Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Feb 20 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [886/1543-50]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2612
Themes: Executive, European Union (general)
[column 1543]

EDINBURGH

Q1. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if, on his forthcoming visit to Scotland, he will pay an official visit to Edinburgh.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have no immediate plans to visit Edinburgh, but my discussions with the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Council, Development and Industry on 27th and 28th February will cover a wide range of matters of importance to Scotland generally.

Mr. Dalyell

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear during his visit to [column 1544]Scotland that before any parliamentary draftsman is asked to try his hand at a Bill bestowing on us not only an Assembly but possibly also a Scottish Cabinet and a Scottish Prime Minister, this House will have a White Paper which can be thoroughly debated and scrutinised?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that these matters were fully discussed with the Scottish TUC, with industry and with a wide range of interests in Scotland last year. I have taken note of what he and other hon. Members said in the debate on 3rd February. As my hon. Friend the Lord President said, we intend to keep the House fully informed of our thinking on these complex matters.

Mr. Whitelaw

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in dealing with this difficult problem of devolution we are engaged in a major constitutional exercise and perhaps the most important constitutional reform of the United Kingdom since the Act of Union? If this is so, since the right hon. Gentleman has always been jealous of the interests of the House—which will be profoundly affected—does he agree that a White Paper is essential before there is any question of legislation?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with what the right hon. Member said about the fundamental character of these matters. I heard part of his speech and read the whole of it. It was, if he will allow me to say so, a notable contribution to this subject. The proposals made in the House about a White Paper are being earnestly considered by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Leader of the Opposition will be visiting Edinburgh tomorrow, where she will be assured of a very warm welcome because we know that she will show genuine sympathy and understanding for those children in grant-aided schools whose educational prospects have been severely impaired by the Government's policy?

The Prime Minister

I am delighted that the right hon. Lady is visiting Edinburgh tomorrow. I am sure that she will get a very warm response from [column 1545]her supporters, as I did from mine on two visits to Edinburgh last year. On these questions of education, which I have examined over a long time, I support the attitude of the Labour authority.

Mr. David Steel

If the Prime Minister is contemplating a visit to Edinburgh will he make sure that before he goes he reads the interesting series of articles on devolution in the Scotsman, including those by his hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)? Is he aware of the growing feeling in Scotland to the effect that if the Government are to complete this exercise in devolution it must be done properly, otherwise Scotland will be saddled with yet another layer of bureaucracy which will make very little difference to policy making?

The Prime Minister

Before making such a visit I would certainly wish to study this and all other relevant material. I am well aware of the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) on this and on other matters.

CABINET (COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY)

Q2. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Q5. Mr. Hurd

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

Q9. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the official policy of the Government on the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley) on 26th November last. This remains the position, with the sole exception of the contingency mentioned in my statement in the House on 23rd January.

[column 1546]

Mr. Renton

Which is now the collective view of the Cabinet—the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that wages are the main cause of inflation, or the view of the Secretary of State for Industry that they are not?

The Prime Minister

The Cabinet is totally at one on all these matters.

Mr. Hurd

What will happen in this House when there is no longer collective responsibility for Europe? Is the Prime Minister to allow different Cabinet Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box day by day and week by week, to confuse us by giving completely contradictory accounts of Government policy?

The Prime Minister

I would not wish in any way to add to the state of confusion among Conservative Members in any respect. As for relative freedom, if there is a disagreement in the Cabinet on final recommendations—which is a contingency to which I referred—this is a matter for any campaigning which may take place in the country. But the Government's view will be stated, and will be stated in this House.

Mr. Blaker

When does this period when Ministers are to have freedom to dissent from the official Government line on the EEC begin, or has it begun already with some Ministers and not others?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. But as an old-fashioned traditionalist, not to say conservative student, in respect of this subject, I have been very interested, in the past week or two, to note the new thinking on the Opposition benches on the question of collective responsibility. I had always understood that collective responsibility in a particular Cabinet does not cease when that Cabinet no longer holds office. Either one dissociates oneself from the policy at the time, with all that that implies, including resignation, or one collectively defends one's actions in the years that follow. That does not seem to be happening.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the British people say “Yes, we should remain in Europe” , there will be no British Cabinet responsibility for anything, because they will be denied that right? Furthermore, does he further agree that if the British people [column 1547]say “Yes” to our remaining in the Common Market, there will follow a joint party delegation to Europe, and that on that basis we can say goodbye to any collective responsibility for any of the decisions, since power will be transferred to Brussels permanently?

The Prime Minister

On the question of Cabinet responsibility, if, following renegotiation, a situation arises where the Cabinet can recommend our remaining in the Common Market, I do not accept that that destroys or diminishes Cabinet responsibility to this House. When my hon. Friend spoke about a joint parliamentary delegation to the Common Market, I take it that he was referring to the European Parliament.

Mr. Atkinson

Yes.

The Prime Minister

We have not yet taken part in the proceedings of the European Parliament, but we have made clear that this matter will be determined at the end of the negotiations. We take the view that if the country decides to stay in the Common Market the normal Community implications in respect of the European Assembly would follow.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Prime Minister say whether he has suspended collective Cabinet responsibility on the terms of entry only, or on the principle of entry?

The Prime Minister

What I made clear on 23rd January—I said it then and I repeat it now—was that in the contingency, which is by no means certain, that there might be two views in the Cabinet—members of the Cabinet will be free then to campaign on the question whether to advise the country to vote “Yes” or “No” to our staying in the Common Market. That will raise all the questions about the terms which we regard as important. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and her party, when they had full collective responsibility, gave them away. Everybody in the country who campaigns and who votes will be concerned not only with the terms but also with the broader issues which have developed over the years during our membership.

[column 1548]

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY

Q3. Mr. Spearing

asked the Prime Minister what are the outstanding issues of renegotiation which will be discussed at the next heads of Government meeting.

The Prime Minister

I expect that we shall be discussing those items which have been agreed at the Council of Ministers on March 3rd and 4th, together with any items they may have referred for decision at the next Heads of Government meeting.

Mr. Spearing

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Will he say whether, in pursuit of the policy of protecting the powers of Parliament, he will raise the question of possible amendment, in this House, of Section 2 of the European Communities Act? On the question of the powers of Parliament in relation to the European Assembly, will he say whether we are committed at some unspecified date in the future to direct elections to that Assembly?

The Prime Minister

All these matters are still to be considered, including any legislation which may be necessary as a result of the decision of the British people. But there are certain vitally important matters which are of concern to Parliament in respect of parliamentary control which still have to be decided. For example, at present we are a very long way from reaching agreement on questions of the rights of this House and of the Government in respect of national aids for regional development. We are not satisfied, as we made clear in our manifesto. The same is true of certain industrial matters, including the matter of control over the steel industry, where the present situation is not acceptable to us.

Mr. Cormack

When the renegotiations are complete, does the Prime Minister intend both to defend them and to attack them?

The Prime Minister

When the negotiations are complete, if we find that the terms—replacing the utterly humiliating and grovelling terms negotiated by the Conservative Government on the basis of full Cabinet collective responsibility—are the right terms, we shall commend them [column 1549]to Parliament. If we obtain terms that we regard as crippling to this country, we shall not commend them to Parliament.

Government Departments

(Public Information)

Q4. Mrs. Wise

asked the Prime Minister if he will make it the practice of his administration that all Government Departments promptly update the information they issue to the public for their guidance.

The Prime Minister

It is already the Government's practice to do so, but if my hon. Friend has any particular case in mind where this has not been done, I shall look into it.

Mrs. Wise

Is my right hon. Friend aware that pensioners who retired after 22nd July last year still receive information in their pension books to the effect that the earnings rule operates from a figure of £9.50, whereas the Labour Government increased the earnings rule provision to £13? Does he accept that this false information may affect the decisions of pensioners on the question whether to work? Will he look into the representations which I have made to the Department, so far without satisfaction, and agree that all citizens are entitled to information about their rights, not least when those rights have been improved by the Labour Government?

The Prime Minister

I am happy to feel that, through sheer luck, I managed to identify in advance the one of a thousand questions which my hon. Friend has asked on this subject. I am glad to be able to help her on this matter. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, explained to her on 30th January, on this occasion a printing dispute delayed printing of the revised notes. The changes in the earnings limits last July were publicised in post offices at that time and those pensioners who were directly affected were advised individually of the new rules. As to the future, I can assure my hon. Friend that pension books issued from the beginning of May onwards will contain the revised earnings rule limits effective from April 1975. I hope that in future pen[column 1550]sion books issued from the date of the upratings onwards will carry up-to-date information about earnings rule limits.

Mr. Thorpe

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that if he finds himself opposed to the terms which were accepted by the Conservative Government—[Hon. Members: “Wrong Question!” ] I am sure that the Prime Minister realises that we are on Question No. 4, although many of his hon. Friends do not. Remembering that when the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister in an earlier Government, none of the principles about joining the Common Market was ever in doubt in his mind—whether it be on the Commonwealth, or sovereignty, or EFTA—does he regard the information put out at that time as still relevant, or does he think that the Government Departments should update it?

The Prime Minister

I was in no doubt at all that the right hon. Gentleman was up to date and knew which Question I was answering. It is nice to see his party entering this century for a brief moment.

When we were in government and made application we said clearly, on Commonwealth matters—for example, on New Zealand, Commonwealth sugar and other matters—exactly what terms we would require in order to join. The previous Government did not get those terms. We condemned them on those specific issues then, and we are renegotiating.

Mr. Boscawen

Will the Prime Minister keep himself up to date and inform his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) that since the Labour Party decided to uprate the earnings rule the House decided, from 1st April, to uprate it by a further £7 a week.

The Prime Minister

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) is not yet a Privy Councillor.

I was aware of the vote referred to by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed. I heard about it when I was in Washington. I was fascinated by the fact that a party which pledged itself to cut Government expenditure not only wants to restore the whole of the defence cuts but irresponsibly voted in that way in the House.