To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 March 1988.
Will the Prime Minister, in the light of the welcome decision for a stay of execution for the Sharpeville Six for four weeks, use the intervening time to intervene direct with President Botha to impress upon him that that kind of action is intolerable? Will she indicate that she is willing, if necessary, to withdraw the British ambassador, or to re-open the case for sanctions, if the South African Administration go ahead with an action that shows them to be barbarians who show contempt for fundamental human rights?
No. Full and correct representations have been made by myself, by Chancellor Kohl and by President Reagan, which expressed our views extremely clearly and asked for clemency. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there was a further Supreme Court hearing in South Africa today and the Supreme Court there has ruled that there should be a stay of execution for one month while the appellants prepare an application for a retrial.
My constituency has just received £500,000 in derelict land grant to overcome the problem from the dereliction of mines in north-west Leicestershire. Will my right hon. Friend visit the Coalfield Communities Campaign exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall and reaffirm the Government's commitment to improving land which has been made derelict by the coalfields?
We are very anxious to see that derelict land is restored and that it is the subject of new enterprise and jobs. I will of course endeavour to visit that exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall.
Today's reduction in interest rates is very welcome, but of course they need to go lower—just a little bit. In pursuit of what the Chancellor on Tuesday called the explicit role of "greater exchange rate stability", does the Prime Minister now understand that, when necessary, one can, and indeed must, "buck the market"?
My right hon. Friend, in a most excellent speech on Tuesday, which would have been even better had it been heard in quietness the entire way, made it perfectly clear that
Short-term interest rates remain the essential instrument of monetary policy. With a continuous and comprehensive assessment of monetary conditions, I will continue to set interest rates at the level necessary to ensure downward pressure on inflation."— [Official Report, 15 March 1988; Vol. 129, c. 997.]
That is what the Chancellor did today.
I am glad, and I am sure the country will be, to know that No. 10 and No. 11 Downing street are one big happy family again. I am also happy to welcome the right hon. Lady's reconversion to managed floating. Is not the real problem that while the Chancellor is now a manager, she is still a floater?
Perhaps the right hon. Lady should discuss that further with the Secretary of State for Education and Science. On the matter of domestic stability, did not the right hon. Lady say a week last Tuesday that she was against a cut in interest rates because it
would not be in the interests of inflation at the present time,
or by the present time did she just mean a week last Tuesday?
I know precisely what I said last Tuesday. I said:
The only way to deal with that is either to have excessive intervention … or to deal with the matter by interest rates, which would not be in the interests of inflation at the present time."—[Official Report, 8 March 1988; Vol.129, c. 184.][Interruption.] That was precisely what I said, but of course the right hon. Gentleman does not understand. He did not understand the significance of the last Budget, in so far as he was listening. [Interruption.] He does not understand because he does not listen—[Interruption.]
Had the right hon. Gentleman listened, he would have noted that on Tuesday we had an excellent Budget that demonstrated, with debt repayments of £3 billion, a strong and prudent fiscal position, the full strength of which was not known to the world until that time. Since then there has been a strengthening of exchange rates, which has tightened monetary conditions, all of which make possible the reduction of interest rates, but I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to understand.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the ill-informed attack on expenditure cuts and a give-away Budget, we are living in a period of the highest ever levels of public expenditure, the highest ever tax takes in terms of revenue, the lowest tax rates, the best ever record of inflation, falling interest rates and the repayment of debt instead of the increase of debt? Does she agree that that is the hallmark of a successful Chancellor, a successful Government and a successful economy?
Is the Prime Minister aware that my county, along with many others, is facing a programme of hospital closures, including five community hospitals, for reasons spelt out in the health authorities' consultative document a few weeks ago as clearly arising from under-funding by central Government? In view of the Budget surplus announced on Tuesday, of £3 billion, will the Government reconsider their funding policy towards the Health Service and stop the forced closure of such hospitals?
No. The increase in expenditure for the Health Service was announced as part of the £4·5 billion increase in programmes, and £1·1 billion is to go to the Health Service. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we shall consider the nurses' pay—when we know what is recommended—in the usual way, as we always have in the past.
For Wales, the output of the Health Service and the improvement in it has been enormous. The number of in-patient cases treated per year has risen by some 76,000 to over 435,000, an increase of 21 per cent. The Health Service in Wales is like the Helth Service elsewhere, greatly improved and performing many extra services over and above the position eight years ago.
Bearing in mind the importance of engineering activity and manufacturing industry to wealth creation in this country, which is fully recognised by Conservative Members, is my right hon. Friend surprised to learn that at the recent full-scale engineering debate in the House last Friday only one Opposition Member cared to turn out to listen and take part?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making it plain to the House that that was the case. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor explained that the enormous success in manufacturing industry during the past year has greatly contributed to the increased prosperity of the country, the health of the whole economy and the standard of living of our people.
However, is she further aware that hundreds of those properties are being destroyed by mining subsidence? Also, is she aware that many building firms in my constituency — small firms that the Government encourage—have gone to the wall because that work is no longer available? Will she call in British Coal and do something about the problem and give the people in my constituency a fair deal in the matter of damage to their property? The board is saying that they are out of time, yet it was the board that was responsible for the damage.
The hon. Gentleman must, of course, take that matter up with the National Coal Board, which I fully expect he has done. I notice that of the questions I am being asked today, not one dares to criticise the excellent Budget that we had earlier this week.
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that the latest unemployment figures show that the enterprise economy is continuing to provide prosperity and jobs, particularly for the long-term unemployed in regions and constituencies such as the north-west and Bury, North in particular? Will she confirm that the measures taken in the recent Budget will continue to improve that position further?
Yes. The latest employment figures show that unemployment is falling for the 19th month in succession. We have had a reduction of 400,000 since the election. The reductions in unemployment are among the greatest in the north-west, north-east and the west midlands. The Budget that my right hon. Friend announced on Tuesday will continue the increasing success of enterprise, the increasing number of jobs and the rising standard of living of our people.
The hon. Gentleman surprises me if he thinks that the Russian forces in Afghanistan were anything other than an occupying force. [HON. MEMBERS: "Honduras".] I will come to Honduras. I must say that we deplore the reported incursion by Nicaraguan forces into Honduras. At 11 o'clock on 16 March the Foreign Minister called a press conference to call world attention to the possibility of a Nicaraguan attack. President Azcona also called on his Central American opposite numbers to restrain the Sandinistas. It is only the Labour party that condemns America.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that in my constituency in Croydon, which has a thriving business and commercial centre, this week's Budget has been greatly welcomed and that, in particular, the cuts in income tax and the increase in thresholds, which benefit everyone, not just the wealthy, will be seen as a real stimulus to our local economy?
All 25 million taxpayers benefit from the double indexation of allowances. Three quarters of the total cost in 1988–89 of income tax reductions is due to increased allowances and the reduction in the basic rate. Age allowance has been increased by twice the indexed amount so that it is now at its highest real level since its introduction in 1975–76.