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Volume 169: debated on Tuesday 13 March 1990

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening, I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an outrage for Members of this honourable House to incite others to break the law?

Yes, I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It is a negation of democracy and an appalling example to all young people, whom we urge to obey the rule of law, for without that, there can be no order. I welcome the condemnation by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) of the violence and of the 31 Opposition Members who have said that they will not obey the law. Those are his words and we now wait for him to follow them up with action.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13, March.

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

We in Scotland—[Interruption.]—if the right hon. Lady does not mind my borrowing that phrase—are still waiting for the answers to many of the questions from which she ran away when she visited our country last week. Do she and her hon. Friends recall that 11 out of 21 Scottish Tory Members of Parliament lost their seats in 1987, largely because of the poll tax? As she managed to make the draw for the semi-finals of the Scottish Football Association competition a week before the qualifying matches took place, would she now like to draw the next batch of losers on her own Back Benches before she herself bales out?

I should like the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) to take action on the 31 Opposition Members who are refusing to pay the community charge and to know from the hon. Gentleman whether he himself believes in upholding the law.

If my right hon. Friend needs reassurance, which I doubt, may I assure her that last Sunday's press reports of polls and plots against her were absolute poppycock? [Interruption.]

I thank my right hon. Friend. I did not believe the reports anyway and thought that the usual source near to No. 10 Downing street, who dismissed them as bunkum and balderdash, got it absolutely right.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

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

Will the Prime Minister respond to the report of the Policy Studies Institute, which showed that nearly 3 million households owed £3 billion by way of personal debt? As the poll tax will mean payments of 33 per cent. more than the rates cost last year and will represent an even larger burden on many families, and as mortgage rates are sky high and rents set to rise by 20 per cent., is the right hon. Lady aware that the Government are plunging people deeper and deeper into the red? Is she further aware that the British people are showing how fed up they are with being bled white and blue?

Nonsense. It will not have escaped the hon. Gentleman's notice that the rates of income tax are far below any that reigned in Labour's time in office, that they are now 25p in the pound as the standard rate and 40p in the pound as the upper rate. I remind the hon. Gentleman that if community charges are very high, that is the fault of Labour councils——

Order. The House must not be disorderly. We must hear the Prime Minister's reply to supplementary questions.

Does my right hon. Friend think, given the Banking Acts' requirement that fit and proper people should hold banking licences, that the brothers Fayed should hold a banking licence at Harrods?

That is a matter for the regulatory authorities, not for me. The regulations are clearly laid down. How the law is applied is a matter for those authorities. How a prosecution happens is a matter for the Attorney-General, who answered questions on that matter yesterday.

With that last answer, the whole House will have noticed the right hon. Lady's choosy view of law and order——

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that, despite the continued rise in retail sales, the Government will not resort to higher interest rates yet again?

My answer to the right hon. Gentleman's first comment is that I should have thought that he would know that prosecution is never a matter for politicians—[Interruption.] He does not even know that. The day when a politician could institute prosecutions, the rule of law would end. The prosecuting authorities are independent and they are not politicians.

As for the figures of retail sales, which are up 2 per cent. on this time last year, I should point out that the previous year they were up by 4 per cent. and the year before that they were up by 8 per cent. So there is a steady progression downwards and therefore interest rates are working.

The Prime Minister should check the figures. This time last year the rise was 2·2 per cent., which is less than it has been in the last month. Does she not yet realise that her high interest rate policies are not controlling demand but are increasing inflation? That which she said would cure inflation is actually causing it. Will she admit that and not take a course that will add to the problems and make matters worse?

No. Retail sales this year are 2 per cent. above what they were this time last year. Last year they were 4 per cent. above what they had been the previous year, and the previous year the figure was 8 per cent. So there is a steady progression downwards in the growth of retail sales. There is no other way of getting inflation down than by increasing the price of money. If the hon. Gentleman reads what previous Labour Finance Ministers said, he will see that they took the same view.

Has not the Prime Minister grasped the idea that her policies are failing to manage demand? They are increasing inflation, decreasing manufacturing investment and clobbering every home buyer in the country. How is that helping to reduce inflation, which is an objective shared by all sensible people but not fulfilled by the Prime Minister and her policies?

But I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was complaining that demand in regard to retail sales is still pretty high. He cannot have it both ways. Either he is saying that people have no money, or he is saying that they have rather a lot, to make the retail sales higher than a year ago. In any case, we do not take lessons from the right hon. Gentleman on inflation, which rose under the previous Labour Government to 27 per cent.—a record for this century.

Will my right hon. Friend spell out the consequences of any campaign of civil disobedience, as advocated by certain Opposition Members? Would not that starve local authorities of resources, thereby leading to tens of thousands of job losses in local government, and furthermore to the curtailment of services for the elderly and disabled? Is that what the Labour party wants?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. If people do not obey the law and pay their community charge—which is the fairest charge that we have ever had for local authorities, and is far fairer than the Opposition's alternative—the consequence will be that there will not be enough money for teachers or for community care to look after old people and children. Such people would be wilfully damaging those whose interests they claim to represent.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that doctors in Manchester have now gone on record as saying that patients are dying because of a lack of intensive care beds? Those beds are not available because the authorities do not have the money to pay the trained staff. The Prime Minister normally gives us a long lecture at this point. Will she simply say what she intends to do to ensure that my constituents and those of my colleagues in that area do not die because of the lack of beds?

I can only say that more money has been made available by the taxpayer for the Health Service this year than ever before. This year, an additional £2·4 billion will be available, and next year there will be a further £3 billion. Altogether, that amounts to some £39 a week in respect of every family in the country. We look to regional and district health authorities to use that money well. We note that the great majority of them are able to do so, and provide services that most people find excellent.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to congratulate the Labour-controlled council in Barking and Dagenham on having set a community charge of £280, which is just £2 over the Government's suggested figure? As that part of London is represented in the House by two shadow Cabinet members—one the chief spokesman on the environment—is not that an excellent example of what can be achieved, for them and us to present to other Labour-controlled councils?

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively. It is possible to live within the Government's guidelines for spending, and some Labour-controlled councils are already doing so. That only shows up the rest as deliberately trying to overspend to make it difficult for their residents.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

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

With 2 million more people in debt and 400,000 people two months in arrears in rates and mortgage payments, and with the divorce rate almost doubling, does not the Prime Minister recognise that she is crucifying the women of this country and family life?

No. Far more people are in owner-occupied houses now than 10 years ago and there are more women with jobs now than there ever have been. Separate taxation for married women will be introduced on 1 April, again for the first time, and that will be welcome to many people.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 13 March.

Has my right hon. Friend had time to read the report of the National Society for the Prevention o Cruelty to Children, which links satanic practices with child abuse? Will she do everything in the Government's power to support the police and the child welfare agencies in stamping out such loathsome practices?

I saw the reports on the NSPCC report in the newspapers this morning. All hon. Members will be outraged that children may be sexually abused for the purposes of perversion or pornography, and everyone will be equally anxious to stamp that out. We have increased the penalties for child cruelty and we have tightened the law on child pornography by making possession of such material an offence. Tackling the problem remains a priority for the police, but we need evidence, and if people have evidence of cruelty to children they should not hesitate to place it before the police so that action can be taken as quickly as possible.