Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Mar 20 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [888/1847-1853]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2169
Themes: Executive, Parliament, European Union (general)
[column 1847]

PRIME MINISTER (BROADCAST)

Q1. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of the transcript of his interview on Thames Television on 3rd March on ministerial responsibility.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 14th March.

Mr. Lamont

Will the Prime Minister tell the House how the speech of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, for which he rebuked the right hon. Gentleman, differed from the speech [column 1848]by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night and from the speech by himself in Taunton? What on earth is wrong in saying that the trade unions should not welsh on the social contract?

The Prime Minister

I think that it is an offensive phrase in the first place—[Hon. Members: “Rubbish.” ] It has caused considerable offence in Wales, as I heard again last night—[Interruption.] I am not surprised at laughter from a party which cannot win seats in Wales at a General Election. Secondly, the speech made certain assertions—I dealt with these at Question Time a fortnight ago—which did not seem to me to be a complete and fair representation of the position. My own speech in Taunton said exactly what I had said in the House in reply to Questions on this matter. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not, as far as I know, make any speech last night. The hon. Member may be referring to short newspaper accounts of a statement that my right hon. Friend made at a party meeting yesterday of which there was no transcript and which I heard. That was certainly quite different from what was said by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Ward

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the more important part of the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education was that which congratulated the courageous stand taken by many leading trade unionists in encouraging their members to stand by the social contract?

The Prime Minister

That is something which my right hon. Friends and I have been saying—certainly, in my case, since the TUC Congress last September—and which I repeated at Taunton.

Economic Affairs

(Minister's speech)

Q2. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech of the Secretary of State for Employment, made in London on 1st March on economic matters, represents Government policy.

Q6. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Prime Minister whether the speech on economic matters of the Secretary of State for Employment in London on 1st March represents Government policy.

[column 1849]

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Members to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on 18th March.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Prime Minister tell us, therefore, whether expressions like “irresponsible lunacy to ignore the effect of pay rises” , which I understand was used by the Chancellor, are also to be described as economic illiteracy? Perhaps, if the expression may be used without offence, the Prime Minister might scotch some of the rumours that he is a bit soft on pay restraint.

The Prime Minister

I answered the first question a fortnight ago. As to the hon. Gentleman's funny joke, which I shall laugh at for pretty well the rest of the day, I remember seeing it in a letter in the Daily Telegraph or The Guardian two days after my answer.

Mr. George Grant

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the social contract has had some degree of success, generally speaking there has been and is a lack of responsibility towards it? Does he agree that there is need of an urgent review of the social contract to make the position much stronger and much firmer and to make its lines of definition much clearer?

The Prime Minister

I think that my hon. Friend heard my speech to the trade union group of my hon. Friends a couple of weeks ago. He will remember that on that occasion I said that the social contract had been fully honoured by the Government and that in the light of that we were entitled not merely to ask trade union leaders, who have shown great courage in the matter, to support it, but to ask more of their individual members to rally round those leaders.

Mr. Renton

Has any country whose inflation rate has been more than 20 per cent. ever succeeded in bringing it down without suffering financial disaster first?

The Prime Minister

The forecast for inflation that we had when we came into office produced figures very similar to what has happened. For various reasons, including the necessity to clear up the whole three-day-week mess created by the Conservatives, but for our actions on price control, subsidies and housing the [column 1850]situation would have been even worse than was forecast a year ago.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members would do better to have the courtesy to listen to speeches by Ministers from the Dispatch Box and get their political education in that way rather than to rely on the guidelines of abbreviated Press reports?

The Prime Minister

That is possibly very valuable advice to Opposition Members. We all want to assist in their education, but it is inevitably a slow process.

Mr. Peyton

The Prime Minister's revelations of past events are, as ever, fascinating. Will he now apply himself to the future and answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton)?

The Prime Minister

The answer certainly is that we can and shall bring down the rate of inflation without economic disaster. However, we reject the policies advanced by leading Conservatives who say that it can be done by monetarist means, producing more unemployment.

Food

Q3. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-ordination about the availability and cost of food as between the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Morrison

Is the Prime Minister satisfied by the trend of falling agricultural production, which is continuing and increasing? Is the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection satisfied by it, bearing in mind that it is almost certain to bring about a considerable increase in food prices?

The Prime Minister

When I came into the House a little late today I heard my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food dealing with that very question. There can be many arguments—I heard them when I came in—about whether the previous Government or the present Government [column 1851]are responsible. Those are fair arguments across the Floor of the House. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman that nothing could do more to help our balance of payments in the short run, as well as help the economy in other ways, than a substantial increase in agricultural production. I ask the House to await my right hon. Friend's White Paper on agriculture after Easter.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government's food subsidies policy has worked and that according to a recent Reuters survey the prices of butter, bread, cheese and milk in this country are half what they are in Bonn and Paris? Will he see that we get out of the Market or change the common agricultural policy?

The Prime Minister

I seem to remember that the figures I have seen confirm something of what my hon. Friend has said, but I do not draw the same conclusion from them as he does. Certainly the retail food index is about 7p in the pound lower and the retail price index is about 1½ points lower than they would be if we had not introduced food subsidies, to say nothing of changing many other policies of the previous Government.

Mr. Watt

Have the Government recently examined the age structure of British agriculture? Will they note the serious situation which is arising because many farmers and workers are becoming old and the recruitment rate is not sufficient?

The Prime Minister

I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is well aware of those problems. They go back a long way into history, over successive Governments. The hon. Gentleman will be well advised to await my right hon. Friend's proposals to produce a healthier and more rapidly expanding agriculture.

BRUSSELS

Q7. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to visit Brussels.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

[column 1852]

Mr. Marten

Does that mean that the rumour that the Prime Minister will receive the prize for the best European of the year is not true? If he should go to Brussels, will he go to the European Assembly——

Mr. Hastings

It is a long way to go from Brussels.

Mr. Marten

There is no knowing which way the Prime Minister will go. Will he study the resolution at the European Assembly for direct elections to a European Parliament by 1978 and then tell the House and the country before the referendum, as he represents that part of the Labour Party which is in favour of entry into the Community, what the Labour Party thinks about direct elections to the European Parliament?

The Prime Minister

I said “I have at present no plans to do so, Sir” —and if I had I should not like to go to the hon. Gentleman, if he were a travel agent, to book my ticket, because he would probably put me on a Brussels plane, and after travelling a circuitous route I should have to go down by parachute in Strasbourg to attend the European Assembly. Apart from that difficulty, I have no plans to receive any prizes in the matter to which the hon. Gentleman referred. With regard to elections to the Assembly, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave on Tuesday.

Mr. Hooley

If my right hon. Friend goes to Brussels, will he file formal notice that if we stay in the Common Market we may require revision of the Treaty of Rome, which is what appears to have been implied by his statement earlier this week?

The Prime Minister

I do not need to go to Brussels to say that again, because it was made clear in Brussels by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, in relation to the steel situation, that that is what we may require if we cannot get a satisfactory settlement of these problems on the lines followed by other countries, as I hope we can. I also gave contingent notice in Dublin at the Heads of Government meeting that if we cannot get a satisfactory solution to the New Zealand cheese problem revision may be necessary.

[column 1853]

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the Prime Minister a question about his new doctrine of ministerial responsibility on European affairs, bearing in mind that it is fundamental to our democratic system that Ministers are responsible to Parliament and that he appears to have given them licence on this occasion to disregard the decisions of Parliament? If Ministers are not responsible to the Prime Minister, by dispensation, nor to the Cabinet, because it is partitioned, nor to Parliament, which they agree is sovereign, to whom are they responsible?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady knows perfectly well—[Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) got over his operation successfully. The right hon. Lady knows perfectly well that this very special, unique dispensation is available in this very special unique situation, and that Ministers in availing themselves of it are responsible to me. I shall be watching the situation carefully. Ministers are, as always, responsible to Parliament, as the right hon. Lady knows perfectly well. What we shall not have is a situation where Ministers sit there tacitly accepting everything the Government decide and then dissociate themselves from their former Prime Minister when they are no longer in government.