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 hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.
In the light of the Brussels agreement, will my right hon. Friend undertake to seek the elimination of MCAs on pigs and poultry? In doing so, will she consider the enormous potential in that sector for converting surplus cereals into pigmeat and poultrymeat, of which the United Kingdom is a net importer?
I believe that British farmers will welcome the agreement that we reached in Brussels. With regard to the two matters raised by my hon. Friend, I am aware that pig farmers are in acute difficulty at present, although I understand that poultry farmers are not in quite such difficulty. I confirm that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be seeking at Brussels the elimination, or at any rate the reduction, of MCAs in order to help our pig farmers.
As there have been very substantial changes in the education policy on which the Government fought the general election, may we be told whether the basic principles still stand? Does the Prime Minister still insist, as she did at the last Tory party conference, that in education the wishes of parents must be paramount?
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, in our last manifesto and in the legislation before the House, we are giving parents a greatly increased say in education and greatly increased opportunity for children. Those are the principles on which we fought the election. That is what is happening.
No. Our policy on ILEA has been generally welcomed—[Interruption.] At the election we made it clear that each local authority could opt out if it wished. Therefore, the future of the ILEA was always in doubt. We went further than that in our wish to help parents and said that if parents chose to opt a school out of ILEA or of a local authority they could do so. They could, therefore, have stopped ILEA on their own. We were faced with views which suggested that there should be an orderly rundown of ILEA and I believe that that is the right policy.
Will my right hon. Friend consider carefully the evidence that Lord Cockfield gave yesterday to the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service? As the EEC Commission is evidently prepared to consider only formal representations, will she today write to the Commission, making it clear that the commitments that she has given on zero rating for VAT are absolute and that the Commission should not waste its time putting forward proposals that involve the abolition of the principle of zero rating for VAT?
As my right hon. Friend is aware, the Commission and one of the commissioners representing this country are very well aware of our position on VAT. We shall insist on our right to determine zero rating. Any changes in taxation have to be by unanimous vote and we would not agree to that. If my right hon. Friend thinks that the commissioners do not know, I shall make arrangements to see that they do.
Will the Prime Minister clarify the reports to the effect that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is conveying to the Government of the Republic of Ireland the intention of another Department of Government before that Department comes to the House and has the consent of the House? Or is this just another attempt to make the House as useless as Members representing Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman's question was a little Irish; in fact such that I did not get the full meaning of its content. There is no change in our policy towards Northern Ireland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that her recent meeting with the bishops of the Church of England has caused widespread satisfaction? Is she aware that at a time of rising prosperity, this can best be accompanied by high moral standards? Is it not the duty of the Church, as well as of parents and teachers, to proclaim those standards?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Rising prosperity brings great benefits, but on its own it is not enough. It is how one uses that rising prosperity that counts. I certainly had a private meeting of the kind that my hon. Friend indicated. I think that he and I, and most people, believe that all societies need to have rules and standards by which to live, and that the Church has a great part to play in setting those rules and standards.
When will the Prime Minister end the confidence trick that is being played on pensioners and other recipients of state benefit in relation to the back pay which they were supposed to receive recently? Is she aware that in my constituency a 79-year-old blind pensioner, who has a son claiming constant attendance allowance, was due to receive £16 on both books, and in that very week her branch of the DHSS sent one pension book and reduced the entitlement to £8? Is it not time the Government got rid of the sinister streak that enables them to rob blind pensioners of £8 when the Prime Minister is doling out money to the Common Market and not investigating the fraud in the City of London?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the extra sum of approximately £8 is being paid. The Government were not legally compelled to pay it —[Interruption.]
If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case to raise he should let my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State know, or have the courtesy, if he is raising a case of one out of 10 million pensioners —[Interruption.] to let me know. If the hon. Gentleman is really the compassionate man that he is, I am sure he will see that that person does not lose.
In welcoming the positive news from Moscow, may I ask my right hon. Friend to organise a fresh mission for her right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary? As he has been able to persuade the Soviet Union of the logic and sense of our maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent, perhaps he could be sent on a mission to persuade the Front Benches of the Labour and Liberal parties—
I very much welcome Mr. Shevardnadze's confirmation of Soviet policy, that our independent nuclear deterrent is not contained within these arms control negotiations and is entirely outside them. That is why we are modernising it with Trident, and that is why we on the Government side believe that it is fundamental to our defence, and we shall see that our defences are fully safeguarded in the future.
Will the Prime Minister reflect on a letter in Saturday's Guardian from Dr. MacSweeney of Leytonstone House hospital which is within my constituency, saying that many mental health problems in this country are treatable, but with the cuts that the Government are imposing beds are often not available for psychiatric or mentally handicapped patients? As the Prime Minister is fond of reading out NHS statistics, will she read to the House the NHS statistics for bed losses and cutbacks in the mental health service? Or, in this matter is it mindless negligence that figures?
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, this Government have done a very great deal to see that patients who would otherwise be in mental hospitals are outside and looked after in community care. We have made great strides towards that. I stress once again that what the hon. Gentleman runs away from the entire time is the fact that expenditure on the Health Service is up from £8 billion in 1978 to £22·5 billion this year.
Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to see the leaflet that was recently circulated by the Labour party from Walworth road, which says that anyone who does not register—[Interruption.]
Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House today that someone who does not register for the community charge will not be prohibited from voting in future elections?
Yes. There are two quite different registers. The register that entitles one to vote is registration on the electoral register. The community charge register is directly related to the community charge, and failure to register on the community charge register does not in any way affect one's right to vote. Anything said to the contrary is totally false.
Has the Prime Minister had a chance to read John Stalker's book? Is she aware that, for the ordinary Member of Parliament or, indeed, for the ordinary citizen who is not always involved in Northern Ireland, and does not agree with terrorism — in fact, hates terrorism — but is supportive of security, it is a pretty shocking book?
Will the Prime Minister tell me why a police officer who was singled out because of his probity and exceptional qualities should be treated in such a way? Surely the right hon. Lady cannot simply ignore what he said. Will she tell me what she is going to do about his allegations?
I have not read the book. The findings of that person were directed to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland in his prosecuting capacity, and not to anyone else. Neither I nor anyone else in Government, other than my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, would be entitled to read that report, because it is not a matter that affects the Government, but it does affect the prosecuting authorities.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has given the reply about criminal prosecutions and proceedings, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has told the House that the next step is for the findings of the Stalker-Sampson inquiry to be considered in the context of possible disciplinary proceedings. He has also promised a statement as soon as possible on matters within his responsibility concerning procedures and control within the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That is the proper way to deal with the matter.