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Mr. Alfred Morris : What proportion of those who have been unemployed for more than five years are disabled people? Is the Minister aware of the findings of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys that only 31 per cent. of disabled adults of working age are actually working? Does not that statistic shout discrimination against disabled people and the need for urgent action to protect them?
Mr. Howard : I am disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman does not give credit for the steps that we have taken to encourage the disabled back into work, in the special programme for which my Department is responsible--which was praised in a recent article by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field)--and in the measures recently introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. We take the problems of getting the disabled back to work very seriously, and we are taking constructive action to help them.
Mr. Howard : In the 57 local authority areas in England within which the Government target inner city programme aid, the number of unemployed claimants has fallen by 334,828 or 34 per cent. since March 1988. In the United Kingdom as a whole the percentage fall has been 37 per cent.
Mr. Stevens : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government's policies in encouraging enterprise are proving successful not only in outer urban constituencies like mine, where unemployment fell by 35 per cent. in 1989, but in areas considered to be some of the most deprived in the country?
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The dramatic fall in unemployment in the inner city areas is a particularly encouraging feature of recent economic development, and a tribute to the success of the Government's economic policy.
Column 134in the country as a whole--than in 1979. That is a tribute to the success of the Government's economic policies-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Andrew Mitchell : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving those figures, which bear eloquent testimony to the success of the Government's economic policies. Do not they also underline the importance of the Government's many training initiatives and, in particular, the critical need to encourage more part-timers, especially women, back into the labour force?
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need a successful economic framework and effective training policies. The combination of both has led to the fall in unemployment to which my hon. Friend referred.
Mr. Heffer : Why is the right hon. and learned Gentleman boasting about the fall in unemployment when, under the present Government, its level has risen dramatically since 1979? Can he explain why unemployment on Merseyside--particularly in Liverpool--although not quite as high as it was, is still much higher than it should be?
Mr. Howard : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's acknowledgement, albeit rather grudging, of the progress that has been made on Merseyside-- as elsewhere--in bringing down unemployment. I hope that he will also acknowledge that 1 million more people are now at work than in 1979, and that nearly 3 million extra jobs have been created since 1983.
Mr. Nicholls : Between June 1987 and December 1989, the number of unemployed claimants in the Wirral local authority area has fallen by 8,232, or 34.7 per cent. The comparison is slightly affected by the new benefit regulations affecting those aged under 18 which were introduced in September 1988. Unemployment figures are not seasonally adjusted at a regional level.
Mr. Porter : The people of the Wirral will be extremely grateful for the fall in unemployment. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware, however, that Cammell Laird, the shipyard which is the major employer in Birkenhead, has recently announced 500 redundancies? Will he take the matter up with the Secretary of State for Defence to ensure that orders are placed with the yard and that the number of unemployed in the Wirral continues to fall?
Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend will accept that it would be wrong for the Government to try to suspend the commercial judgment of companies in regard to redundancies. I can tell him, however, that where there are
Column 135redundancies the full resources of the Department of Employment will be brought to bear to help those who are affected, and I certainly undertake to look at that.
Mr. Alton : Notwithstanding some welcome improvements in employment on Merseyside, and in the Wirral in particular, does the Minister accept that the closure of plants such as BAT and Higsons sets back the cause of full employment in those areas? What have his Government done to make representations to those companies to ensure that socially disastrous decisions are not made in areas of high unemployment?
Mr. Nicholls : As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter), I accept that redundancies can have a very bad effect and can represent a good deal of personal tragedy for those involved. What the Government cannot do, however, is try to manipulate matters by telling companies that they should not exercise their commercial judgment. Ultimately, the companies will form a view on what is the best part of the country for them in all the circumstances, and doubtless that will apply to Merseyside.
Mr. Hind : Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the main things that the Government have done to help the Wirral and Merseyside is to alter business rates? Is he aware that the north-west region as a whole will benefit to the tune of £300 million--money which, particularly on Merseyside, will be used for industrial investment and hence the creation of new jobs.
Mr. Nicholls : My hon. Friend is entirely right. One of the most beneficial effects of the uniform business rate is to ensure that those parts of the country which have paid more than they should are at long last getting a fair deal, and it will also ensure that Left-wing authorities will not be able to turn their areas into ghettoes by driving out the businesses that would support people.
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Everyone concerned with wage negotiations should take into account the longer-term implications of their actions, and the fact that excessive wage increases can clearly lead to job losses.
Column 136having further meetings later today. This evening I shall preside at a dinner in honour of the Prime Minister of Poland.
Mr. Clarke : Does the Prime Minister agree that the release of Nelson Mandela--a person who symbolises South Africa's cry for freedom--was made possible only because of pressure from the free world, including economic pressure from the rest of Europe and the United States? Does the Prime Minister accept that it is essential to maintain that pressure if a majority of South Africans are to be free to travel in their own country, free to have their own businesses, free to have access to higher standards of education and child care and the rest, and free
The Prime Minister : I believe that improvements are coming about in South Africa because there is a general agreement there, and the world over, that apartheid is wrong and that it must go. Everyone there is coming to realise that. I do not believe that we should have got the results that we have, including the release of Nelson Mandela, had we introduced comprehensive economic sanctions--that would have caused increasing violence and bitterness--instead of doing as we have done, and steadily improved prospects for peaceful negotiations, which I am sure Mandela stands for, too.
Mr. Wilshire : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that her Government have no plans to allow local government councillors access to income tax returns? Will she also confirm that her Government have no proposals to penalise those who improve their homes by their own hard work? Does she agree that it is utterly cynical to refuse to give details of half-baked policies simply because local government elections are in the offing?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend on all three points. Details of income tax matters are private and between the taxpayer and the income tax authorities. They are not to be handed on to anyone else, as they are private and confidential. Moreover, it is wrong to discourage people from making improvements to their houses by increasing the local charge when they do so. We shall continue with the community charge, which is the best local tax that has yet been invented.
The Prime Minister : Mr. Mandela also said that he approved of armed struggle. I disagree with him on that ; and I disagree with him on the present sanctions. When the South African Government were doing things with which we thoroughly disagreed, we put on some very minor
Column 137gesture sanctions to demonstrate our disapproval. Now that they are doing things which we have urged them to do and have helped them to bring about, I believe it is right to reduce the sanctions that we have, particularly as they are only voluntary.
Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister realise that for her to insist that she knows better than Nelson Mandela is both arrogant and absurd? Does she also realise that, if she says no to the single request that he has made to her and the international community, what she is saying to Nelson Mandela is, "You are on your own ; we are turning our back on you"?
The Prime Minister rose--[Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : I said that I would start my reply again having withdrawn the previous words. I have said that now three times and hon. Gentlemen cannot hear me. The ANC stands for comprehensive economic sanctions ; so does the Labour party. It stands for armed struggle ; so, apparently, does the Labour party. It stands for nationalisation-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : The ANC stands for nationalisation of most of the economic means of the country. Mr. Mandela naturally said he supports all three in what I would call his ritual speech. I believe he is making very much better and more peaceful speeches during his press conferences. I believe that what he said was ritual. There are other people in South Africa such as Chief Buthelezi and Helen Suzman who have been fighting for the end of apartheid far longer than many people in the House. They are absolutely against sanctions. I believe that it is right to
Column 138encourage President de Klerk and the people in South Africa to go further in the way we want by removing some of the sanctions.
Mr. Shersby : Has my right hon. Friend, as a London Member, had the opportunity to study the first Metropolitan police customer survey that was published today? Is she aware that 84 per cent. of people who visited police stations expressed satisfaction with the way in which the police handled their cases and found them polite, efficient and courteous? Does she agree that that is a very good result?
Mr. Ashdown : How many of the Prime Minister's Community, Commonwealth American colleagues were consulted before her lonely call to remove sanctions at the weekend? Is it not rather odd that when she is asked to support unity and freedom in Germany she says that there must first be massive international consultation, but that when she is asked to maintain international sanctions on South Africa she is prepared to reject that unilaterally and alone?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman does not fully appreciate precisely what happened. As for United Nations sanctions, of course the arms embargo remains in place because we all agreed to it and are bound by it. Orders through the European Economic Community that passed through the House, in particular sanctions on iron and steel which suit some people, have to be upheld, as do those on Krugerrands. Those are orders and they cannot be changed without full agreement. I wrote to Mr. Haughey and have received a letter back from him agreeing that the recent measures in South Africa "are indeed significant developments"
and that EC Foreign Ministers should consider next week "to what extent profound and irreversible changes can be said to have already taken place in South Africa that would justify a relaxation of the measures imposed by the Twelve."
Those are orders which have gone through the House.
The sanctions to which I am referring are totally voluntary : a voluntary ban on investment from outside and a voluntary arrangement that we do not try to encourage tourists. Those are not bound by orders of any kind.
I was glad to see that the Archbishop of Canterbury also said-- [Interruption.]
Column 139President Bush made it clear that he does not think--[ Hon. Members :-- "Come on!"]--The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question and I am trying to reply. President Bush-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : President Bush has made clear that he does not think that sanctions are necessarily the right answer, but he is bound by a law passed by Congress. In so far as we are bound by laws, we uphold them, and in so far as we are not-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Quentin Davies : Does my right hon. Friend agree that issuing death threats is an extremely serious crime which in all circumstances should be pursued with the full and impartial rigour of the law? Does she agree that when a foreign Government start behaving like a gang of hoodlums and issuing death threats against a British subject, it is quite impossible for us to conceive of having normal, civilised diplomatic relations with them?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. Issuing death threats is totally unacceptable. Freedom of speech and freedom to write is freedom to say things with which other people do not agree. That is one of our fundamental freedoms ; we must uphold it, and will continue to uphold it. I do not believe that such words or such writing will do anything to damage the great religions, which are far older than those who write about them.
Mr. Speaker : Order. I have never heard the House behave in this way at Prime Minister's Question Time. I call the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), who has a right to ask her question.
Ms. Ruddock : If the Prime Minister had just spent 27 years in prison, separated from her family, but found when she was released that she and people like her were unable to live or work where they wished and did not have the vote, would she not want the support of the international community in continuing sanctions against the Government of that country?
The Prime Minister : No. I do not think that sanctions have achieved anything-- [Interruption.] As to getting rid of them, if the Labour party had had its way we would have had comprehensive economic sanctions, creating poverty and unemployment in South Africa and a good deal of unemployment here. That is not the way to keep South Africa as the most prosperous economy in Africa. Many people from the front-line states go to it and it will continue to be prosperous provided that it is run in the same way when the Government in South Africa are elected on the basis of one person, one vote.
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