This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with Ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the extremely encouraging fall in unemployment announced this morning represents further evidence that her Government's policies of sharing the fruits of economic growth between cuts in income tax, cuts in public borrowing and cuts in interest rates, together with selective increases in public expenditure, are the right policies for Britain for the next five years?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the figures are encouraging. They show that unemployment is on a downward trend. They also show that the number of jobs is rising, and that sound financial policies, private enterprise and incentive taxation are a winning combination.
When 750,000 people are on hospital waiting lists and some people have waited for more than four years for operations, is not the right hon. Lady's claim that the Health Service is safe in her hands a sick joke against sick people?
No. The right hon. Gentleman complains that waiting lists are too long. The fact is that Labour Governments have presided over [Interruption.] increases in waiting lists and Conservative Governments [Interruption.]
Labour Governments have presided over increases in the waiting lists, but Conservative Governments have cut them. Between 1964–70, under Labour, waiting lists increased by 85,000. Between 1974–79, under Labour, waiting lists increased by nearly 250,000. By contrast, between 1970 and 1974, under the Conservative Government, waiting lists fell by 31,000, and since 1979 the waiting lists have fallen by 70,000.
Both in terms of the numbers on waiting lists and in terms of the waiting time on waiting lists, the Prime Minister is misleading the House—[Interruption.] In both cases, after eight years in government, the figures under the Tory Government are 15 per cent. higher than they ever were under Labour Governments. Is it not obvious that if the right hon. Lady or any of her loved ones had to wait on a list for treatment under the National Health Service she would have a different view of the pain and anxiety suffered by those who do?
As I have shown, not with rhetoric, but with facts, Labour Governments have presided over increases in the waiting lists and Conservative Governments have cut them. The number of patients being treated under this Government has increased. There are almost 1 million more patients in hospital per year. Patient services have also increased. The number of heart bypass operations has tripled, perinatal mortality has been reduced by more than a third, the number of hip replacements has gone up by a quarter and the number of cataract operations has gone up by a half. That is our record.
When the Royal Colleges of Surgeons and Physicians, the Select Committee on Social Services and, indeed, all patients who use the Service and the people who work in it say that the Prime Minister has never made the proper commitment to the National Health Service that is required by modern needs, is it not obvious that there is not so much a shortage of money as an absence of morality on the Prime Minister's part?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about a shortage of money. The day that I went into 10 Downing street, £7·75 billion a year was allocated to the Health Service. Today that figure is £21 billion a year, giving a very much better Health Service and a very much better standard of care.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, however hard the Leader of the Opposition may try, and whatever they are praying for in Moscow in the next few weeks, millions of people in the United Kingdom will be praying that she will be given the health and strength to continue to give the magnificent lead that she has given to us all for eight solid years? Whatever hon. and right hon. Members opposite may say, that, and her personal input of ideals, ideas and effort, and those of her Governments and the people of this country, have enabled the people of this country to regain their confidence, their self respect, a place in the world and the real prospect of a better future. provided that we return her to No. 10 Downing street four weeks today. God bless her.
Is the Prime Minister aware that since 1979, full-time employment opportunities for young people have fallen by one third? Will she now reconsider, as a matter of urgency, the cuts in benefits for young people, and act to cancel the restrictions on accommodation and finding homes for young people, so that they have the independence to find work?
Unemployment among those under 25 years old fell by more than 80,000 in the year to January, and, in fact, the unemployment rate for under 25-year-olds in the United Kingdom is fortunately below the average for our major European competitors. Even so, it is too high, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the extensive measures taken under the youth training scheme and the new job training scheme to try to match training to jobs for which people cannot be found.
With regard to housing, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until the manifesto comes out. There are still certain controls which are not conducive to finding private rented property.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that last Friday the Labour Opposition deliberately blocked a Bill that would have stopped very young children in our schools from being encouraged to grow up as homosexuals? Will she give an assurance to the House that, in the next Parliament, she will, in legislation, protect both children and the concept of the family?
I know of my hon. Friend's great concern for protecting family life, and I congratulate her on her promotion of the Bill to which she has referred. No one voted against it, and I think that it was a great pity that it did not complete its passage through the House. The Government supported her objectives. I hope that she will bring the Bill back before the House when she returns and that it will then go through both Houses.
Does the Prime Minister recall the appalling statement that was made by the Secretary of State for Employment on 12 February, when he said on "Newsnight":
I lose no sleep about unemployment."?
On the eve of an election, the right hon. Lady having been Prime Minister for eight years, leaves us with 3 million unemployed, despite the figures having been fiddled 19 times. Will she come to my constituency and tell the 7,000 there who have become unemployed as a result of her activities over the past eight years that she endorses the statement of the Secretary of State for Employment?
I know of no such statement, and I wish to make that perfectly clear. As the hon. Gentleman has made an assertion, I hope that he will attempt to adduce chapter and verse, which I think he will find extremely difficult to do. Business produces new jobs, and it is a necessity to have an economic policy that produces thriving businesses, without overmanning or restrictive practices, that use the latest technology. We have steady economic growth, and that is good for future jobs.
I know that all my right hon. and hon. Friends wish my hon. and learned Friend well and hope that he will be asking a similar question shortly after the beginning of the new Session. I know Leicester well. It has always had varied industries and I congratulate it on the level of enterprise and on the increasing number of jobs that it is providing for its people.
All those who are here for permanent settlement have the same rights and the same responsibilities, and we must continue to make that clear.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is to the eternal credit of the teaching profession that so many of its members defied recent union pressure to strike and decided to put the education of children first? Has not a great deal of this to do with recent Government action, and has not the time come for the Government to put in hand radical measures to change the running of schools?
I agree with my hon. Friend that parents are grateful to those dedicated teachers who have insisted on putting the children first throughout a time when others have gone on strike. Our new pay arrangements are designed to give just such teachers higher pay. When the manifesto appears, I hope that my hon. Friend will be pleased about it. It is designed to give greater choice, power and influence to parents in the education of their children.
When the Prime Minister told the House last week that the director of the security services had conducted an investigation into the allegations against MI5, she did not make it clear whether that investigation embraced allegations about Northern Ireland, such as infiltration of paramilitary organisations, the commission of murder and attempts to discredit public figures, including myself. Will she tell me whether the investigation included that, and will she also tell me the outcome of it? By the way, when she next speaks to the director, will she tell him that if he ever finds that forged bank account that is attributed to me I shall halve it with him.
Following the point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), does my right hon. Friend agree that children also have rights, as well as teachers, and that children have been badly affected by the industrial action that has occurred in our schools in the past few months? That time will never be made up. Will she pay tribute to the good teachers who have refused to obey the dictates of their union bosses?
I gladly pay tribute to all those most excellent teachers who regard their first duty as the education of their pupils. Parents throughout the country are very grateful to those teachers. The new pay arrangements are designed to give those teachers greater promotion and greater incomes than others.
Will the Prime Minister tell us whether she read an article which appeared in her favourite newspaper, the Daily Mail, a few weeks ago under the heading, "Who takes the prize for champion liar …?" Since that publication, it would appear that President Reagan and his team are well ahead in the race. When the Prime Minister goes on television——
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has looked at the replies that I have given from the Dispatch Box and found them accurate to the very level best of my ability.