Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Mar 27 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [889/686-93]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2664
Themes: Executive, European Union (general), Family, Social security & welfare
[column 686]

One-Parent Families

(Minister's Speech)

Q1. Mrs. Hayman

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech on one-parent families by the Secretary of State for Social Services at the conference of the National Council for One-Parent Families on 21st February represents the policies of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Yes, Sir.

Mrs. Hayman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that answer, like the speech, will be greeted with great disappointment by the many one-parent families in this country? Does he agree that the 1 million children of one-parent families are the largest group of children in the country who are potentially the most economically and socially vulnerable? Will he undertake to reconsider the guaranteed maintenance allowance, accepting that a special cash benefit would be the most important help that could be given to these families?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend about the special category here and the amount of poverty, which in many cases is concealed. She will know that the Finer Report had 200 recommendations and that in this, as in all matters of social services and health, we are having to proceed in accordance with priorities. A considerable amount has been done within the Finer Report to help. My hon. Friend who has studied this matter so fully will know what has been done and I shall not outline it now. The particular point that she mentioned is being considered in relation to other social service and health priorities and general priorities, and also against the very severe constraints on public spending which must operate at this time.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister aware that he would get a great deal of support from this side of the House if he were to consider transferring some of the money at present spent on indiscriminate food subsidies to help one-parent families? We are not asking him to increase public expenditure. We know his difficulties—all Governments have difficulties—but some of us think it wrong that our [column 687]needs should take priority over the needs of this group.

The Prime Minister

Yes, but so little has been done in this area. Of course, all families benefit from the food subsidies to the extent of about 7p in the pound in the shopping basket, and that includes the one-parent families. This is a matter of priorities. We are proceeding with great urgency. The point raised by my hon. Friend is being considered, but I cannot give any assurance about timing at this stage.

Commonwealth Prime Minister (Meeting)

Q2. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister what subjects he proposes to raise at the meeting of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers in Jamaica.

The Prime Minister

We shall, of course, be discussing a wide range of issues at Kingston. In particular, I shall use the opportunity to develop some of the ideas on world trade in commodities which I mentioned in my speech at Leeds on 9th February.

Following the normal practice, the agenda for the Heads of Government Meeting is co-ordinated by the Commonwealth Secretary-General in consultation with the Heads of Government. These consultations are confidential.

Mr. Thomas

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he say what progress he has made on the question of commodities, because this is a vital aspect of trade to Commonwealth and developing countries? When he meets his colleagues in Jamaica will he take the opportunity to confirm that every Commonwealth Government now wish Britain to remain within the EEC?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's first point is the subject of an initiative which we are taking, which was begun in my talks with President Ford in Washington. It has been further discussed with a number of Commonwealth Prime Ministers who have visited this country, including the Prime Ministers of New Zealand, Guyana and Canada. It is of vital importance, particularly to developing countries and certain producers, because we want more security and [column 688]stability in food production for consumers and on the question of fertilisers and feeding stuffs. This is a very complicated issue. The problem has never been solved on past occasions, and it is important that some progress is made.

I am quite sure that the subjects we shall be discussing will permit the question of the EEC to be raised by anyone who wishes to raise it, whether the United Kingdom or any of the many other countries. However, I confirm what I said in the House and what my hon. Friend has just repeated, that all, or practically all, of the independent Commonwealth countries have indicated their desire that we should stay in the Community.

Mr. Tim Renton

Does the Prime Minister agree that commodities represent a very good area for EEC intervention, and that the setting up of an EEC fund, for example, for mineral development overseas, could be a very appropriate area for EEC activities?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member is right, and I think he will be aware that in the Lomé Convention a beginning was made—all sides of the House will welcome this—in commodity stabilisation, although the funds for this are relatively limited. In the Heads of Government summit in Dublin a fortnight ago, I made a fairly lengthy statement to the other Heads of Government on the lines of the initiative which I have already described, and it was warmly welcomed by those who spoke. We shall, of course, consult them in the furtherance of this initiative, which some of them have been pursuing in different ways overseas.

City Of London

3. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to visit the City of London.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the many warm expressions that have emanated from some parts of the City about the increase in British exports in the past quarter? Does he agree that in view of this welcome change of heart in [column 689]some parts of the City, those other parts that maintain their myopic hostility to Labour Government should drop it?

The Prime Minister

It is true that the recent trend in the balance of payments has been warmly welcomed in the City. One cannot judge long-term trends from even three months—although I have known people who have tried to judge them on the basis of a single month's figures—but it is a fact that—and here the City, with its increasing invisible earnings, has made a significant contribution—over the past month or two we have seen the non-oil deficit, which was very big last year, turned into a surplus. It will be the hope of every hon. Member, as well as everyone in the City, that this trend will be maintained. We still have the oil deficit to meet, but progress has been made. The important thing now is to ensure that everything is done, both internally and externally, to maintain that progress.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Will the Prime Minister visit the City and other parts of London to collect opinions about the forthcoming visit of Mr. Shelepin and then issue clear instructions on whether that gentleman is to receive official entertainment?

The Prime Minister

I know the interest taken by the hon. and gallant Gentleman in these matters. I visit the City frequently, and when I do not do so I have representative City leaders to No. 10, as I did last Monday night. We have regular dinners here in Westminster and in the City. Last week I met the BIA. I always invite the City leaders to say anything that they have on their minds. They have a great deal to say about financial, economic and industrial matters, but not one of them has so far raised the question of Mr. Shelepin. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has answered a Question on it.

Mr. Henderson

When the Prime Minister visits the City of London, will he look into the question of the London weighting allowance, and take into account the fact that many people in Scotland feel it a great injustice, when they suffer similar cost pressures, that there is no similar allowance for them? With his well-known sense of fairness [column 690]and consideration for Scotland, will the right hon. Gentleman seek speedily to put that matter right?

The Prime Minister

It is not a subject that I could explore satisfactorily within the City of London. The London weighting allowance is not confined to the Square Mile. The Scottish question has been raised a number of times. It was not raised with me on my two recent visits to Scotland, but I am well aware of the feelings expressed by the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful for the kind reference he made to me.

Cabinet Papers

4. Mr. Gow

asked the Prime Minister whether he will reduce the present 30 years' ban on the publication of Cabinet papers.

The Prime Minister

Following the initiative which I took in March 1966, the Public Records Act 1967 reduced the period of protection for public records, including Cabinet documents, from 50 to 30 years. I have no evidence at present that a further change is required.

Mr. Gow

Will the Prime Minister please reconsider that answer, in the light of the circumstances of the referendum—circumstances which he has described as unique? Does he not think that it would help the country to debate the matter without rancour if the spirit of comradely love and brotherly unity in the Cabinet could be displayed for all the British people to see when they are discussing the subject?

The Prime Minister

It is not only in the Cabinet that that spirit is to be found. The meeting with the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party yesterday was full of such manifestations. I hope that the Opposition will be able to follow us in these matters, because it is a unique occasion. It is a question that cuts across parties. But I do not think that the Public Records Act is involved. I wanted to cut the ban from 50 to 25 years, but I could not get the agreement of the Conservative Party to any cut until I said that I would put the proposal in our 1966 election manifesto. There was then a speedy change of heart, and we got the period down to 30 years. [column 691]

The hon. Gentleman will no doubt know that a committee of Privy Councillors is being set up. I announced it last Friday, and I hope to make a statement in the House after Easter. The hon. Gentleman will be able to give evidence if he wishes, and no doubt the Committee will consider his weighty arguments.

Mr. Lawson

Does the Prime Minister agree that the 30-year rule has already been side-stepped to a certain extent by the Crossman Diaries? In the light of those diaries, for the sake of posterity and historical accuracy, will the right hon. Gentleman incorporate in the next edition of his own work, “The Labour Government 1964–70; A Personal Record” , the various corrections needed to make good the many errors pointed out by Mr. Crossman, particularly in the events relating to the 1967 devaluation?

The Prime Minister

If I were to deal in any subsequent edition of my book with some of the points raised in the recent publication in The Sunday Times, the book, already very long, would be even longer. Those who are in a position to know about these things know that many of the attributed statements took place on occasions when they could not have taken place, in places where the relevant people were not present at the time. I am sorry to say that a high proportion of the attributed quotations were either made by Mr. Crossman himself or were not made at all.

My memoirs were submitted to the Cabinet Office in the usual way, and all the corrections that it asked me to make, which were very few, I made. [An Hon. Member: “Advertising.” ] The advertising was started by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). I could not want a better sales promoter of the book—which is now in paperback, and therefore cheaper, I hasten to inform the hon. Gentleman. The rules were followed in that case.

There have been difficulties. This is one of a number of reasons why the committee of Privy Councillors has been set up. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has been asked to suggest Privy Councillors from her side of the political divide, whether Members of the House or not.

[column 692]

European Community

(Membership)

5. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether the Government have yet decided their attitude towards the conclusion of the renegotiation of British membership of the EEC.

8. Mrs. Wise

asked the Prime Minister whether the Government are satisfied with the outcome of the EEC negotiations.

9. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if the Government are satisfied with the outcome of the renegotiation of the EEC entry terms.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member and my hon. Friends to the statement which I made to the House on 18th March.

Mr. Lamont

I welcome the Government's recommendation. On the question of ministerial responsibility, is there any truth in Press reports that the Government are considering allowing Ministers to speak from the back benches in the debate on the renegotiated terms after Easter?

The Prime Minister

I do not comment on Press reports. Most of those that I have read this week on the subject have proved to be wide of the mark, particularly the prognostications about the comradely meeting yesterday to which reference has already been made. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to have to face formidable competition from a regiment of Ministers speaking from the back benches if he should seek to catch the eye of the Chair in the debate.

Mrs. Wise

How can my right hon. Friend possibly be satisfied with the renegotiations, considering that they have signally failed to reassert the authority of Parliament, and in view also of the signal failure to reassert control over our own steel industry?

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with my hon. Friend's diagnosis. I did not say in my statement of 18th March that I was completely satisfied. I said that there were certain things that we had hoped for that we had not obtained in the form we had sought, but that we had broadly achieved the purposes of [column 693]our renegotiations. I also said that in the light of the improvements we had obtained in the renegotiations and certain changes in the Community during the period of the renegotiations, I believed that continued membership was the best thing for Britain, Europe, the Commonwealth and the wider world.

Mrs. Thatcher

I know that Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister will not comment on Press comments, but will he make an explicit statement about what arrangements he has made for dissenting Ministers in relation to supplementary answers given from the Dispatch Box and any comments they might make to the House?

The Prime Minister

I have already answered a question on this matter and have set out the position. When the right hon. Lady has studied it, I shall be glad to answer any more questions which she may have on the subject. All Ministers speaking from the Dispatch Box will reflect Government policy in this matter.