This morning I had meetings with my ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the TUC. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be leaving for Washington this afternoon.
Will my right hon. Friend comment on the steady improvement in the employment prospects of YTS trainees on completing their courses? Does she agree that the success of this scheme is an indication of the major practical steps that the Government are taking to alleviate youth unemployment?
Yes, the scheme is a great success. I understand that now, on average, some 75 per cent. of leavers from YTS are either finding a job or going into further education. In some particular forms of training the figure is even higher. For example, in construction and hotel and catering, 90 per cent. are finding jobs straight away.
How does the Prime Minister reconcile her statement to the House that British service men were not used as guinea pigs during the atomic tests in the South Pacific in the early 1950s with the evidence given to the Australian Royal Commission that service men were made to lie in and run, walk and crawl through radioactive dust.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman waits until that commission has completed its work. I am sure he is pleased to know that we have done everything to assist its inquiry, releasing as many documents as we possibly call.
When will the right hon. Lady come to the House with a serious proposition to alleviate the plight of pensioners with regard to heating? Will she take into account the new situation that has arisen over the last weekend, whereby poor families are now being exposed to the danger of hypothermia?
The scale of help with heating bills has increased considerably under this Government — by 40 per cent. more than the rise in fuel bills. Spending is now £400 million, of which £200 million goes to pensioner households. With regard to the particular case that the hon. Gentleman raised, I understand that the inquest into this tragic case will be held tomorrow, and until the result is known it would be wrong to comment.
In her discussions with President Reagan, will my right hon. Friend stress the need for international contingency plans to deal with the possible short-term collapse of the dollar? From a strategic point of view, will she stress how absurd it would be for the strongest economy in the world to resort to protectionist measures?
We shall be putting the latter point very strongly. Such a move would affect the United States' traditional trading partners and it is also true that many developing countries need trade as much as they need aid. With regard to what would happen if there were a sudden collapse of the dollar, I believe, with my right hon. Friend, that the consequences could be very brutal if that happened and we shall, of course, be pointing that out.
With regard to the right hon. Lady's visit to the United States, I wish, first, to endorse yet again, and very firmly, the condemnation that she has again offered of the supply of arms to Northern Ireland as a result of funding from the United States of America.
Fourteen months ago, when the pound stood at £1·45 the right hon. Lady told us:
I would rather be in our position, which is sustainable, than in that of United States". — [Official Report, 8 December 1983; Vol. 50, c. 462.]
As she changes her pounds for dollars today, is that still her view?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support—I had expected nothing else—on the Noraid matter. It will help me in my discussions in the United States of America to be able to say that all parts of the House are united on this matter.
On the right hon. Gentleman's latter point, having heard the previous question and answer, he should realise that I would still say yes. I think that we are in a much more sustainable position— [Interruption.] Clearly that goes down well in all parts of the House.
I am beginning to think that the right hon. Lady is not the President's No. 1 fan after all. In the 14 months since she made the statement that I quoted earlier, unemployment in the United States has gone down by 1·1 million while in Britain it has risen by 150,000; its industrial production has risen by more than 6 per cent. while ours has gone down by 1·3 per cent.; our interest rates have risen by 55 per cent. while those in the United States have gone down by 10 per cent. If the right hon. Lady is a real fan, does she not realise that, in these matters at least, emulation might be the sincerest form of flattery?
President Reagan is fortunate in one respect — there is no danger of Socialism in America. Secondly, that country has never had the extent of nationalisation or regulation. Thirdly, there is an enterprise culture. Fourthly, America has never had the union problems with which we have had to deal.
When my right hon. Friend meets the President, will she stress that while there is very strong support within the House and country for the deployment of missiles in the United Kingdom to meet our NATO commitments, we nevertheless look forward to a constructive outcome of the disarmament negotiations in Geneva?
Will the Prime Minister have regard to the problems facing many old people and widows throughout the country, but especially in the north of England, and give a commitment that heating allowances will be adequate to maintain warmth in homes? Will she take on board the example of people like Kathie Berrie, a widow in my constituency, who receives an additional 30p a day heating allowance to heat a three-bedroomed house? Will the right hon. Lady stop fudging the issue and provide heating allowances commensurate with the needs of the people?
This Government have not fudged the issue—they have provided 40 per cent. more for heating bills over and above inflation, more than any previous Government have done. That is a record of which we are very proud.
When my right hon. Friend meets the President of the United States later today, will she commend the United States Administration for their effective intervention recently in the foreign exchange markets to stabilise the dollar? However, will she also respectfully remind him that the only permanent solution to the problem of the high dollar is to solve the American federal budget deficit?
As my hon. Friend knows, that intervention was pursuant to the Williamsburg agreement from the economic summit held at Williamsburg in 1983. It was also pursuant to the agreement reached between all G5 countries. It is there to make certain that speculators never know whether there will be an intervention, and therefore to help with preventing the resurgence of the dollar as strongly as might otherwise happen. I agree that the deficit is a fundamental problem and I fully support the views of those in the Congress and the Administration who earnestly want to take action to reduce it.
Will the Prime Minister bear in mind as she travels today with a message about Noraid that, in Northern Ireland today, many people are mourning the death of a brave prison officer who was brutally murdered on Sunday? Will she tell those who support the IRA that that is the result of their support? Will she bear in mind that many Roman Catholics are serving in the security forces at various levels and are paying the price for so doing?
I shall gladly convey that message with all the strength at my command. That was a particularly cruel and brutal murder, which should be a disgrace in any part of the world.
It is a significant Bill and a significant majority. The Government took a neutral position to enable the House, in the customary way in these matters, to express its view according to conscience. I believe that that was absolutely right.
I really do not think that the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question warrants an answer. Everybody in the House who travels on duty or as a member of the Government justifiably travels on expenses, but the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I am staying the minimum amount of time. As to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I believe that we have been prepared to tackle fundamentally issues which other Governments have shirked.
We put out a brief statement after those talks, which it might be helpful for me to read to the hon Gentleman. It states:
The Prime Minister, accompanied by the Lord President and the Secretaries of State for Energy and Employment, met representatives of the TUC led by their General Secretary Mr. Norman Willis for one hour today. The TUC reported on their efforts to promote a settlement of the coal dispute. The Prime Minister expressed appreciation for the TUC's efforts. She said that a settlement was long overdue. The Prime Minister said that the views of the TUC would be conveyed to the National Coal Board by the Secretary of State for Energy. The Government wanted an early resolution of the strike but any agreement must deal clearly and unambiguously with the central point of the dispute.
When my right hon. Friend visits Washington, will she stress to the American people that the whole House condemns the IRA? Will she illustrate to those foolish Americans who fund Noraid that it leads to the murder of Irishmen by Irishmen, as was the case with Mr. Patrick Kerr who was savagely murdered in front of his children while going out of the Catholic cathedral this Sunday?
Yes, Sir. I shall try, once again, to do all of that. I shall try to do as much as I can to prevent any money coining through Noraid. It is also important to stress that the IRA does not represent the Republic—indeed, the organisation is banned in the Republic—and that it is fundamentally against democracy.
Is the Prime Minister aware that I would have been disappointed if my question had not been reached? In view of the talks that started today in Vienna, is she worried about the increase in the flow of arms to the middle east and about the fact that military expenditure is costing £300 per person in that region, which is three times as much as it costs in the rest of the world? Will she use her influence when she meets the President to ensure that stability is restored in that part of the world and that the flow of arms is reduced?
The middle east is one of the subjects that I must and will take up with the President. The occasions when an initiative can be taken are comparatively few. I believe that this is one of them and that it is the President's intention to take up the initiative that he announced in a famous speech in December 1982.