The hon. Gentleman knows full well that various parliamentary tactics are used in all parts of the House. I do not recall the Opposition complaining when opponents of the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill used a variety of parliamentary devices to try to prevent the private Member's motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) being reached on 7 June 1985. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and the shadow Leader of the House participated in that.
As one who received his first chance of higher education at Birkbeck college, London university, while otherwise in full-time employment, may I ask my right hon. Friend to intervene in the matter of its grant to ensure that it continues to do its splendid work?
Much as I admire Birkbeck college and its splendid work, my hon. Friend will be aware that I cannot intervene in the matter of its grant.
I give the right hon. Gentleman the same reply as I have given previously to the Leader of the SDP. Whether it will be received equally, I do not know. At present, there is no intention of joining the European monetary system. To do so would deny us an option that we have at present. If there was speculation against sterling there would be only two ways of dealing with it if we joined the EMS. One option would be to use up precious reserves, which could be done only to a very limited extent. The second would be by sharply increasing the interest rate. We would be denied the option of taking the strain on the exchange rate. I do not think it right to deny us that option at present.
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that it is the well paid who affect disdain for tax cuts? Does she agree with me that the fastest way to get people back to work in areas of high unemployment like the northern region is through lower taxation, higher take-home pay and social security reform?
I broadly agree with my hon. Friend. Lower taxes is a long-term way of creating jobs and creating more incentive. There also is a great deal of equity in reducing the level of taxation on those of average and below average earnings.
Will the right hon. Lady take this opportunity to condemn those of her hon. Friends who denied my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) the right to express his opinion and have it debated in the House? Will she undertake to restore to Back Benchers an additional private Member's motion on Friday?
Opposition Members cannot bear from this side of the House the tactics that they have frequently used themselves. The House will recall that on 25 March 1965 the late Richard Crossman, assisted by his parliamentary private secretary the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). dragged out a debate on planning to prevent discussion of a private Member's Bill introduced by the late Airey Neave on pensions for the over-80s. They were successful.
Yes, the Conservative party is the only party that has a clear, united policy on the defence of this country and would be a reliable ally in time of trouble.
On the matter of defending essential British interests, given the very high standards of engineering and technological skills in Rolls-Royce, and the great significance of that company for the manufacturing sector of our economy, will the Prime Minister now give us an undertaking that she will use the full powers of her Government to ensure that British Airways' huge engine order is placed in Britain?
British Airways has asked all three major aero engine manufacturers to provide quotations, as it usually does when considering the purchase of a new aircraft type. When it has completed its evaluation and has made a judgment about how many of the aircraft it wishes to acquire, it will put proposals for approval to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are arrangements between General Electric and Pratt and Whitney and Rolls-Royce. The essential thing is that Britain wins its orders on merit and performance.
I fully acknowledge that. First of all, of course, it is necessary for British manufacturing industries to stay in business in order to be able to compete to win those orders. Does she recall that it was the Government of which she was a member who rightly rescued Rolls-Royce from extinction? Does she not believe that she should be much more forthright and positive in her determination to ensure that the interests of that company, its workers and its technologists are properly safeguarded now?
Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman agreed that to be efficient and thriving a company has to win its orders on merit and, in fact, Rolls-Royce does. Why does he not concentrate on the possibility of Rolls-Royce winning on merit? It is for British Airways to evaluate the quotations from the technical and financial point of view. Rolls-Royce supplies the engines for most of the British Airways fleet at present, and I am sure that this will be a factor in BA's judgment, but I hope that Rolls-Royce will win on outright merit.
So do I, Mr. Speaker. Is the right hon. Lady going to hat for Britain?
Yes, but one does not bat for Britain by protecting industries that would be inefficient. One bats for Britain by backing industries that win on merit, and that this Government have done with Rolls-Royce—merit.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that virtually all of us on the Conservative Benches support her desire to reduce the burden of taxation on those on average earnings and below? Does she agree that perhaps the most cost-effective way of doing that would be an extension of the earlier policy of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reduce employee national insurance contributions?
Yes, but I think that the better way is to do what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor did in his last Budget. He has concentrated enormously on raising thresholds. However, as my hon. Friend will be aware, there is a very sharp increase as one comes into the first pound on which tax is paid, which is very damaging to incentives. One has to consider all three: the thresholds, the standard rate of tax and the national insurance contributions. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that that is exactly what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has done.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the great concern caused by the very circumstantial suspension of the deputy chief constable of Manchester? Will she assure the House of her vigilance in protecting the integrity of the report that he prepared on Northern Ireland and the integrity of a good and professional policeman?
Will my right hon. Friend accept that Birkbeck college, which she says she cannot help directly, could be helped enormously indirectly if the fees of mature students were made tax deductible?
My hon. Friend is proposing quite a fundamental change in the tax system, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have heard his question.
The Prime Minster:
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would quote my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment accurately, which he did not do. [Interruption.] I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment pointed out that those who are working have average earnings and a standard of living that are higher than ever before, but I shall add my own comment. There are occasions when sometimes higher pay for those in work is taken at the expense of putting more out of work.
Did my right hon. Friend see last night's "Panorama" programme on unemployment in Cleveland? If not, will she kindly do so and take instructions to ensure that Smith's Dock is not closed?
No, I did not see the "Panorama" programme last night. My hon. Friend will be aware that the problem with shipbuilding in this country stems from a shortage of orders, particularly for merchant ships. Unless there are more orders about, it will not be possible to keep all our merchant shipyards going. It is, of course, a matter of great regret that some of them have had to close.
Will the Prime Minister find time today to meet the director general of the British Tourist Board? If she does, she will discover that as a result of her slavish actions towards American foreign policy, especially the mad-hatted and ill-conceived bombing of Libya, hundreds and thousands of would-be American tourists arc not coming to this country, resulting in millions of dollars being lost to our economy. As that is the result of her statements and action, what is she positively doing to rectify the situation?
I hardly think that the hon. Gentleman's question is calculated to get more American tourists to come here, but I hope that they will return to this country, and we are doing everything possible to that end.
When my hon. Friend considers the comments of the Leader of the Opposition, will she bear in mind that this Government funded the RTM 322 through Rolls-Royce, the European fighter aircraft which is powered by Rolls, the AVM, which is powered by Rolls, the Hawk trainer, which is powered by Rolls and which has been sold to the United States, and the IAE 2500 engine, which is also partly owned by Rolls?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his carefully rehearsed question. I hope that Rolls-Royce will win on merit. It does no good for the efficiency of British industry to protect it from foreign competition. That is the way to reduce our efficiency and ultimately to reduce our standard of living.
Does the right hon. Lady believe that France, Germany, Italy, the United States and all our other competitors, if placed in the position that is faced with British Airways, with a major industry having a major contract, would, under any circumstances, allow it to go abroad?
Rolls-Royce, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has arrangements with the two other big aero engine competitors which I have mentioned. An order for one often means a great deal of subcontracting to the other. I repeat what I have said. Rolls-Royce and other industries have to win on merit. If the hon. Gentleman wants universal protectionism, that will be bad for our exports and bad for our standard of living.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many successful small businesses in my constituency and elsewhere do not look to the Government for cash handouts, but wish to have better access to Government contracts, in particular, the £34 billion a year which is spent on purchases of goods and services? Will she take steps to ensure that such better access is made available to the small business sector?
I know my hon. Friend's concern about this matter. It is important that small firms are able to compete for Government contracts. I think that he is aware that the central unit on purchasing is examining, with purchasing Departments, small firms' access to Government contracts. We expect to receive its report towards the beginning of July, and I shall keep in touch with my hon. Friend.