Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 May 1 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: speeches
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [96/1090-94]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2683
Themes: Defence (arms control), Energy, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Housing, Law & order, Local government, Leadership, Social security & welfare, Transport, Strikes & other union action
[column 1090]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

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 this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be leaving for Korea and for the economic summit in Tokyo.

Mr. Banks

On this glorious international day of Labour, will the Prime Minister find time to study the terms of the petition presented at No. 10 Downing street last Saturday by Labour council candidates from the London borough of Newham? The petition showed that this year £5.5 million of rate support grant has been taken from Newham, making a total loss of £74 million since 1980, plus £11 million for the cost of the abolition of the Greater London council. Newham is the second most deprived local authority area in England, so why do the Government refuse to give us partnership status? When the Prime Minister returns from Tokyo, will she accept an invitation from me to come to Newham and see the effect of Government policies on the real East Enders of London?

The Prime Minister

London as a whole will benefit enormously from the abolition of the GLC.

Q2. Mr. Latham

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Latham

At the Tokyo summit, will my right hon. Friend press for the fullest possible co-operation and for the pooling of all scientific knowledge between East and [column 1091]West which will help to prevent any further disaster, such as that at the Russian nuclear reactor? Will she say that the only way to build confidence in the verification of nuclear weapons disarmament is if we deal effectively with civil catastrophes?

The Prime Minister

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. These matters go way beyond the borders of any country, and must be dealt with on a global scale. I hope that all the details of that terrible accident at Chernobyl will be reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency so that we may all profit from it, and that inspectors will be able to go in to deduce precisely what happened. I also agree with my hon. Friend's deduction on the other point. Knowing something of what has happened in the Soviet Union and how difficult it is to get facts and assessments, it should make us wary in any arms control negotiations that we must be absolutely meticulous to get specific, practical and strict verification of any agreement.

Mr. Kinnock

Now that the prison officers have suspended their industrial action, thereby giving further evidence of their good will and sense of responsibility, why are the Government adding stubbornness to their original folly by refusing to engage in talks with them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman knows that after questions there will be a statement on this matter. I am pleased that the prison officers have called off their action. Many of us were appalled that they ever took it, and I think that it has been salutary for them. I should like to thank the governors who stood at their posts, and the police, who backed up the whole service.

Mr. Kinnock

Is the Prime Minister aware that the governors have strong sympathy with the conditions and difficulties which the prison officers face daily, and that the rise in the number of prisoners vastly exceeds the rise in the number of officers—[Interruption.] Yes. The ratio is 5,000:2,500. I know the figures. Is the Prime Minister aware that, unless the Government show a more rational attitude, what we have seen thus far, as a consequence of industrial action, will in any event come about simply because of the pressures in the prisons?

The Prime Minister

May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman what the Government have done to increase the facilities of the prison service. We implemented the report of the May committee on the prison service, which was established by Merlyn Reesa Labour Home Secretary. We ended the Labour Government's neglect of prison buildings by instituting the largest prison building programme in history. Spending on prison buildings is up by 400 per cent. We have increased spending on the prison service by 85 per cent. in real terms. On the specific point that the right hon. Gentleman made, and made wrongly, we have increased the number of prison officers by 3,000—that is 18 per cent.—at a time when the number of prisoners has gone up by 12 per cent.

Mr. Kinnock

Following that litany, can the Prime Minister tell me why Mr. Sidney Powell, the secretary of the governors' organisation, should say that the 12 per cent. population increase mentioned by the Prime Minister meant an additional 5,000 prisoners, and that the 18 per cent. increase in staff was about 2,500 officers? Will the Prime Minister come clean at least on this?

[column 1092]

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman confirms my assertion that the ratio of prison officers to prisoners has greatly improved.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

At the Tokyo summit, will my right hon. Friend impress upon Japan the importance of her undertaking and maintaining a greater share of responsibility towards the Third world than she does at present?

The Prime Minister

Yes, but we shall also be pressing upon Japan the fact that when she competes for contracts in the Third world she must also compete on a fair basis, and on a fair basis for credit as well.

Dr. Owen

Will the Prime Minister ask Sir Frank Layfield, who is currently writing his report on the Sizewell inquiry, to take full account of the disaster that has occurred in the Soviet Union? We have waited many years for this inquiry, and it would be very helpful for making final decisions if Sir Frank Layfield was able to take as much evidence as possible from the Soviet Union.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the report of an inquiry is the report of the conclusions from the evidence given at the inquiry, and it cannot go further and include matters which have arisen since the inquiry. He will be the first to be aware that the reactor in the Soviet Union is totally different from any kind of reactor here. He will also be aware that the record of safety in design, operation, maintenance and inspection in this country is second to none. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will think it right to support the furtherance of such an excellent nuclear industry.

Mr. Viggers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are proud of the fact that she will be this country's representative at the Tokyo summit? Does she agree that the greatest single boost to world trade would be a reduction of trade barriers and a promotion of genuine free trade throughout the world? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that the reduction in oil prices provides a good background for such a new initiative, and will she propose such an initiative in Tokyo?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to reduce trade barriers. Between a third and a half of world trade is subject to some form of protection. For some time many of us have felt that it is time we had a new GATT round so that we can jointly get rid of or reduce some of the barriers. This is meeting with a good deal of hostility in some quarters, but we shall nevertheless continue to persevere with that line, both at the Tokyo summit and beyond.

Q3. Mr. Pavitt

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Pavitt

Is the Prime Minister not concerned and distressed by the fact that, as a result of her policies, we now have a record number of over 100,000 homeless people? Last year, an extra twist in the spiral meant a further 13 per cent. In the Conservative-controlled London borough of Brent my ratepayers are now paying £5,400 a day, week in, week out, for bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation, and taxpayers are paying a further £5,400 through the DHSS. Will the Prime Minister follow the good example set by one of her previous [column 1093]Ministers, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), and spend three hours with me looking at the tragic families living in sleazy conditions so she can see for herself what is happening to family life in my area?

The Prime Minister

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there are 100,000 empty council houses in England and Wales, and that more than 30,000 of them are in London? A considerable number of these have been empty for over a year. It might be a good idea if some of them were brought back into use. Then there would then be less need for bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Q4. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Atkinson

Has my right hon. Friend seen yesterday's ruling by the European Court of Justice against the price fixing of European air fares? Does that not at last pave the way for competition to reduce the level of fares to the level long enjoyed in the United States of America? Will the Government hold discussions with Lord King about the lead that British Airways should set?

The Prime Minister

We were very pleased with the decision of the European Court of Justice yesterday. It confirmed the view that we have held for a long time, which is that competition also applies to air fares. The people of this country owe a debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend Nicholas Ridleythe Secretary of State for Transport for his strenuous efforts, which have already reduced air fares. It is further backing of our belief in competition instead of rigging the market.

Q5. Mrs. Dunwoody

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mrs. Dunwoody

As the amendment on the Order Paper concerning carers, which stands in the Prime Minister's name today, is almost identical to that tabled by the Opposition, would she be kind enough to tell us why it omits only two points? I refer to cash to support the carers and any mention of invalid care allowance.

The Prime Minister

I would be glad to place this Government's record on caring beside that of the Labour Government at any time, and I shall be especially glad to do so when the time comes.

Sir Bernard Braine

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite the lack of information from the Soviet Union about the disaster that has seriously affected its nearest neighbours, the Poles at least are taking all sorts of measures to protect their children? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that if any request for help with medicaments and special foods comes from that country, we will not hesitate to give it urgently and without any conditions?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that point. If any requests come we shall, of course, look at them with the greatest sympathy and do our level best to get help there as soon as possible. We have offered the Soviet Union help on all technical aspects connected with the accident, but so far it has not seen fit to take it up.

[column 1094]

Q6. Mr. Rogers

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Rogers

On 14 April the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy said that nuclear energy was the safest, cleanest and cheapest form of electricity generation. Which of those criteria does the Prime Minister believe to be the most important?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman knows—he must be struggling very hard for a question—all those criteria are very important. I hope that he is proud of the record of our nuclear industry and of those who operate it.

Mr. Onslow

When my right hon. Friend is invited to draw comparisons between Western and Soviet technology, will she bear in mind that the fact that the Russians failed to create their own Concordski does not mean that Concorde is unsafe?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's question demonstrates most neatly the difference of approach between the two countries. We place great stress on the need for safety in the latest technology.

Q7. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Winnick

Can the Prime Minister give any explanation of why 1986 has been such a wretched year for her? I am afraid that there is far worse to come.

The Prime Minister

I am still smiling and looking forward to my seventh anniversary, which will be about a halfway house.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that what is lacking with civil nuclear power installations is an internationally accepted safety standard? Will she seek to encourage such a standard and its application in Russia, Great Britain and everywhere else in the world?

The Prime Minister

The accident in the Soviet Union has stressed that safety must be an international matter. We shall pursue this vigorously through the appropriate agency.

Mr. Lofthouse

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 1 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Lofthouse

Is the Prime Minister satisfied that a nuclear accident similar to that which occurred in the Soviet Union could not occur in this country? If not, will she assure the House that the Government will discontinue their interest in pressurised water reactors?

The Prime Minister

No, I can give no such assurance. I know that the hon. Gentleman has a specific interest in coal, but there are other people who work in the electricity and the nuclear industry, and who work very effectively. The industry was started in this country. It was one of our own technologies, and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, too, could be proud of its safety record and the way we have handled our nuclear industry, in terms of safety and economy.