revival of the northern region under the Government?

The north-east is doing much better. I know that my hon. Friend is a staunch champion of its future. We welcome Nissan's decision to put a design centre here. I am not quite certain where it is going, but, wherever it goes, its coming to this country will be due in large measure to the success of the Washington plant and the excellent relations between the management and the work force there.


To ask he Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 15 March.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that Mansfield colliery in my constituency will be closed in the near future, losing over 1,000 jobs in my constituency, despite the fact that millions of tons of coal exist in that colliery, to be dug out in the near future? Is she further aware that the colliery worked throughout the miners' strike and was loyal to her opinion on that strike? Is she aware that the closure is due to the price of coal in Britain today and to her refusal to subsidise coal prices in Britain? When will she act to subsidise coal prices on the world market so that our coal mines can compete, or at least ban the import of cheap foreign coal?

First, I am aware that the Mansfield colliery is closing. I understand that there will be no compulsory redundancies. With regard to what the hon. Gentleman said about subsidies, I must tell him that the subsidies by the British taxpayer to the National Coal Board are very considerable. Investment has been enormous—of the order of £2 million a day—to ensure that the industry becomes competitive, because in a competitive future will lie its strength and the future of jobs for people in the coal industry.

Will my right hon. Friend take time to ponder that under the policies of her Government we have saved £8,000 million in overseas debt interests, compared with the equivalent figure in 1979, which figure happens to be the combined budget for Scotland and Wales put together, or one third of the Health Service funding? Would she care to ponder on whether a Labour Government would have closed down Scotland and Wales and one third of the Health Service, or borrowed £8,000 million and beggared the country as a whole?

My hon. and learned Friend puts his point absolutely superbly. Under the Government we have borrowed less and have far more overseas assets, and Scotland is benefiting in the process.