HC Deb 17 November 1981 vol 13 cc157-9
Q1. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had a meeting with King Hussein of Jordan. Following other meetings with ministerial colleagues, I attended the memorial service for Lord Boyle of Handsworth. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen before departing for Bonn, where I shall have talks with Chancellor Schmidt tomorrow.

Mr. Sainsbury

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the announcement yesterday about industrial training boards has already been widely welcomed by industry and commerce as contributing to a useful reduction in bureaucracy and making it easier to provide cost-effective training? However, could she find time in her busy day to consider whether more steps could be taken in the near future to make vocational training more widely available to all age groups, especially school leavers?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. The new arrangements for industrial training boards that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment announced are in line with the wishes and needs of industry. With regard to the future, my right hon. Friend hopes to announce by the end of the year new measures for more comprehensive provisions for the training of our young unemployed and generally for training our young people.

Mr. Bidwell

Is the Prime Minister aware that the old age pension increase later this month for a married couple will be nearly £5 lower than it would be under the Labour Government's criteria? Is she not utterly ashamed of that?

The Prime Minister

The world recession would have hit the Labour Government just as much as it has hit this Government. I ask the hon. Gentleman to remember the record of the Labour Government during the last world recession, when they had to go to the IMF because they were broke.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance, with regard to Northern Ireland, that the small number of gunmen who are terrorising that Province are being dealt with by the armed forces without any let or hindrance for any political or other reason?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly give that assurance. A number of things have been said in the last two days which may make the situation more difficult for the security forces in Northern Ireland. Whatever happens, the Army and police will carry out their duty, as we would expect them to do.

Mr. Foot

If the Prime Minister believes her claims about the recession ending, and if she wishes to help young people, as she said a few minutes ago, will she undertake to review immediately the programme for the universities? Is she aware that it is undermining a principle accepted by every Government for the past 20 years, that higher education should be available to those who are able and willing to use it? Will she take immediate steps to take action in that area?

The Prime Minister

I think that my words were that the trough of the recession was reached—[Interruption.] I looked at the words. I said that the trough of the recession was reached in the second quarter, according to most of the commentators. That is not quite what the right hon. Gentleman said.

I understand that the matter of the universities is to be debated this week, and doubtless my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will listen keenly to what is said in the House.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady do more than that? In her programme for the universitites, she is inflicting permanent damage on this country and on many young people. Does she not recognise that however the money is used, under these cuts about 6,000 or 7,000 university teachers will lose their jobs? Does she consider that to be an intelligent way of dealing with the crisis?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend has already said that if the economies can be achieved in another way, of course he will consider it. The University Grants Committee programme amounts to over £900 million, which is a large amount to be spending on university education. It is similar to the amount that has previously been spent, and I have no doubt that there will continue to be a large measure of university education for those young people who need it, and also higher education in the polytechnics and other colleges of advanced education.

Mr. David Steel

As the Prime Minister is always looking for economies, will she take note of the latest delay announced in the Trident programme in the United States? In view of the mounting costs of that programme, will she review it in her plans?

The Prime Minister

The precise programme for Trident has not yet been finalised, and the change by the United States to the D5 will have consequences, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be considering, for the programme itself.

Mr. Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the continuing resentment in the private sector over the provision of index-linked pensions in the public sector? Will she undertake to look again at the matter?

The Prime Minister

We have already had the Scott report on that matter, although the committee's terms of reference were confined mainly to whether the contributions should be raised for the provisions of index-linked pensions. The real answer is to continue with policies that, in the end, will get inflation down. That is the best possible form of index-linking.