This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meeetings later today.
In considering the responses to the Government's proposals on student loans, will the Prime Minister acknowledge that the purpose of Government support for students should be to increase substantially the number of people in higher education in this country? As the proposals announced are based on a projection that there will be no increase in student numbers by 1996, will that not lay this country open to dangerous competition from other, better-educated industrialised democracies?
The system of student grants and now of top-up loans is one of the most generous in the whole world. I am sure that most people appreciate that. Increasing numbers, and an increasing proportion of students, are going into higher education. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that. One of the purposes of yesterday's announcement is to help people who at present cannot go to university to take top-up loans so that they can take up places which might not otherwise be available to them.
In congratulating President-elect George Bush on his victory, will my right hon. Friend thank him for the part that America has played in helping to ensure a record 43 years of peace in Europe? Will she offer him her continued staunch support for the future strength of the Alliance?
I gladly join my hon. Friend and most hon. Members in congratulating Vice-President George Bush on his splendid victory, which was a personal triumph for him. I also take the opportunity to thank the United States for being such a staunch ally in NATO and stationing some 330,000 troops in Europe. I hope that that contribution will continue, but I am the first to agree that Europe must be prepared to take a full part of the burden of the defence of Europe and to point out that this country does just that, as can be seen from the recent Autumn Statement.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has built the best economy that this country has ever known, and everyone in the House has done very well out of it.
Will my right hon. Friend give urgent consideration to producing one form from which a decision can be made on whether tax should be paid or benefits given to top-up inadequate income?
I would not be in favour of such a system, as it would lead to endless complexity. However, my hon. Friend is right to remind the House that the National Assistance Act started in 1948, having been introduced by a Labour Government, who followed it throughout all their time in Government. It is for means-tested benefits in addition to the fundamental basic state pension.
What advice has the Prime Minister for President-elect Bush about tackling the US debt problem? Could it not spark off a serious international economic crisis? Would not one way to help be to spend less, not more, on armaments? Will the Prime Minister advise following that policy and not beat around the bush?
In considering the budget deficit as a proportion of gross domestic product, I can only say that the American deficit is very much smaller than that which Labour had in this country during its time in office.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way to keep hooligans out of football grounds is through a national membership scheme? Will she call upon all football clubs to introduce and implement such a scheme as soon as possible?
Yes. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Minister with responsibility for sport introduced a report yesterday. It is right to have national identity cards for those who attend football matches—
Yes, in England. We do not expect it to apply to Scotland.
We are anxious, as are most people, that families return to watching football as a recreation and a family outing. We believe that that is the way to separate hooliganism from football.
Has the Prime Minister seen today's reported remarks of the Secretary of State for Health, accusing nurses at Birmingham children's hospital of not doing the work for which they are paid? Will she share my offence at such remarks and ask the Secretary of State to withdraw them, on the grounds that those nurses are dedicated and professional, are doing their job in difficult circumstances, and are doing exactly what they are paid for? Does she agree that the argument is about their grading?
I have not seen any such remarks by my right hon. and learned Friend. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the structure of the grading was agreed between management and nurses, and the regions have applied it to about 440,000 nurses. For that purpose, an extra amount has been given by the taxpayer, such that the total extra amount is about £928 million. If any nurse is aggrieved by her grading, she can go to appeal under procedures agreed by management and unions.
My right hon. Friend will have noticed that it was announced yesterday that last year British companies, both large and small, gave over £1 billion to charity. Does that endorse her vision of a giving society and show that, if they are allowed greater control over a larger proportion of their money, people give wisely and generously?
Yes. Both companies and individuals are giving very generously, and much more generously than they were able to give several years ago. One should like to thank companies not only for giving to charities but for the excellent work they are doing in inner cities and for the way in which many of them are taking a much greater interest in local schools, thus giving children a far greater interest in the future and a far greater prospect of obtaining the right jobs.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there are certain sanctions on South Africa, which are operated through the United Nations and which we honour, and there are other certain small sanctions which we have agreed through the Commonwealth, which we also honour. My purpose is to ensure that we do everything that we can to help Poland come to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund as to how best to conduct her industrial and financial affairs in future. We in this country will be the first to help to reschedule Poland's debts and to give extra help—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman might not like the long answer, but he does not like listening to sense.
I am aware that the whole House will want to congratulate my right hon. Friend on digging her way through the rocks and quicksands that confronted her on her recent visit to Poland. Has her visit made it more possible for Polish people to choose a freer and better way of life?
I made it quite clear that I was grateful to General Jaruzelski for ensuring that I was able to go wheresoever I chose in Poland to see whomsoever I chose to see, to have discussions and talks, not only with Solidarity, but with many independent people, who were able to put their views to me. I was extremely grateful for that. One problem with Solidarity is that there is no other expression of opposition on an organised basis in Poland. Things will be much better when there is a visible focus for people to make their own views known, which will be of great value to the Government. The round table is perhaps the first attempt to try to secure such a forum.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, Westland's future was determined by its commercial future. That was absolutely the right decision. We have one of the best Chancellors that this country has ever had.
As my right hon. Friend was unable to be in Paris yesterday to pay tribute to the memory of Monsieur Jean Monnet, will she take this opportunity to pay her tribute to the man of vision for his contributions to both the unity of Europe and the allied victory in the last war?
Yes, I gladly pay tribute to Jean Monnet. I understand that there was a very moving ceremony yesterday in Paris. We were not able to go from here because, as my hon. Friend is aware, we had a state visit in this country.