Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports of the disgraceful scenes at Southwark council last night, when Labour councillors not only disrupted the meeting but attacked television cameramen and damaged their equipment? Will he join me in inviting his Opposition counterpart to condemn that behaviour? Does he not think that it is a salutatory example today of the dangers of voting for Labour councillors?
I assure my hon. Friend that I have seen the report in the evening newspapers of the scenes at Southwark council to which he referred. Such scenes are to be deprecated. They are as much a challenge to democratic Socialism as they are to other elements in political society. I am certain that Opposition Members will join me in condemning such behaviour.
In view of the depressing and demoralisingly high levels of unemployment announced today, will the Leader of the House tell us when he confidently expects the rise in unemployment to be reversed, as he indicated in his letter to his constituency party chairman? Has he yet consulted the taproom wisdom in Llanyblodwel?
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, who has such a good Welsh name, has such indifferent Welsh pronounciation. I assure him that I at once join him in expressing disappointment with the unemployment figures released today. I said in the letter to my constituency chairman that the rise in the number of people at work
is still offset by the increase in the potential national work force as those leaving education substantially exceed those ageing into retirement.
I then said:
I believe, however, that the underlying strength of the economy will, in time, reverse this situation. That will be the most decisive moment during this Parliament.
[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Being tolerably shrewd as well as good-natured, I decline to give a specific date. But I stand by that remark, and all the more so in the light of the encouraging evidence supplied by the recent CBI survey.
Does the Leader of the House not agree that it is the height of hypocrisy for this Government, egged on by their shadows in the alliance, to remove the political levy from the Labour party when it was revealed yesterday that the Liberal party had received £190,000 from the British School of Motoring and it is well known that the Tories receive millions of pounds from private industry? Is it not true that in both those cases the donors are elite groups and cliques—not the mass of the ordinary people in the country, but the rich stockholders and shareholders?
The hon. Gentleman will know that contributions to party funds have been debated vigorously in the recent past. Of course, we can all make observations about the size of the contribution made by the British School of Motoring—[Interruption.] I am glad to have the assent of the leader of the Liberal party, because it would be improper for me to stand here and defend that contribution. The Tory party is sustained on voluntary contributions, and therein lies its strength.
As my right hon. Friend is standing in for the Prime Minister, may I put a question to him on behalf of the Leader of the House? Will he continue to set his face against any curtailment of the powers of Select Committees to obtain the documents that they need to exercise thir parliamentary powers of supervision on behalf of the House?
My right hon. Friend makes a somewhat good-natured but misleading observation on partial information. I suggest that he tries to ask his question at the appropriate time, which will come after 3.30 pm.
After today's Cabinet meeting, can the Leader of the House inform us whether the Government have decided to betray or to honour their general election pledge to maintain the earnings-related pension scheme? If it is the former and their pledge is betrayed, will that not injure not only the 11 million people in the state earnings-related scheme, but the 10 million people who are contracted out? Would not that, as Sir Terence Beckett informed a meeting in the House only a few days ago, impose additional costs of about £3 billion a year on employers or lead to the winding-up of contracted-out pension schemes?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that there have recently been four major reviews of aspects of the social security system. They are currently being considered by the Cabinet. When that consideration ends, the Cabinet's views will be reported to the House and they will form part of a wider political debate. If the right hon. Gentleman starts by using words such as "betrayal", when one of the central requirements, given our enormous commitment to social welfare, is to ensure that we have an updated arrangement that relates resources to those in need, he will undermine the way in which the debate should proceed.
The House and the country will have noted the right hon. Gentleman's failure to answer the question about earnings-related pensions. Can he at least say whether, on the question of child benefit, the Government will also jettison the pledge given in a letter from the Prime Minister on 20 May 1983 to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), in which she categorically stated:
there are no plans to make any changes to the basis on which the benefit is paid or calculated.
The answer is simple. I will not betray, to use the right hon. Gentleman's language, any matters that are still before Cabinet. The proper course, when that discussion is concluded, will be for the appropriate Minister to come to this Dispatch Box and present the Government's proposals to the House.
Is my hon. Friend aware that an increasing number of retail shops on petrol station forecourts are applying for off-licences, which means that they can sell alcoholic refreshments when pubs and licensed restaurants may not? Does this not make a mockery of our drink-drive laws and our licensing laws?
Since the Prime Minister is in Bonn to observe the diplomatic skills of President Reagan at first hand, will she protest in the strongest possible way at the bully-boy tactics employed by the President of the United States towards Nicaragua in imposing a trade embargo? Will she remind him that when that was done in relation to Cuba, it gift-wrapped that island for Russia? Will she also tell him that, in the case of Nicaragua, he is subverting and sabotaging a country which is extremely poor, which is making the transition from dictatorship to democracy, and which should have the support of the land of the free, not its opposition?
If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in her quest to seek to influence allies, were to use the rhetoric that has just been employed in this Chamber it would be totally counter-productive. What I do say is that it will be widely felt in the Chamber—I hope on both sides—and in many parts of the world that trade sanctions are not particularly effective.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the BBC television poll conducted in Scotland last night on alternatives to the rating system in which 30,000 viewers participated? Is he aware that 51 per cent. of viewers opted for a poll tax, 41 per cent. for local income tax and only 8 per cent. for the present system of property tax? Is that not a clear sign that a poll tax is not only feasible and desirable, but an acceptable alternative for the majority of domestic ratepayers?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the additional evidence which he now possesses to sustain his own well-argued pamphlet on the subject. Whilst I take account of the figures that he quoted, as the debate proceeds it will be seen that the matters involved are a little more complex than was realised by those who took part in the poll.
Today the highest unemployment levels in Britain this century were announced, despite attempts to sanitise the figures by the Tory Government. About 1,000 people a day have joined the dole queues in the last month. Is the Leader of the House surprised that because of that, and in view of leaks about the possible abolition of supplementary benefit for 16 and 17-year-olds, nearly 250,000 15 and 16-year olds took half a day's industrial action last Thursday against the Tory Government?