This morning I presided at a meeeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to attend a reception in honour of the Prime Minister of Israel and shall later preside at a dinner for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Before the Prime Minister loses another member of her Cabinet to the Brittangate scandal, will she send a message to Mr. Rupert Murdoch of News International, one of the millionaire owners of Britain's undemocratic press, that he is not a first world war general filling the trenches outside his Wapping plant with rolls of barbed wire — [Interruption.] — and that industrial serfdom, where the workers become the property of the masters, should have disappeared from this country centuries ago?
He is, in fact, trying to get rid of restrictive practices which should have been got rid of years ago, as they affect the future of some of Britain's most distinguished newspapers.
The parents of Yvonne Fletcher, who live in my constituency, have understandably been very upset by the decision to allow the return of a member of the Libyan People's Bureau to this country, and indeed, to Wiltshire. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that this will not be looked on as a precedent for other members of the bureau?
I believe that the case is unique. My hon. Friend will be aware of the circumstances, which are that Mr. Ben Rahba applied for a visa to re-enter the United Kingdom in order to rejoin his English wife and children. The application was rejected by the Home Office because of his presence in the bureau at the time of the shooting. Mr. Ben Rahba exercised his right of appeal, and the adjudicator found in his favour.
Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she is currently maintaining her Government's policy of allowing the pound to find its own level?
The question that I asked was very plain. I hope that, on reflection, the Prime Minister will find it in herself to respond to that question, because the whole country is interested. Could she then tell us if her policy, to which she is not prepared to make an addition today, is going to continue, and, if so, for how long?
The exchange rate is one of the factors that one looks at in continuing the policy of having as top priority the reduction of inflation.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is highly desirable to persuade our partners in the European fighter aircraft project that this should be a European programme, bearing in mind the health of our defence industries, especially Ferranti, the largest private employer in Edinburgh?
When the European fighter aircraft project gets under way we shall have a radar competition later this year. When that competition is held, I am sure that Ferranti, which has an excellent product, will be a very strong contender.
The Prime Minister, having lost control of her Cabinet, has now also lost control of the economy. Is she aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now widely thought to be in favour of joining the European monetary system? If interest rates rise, as many fear will happen tomorrow, will she make it clear to the House that this will be accompanied by a decision to join the EMS?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if pension funds were forced to invest in a national investment bank under the control of a Labour Government, that would inevitably lead to investment in loss-making undertakings, which would jeopardise the pensions of millions of people who are in occupational pension schemes?
If interest rates rise, will not the Prime Minister be ashamed of the fact that this country will have the highest interest rates of any developed industrialised country, except Italy, and that that will mean that mortgages will rise, which will have a devastating effect upon those with the lowest incomes? What will she say to those poor people who believed the Tory propaganda about a property-owning democracy?
It is not propaganda. We are gradually bringing about a far wider spread of house ownership and of share ownership than ever took place under previous Governments. Rises in interest rates are unwelcome. The Government have pledged themselves to take whatever action is necessary to keep down inflation. The markets have been unsettled this week as the price of oil has fallen, but the Bank of England has maintained its current dealing rates.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of Dr. Andrey Sakharov's banishment to Gorki? The whole House—I venture to think without exception — condemns unequivocally the holding of prisoners of conscience anywhere in the world, either without trial or on the basis of trumped up charges. Will my right hon. Friend, at the earliest opportunity, make representations to Mr. Gorbachev about the case of Dr. Sakharov?
I agree with my hon. Friend that we should have special memory for Dr. Sakharov's fantastic efforts to try to get some liberty in the Soviet Union. We condemn this kind of action wherever it occurs, and we admire Dr. Sakharov's moves for liberty.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the present spate of massive takeover bids is bound, in the long run, to lead to even greater redundancies in this country and will put even more pressure upon smaller businesses to improve the economy of the country? Will the Prime Minister encourage her Ministers positively to discriminate in favour of the smaller businesses in this country, which are so beleaguered by high interest rates, increasing council rates and all the other charges?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's proposition that in order to increase wealth creation, and in particular job creation, we need to pay particular regard to the policies that affect small businesses. We try to do just that. The numbers of small businesses are increasing. The numbers of self-employed are also increasing. That is good news.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that earlier this week she raised with President Mitterrand, either in English or in French, the very serious crisis in the tin industry? If so, can she say whether there has been a favourable response towards a settlement of this deep crisis?
I am very much aware of my hon. Friend's particular interest in this problem. I raised the subject of the crisis in the tin market. I believe that there is now an increasing amount of co-operation among the European nations.
No. There was a decision this year to move towards giving more money to the inner cities, and I am afraid that did cause great trouble with the shire counties. We are urged in the House constantly to give more attention to the inner cities, and we find it a bit hard to be criticised for doing what we have been urged to do.
Yes, and I hope and believe that it is. I should like to pay tribute to those many teachers who have stayed at their posts honourably and conscientiously and borne the heat and burden of the strike action of those who have not.
Did the right hon. Lady impress upon Mr. Peres the essential need for Israel to accept the validity of the PLO in any negotiations towards a peace treaty in the middle east? Will she try to make him understand that, if he does not use the moderate influence of Chairman Arafat, he, or his successor, will have to face a much less moderate and more radical leadership of the Palestinians?
The hon. Gentleman knows the position, and it has not changed. Mr. Peres is in favour of direct negotiations between Israel and the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation within the framework of an international conference. I do not think that there is any question of accepting the PLO until it accepts resolutions 242 and 388, renounces violence, and accepts the right of Israel to exist.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is much interest in the talks that she had yesterday with Mr. Peres, in which one would hope that she did not adopt the belligerent attitude of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)? Is she able to tell the House of any advance made or of any solutions put forward in regard to the middle east situation?
I am afraid that I cannot suddenly come out with new solutions. One knows this particular aspect of world politics very well and the difficulty of finding a lasting solution which will give peace and security to all states in the region. The talks which I had with Mr. Peres were not only enjoyable but very interesting and constructive. I hope to visit Israel later this year.
I think that there is only one answer to that—no. I hope that we shall go forward to the next election and win for the third time with an even larger majority.
Despite the recent pressures on the sterling exchange rate, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm her commitment to lower interest rates in the long term and lower income tax for the people of this country? Will she ignore totally the Opposition Front Bench, whose economic policy would bring this country to absolute ruin?
I gladly support the last aspect of my hon. Friend's question. We would all like lower interest rates, but there are other things, like the level of inflation, at which we have to look as well. We would all like lower taxes, and that means being very careful in budgeting for public expenditure. With regard to keeping industry competitive, it is vital that any wage increases should go hand in hand with productivity increases.
Will the Prime Minister find time to discuss with the Minister for Health the cataclysmic drop in the morale of nurses as a result of the implications of the Griffiths report? Is she aware that the disillusionment of nursing officers is creating a crisis in the Health Service? Will she meet representatives of the Royal College of Nursing at the earliest opportunity?
As I said during Question Time on Tuesday, I visited a large hospital last Friday. I did not find the situation as the hon. Gentleman reports it. I found good morale, and some nurses have the opportunity to apply for the jobs of managers.
I am about to ask my question, Mr. Speaker. The two good things are the thousands of jobs that it will create and the fact that it will involve no expenditure of public funds. Will my right hon. Friend now look around and find similar projects for the application of those two principles?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on a most important point. Six and a half years ago it would have been unthinkable that we could agree a Channel tunnel scheme and have it privately funded. II is enormously exciting that we have done so, and we should look round for other similar projects.