Can my right hon. Friend this afternoon express on behalf of the Government the disgust felt throughout the country at the attempt by terrorists not only to bomb the driver of a school bus in Northern Ireland but to kill the schoolchildren on that bus? Is it not a tragic irony that the children were then treated at the same hospital in Enniskillen as the people who were killed and injured in the Enniskillen bombing last year? Will my right hon. Friend send full reports of this bombing to Congressman Joe Kennedy in the United States?
This was a cowardly and disgusting act against an off-duty part-time member of the UDR in a situation in which many children and young people might have been killed. It indicates that there are no depths to which terrorists are not prepared to sink: first a remembrance service, then a charity fun-run, and now a school bus. I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing horror, coupled with thankfulness that no one was killed and more people were not injured.
May I first join the right hon. Gentleman in strongly condemning this vile attack; indeed, no words could give full force to what decent, normal, ordinary people feel.
Just three months ago, in the Budget, the Chancellor predicted a balance of payments deficit of £4 billion for 1988. Using the same expert advice, what is the Government's prediction now?
The Chancellor told the House on 16 June that recent figures pointed to a larger deficit than forecast at Budget time. But, of course, current account deficit is the counterpart of capital inflows. These reflect a new-found confidence in the United Kingdom as a place to invest and are financing high investment by the private sector, which will boost future performance.
If everything is going so well, why are interest rates going up?
As the Chancellor said:
Short-term interest rates remain the essential instrument of monetary policy. Within 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 he did today. A ½ per cent. increase reflects a further tightening of monetary conditions in line with moves earlier this month.
No. As the Leader of the Opposition will surely recognise, interest rates are an essential weapon in controlling monetary conditions. However, what is more to the point is that a 1 per cent. increase in wage costs is four times as damaging to industry as a 1 per cent. increase in interest costs.
Will my right hon. Friend attempt to organise visits to the annual conferences of the National Union of Mineworkers and the Scotch Whisky Association, because if he could he would find that the National Union of Mineworkers seems to support industrial unrest, and even the occasional killing of innocent people, while the Scotch Whisky Association employs 16,000 people, has exports worth £1 billion and contributes £1 billion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's budget? Does not that clear comparison show which is the more important to the nation?
I am sorry to give my hon. Friend a disappointing reply. My duties in this House will not allow me to attend either event. On the question of Scotch whisky, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the successful passage of his private Member's Bill. As for the NUM, I hope that whoever goes to its conference will find an opportunity to condemn the use of violence in industrial action.
Since the high value of the pound, aided by runaway easy credit, sucks in imports and worsens our balance of payments crisis, why, even today, does the Prime Minister continue to resist seeking exchange rate stability through joining the European monetary system? Will the Leader of the House explain the contrast between the Prime Minister's resistance to that and her tactless enthusiasm in the Canadian House of Commons last week for Canada to join an economic unit with its larger, single neighbour?
The control of inflation is paramount and the Government will not bail out excessive increases in domestic costs by allowing exchange rate depreciation. Restraint of industry's costs is in its own hands. The Prime Minister is discussing those issues in Hanover today. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman awaits her statement on Thursday.
In his discussions with the Prime Minister, will my right hon. Friend take note of the remarkable increase in charitable giving in this country in recent years, and especially the help that that provides in specific areas? Will he also convey to the Prime Minister the wide support for payroll-giving relief in the recent Budet? How does the Methodist Church think that we can behave otherwise than by that way of helping particular people? Will he condemn the Methodists' negative approach?
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to view last night's "World In Action" programme on her return, and especially to vet the activities of millionaire gangster Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who describes himself as "probably ruthless" and "probably violent" and who has been charged on several occasions with violence against tenants? In passing the Housing Bill last night, have not the Government given the green light to such ruthless gangsters to harass tenants further under the motto "Cry, 'Havoc' and let slip the ghosts of Rachman"?
I am sure that no one in the House would support criminal activities by any landlord in any form. Bad landlord behaviour is the product of the Rent Acts, which held down rents and denied landlords a reasonable rate of return. The Housing Bill remedies that.
Has my right hon. Friend noted today the case of Dean Scott, who died so tragically as a result of parental neglect, although warnings were both given and received by the police and the local authorities? Did he note that the three local authorities concerned have said that no blame attaches to them and that they followed all existing procedures? Will my right hon. Friend use his considerable influence to ensure that existing procedures are altered?
I cannot be expected to comment on the particular court case and the judgment that was reached, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will look carefully at all the lessons that are to be learnt from that distressing case and will see to it that any necessary changes are made and, certainly, that the proper procedures are brought to the attention of all those concerned.
When the Prime Minister returns from her latest overseas mission, will the Leader of the House ask the right hon. Lady, or the Mother of Parliament as she was mistakenly referred to in Ottawa last week—I am told that Canadian Opposition Members called her something different—urgently to knock together the heads of the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State for Wales for their further shilly-shallying over the second Severn crossing, as its further delay and the contradictions in Government policy over the matter are standing on the jugular vein of the Welsh economy?
As one who goes over the bridge quite frequently, I recognise that the increasing prosperity that the Government are bringing to south Wales is increasing the amount of traffic over the bridge. Both my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Transport have those matters in hand and will make an announcement in due course.
Will my right hon. Friend, during the course of his busy day, find time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the National Health Service, which takes place this weekend? Will he convey to all the people who work in it the hope that the scope and quality of the services offered will, over the next 40 years, increase by as much as they have over the past 40 years, the majority under Conservative Governments?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter. I am aware of the 40th anniversary of the National Health Service. It caused me to reflect that, for 26 years of that time, there has been a Conservative Government. We have consistently increased spending on the National Health Service, which now treats more patients with more new treatments than ever before. That contrasts with the record of the Labour party, which cut expenditure and nurses' pay and increased waiting lists.
I have already answered the question about interest rates and indicated that the movement of interest rates reflects a need to keep inflation under control, which is the paramount need of the economy at any time. The problem of people wishing to invest in this country would not be there if the hon. Gentleman's party were in government.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me notice of his question and for having drafted the reply.
The glorious revolution granted many freedoms that we enjoy today. It heralded the realism that the will of the people is paramount and cannot be subjugated to any group in our community. Those who find themselves in the thrall of certain trade union leaders would do well to remember that.
Is the Leader of the House not appalled at the farce that passes for Prime Minister's Question Time? Two 15-minute periods a week are spent by the Prime Minister in what can only be described as an abuse of her office. Is it not time that the Prime Minister, who is ultimately responsible for the balance of trade deficit, the crisis in the Health Service, 4 million unemployed, despair, homelessness and poverty, was ordered to come to the House to give an account of her bankrupt stewardship to the nation?
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I can think of better things to do with 15 minutes of my time every now and again. [Interruption.] To give the hon. Gentleman a serious answer, Prime Minister's Question Time is determined by the House, not by the Prime Minister. The Committee on Procedure has many times considered the way in which Prime Minister's Question Time is conducted. I know that my right hon. Friend would be willing to change the format if that is what the House wanted. I suspect that the present format is generally acceptable to most right hon. and hon. Members. If there is any criticism of it, it is of the quality of the questions that come from Opposition Members.