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Engagements

Volume 178: debated on Friday 12 October 1990

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Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

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.

While welcoming the release of a number of hostages from Iraq earlier this week, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make it clear that the Government's and the world's determination to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait remains undiminished?

I gladly respond to my hon. Friend. Of course, we are glad to see more hostages home. We are glad for them and their families. Their return brings to 900 the total number of British nationals who have come back from Iraq and Kuwait so far. We are particularly concerned about those who are left—some 1,400—who have been taken totally contrary to international law. They and their families are suffering and for that we should totally and utterly condemn Saddam Hussein. We stand unequivocally by the United Nations decision that the whole of the territory should be restored to Kuwait, Saddam Hussein must withdraw, the legitimate Government must be restored, the hostages should be released and compensation should be paid to the people of Kuwait for the terrible damage done to their territory.

Will the Prime Minister join me in offering unreserved praise for the humanitarian efforts of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), especially when there are common objectives on both sides of the House and the right hon. Gentleman has undertaken his successful efforts without giving any comfort to Saddam Hussein but giving unending comfort to sick people and their loved ones?

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had already heard me do that. We welcome the return of the hostages whose release was secured by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath): their release brings the total number of those who have returned from Baghdad and Kuwait to some 900. We very much regret that more than 1,400 people are still there, as I am sure my right hon. Friend does, too.

Popular attitudes and aspirations change. Wise political leaders like my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister respond to those changes. In the 1970s, she encapsulated them; in the 1980s, she gave effect to them. What is her assessment, her perception, of the aspirations and attitudes of the British people for the 1990s? [Interruption.]

Order. It may take a little time, but let us hear the Prime Minister's reply.

To continue to rise to the responsibilities of defending freedom staunchly, as we have always done in the past; to carry on with the pound sterling, and maintain the current Parliament's powers with regard to the economy and monetary policy; and to continue with policies that have resulted in the creation of more jobs, more wealth and a higher standard than ever before—policies that enabled us yesterday to announce the distribution of a further £5 billion to families with young children and old people.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

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

What action does the Prime Minister propose to halt the destruction of our countryside—especially in areas of outstanding beauty such as the Vale of Glamorgan, where developers propose to build no fewer than six golf courses, four large hotels, three new town settlements and a racing track? This madness must stop.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, that is a matter for the local planning authorities. As he is also aware, we must try to find a balance between the beauties of the countryside and the importance of providing jobs for the people.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is right to give every encouragement to the strengthening of the rural economy, so that we can maintain the social stability and the fabric of the countryside as we all know it? In that context, does she also agree that farmers—as the managers of the countryside—have a specific responsibility, and that they will be unable to undertake that responsibility if real reductions in their income result? I am thinking particularly of hill farmers, and those in the beef and sheep sectors.

I agree with my hon. Friend that the preservation of both the rural countryside and the rural economy is vital. Much of the landscape that we seek to conserve, however, was created by farmers in the first place. There is nothing contradictory about wanting both to conserve the environment and to look after farmers.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is particularly important to look after the fortunes of hill farmers, and we have tried to do that. We pay hill livestock compensatory allowances of more than £125 million a year, and our total support for the sheep and beef sectors is running at about £750 million to £800 million this year, compared with about £450 million last year. We are trying to make up for the very difficult time that many farmers have had this year.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that the £5 per week increase in income support payments to care home residents announced yesterday will do nothing to stem the tide of closures and evictions that are affecting vast numbers of elderly and handicapped people? Is the right hon. Lady further aware that the safety net once provided by local council homes is no longer available to many of those people because they, too, have been closed as a consequence of Government policy? Has not the Government's exercise in free market community care been a disaster for vast numbers of elderly and disabled people, who are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society?

Yesterday's announcement represents a £5 billion increase in all, which is a fantastic amount—made possible by the Government's successful economic policies. As to residential care, the Government are spending, through the taxpayer, £100 for every £1 spent under Labour.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

In acknowledging, rightly, that only three out of 10 absent fathers pay maintenance, does my right hon. Friend think it disgraceful that seven out of 10 absent parents, usually fathers, make no contribution to their children's welfare, and in so doing impose an intolerable financial burden on the state and cause untold misery for their neglected families? Although I welcome the forthcoming White Paper designed to overcome that problem, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the pressure groups that ask for legislation do not cause those proposals to be watered down?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Fathers may sometimes walk out on their families, but they must not be allowed to walk out on their financial responsibilities. If they do, conscientious families have to meet not only the cost of looking after their own children but of caring for the children of those who have walked out on their responsibilities. We shall not water down the White Paper. The people in question must make some proper payment towards the cost of caring for the children whom they left behind.

Does the Prime Minister intend to meet today the farmers from all over the United Kingdom who have come to London to lobby? That demonstration began in Llanrwst in my constituency. The right hon. Lady has already answered a question on agricultural policy, but does she understand that as long as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Government policy support a 30 per cent. reduction in farm support in the GATT talks, that will undermine any Government proposals for saving agriculture in the hills?

I have already indicated some of the help given to hill farmers. We acknowledge that it is vital that they should stay farming in the hills. In addition to the support that I earlier described, we recently announced a higher rate of suckler cow premium for hill producers. Next year, we shall pay a special supplement to hill sheep farmers. The 30 per cent. reduction in subsidy in the Uruguay round is effective from 1986, so it takes into account much that has already been done. I believe that the hon. Gentleman would agree that where heavy subsidies are given to small. inefficient farms on the continent, that undermines the opportunities for our larger family farmers to be efficient and to secure a larger market. It is important that they should have a better chance of being very efficient, so that they may enjoy a bigger share of the food market.

Q6.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the Audit Commission report on day surgeries? She will note that it clearly demonstrates disparities in efficiency between authorities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that organisations spending billions of pounds of public money have a duty not only to determine best practice but to implement it?

Yes, Sir. The Audit Commission has done an extremely good job on the education and health services. The report that came out today is particularly interesting. It shows that different district health authorities vary very much in the efficiency with which they use their resources, particularly with regard to day surgery. It points out that if all health authorities brought their day surgery up to the level of the best 25 per cent., 186,000 more patients could be treated at no extra cost. That would help enormously to reduce waiting lists. It would not require any more money, just better use of the money that they already have. Indeed, we have already given a great deal more money to the health service. In the past three years, it has gone up from £24 billion to £26 billion to £29 billion—far better than the Labour party achieved during its time in government.

Q7.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 25 October.

As the Prime Minister has said that there are incontestable signs that the economy is working in the way in which the Government intended it to, does she gain any satisfaction from the comprehensive report published this week by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce which shows that industries everywhere, including the west midlands, are already in severe recession?

Where we had inflation in the economy—where the extra money supply was going not into extra growth but into extra prices—it was vital that we squeezed it out. The report from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce shows that we were entirely justified in reducing the interest rate from 15 per cent. to 14 per cent. at the precise time when we did, and I should have thought that Opposition Members would have had the integrity to admit it.

Will my right hon. Friend turn her attention to the plight of British agriculture and agree that, basically, it is the fault of the monstrous common agricultural policy, which was devised and is administered by the Commission in Brussels? Is not it time to point out to Mr. Delors that his proposal earlier this week that the unelected Commission will take over all tax, environmental and employment law will be totally rejected by her Government?

My hon. Friend knows that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food battles nobly for British farmers. We object to discrimination in favour of small farmers on the continent, for many of whom farming is not their livelihood, and against British farmers, who have family farms much bigger than those on the continent and a high standard of efficiency. Those with a high standard of efficiency should have a bigger share of the market for food, and therefore should get bigger and better incomes.