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Mr. Renton : We have endorsed IBA proposals to award 20 incremental contracts for community radio and a further contract for a station covering Heathrow and Gatwick. In addition, we have authorised BBC and independent local radio stations to provide separate programmes if they wish on each of their current frequencies.
Mr. Knight : My hon. Friend mentioned the setting up of 20 community radio stations. Will he confirm that that is not the final figure, and that there is ultimately a good case for allowing a few hundred such stations to be set up? Will he tell us whether independent local radio stations will be allowed to apply for franchises, and will he confirm that in no circumstances will pirate radio stations still broadcasting be eligible?
Mr. Renton : I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in January that anyone convicted of an illegal broadcasting offence committed after 1 January 1989 would be debarred from applying for a Radio Authority licence for five years.
Column 392In answer to my hon. Friend's first question, he is quite right : in due course, as more frequencies become available--particularly on VHF--the new Radio Authority will be able to license up to several hundred community radio stations if the demand exists.
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 having further meetings later today.
Mr. Fearn : Does the Prime Minister accept that her statement on BBC2's "Nature" programme yesterday that new fridges need new solvents and chemicals conflicts considerably with what was said by her Environment Minister, who earlier in the day ruled out such an observation?
The Prime Minister : The programme is being broadcast tonight. New chemicals are of course required for refrigerators, and it is only on the assumption that those new chemicals can be found that we can dream of an 80 per cent. cut in the use of CFCs.
Mr. William Powell : Is my right hon. Friend aware that tomorrow will see the 10th anniversary of British Steel's announcement that it proposed to close the Corby steelworks, in which no fewer than 73 per cent. of those living in the town were then employed? Is she aware that in the past 10 years Corby has experienced the most dramatic industrial recovery, and may I pass on to her the thanks of my constituents for the massive help that the Government have given in the past 10 years?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The steelworks had to be closed. It is greatly to the credit of both the British Steel Corporation and the people of Corby that they rose to the challenge of enterprise, have created many new jobs and are now flourishing. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said about Government help.
The Prime Minister : The trade deficit is being financed by people who are prepared to invest in Britain and who have full confidence in the country's economy, which has never produced a higher standard of living for our people than it does now.
The Prime Minister : An apology for the fact that we have a higher standard of living, more jobs than ever before in history and a higher standard of social services than ever before? If the Labour Government had had such a record they would have been shouting it from the house tops.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the "Environment in Trust" leaflets that the Government published yesterday, which show the Government's commitment to improving the environment and rivers? Does she consider that a good deal more useful than being photographed in a white coat testing the waters of the Regent's park canal?
The Prime Minister : The booklets to which my hon. Friend referred, in a folder called "Environment in Trust", are excellent and give the full, the accurate and the very good record of this Government on the countryside, the environment, water, getting down pollution and reducing the difficulties which we have had previously with our bathing beaches. It is a better record than any previous Government in this country.
Mr. Ashley : Before the Prime Minister boasts too much about the Government's record on the environment and before she makes this famous broadcast, will she recognise that the consumer and environment problems now swamping her Government are a direct result of her personal philosophy of non-intervention? She is reaping her own whirlwind and people will be protected from the ravages of industry only by a Government who are committed to positive intervention. That applies whether the problem is eggs, the ozone layer or anything else.
The Prime Minister : I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this Government have positively intervened to spend far higher capital on water than ever the last Government did, to spend far higher capital on the National Health Service, and to spend far higher capital on roads. That is because we have had far bigger prosperity under this Government than any previous Government and, in fact, we have been able to spend money on those things. I also point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, with regard to water matters and the state of the beaches, the bathing water directive was agreed in 1975 and the Labour Government did nothing about it for four years.
Mr. Ashby : When meeting Environment Ministers next week, will my right hon. Friend please take time to explain to them the most excellent Water Bill that is now before the House? Will my right hon. Friend explain to them that in relation to the environment the Bill takes measures to improve the waterways, the rivers and the beaches? Will she suggest that perhaps they should emulate us and produce a similar sort of Bill in their countries, specifically in Europe, to clean up the Rhine?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is correct. The most polluted rivers coming into the North sea are those which discharge into the German bight, which are the Rhine, the Weser and the Elbe, and they are responsible for most of the pollution in the North sea. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the water privatisation Bill will do two things. First, it will set up a separate National Rivers Authority and, secondly, it will make certain that the provision of water is very much more efficient than it has been in the past. I also point out that, although the Opposition talk a lot about water, they cut the capital
Column 394expenditure on water by 20 per cent. We have put up the capital expenditure on water by 30 per cent.-- [Interruption.] Have the hon. Gentlemen got the figures? Labour cut it by 20 per cent ; we have put it up by 30 per cent.
Mr. Canavan : As yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the last Scottish referendum, did the Prime Minister attend any of last night's anniversary beanfeasts, where the Scottish representation appeared to be confined to Tory placemen, such as Lord Goold and the Duke of Buccleuch, and Tory rejects, such as Iain Sproat and Michael Hirst, whose opposition to a Scottish Parliament helped to lose them their seats in this Parliament? If the Prime Minister is that confident that Scottish opinion is truly and adequately expressed and reflected by such a parcel of rogues, can I call her bluff and dare her to hold another referendum now--or is she too scared?
The Prime Minister : I noted that it was the 10th anniversary yesterday. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is very glad that the referendum was rejected by the Scottish people, because otherwise he would not be here now, and he does, in fact, add greatly to the entertainment of the place.
Mr. Porter : Is my right hon. Friend aware--I know that she is--of the plight of the pre-1973 war widows? Is she equally aware that a large number of hon. Members from all quarters of the House believe that the case made by those ladies deserves early, sympathetic and positive consideration?
The Prime Minister : Yes, but we have tried and, I think, have succeeded in giving both sympathetic and positive consideration to the case of war widows. There are two distinct pensions. One is that administered by the Department of Social Security and the other is the occupational pension, which differs according to whether service continued beyond 1973. The changes made in the occupational pension, coming under the Ministry of Defence, were not retrospective. Most occupational pension improvements are not retrospective. All war widows receive a tax-free pension under the war pensions scheme administered by the DSS, regardless of their husband's date of death or period of service. Those pensions are at preferential rates, some 30 per cent. higher than the national insurance widows' pensions, with age allowances ranging from £5.75 a week at 65 to £14.45 a week at 80. We have done a great deal for the war widows' pension which, as my hon. Friend knows, is tax-free.
Mr. Flannery : Has the Prime Minister taken note of Her Majesty's inspectorate's report on the alarming situation in our schools? Does she realise that virtually all the press, with the possible exception of Murdoch and company, are saying such things as The Independent said yesterday, when it described the situation as "a creeping
Column 395educational disaster"? Does she realise that the shortage of teachers, the imposition on teachers of the national curriculum and all the other difficulties that we are experiencing, are of such a nature that the Prime Minister and her Government are creating a situation in education that we have not hitherto witnessed in our lifetime?
"In the majority of schools and colleges standards of teaching and learning are satisfactory or better ; initial teacher training and in-service training are in much better shape than a few years ago, and the introduction of the GCSE has shown that a combination of central direction and grass-roots professional development and commitment can bring about worthwhile change and improved standards In many ways, then, the education service is well placed to face the future with some confidence."
Mr. Malins : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the use of bed-and -breakfast accommodation to house some of our homeless families is expensive and, in terms of quality, damaging to families and young children? Does she further agree that we should try to move towards the abolition of bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but meanwhile we should encourage local authorities to use some of their empty stock and to insist that landlords should provide better conditions for the homeless?
bed-and-breakfast accommodation because they use their council properties very well indeed and they do not keep them vacant. It is absurd that inner London should have about 10,500 empty properties while Labour councils keep some 2,300 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
Mr. Sillars : Let me take the Prime Minister back to the ground where she was weakest this afternoon, the balance of payments deficit, which is cumulative. Is not the manifestation of that due to two factors? One was the destruction of manufacturing capacity during her first period of dictatorship, which was obscured from people by the fact that year after year she managed to filch billions of pounds in oil wealth from Scotland. Has she any plans for the future when we are not here to steal from?
The Prime Minister : Manufacturing output is at an all-time record. In Scotland people have done very well. Manufacturing productivity has increased by 5.6 per cent. per annum since 1979 and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the amount spent per head in Scotland vastly exceeds that spent in England and Wales.
Mr. Couchman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that 1992 offers a unique opportunity for British industry and commerce to take advantage of our membership of the European Community? Does she agree that the director- general of the Institute of Directors would do better to exhort his members to exploit that opportunity rather than make unconstructive and foolish criticisms of the EC's structure and personnel?
The Prime Minister : I have not read the speech but, as my hon. Friend knows, we are fervent believers in the single market. We believe in free and fair competition between all members of the Community. We agree that when we get that free and fair competition we shall have an excellent chance to do extremely well out of it, in both visible and invisible trade, and we are working to ensure that 1992 completes the single market because it will be to the benefit of our people here. I hope that all industry and financial and other services are taking maximum advantage of the time between now and then to prepare for it very well indeed.
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