This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings today, including attendance at the plenary session of the Australia-United Kingdom conference on trade and investment.
Will my right hon. Friend convey the warm greetings of the whole House to the Prime Minister of Australia on his visit to the United Kingdom? In turn, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking the initiative to give renewed vigour to the relationship between our two countries which share so much history and which can achieve so much together in future.
I gladly take advantage of the opportunity that my hon. Friend presents. Mr. Hawke and his fellow Ministers who have come here for a major consultation between Ministers and Prime Ministers have had very great success. It has been a longer and more extensive visit than usual, and it has been carried out splendidly. The trade and investment conference that is taking place today will also be extremely important. Australia and Britain are vital allies and both are very important to peace in the Pacific and to dealing with the problems that now face us there on a much larger scale than ever before—altogether a very great success.
The Prime Minister has rightly expressed horror and outrage, which we all share, at the barbaric actions of the Chinese Government against their people seeking democracy. Will she take action in support of her condemnation, and, in Madrid next week, urge our partner countries in the European Community to impose economic sanctions against China until the regime stops the killing and the persecution?
I am among the first to condemn the killing and the execution and the other results that have followed on the latest policy of the Chinese Government. I must say that I think that it would be much too precipitant to do what the right hon. Gentleman proposes, particularly as many of us are very anxious indeed not to precipitate a situation that could cause great panic in Hong Kong.
Would it not he wrong for this democracy and other democracies in the European Community to leave those young people in China with nothing but their own courage to sustain them? Since the kind of people running China simply do not respect words, may I urge the Prime Minister to take a lead now in pressing for combined action against them by the Community?
May I put this to the right hon. Gentleman—we are responsible right up until 1997 for the five million and more people in Hong Kong. I think that what the right hon. Gentleman proposes could precipitate a very dangerous position. We have been the first to condemn and we have also stopped high level visits and arms contracts. Further measures are being considered, but in my judgment what the right hon. Gentleman proposes could be very dangerous for people for whom we are responsible.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to improve employment prospects for women throughout Europe is to expand the economy by the kind of measures that the Government have introduced and not to try to force employers—I stress the word "force"—to provide special facilities for women? Will she bear that in mind when considering the social charter in Madrid, which among other things calls ominously for intensification of action against employers on the implementation of equality?
I agree in the main with what my hon. Friend has said. The Government's policy has been to set conditions to create jobs. We have been outstandingly successful in that, with the highest number ever of people in employment. We have the highest number of jobs that we have ever had. It has worked particularly well for women. The United Kingdom is the only country in the European Community where the unemployment rate is lower for women than for men. We have done excellent work in lowering the rate for men too. The proposed social charter would place additional burdens and restrictions on businesses and so lose jobs rather than create them, especially for women.
In view of today's findings that more people than ever before support and approve of the National Health Service—90 per cent. of family doctors and 85 per cent. of those in the hospital service—would it not be wiser not to destabilise the NHS but to introduce reform cautiously with development projects, as advocated by the royal colleges, and to evaluate scientifically their success?
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has at last come round to that view. He could have said it any time, any month, in the last 10 years, but he did not for 10 years, although the Health Service has continuously and steadily been improved by extra resources, extra doctors and extra nurses—[Interruption.] —from what it was when his Government left office, when there were strikes, and hospitals and cancer beds were left untended. He has had 10 years to admit that we have done far better. I am delighted now to hear him say it. It is the best service that it has ever been.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the adoption earlier this week of the European second banking directive which, by allowing banks to operate more freely throughout Europe, will provide a tremendous boost to this very important sector of our economy? Does she also agree that this is further justification of the Government's policy of extending competition and deregulation within the single European market, rather than the grandiose schemes of European economic union and a social market with which the Opposition seem to be so obsessed?
Yes. We have been negotiating the second banking directive for a very long time. Its passage is very welcome because it will improve greatly our chances of having a free market in financial services which we offer to other people but which they have not always offered to us. So it is a great plus for our people in financial services. Also, we hope that it will soon be followed by an investment services directive. It is, of course, greater prosperity, not only in manufacturing but in the services sector, that enables us to offer higher levels of social services and social protection.
If the hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper carefully, he will find, as many protesters have found, that it was quite different from the one that he was led to believe. I hope that we shall be able steadily to continue to improve the Health Service in the future, as it is now acknowledged—even on the Opposition Benches —that we have done in the past. We have one of the best Health Services in the whole Community.
Knowing of the Prime Minister's deep concern and sympathy for the anxieties of the people of Hong Kong, does she agree that we could take an initiative by going to the Commonwealth and asking it to provide rights of abode for all the people of Hong Kong— on the basis that each Commonwealth country took a quota of people—if it became necessary?
Of course, these matters will be raised at the Commonwealth conference. I do not think that it will be easy to get the results that my hon. Friend seeks, any more than it has been easy to secure other results with other refugees, although it has been very good in taking genuine refugees from Vietnam. It would be a considerable step for the Commonwealth. I have also to report that the Commonwealth—especially Australia and Canada—have been very active in taking in the entrepreneurs from Hong Kong to the advantage—[Interruption.] Of course, I do not expect Opposition Members to agree about people who create wealth—they can only spend it. Many of them have gone to Australia and Canada. It has given them peace of mind that they have somewhere to go and they have also brought great comfort to Australia and Canada.
No. No more than grants will be extended, unless they are part of the overseas grants service where grants are given to specific people. They will not be given as a general right.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that the strike at the Liverpool passport office is now over and that, therefore, the threat of disruption to those who wish to holiday abroad has been lifted? However, will my right hon. Friend also join me in condemning the actions of those who wish to prolong the dispute and who have issued a leaflet which says that an all-out strike now, at the beginning of the tourist season, will give the passport workers the chance to give the Tories a bloody nose? Does that not prove that, whatever the place, whatever the issue and whatever packaging is used to try to convince people otherwise, here in Britain Socialists are still the strikers' friends?
I agree. Those who protest loudly about the greater needs of the public service are the first to say that they do not give tuppence for the public's rights, whether it be to get passports or to come to work. It is undoubtedly the public sector which is serving the public less, and it is such services as the privatised buses that are continuing to run. They genuinely do serve the public.
The Prime Minister's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), dealt very firmly and effectively with racists within his party. In view of the comments made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman) in the House two nights ago, effectively restoring the old chestnut of repatriation, will the Prime Minister take similar effective action against him?
I did not hear the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but may I make it absolutely clear that there is no racism in this party—[Interruption.] —and we utterly and vigorously defend the rights of all people on an equal basis.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposed European social charter represents an attempt by other Community countries to impose on us the higher aggregate labour costs from which they currently suffer? To accept that charter in its current form would be to abandon an important competitive advantage which we currently have and, furthermore, the levels of investment, employment and output in this country and in the Community would he lower than they would otherwise be as a result.
We accept, of course, that there is a social dimension to Community policy. We also accept —[Interruption.] Of course, because we were very prominent in our time in trying to steer that social dimension—[Interruption.] Oh yes—[Interruption.]
—in trying to steer that social dimension, and successfully steering it, to the creation of jobs. Mention any country in the Community that has created more jobs in the past five years than we have. There is not one. We were trying to steer to the creation of a very expensive system of training, because we believe that the most important thing is the creation of jobs.
With regard to the rest of the social dimension, we believe that that is a matter for each country and if that particular charter were made compulsory for many countries, most of them could not afford the social services we have, and they acknowledge that. It would then be said that there would have to be considerable subventions and subsidies paid from other countries, which, of course, the Labour party could not possibly help with because it just spends wealth, it never creates it.