Will the Prime Minister take an opportunity now to say where she stands in the row between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Leader of the House over future income tax cuts? If she is in favour of further income tax cuts, will she explain to the 3·25 million unemployed, all those with bad housing, the parents who want better education in the schools, and many others, why the revenue from North sea oil and from the massive sale of public assets is not being reinvested in the crumbling fabric in this country instead of being given away in election bribes and income tax cuts?
With regard to the speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, he pointed out very vigorously that expanding welfare policy could be financed only by the proceeds of profitable industry and commerce. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that company profitability last year was the highest ever and that investment reached an all-time high. It seems to me that the two speeches fit together admirably.
Would my right hon. Friend like to confirm firmly that it is not Her Majesty's Government's policy to re-rate agricultural land? Is she aware that hon. Members from both the Social Democratic and the Liberal parties in the so-called alliance are for once in unison in the sense that they have recently shown an intention in the House to re-rate agricultural land?
I gladly confirm once again that it is not this Conservative Government's policy to re-rate agricultural land. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising that.
I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be pleased with the decision to use Crickhowell barracks as a training camp and a Territorial Army centre, following extensive representations, including the delegation to my right hon. Friend from Lord Hooson. I would also have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have noted that as long ago as 12 December 1984, long before there was any thought of a by-election in Brecon, it was announced by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces that the Ministry of Defence, following inquiries, was looking for alternative military uses and was identifying possibilities.
Will the right hon. Lady accept that the action yesterday by the Secretary of State for Defence conforms brilliantly to the rule that elections work wonders? May we, in the next six days, have an extension of that rule to cover special credit facilities for newcomers to fanning — [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] — for increased expenditure on high schools in Powys—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] — for the withdrawal of the Transport Bill to rescue rural buses—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—an assurance that there will be no nuclear dumping in Wales—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—and—
I thought that the hon. Gentleman's king had been trumped previously. Along with the Crickhowell decision, there was also announced the retention of the Gordon barracks near Aberdeen, a constituency now held by a Liberal. I know of no impending by-election there, unless the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) is so dissatisfied with the Liberal party that he intends to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a business, Oak Publications, newly set up in Lincoln to publish a free newspaper, has been blacked by the NGA because it refuses to impose a closed shop after the employees, in a free vote, rejected a closed shop? [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] Is she aware that that action has, in this new enterprise, frustrated nine jobs — [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—at the hands of the NGA? Will my right hon. Friend agree that in the English language we have a clear word for action of that sort, "tyranny"?
I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a disgraceful act of intimidation and attempted coercion to try to put a small man out of business by saying that there will be a closed shop unless that small business man does as others say. It is an act of tyranny and I hope that he will take up his rights in law.
Before I refer to the figure of 3 per cent., I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that although the retail prices index is at 7 per cent., which is bad for this Government, we have a better record than anything achieved under Labour. The answer to the last part of his supplementary question is that 3 per cent. is an attainable target.
I leave aside the retreat from forecast to target, which is backing away in quite spectacular terms. As the Prime Minister is into comparisons as well as forecasts, will she also confirm that unemployment, real interest rates, company liquidations, the manufacturing trade deficit and mortgage rates are not only higher now than during any month of the Labour Government's history, but are higher than at any time during the history of Great Britain as a whole? And since, as well as making comparisons, the right hon. Lady is making forecasts, will she say by polling day whether unemployment, mortgage rates and interest rates will have come down and whether there will be any improvement in any of the other disasters?
Had the right hon. Gentleman been in Government, the position would have been far worse and we should have gone to the IMF again and joined the list of those who are trying to get help from the IMF, instead of, under this Government, being in the list of those who are giving help through the IMF.
Instead of irrelevant hectoring, will the Prime Minister answer the question? Is it not a fact that all the indicators that I just described are now worse than at any time in our history? Does the right hon. Lady expect any improvement in one of them before polling day?
As I said, the position would have been far worse had the right hon. Gentleman been in power. I do not dismiss as lightly as he does the record of Labour in going to the IMF. It was the worst disgrace Britain suffered. His Administration borrowed money and we are still having to repay what they borrowed.
Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity of confirming to the House the Government's resolve to enhance the status of women in Britain and abroad? In view of the recent agreement to ratify the convention on equality for women from the United Nations, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to tell the women of Britain of the Government's excellent record in promoting them in education, the sciences and work?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This country has the second highest proportion of women in the labour force in the European Community. The long-term trend is towards an increase in the number of women at work. In the past four years the number of young women entering higher education rose by 17 per cent. In 1982–83 nearly half the new medical students were women, and the number of women studying engineering and technology has doubled in less than 10 years. Those are new opportunities for women under this Government.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would do no such thing. The right hon. Gentleman has grossly misinterpreted what was said.
I believe that that matter will almost certainly come up during our discussions, but probably in the separate meetings, not the main meeting, which is on the European Community. On the last occasion when we were at Brussels we asked for a report, in particular on the difficulty of distributing the stocks of food, which is one reason why they do not always reach those who are suffering from famine.
Now that the great majority of rate-capped local authorities have set a rate, has my right hon. Friend noticed the scenes of violence, intimidation and disruption at council meetings, and will she seek broad agreement that there is no place for such behaviour in local democracy and that it should be condemned on all sides?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Some of the scenes, in places such as Southwark, Brent and Hackney have been the face of Socialism in power—a face of violence and intimidation. I hope that when Lambeth sets a legal rate—if it does so—we shall see no more of those scenes, because they are totally undemocratic. They are scenes of the Fascist Left.
Will the Prime Minister give more profound thought to and review the answer that she gave to me several months ago about the economic consequences for women who have had a breast amputated and undergo chemotherapy? Does she realise that, since she made her statement at the 1983 Conservative conference, a woman who has chemotherapy has to pay £2 every three weeks, or £31.50 a year? Will she ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to add a ninth category to the British Medical Association's list of eight scheduled diseases—mastectomy?
I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking about what diseases are scheduled for the purpose of receiving free treatment. I believe that that is the point of the question that he is asking.
In that case, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put it to me in writing. As he knows, it has not been possible to review that schedule to include the diseases in which he is interested.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm her support for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his determination to reduce the high levels of personal taxation? Is this not in direct contrast with the policies of the Leader of the Opposition, which are basically the same as the policies of his predecessor—high taxation and high inflation?
Yes, the policies of the Labour party when it was in power resulted in 2 million more people being in the income tax bracket when it left office than there were when it entered office. We have taken people out of tax. The Labour party introduced new taxes, such as the national insurance surcharge, and we have abolished taxes. We have increased thresholds—that is the tax-free allowance—which are now 20 per cent. higher than they were when the Labour Government were in power.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that not everybody welcomes with open arms the implications of the ratification of the United Nations convention on discrimination against women? Can my right hon. Friend protect this country from the trap that has been discovered in other countries when they have ratified, which is that 50 per cent. of all the work force in certain firms, no matter how heavy or unsuitable the jobs, have to be women?
I know my hon. Friend's views on this, and I know that she will understand that when we ratified the convention we entered a number of reservations about it, which were made as a result of insistent representations from my hon. Friend.
Yes, it is, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance to find out how it is possible for us to have a clear understanding from the Prime Minister when a question is asked about one of her Ministers who made a statement, which was publicly announced in most of the national and local press. The Prime Minister denied that that statement was made, although it was released by the Secretary of State for Wales to the Press Association. How do Back Benchers pursue the matter—when a question is asked and a reply such as we had today is given—to ensure that they get a truthful and a proper reply from the Prime Minister?
I said earlier, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept it, that the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, can only answer questions about her direct responsibilities. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman's correct course, if he is concerned about the statement made by another Minister, is to put that question direct to the Minister.