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Prime Minister

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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Engagements

Q1.

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

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a memorial service for the late Lord Rothschild.

Order. This is to the detriment of hon. Members whom I shall not be able to call.

Order. Hon. Members know that this takes a lot of time from others who wish to be called.

Why is it therefore that the Department of Employment has not yet issued application forms to voluntary organisations for European social fund money that was available from January? Why is it that 11,000 training places and £25 million are put at stake in that way? Why is it that organisations such as the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the organisation for the disabled in Glasgow, Goodwill, have their existence endangered by the Government's failure to use European social fund money? Why is it—[Interruption].

Why is it that every training scheme in this country is endangered by the incompetence and inefficiency of the Department of Employment?

It would seem from what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his question that there is still time for forms to be issued and for applications to be made for those forms. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the people who attempted to defeat training schemes in this country were the trade unions which fought the youth training scheme and the employment training schemes.

Q2.

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

Will my right hon. Friend today compare the actions of Hillingdon council and Merton council? Is she aware that in Hillingdon, which has just become Conservative controlled, the community charge is being reduced by £70 this year, whereas Merton, which has just become Labour-controlled, has promised to double the charge next year? Does my right hon. Friend agree that in Labour-controlled councils in London the average community charge is £445, whereas for Conservative-controlled councils the figure is £294? Therefore, living in a Labour-controlled council area means an extra bill of about £3 a week.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Hillingdon has increased the amount spent on education, the elderly and the handicapped. That proves that Conservative councils cost less and give much better service than do Labour councils.

Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that last week's higher inflation figures were largely the result of higher interest and mortgage rates, higher rents and the poll tax? Will she confirm that that is the direct result of her policies? Does she therefore accept that she is not just the Prime Minister of inflation but the prime causer of inflation?

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that local councils set the community charge. If local councils had not overspent to the tune of £3 billion, the retail prices index would be 1 per cent. lower. The biggest overspenders were Labour, so the right hon. Gentleman bears some of the blame.

Is not that typical? The major components of the rise in inflation have been identified as the consequence of Government policies, yet the right hon. Lady is trying to blame everyone else. It is a wonder that she did not get the right hon. Members for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and everybody else into that excuse. If the Prime Minister is trying, as she says, to squeeze out inflation, why does she spend so much time cramming inflation in, with higher interest rates, higher mortgage rates, higher rents and the poll tax?

And why was it Labour's policy to persuade Labour councils to set the community charge as high as they could get away with? Yes, the retail prices index would be very much lower but for the community charge. It would also have been lower if the community charge had had the rebates taken off it and if housing rent rebates had also been deducted from it, as they were in Labour's time.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the leaders of Fine Gael and the Progressive Democrats in the Republic of Ireland on their robust condemnation of their country's extradition laws? When she next meets the Irish Prime Minister, will she convey to him the utter disgust of most citizens of this country—Great Britain and Northern Ireland—at the fact that those who are wanted to answer charges for terrorist offences continue to be set free in the Irish Republic because the judges say that their offences are political?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Extradition is a very important part of upholding the rule of law and ensuring that people are brought before the courts so that they can properly hear the case and pronounce them innocent or guilty.

Q3.

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

Why have the Government done nothing about paedophiles who are posing as social workers and seeking to molest children throughout the country—for example, by issuing passes to genuine social workers and health visitors? Recently I visited the vice squad at New Scotland Yard. The unit that deals with child pornography and other illegal pornography is so overworked that it is unable to follow up leads that would take it to people who are sexually abusing children. Will the Prime Minister take action to strengthen that unit?

I do not accept what the hon. Lady says. She knows full well that every hon. Member is doing his or her level best to stop child abuse and to prevent people from molesting children or women. The police are deeply concerned. Many social services departments are also doing their level best to deal with the problem. I suggest that the Opposition are playing at cheap party politics.

Q4.

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

Without pre-empting the conclusions of the welcome review of the community charge that is being carried out, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government are not contemplating the introduction of either a roof tax or a local income tax into any part of the United Kingdom? Can she further assure the House that—as reported in the newspapers—such matters will be considered by Ministers for longer that the two minutes that it apparently took for the roof tax to be endorsed by Labour Members?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government believe that we should not introduce either a roof tax or a local income tax. It would be the worst of all worlds to have a tax on capital values augmented by a tax on income. It would be a high tax for all citizens. We are considering modifications to the present community charge, and we shall be in a position to announce them in a few weeks. They would not include the problem of the structure of local authorities, which is for longer-term consideration.

Does the Prime Minister agree with her Chancellor's forecast of two months ago that interest rates will be "materially lower" by the end of the year, or with the statement of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury two days ago that in the present dire economic circumstances any such forecast would be foolish? Which statement is right, and which is wrong?

I do not think that the statements are as opposite as the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, whose message, which was never understood or acted upon by Opposition Members on either the Front or the Back Benches, was that we must always keep public spending firmly under control. That is the essence of sound policy.

Q5.

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

Is my right hon. Friend aware of a document, publicised today, that rules out statutory incomes policy and abandons the goal of full employment? Given the publicly stated support for low interest rates and high public spending by leading members of the Labour party, is my right hon. Friend surprised to learn that that document was prepared for the home policy committee of the Labour party?

Order. I do not think that the Prime Minister can have any responsibility for Labour party policy.

Q6.

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

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

May we take it from the answers given to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the one person who is not to blame for the high interest and inflation rates is the same person who has headed this wretched Administration for the past 11 years? Are we to take it that when those policies were decided upon she was simply absent, as she was when the leak occurred over Westland?

The hon. Gentleman can take it from my replies that I am glad that it was not I who was responsible for the 26·9 per cent. inflation rate under Labour: it was Harold Wilson and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).

Q9.

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

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) referred to the problem of people posing as social workers. It is becoming an increasing crime problem, with bogus gas and electricity men preying on pensioners and others. The problem is that identification can be bogus, too. Is not it time for another look at the possibility of a national identity card scheme?

My hon. Friend has presented his own solution, but I think that he will agree that it is up to everyone to do all that they can to support the police in their inquiries, and to be on their guard to watch for people who may come round. They must check with their local social services departments at once if they have any suspicion. That is the only way to protect the children and the family.

Q11.

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

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

Now that there is only one member of her original Cabinet left—the rather forlorn and semi-detached deputy Prime Minister—why does not the Prime Minister consider sacking him as well, and then she could shout "Bingo!" And if she were to take the message of the current public opinion polls and go, we could shout "Bingo!"

We do not take quite such a light-hearted view of politics. We believe in having the best Cabinet, and that is what I have.