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Prime Minister (Engagements)

Volume 986: debated on Tuesday 10 June 1980

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Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 10 June.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave a few moments ago.

Is the Prime Minister aware of the forecast made by the EEC Commission to the effect that Britain's economy will do worse this year than any of its European partners? Is she aware that it is forecast that our economy will decline by 2½ per cent., while the economies of every other European country—bar one—will increase? Is she further aware that that includes the Italian economy and that although its level of inflation is the same as ours, its economy will increase by 3½ per cent.? Does she think that our dismal performance has anything to do with her policies? If not, what will she use as her scapegoat of the month for explaining the failure of her economic policies?

We have at least one forecast a day. The options are that we could tax the pay packet more, increase VAT, borrow more—and have even higher interest rates—or print more money. I reject all four of those options.

As thousands of Afghan patriots and civilian villagers are being murdered by the Soviet occupying forces, will my right hon. Friend explain once again to Sir Denis Follows and to the British Olympic Committee that in such circumstances it would be inappropriate for British athletes to go to Moscow to play games with the butchers of Kabul?

I would have thought that the action of Soviet troops in Afghanistan speaks more loudly than my words or of those of my right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary. I sometimes wonder what more the Russians will have to do in Afghanistan by way of atrocities before they convince our Olympic athletes that they should not go to Moscow.

When will the Prime Minister take seriously the problems of the long-term unemployed? Does not she realise that there may soon be half a million of such unemployed, and that many of them will be concentrated in areas—such as mine—in the Northern region? When will she bring in a programme that includes training and work experience in order to give those people hope?

Of course we take seriously the problems of the long- and short-term unemployed. The hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment runs many programmes. He will also be aware that there are many skill-centres and that some of them are not fully occupied. Sometimes people find it difficult to get a job as they are unable to move from one area to another due to housing problems. I hope that those problems will be substantially reduced when the Housing Bill is enacted.

Has not my right hon. Friend often made clear that the desired changes and improvements in our economic performance cannot be achieved without causing some temporary difficulties and hardships? Will she therefore resist all blandishments and hold firm to her present policies until they have been seen through to success?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. However, I would add that lower pay settlements now will mean lower rates of unemployment later.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 June.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes).

Will the Prime Minister spend some time today telling my constituents in Huddersfield and those who live in West Yorkshire what part of the magic formula they have missed? Is not she aware that my constituents and the people of West Yorkshire are hard working, highly skilled, have a history of accepting comparatively low wage rates and that they export most of their products? They do everything right. Why are factories closing and jobs disappearing under her Government? Why is there a hopeless feeling of dismay coming over that area?

The hon. Gentleman has neglected one thing. If factories close it is because they are unable to compete with the goods that have been produced by other people who are similarly working in factories. The level of productivity in Britain is way below that of other countries. The economic lesson that can be learnt from other countries is that those countries that have high wages and high productivity have done better than those with lower wages and lower productivity.

Further to the supplementary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) will my right hon. Friend ensure that every athlete who is so minded to undertake the unwise journey to Moscow is given full Government information about the appalling horrors that occur in Afghanistan every day?

I doubt whether we could give that information to every athlete. I hope that all athletes are fully aware of what is going on, and of the consequences of going to Moscow. I hope that they recognise the boost that that would give to the morale of the Soviet Government.

Will the Prime Minister take time today to reconsider her attitude to the sale by the NEB of its 50 per cent. stake in Ferranti? Is the right hon. Lady aware that the whole work force is united in its opposition to the sale? Is she further aware that the managing director has written to all Members of Parliament affected and that he has mentioned the threat to jobs? Does the right hon. Lady want this company to be acquired by GEC? Does she want to see its expansion plans for Scotland replaced by a programme of rationalisation and redundancy?

The last time I answered questions in the House I believe that I dealt with a similar question. I shall give the same answer. The NEB and the previous Labour Government assisted Ferranti during a very difficult period. Ferranti no longer needs that assistance. The NEB wishes to sell the shares and to obtain the best possible price. It must be free to do that.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to note that the number of homeless families has continued to increase since the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act was enacted by the previous Labour Government? Does not she agree that the Opposition's dogmatic opposition to the Government's shorthold provision is a direct denial of the right of those homeless families to rent?

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that the shorthold provisions in the present Housing Bill will bring many vacant properties on to the market, and this will help thousands of people to find homes. Another significant provision will give council tenants the right to have lodgers. That will help many young people who are seeking jobs in different areas.

Returning to the reply that the Prime Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman), does she really believe that the number of redundancies and closures that have taken place have nothing whatever to do with the bank rate?

If the hon. Member believes that the bank rate has determined the number of redundancies and closures, I do not think that the facts will bear him out. We have had high interest rates and bank rates for nearly a year now. That is far too long to have high interest rates, and I want them to come down as soon as possible. However, the exports of this country have kept up extremely well. Many companies are fighting their way through and increasing productivity. Unless we get that increase in productivity we shall not have healthy industries which are the only basis for expansion.