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Mr. Squire : I am delighted that my hon. Friend found that his schools have had excellent experiences. All hon. Members visiting grant- maintained schools across the country will find that they have a better atmosphere and are enthusiastic. I urge hon. Members who have not yet taken advantage of opportunities to make such visits to do so.
10. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will estimate the number of students accepted for NVQ courses who have withdrawn for financial reasons ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Boswell : This information is not collected centrally. However, we have no evidence to suggest that withdrawals are a major problem. NVQs are normally taken by people already in employment and tax relief is available to help meet the cost of course fees.
Mr. Kirkwood : I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I am also grateful for the announcement, made yesterday in a written reply, that increased money had been put into access funds for the current financial year. But that answer made it clear that only £4.6 million was being made available for further education access funds. Does the Minister believe, having regard to the downward pressure that central Government are exerting on local
Column 729authority discretionary education budgets, that that fund of money will be enough to give national vocational qualifications to those qualified enough to have access to courses?
Mr. Boswell : First, may I make two brief points of qualification relating to the hon. Gentlemans' remarks. The first is that the announcement related to England. The second is that his assertion that the Government are putting downward pressure on the level of money available for discretionary awards is not the case. We continue to fund them. The incidents, effects and current practice of discretionary awards are now being considered by two independent foundations which will report shortly.
Sir Giles Shaw : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the NVQ award system is of great importance to employers and local industry and forms a clear relationship between the education system and the craft system of old? Will he ensure that every encouragement is given to NVQ awards in the development of his education policy?
Mr. Chisholm : What progress did the Prime Minister make at his meeting this morning in rewriting his election manifesto and rewriting the rules on invalidity benefit? In particular, will he say who else he intends to exclude from invalidity benefit, apart from the retired builder with heart disease mentioned in the leaked document? Will he also say why on earth those still receiving it should have to pay, through benefit cuts, for the Government's unsurpassed economic incompetence?
Mr. Viggers : I am grateful for the chance of hearing my right hon. Friend's comments. Does he agree that our troops in the former Yugoslavia have done an exceptionally difficult job with great skill and courage and that they have consistently carried out the policy of distributing humanitarian aid for as long as it has been possible for them to do so? Does he further agree that the person to emerge from the recent crisis with the least credibility is the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who demanded further troop deployments and then immediately demanded that they be pulled out-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : I must first congratulate my hon. Friend on his narrow escape and his capacity to swim. We are delighted to see him here today. He is right to say that British forces are doing an outstanding job in a dangerous situation. They are inevitably running risks as the
Column 730difficulties on the ground become more serious. I wish to ensure that those risks are kept to a minimum and I assure the House that the necessary contingency plans exist should there be a further deterioration in the situation. As my hon. Friend intimated, I believe that the policy that we have followed in Bosnia has been right and any other policy would have been reckless of the lives of British soldiers.
Mr. John Smith : What changes in the law is the Prime Minister considering with regard to the disclosure of secret donations to political parties, given the continuing scandal over the £1.5 million donated to the Conservative party by Mr. Asil Nadir?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. and learned Gentleman may occasionally care to comment on some of the people who may in the past have donated money to his party-- [Interruption.] I have no present proposals for changes in the law.
Mr. John Smith : Why does the Prime Minister refuse to introduce legislation requiring the public disclosure of all substantial donations made to all political parties, so that the political parties that receive them have to declare them? In addition to putting political contributions on an open and honest basis, would not that also prevent the breaches of company law which occurred in the case of Mr. Nadir, whose companies apparently made seven illegal donations amounting to £440,000 to the Conservative party?
The Prime Minister : As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, the requirement to declare company donations to political parties under the Companies Act falls on the directors of the donor company, not on the recipient. He is wrong in his later comments--the payment itself would not be unlawful. Only the failure to declare it in the company accounts would be unlawful and that is a matter for the company, not the recipient.
Mr. John Smith : Does not the Prime Minister understand that, if the Conservative party had had to disclose the payment, the breach would have been revealed when the company acted illegally? Does he not realise that he cannot sweep the matter under the carpet and that there are people in the United Kingdom who believe that it is wrong that political parties should be financed in a furtive way or by excessively large donations from those who are not prepared to be publicly identified? Those are the words of concerned members of the Conservative party. Why cannot he act in this matter to get a level playing field that will encourage honesty and equality?
Mr. Garnier : Will my right hon. Friend welcome the visit of the President of Azerbaijan later this month and confirm that it underlines the strong diplomatic links between our two countries and confirms the existence of strong commercial links to the mutual benefit of our two countries?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I certainly share the view expressed by my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that there are huge markets opening up in that part of the world which I believe will be satisfactory for the United
Column 731Kingdom, provided that we are prepared to take an interest in them at an early stage. Undoubtedly, we are prepared to take that interest and I very much welcome the vist here.
Mr. Canavan : What exactly is the Prime Minister going to do now that Lady Thatcher has effectively given him the kiss of death, Asil Nadir is overtaking him in the opinion polls and Sir Bernard Ingham tells us that the Tory party is behaving like a headless chicken? If the party is too chicken to take the necessary steps-- [Interruption.] --would not it be more honourable for heads to roll voluntarily and let the people decide on a fresh menu?
Mr. Dover : Has the Prime Minister noticed that, during the recession, the private sector has frozen wages and earnings, reduced earnings on many occasions and had massive job reductions? Are not there lessons to be learnt by the public sector, especially if the burden on the private sector is not to continue increasing?
The Prime Minister : I believe that the private sector has taken dramatic action in order to keep its costs down. The implications of that are now being seen in the extent to which many companies are now recovering. As far as the public sector is concerned, as my hon. Friend knows, we have held strict control over public sector wages over the past year.
Mr. Hoon : Last week, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) suggested that the Prime Minister ordered interest rate cuts for purely political reasons against the advice and better judgment of his then Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is that true?
Mr. Jenkin : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a further 1.8 million people so far have registered an interest in applying for the third British Telecom share flotation? Is not that the clearest evidence possible that, far from running out of steam, the British people cannot get enough popular capitalism?
The Prime Minister : I believe that my hon. Friend is right about that. Today, almost one in four adults owns shares compared with about one in 20 a decade or so ago. People want to build up a stake in Britain. They want to own a part of it. That is very much part of our philosophy and we will continue to encourage it.
Mr. Davidson : Will the Prime Minister accept my delayed but sincere congratulations on his decision to sack his Chancellor of the Exchequer? Will he come to Govan soon, while he is still Prime Minister, and tell the people there that he will sack any Minister who proposes a drastic reduction in the already inadequate level of invalidity benefit?
The Prime Minister : As I indicated earlier to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm), we are considering invalidity benefit and I believe that it is entirely right that we should do so. Expenditure on invalidity benefit has risen from about £1.5 billion 10 years ago to more than £6 billion this year. No responsible Government could ignore an increase of that order. We have a duty to consider whether all that taxpayers' money is being wisely spent. The number of people receiving invalidity benefit has more than doubled during the past 10 years from 700,000 to more than 1.5 million. Frankly, it beggars belief that so many more people have suddenly become invalids, especially at a time when the health of the population has improved. I make no apologies for looking at this area of expenditure.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth : When my right hon. Friend goes to the European Council meeting in Copenhagen, will he take the opportunity to impress on our partners that all of us in Europe operate in an intensely competitive international market and that the costs of bureaucratic regulation, particularly the social chapter, represent a severe disadvantage to Europe's competitiveness in world markets?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I undertake to raise that matter at the European Council at the weekend. The president of the European Employers Federation recently appealed to Community employment and social affairs Ministers to
"stop taking measures which unnecessarily destroy jobs". I agree with that. I have made it clear in the past. I believe that the social chapter falls into that category and I shall reiterate that view at the European Council meeting this weekend. It is not just a problem for the United Kingdom. All of Europe is facing increasing competition from Japan, the Pacific basin and the United States. Unless all Europe keeps its costs down, we shall not create jobs, but export them.
Mr. Hanson : When the Prime Minister visited Wales last week did he have a chance to see the report showing that in the last year of the Labour Government family incomes in Wales were 87 per cent. of those in southern England, whereas in the first year of his premiership those incomes fell to 64 per cent. of those in southern England? Is that a record to be proud of? How, tell me, will the abolition of the wages councils help to improve that situation?
Column 733cent. That is because of this Government's policies. It will probably fall even further as a result of the abolition of wages councils, which themselves cost jobs.
Mr. Heald : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the proposed European Community ban on large engined motor cycles, which would have damaged the British Triumph, has been successfully resisted by the Government? Will he accept the congratulations of motor cyclists throughout the country, including the North Herts Motor Cycle Action Group, on that achievement? Does he agree that that achievement will enable the British Triumph motor cycle to be successful throughout the world, knocking spots off the opposition, something which my right hon. Friend has done since he became Prime Minister?
The Prime Minister : I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the Government received a derogation from a Community directive relating to motor cycle engine size. That has had some beneficial effects for the United Kingdom and it means that our industry can continue to sell motor cycles with a large engine in the United
Column 734Kingdom until at least the start of the next century. That is excellent news for Triumph and British motor cyclists. I am delighted at that outcome.
Mr. Pope : Does the Prime Minister recall the recommendation last year from the Select Committee on Health that maternity services should be community based and close to a woman's home? How does the Prime Minister square that with the decision to close the maternity unit at the Accrington Victoria hospital in my constituency? He claims to be a listening Prime Minister ; when will he listen to the women in my constituency who want their maternity unit kept open?
The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman wishes to take up his particular constituency point with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, I am sure that she would be prepared to listen to him.
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