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Mr. MacGregor : Following persistent United Kingdom pressure in the price negotiations in July, the green pound will be devalued from 1 January 1989 to reduce monetary compensatory amounts by 3.2 points, except for beef, where devaluations will be considered during the current review of the regime.
Mr. Livsey : I thank the Minister for that answer. I am pleased to hear that there will be a devaluation. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is not suffcient, with farming incomes at their lowest in real terms since the last war? Will he press for a further devaluation in addition to the one that he has said is on the books?
Column 869exceptional circumstances applied, in the last negotiations. I have made it clear that I want to see MCAs phased out by 1992. I have succeeded in getting the Community to agree to that. I shall be persisting in that approach.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : 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 departing immediately this afternoon to attend the European Council at Rhodes.
Mr. Bowden : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to repudiate claims so assiduously put about by the Opposition that the failure of the Irish Government to expedite an extradition order in respect of Father Patrick Ryan is due in any way to an error on the part of the Crown Prosecution Service?
The Prime Minister : I understand that very shortly my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will be dealing with these matters in response to a private notice question, and will deal with them fully. I can deal with them only generally. Any suggestion that the failure to secure Ryan's arrest is attributable to any fault of the CPS is absolutely unwarranted. The fact is that the Irish authorities could have sought a provisional warrant from early last Friday evening onwards. The Irish Attorney-General has been in a position to authorise the backing of the original warrants since they arrived in Dublin early on Saturday. It is now over five days since all the relevant documents were sent to Dublin. No questions have been raised as to the sufficiency of the statements of fact and law, although my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General had told his opposite number that he was immediately available.
The Prime Minister : I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that there was no immediate proposal to exclude mortgage interest payments from the RPI. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, there is an advisory committee which considers any changes to the RPI. The Government's view is well known. We include mortgage interest payments in the retail prices index, which very few other countries do. It obscures the underlying trend and produces the perverse effect that the tightening of monetary policy causes an apparent rise in recorded inflation. However, the payments are included, and the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that they can have a perverse effect both when the RPI goes up and when it comes down. If the payments were excluded, an alternative measure would need to be added. There is no immediate proposal to exclude them.
Mr. Kinnock : We remember when there were "no immediate proposals" to break the link between pensions and earnings. We remember, too, when there were "no plans" to add new NHS charges. We recall also when there were "no immediate proposals" to freeze child benefit payments. Against such a background of mendacity-- [Interruption.] --who can believe that the Prime Minister has no plans--[ Hon. Members :-- "Withdraw."] Yes, it is true. It is true.
With such a record of assiduous mendacity, who can believe that the Prime Minister does not want to take mortgage payments out of the RPI?
The Prime Minister : And we remember when there was a promise to increase pensions by either the amount of inflation or by having regard to earnings. The pensioners got neither, because the actual increase in inflation under the Labour Government was too great for Labour to honour its promises and the Labour Government did the biggest cheat on the pensioners that has ever been known since pensions were started.
Mr. Kinnock : That was a pathetic dodge from the queen of frauds. Even if household costs do not figure large in the Thatcher family, they do figure large in families in the rest of Britain. Will the Prime Minister accept that any British retail prices index which does not include mortgage payments would be fraudulent? Is it that which attracts the Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister : The biggest fraud on the pensioners cost them the equivalent of £1 billion in 1976 under the Labour Government. Pensioners now have more certainty of their basic pension and of its increasing with inflation than they have ever had before. The right hon. Gentleman knows that mortgage costs are included in the retail prices index. If they were not, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, there would have to be some other measure of housing cost in the RPI. Any alternative measure would have to go to the advisory committee for consideration. A measure went to the advisory committee on mortgage interest some time ago and the committee turned it down, so mortgage interest payments are in the present retail prices index.
The Prime Minister : May I point out what the then Mr. David Ennals, now Lord Ennals, said with regard to that when challenged about that assessment. When challenged about the inflation or earnings he said :
"There is a statutory obligation to take these figures and earnings into account which was done, but"--
said a previous Secretary of State for Social Services-- "no statutory obligation to get it right."
The Labour party got it wrong.
Mrs. Gorman : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the run-up to Christmas the Post Office unions are already up to their seasonal nonsense of striking and that nine depots in and around my constituency of Billericay are out on strike? Will she assure the public that, so that they will receive their Christmas post, the Government will remove the one obstacle that prevents the private sector from competing, by lowering the threshold from £1 to 10p, so that private networks can afford to compete with the Post Office in delivering our Christmas cards?
The Prime Minister : I know that there has been some considerable disruption in my hon. Friend's constituency in the counters business and I join her in deploring that. It is extremely ungenerous at this time of year, but, more than that, it is damaging to small businesses, which depend on money and orders coming in for their business to continue. I have taken note of what my hon. Friend said. The Post Office has a monopoly and if this kind of thing continues we shall have to consider precisely what she says--reducing the monopoly threshold from the present level of £1.
Mr. Hume : Given the difficult and emotional relationship between Britain and Ireland over the years, and the serious efforts that the Prime Minister and her Government, together with the Irish Government, have been making over the last number of years to address that issue, what contribution to that process does she think her remarks made on Tuesday-- her highly orchestrated pre-judgment of the Irish authorities' attitude before they had taken the decision on the extradition application in accordance with their legal processes? Does the right hon. Lady know that the Belgian authorities were given five months to deal with the same application, which they turned down because the evidence was imprecise and vague? Does the right hon. Lady know that the Irish authorities have extradited 895 people to the United Kingdom throughout the present troubles and in the past 12 months have made the biggest arms finds in our history? How does that square with her accusation that they are only interested in fine words, not actions?
Mr. Hume rose --
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is aware that the law on extradition was changed unilaterally by the Republic of Ireland. Nevertheless, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General endeavoured fully to comply with the new law. It is now more than five days since all the relevant documents were sent to Dublin and no questions have been raised about the sufficiency of the statements of fact in them. That is an important matter to all of us in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Jones : Does my right hon. Friend recall that at the time of the passage of the Education Reform Act there were dire warnings from teachers' unions and Opposition Members that parents would not come forward as school governors because of their responsibilities under that Act? Will she contrast that with the experience throughout my constituency, where large numbers of parents have stood for those positions, where there have been high polls and where the quality of candidates coming forward has been superb?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The extra choice being given by the education reforms of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has been welcomed up and down the country by many parents and they are coming forward in record numbers to be governors of schools, prepared to take full responsibility, recognising the chances of obtaining a better education for their children. That is welcome.
Mr. Smith : In drawing up her Government's Official Secrets Bill, the Prime Minister and her Home Secretary have excluded from it any rights of public interest as a defence for disclosure. Why have they done that? Has the Prime Minister forgotten that the public interest is what government is supposed to be about?
The Prime Minister : The Bill has been published. I am advised that there are no such rights now as those to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Bill has, on the whole, been much welcomed as an advance on the previous measure. There will be abundant chances to debate it on Second Reading and in Committee.
Mr. Lawrence : Is my right hon. Friend aware that shortly after the PLO spokesman in London was convincing the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that the PLO would recognise the existence of the state of Israel, the BBC reported that the PLO foreign affairs spokesman in New York denied that any such statement had been made and refused to endorse it? Is my right hon. Friend aware also that the whole House is behind her stand against terrorism? It is perfectly consistent with that stand that any Government should say to anybody--
The Prime Minister : As far back as 1985, when we were considering speaking to certain PLO executive members, I made clear my position that three conditions must clearly be met. First, that United Nations resolutions 242 and 338 must be clearly accepted ; secondly, that Israel's right to exist behind secure borders must be clearly and explicitly accepted ; thirdly, that violence must be utterly rejected. When the Palestinian National Council resolution came out, I took the view that, although it was not absolutely clear, what had been done in respect of United Nations resolution 242, although allied to other United Nations resolutions, was a clear step forward. On the other hand, Israel's right to exist has not been explicitly recognised, nor has violence been utterly renounced.
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