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 meetings later today.
This evening, a reception will be held at No. 10 Downing street on behalf of the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great many people are dismayed at the threats by ambulance men to refuse to answer emergency calls except on their own arbitrary terms, despite the generous increased offer that has been made to them?
Yes. In some places the emergency service is working well, but in others the position is as my hon. Friend has said. The offer that has been made to the ambulance men is for increases of between 9 and 16·3 per cent. over a period of 18 months. For example, in London leading ambulance men and women have received an offer of a backdated increase of 12·1 per cent., with arrears of £957 already due. Qualified ambulance men and women with the extra medial qualifications—the paramedics—have received an offer of a 16·3 per cent. increase. For them, back pay already accumulated would be about £1,290. Those are good offers and one would hope that they would be accepted.
The Prime Minister knows very well that if she allowed the dispute to go to arbitration there would be an immediate and complete return to work by all ambulance staff. Why will she not let the matter go to arbitration, especially if, as she has just said, she thinks that the offer is such a good one? Why does she not have the confidence to let the matter go to a third party?
The right hon. Gentleman has asked that question several times before. He knows full well that these matters are negotiated in the Whitley council and that there is no provision there for compulsory arbitration.
The Prime Minister said this morning that she would be "so pleased" if the ambulance dispute was settled by Christmas. When that would give her and the country such pleasure, why will she do absolutely nothing constructive to bring the dispute to a close?
The pay offers are between 9 and 16·3 per cent. With the backdating and lump sums which have already accumulated, they are good offers. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be sufficiently concerned that the emergency services are not operating well to urge the ambulance men to accept those offers so that normal service can be resumed.
Statements like that from the Prime Minister, who has the power to resolve the dispute, are meaningless. If she will get her right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health to tell the Health Service managers to send the dispute to arbitration, the dispute will end by four o'clock this afternoon. Why does not she do that?
The right hon. Gentleman makes himself very clear. He is not prepared to urge the ambulance men to return to work despite an offer of between 9 per cent. and 16·3 per cent. and the fact that there are lump sums waiting to be picked up which vary between £650 for leading ambulance men and women outside London to nearly £1,300 for paramedics in the ambulance service within London.
Has my right hon. Friend noted the outstanding success of the water privatisation share issue, which has transferred the industry from state control to true public ownership? Will she join me in congratulating the millions of new shareholders who ignored the threats that their dividends would be confiscated and that the industry would be renationalised, as promised by the Labour party?
Yes, I gladly join my hon. Friend. The water privatisation has been extremely successful. People have been very willing to take up the good offers in the knowledge that privatisation will produce a much better service with improvements for drinking water, rivers and the environment generally. I gladly join my hon. Friend in congratulating my right hon. and hon. Friends on the way in which the share issue has gone through. I congratulate all those who will be shareholders for the first time, thus extending the property-owning democracy.
Will the Prime Minister consider devolving power to the people of Wales in the early 1990s, as the majority of Welsh Members in this place are in favour of a Welsh Parliament? Will she ensure that the voice of Wales, as a nation, will be heard in Europe because we, the Welsh, believe that we should play a major role in the Community in the 1990s?
I saw the early-day motion in the names of the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members. I seem to remember that this issue has come before the House before, and that the people of Wales voted overwhelmingly against having a devolved Assembly, and I see no reason to change that view. It seems that they think that they are well represented in the House and by the Government.
In view of my right hon. Friend's powerful efforts in this connection, and because of the dramatic meeting which took place yesterday, will she consider this afternoon sending an urgent message to President de Klerk asking for the immediate release of Nelson Mandela before Christmas?
I share my hon. Friend's pleasure at the meeting between President de Klerk and Nelson Mandela. I hope that Nelson Mandela will be released as soon as possible. I agree that it would be a great advance. It would help to bring an end to violence and to start negotiations on a South African constitution which will be fair to all people. I shall consider doing what my hon. Friend seeks.
In view of the steel industry privatisation, are the Government prepared to use their golden share in the interests of the work forces at Ravenscraig, Clydesdale, Dalziel and Imperial? In view of the outstanding productivity achievements of the workers at those plants, will the Prime Minister assure them and the Scottish people that their steel industry is safe in her hands?
As the hon. Gentleman says, the steel industry is privatised. It has done very well under privatisation. The taxpayer has not had to stump up enormous subsidies for it. Indeed, it has contributed to the Treasury and thus to the social services. We should not consider using a particular share to frustrate any commercial decisions which need to be made. They must take their due and proper course.
Has my right hon. Friend noted the promise in eastern Europe of one man, one vote—a promise that is now extending from the Volga, from the Oder and even more from the Danube? Is my right hon. Friend disappointed that that promise is not being fulfilled from the Mersey?
Has the Prime Minister seen The Guardian today—it may not be her favourite read—which shows that one of her advisers is again in trouble for secretly financing an extreme Right-wing secret newsletter, run by a former MI5 agent, which claims that Labour Members are Communist sympathisers? As I am one of those Members—[Interruption.]
No adviser, employed either by me or by No. 10, is doing any such thing, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. People are free to write what they please—just as free as those who edit Tribune.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the tragedy in Sri Lanka and the slaughter both within and between the communities of that wonderful country. Is she also aware of the need for all countries to support the Sri Lankan people in bringing the communities together? Is she aware of the Sri Lankan Government's request that English be restored as the common language? Will she give every aid to the Sri Lankans, especially through the provision of English language teachers?
I share my hon. Friend's concern about matters in Sri Lanka, which I discussed very recently with former President Jayawardene, who did so much to resolve problems in that country. I know that English is a great unifying language in that country, and we put in a great deal of money—about £500,000 per year—through the British Council for the teaching of the English language. We must exercise a certain amount of caution about where we put teachers until the troubles in that country are at an end.
Will the Prime Minister tell the House when she first knew about the deception perpetrated on the public, the taxpayers and the work force at Rover by the sweetners offered to British Aerospace by the Government? When did she first know? Is it not time that she, her Government and her ex-Ministers came clean with the public about the damaging way in which they handled that matter and about the damage inflicted on the industry and on my constituents?
I reject the premise behind the hon. Gentleman's question. I believe that his constituents and all those who work for Rover had a very good deal when it was sold to British Aerospace—[Interruption.] It was a good deal for the taxpayer, who had already had to spend —[Interruption.]
The taxpayer had already spent £3 billion on supporting the company and might well have had to find a further £1·6 billion. It was a very good deal for the dealers' network and also kept the Honda link. It was a good deal for everyone concerned and that is precisely what Opposition Members cannot stand.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Socialism failed utterly in the Soviet Union and in eastern Europe as it had failed in Britain in the years before 1979.
What words of seasonal comfort does the Prime Minister have for people who will be using a rail network that is increasingly underfunded and understaffed and on which there is increasing concern about safety? What words of comfort has she for users and workers when she is cutting the revenue by some 25 per cent. and when there is every reason to expect further reductions in passenger safety and security? Does the right hon. Lady agree that that is not only no way to run a rail network, but also no way to run a country?