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.
Will my right hon. Friend take time today to reconsider her policies on wider share ownership? Research shows that 17 per cent. of Labour party members now own shares. Will she ensure that other sections of the population are able to enjoy that great privilege?
Our policy has been, and remains, a capital-owning democracy, including both the ownership of houses and the ever wider ownership of shares by all sections of the population. Further privatisation will assist in that process. It is a very successful policy and is partly responsible for seeing that the party that believes in a capital-owning democracy is returned to power.
The Prime Minister will know that we have a record trade deficit and that our balance of payments continues to deteriorate. In those circumstances, is she content to see the pound continue to rise against the deutschmark and the dollar?
The only way to deal with that is either to have excessive intervention, which would lead to inflation—and it is not part of our policy to assist inflation; rather, it is part of our policy to get inflation down—or to deal with the matter by interest rates, which would not be in the interests of inflation at the present time.
Is the Prime Minister saying that it does not matter, in her view, how high the pound goes?
I am saying that getting and keeping inflation down is the most important thing of all. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that we believe that last month's trade figures were a freak. Indeed, at the same time as last month's figures were announced, a reduction was announced in the deficit of the December figures and in the current account deficit for 1987.
When we have the highest real interest rates in the industrialised world, when we have that balance of trade deficit, when the balance of payments is continuing to deteriorate, when we have the lowest ever level of personal savings and when we have the highest ever level of personal debt, how long does the Prime Minister think that that condition can continue?
Will my right hon. Friend explain why, when we are spending more money than ever before on the National Health Service, there are so many complaints? Will she reiterate that the National Health Service is safe in her hands, and can she recollect any time when Budget day was National Health Service day under any Labour Government?
I recall very well that the Labour party Budget days and the control and management of its economic policy led to slashing hospital capital expenditure and cuts in the pay of doctors and nurses.
There was an attack, and this morning my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary called the ambassador into the Foreign Office to make it perfectly clear that differences of opinion must not be fought out on London streets.
Still on the subject of expenditure within the National Health Service, will my right hon. Friend try to find time today to reflect on the fact that, by targeting a relatively small amount of money on the reduction of waiting lists, there has been very considerable success over the past year in reducing them? Will she give further thought to whether the investment of a relatively small additional amount targeted directly on the acute services might very well bear disproportionate benefits?
I am very much aware of what my hon. Friend says. That money, instead of going generally to the improvement of the Health Service, was targeted specifically to get waiting lists down, and this has been very successful. We shall learn the lessons from that method of dealing with increased expenditure.
Could the Prime Minister, as a mother and a mother-in-law, spare a thought today for the women in my constituency and other parts of Grampian region? Is she aware that the local health board is proposing to close no fewer than six local maternity units, which means that women in my area and other parts of the region will have to travel 60 to 70 miles whilst in labour to the Aberdeen maternity hospital? [Interruption.] As I am sure that this is not the standard that the right hon. Lady would wish for her family, what assurance will she give the women of my area that they will not have a reduction in their standard of care?
I know of the hon. Lady's concern, and she was kind and courteous enough to give me notice of her supplementary question. As the hon. Lady knows, there has been a recent review of maternity beds in the Grampian health board area, which has revealed problems there, including the widespread under-use of facilities in the outlying and smaller units; hence the proposal to close some of them. [Interruption.] The board has issued a consultative document and asked for comments from all interested parties. The board will consider its proposals again in the light of representations that it receives before reaching a final decision. Any proposals for closure would, of course, require the consent of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, who will obviously carefully consider the representations which the hon. Lady and her constituents have made.
Yes. We have not merely every right to hold such an exercise in the Falklands Islands, but a duty to see that reinforcement proposals could in fact be carried out, otherwise we should have to keep more of our armed forces down there. It is no one else's business, but is a matter of the defence of the people's rights in the Falkland Islands.
Three or four years and many inexactitudes ago the Prime Minister rejected the request that particular attention be given to the Dearne valley area. Is she aware that we have now had a substantial number of colliery closures: Cortonwood, Wath, Highgate, Kilnhurst, Cadeby, Yorkshire Main and others; that Manvers now faces extinction; that we have lost many jobs in supporting industries in steel; and that Guinness and United Glass now propose a disreputable and deceitful closure of the glass works at Swinton, with the loss of 500 jobs? Is it not time that the right hon. Lady began to recognise that the horrid position that we face suggests that the Government should understand that they have a responsibility to the whole nation and not merely to a few favoured areas, of which the Dearne Valley certainly is not a part?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that throughout the last year, and, indeed, for about 18 months now, unemployment has been falling — [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]. Unemployment has been falling—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"]. It has in fact been falling in all regions of the United Kingdom during the past few months.
Has my right hon. Friend seen that, following the reports last week that Haringey council was funding a bookshop selling anarchist literature to five-year-olds—[Interruption.]
Has my right hon. Friend noted the more recent report that infant teachers in Haringey are somehow using Home Office funds to produce videos promoting homosexuality, and terrorism in South Africa? Does my right hon. Friend feel that that is a right and proper use of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, and can she do anything about it?
The first matter was raised in the House last week. As for the second, concerning the use of Home Office grant, section 11 grant is to help children from the ethnic minority communities in Haringey to achieve their full educational potential. The Home Office is investigating the allegation that the grant has been used for other purposes, and, if that is found to be the case, grant may be withdrawn. The Department of Education and Science is also looking into the possibility that Haringey may have contravened its statutory duties to forbid the promotion of partisan political views and to ensure that political issues are presented in a balanced way.
The requisite Departments are looking into the matters raised in both parts of my hon. Friend's question, with a view to taking action.
Will the Prime Minister take time in her busy day to reconsider the statement that she made to the House last year about Sir Maurice Oldfield? Will she consider the inconsistency of the withdrawal of his positive vetting while no action was taken against Mr. Peter England, a deputy secretary in the Northern Ireland Office, and Mr. J. L. Imrie, an assistant secretary at the Northern Ireland Office, following investigations into the buggery of young children at the Kincora boys' home? Is she not disturbed that Mr. Imrie has taken no action against the newspaper that named him and his activities four weeks ago, although he continues to work for the Government in the Ministry of Defence? Can she assure the House that she is convinced of Mr. Imrie's innocence?
If not, will she now finally concede a genuinely independent inquiry into what went on in the homes in Kincora, irrespective of the damage that that may do to MI5 when its role is exposed?
I have nothing further to add to the statement that I made on Sir Maurice Oldfield in the House. I note that the hon. Gentleman uses the privileges of the House to name people who are unable to answer back.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate all those who played a part in foiling what would have been a dastardly terrorist attack in Gibraltar by the IRA? Does she reject the criticism that is already beginning to creep in? Furthermore, does she agree that this shows the importance of maintaining the Prevention of Terrorism Act?
I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. It is very important to retain the Prevention of Terrorism Act. As for what happened in Gibraltar, most of us are very relieved that there was no repeat of the bombing of the Green Jackets, the Horse Guards or Enniskillen, or of the Harrods bombing at Christmas time. We are very relieved that these events did not end in that kind of tragedy.
Will the Prime Minister accept that in the course of a lifetime a person might want to change his or her job? Indeed, we sometimes wish that she would. There might be a variety of reasons why a person finds his or her job intolerable; for example, a young woman being sexually harassed. In the present climate it might be difficult for that person to find another job quickly. As such people have paid their taxes and national insurance, why is the right hon. Lady denying them unemployment benefit for six months? Is that not tantamount to the direction of labour, and why is she being so vindictive and callous to those people?
Title to unemployment benefit in general goes through the House and becomes a statute. In any particular case there is a right of appeal to the independent statutory authorities and not to a politician.