This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I am attending a dinner to mark the 30th anniversary of the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the light of the many achievements of the present Government, not least low inflation, rising productivity and growing world respect, morale on the Conservative Benches is extremely high at present? Will my right hon. Friend assert today that the decision on the date of the next general election is hers and hers alone and does not depend on media hype, pressure or speculation?
I agree with my hon. Friend's assessment that the economic position and economic prospects are good. I am glad to give her the assurance that the date of the next general election will be decided not in Fleet street but in Downing street.
When the president of the Royal College of Nursing warns that if pay and conditions are not improved the service will crack, will the Prime Minister give the nurses their well-earned due, or will she give them the same patronising, self-satisfied response as was given by her Minister at the RCN congress yesterday?)
It was this Government who set up a nurses' pay review body. IC was this Government who last year accepted the increase of 7·8 per cent. recommended by the pay review body. It was staged. Nurses' pay as a result of that award was one third higher in real terms than in 1979, even before the last July increase. Under the present pay scales a ward sister on the maximum of the scale is £2,700 a year better off than if pay had simply been indexed since 1979. Our record on nurses' pay is very good indeed, and the right hon. Gentleman's Government could not hold a candle to it.
If conditions are as wonderful as the Prime Minister describes, why, does she think, did that most dignified of professions barrack her ministerial mouthpiece yesterday? If the nurses do not believe the Prime Minister, why should anyone else? As far as the pay review is concerned, since the Prime Minister failed to honour the recommendations last year and the year before, will she now give me, the nurses and the whole country an undertaking that she will honour the recommendations of this year's review in full, pay the increase in full, date it from 1 April and not evade, dodge or give short change as she has done in the last two years?
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman does not recall that under Labour nurses received pay increases of less than the rate of inflation for three years in succession. Our record on nurses' pay and on the reduction in working hours—because the number of nurses has increased by 60,000 and their working week cut by two and a half hours with no drop in pay—is excellent. We have not yet received the pay review body awards. They will be considered carefully when we get them.
Recalling my right hon. Friend's recent visit to the Soviet Union, may I ask whether she agrees that the Soviets, perhaps better than any other nation, can-understand the terrible carnage that conventional warfare can wreak? Thus, is it not misguided for people in this country to concentrate on nuclear disarmament, especially one-sided nuclear disarmament? Would it not be a better and nobler ideal to seek mutual confidence, leading to real security in Europe and elsewhere?
I agree with my hon. Friend. When we are discussing disarmament matters, we have to consider nuclear, conventional and chemical weapons. If we are to get the reduction of weapons that we seek consistent with the defence of this country and its continued security, we must look for increasing trust and confidence. For that, we shall have to see how the Soviet Union honours its treaty on the Helsinki accord and what it does over Afghanistan.
Will the Prime Minister instruct the Secretary of State for Education and Science to bring forward immediately positive proposals for the restoration of teachers' negotiating rights and a timetable to go with them? Will she recognise that if she fails to do that the teachers' dispute, which we deplore, will get more acrimonious?
No, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of our position. We have granted a considerable increase in teachers' pay. Recruitment of teachers, particularly in physics and mathematics, is going up. The arrangements that we have made in the meantime for teachers' pay negotiations are temporary until we reach a permanent settlement.
The National Health Service has many more resources under this Government than it had under the Labour Government. Those resources are found not by Governments but by the people who pay taxes—income tax and value added tax. Taxpayers pay well over twice what they did when we came to power. Any increase has to be met from their pockets. There is no other way.
The National Health Service Management Board has commissioned a report to look at particular problems over the recruitment of nurses in London. The study team expects to report by late spring and the board will then consider what action may be required. So that is already being considered.
Has my right hon. Friend had time to read recent reports of brutality towards young soldiers in training? Will she confirm that those reports represent a deviation from the high standards expected and usually achieved in the British Army? Will she confirm that brutal NCOs and the officers who turn a blind eye to their acitivities will be rooted out and transferred to areas away from recruit training?
I agree with my hon. Friend that bullying will not and must not be tolerated in the Army or elsewhere in the armed forces. Reports that junior soldiers have been bullied are being thoroughly investigated, and if the allegations are substantiated firm disciplinary action will be taken against offenders.
Will the Prime Minister accept that, though the teachers are involved in a struggle with the Government, I want to ask her a question about nurses? Does she realise that 30,000 are leaving the nursing profession each year. Although all of us need nurses—and very often urgently—they are being treated to howling abuse from her party. They are struggling as best they can for all of us, and they are being treated obscenely. Does the Prime Minister not realise that the nurses are struggling to stay in their profession and to help the rest of us?
This Government's record on pay to the nursing profession, on reduction of hours in the working week for nurses, and on the increased number of nurses in the National Health Service is better than that of any other Government in the whole history of the NHS. As I indicated earlier, on present-day scales, before any proposals are put before us for new scales, a ward sister on the maximum of the scale would be £2,700 a year better off then if pay had simply been indexed by the RPI since 1979. That is a good record. It is no wonder that there are now 60,000 more nurses in the Health Service than there were eight years ago.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that in March this year new car sales were up by 8 per cent. over last year and new car imports were down 5 per cent.? Is this not a clear indication that, under Conservative leadership, our economy is increasingly product-competitive and far more prosperous?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is very good news that car manufacturers here—whether Austin Rover or Jaguar or the multinational car manufacturers—are increasing their sales to the home market. It is part of the recovery of manufacturing industry, which is now doing very well under the policies that are being pursued by this Government.
Is the Prime Minister not even slightly embarrassed by the greed and avarice that the sell-off of state-owned industries at well below their market value seems to have incited in some people? Will she explain to the House why it is that these matters were discovered by the Labour research department and not by the Government's own watchdog?
I have nothing to say about any particular case, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman expects a reply on a particular case. Privatisation has led to millions of employees having shares that they would never have been able to have. There are now up to 8 million shareholders. That, of course, means nothing to the Labour party except bad news, because it leads to independence and personal prosperity, both of which are death to its policy.
Will my right hon. Friend find time today to carry out a review of the unfair Japanese domination of the once again postponed financing arrangements for the Channel tunnel? Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Eurotunnel's prospectus, for every one British bank involved in the financing, seven Japanese banks have signed up? In order to avoid these unfair 7: 1 ratios and the creation of a Franco-Japanese Channel tunnel, will my right hon. Friend intervene to insist on proper national investment quotas and limits?
I am not certain whether my hon. Friend wants a Eurotunnel to be built. I want a Eurotunnel to be built and I think, therefore, that I will interpret his question as inviting more British banks and British institutions to apply to finance a very exciting project.
The Treasury's record on professional statistics is extremely good. I am not quite sure whose statistics the hon. Gentleman is questioning. If he writes to me and lets me know, we will see what we can do.