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Mr. Madel : Does my right hon. Friend agree that after 10 years of changes in industrial relations law, management still has a responsibility clearly to explain to each employee why a particular pay claim can or cannot be accepted? To that extent, does he agree that the country is looking to employers and unions in the electricity supply industry to work out a solution to their problem without industrial disruption?
Mr. Heffer : I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that there were no strikes in Hitler's Germany, or in Mussolini's Italy, or in Stalin's Russia, or in Franco's Spain, and that there are no strikes in any country in which legislation makes them illegal. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are getting close to that in this country? People's rights to work or not to work in pursuit of decent conditions are being taken away from them. The right hon. Gentleman had better understand that sooner or later the workers' dam will break--they will not stand for this for ever.
Mr. Fowler : What the hon. Gentleman has said is, with respect, utter nonsense. It will not be accepted by the vast majority of people in this country. When the hon. Gentleman talks about employment, the fact is that industrial action destroys jobs and does not create jobs. Many people in this country resent the attempt of the Labour party to put unions above the law again.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Will my right hon. Friend not agree that workers' rights have actually been increased under this Government by making sure that they have a secret ballot before they are forced to strike? What does he think of the Labour party's proposals that strikes should start before the workers have been consulted?
Mr. Fowler : The Labour party, and particularly the hon. Member for Oldham, West, have a great deal of explaining to do about those proposals, and I cannot understand the enthusiasm which appears to be coming from him and Labour Members for industrial action, which cannot be in the interests of anyone in this country.
Mr. Strang : If the dock employers continue to refuse to negotiate collective agreements with the Transport and General Workers Union to replace the dock labour scheme and the registered dockers come out on strike, will the Government give the port employers the same unconditional support they gave British Coal during the miners' strike?
Column 159have offered talks at port level, which is a sensible step. The only people who will lose out as a result of industrial action in scheme ports are those in the scheme ports themselves, and I hope that will be remembered by all those working in them.
In 1988, underpayments were found at 5,597 of the establishments visited. There were 10 prosecutions for underpayment offences.
Mr. Clelland : Given the fact that 380,000 establishments are covered by wages councils, were not a disgracefully low number visited by inspectors last year? Why have the Government cut the number of inspectors by over 100 per cent.? Even on this small sample, over 17 per cent. of those visited were paying below the statutory minimum, so why were only 0.03 per cent. prosecuted? Is this not another example of the fact that under this Government there is one law for the employers and another for lower-paid workers?
Mr. Nicholls : No. The hon. Gentleman's conclusion is as false as the statistics that he recited. The fact is that the wages inspectorate concentrates on those establishments which it believes to be underpaying. What it finds when it goes to many of these establishments is that there may be only two or three people being underpaid. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the number of prosecutions which take place, he should realise that the number of prosecutions has remained constant under this Government, as under the last.
Mr. Meacher : On the question of very low wages, who does the hon. Gentleman agree with? Does he agree with the Secretary of State for Social Security that wage poverty does not exist--in which case how are three quarters of a million workers caught in a poverty trap where they lose more than 70p of every extra £1 earned--or does he agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that workers paid less than half national average earnings are indeed poor--in which case, why have the Government prosecuted only 56 out of more than 88,000 establishments found to be paying illegally low wages?
Mr. Nicholls : One of the hon. Gentleman's many troubles is that he seems to be prosecution-happy. The point about prosecution policy is that if on a visit it is found that there has not been a blatant disregard of the law but perhaps a mistake, obviously, prosecution may not
Column 160be appropriate. That was the reason--and the hon. Gentleman would have heard it if he had been listening--why I was able to say to his hon. Friend that the rate of prosecution under this Government has remained the same as it was under the previous Government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security made a valuable contribution when he said that some people have a vested interest in poverty-mongering. From what we have heard it would appear that that includes the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Nicholls : A number of differing views have been expressed to my Department about public holidays, including the first Monday in May. The question of any changes raises several complex issues, which my right hon. Friend is considering.
Mr. Gregory : My hon. Friend will have noted that there are no bank holidays whatever from the end of August until Christmas and that we have a plethora of them in the spring, which is disruptive for industry. Will he consider resiting or allocating one of those to the autumn? Perhaps we could do our duty by Nelson and make Trafalgar Day a national day.
Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend makes a persuasive point, but there are probably two difficulties. One of them is to try to find some consensus about how the bunching of bank holidays might be accommodated, and the other is to find a place in the calendar to which a bank holiday might be more suited. Many people, probably the overwhelming majority of people, would rather celebrate a British occasion, such as Trafalgar Day, than some inappropriate foreign import such as May Day.
Mr. Grocott : Does the Minister not agree that the important issue is not which days are being celebrated but how many days' holiday workers are entitled to? Does he further agree that holidays for British workers compare unfavourably with those in other European countries, both in terms of bank holidays and annual holiday entitlement? Is it not time that we had a minimum statutory requirement of six weeks?
Mr. Nicholls : The issue is rather narrower than that. It is a question whether the present spread of bank holidays is appropriate or whether there is such a bunching that it would be better to dispense with the bunching. It is difficult to find a consensus about how the arrangements might be altered, and that is why my right hon. Friend is considering the matter.
Mr. Fairbairn : May I suggest to the Minister a simple solution to the need for a national day? It is to change the title of 1 May to Union Day, because that was the glorious day upon which the Act of Union came into force.
Mr. Nicholls : Not having a clapometer with me I cannot detect whether those who are in favour of Trafalgar Day outnumber those who are in favour of Union Day. Hon. Members will have to make up their own minds.
Mr. Nicholls : Any alteration in the bank holidays which would give me the opportunity to spend more time in the hon. Gentleman's constituency would be most welcome, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware.
Mr. Rowe : Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a remarkable and welcome achievement? Does he also agree that self-employment constitutes one of the very best opportunities for women to establish businesses of their own, that they are taking advantage of that in large numbers, and that even Opposition Members might welcome self-employment as a means of expressing in practical terms equal opportunities for women?
Mr. Cryer : Could the Minister explain the basis of this estimated number of self-employed in the south-east? Could he also tell us how many self-employed businesses have gone into liquidation--have gone bust--as a result of the Government's high interest policies which are bearing down on the very small businesses that the Government are supposed to encourage?
Mr. Cope : The hon. Gentleman knows that interest rates are very important in the control of inflation. I cannot give him a specific figure, because it is difficult to sort out the reasons why individual companies do not succeed. But there is a high success rate among self-employed people and among small businesses generally.
14. Mr. Sayeed : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment whether the labour force survey, European Economic Community and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development surveys show falls in United Kingdom unemployment ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Fowler : The latest labour force survey shows a fall in the number of people unemployed in the internationally agreed definitions of about half a million between the spring of 1987 and the spring of 1988. This confirms the sharp fall in unemployment recorded by the monthly claimant count. United Kingdom unemployment has fallen at a faster rate over the last two years than in any other major industrialised country.
Mr. Sayeed : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the measurement of unemployment as shown by the ILO and OECD figures, as well as by the latest labour force survey, reveals the number of unemployed as being lower than the number of claimants registered with his Department? Does
Column 162that not give the lie to the suggestion that the Government are fiddling the figures? Can he also inform the House of the number of long-term unemployed now compared with the number six years ago?
Mr. Fowler : My hon. Friend is right on the first point, and we have entirely demolished the gloss that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has put on the definition. The number of long-term unemployed in January was 821,000, the lowest for more than six years.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. 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.
Mr. Evennett : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under her leadership Britain will continue to champion a Europe dedicated to enterprise, opportunity and freedom for all its citizens? Will she also reaffirm her resolve to fight any proposals from Europe designed to deprive this Parliament of any powers over taxation and the economy?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. Our vision of Europe is a vision of sovereign states co-operating freely in those things that we can do better together than we can do ourselves. We shall certainly resist proposals which would deprive this House of its premier standing on taxation-- [Interruption.] --and no longer enable us to take our own decisions on taxation.
The Prime Minister : They will take it from the manifesto, which will shortly be published. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will read it most assiduously, and he might even agree with a great deal of it.
The Prime Minister : The manifesto will be prepared as previously-- on our stance in Europe. We are very good Europeans and we shall work within the Community. Any country-- [Interruption.] --which gives £2 billion this year to the Community--our net
contribution--which stations the number of troops in NATO that we do and which has its history with Europe as we have, is likely to be a very good European and have a vision of a free enterprise Europe based on freedom under the rule of law.
Mr. Arnold : In view of the disgraceful scenes of football-related violence last weekend, may I ask my right hon. Friend if she agrees that this problem will not go away and that firm action needs to be taken?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The scenes last Saturday, when there were about 220 arrests--after Hillsborough--were absolutely appalling and utterly disgraceful, and we were all horrified by them. I believe that indicates that more steps need to be taken. There is a Bill before the House, with which we said we would go ahead on condition that it was an enabling scheme and that therefore it would come before the House before being finalised. It has other measures too, including the licensing of grounds. I believe that we should go ahead with that measure, which would be a vehicle for any further measures that it was thought necessary to take, without just waiting and doing nothing before the coming football season.
Mr. Ashdown : Does the Prime Minister realise that the House of Lords spoke for the whole nation on the Water Bill last night? Will she accept the House of Lords decision or will she condemn the British people to drinking dirty water for longer?
The Prime Minister : I believe that the Government have spoken for the whole nation in greatly increasing the amount of investment spent on improved water--investment far greater than under any previous Government. We shall look at that amendment. The question is whether it can be done in time. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear that the extra things that he is demanding will cost a good deal more money and will not complain when that price is exacted.
Mr. Budgen : In view of the humiliating defeat suffered by the British Government and people last night in the EEC, when a directive concerning public health was foisted on us through a majority vote under the Single European Act, will my right hon. Friend undertake that this decision will be referred by the British Government to the European court or that the veto will be exercised?
The Prime Minister : No. We shall consider the matter very carefully but, as my hon. Friend knows, under the Single European Act we agreed that, for the purpose of implementing the Single European Act and only for that purpose, the majority rule should apply in certain cases. What is a matter sometimes for the court to decide is whether a particular issue comes under the majority rule or whether it remains under article 100. It is that, which is maybe an issue, that we shall consider very carefully.
Mr. McFall : It is exactly one year since the Prime Minister lectured the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on how to be Christian. In the light of the statement by the Secretary of State for Social Security, which is appalling, that poverty in this country has now been eliminated, will the Prime Minister undertake that on her next visit to Scotland she will dispense with her "Sermon on the Mound", stop turning the other cheek and
Column 164address the problems of poverty which are still a reality for many hundreds of thousands of Scotsmen, women and children today?
The Prime Minister : Surveys show that people at all income levels, including those in the bottom one tenth of income levels, are far better off than they were 10 years ago. What the hon. Gentleman and many of his colleagues would prefer is that the bottom tenth should be worse off provided they pulled all other levels down with them. That is an appalling doctrine.
Mr. Hill : Will my right hon. Friend agree with me that when it comes to sovereign states working in unison there is no finer example than the Council of Europe? Indeed, only last week Finland joined, making a total of 23 countries. Does she agree that this is the genuine voice of Europe, the overwhelming voice of Europe ; that it is the true parliamentary assembly of Europe and that the European Parliament needs to be told this time and time again?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the Council of Europe does extremely valuable work and obviously goes a good deal wider than the European Community. We take a great interest in all its work, but we also belong to the European Economic Community. We are bound to it by treaty, the amended treaty, but we wish to see that in future it develops along the courses which we wish it to take and which we believe to be the right ones, and that it does not become too bureaucratic.
Mr. Eadie : Can the right hon. Lady tell us what role she sees deep- mined coal in Scotland playing in the energy provisions of the United Kingdom? Does she support the proposal that deep-mined coal production in Midlothian should end despite the fact that there are very rich reserves of coal that would last well into the next century?
The Prime Minister : The question will initially be one for British Coal. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, it is not only the reserves of coal that matter but whether they can be mined competitively, so that people are not overcharged for the electricity that comes from coal. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the mine at Longannet will continue to be worked for Longannet power station. He is also well aware that there are other proposed closures because some pits have lost as much as £20 million recently, and we cannot allow losses of that dimension to continue. There is a major place in the United Kingdom for coal-fired power stations, and the major part of our electricity will continue to be generated by them for a long time to come.
Mr. Ian Bruce : The whole House will have heard the sad news of the deaths of nine Royal Navy personnel in the helicopter crash in Africa, which comes hard on the heels of the deaths of two Royal Navy pilots who crashed in my constituency of Portland. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to express the sympathy of the whole House to the relatives and friends of those victims? Will she also reflect that, in these times of peace, the people who have been peacekeeping with the Armilla patrol for the
Column 165past 10 years should be recognised, perhaps by a campaign honour--which seems to have been rather slow in coming to people who have been doing a magnificent job over many years?
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The whole House will wish to take advantage of his invitation to send its sympathy to the relatives of those lost in the crash to which he refers, of a helicopter that has been flying from HMS Brilliant, which had previously been on duty with the Armilla patrol. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. Other matters are being considered by the Ministry of Defence, but we would like to honour those who took part in the Armilla patrol and in its extremely important work in the international waterway of the Gulf.
Mr. McKay : Is the Prime Minister aware that after nearly two years of negotiations by some local authorities in south Yorkshire and in Scunthorpe, an agreement was signed five months ago for a £308 million aid concession from Europe? Is she aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment decided to break that agreement so that the aid will be widespread throughout the east of England? Does the right hon. Lady agree with the Secretary of State's action, which has deprived my constituency-- which has a 20 per cent. male unemployment rate--of substantial aid, or does she disagree with him and accept that the money should be spent where the EEC said? If the Prime Minister does agree with her right hon. Friend, do we not risk losing credibility in respect of our use of EEC aid?
The Prime Minister : No. Those EEC aid agreements must also take into account the Government's view as to how the money can best be spent. Every single pound spent by the EEC in this country is paid for by the taxpayers of this country. Over and above everything that we pay for, this year we shall pay £2 billion net to the European Community, so it is obviously very important that the Government's views are also taken into account.
Dame Jill Knight : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to welcome the interest shown by hospitals throughout the country in achieving self-governing status? Will she stress once again to the House and to the country that self-governing status does not mean that hospitals are either opting out of the Health Service or going private?
Column 166choice, if they wish, to be self-governing, which means that they will have control over their own budgets so that decisions will be taken much nearer to the patient, which will in many cases mean far better value for money.-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members dislike choice except when they choose to say that they like it occasionally. Whether or not a hospital becomes self-governing is a matter of choice.
The Prime Minister : No, I do not. We wished to have many of the directives under majority voting because things which we wanted were being stopped by others using a single vote. For example, we have not yet got insurance freely in Germany as we wished. We strenuously contest some decisions concerning animal and health regulations, which we believe should come under unanimity and that is our understanding. We are not quite certain what will be the judgment not of the Council of Ministers but of the European Court, which makes judgments on whether a particular matter comes within majority or unanimity if it is not clear on the face of the wording.
Mr. Moss : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Governments throughout the world are looking at ways to reform the provision of health care and that Poland and Hungary, to name but two Communist countries, are introducing methods of private insurance and charges?
The Prime Minister : Certainly, many countries are looking at the rapidly increasing cost of health care. We recall that in 1977 Alec Merrison said that provision for health care in this country could take the entire income of the country, so we are all looking to get the very best value for money, not only in Poland and Hungary, but in Germany, Italy and other countries in the European Community. Those who take out private insurance pay their full share of tax to the National Health Service and by not using it and paying further for their own treatment they are taking a very great burden off the Health Service and should be thanked for doing that.
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