Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Mar 10 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type:public statement
Document kind:House of Commons PQs
Venue:House of Commons
Source:Hansard HC [112/145-150]
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:1515-1530.
Importance ranking:Major
Word count:2328
Themes:Executive, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, Taxation, Trade, Energy, Labour Party and Socialism, Liberal and Social Demoratic Parties, Transport
145

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Dame Jill Knight

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I 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 hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Dame Jill Knight

As my right hon. Friend prepares for her forthcoming visit to Moscow, will she reflect on the fact that, if it had not been for the strength and purpose of the Western Alliance in deploying cruise missiles and other INF weapons, there is no reason to suppose that Mr. Gorbachev would have come forward with his present proposals on balanced reductions of such weapons? Has my right hon. Friend noted the speech made in the House yesterday by the former Labour Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), which showed much greater purpose and grasp of reality than the Leader of the Opposition shows?

The Prime Minister

I totally agree with my hon. Friend, who makes her point very effectively. Unless this country had been firm in deploying cruise missiles, there would now be no proposals to take out SS20s. I agree with her that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) has shown an admirable consistency in these matters, which is more than can be said for the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey).

Q2. Mr. McNamara

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

146

The Prime Minister

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

Mr McNamara

Is the Prime Minister aware that at a press conference this morning the Secretary of State for the Environment, referring to his hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Planning, said, "Although he is the pilot of the Bill, he has not got his bow doors open"? My constituents crew these ferries. There are 81 people still on board and many are still unidentified. Was not that joke even sicker and even more insensitive than the one that appeared in Conservative Newsline this week insulting the blind? Now that the Secretary of State for the Environment, himself a former Minister of Transport, has apologised, saying that those remarks were inappropriate, inopportune—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is unfair to go on for as long as that.

Mr. McNamara

Now that the right hon. Gentleman has said that those remarks were inappropriate, inopportune and insensitive, would it not be appropriate and sensitive for the Prime Minister to call for his resignation?

The Prime Minister

No. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, [ Nicholas Ridley] my right hon. Friend issued a statement, saying:

"I deeply regret this inadvertent error and apologise unreservedly. I am only too well aware of the personal grief involved in such a tragedy as the recent ferry disaster."

I believe it has been the habit and custom of this House, when an unreserved apology is made, to accept it.

Mr. Onslow

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to commend the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), in his regretted absence, not merely for exposing the nonsense of the defence policy of the Labour Front Bench but for showing up the fundamental contradictions within the so-called alliance, of which the Liberal unilateralists form so significant a part?

The Prime Minister

I gladly support what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth said and his firmness in defending this country, its defence and security. I join my hon. Friend in pointing out that, when it came to deploying cruise missiles, the Liberal and SDP Members voted against that deployment.

Mr. Kinnock

Is the Prime Minister aware that the revised balance of payments figures—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order.

Mr. Kinnock

Oh yes—the real world. Is the Prime Minister aware that the revised balance of payments figures published last week show an overall deficit of £1.1 billion, a trade deficit of £8 billion and a manufactured trade deficit of £6 billion? Is the Prime Minister going to sit back and allow that to grow to an overall deficit of £3 billion this year, or is she going to change policies?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has taken the revised figures. He is correct about them. But since 1979 there has been a surplus on current account of nearly £20 billion. Between 1974 and 1979 there was a cumulative deficit of over £5 billion.

Mr. Kinnock

When the right hon. Lady has been able to depend in each of the years in which she has been Prime Minister on a minimum oil revenue of £8 billion a year, can 147she explain why, despite that great cushion for her policies, Britain has still lost 20 per cent. of its share in world markets, a 20 per cent. share of domestic manufacturing markets and 2 million manufacturing jobs and is now less competitive than it was in 1979? Can she explain all that and come clean about the fact that any success that she has achieved in international payments is directly and solely attributable to the oil revenues?

The Prime Minister

Last year, exports were at a record level in volume terms despite the reduction in oil exports. There was an improvement of more than £2 billion in invisible surplus between 1985 and 1986. The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that that minus £1.1 billion—[Interruption.]—has to be set against a surplus on current account since 1979 of nearly £20 billion. The right hon. Gentleman refers to the oil factor. May I point out to him that the United Kingdom had net overseas assets of £80 billion at the end of 1985, giving an annual income of more than £4 billion a year. That is achieved by investing some of the income from North sea oil.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister talks about export figures. Is she aware that, since she has been Prime Minister, exports have gone up by 10 per cent. in volume and value and manufactured imports have gone up by 40 per cent. in volume and value? If the right hon. Lady wants to take so much credit for overseas holdings, can she explain why, with holdings of £150 billion, we were still getting only £4 billion in return last year? Will she now answer the first question: what will she do to stop the constant deterioration in our trade position?

The Prime Minister

Bearing in mind that the right hon. Gentleman speaks for a party which, when in Government had an overall deficit of £5 billion—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman speaks for a party which, when in Government had an overall deficit of £5 billion and complains about this Government who have an overall surplus of £20 billion. We are not going to take lectures from the likes of him.

Mr. Dorrell

Returning to the subject that the Leader of the Opposition understandably prefers to avoid, does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that Mr. Gorbachev has taken up President Reagan's offer of the zero option is welcome? However, is it not important that NATO is not baffled by false promises or by weasel words about short-range intermediate nuclear forces and conventional weapons? Is it not essential that a clear link is established in the negotiations between the implementation of a long-range INF agreement with progress on reducing the conventional disparity, as well as short-range INF?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It does not help to make all this noise.

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that the Soviet Union is now taking up the intermediate-range forces point because we deployed cruise and Pershing. I also agree with him that one can never take a single point out of the whole disarmament and defence picture and treat it in isolation from others. Therefore, one must also 148consider the shorter-range nuclear weapons and the conventional imbalance. Otherwise our defences would be insecure. We believe in keeping them secure.

Mr. Beith

Does that answer mean that the Prime Minister is going back on her previous support for the zero-zero option at a time when the United States is clearly prepared to back it? Is the Prime Minister to make progress on the other important areas a condition of achieving agreement on intermediate nuclear forces?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the draft treaties that have been tabled he will find that shorter-range nuclear weapons are considered. He will also find from the NATO communiqué that it is important to consider those: if not in fact to sign an agreement on them at precisely the same time, to have a follow-on agreement on shorter-range as part of the consideration of the intermediate range. It would be a very foolish person who also ignored the conventional imbalance. Those who wish to select one thing without thought for the others are not interested in our defence. They are interested only in making short-term political points.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of people in this country and in western Europe believe that our security is safe in her hands? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are making very slow progress today.

Mr. Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that the vast majority of British people believe that freedom and democracy are worth defending whatever the cost?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a fact of modern defence life that the time needed to design and manufacture the weapons is so long that one can never afford to make a mistake in arms control negotiations, because there will be no time whatsoever to correct it. That is why we have to look at the print so carefully.

Q3. Mr. Loyden

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Loyden

Has the Prime Minister had a chance today to read the comments in the press about the sharp drop in Townsend Thoresen's shares, which, it is said, is due to the safety modifications that will be required to meet the new standards? Will the Prime Minister now accept that her theory about popular capitalism has created a climate in which profit and commercial interests take precedence over life, the wellbeing of people, and the safety of crew and passengers? Let that be condemned as the ugly and utterly unacceptable face of her popular capitalism.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman is talking total nonsense and he knows it. The point was raised with my right hon. Friend [ John Moore] the Secretary of State for Transport yesterday and he dealt with it. The hon. Gentleman knows that no company has a future unless it puts safety above all else, and that is the key to its future.

Mr. Yeo

In the course of her busy day will my right hon. Friend reflect on the contrast between next week's Budget—when we are all looking forward to tax cuts that will follow on from the increases in spending that were 149announced last autumn—and the Budgets of nine or 10 years ago during the hung Parliament, when the choice was between which taxes would be increased and where spending cuts would be made? Does my right hon. Friend recall that the then Labour Government were able to introduce those Budgets only because they were sustained in office by the Liberal party?

The Prime Minister

I think that we had better wait for next Tuesday's Budget and not anticipate its contents. I would point out that those below the Opposition Gangway belonging to the alliance party voted against last year's income tax cuts. The Conservative party is the party of lower income tax while all other parties are in favour of higher income tax.

150

Q4. Dr. McDonald

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Dr. McDonald

Does the Prime Minister expect to see full employment in this country before she retires to Dulwich?

The Prime Minister

I believe that this country is tackling both its manufacturing and its unemployment problems better than any other country in Europe, and that, had it not been for the policies that we have pursued, the unemployment figures would have been far higher than they are now.