This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I also spoke to Mrs. Gandhi on the telephone to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of telephone services between this country and India. Later I attended a memorial service for Lord Boyd of Merton at Westminster Abbey. 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.
Will the Prime Minister tell us today, if she is not yet ready to name the day, what type of result there would have to be in the local elections on Thursday to make her believe that she could safely go to the country in June? Does she feel that waiting for the results to come out of the Conservative central office computer is an example of the resolute approach?
When my right hon. Friend is discussing the likely policy for rates, will she bear in mind that there are two minimum requirements? The first is that rates should be kept down, or reduced, for industry and business, because high rates cost jobs. The second is that something should be done to prevent the outrageous and grossly extravagant rate rises by many Labour-controlled local authorities.
I agree wholly with my hon. Friend. It is important for jobs in industry and commerce to keep the rates down. Many businesses are suffering from high rates, which are putting some small businesses into acute difficulty. In any case, it is important to control public expenditure and it is as important for local authorities to do that as it is for the Government. The lesson is that Tory councils are much better at controlling public expenditure than Labour councils.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that under her Government tax increases have gone up eight times faster than rate increases? When she talks about "business as usual", is she referring to the latest prophecy from the European Commission about unemployment rates during the next three or four years under present policies? Does she agree with its estimate that there will be an increase of 500,000 on the present appalling total if those policies are continued?
With regard to taxes, real take-home pay for those on average earnings fell under Labour. Under us, it has risen. For the first four years of the Labour Government real take-home pay for men on average earnings fell by more than 8 per cent. Under us it has risen by 4 per cent. Real take-home pay means pay after tax has been paid.
The figures in the forecast reportedly made by the European Commission were not given by the Government. We do not forecast that far ahead.
Can the right hon. Lady tell the House from where the European Commission acquired those figures and on what estimate they are based? Does she agree that taxes imposed by the Government have risen eight times faster than rate increases imposed by local authorities, whether Labour or Conservative controlled?
The tax burden — that is the proportion of gross income taken in all tax payments—increased more under the Labour Government than it has under the present Government.
As to the European Community forecasts, it seems that the figures were calculated from the body of the article. It seems that calculations were made of increased output and of increased productivity and conclusions were arrived at from that information, assuming that everything else would be the same. [Interruption.] It is not an assumption. The right hon. Gentleman forgets that productivity per head has risen enormously under the Government. That is why efficiency has increased and why we have a good chance in the future.
Will my right hon. Friend find time, if not today, certainly before Thursday's local elections, to visit Prince Albert Avenue, Manchester, where two properties owned by the Labour-controlled Manchester council have been empty for eight years and 19 years respectively? Is it not outrageous that a Labour-controlled council can treat needy families with such disdain? Furthermore, is it not a scandal that those two properties are in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), who is the Opposition spokesman on such matters?
My hon. Friend is right. There are a considerble number of vacant council properties. The last count revealed that there were about 100,000 vacant council properties, of which about 19,000 had been vacant for more than a year.
As I stated earlier, I shall not be hustled by anyone. When I seek an election, I shall announce it in the usual way. Until then, we shall have business as usual.
Will my right hon. Friend have a discussion today with the Secretary of State for Industry, who on Friday visited Thorn-EMI-Ferguson, which is in my constituency? Is she aware that productivity at that factory, which manufactures television sets, has increased by 500 per cent. during the past 10 years? Is she further aware that Thorn-EMI-Ferguson has created more than 500 jobs since January and that another 100 jobs are to be announced shortly in my constituency? Is that not good news for Britain?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the magnificent response of that company to overseas competition. It decided to invest in the latest design and production techniques and it has beaten the overseas competition. That company is not alone. Many others are doing the same.
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the rules of intervention and exactly how it is done. The Government intervene only to keep an orderly market or to stop sudden and volatile changes. The Government can never intervene to defend a specific rate. As to forecasts, the pound could rise a good deal yet without affecting export forecasts.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that those who voted Liberal in the previous county council elections in Northamptonshire, hoping that they would keep the Labour party out, wound up with a Labour minority council propped up by a somewhat comic and vague Liberal rump, with consequent large rate increases and great pressures on the local business community? Will my right hon. Friend use her objective authority to advise the electorate not to make the same mistake next Thursday?
For rating authorities in England, the general rate increase when Labour is in control is about 25 per cent. higher than when the Conservative party is in control. It is important to get and keep the Conservative party in control, and the only way to do that is to vote Conservative.
As the House of Commons' favourite own-goal merchant, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, was warned two years ago by his own Department of the danger of contaminated blood supplies coming from the United States, will the Prime Minister rectify that deplorable and disgraceful mistake by immediately authorising the necessary expenditure within the National Health Service to make Britain independent in its blood supplies?
We first need to find out a good deal more about the incident and the causes that have been reported before coming to any conclusion.
Will my right hon. Friend consider the splendid contribution that is being made to the provision of new jobs in Britain by the legitimate video and tape industry? Is she aware that new jobs are likely to increase as a result of the private Member's Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden)? Will my right hon. Friend encourage further reforms of the Copyright Act designed to protect the legitimate audio tape industry from home taping? Enormous job opportunities exist in this industry if the Government can further reform copyright law.
My hon. Friend is correct in assuming that although Britain has not produced many video recorders—we are just beginning to do so—their advent has created many jobs in the retail trade and in the cassette industry. I agree that it is vital to stop the pirating of cassettes, and the private Member's Bill is designed to do that. Such pirating is totally unfair to those who produce cassettes and will soon stop the business. The Government will do everything possible to ensure that the pirating is stopped.
Does the Prime Minister approve of reports in the Scottish press that, because of a major miscalculation by the Department of Education and Science, about 4,000 qualified applicants for Scottish universities have been deprived of access to the higher institutes of learning, and does this not smack less of the resolute approach and more of the Philistine approach on the Government's part in allowing that to happen?
If we examine the number of people in the age group who qualify for degrees, we find that Britain has one of the best records in Europe. By measuring the degrees given by age group, one finds that Britain performs strongly — better than Germany and about the same as France. Britain's participation rate in full-time degree courses has improved quite markedly since we took office — from 12·4 to 13·2 per cent. [Interruption.] Scottish students come to English universities and English students go to Scottish universities. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Scottish universties come under the University Grants Committee.
Has the Prime Minister had time to read about the events in Poland during the weekend, when peaceful Solidarity marchers were brutally attacked by the Polish Communist police? Will she give an assurance that no Polish citizen will be sent back from Britain against his or her will while that state of affairs persists?
The hon. Gentleman knows that Britain has kept many Polish people for precisely that reason. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's record in that sphere is extremely good. The object lesson for this country, and that of the Opposition, is that Britain must defend the peace with freedom and justice.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the United States, far from wishing to withdraw from the Holy Loch base, as has been suggested by the deputy Leader of the Labour party, for Labour party internal reasons, has recently announced that it wishes to remain there until the end of the century? Will she encourage the United States to keep its bases here in our long-term interest and that of the Atlantic community?
Is the Prime Minister aware that the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) is supported by the principal of Edinburgh university and by many other academics in Scottish universities, who legitimately point out that because of an error by her Government an additional 1,000 school leavers are being denied places at Scottish universities? Will the right hon. Lady take immediate steps to rectify that error and give those young people the opportunity of higher education that they deserve, instead of inflicting her Victorian values on them by turning the clock back and trying to turn our universities into Victorian finishing schools for an exclusive, tiny, elitist minority?
The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, but there is nothing unusual in that. If there is any chance that an error has been made, it will be dealt with by my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Scotland. In the meantime, as I have pointed out, this country's record of achievement in higher education, as a percentage of the age group, is excellent.