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.
While the Opposition have a vested interest in generating misery, is my right hon. Friend aware that in the real world — certainly in my constituency — investment decisions are now being held up pending the outcome of the general election? Is this not the clearest possible evidence that those who are responsible in our country for creating new jobs and generating prosperity want a continuity of the present Government's economic policies and not a return either to the failed policies of the past or, even worse, new policies to fritter away the gains that have so dearly been won in the last few years?
Yes, I believe that overseas investors prefer a Government who believe in free enterprise and sound finance, and who practise both.
Does the right hon. Lady realise that she will have difficulty explaining why manufacturing investment in this country is 20 per cent. lower than it was in 1979 if all she has to say is that it is being held up pending the general election? In their time in office the Government have increased the tax burden on the nation by 17 per cent. and on the average family by 10 per cent. How could the Prime Minister claim last week that hers is the party that reduces taxation? Is it not obvious from that tax-raising record that she cuts truth, not taxes?
Since 1979 the family man on average earnings has had his income tax reduced by £10 per week compared with the tax regime that Labour left. In addition, this Government have got rid of four taxes that were imposed by Labour, and done many other things to reduce taxation.
Why does the Prime Minister so often seek to obscure the truth—[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister promised that taxes must and would be cut when she was first elected. The Prime Minister has presided over an 87 per cent. increase in VAT, a 50 per cent. increase in national insurance contributions, and higher rates and charges, which together mean that that average man with that average family is meeting a tax burden that is 10 per cent. Higher under her Government than under any previous peacetime Government. Does she not realise that it is the total tax that is important to the average family, not merely income tax—or does she not know anything about the average family?
The Prime Minister knows very well that there were choices. With the £3 billion from the 2p tax change the best that could be expected was an extra 80,000 jobs. With that £3 billion targeted on manufacturing, construction and vital services, 300,000 jobs could have been created in Britain. Does the Prime Minister not think that that would have been better value for money, better value for people and better value for Britain?
The right hon. Gentleman never says how many jobs would be lost by taking away the money from the people who would have invested it. He wants to talk about losing jobs. Look at his programme on defence, look at his programme on nuclear energy, and look at his programme for minimum wages.
With regard to certain speculation that has appeared in the press about the date of the general election, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that in exercising her constitutional duty of tendering advice she will be guided not by the ephemera of the opinion polls but by the best interests of the country?
During the past fortnight the Government have abandoned the search for sites for nuclear waste on land, announced 82 major road works programmes, given nurses their full pay award and now announced the saving of rural schools. In view of all these deathbed conversions, may we have a general election every year?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a movement has erupted in Manchester composed of all parties—Labour, Conservative and alliance—against a 20 per cent. increase in the rates and the mortgaging of their future, and that this petition is a cry for help from the people of Manchester to the people outside it? Will she find time today to give it her support?
I hope, with my hon. Friend, that people will remember when they vote on Thursday that Labour authorities mean high rates, which mean fewer jobs and a great penalty on domestic rates.
I think that what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that one will pay a good deal less poll tax if one lives in a good Tory authority area than if one lives in a Labour authority area. [Interruption.]
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that no strict criteria are laid down—financial or otherwise—for the closure of such schools and that the decision to close schools will be determined entirely on the ground of whether they are educationally satisfactory?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science recognises the wide support for village schools in the rural community. I understand that an answer will be given later this afternoon.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that next week, for the first time, no fewer than 200 licensed conveyancers will take up their jobs? Is that not first-class news for home buyers and all those on the domestic front? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government are to be congratulated on giving this opportunity to buyers in what was formerly a very restricted market?
Yes. The powers in the Administration of Justice Act 1985 on licensed conveyancers come into effect on 11 May. Those powers will be generally welcomed by all house buyers and by both sides of the House. They will introduce more competition into conveyancing and that competition is already helping to reduce costs and secure better value for money.
Will my right hon. Friend have time today to fit in a message of congratulations for the six newly elected Conservative councillors returned on Thursday with an increased share of the poll, and in particular for the victor in Devon, who succeeded with a 22 per cent. swing from the alliance to the Conservatives?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that most parents are appalled by the promotion of gay rights or lesbian rights, so-called peace studies in our schools and some of the more dangerous loony Left policies in places such as Brent? Is not the Government's suggestion that schools should be given more independence the only way to keep people such as Mr. Lawrence Norcross of Highbury Grove in place and in good heart? Should not those rights be given sooner rather than later?
Mr. Norcross was a highly respected and regarded head teacher who gave the children in his care an excellent education. The fact of, and the reasons for, his retirement will cause concern in the minds of many parents and underline the wisdom of Conservative policy to give more powers to head teachers and parents over the future of their schools.
This Government have increased, in real terms, the budget given to the arts, because we have great respect for the services that they provide and for the way in which they enrich the life of the nation. However, I do not entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's initial premise.