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Volume 172: debated on Thursday 17 May 1990

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To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 May.

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 today, including one with President Mubarak of Egypt.

Does my right hon. Friend regret the rise in unemployment announced earlier today as it is an indication of an increase in unit labour costs? Has she noticed, however, that in the regions of the north and the midlands, and in Scotland and Wales, unemployment has continued to fall?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The seasonally adjusted figure has risen by just over 1,000, although the headline total is down by 20,000. As my hon. Friend knows, unemployment has fallen by some 250,000 in the last year and we still have more people in jobs than ever before, but there is a danger about unit labour costs rising—if they continue to rise more than those of our competitors, we shall see unemployment rising. I notice that in this country last year unit labour costs rose by 5 per cent. while in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Japan they stayed absolutely static, in the United States they rose by only 2 per cent., and in France they actually fell by 2 per cent. That is a measure of the task that we have to face.

May I take this opportunity of telling the Prime Minister that the whole House is united in its condemnation of the terrorist bombings this week and that the whole House will want to offer condolences to the family of Sergeant Chapman, who was murdered yesterday, and to all who have been injured? May I also say once again that no Government formed from either side of this House will ever concede to violence?

I agree very much with the right hon. Gentleman that the vicious and sick minds that plan and execute these attacks bring shame and discredit on themselves and their cause and on all who associate with and support them. The fact is that they all have a full democratic vote which they can exercise in just the same way as anyone else. Because they do not like the result, they try to bomb and maim people out of it. We cannot tolerate that and we must and will do all in our power to fight these terrible and brutal attacks—and to restore order once again and full democracy to Northern Ireland—and of course, here, where they are now trying to pursue their deadly attacks.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 May.

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

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be wise to listen carefully to the words of the Leader of the Opposition when he talks about credit controls? After all, did not the previous Labour Government have extensive experience of using credit controls, exchange controls, devaluation and high interest rates? Yet they still managed to achieve inflation of almost 27 per cent. We do not need to look into the crystal ball when we can look at the book.

I agree with my hon. Friend that in the modern economy, with the amount of freedom that we now have, credit controls will not work. A former Treasury Minister, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), had it right when he said:

"The Labour Party idea that you can have credit controls is rubbish. There is no way you can control credit except by controlling the price of credit, and the price of credit is bank rate."


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 May.

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

Has the Prime Minister read the speech by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in Tokyo on Monday, in which he boasted that Britain had some of the cheapest unit labour costs in western Europe? Does she agree that whatever the cause for today's rise in unemployment it can therefore have nothing to do with wages?

I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) the latest figures from last year. Unfortunately, our unit labour costs are now rising faster than those of many of our competitors and that is serious. In Japan and in Germany, unit labour costs have not risen at all. In the United States they have risen by 2 per cent., in France they have fallen by 2 per cent., and in this country they have risen by 5 per cent. That means that we are taking out more pay than we are putting back in productivity. That can only have a damaging effect on jobs in the future.

Does my right hon. Friend consider that it is feasible, desirable or in the public interest that, in effect, the motor vehicle should be used as an instrument for enforcing total prohibition on the roads? If not, does she agree that as the most modern, accurate and sophisticated technology is now available to enable the motorist to ensure that he or she does not approach the limit, it should be used in the same way as the motorist uses the speedometer? If my right hon. Friend is with me thus far, will she encourage the Home Office to abandon its ancient policy of proceeding in front of all new technology at 4 mph with a red flag?

I have been trying to follow my hon. Friend without lurching in logic, but I am finding it a little difficult to do so. I know that he is always anxious to make full use of the very latest technology and I will refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 May.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that some school governors operating the pilot scheme for the local management of schools are resigning and that in some cases, such as Meersbrook Bank school in my constituency, they are not setting budgets because they cannot use budgets which mean sacking experienced teachers? How can the Prime Minister call for better education and training while agreeing with a budget which has forced school governors to sack experienced teachers?

I do not accept that. Many schools—possibly most—welcome the opportunity to control their own budgets. Head teachers are highly educated people who are well able and willing to take the responsibility that comes with freedom and they much prefer to have the say over their own school budgets. The complaint used to be that head teachers had control over only about £3,000 a year. Now they and the governors have control over the school budget and I am sure that they will use it better than it has ever been used before.

As a staunch believer in the Act of Union, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be in the interests of a fair-minded and even-handed approach between the peoples of England and Scotland if there were to be an increase in the number of English constituencies so that English Members of Parliament might enjoy serving constituencies of the same size as those in Scotland?

My hon. Friend has clearly asked a fundamental question, which it would take us a long time to consider in the House. I cannot see us bringing in any legislation ahead of the next election to put that into action.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 May.

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

Does the Prime Minister support the Gladstonian doctrine of self-determination for all nations including small ones, or is she so dizzy with big-power politics as to appease the Soviet Union, particularly with regard to the Baltic states, and especially Lithuania?

I support the doctrine of self-determination for fully separate nations as set out by the United Nations. As for Lithuania, as I have said from the Dispatch Box before, we support its right to independence. We have never accepted that it was annexed legally by the Soviet Union. President Gorbachev also says that those states have a right to be independent. The difference of opinion between Lithuania and President Gorbachev concerns how that is to be brought about. It is a pity to get stuck on such matters when both sides can get down to practical discussions about how to bring independence fully into practical being. I hope that the Prime Minister of Lithuania goes to Moscow with proposals, as we all support that independence coming about by discussion.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great interest—especially in my constituency—in the Government's review of the community charge? Will she assure the House and my constituents that the Government will look sympathetically at all the representations now being put to them?

The Government are doing precisely that. There are several varying representations. Some will have to be tackled in the longer term rather than in the period coming up to next year's community charge, but some can be dealt with before then. We shall make a statement to the House when we are ready.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 May.

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

Mr. Speaker, Sir, is the Prime Minister aware that in the past few weeks she has not had a very good time at Prime Minister's question time—have you, duckie? Is she also aware that the morale of the teaching profession is falling lower and lower because of Government policies? Is she further aware that I have two daughters and a son-in-law who are teachers and doing a first-class job? It is time that she got the Secretary of State for Education and Science by the scruff of the neck and dragged him out of negotiations which ought to be taking place between the authorities and the trade unions to negotiate proper earnings for teachers—then all our children will receive a better education.

Bearing in mind that all hon. Members address their remarks to you, Mr. Speaker, I thought that the hon. Gentleman addressed you by a rather endearing term. I believe that I heard him correctly, as I usually do.

With regard to the more serious aspects of the hon. Gentleman's question, I remind him that teachers are better paid than ever before. Their current pay, when it is fully implemented in January, will be 12 per cent. above Houghton, which was the largest salary that the Labour party aimed to attain. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have also put forward new proposals for determining teachers' pay. In the meantime, I should point out that most teachers with seven years' experience will be at the top of the scale, and have a big incentive allowance: their salary will be £19,000, the deputy head of a typical secondary school will be earning £26,000—[Interruption.] I must answer the hon. Gentleman's question thoroughly, especially as so many members of his family are involved in teaching, and I am sure that they are very ambitious. The head of a typical secondary school will be earning nearly £34,000.

Has the proper condemnation by Her Majesty's Ministers of the two terrorist attacks in London this week been accompanied by an equal condemnation from Ministers in the Irish Republic? If those suspected of responsibility for the attacks in London should escape to the Irish Republic, in the belief—understandable—that they would find safe haven there, how confident is my right hon. Friend that a proper request for extradition would be upheld by the Irish Supreme Court?

I wish that I could answer my hon. Friend by saying that I would be confident that an extradition order would be upheld, but I cannot do so, as he knows. If justice is to be meted out, it is vital that we should be able to extradite people so that they have no safe haven in the Irish Republic. It is also vital, from the point of view of the police and all citizens of this country and Northern Ireland, that we fully uphold the Prevention of Terrorism Act.