HC Deb 22 December 1983 vol 51 cc559-60
Q1. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Prime Minister if she will pay an official visit to Newham.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Banks

It is a pity that the Prime Minister will not be able to visit Newham, where she might see at first hand the devastating effects of her economic and social policies. There is an unmployment rate of 19 per cent. and 27,000 people are on social security. Sixty-five per cent. of tenants receive income support because of housing costs. If the Prime Minister cannot visit Newham, will she at least think, when she is eating her Christmas dinner—[HON. MEMBERS: "Spam."]—no doubt including Spam — of those in Newham who cannot afford to keep warm? Will the Prime Minister express some remorse about those people and about the 44,000 who will die of hypothermia next year?

The Prime Minister

By what he said earlier, the hon. Gentleman gave evidence that those who are in need are provided for. The pension is higher than previously, and under the Conservative Government pensioners get a Christmas bonus, which they did not always get under Labour. There is higher spending on the National Health Service and a record amount of help with fuel for those who need it.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister constantly emphasises the value of personal thrift. We were all brought up to respect and practise prudence. If the Prime Minister, after a lifetime of economy, or as a consequence of a small occupational pension, lost between £1 and £5 a week in housing benefit, how would she feel this Christmas?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman forgets that we now spend £3,400 million on housing benefit, which is received by one household in three. Further, the Opposition never mention the million pensioners who gained £1 when housing benefit was introduced. The majority of them will not be affected by changes next April, and no one on supplementary benefit will be affected by the changes in housing benefit.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister again refuses to answer the question. Will she admit that the rise in social security expenditure is almost entirely attributable to the demographic change, as a result of which there are now more pensioners, and to the vast increase in unemployment and under-employment, which is the result of her policies? How would the right hon. Lady feel if, for no other reason than the dogma of the Government and their obedience to unreaslistic spending targets, she lost between £1 and £5 a week after scrimping and saving and showing frugality in order to provide for her old age?

The Prime Minister

Occupational pensioners will lose, especially through the taper. The amounts have been given in the reply to a question which the right hon. Gentleman has seen. Nevertheless, the taxpayers, through the Government, are giving housing benefit to one household in three. That money is not Government money. It comes from those who are already providing for their own housing costs and are also having to provide for the housing benefit of others. The right hon. Gentleman frequently asks about reductions in rates and taxation. He should accept that we need good management of resources and that we need to live within a budget.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that the question relates to Newham.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Prime Minister aware that, whatever happens in Calcutta, responsibility for the sick, disabled and handicapped in the London borough of Newham lies with the Newham health authority? Is she further aware that the Government are cutting the funds available to that authority by nearly £500,000 next year? How does she reconcile that with her well-advertised view to be like Mother Teresa?

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Gentleman does not accurately reflect the quotation, but then I do not expect him to do so. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the previous Labour Government reduced provision for the Health Service in real terms in two of the five years that they were in office. We shall not accept lectures from the Labour party on the National Health Service.

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