Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1984 Jul 19 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type:public statement
Document kind:House of Commons PQs
Venue:House of Commons
Source:Hansard HC [64/506-12]
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:1515-1530.
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:3199
Themes:Agriculture, British constitution (general discussions), Conservatism, Employment, Privatised and state industries, Trade, Local Elections, Energy, Law and order, Strikes and other union action
506

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Nellist

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 July.

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. Nellist

Is it not a fact that the Tory Government, having prepared for and provoked the miners' strike in the hope of starving the miners back to work and demoralising other sections of workers, have utterly failed in that intention due to the determination of the miners and their families, and to the support of other working people? Is not the Prime Minister, in her provocative action, heading rapidly towards a general strike, but one different from the general strike that was provoked by her predecessor Mr. Stanley Baldwin in 1926, in that the Labour movement is a hundred times stronger today? Therefore, is not the Prime Minister heading, not for an industrial Falklands but, like a Napoleon, for a political Waterloo?

The Prime Minister

No, this strike is not of the Government's making. No Government have done more for the mining industry. No Government have ever had such good plans for the future of coal than this one, whether in terms of pay, investment or compensation for voluntary redundancies. That is well known in the industry. With regard to the breakdown of the talks, at the end of last night's talks the only point at issue was the entirely unreasonable demand by the NUM that pits should stay open, regardless of whether they are beneficial to the industry. The NUM leaders must know as well as anybody that no industry can operate on such a basis. No Government could ever accept such a blank cheque upon the taxpayer.

Sir John Wells

Will my right hon. Friend find time to consider today, against the background of the dock dispute, the vital necessity to maintain a healthy horticulture industry, particularly in perishable fresh food production in this country?

The Prime Minister

I can understand my hon. Friend's concern for those who are trying to get perishable produce from one side of the Channel to the other, who have been the first to suffer as a result of the dispute. It is ironic that those driving such produce on to the ships across the Channel are members of the same union as the one that called the strike.

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Q2. Mr. Simon Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hughes

As it has become known that the Prime Minister will tell her Back Benchers tonight that there will be no change in the style and direction of her Government—[Interruption.]—will she tell the House what changes there will be in the overwhelming mandate that she claims for her local government policies when the Tory candidates fight the four GLC by-elections on 20 September?

The Prime Minister

I really thought that we had done rather well in our style, in winning two general elections and two Euro-elections. With regard to artificial stunts over GLC by-elections, we shall have nothing to do with such gimmicks at the ratepayers' expense.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Is my right hon. Friend surprised that the Opposition have shown no enthusiasm for Mr. Justice Megarry's decision yesterday in favour of the Nottinghamshire miners, in comparison to their mega-enthusiasm on Monday for Mr. Justice Glidewell's decision?

The Prime Minister

As I said very firmly on Tuesday, everyone must be subject to the rule of law, otherwise the rule of law is at an end. I hope that everyone will accept that, as I most certainly shall.

Mr. John Morris

The Prime Minister will recall that on Tuesday she asked an hon. Member to withdraw. Will she use some of her valuable time today to reflect on an answer that she gave to the effect that a decision of Mr. Sam Silkin, a former Attorney-General—no longer in the House—was invalid, when she quoted the words of the Master of the Rolls? Was not that particular decision of the Court of Appeal reversed by the House of Lords and the propriety of Mr. Silkin upheld, particularly by Lord Dilhorne, a former Attorney-General? In the words of Lord Edmund-Davies, any observation by the Court of Appeal questioning the conduct of Mr. Silkin was to be deplored. In those circumstances, will the right hon. Lady unreservedly withdraw any suggestion of impropriety by Mr. Silkin and any suggestion of invalidity over his action?

The Prime Minister

Most certainly I shall withdraw. I note that Mr. Sam Silkin was wise enough to use the facilities of the law, and to the highest authority.

Mr. Roger King

In her busy day, has my right hon. Friend received a delegation from Opposition Members, a telephone call, a letter or a kissogram, congratulating her Government on the provision of an extra 250,000 new jobs as a result of her policies?

The Prime Minister

I think that my hon. Friend is referring to figures given yesterday illustrating that there were about 260,000 new jobs last year and, I believe, also some 330,000 new jobs in the service sector. It is indeed good news, but the reason why unemployment is not falling faster is that the number of people of working age is rising faster than the number of new jobs.

Q3. Mr. Pike

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

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Mr. Pike

Does the Prime Minister accept that she still has no positive policies to deal with the real problem facing this country and that as a result of the Government's policy, the miners are out, the dockers are out, 3 million people are out of work and the Government were caught out over GCHQ? Unless the right hon. Lady has some real policies to offer, does she not think that the best answer would be "Maggie Out"? Would that not be welcomed throughout the country?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The miners are not out because of Government policies. They have a very good pay offer, excellent investment and compensation that are better than that offered under any previous Government. The miners have been called out—I believe that some of them do not know why, and I believe that many of them would thoroughly like to go back. It is strikes that destroy jobs. Opposition Members support strikes, so it is they who are destroying jobs.

Mr. Crouch

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the worst developments in war occurs when each side digs in and trench warfare results? Does she not think that the time comes when the matter has to be taken out of the hands of the generals by the statesmen? Does not she feel that that is the time when a peace treaty can be drawn up which offers justice for the present and hope and prosperity for the future? Does she not feel that the present conflict in the coalfields——

Mr. Speaker

Briefly.

The Prime Minister

No, Mr. Speaker. There have been seven days of talks, which included some 35 hours of discussion. The talks are stuck on one issue. That is the question whether the pits should stay open regardless of whether they are beneficial to the industry. One simply cannot have all pits staying open regardless of whether they are beneficial. It is not fair to Britain. It is not fair to the people who purchase coal. It is not fair to those who rely on reasonable energy costs. In the end the strike will have to be solved by management and work force. I do not think that any person intervening will help that process.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the Prime Minister recognise that she is totally misrepresenting the position of the talks, the NUM, and the response of the NCB when she makes the claim that no will accept pit closures in any circumstances? The cost of the strike is now nearly £2,000 million. When will she intervene to help a settlement instead of interfering to hinder a settlement?

The Prime Minister

I understand that it is agreed that pits should close if they are exhausted, that they should close because of geological faults, and that they should close for a third reason. It is over that third reason that the talks have broken down. The NCB has said that pits should not be mined unless they are workable and can be mined beneficially. That is not very different from the tripartite report on "Plan for Coal" which was signed by Eric Varley, the noble Lord Gormley and the noble Lord Ezra, which said:

"Inevitably some pits will have to close as their useful economic reserves of coal are depleted."

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that?

Hon. Members

Answer the question.

Mr. Kinnock

Does the right hon. Lady not understand that all the arithmetic offered back in March and the arithmetic on which she is now working is redundant? Is 509she aware that the chairman of the NCB understands, as he said yesterday, that there are changed circumstances, and that as late as 11 o'clock last night the NUM asked that the talks be adjourned and resumed this morning, but that was refused? There are people working for a settlement. Why will she not use her power to create conditions in which a settlement is possible?

The Prime Minister

Because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the talks have broken on one point—the closure of uneconomic pits. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman now wants further talks, if further talks would resolve that one point. But does the right hon. Gentleman accept the tripartite report on "Plan for Coal" which said:

"Inevitably some pits will have to close as their useful economic reserves of coal are depleted"?

If so, he accepts the closure of uneconomic pits. If so, why was he reported as saying on Saturday that there is no alternative but to fight—all other roads are shut off?

Mr. Kinnock

I understand the need for talks. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) has been working for seven weeks to get talks going, against the will of the Prime Minister and in spite of the Government. We understand the need for talks and the need for a settlement. I am going to ask the Prime Minister again not to dodge the question and evade her responsibility—[Interruption.]—but to ensure that she provides the conditions which she has refused to do, in which a settlement on "Plan for Coal", for which we have been asking for 20 weeks, can actually be resolved. Will she understand? Will she work? Will she talk? Will she negotiate? Will she do anything but carry on the destruction that is still her only stock in trade.

The Prime Minister

I understand the right hon. Gentleman only too well. That is his trouble. Will he say whether he accepts—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House heard the question from the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister is seeking to reply to it.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman referred to "Plan for Coal". I have it here. Will he refer to the tripartite report on "Plan for Coal" signed by Mr. Varley, Lord Gormley and Lord Ezra, which said:

"Inevitably, some pits will have to close as their useful economic reserves of coal are depleted"?

Is the right hon. Gentleman's policy the same as, or different from, that of the last Labour Government?

Mr. Golding

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe this to be Prime Minister's Question Time. Now that she sees where real influence lies and where responsibility is accepted, she is turning this into—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must hear the point of order. I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Mr. Golding

Can you rule, Mr. Speaker, that this is Prime Minister's Question Time and that the Prime Minister is not entitled to turn it into an evasive Question Time in which she tries to question the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Prime Minister answers questions. [Hon. Members: "She does not."] Order. The Prime Minister answers questions that have been put to her. That is the plain fact of the matter.

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Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Question Time is not only about asking questions. It is also about hearing the answers to them. May I ask that at Prime Minister's Question Time, you preserve the right of the House to hear the Prime Minister's replies?

Mr. Speaker

It is getting towards the end of July, but I seek to do that.

Mr. Heffer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is not only a question of hearing the answers. We should also like to hear the questions.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that we need persist with this. I am well aware that Prime Minister's Question Time is rowdier these days than it has been in the past. It is difficult for the Chair to control that. I must leave it to the good sense of the whole House to conduct our proceedings with decorum.

Mr. Madden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on Tuesday the Prime Minister referred to the Cheltenham affair and said:

"As the Government will be lodging an appeal later today it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment."—[Official Report, 17 July 1984; Vol. 64, c 171.]

I understand that on Independent Television news today the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) referred to the Cheltenham affair as a "hiccup" and went on to say——

Mr. Speaker

I must stop the hon. Member. What goes on on television is not a matter for me.

Mr. Allan Roberts

If it is contempt of the House, it is.

Mr. Speaker

What goes on on television is not a matter for me. The hon. Member knows that I am responsible for what goes on in this House, not for what goes on outside it.

Mr. Madden

I appreciate that, but I think that it is important for you, Mr. Speaker, to hear what the right hon. Member said.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not a matter for me and I am not interested in it.

Mr. Eadie

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have already expressed your anxiety about Prime Minister's questions. Will you do something about the trend that Prime Minister's questions are taking, through your powers as Mr. Speaker? Nowadays the Prime Minister tries to show the House that she has the ability to read, and today we had an example of that. The right hon. Lady was guilty of gilding the lily in her description of the "Plan for Coal". Therefore, will you have words with the powers that be about the Prime Minister's attitude at Question Time?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot be held responsible for anybody's attitudes. I notice that there are no fewer than 104 questions to the Prime Minister, all of which are open questions. The matter is in the hands of the House. If the House wishes to put down definitive questions to the Prime Minister, hon. Members may do so. I have no control over the fact that all of today's questions are open questions.

Mr. James Callaghan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Prime Minister now seems to be 511asking the questions, I wonder whether it would solve the problem if she and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition changed places?

Mr. Madden

rose——

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member seeks to raise a matter of privilege, he should write to me in the usual way.

Mr. Madden

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would appreciate your guidance about matters that would clearly be a breach of privilege if said by an hon. Member in the House, but which, according to your recently expressed view, are not a breach of privilege if said outside the House. We seek your guidance as to what the rules of sub judice are when a distinguished and senior parliamentarian, anticipating a decision, said—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a busy day before us and, as I said earlier, if the hon. Member seeks to raise this as a matter of privilege, he should do so in the normal way and write to me.

Sir John Wells

Further to your ruling about the open question, Mr. Speaker, would it be more convenient if you took powers to call first those questions to the Prime Minister that were more specific?

512

Mr. Speaker

That would have been impossible today.

Mr. Pavitt

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before we had the open question system every other question was transferred to the Department involved. Is it possible to table questions that are not open questions?

Mr. Speaker

That has always been possible, and a few years ago that was frequently done. It would be much more profitable for the House if definitive questions were put down to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Yesterday I raised a point of order about the failure of the Scottish Office to advise hon. Members when questions were being linked. It would be wrong of me not to place on record today my appreciation of the profound apology that I received from the Scottish Office this morning.

Mr. Ashton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just ruled that the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) can say things outside the House that he cannot say inside the House——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I repeat that, if any hon. Member alleges a breach of privilege, he should write to me in the usual way.