This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the High Commissioner of Belize and one with the Mexican Foreign Minister. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I am presiding at a dinner for Lord Richardson, the retiring Governor of the Bank of England.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that under her leadership the British people have been able to achieve what they have needed to achieve for 50 years —the permanent removal of the threat of a Socialist Government? Is she aware that during and after the election campaign the official Opposition wove a web of falsehoods about the future of the National Health Service and caused needless anxiety to millions of people? Will she re-pledge the Government to safeguarding and strengthening the National Health Service?
I am well aware of what my hon. Friend says and of the anxiety that those completely false scares caused. I stress again that during the lifetime of the last Government our record on the National Health Service was absolutely excellent. By the time we left office there were 56,000 more nurses and midwives than when we started, 7,000 more doctors and dentists and — [Interruption.]—some 2 million more patients a year being treated. It is a record of which we can be proud.
As real interest rates have never been higher, has the Prime Minister discovered that mortgage payers are now not just disappointed but angry, particularly those who may have been unwise enough to vote Conservative? Would it not have been right to ask the Governor of the Bank of England to persuade the clearing banks to withdraw rather more slowly from the mortgage market? When she sees Lord Richardson, might it not be a good idea to suggest that he ask the clearing banks to ensure that they do not intervene again so rapidly and withdraw so quickly from the mortage market?
I made clear in the House last week my views about the increase in mortgage charges. The base rate at the moment is 9·5 per cent.—only 0·5 per cent. above what it was when the mortgage rates were last fixed. The banks' involvement in the mortgage market is a matter for them, as mortgage rates are a matter for the building societies. Whether banks go in and come out quickly is a matter for them, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it can also cause severe problems for the building societies.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the results of the recent general election suggest that a large number of trade unionists voted Conservative? Does not that show their agreement with the 1980 and 1982 industrial relations legislation, about which their leaders made such a fuss?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, but it is not unusual for a large number of trade unionists to vote Conservative. Indeed, we should never have been in Government as often as we have unless they had done so and I hope that they will continue to do so. I believe that they supported fully the 1980 and 1982 Employment Acts. I believe that they will give a warm welcome to our next trade union reform Bill when it is introduced.
How does the Prime Minister square defending the interests of 1,800 Falklanders with invoking the assistance of the South African Government, who deny freedom to 18 million of their citizens? Does not that betray and besmirch entirely the principle of freedom? Does not it insult those who died in the Falklands?
With regard to the building of the new airstrip in the Falkland Islands and the contract that has been awarded, the arrangement made for people to get there to fulfil the contract is a purely commercial matter for those who won it. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should have no commercial relations with South Africa whatsoever, I remind him that there would be 150,000 jobs at stake in the United Kingdom. Perhaps that is what he wants.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the extraordinary situation whereby the Leader of the Opposition will be elected by trade union leaders, who will cast millions of votes on behalf of their members, whom they have not consulted? Does she agree that that amply justifies the case for the Bill on trade unions, referred to in the Queen's Speech, to give union members more control over their unions?
I thought I had noticed that a number of Opposition Members were now in agreement that members of trade unions should have the right to cast their votes, direct and secretly, in leadership elections. If that is so, I hope that they will welcome the Bill that we shall introduce in this Session of Parliament to give more trade unionists the right to cast their votes secretly and direct.
Will the Prime Minister take time during her busy day to take a careful look at the report of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts on further and higher education in Northern Ireland, especially in the light of the decision taken by the court of the New University of Ulster in Coleraine yesterday? Will the Government look again at the proposed merger between the New University of Ulster and the polytechnic college, taking particular account of the real costs, which have been concealed until now, and especially having regard to the funding of the pension arrangements for the teaching staff and the cost of the salaries due to the different principles in the incremental scales of the two institutions?
What mandate does the Prime Minister have—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—for reviving the undemocratic and unjustified practice of appointing not only one hon. Member to the other place, but the untested, untried and, for all she knows, unsuitable children of such appointees, and for reviving the practice of hereditary peerages, therefore adding yet another unjustified element to our legislature, which is supposed to be democratic?
The party that the hon,. Gentleman represents is well represented in another place. I am surprised that he should be so critical of it. With regard to hereditary peerages, I have said that in exceptional cases they should continue to be awarded.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I was under the impression that my hon. Friends wanted to hear it too. Has my right hon. Friend by any chance noticed the press report about the United States Supreme Court's decision on unitary taxation? Does she agree that it is likely to lead to all sorts of disadvantages for foreign companies in the United States? Does she intend to make representations to our American allies about the consequences of that decision?
Representations to our allies on taxation matters are usually made through the vehicle of the double taxation agreement. We shall continue to make those representations and others, when appropriate. I note that my hon. Friend followed the previous question with a question on a matter that is not discussable in the other place.
Will the right hon. Lady tell us how many job losses have been announced since the election to add to the record total that she and her Government have already achieved?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the unemployment figures come out once a month and that the next lot are due out on 30 June. The last crude total was about 3,049,000.
Have there not been announcements that about 10,000 people have lost their jobs since the election, for example 2,800 on Merseyside? Those are serious developments. Did not the right hon. Lady discuss this matter with the CBI when she had a meeting yesterday? Did she not agree then with the statement made by the CBI that the signs of recovery were "patchy and thin"? How does that accord with what she said on the same subject in her election manifesto?
If the right hon. Gentleman follows my speeches he will realise that when I spoke to the CBI at its annual dinner, the expression that there were signs of a recovery, but that it was patchy, came from me. That is so. It is bound to be so in each and every recovery, as some firms go ahead faster than others, some have obsolete products and some have uncompetitive products. With regard to the talk that I had with the CBI yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that those firms prosper that have a product that is both well designed and competitively produced.
No, I had a brief election manifesto, but the right hon. Gentleman will have found many speeches with the reference to the word "patchy", which I have said originated from me.
Will the Prime Minister further consider the proposed 3·7 per cent. increase for the pensioners and the likely shortfall, bearing in mind that inflation is likely to be about 6 per cent. in November, when the increase is to be paid? Surely it is not the best possible example of Victorian moral rectitude to try to do down the old people in that way. Why not make up that discrepancy with an enlarged Christmas bonus this year?
Had the hon. Gentleman listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services in one of his previous answers, he would have heard that from November 1978 to November 1983, assuming that the RPI is up by 6 per cent. over the last year, prices will have risen by 70·7 per cent. Over the same period the pension will have risen by more than that — by 74 per cent. Therefore, under a Conservative Government, pensions are ahead of the increase in inflation over the same period.