This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I was also present at Victoria station to mark the arrival of President Babangida. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a state banquet in honour of President Babangida.
My right hon. Friend makes his own point in his own way. I expect that it will turn out to be unilateralism in a different wrapping.
How could the Secretary of State for Health say last Saturday that the Health Service is at the limit of its capacity to absorb money when the health authorities report today that hospitals are underfunded by £490 million this year?
If the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else suggests that hospitals are underfunded at their present rate, they must have been in dire circumstances when they had only one third of that amount from Labour.
Will the Prime Minister simply tell us whom she thinks is telling the truth? Is it the Secretary of State, who says that the Health Service cannot take any more money because it cannot absorb it, or the health authorities, who say that the hospitals are £490 million short? May we have a straight answer to a straight question?
will give the right hon. Gentleman a straight answer. Under him, the health authorities had only one third of what they are getting now, and that is what he cannot take. They are now getting three times as much as they had under Labour and they are doing far better than ever.
Has my right hon. Friend seen, or will she see, a splendid half-hour programme, independently produced for the BBC last week, called "Thatcher's Children"? Apart from the fact that it was made almost entirely in my constituency of Nottingham, South, which is part of what she has rightly called the queen of the midlands, does she agree that the young people interviewed showed enterprise and willingness to meet an enterprise culture, which bodes well for the future? Does she also agree that it is quite wrong to equate enterprise with greed and selfishness?
The number of young people who are becoming self-employed, starting up their own businesses an taking advantage of all the opportunities is extremely encouraging. They are not only responsible for their own future but are looking after jobs for others and should be encouraged in every way.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that at the seminar at Downing Street energy conservation was recommended by the scientists as being the single thing which could deal with the problems relating to the greenhouse effect? Therefore, will she instruct her Minister of State, Department of Energy, on attending the European meeting on energy conservation this Thursday, to block the advice of civil servants which will effectively prevent a Community action programme for electricity conservation being adopted in this country—a programme already agreed by all other European countries?
There was not one particular proposal put forward at the seminar, as I think I explained in answer to a question last time I replied from this Box. One of the proposals was for more nuclear energy, because it does not put up carbon dioxide, and one of the most damaging elements in the greenhouse effect is the burning of fossil fuels. Another was that every effort should be made to retain tropical rain forests and to include that effort in one's overseas aid programme. The third thing was energy efficiency, and we pointed out that this country is using less energy now, at a far higher rate of production than we had in 1973. I hope that the hon. Lady will have read the speech made yesterday by our ambassador in New York asking for a kind of umbrella convention on greenhouse effect gases of the same kind as we have on ozone layer gases.
We could do not do that unless the British Nationality Act 1981 were revised and that would have to go through the House. There are many different opinions about the practical effect with regard to the granting of such passports, but it is not possible under the present law.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that now that she is spending another £1·75 million of our money to mislead people on the poll tax it means that her Government are spending six times as much on publicity and propaganda as any previous Government? Is it not perfectly clear that anything that is so expensive to sell must be a pretty shabby product?
If the hon. Member takes that view he must be pretty ashamed of some of the poll tax documents put out by his local authority. In regard to Government policy, the Government have a clear duty to ensure that everyone knows what his or her main rights and duties are. We are reaching 21 million households at a cost of under £1 million, which is very good value for money. Very soon, on 22 May, most councils will start registering people for the community charge and it is vital, therefore, that people have accurate information for the registration process.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If Opposition Members are saying "Hear, hear", they must agree that that accurate information should go to every household.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fines imposed by courts for river and harbour pollution are ridiculously low? Will she encourage the Magistrates Association to remind its members that they should use the full penalties available to them to discourage that form of environmental pollution?
I greatly sympathise with my hon. Friend's remarks. The average fine imposed by magistrates courts in 1987 was £450, compared with the maximum penalty available of a £2,000 fine and up to three months' imprisonment. That issue has been drawn to the attention of the Magistrates Association several times, most recently by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and we all hope for a positive response.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most essential attributes of a political leader is the courage to stand fast to his or her convictions, even when that may temporarily be electorally unpopular? Does she further agree that any political leader prepared to compromise their most cherished political principles for the sake of short-term electoral popularity is unfit to lead their party and even more unfit to be Prime Minister of this country?
The Prime Minister is known to have a very high regard for our ex-service men, so how does she account for her Government's absolutely disgraceful conduct towards British nuclear test veterans compared with that of the United States Government, who grant compensation for 13 forms of cancer as compared with compensation for only two forms of cancer recognised by Britain? The Americans do not demand absolute proof, but the Ministry of Defence is bitterly fighting our ex-service men every inch of the way through the courts and is refusing to pay them compensation. That is a disgraceful state of affairs under a Government whose Prime Minister professes to love and admire our ex-service men.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, cases were carefully looked at by a special inquiry of medical people, who did not find cause and effect. I say to the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest of respect that the cause and effect that he says has been proved has not been proved, and therefore compensation is not appropriate.
Has my right hon. Friend had time today to consider what would be the effects on the environment if nuclear power were to be phased out over the next 10 years, as the Labour party proposes?
Yes. I think that that would be very damaging. As my hon. Friend is aware, during that time a number of Magnox nuclear power stations will need replacing. We hope that, subject to planning permission, there will be four new nuclear power stations by the end of this century, replacing the coal-fired or oil-fired power stations that would otherwise be needed, and which would add grievously to the greenhouse effect—which is something that the Leader of the Opposition does not want to happen.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the report in the Yorkshire Post today in which the CBI and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce criticised the Government for high interest rates, which have had a significant effect on small industries and businesses? When will the Prime Minister do something to lift the strain from small business people and people paying high mortgage rates? When will she take action to reduce interest rates?
We do not like to keep interest rates high any longer than we have to. [HON. MEMBERS: "We?"] My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not like to keep interest rates higher than need be, but the most damaging thing would he for inflation to go up to the kind of heights it reached under Labour. That is why interest rates must remain high for the time being.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that the privatisation of British Telecom has resulted in much shorter waiting lists for telephones, lower charges for calls and a much wider ownership of telephones among pensioners because of the reduction in standing charges? Will she not further agree that for any political party to talk about renationalisation is thoroughly irresponsible?
Yes, the privatisation of British Telecom has, indeed, led to a better service, a substantially increased number of telephones among pensioners and a very considerable reduction of the waiting lists. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is thoroughly arrogant of politicians with little experience of industry to say that they can run industry better than it can run itself.