Following last week's launch of the European Commission's blueprint for the introduction of a single currency, will my right hon. Friend confirm that during the lifetime of this Parliament he will not make any commitments, or support any proposals, for the United Kingdom to subscribe to a timetable for joining the single currency?
I can certainly confirm that. I do not believe that the question of joining a single currency will in practice arise for some time, and I confirm my hon. Friend's proposition. Arguably, the circumstances may not ever be right, and it is for that reason that I have preserved the House's right to make its own decision as and when the practical time for a decision may arise. Even if that time does arise, we should need to consider not only the economic conditions but the political and constitutional implications.
Does the Prime Minister accept that, as a result of the withdrawal of mortgage help for those who become unemployed, the vast majority of home owners—particularly new home owners—will have to take out mortgage insurance? What is his estimate of the cost of that policy to a home owner with an average mortgage?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, any responsible Government must review the size of the social security budget—now running at well over £80 million of taxpayers' money. As for the cost, the right hon. Gentleman may have seen—as I have—the news that the Skipton building society proposes to introduce cover for all its borrowers without increasing premiums.
I believe that lenders should recognise their obligation to protect home owners, and I hope that others will do the same.
I am sorry that my first reply clearly flummoxed the right hon. Gentleman. I was holding out what is being done by the Skipton building society as an example of best practice, and I very much hope that other people will have to pay
The Prime Minister has failed to deal with the fact that the vast majority of home owners will have to pay more for his policy. If he cannot give us an estimate of the cost, what does he say to this morning's reports that the insurance claims of many people who have cover are not even met? Would it not be sensible to reconsider a policy that is, in effect, a tax on every home owner, will mean more repossessions and will depress an already depressed housing market?
One would hardly imagine, to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, that, as far as housing is concerned, a Labour study group, for example, threatened to abolish mortgage interest relief totally.
On the particular point about insurance, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has made clear, we wish to have a high-quality, comprehensive system of mortgage insurance to minimise the danger of home owners losing their home through misfortune. In terms of best practice, I have already said what the cost might be. I hope that other people will look towards that best practice. My right hon. Friend has been working with the Association of British Insurers to develop guidelines for the best practice of mortgage protection insurance and many new, quality products are emerging. That is very much the reason why I welcome initiatives like that from Skipton.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that no one living in Herefordshire now need wait more than nine months for hospital in-patient treatment, and that that significant progress, along with much else, has come about during the first year of the operation of the Hereford hospitals national health service trust? Is that not a good example of the success of health service reforms, and does he agree that it would be crazy to reverse those changes, especially along the lines of the proposals espoused this week by the Labour party?
The hon. Gentleman says that the answer is yes, but I very much doubt that he will ever be here to give the answer, either yes or no. I am pleased to hear of the success of my hon. Friend's local hospital trust. I recall that it was not all that long ago that the Opposition Front-Bench team was saying that every hospital trust was going to be privatised after the next election, and here is a hospital trust in the national health service performing as my hon. Friend has just set out. He is right about the Opposition's plans on the health service. They are now sharpening up a threat to the health service, not least by abolishing fundholding, which covers more than 40 per cent. of general practitioner patients up and down the country.
"Hear, hear," says the hon. Gentleman. What will he say to the patients of those fundholders when the extra facilities provided by fundholding are lost? He may say, "Hear, hear." He does not like it. He does not like the extra facilities. If he wishes to damage GP care, that is the way to do it, and that, he acknowledges, is his party's policy.
In the week of the funeral of Lord Wilson, will the Prime Minister consider one of the most important aspects of Lord Wilson's premiership: his concern about manufacturing production, after the decline of which he called for the need to reinstate Britain as the workshop of the world? In his period, levels of investment in manufacturing were very large and much greater than they have been in the years of this Administration. In the light of today's decline in the index of industrial production, will the Prime Minister start to accord to manufacturing industry investment the sort of priority that Lord Wilson had?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, not only has there been in the past year or so a substantial improvement in the quantum of manufacturing and in manufacturing investment; there has also been, for the first time, I think, since before Lord Wilson became Prime Minister in 1964, a growth in the number of people with full-time jobs in manufacturing industry. When one considers our export figures and breaks them down, one sees the extent to which manufacturing industry—the management and work force in manufacturing industry—have begun to improve and sell their product with greater skill, both at home and abroad, so I share the right hon. Gentleman's aspirations for manufacturing and I believe that they are coming about.
Has my right hon. Friend had time today to study the recently renegotiated Anglo-United States air services agreement? In that regard, can he confirm that he will use the national veto if necessary on any attempt by the European Union to usurp our country's right to negotiate with other countries both the destinations for British airlines and the frequency of services, because the EU has shown itself to be manifestly incompetent in curbing the gross subsidies to state carriers on the part of some of our continental partners?
Yes, that has always been negotiated as a national matter and we believe that that is the right way to deal with it. Our concern is to secure the maximum benefits for United Kingdom passengers through increased choice and lower prices. We believe that negotiation by national Governments is the most appropriate way to achieve that. It is precisely in that way that we reached agreement this week with the United States on a further deal to liberalise our air services.
The Prime Minister will be aware that, during the past few days, many of his colleagues have been trumpeting achievements on employment, suggesting that it is lower in Britain than in most other European countries. Does he accept that examination of the statistics shows that that is eyewash? Does he also accept that many jobs in Britain are filled by people who are paid wages that no one else in Europe would accept?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on any of his propositions. Not only is our employment pretty much the lowest in Europe, with the exception of Holland among the larger nations, on any basis that one cares to calculate, but the number of people in employment is growing. For example, if I look at the constituencies of hon. Members whose names are down to ask questions today I see that, from the peak, unemployment in Warwickshire, North is down 40 per cent. [Interruption.] I promise that the hon. Gentleman is not asking a planted question. Unemployment in Southampton, Itchen is down 25 per cent. and it is down 30 per cent. in Denton and Reddish and 24 per cent. in Sedgefield.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Labour councillors in Mid Glamorgan recently gave themselves an allowance increase of 388 per cent.? Does he agree that that is an incredibly selfish and greedy example of how Labour councils work? They whinge about other people's pay increases but, given the first opportunity, they have their snouts firmly in the trough, they put themselves first and stuff everyone they are supposed to represent.
I did indeed see those reports in the morning press and I would say to those councils and others that they also have a duty to remember that they are spending local taxpayers' money. If that is an example of new Labour in action, it seems to have no advantages whatsoever over old Labour.
The House of Commons Library has told me that, since 1979, unemployment is up more than 100 per cent. in north Warwickshire. If the Prime Minister and his Government come forward with pre-election tax cuts, will those not be bought at the price of underfunding schools and the police? In my county of Warwickshire, we are losing 172 teachers and more than 50 police officers. Are not undermining the police and damaging the educational opportunities of children in Warwickshire too high a price to pay for this Prime Minister who is seeking to save his political neck and that of this discredited Government?
What about the Warwickshire 100 per cent. unemployment?
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, if the deputy leader of the Labour party would care to stop shouting—[Interruption.] The Labour party cannot have it both ways. Labour Members cannot criticise us week after week after week over alleged tax increases and then say that they would oppose tax reductions as well. They had better make up their mind whether they are in favour of high tax, low tax, no tax, or just taking every opportunity that they can on any issue to say whatever happens to be appropriate on the day for a cheap, short-term headline.
As for education and other matters, the hon. Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) will have seen right the way through the period in office of this Government an increase in resources spent on the health service—a dramatic increase in the health service, another £1.3 billion this year, a huge increase in 1979 in real terms over and above inflation year after year after year after year. In education, it does not matter whether one looks at primary, secondary or further education. That is why in 1979 one in eight of our young adults were getting into university and these days it is pretty nearly one in three as a result of the changes that we have made and the increased resources that we have made available