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Engagements

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

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Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 March.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including the Prime Minister of Fiji and the Mayor of Shanghai. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

In view of the widespread concern about the poll tax in the country, and indeed on her own Back Benches, will the Prime Minister give serious consideration to withdrawing this deeply offensive legislation?

No. The community charge is a much fairer way of local people paying towards local authority expenditure than the present rating system. The community charge in England will meet only one quarter of local authority expenditure. About half is met by the taxpayer and a quarter by industry. In Scotland the community charge meets only one seventh of local authority expenditure.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the decision yesterday by the Royal College of Nurses to reaffirm its no-strike policy, on the basis that strikes damage patients? Does she agree that that contrasts starkly with the behaviour of some teachers in London. When they go on strike it damages only their own pupils.

Yes, It was a most encouraging result. Of course, that was the reason why the Royal College of Nurses was given a pay review body. The Royal College has never gone on strike, and I am glad that our faith in it was abundantly rewarded by the view that it took.

Will the Prime Minister make clear her personal opposition, and that of the Government, to British rugby players organising a visit to South Africa?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we stand by the Gleneagles agreement, under which we attempt to discourage teams from going to South Africa. I understand that the English Rugby Union is trying to dissuade people from going to South Africa. I am not aware that either the Scots or the Welsh have declared their view.

Will my right hon. Friend make it completely clear, in order to scotch rumour and media hype, that there is absolutely no difference of policy between herself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

My hon. Friend is correct. Both the Chancellor and I put downward pressure on inflation as the topmost priority. Both the Chancellor and I think that exchange rate stability can be very useful for industry.

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister is she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 March.

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

In her endeavour to re-establish the bonds of family life, has the Prime Minister ever given any consideration to the value of a wife? Is she aware that the Forestry Commission is trying to double the rent of the tied cottages of its New Forest keepers and is offering in compensation £2 per week for each keeper's wife? Given that the Forestry Commission pays the same keepers 45p a week for a ferret and £2·30 a week for a dog, should she not intervene?

I think the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Budget set out considerably to help wives by the changes made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the taxation of wives. We on this side value them extremely highly.

Will my right hon. Friend find time in her busy day to read the scandalous letter sent by the Hammersmith branch of NALGO to Sinn Fein accusing the Government of state terrorism in Northern Ireland? Will she urge the national executive of NALGO to take disciplinary action against those members involved, and will she affirm—

Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the actions of that NALGO branch?

Is the Prime Minister aware that Citizens Advice Bureaux case studies on the effects of her social security cuts show that a single pensioner home owner will lose £2 a week, a pensioner couple claiming income support can lose up to £18 a week, a pensioner on dialysis will lose £17 a week, and a doubly incontinent person claiming attendance allowance will lose £14 a week? Is that the way to treat sick and elderly people in the Britain of 1988?

I am not aware of which press release by the Citizens Advice Bureaux the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. Is it one that has come out recently? There was a recent Citizens Advice Bureaux press release that was based on a belief that there was a difference between the time when supplementary benefit was changed to income support and the increase in pension benefit came into effect. In fact, that is not so.

Why will the Prime Minister not answer any specific question on the social security changes? Why is she dodging around talking about press releases when she knows very well that what I refer to are specific case studies of real people who, despite their huge needs, will lose £14, £17 and £18 a week as a consequence of next week's changes? Is she ashamed of those changes?

I assumed that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about a Citizens Advice Bureaux press release which came out yesterday and which was based on a misunderstanding. Among other things, may I tell the right hon. Gentleman that the overwhelming majority of people will benefit, gain, from the improved social security benefits that will come out on 11 April? Some people on housing benefit will not gain because of the different arrangements about capital. It is absolutely futile for him to suggest that the Conservative party and the Government do not look after the needs of people on social security. It is absolutely futile, because not only are we already spending £44 billion on social security, but there is to be an increase of £2 billion next year. His questions are utterly futile and he cannot refute the facts.

That is all very well, but many sick and elderly people still stand to lose £14, £17 and £18 a week. Let me ask the Prime Minister the question again. Does she think that that is the way to treat anyone in this country?

The overwhelming majority of people will gain—and were designed to gain—from the increases in pensions, in disablement benefit and in sickness benefit. A few people will not gain. Apart from those on housing benefit, those who do not gain will be protected during the transition, in that their cash values will be protected. The overwhelming majority of us on this side of the House think it right that people who have capital of £6,000 should not be eligible for housing benefit, particularly as it is often paid by those who have none.

The Prime Minister does not even understand her own policies. According to her Government's figures, 60 per cent. of claimants will lose because of the structural changes. There are no transitional arrangements for new payments. Will she now tell the people of Britain whether she thinks that people on dialysis, old-age pensioners and single home owners should be losing money at all? She can talk about gainers. Should anybody on those incomes be losing anything at all?

An extra £2 billion is to be spent on social security next year, giving a total of £46 billion. The right hon. Gentleman referred to dialysis. Far more people are now receiving dialysis than ever were in his time.

When the right hon. Gentleman said that 60 per cent. of people were losing, I think that he was referring to the Citizens Advice Bureaux press release this morning, which was seriously misleading, because it got the date of the benefits uprating wrong. Almost everyone in this country is doing far better than he or she was in 1979.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in north-west Hertfordshire district health authority there have been two health cuts: a cut of 47 per cent. in the waiting lists under this Government, and a cut of £100,000 available for patient care as a result of a 17 per cent. rate increase applied by the Socialist-controlled Hertfordshire county council?

Yes, the overwhelming majority of people who are treated under the National Health Service have very good cause to be grateful, and are very grateful. Cuts in the Health Service came under the Labour party when it was in power.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 March.

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

When the right hon. Lady finds time to read the report by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, will she also read the report by the Policy Studies Institute, and by Oxford university, showing the impact of the Government's social security cuts on the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed? How will she then deal with the situation? Will she ask her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide funding for the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed, or will she instruct the appropriate Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security to arrange for them to take out second mortgages, or will she withdraw funding from the Citizens Advice Bureaux, the Policy Studies Institute and Oxford university?

Or will, perhaps, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his party move a motion to cancel all the increases, or do they in their heart of hearts believe that they are far better with the overwhelming majority? The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that they are far better. Otherwise, I challenge him to move a motion to cancel the increases.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 March.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission investigation into trade union restrictive practices is most welcome? Furthermore, does she agree that those practices, whether at Dundee or elsewhere, disadvantage British industry, increase costs, damage the interests of the British consumer and are damaging to the country's interests overall?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. All restrictive practices stifle competition and put up costs. We should do everything that we can to rid ourselves of them. That is why this matter has been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 March.

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

Does the Prime Minister recall her carefully considered reply on 18 July 1985 to her hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), when she justified the 30 per cent. plus increase in top people's salaries by the need to provide rewards regarded by the public as fair but not generous in relation to the responsibilities carried? Bearing in mind last week's statement by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) that the reduction in the standard rate of tax is irreversible, will the right hon. Lady tell the House whether she intends to bear such adjustments in mind when she next reviews top salaries?

The report from the Top Salaries Review Body will come in with those of other review bodies, and we shall make our decisions on them, as we have done previously. I have not noticed that hon. Members have been anxious to take lower salaries.