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Mr. Viggers : The visit by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to Bombardier Ltd. in Montreal on 2 May was at the invitation of its chairman and took place during his recent programme of commitments in north America. As to the discussions about the bids received for Shorts from Bombardier and GEC/Fokker, they are commercial and confidential.
Mr. Ashdown : Following the Minister's previous answers, I must press him further. Does he realise that there is now-- [Interruption.] I long ago learnt to ignore those hooligans masquerading as hon. Members on the Conservative side. [Interruption.]
Mr. Ashdown : Is the Minister aware that there is now a very serious haemorrhaging of the kind of skilled labour on which Shorts depends as a result of the uncertainty now hanging over the company? Some are going to South Africa, some to the United States and some to Canada. It is true to say that Shorts has put forward its proposals for privatisation and Bombardier has accepted them. What is the delay and does the Minister realise that if the dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over Shorts is not cleared away by the time of the Paris air show the consequence will be a loss of orders and an even more substantial loss of skilled manpower?
Mr. Viggers : All those companies which entered into the negotiations for the possible acquistion of Shorts did so on the basis that the discussions would be handled in a confidential manner, and they must be. I reiterate the assurance that I gave in answer to the previous question. We are closely in touch with the company in question and with the other companies which have indicated an interest in making the acquisition. We will pursue the matter with all possible urgency.
14. Mr. Bill Walker : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to change local government structures and powers in Northern Ireland to bring them into line with the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Tom King : No, Sir. We do, however, want to see elected representatives more fully involved in the arrangements for governing Northern Ireland. We have therefore been stressing the need for the constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland to talk together, and with us, about such issues.
Mr. Walker : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and I am flattered that he does read my speeches. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that when he is considering the aspects of the structure and the merger he will bear in mind the fact that I represent a minority of a minority? I am a Scottish Conservative Member of Parliament and the Scots are a minority in the United Kingdom. Therefore we understand the position of minorities but we do not expect power sharing at local government level or any other level in Scotland because we recognise that the cornerstone of parliamentary democracy is that the majority will prevails.
Mr. King : In the discussions that we are seeking to initiate we make it clear that we do not wish to set out a prearranged formula on any particular basis. As my hon. Friend knows, however, the position in Northern Ireland is very different from that in Scotland in that there is very little power in local government, and I should like to see people in Northern Ireland taking more responsibility for their own administration and government.
Mr. King : I would certainly welcome that, and I take note of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. It is, however, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I shall ensure that he is made aware of the hon. Gentleman's request.
Mr. Ian Stewart : The international fund is making good progress in fulfilling its objectives of promoting economic and social development in those areas of Ireland north and south which have suffered most in recent years, and of encouraging contact, dialogue and reconciliation. I pay tribute to the board of the fund for the way in which it has approached this important task.
Mr. McCusker : What does it feel like, as a member of a Government who put such a premium on hard work, self-reliance and thrift, to be the recipient of Third world aid from the United States of America?
Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman makes an extraordinary point if he is criticising the suggestion that the United States and other contributors to the international fund should make their own contribution to economic and social development in Northern Ireland. I should have thought that, as he represents constituents in Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman would welcome the contribution that the fund has made.
Mr. Ian Stewart : In the first four months of the year the security forces have fired 182 plastic baton rounds. The vast majority of these were fired in north and west Belfast during incidents of serious street disorder. In certain circumstances, particularly during vicious and widespread rioting when lives are put seriously at risk, the use of plastic baton rounds is the most effective way of restoring order.
Mr. Bennett : Will the Minister confirm that there are proposals for a different type of plastic baton round, which appears to be rather more lethal than the present type? Will he make it clear that he has no intention of changing the type now in use, and that real progress could be made if we were able to phase out the use of all plastic bullets?
Mr. Stewart : The use of baton rounds is, I think, likely to remain necessary in Northern Ireland for as long as serious disorder of this kind occurs. Changes have been made in types of baton round in the past to ensure that they performed their task more effectively--that task being to restore order without causing serious damage or injury--and that may happen again in the future. Such bullets should always be used with care and restraint, and, like the hon. Gentleman, I look forward to the time when they are no longer needed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : The Department of Health and Social Servicesis currently addressing hospital in-patient waiting lists through the accountability reviews by ensuring that action to reduce waiting times for operations is accorded a high priority.
Mr. Kilfedder : Is the Minister aware that many patients, relatives and general practitioners, particularly in my constituency of North Down, are extremely worried about the delay in some operations? Will he consider the matter again?
Mr. Needham : I assure the hon. Gentleman that we keep the matter under close observation. As he will know, the key indicator is waiting times rather than waiting lists. The waiting lists in Northern Ireland amount to 32 per cent. of in-patients, which is exactly the same percentage as before. Of course, we will continue to watch the position closely which is why in the accountability reviews with the boards we are making certain that all the statistics available are checked to see what we can do to reduce waiting lists as quickly as possible.
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. McFall : No doubt the Prime Minister is aware that Guy's hospital is appealing to the public to sponsor cots financially so that the lives of tiny babies who have to undergo heart operations can be saved. Would the Prime Minister care to consider the advice of St. Francis of Assisi--if that great man were alive today to give that advice to grandmothers such as her? Does she think that he would advise that adequate funding is important so that each and every operation is given priority and babies' lives can be saved? Does she agree that that would be better than the begging bowl approach that is adopted now, or does she not care?
The Prime Minister : With regard to cots for tiny children, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many more intensive care units now than there were 10 years ago, many more specialised nurses attending those cots and many more consultant specialists to see that the children get the attention and care that they need. They have far more now than children had 10 years ago, and further progress will continue.
Column 469public and with minimum cost to the union members involved? Is it not time that we moved towards continental practices where in Germany and Italy-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Kinnock : Is the Prime Minister aware that, according to The Daily Telegraph this morning, support among doctors for her new National Health Service proposals has risen to a new high of 1 per cent? What are her plans to double that support?
The Prime Minister : If the right hon. Gentleman had read other polls he would have noticed that at least 25 per cent. of doctors have shown interest-- [Interruption.] --in taking their own practice budgets which is very different from the figure he gave. We have indications that many hospitals are showing interest in becoming self- governing hospitals in the Health Service. Under the White Paper the purpose is better service for patients and an opportunity for doctors to choose whether they have their own practice budgets and for hospitals to choose whether they will become self-governing. I am well aware that choice plays no part in Socialist policies.
Mr. McLoughlin : During the course of her busy day, will my right hon. Friend take time to consider why a number of local authorities are spending so much money trying to spread falsehoods about the community charge? Does she agree that the authorities which tend to do that usually turn out to be the high-spending authorities? Does she further agree that under the community charge, high-spending authorities will have high community charges and that that is why they are so concerned about the matter, because for the first time they will be accountable to the people who have to pay the money?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am pleased that my right hon. Friend's community charge leaflet was fully cleared by their Lordships for distribution and that, at the same time, Greenwich council was caught out in sending out false propaganda and insinuating that if one did not fill in the community charge form, somewhow one would be deprived of one's vote. That was totally wrong. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Labour party does not want the community charge to come in because it will show up which are the high spending, extravagant authorities, which are mainly Labour.
Mr. Hardy : Will the Prime Minister note that I have received in recent weeks several hundred letters from constituents who are anxious about the NHS, showing that their concern is as much about the Government's apparently dogmatic attempts to destabilise the service as about the inadequacy of resources? Does the right hon.
Column 470Lady appreciate that many parts of these islands did not give much support to her party at the last general election -- [Interruption.] --and that it is about time that the 24 million people who did not vote Conservative then, and who will not vote for her next time, had some consideration, and rather more than they have received in recent years?
The Prime Minister : Whether or not they voted Conservative, they have done very much better under this Government than they ever did under Labour, not only in terms of the standard of living but in terms of the standard of health care under the NHS, with far more resources for the Health Service, far more doctors, far more nurses, far more treatment for far more patients and far better treatment than ever before.
Mr. Aitken : Looking ahead from my right hon. Friend's splendidly robust recent statements on EEC matters towards the practical implementation of her words at the forthcoming Madrid summit, may I ask her to say whether she agrees that the most explosive flashpoints on the Madrid agenda are likely to be the Delors report on economic and monetary union and the social charter? Is it her view that the British Government have a legal right to exercise a veto on these misguided proposals, and will she be prepared to use it?
The Prime Minister : I think that my hon. Friend has correctly identified what will be the two main issues at the Madrid summit--the Delors report and the social charter. From all the accounts that I have received about the social charter, it is more like a Socialist charter-- [Interruption.] --of unnecessary controls and regulations which would tie up industry, which would put many more costs on industry, which would make industry uncompetitive and which would therefore increase unemployment and mean that we could not compete with the rest of the world for the trade that we so sorely need. As for the Delors report, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made our position very clear indeed --that we could not follow that report. Both of those matters require unanimity. I do not believe that we shall be alone in opposing them but that we shall find many other Heads of Government opposed to all or parts of them, and will take a different course from that charted in both of those documents.
Mr. William Ross : Will the Prime Minister take time in the course of her busy day to visit Northern Ireland, where she could observe at first hand, either today or even tomorrow, the tedious and complicated procedure of count which must follow proportional representation elections, a system of election which makes it easy for parties such as Sinn Fein to be elected? Why does she deny to her own constituents in Finchley, who are at least as British as those in Northern Ireland, the opportunity to vote for and elect members of Sinn Fein, the National Front and so on?
Mr. Lawrence : Will my right hon. Friend welcome recent developments in the Soviet Union, where candidates for the Soviet parliament are no longer imposed upon the electorate by the central party organisation in the Kremlin? [Interruption.]
Ms. Armstrong : Can the Prime Minister explain why she has set her face so strongly against the Lingua programme, when her own Department was fiercely in support of it initially, and when reassurances are given in the programme that it will have no legislative effect on the curriculum or anything else? It will simply offer opportunities for our young people and teachers to be involved in exchange programmes to improve their modern language facilities.
The Prime Minister : We support the teacher part, but not the whole programme as operated from Europe because £160 million-- [Interruption.] Perhaps Opposition Members would listen before they pass judgment. We do not support the £160 million programme because we could do better for our own pupils and teachers with expenditure of less money. The Labour party used to believe in value for money, but that was long ago.
Mr. Goodlad : Will my right hon. Friend reinforce her notable victory in Brussels yesterday and ensure that zero-rated VAT for children's clothes, food and books will remain in this country by continuing her robust and successful efforts to prevent unhelpful attempts by the Commission to interfere in our taxation matters?
The Prime Minister : Yes. The continuation of zero rating is a major vindication of the United Kingdom's firm stance on this matter--a stance to which we have always adhered-- [Interruption.] We have always adhered to it very firmly indeed. I also welcome the fact that the Commission's latest ideas appear to involve the continuation of those rates. We need to study the small print of the Commission's communication very carefully because we believe that there are some conditional factors, and that they propose some requirements for tax approximation, which we do not believe are at all necessary or, indeed, advisable.
Column 472for being in Europe, receiving all the inward investment that we obtain as members of the EC, being able to negotiate on trade as part of the European Community, and gaining all the other benefits which flow from that. Had it not been for the negotiation which took place at Fontainebleau, when we gained a good deal of rebate, we would not pay a £2 billion net contribution, but about £3.5 billion.
Miss Nicholson : In her busy day, has my right hon. Friend had a chance to see that the Greenwich borough council has had to withdraw 85,000 copies of the Greenwich Times because it contained a misleading and factually incorrect statement-- [Interruption.] The paper incorrectly stated that those who did not put their names down for the community charge would lose their democratic right to vote. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is hypocritical and abominable for a council that has constantly bombarded the Government with charges of promoting inaccurate material to the public to then be guilty of doing so itself?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I have seen that Greenwich council has withdrawn its false statement that failure to pay the charge may deprive people of their right to vote. This will be interesting, because Greenwich council ratepayers will have to pay the costs of Greenwich, which fought the Government over an accurate leaflet that we wished to distribute.
Dame Jill Knight : When considering the most recent pronouncements by the doctors, is it not relevant to recall that they have opposed every reform to the Health Service that has been mooted in the past 40 years? Does my right hon. Friend recall that in June 1955, when the Government wished to stop the spread of drug addiction and sought to ban the use and manufacture of heroin in Britain, the British Medical Association behaved in exactly the same way as it is behaving today--worrying patients and sending furious letters to Members of Parliament?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend says, it is true that the BMA has tended to oppose many of the major reforms of the Health Service ; many of us remember the limited list, for instance. I remember that there were some clinical reasons for the particular case that my hon. Friend mentioned, but that matter was successfully resolved. I must point out that, although the BMA has opposed reforms, usually it has eventually operated them and they have tended to become part of the unchangeable traditions of the National Health Service. We look forward to receiving the same sort of co-operation once the reforms are in practice, when we are sure that the BMA will welcome them and say that it does not know how it could ever have done without them.
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