Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to make a speech about wages councils? Will she explain that it is unlikely that many people will take jobs at rates below the level that would be given to them by supplementary benefit? Will she further give the House and the country the leadership that we have come to expect from her? Will she explain that she is not in favour of a fudge and that she shares the preference of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for complete abolition?
My hon. Friend has made the point very effectively himself. The consultative document on wages councils will be out later today. I believe with my hon. Friend that, especially for young people, lower wages would mean more jobs. Those who are interested in solving unemployment will, I believe, follow that course of action.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the 1 per cent. rise in mortgage rates announced this afternoon will cause very grave hardship to millions of home-buying families? Because of that, will the right hon. Lady support those building society chiefs who favour a system for setting mortgage rates which is more rational and more stable than the present system, which follows short-term market fluctuations?
Yes of course I regret the 1 per cent. rise in mortgage rates, but I think that the building societies must be the best judge of the rates necessary to get in sufficient money to enable them to continue to meet the demand for mortgages.
Does not even the Prime Minister, who heads this high mortgage Government— [Interruption.] That is absolutely true. The mortgage rate has never been in single figures since this Government came into power. Does not even the Prime Minister understand the immense anxieties of families with a mortgage of £20,000, whose rates of repayment have gone up by over £30 a month since last summer alone? Does she think it is right that families paying mortgages should be the victims of short-term speculation by big money speculators? If she does not, will she take steps to introduce a system that will mean that mortgage payers can enjoy greater stability and greater security in the price that they pay for their houses?
Building societies can only lend money that has been lent to them. There are some 14 million or 15 million people who put their savings in building societies. They can choose where their savings go. The building societies have to pay a rate of interest that will attract the savings of 14 million-15 million people into building societies rather than elsewhere, otherwise there would not be money for mortgages. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned. I hope that he will also consider the need to keep down rates to counteract the increase in mortgages.
The rise in mortgage repayments that has taken place under the right hon. Lady in just the last year is bigger than almost any rate that ordinary people who are buying their houses have to pay. If the right hon. Lady is so concerned, why does she not use the powers of the Government to help the building societies, because public money would then be literally as safe as houses and people could have a stable rate of payment for their mortgages?
I repeat that the building societies have to attract the savings of the people. The people have the choice where to put their savings. It is important that the building societies have enough money to lend out on mortgage. If the right hon. Gentleman had his way, there would be far fewer owner-occupiers in any event.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure pensioners that she is looking to local authorities to continue concessionary bus passes and to improve the efficiency of their local bus services?
Is it not extraordinary that the Chief of Defence Procurement cannot be shown the documents affecting a £200 million contract? Is it not extraordinary that he was a political adviser who was then illegally appointed to be a permanent civil servant? Is it not time that the Prime Minister withdrew that appointment and did not continue to compromise the integrity of the Civil Service in the way that she has done?
The integrity of the Civil Service has not been compromised. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with many people who think that it is right that there should be more interchange between business and the Civil Service. It is often thought that that is one of the ways of increasing the knowledge of the Civil Service of business and how it works. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, permission has been given by the commissioners of the Civil Service for the appointment, which has now taken effect.
Did my right hon. Friend hear the extraordinary comments of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who sought to equate the cost of what he called fighting the miners with the amount of money available for tax reductions? Is it not clear that the right hon. Gentleman and the Labour party could not recognise a principle if they saw one? Presumably, on the right hon. Gentleman's thesis, in 1939 it would have been cheaper if we had merely sat on our hands instead of fighting Fascism.
I do not know what view—[Interruption.] This Government could never have given in to violence and intimidation, even if the Opposition wanted us to do so.
Can the Prime Minister clarify the position of YTS and the entitlement to supplementary benefit in the light of the Budget? The Chancellor said that the cost of his YTS plans would be £125 million in 1986–87 and would in part be offset by savings in social security payments. How will those savings be made? Will the right hon. Lady make it clear that there is no intention during the lifetime of her Government or this Parliament to make YTS compulsory and so make savings in that way?
There is no change in the arrangements for YTS. Clearly, those who are drawing amounts for YTS will not be drawing supplementary benefit. When the full YTS scheme is in place, I believe that it would be right to say to young people, "You have the choice of a job, education or training." Unemployment should not be an option. That can only be considered when that scheme is in place. I believe that the overwhelming majority of parents and people would agree with me. The hon. Gentleman may prefer unemployment for young people—we do not.
Now that the fears of all those in company pension schemes have been allayed by the Chancellor, will my right hon. Friend point out to those people that the only threat they face is from a Labour party committed to directing pension fund investments according to the whims of a Labour Government and not with a view to maximising the profits of the members of such funds?
Yes, the fact that the threat has been made makes it more unlikely that the Opposition will ever be in a position to carry it out.
What effect will the Budget have on unemployment in the northern region, where unemployment has increased every month since the right hon. Lady's Government came into power, and where the unemployment rate is still the highest in the country outside Northern Ireland? What possible hope can there be for the north in this "do nothing" Budget? Will the right hon. Lady set up an inquiry into the special problems of the northern region?
I hope that the north and the north-west will gain from changes in both the YTS and the community programme, which should provide more jobs, particularly for those who have been unemployed for a long time. Although unemployment is very high in the north, indeed it is the highest of all, the wages in that region are also comparatively high. They are the third highest in the country. The two might be related.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the country is faced with a tragic paradox: with, on the one hand, massive unemployment, and, on the other, a tremendous skill shortage? Therefore, will she use all her powers to urge the Manpower Services Commission to set up long-term training for young people, lasting for two years or more, to provide the skills that industry vitally needs?
My hon. Friend is correct. In spite of unemployment and massive amounts spent on training, universities and polytechnics, there is a skill shortage. We hope that the measures announced this week, both the switch in the universities to more engineering and technology courses and the extra money for YTS, will result in training young people for some of the jobs that need higher skills. This is the biggest investment in the training of young people that has ever been made.
ICI has had, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a record year. I hope that he is pleased that it is one of the outstanding companies in Britain. With regard to the link between wages and jobs, between 1974–1984, in the United States earnings were down by 10 per cent. and jobs were up by 21 per cent. In the United Kingdom over the same 10 years, earnings were up by 19 per cent. and jobs were down by 4 per cent. That would seem to show an effectively close link.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to study the situation in Hackney? Does she agree that if this Labour-controlled council fails to set a rate it will not be able to pay its 7,000 employees, and any claim that it is defending jobs will be seen to be sheer hypocrisy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. If the council does not set a legal rate the consequences will fall on its staff and the electorate—both of whom the council will be punishing—and possibly on its future as well.