HC Deb 14 July 1987 vol 119 cc969-72
Q1. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 14 July.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. I was also present at Victoria station to mark the arrival of the King of Morocco. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Fatchett

When the Prime Minister said on 27 January 1986. in the middle of the Westland affair, that she did not expect to be Prime Minister by 6 o'clock that evening, what did she mean?

The Prime Minister

That allegation has been made many times. I have nothing further to add to the many statements and replies that I have already given.

Q2. Mr. Gerald Howarth

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 14 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Howarth

At a time when teachers are widely welcoming the Government's bold reforms in education, and when the fastest growing teachers' union, the Professional Association of Teachers, is urging no-strike agreements on the Secretary of State, is it not utterly disgraceful that a small minority of teachers in England and Wales, although happily not in Staffordshire, are going on strike? Will she condemn that and urge the Secretary of State to introduce his Green Paper as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that teachers' strikes are damaging to the education of children, and in some cases they are meant to do just that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education arid Science will introduce the Green Paper on new permanent machinery for negotiations as soon as possible, and it is expected that that will include the possibility of no-strike agreements.

Mr. Kinnock

When the Prime Minister visits the United States this weekend, will she buy a copy of "Spy catcher"?

The Prime Minister

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman agreed that all members of the security services, present and former, have a duty of confidentiality to the Crown and that he would endeavour to uphold that duty.

Mr. Kinnock

The duty of confidentiality is vital and it must be honoured, but does the Prime Minister seriously think that the best way to uphold it is to take action in appeal courts in Britain and Australia and to engage in action which, with the arrival of every transatlantic airliner, is being turned into high farce?

The Prime Minister

How else does the right hon. Gentleman think that one can enforce a duty of confidentiality, except in a court of law?

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to study the judge's comments following the award of more than £1 million to Mr. Samir Aboul-Hosn, who suffered brain damage? Does she think that this country is in danger of entering into an era of defensive medicine? Does she think that this is the time for a Royal Commission on medical negligence and how it is treated?

The Prime Minister

We have not considered a Royal Commission on medical negligence. The case to which my hon. Friend referred was one in which the courts decided precisely the appropriate damages to be paid. My hon. Friend is aware that we cannot interfere in any way with the decision of the courts, nor, in that case, would we wish to do so. I shall consider further what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Loyden

In view of the Prime Minister's late conversion to a recognition of the crisis in inner cities, will she now consider recent reports which argue that something like £82 billion will be necessary to overcome the problems of the inner cities? Will she therefore revise the Government's non-serious approach on that matter and increase the amounts that will be available next year for local authorities to ensure that inner cities' problems are tackled by the duly democratically elected representatives of the people?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, one of the difficulties in tackling the problems of the inner cities is that some of the elected Left-wing councils are hostile to private enterprise and hostile to the very businesses that can bring in the extra jobs that the cities need so much. With regard to expenditure. this Government have spent more than £2.2 billion since 1979 and that is a very considerable increase in real terms over the expenditure under the previous Administration.

Mr. Page

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the news regarding the reduction of gas prices or the reduction in unemployment below 3 million, or news of other benefits such as huge profits for British Steel, had come along a few weeks earlier, not only would we have needed an extension to the Tory side of the House, but the opinions polls would have been increasingly irrelevant? Will my right hon. Friend therefore either ban opinion polls at election time or, if not, will she ensure that the statistical base from which those polls are extrapolated is a little more than simply two people per constituency throughout the country?

The Prime Minister

There has been a considerable increase in future confidence in the improvement of the economy as the figures have steadily mounted and people have seen that industry is in a very fit and healthy state. I do not think that anything would be gained by banning opinion polls. I am sure that they would still be taken and they would only be leaked. It is far better that they should be open.

Mr. Steel

When the Prime Minister goes to Washington, will she note the contrast between the democratically elected Congress of the United States currently exposing the existence of a state within a state and her persistent refusal to allow any independent investigation of the quite serious charges raised in Mr. Peter Wright's book about covert operations against a former Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

I do not answer for the United States, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider which has the more effective security service.

Mr. Ward

Will my right hon. Friend reconsider her reply about the inner cities? Does she agree that the most important step to take for the inner cities is to introduce the community charge so that those who vote will be left with the financial responsibility for the way in which they have cast their vote?

The Prime Minister

Yes. When the community charge is in place and all people properly contribute to the services given by the local authority and for which the local authority is responsible, we shall have much better accountability and that will lead to a much better use of money than at present.

Q3. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 14 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Jones

Is the Prime Minister aware of the concern felt in Wales at the lack of resources in health and social services? Is she aware that the budget of Gwynedd health authority has been so stretched that ambulance journeys to clinics have been cut, hitting low-income families? Is she further aware that last week Gwynedd county council social services department had to cut hack on home help services, hitting the elderly, sick and disabled? Will she encourage the Secretary of State for Wales to fight in the Cabinet for more resources in those areas?

The Prime Minister

I seem to remember that on a comparatively recent visit to Wales I went to a very new hospital, which was one of five major hospitals in Wales. With regard to health in Wales, from 1979 to March 1988 nearly £500 million will have been invested in the capital estate of the hospital and community health services. Expenditure on the National Health Service in Wales has risen by one third, after allowing for general inflation, between 1979–80 and 1987–88. Between 1979 and 1986 the National Health Service in Wales treated 23.6 per cent. more patients than previously.

Mr. Oppenheim

During the course of her busy day, will my right hon. Friend, when considering the Government's economic policy, give close and careful consideration to comments made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who said that there was a race on between the economic crisis and the general election? Will she also consider the comment by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) that there is no immediate prospect of an economic crisis? How does my right hon. Friend square that apparent disagreement? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is rather wide of the Prime Minister's responsibilities.

Mr. Winnick

Will Customs officials be authorised to take from passengers arriving from the United States copies of Mr. Wright's book? If not, what possible excuse is there for carrying on with the case in Australia? Is the Prime Minister aware that we on the Opposition Benches have no sympathy at all for Wright, a wretched man who is obviously acting out of greed and spite? Is there not now the strongest possible case for a full-scale judicial inquiry into whether MI5 officials carried out subversive and criminal activities against an elected Government in the 1970s?

The Prime Minister

It is technically possible to introduce a ban by amending the open general import licence. My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has advised his colleagues against such action, because it is likely to be ineffective. However, the question of possible legal action for an account of profits made from publication of the book in the United States is under consideration. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the purpose of the original case was to uphold the duty of confidentiality, which is necessary for the effectiveness of the service.

With regard to the other matter, the hon. Gentleman will recall that I made an extensive statement about it on 6 May 1987.

Mr. Harris

Has my right hon. Friend seen today's report on Trident by the Comptroller and Auditor General? The report states that the estimated cost of that project is likely to be reduced by some £1,500 million. Does that projection not show the wisdom of the Conservative party in sticking to the project? Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the SDP leadership has belatedly come round to supporting Trident?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I saw that figure. It is good news that the price has come down. It is very effective expenditure on a deterrent for this country.

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