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.
Is not my right hon. Friend extremely concerned that, in addition to publishing the most extreme manifesto ever in its distinguished history, the Labour party so far has adopted no fewer than four candidates of the Militant Tendency, including Mr. Pat Wall of Bradford, who wants a Marxist-Socialist economy and to abolish the monarchy, the House of Lords, judges, admirals and, if he gets round to it, even the Leader of the Opposition himself? Will my right hon. Friend call upon the right hon. Gentleman to show some courage and leadership and disown such candidates?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The policy document that we have seen is the most extreme ever put before the British electorate by any Opposition. I believe that the British electorate will know what to do with it. The people will reject it totally.
Will the Prime Minister now say whether she intends to go to the Williamsburg summit? Will she bear in mind that, although I have no desire to see her out of the country in the next four weeks, at this meeting of Heads of Government a country that is not represented by the Head of its Government is not properly represented? I say this on the basis of the one experience when this occurred.
The matter is still being considered. Britain will, of course, be represented. The question is whether I myself go. It is good to know that many people wish me to go to that very important summit.
Bearing in mind that unemployment in the northern region has increased every month since May 1979, now stands at a record 17·8 per cent. and has increased by 118 per cent. since her Government came to power, will the right hon. Lady say what benefits she thinks the people of the north have obtained from her four-year rule?
They have the lowest rate of inflation for 15 years. They have had very, very firm defence, which affects everyone in the country. They have had the right to buy council houses, which no member of the hon. Gentleman's party would have given them. Even taking inflation into account, they have had an increasing amount spent on the National Health Service. Pensioners have the highest value pension ever. The war widows have been looked after very well.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although there is a very large lead shown in the opinion polls at the moment, which suggests a landslide victory for her of 1931 proportions, it is only the vote on 9 June that matters? There should be no complacency on my right hon. Friend's part.
I know that the right hon. Lady is somewhat reticent about making forecasts, but she sometimes overcomes her inhibitions at election time. Will she tell us the prospects for inflation, unemployment and the balance of payments by the end of the year? Will she confirm that inflation and unemployment will have risen and the balance of payment situation will be very serious?
I follow the example set by the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour Government in not making forecasts of unemployment. As for inflation, I believe that the forecasts are being marked down. That is, prices are not rising so rapidly as was thought when the Chancellor gave his Budget forecast. However, if the right hon. Gentleman will wait a few more months he will see for himself.
The right hon. Lady might have waited a few more months if she was so confident. Is she telling the country that the prophecy of 6 per cent. inflation is unlikely to be reached? Is she saying that the prophecy of a further £1·5 billion on the balance of payments deficit is likely to be reached? Is she also saying that we shall not see a rise in unemployment of 1,250,000 this year over and above the record unemployment levels for which she is directly responsible?
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that in about five years out of seven inflation forecasts for November have been wrong. That is why we have changed the system of uprating pensions from the forecast to an actual basis. One of the first things that we had to do on taking office was to give a greater increase in pensions because of the under-forecasting under the Labour Government.
Balance of payment figures are very difficult to forecast. Forecasts over the lifetime of the Government have underestimated the superb performance of the past two years. Exporters are performing well and should be congratulated.
On the original question on employment in the northern region, is my right hon. Friend aware that very good news is coming from that region? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, the hon. Gentleman is going."] Is she aware that Northern Engineering this week won a £70 million contract for a power station in Singapore against the strongest world competition, including Japan, which had dominated the area for many years? Is she also aware of the enormous success of the enterprise zones in the northern region?
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Northern Engineering on winning one of the best orders that we have ever won in Singapore. It was won in partnership with the Export Credits Guarantee Department, which did all that it could to help. That is one piece of very good news, among others, in the northern region.
In view of the Prime Minister's professed support for multilateral arms reduction, why has she rejected out of hand the five proposals by Mr. Andropov in the past four months? Does that not show that she does not really want any arms reduction at all, and is it not verging on hypocrisy to pretend otherwise?
No, I turn the hon. Gentleman's comments back on him. The only place to negotiate disarmament is Geneva, where the negotiations properly take place. Proper reductions have not yet been proposed across the table by the Soviet Union. According to President Reagan, Ambassador Nitze has instructions to consider any reasonable proposition that is put. That is where such propositions should be put.
I believe that Mr. Andropov and the Soviet Union are hoping that if a Labour Government come to office in this country the Soviet Union will be able to keep all its nuclear weapons and to persuade the people of this country to disarm. That danger will not arise, but I do not believe that there will be serious disarmament proposals at Geneva until the result of the general election is known and puts this side of the House back on this side.
Will the Prime Minister today speak to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about the need to make urgent representations to the French Government about the vicious attacks by French farmers on lorrymen from Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom? Is she aware that lorries have been attacked, goods pulled off and burnt and lives put in danger?
I shall, of course, draw that to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. The common agricultural policy prices are being negotiated and they always cause problems, but on the whole farmers in all countries have had a very good deal on prices.
Does the Prime Minister regard the huge increase in unemployment, the serious decline in manufacturing output, the increases in taxation for the lower paid, the vast number of company liquidations and the savage cuts in the social services and in house building as compatible with the extravagant promises that she made at the last general election? In those circumstances, how on earth does she expect people to believe what she says now? Is she not simply trying to pull another supreme political confidence trick on the British public?
One gains jobs by gaining customers. There is no other way. On the other matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred, there have not been social service cuts. Even after taking account of inflation, more is being spent on the National Health Service. The amount spent per year on the NHS when we came to office was E7·5 billion. It is now £15 billion. There are more than 40,000 more nurses and midwives in England and 6,000 more doctors and dentists. Pensions have not been cut. Pensions are the best that they have ever been— far better than when Labour was in power—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked a question and I intend to answer it. A record amount has been spent for every pupil in education and the proportion of teachers to pupils is greater than ever before.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the 500,000 council tenants who have bought their homes under the right-to-buy legislation will be eternally grateful to the Government? Is she further aware that when the 4 million waiting to buy their homes read "The New Hope for Britain" they will know that under Labour they would have no chance at all of ever owning their own homes?
I entirely agree. It is a feature of this Government that we give council tenants the opportunity to become home owners. The Labour party would deprive them of the right to buy, deprive voluntary purchasers of discount and fetter resale. Every council tenant who wishes to own his home must therefore earnestly hope for a return of this Government.
Failure to deliver goods on time loses us a lot of orders and therefore loses us jobs that we might otherwise have had. It also gives Britain a bad reputation. We would have had many more jobs now had we had greater industrial efficiency and goods delivered on time.