This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today.
With the increased standard of living of the whole nation, including those on benefit, I believe that we speak and act on behalf of the whole nation.
Has the Prime Minister read reports today of the American diplomat's husband who has allegedly sexually assaulted a young English girl and who was prevented from being prosecuted by diplomatic immunity? Does the Prime Minister consider that the Vienna convention is outdated, bearing in mind all the parking fees that are left unpaid, the driving offences that have gone unchallenged, the death of WPC Fletcher and today's sordid episode?
I read the report, and inquiries were made. An incident did take place involving the husband of a member of a foreign embassy in late 1985. Contrary to press reports, the case was not one of rape or assault, but of indecent exposure. Fortunately, there was no physical injury. None the less, of course, this was a serious matter. We immediately asked the embassy to waive the immunity of the person concerned so that action could be taken against him. The embassy declined, but withdrew the person concerned the next day.
Will the Prime Minister join me, and I am sure Members on both sides of the House, in warmly welcoming the reports that BTR has called off its bid to take over Pilkington? However, is she aware that the case has highlighted the need for a radical revision of the Government's decision to confine references to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to strict questions of competition? Does she agree that at a time of so many conglomerate takeover bids such narrow terms of reference cannot properly safeguard the wider industrial and technological interests of the nation?
As the right hon. Gentleman has noted, the market took its own decision much more quickly than would have happened had the matter been referred. With regard to the specific question that he mentioned, as he knows, there is a review under way. The issues need to be looked at carefully and thoroughly. The guidelines published by the then Secretary of State in 1984 were designed to meet companies' wishes for stability and predictability. It would be quite wrong to be panicked into ill-considered changes, and for some time further review has been under way.
That review was decided upon last June, which was very welcome, and the advice and subscriptions of comment closed at the end of July. Why has it taken so long for us to obtain a report at a time when the value of conglomerate bids has gone up from under £1 billion in 1979 to an annual rate of £9 billion now, so distorting the whole possibility of the future of so many productive and innovative industries in this country?
Some mergers go through and are of great benefit and lead to the very much better use of assets. Some are fought off by the market and some go through with the market. We must consider carefully why matters should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. If they cause a monopoly and reduce competition the matter is easy to decide, but the decisions must not be arbitrary. If we are to define new rules, we must be quite certain that they are such that the market can clearly understand them and they do not lead to arbitrary decisions.
Will my right hon. Friend join me and many of my hon. Friends in congratulating Pilkington's work force on producing a highly successful conglomerate in the north of England? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite many of the comments to the contrary, this is a model of industry in the north of England, which proves that in the north there is industry that is alive and well and prospering?
I have visited some of Pilkington's factories, and, as my hon. Friend says, I have been very impressed with the work that they do.
With regard to the north-south divide, which the Prime Minister seems to suggest does not exist, is she aware that, despite her reply to the previous question, unemployment in my constituency is over 30 per cent. and 5,500 people are signing the register, out of which 278 are young people under the age of 18 seeking their first job and are already beginning to think that they are on the scrap heap? What does the Prime Minister intend to do about the situation in my part of the world?
With regard to what the hon. Gentleman calls the north-south divide, the difference in income has not changed much since 1975 and travel and housing in particular cost more in the south. Employment has grown since 1983 in every region, save Wales. Unemployment in the past few months has been falling fastest in the north, north-west and Wales.
With regard to specific help for the north, since 1979 the north, including the north-west, Yorkshire and Humberside, has received over £2 billion of regional assistance, compared with less than £200 million for the rest of England. As the hon. Gentleman knows, each year the rate support grant system redistributes about £1 billion in grant from London and the south-east to the north. As he will also be aware, the Manpower Services Commission money for youth training and community schemes goes far more to the north than to the south.
Without in any way prejudging the outcome of the Department of Trade and Industry's investigation into Guinness, does my right hon. Friend welcome the resolute action taken by its new chairman Sir Norman Macfarlane? Does she agree that if the City and business are to command confidence nationally and internationally they require people like Sir Norman to enforce unimpeachable standards of probity and integrity?
Yes, Sir. I agree with my hon. Friend and his comments about Sir Norman Macfarlane. As he knows, the City is very important to the economy of the whole of the United Kingdom. It in fact contributes to the economy net earnings from overseas of over £7 billion, which is as much as, if not more than, North sea oil at its peak. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is vital that probity and honesty be seen to be maintained and we are anxious that if there are cases to the contrary they should be rooted out, and so, indeed, is the City.
I point out that the Government have done more than any other Government to root out such cases. Insider dealing was made an offence in 1980, for the first time. There was a Companies Act—[Interruption.]
When will the Prime Minister tell the House her conclusions following last year's review of takeover and merger policy? Will those conclusions include the need to consult employees, as well as shareholders, in what ought to constitute a wider definition of the public interest?
The right hon. Gentleman heard what I said earlier. Guidelines were issued in 1984. A review is under way. He also heard me say that any fresh guidelines must be quite clear and specific. There must be no question of an arbitrary reference of these matters, because if there is we shall suffer and not get inward investment. My conclusions will be made known when they are ready.
With labour costs falling and export opportunities rising, does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain is about to enter an era of unparalleled manufacturing output which will bring prosperity and jobs to all areas?
My hon. Friend is correct. Manufacturing productivity has gone up very rapidly and it is therefore thought that labour costs are staying level. This gives us a tremendous opportunity further to increase the volume of exports. Manufacturing industry is doing very well and its export orders are almost at record levels. Good times are very much in prospect.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that her recent visit to the west midlands was extremely well received? Is she further aware that many of the stouthearted people in that region are determined to play their part in Britain's industrial recovery and do not believe, like the Opposition, in a divided nation?
I am glad to see my hon. Friend back in his usual place and showing his customary vigour. I very much enjoyed the visit to Birmingham and the west midlands. I was well received and found the area confident. Immediately on my arrival I was presented with a copy of the Birmingham Evening Mail, which had a record number of situations vacant in 29 pages.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister did not manage to hear the entire question I put to her several weeks ago about the power industry. This was entirely due to the noisy and unruly behaviour of Conservative Members. Is she aware that Babcock Power, one of our major builders of power stations, has announced that 26 per cent. of its work force throughout Britain is to be made redundant? Will she consider bringing forward orders for the power stations that Britain needs so that we can keep together a highly skilled and specialised work force?
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's point. As he knows, the decisions will have to wait a little longer, until after the Sizewell report has been published, considered, debated in the House and decisions made upon it.
My hon. Friend makes a vital point. He knows our policy towards the farming industry, which is vital to Britain's future. Although it has to make changes, we are trying to see that those changes are made at a rate which the industry can absorb. We totally and utterly condemn any suggestion that farming should be rated.
In view of the reply that the Prime Minister gave a few moments ago and her support for the one-nation policy, will she consider sending a task force of the appropriate Ministers to the north of England to find out what the situation is there, because I am sure that the Government are totally ignorant of the situation in that part of the country?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in trying to give any impression that the north of England is down and out, when many parts of it are very prosperous. The road systems are excellent, the buses are excellent and the hospitals are excellent. In many cases the airports are excellent, the railways are running, and when I was recently in Manchester, and previously in Newcastle and also in Scotland, I made the point that if one wants extra investment and jobs one boosts the advantages of a region, which are many.