This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I was present at Victoria station to mark the arrival of the President of Turkey. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be attending a state banquet in honour of President Evren.
The Prime Minister is clearly in need of some rest and relaxation. Will she be letting her hair clown this year at the Notting Hill carnival? Before she does that, will she address herself to the deep-rooted problems of deprivation and discrimination that exist not only in Notting Hill but throughout our country? Will she do something about a situation in which apartments are for sale on our river at a cost of £370,000, with a Porsche thrown in, while in my local social security office in Harlesden, as a result of DHSS guidelines, the officers are paying out less than 2 per cent. of the total budget? [Interruption.] Will she confirm that the real cause of the moral thuggery about which the Home Secretary complains is in 10 Downing street itself?
No, I am not in need of rest and relaxation. The moment that the House rises I shall be going to Australia for the bicentennial celebrations. [Interruption.] I shall be there while the House is not sitting. The hon. Gentleman asked about social security payments. He will be well aware, particularly as I have heard some of the replies today, that the amount spent on social security has gone up enormously. The standard of living of the lowest groups has increased more than the rest.
In view of the stand that my right hon. Friend has taken against terrorism, will she take time today to condemn the appalling attack yesterday on a Greek passenger vessel? While expressing sympathy to the victims, will she also pay tribute to the schoolchildren from the Sion school, Worthing, and those in charge of them, who not only reacted bravely but administered first aid to other people who had suffered?
I gladly respond to both parts of my right hon. Friend's question. This was an appalling act of terrorism against people on holiday. All acts of terrorism are appalling, but this was a particularly appalling one. The schoolchildren from Worthing were an enormous credit to themselves, their families, their school and to Britain in the way that they tackled the terrible events. I gladly pay tribute to them.
I would stand by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. I do not recall that matter, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be surprised if I did.
If the Prime Minister genuinely stands by what the Secretary of State said, why has she endorsed a candidate in Kensington who denies her figures and says that the burden of poll tax in Kensington will be a third of the figure announced by the Secretary of State? Why are Ministers endorsing his fabrication every morning?
For Kensington it has been said that the community charge would be—could be—£122 after the ILEA overspend—Labour's ILEA overspend—of £218 has been eliminated and after the money paid under the safety net has been eliminated. Those are two major figures. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish the safety net to be abolished, as that would hit many Labour authorities very hard indeed. It means that some areas—in some Tory councils—have to pay higher rates while it obtains. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to be proud of the £218 ILEA overspend.
I do not think that the Prime Minister is wholly in command of her subject [Interruption.] Does she realise that, in order to give even spurious justification to that calculation, she must be announcing to the House that she proposes a massive cut in education spending throughout the ILEA area? If the purpose of abolishing ILEA was to cut the cost of London education to the bone and to cut services with it, why did she not have the guts to tell the House at the time?
If the right hon. Gentleman were in command of his subject, he would realise that I had given him two very precise answers and even that the figures added up. The forecast of £122 is what the charge would be with no ILEA overspend of £218, which is to be laid at the door of a Socialist authority—the highest expenditure for some of the worst education in the country —and after the safety net, which is a burden deliberately placed on many Conservative authorities over a period of four years to help those in many Labour authorities. Does the right hon. Gentleman want that to be eliminated?
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the support given by Bury, Wigan and Rochdale councils to the employment training programme? Will she urge Bolton council not to turn its back on this excellent scheme to help the unemployed, and does she deplore the violent tactics used by some of the opponents of the scheme?
I hope that all authorities, including Bolton, will support the employment training scheme, and I welcome the support given by many local authorities. Those who do not support the scheme are depriving young people of very good training which will be very important in the coming decade because fewer young people will be leaving school and we shall need a greater proportion with the requisite skills. I hope that every authority will urgently support the scheme.
Will the Prime Minister find time to meet representatives of the 500 advanced electronics workers at Marconi, Tyne and Wear, whose factory shut down yesterday, and the 5,000 shipyard workers whose jobs are at risk, to tell them face to face whether they, too, must get on their bikes to the bed-sits of south Kensington?
To the first part of the question, I am afraid that the answer is no. Redundancies are always a cause of great concern, especially in the areas where they occur, but, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, unemployment is falling in every region. He knows full well that there would be no effective industry if we did not keep up to date with the times and if we did not rationalise industry. That has to be done on many occasions. No electronics factory could exist without keeping up with the very latest developments, and that sometimes means redundancies. The hon. Gentleman referred to shipbuilding. I assume that he was talking about the problems of Swan Hunter, or the problems of Sunderland. I read what some Opposition Members said when the main frigate programme went to Yarrow, but let me state clearly that that programme went to Yarrow because Yarrow put in the best tender.
Is the Prime Minister aware that in London there are many hundreds of children, including over 100 in my borough, who are officially recognised as being in danger of physical and sexual abuse but to whom, because of staff shortages, no social worker can be allocated? Is she aware that exploding house prices and the impending poll tax will only make matters worse? What will she do to assist these vulnerable children?
With all due respect to what the hon. Gentleman has said, I should have thought that that came very high on the list of priorities of any social worker and that any children who were vulnerable would be one of the first duties of the social workers who are there. [Interruption.] Otherwise, if the hon. Gentleman has any particular cases, will he please give the information to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which has been doing excellent work for over a century or more?
My right hon. Friend will know of the announcement last Saturday about the Saudi Arabian arms deal. She will also understand that my constituents who work at Westland greeted that announcement with delight and, if I may say so, some relief. Will she take an early opportunity to come to Westland so that they may thank her in person for the part that she played in achieving that order for this country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Perhaps one day I will visit the firm. May I point out that I think we obtained the Saudi Arabian order because of the excellent way in which the Tornado order was fulfilled. That is due to all in the company, both management and work force, who carried out that order, as well as to the training given by the Ministry of Defence and the support services. It is a success story that won another powerful order, which we welcome.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the anger in Scotland at the remark by the chairman of the British Steel Corporation last week to the effect that the Ravenscraig strip mill will probably close next year? Does she recognise that the strip mill is crucial to steel making at Ravenscraig and that Ravenscraig is fundamental to Scotland's future as an industrial nation? That is why any move to close it will be met by a campaign of popular resistance the like of which has not been seen before. Will she take the opportunity this afternoon to congratulate the Ravenscraig work force on achieving levels of productivity which are the highest of the five United Kingdom integrated plants and probably the highest in Europe? Will she affirm the Government's commitment to steelmaking at Ravenscraig?
I read very carefully the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade and Industry as long ago as 3 December 1987 on British Steel Corporation privatisation and the future of steel making at Ravenscraig. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is familiar with that statement, which made it clear that there will continue to be commercial requirement for steel making at Ravenscraig for at least
the next seven years. My right hon. and learned Friend was tackled by Opposition Members straight away about the hot strip mill. He made the position clear:
There is a problem with hot strip mills, as I frankly disclosed in my statement. There is surplus capacity in the United Kingdom. However, the commercial judgment of the corporation is that it can continue to operate all four strip mills, at least until 1989."—[Official Report, 3 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 1112.]
It was known from the beginning when the statement was made that there was considerable hot strip mill capacity in the corporation. That statement was made about the one associated with Ravenscraig as far back as 3 December 1987.
Will my right hon. Friend accept the House's gratitude for taking on board six refurbishment areas of rundown inner cities held by Labour authorities? Does she agree that it is a national scandal that today more than 136 council dwellings, largely in the hands of Socialist bureaucracies, lie vacant? Will she tackle that matter at the earliest possible opportunity?
I saw the welcome that my right hon. Friend's statement on action housing trusts received in the House yesterday. The people living in those areas will greatly welcome the increased expenditure on their housing and the higher standard of living and greater security that they will enjoy. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that many council houses are left vacant for far too long. They number about 110,000 properties. The complaints about homelessness made by many of the authorities concerned would be far more credible if they were to fill some of the accommodation that they have left empty.
As the Sharpeville Six's stay of execution is running out, will the Prime Minister make the strongest representations to the South African President that it would hinder the dialogue between South Africa and our country, and with all democratic and justice-loving countries, if those executions were to proceed?
By me, through the usual channels and through the best channels, for clemency towards the Sharpeville Six. If their death sentences are confirmed, those representations will be made again. They will not be made only by me, but will be reinforced by the 'Toronto summit Seven and the Community Twelve.