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.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on embarking today upon her 10th year as Prime Minister, and wish her many more.
Given general doubts about the credibility of the Thames Television "This Week" programme on the Gibraltar shooting, does my right hon. Friend agree that there must be grave doubts about the ability of the Independent Broadcasting Authority to control the programme, in which troops were tried and convicted on the basis of very dubious evidence?
I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I share his concern about the decision of the IBA to show a film before an inquest has been held. The report of the interdepartmental committee on the law of contempt as it affects tribunals of inquiry, which was chaired by Lord Salmon, stated:
One would not wish to see in this country the horror of trial by Press, Television and Radio … We have so far escaped them only because of a high sense of responsibility on the part of the Press, Television and Radio and also because of the law of contempt.
I agree with my hon. Friend that on this occasion neither Thames Television nor the IBA demonstrated that high sense of responsibility to which the judge referred.
If the Prime Minister takes time today to reflect on the forthcoming local elections, will she recognise that many people will regard them as an opportunity to register their strong opposition to her attempt to transfer all power over local services from local authorities to the Government? Will she state her willingness to arrest that anti-democratic process?
What the hon. Gentleman has said is just not so. Indeed, when I last answered a question on the subject I pointed out that we would not take control of education because I did not think it right that we should do so. Our purpose is to try to give as many people as possible—parents and governors—much more control over their children's education. I believe that that would be greatly to the benefit of children.
We wish to reform local government finance under the community charge, which in England will meet only one quarter of local government expenditure, and in Scotland will meet only one seventh of local government expenditure. The reform is designed to ensure that everyone in each country can judge the level of community charge, because the same level of services, delivered at the same level of efficiency, should result in the same level of community charge. That will give much more accountability.
Does my right hon. Friend recall meeting, during her tour of Teesside, Mr. Eric Fletcher, the 35-year-old Middlesbrough man who threw 1,000 job applications at her, saying that he had not found a job? Was my right hon. Friend not surprised to read recently that Mr. Fletcher had found a full-time job? Will she give the same advice to others in a similar position?
I saw the news that Mr. Fletcher has a full-time job. I understand that he took my advice and undertook some excellent training, which enabled him to obtain a job. I congratulate him. I thank him for thanking me, which is a rare experience.
A moment ago the Prime Minister spoke of the importance of judging the results of the poll tax. Will she tell us why the Government refuse to publish the figures that show the effect of the poll tax on individuals in England, when they have published the figures for Scotland and Wales?
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the actual figures for the poll tax will depend—[Interruption.] for the community charge. I call it the community charge.—[Interruption]
The actual figures for the amount that will be paid to local authorities for their services will depend largely on their expenditure nearer the time.
If the right hon. Lady was able to overcome those difficulties, as well as her verbal confusion, for Scotland and Wales, why can she not do the same for England? Is it not a fact that if the truth about the poll tax were to be published by the Government before Thursday's election the Tory party would have to write off the English boroughs, in the same way as they have written off Wales and Scotland?
No. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are nearer the introduction of the community charge in Scotland than we are in England. If the community charge is very high, it is likely to be because of high or extravagant expenditure by Left-wing local authorities.
As the right hon. Lady persists in denying other people's figures, without daring to provide figures of her own, will she attempt a straight answer to a simple question? Is she saying "yes" or "no" to whether millions of men and women, including those in Tory boroughs, will pay more under the poll tax than they do under the rates? Will not millions of those men and women be among the low-income groups which have already been so grievously penalised by the Government?
Those who have hitherto paid nothing because they have paid no rates, will, of course, pay something towards the community charge—and so they should. The change is based upon equity, not upon gainers or losers. The real reason why the Opposition are fighting the community charge is that Left-wing authorities and councils will no longer be able to conceal the real cost of their policies.
Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider further changes in the housing benefit arrangements to take account of the fact that, following the probable sequestration of the assets of the National Union of Seamen, the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)—[Interruption.]
Will my right hon. Friend take account of the fact that the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) face the prospect of losing the advantage of their rental accommodation, at a reported weekly rent of £18?
I think that total expenditure is now about £5·3 billion for housing benefit, and the adjustments that have been made mean that we have it just about right.
Is the Prime Minister aware that, rather than the funds of the National Union of Seamen being sequestrated because it is acting on principle against a cut in wages and an increase in hours of work, it is P and O that should have its funds sequestrated because of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster at Zeebrugge? The sequestrated money could then be paid to the victims and the relatives of that awful disaster.
Sequestration is a matter for the courts, not for me, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware. I remind him that everyone has a right to go to his place of work without let or hindrance, and we shall uphold that right. With regard to the state of the dispute, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the parties went to ACAS, which pronounced a settlement, which P and O was prepared to accept, but which the National Union of Seamen was not.
Spending on health, education and social security now accounts for over 70 per cent. of Government expenditure, which is the highest ever figure in proportionate or real terms. Does my right hon. Friend agree that to be able to spend such massive sums, without bankrupting the country, is a vindication of the Government's economic policy? Does she regret the fact that the Opposition seem to be more interested in exploiting disadvantaged people for party-political gain——
I agree with my hon. Friend. The massive amounts now being spent on social security, housing benefit, the Health Service and education are a tribute to enterprise and flourishing industry and commerce, which provide the means for such a high level of services.
The Prime Minister said today, as she did last Thursday, that she expects the same level and standard of service, resulting in the same community charge, throughout the United Kingdom. Does the Prime Minister not understand that the massive differences in the levels of unemployment in Britain demand different responses from the local authorities? Does she not understand that, or has no one yet told her?
I have made it quite clear that in each country the same level of community charge would apply. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the grant to Scotland will be much greater proportionately than the grant to England. The community charge will meet only one seventh of local authority expenditure in Scotland, whereas it will meet one quarter in England. The community charge will be the same in different places in England, and in different places in Scotland, if there are the same levels of services and efficiency. The differences to which the hon. Gentleman referred will be taken into account in calculating the grant.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that charitable giving is a proper complement to the enormous amount of state aid that is provided for the under-privileged?
Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Although we have the highest standard of social services that there has ever been in our history, that should be augmented by charitable giving, particularly bearing in mind the enormous number of voluntary associations that we have. My hon. Friend knows a great deal about this, because for many years she was in charge of raising money for the Save the Children Fund. She, that fund, and many other funds have done wonderful things for those in need.
Does the Prime Minister think it fair competition that British confectionery and chocolate companies cannot buy into Swiss companies, but that the British Fruit Gum and the British Kit Kat are threatened by foreign predators? Will she refer the Nestle bid for Rowntree plc to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?
In welcoming the visit to Britain tomorrow by the Prime Minister of Japan, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make it clear to him that we require action rather than words in terms of free trade between our two countries? In particular, will she make it clear that that applies to further places on the Tokyo stock exchange for British companies, and to the ending of the disgraceful discrimination against Scotch whisky?
The visit by the new Prime Minister of Japan is important. We are very pleased, as I am sure my hon. Friend is, with the increasing amount that Japan is investing in this country. There are, as he suggests, one or two matters over which we still have strong disagreement, although our exports to Japan have gone up by some 50 per cent. over the past two years. I shall, of course, discuss those two matters—seats on the Tokyo stock exchange and a fair regime for the taxation of spirits—with the Japanese Prime Minister, and I hope that they will soon be resolved.