Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Jun 12 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [893/652-60]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3118
Themes: Monetary policy, Women
[column 652]

Women In Public Life

Q1. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister what actions Her Majesty's Government propose in response to Commonwealth Conference discussions on the rôle of women in public affairs.

Q5. Mr. Tomlinson

asked the Prime Minister how, following discussions at the Commonwealth Heads of State Conference, Her Majesty's Government propose to provide for the full participation of women in our national and international affairs.

Q8. Mr. Grocott

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the rôle of women in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the United Kingdom following the discussions at the Commonwealth Conference in Jamaica.

Q9. Mr. Wrigglesworth

asked the Prime Minister if, following the Commonwealth Heads of State Conference communiqué, he will make a statement on the rôle of women in public affairs.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

This Government are fully committed to the objective of securing equal status and opportunities for women in all aspects of our national life. A comprehensive Sex Discrimination Bill—which makes sex discrimination unlawful in employment, education and in the provision of the general run of goods, facilities and services to the public—is now before the House.

Mr. Canavan

Bearing in mind the words of Mrs. Burnham, of Guyana, that the best way to achieve women's liberation is through Socialism, will the Prime Minister explain the sudden reduction in the rôle of women in the Ministry of Overseas Development, following the replacement of the only Member of Parliament in Scotland who is both a Socialist and a woman by a successor who is neither?

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The Prime Minister

I have not found the matter confusing. With regard to the Commonwealth Conference, a leading part in this question has been taken not only by Mrs. Burnham but by her husband Mr. Forbes Burnham, the Prime Minister of Guyana. On the other issue raised by my hon. Friend, there was no discussion of these matters at the Commonwealth Conference in Jamaica.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

May I invite the Prime Minister to join me down memory lane by recalling the occasion when he attended a most enthusiastic rally to mark 50 years of votes for women? Has he noticed that there are only 27 women Members of Parliament out of a total of 635 Members in this House? Does he agree that that is not a particularly attractive ratio? Has he noticed that my party does best, because we have two women Members of Parliament out of 11 Members in our ranks, while the Liberals, the Ulster Unionists and, I regret to say, Plaid Cymru have not one woman Member of Parliament to brighten up their benches? If we consider Scotland, we find that the Labour and Tory Parties have only one woman Member each. Should not the Prime Minister——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is enough.

The Prime Minister

Let me correct the hon. Lady. The ratio although small, is highly attractive. I recall that last week the hon. Lady asked me to go to Stornoway with her, and this week he wants me to join her. As for the celebrations of 50 years' votes for women, I did join the function that the hon. Lady referred to, and I also took part in a reception marking International Women's Year. I believe the hon. Lady made a valid point. I believe that all the major parties can be subjected to the criticism—it is a fair one—that we do not have more women Members of Parliament, particularly in the more winnable seats. That is no derogation of the high quality of many Members in all parts of the House, not least in my own party.

Mr. Tomlinson

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us would welcome the appointment of a woman and a Socialist as chairman of the commission which has recently been announced to deal with discrimination [column 654]against women? Will he ensure that the commission not only has the legal armoury that lies behind the Sex Discrimination Bill but has adequate funds and staff to deal with the task that lies before it?

The Prime Minister

I know that that is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As my hon. Friend knows, it is widely conceded that the Sex Discrimination Bill, which has now been reported from Committee, is the most comprehensive legislation of its kind in the democratic world. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend and his colleagues at the Home Office to ensure that it is a question not only of legislation but of a follow-up by the administration.

Mr. Graham Page

What did the Prime Minister mean when he referred in his first answer to “comprehensive sex?”

The Prime Minister

The word “comprehensive” governed the Bill, not the sex. I referred to a comprehensive Sex Discrimination Bill. I hope that that is clear to the right hon. Gentleman. In case he was raising wider questions, I think that these are matters for consenting adults in private, for which the Government have no responsibility.

Mr. Grocott

I welcome the fact that in a number of Commonwealth countries women have obtained high, if not the highest, positions in their political systems, but does my right hon. Friend share my concern that during International Women's Year the prospect of there being a woman Prime Minister in Britain is no nearer now than it was six months ago?

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with my hon. Friend in this matter. There are more women members in this Government—as, indeed, there were in previous Governments which I headed—than was the practice under Governments of other parties. I believe that the present Cabinet is the first to have two women Cabinet members. I look forward to more.

Mrs. Thatcher

As some people in public affairs are capable of cutting through the trivia to the real problems of the nation, may I, as a woman in public affairs, ask Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister what action [column 655]he proposes to take to deal with the main problem facing the nation—that of inflation?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the distinction made by the right hon. Lady, but when she spoke for 50 minutes in the debate on economic affairs she did not cut through any trivia. She did not get to the real problems, or offer any real solutions. Nor, I understand, did she take advantage of the 45 minutes during which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor answered Questions today to put any relevant questions. I refer her to the answers given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Prime Minister can talk out Question Time but he cannot talk out the crisis facing the nation. He talked out the economics debate. How much longer is he going to dodge the real issue?

The Prime Minister

Had the right hon. Lady been listening to my right hon. Friend she would have heard what he said, especially about our discussions with the TUC as well as with the CBI. I would have hoped that she would have reports on the matter. I am surprised that she has not warmly welcomed the initiative taken by the TUC this week. I am surprised that she has not welcomed the initiative taken by the TUC this week. I am surprised that she has not welcomed the initiative taken by Jack Jones, and the warm follow-up which is being given to these matters by the Government. The right hon. Lady has said that she is opposed to a statutory pay policy. If she has any ideas apart from those which we are following—which she condemns—she should let the House know what they are.

Prime Minister

(Official Engagements)

Q2. Mr. Golding

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements on the 12th June.

The Prime Minister

In addition to a meeting of the Cabinet and a number of official meetings with my colleagues and others, I took the opportunity of the President of Romania's stop in London to entertain Mr. Ceausescu to breakfast at Chequers this morning.

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Mr. Golding

Will the Prime Minister take time to study the newspaper reports of yesterday's meeting of the TUC economic committee, which gave an enthusiastic welcome to Jack Jones 's proposals to restrict wage increases next year? In view of that, and the other indications of the trade unions who want to pursue reasonable wage policies, will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor take an early initiative in this matter?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I referred to that matter in answer to a question by the right hon. Lady.

My hon. Friend will be aware that in the speech which I made to the CBI just before the recess I welcomed the initiative taken by Mr. Jones on the question of flat rates, because many of these problems are due to differentials—people maintaining percentage differentials which increase cash differentials. I said that these initiatives were well worth studying. My hon. Friend knows that that and other proposals which I have put to both sides of industry are being pursued by the Government. The House knows from its experience last year and from the wise words of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition that this problem must be solved by consent and agreement. That is what we are pursuing. It might help if what is being achieved by the trade union movement were sometimes praised by the Opposition, and not always criticised.

Mr. Charles Morrison

I believe that on 8th June the Secretary of State for the Environment said that the country was on a suicide course. Regrettably, judging by events, that seems to be true. Does the Prime Minister agree with that statement? When will he take action to get us off that course?

The Prime Minister

I described the action taken before and since the speech made by my right hon. Friend—action which we are continuing to take. My right hon. Friend warned everyone concerned with wage claims to ensure that as far as possible there was full compliance with the guidelines. We now know that the TUC is taking new initiatives in these matters, which are of great importance. A little encouragement from the Opposition benches might help.

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Mr. Mike Thomas

Does the Prime Minister agree that one of his official engagements today should be to meet the new Secretary of State for Industry, to start thinking about those areas of British industry in which the Government might invest, through the National Enterprise Board, to get Britain ahead again—rather than just to preserve existing employment—to promote change, and to get us into the growth areas, the winning areas for Britain?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend knows that that is one of the major purposes of the Industry Bill and of the National Enterprise Board. Last year I insisted that we made more rapid progress than was then being made with both the drafting of the White Paper and the introduction of the Bill, so that the Bill could be put before the House and passed into law this Session. I regard it as essential in relation to investment, to the point mentioned by my right hon. Friend, and to the future industrial development of this country. I have made that clear on many occasions. My hon. Friend can rest assured that I shall take every measure possible and exert all the pressure possible to ensure that the Industry Bill, and all that it means in terms of the National Enterprise Board, becomes a reality at the earliest possible moment. I look to my hon. Friends and hon. Members in various parts of the House to help in getting it through.

Mr. Thorpe

Although this is not on the Prime Minister's list of engagements for today, has he any plans which he might formulate today to meet either the board of British Rail or the National Union of Railwaymen? If so, what advice will he give them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is fair to put this question. He will understand that the Government are naturally watching this matter very carefully and are greatly concerned about it. Talks have been going on between the two sides. This is a matter of the highest importance. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would not press me immediately about any engagements—I am certainly not making any today—in this matter.

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World Food Production

Q3. Mr. Weetch

asked the Prime Minister how Her Majesty's Government will support the view of the Heads of State Conference in Jamaica on the need to increase world food production.

Q6. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Prime Minister what actions the Government propose to give effect to the Commonwealth Conference view of the need to increase world food production.

The Prime Minister

As I informed other Heads of Government in Kingston, we have adopted an aid strategy geared to the poorest countries and to rural development. We intend to intensify our efforts in these directions.

Mr. Weetch

Does my right hon. Friend agree that adverse movements in the terms of trade for primary products often have a disastrous effect on the economies of developing countries? Does he agree that these are best countered by a framework of commodity price indexing? Will he let the House know his thoughts on this matter? Will he tell the House whether the Government will have anything substantial to contribute in that respect to the meeting of the Commonwealth Finance Ministers in August and to the special session of the United Nations General Assembly in September?

The Prime Minister

Yes. My hon. Friend will be aware that the point he raised was at the centre of my proposals on commodities, including food and other primary commodities—namely, that boom and bust in commodity prices has the worst possible effects on developing countries—and our determination, with other countries, was to obtain some redress or reversal of the balance between the developing and the developed countries in these matters. That was the purpose of my proposal. It was widely welcomed by the Commonwealth and has been welcomed by many other countries since then.

Indexing is a highly technical and difficult matter. I said in that speech that it must be studied. I spelled out some of the practical difficulties. If my hon. Friend has not read my speech I [column 659]shall be glad to send him a copy, as it might weary the House if I went into all the technicalities of indexation while answering this question.

The working party that was set up was due to meet this week and is expected to produce its report in time for the Ministers who attend the special session of the United Nations in September. It will also be available to the Commonwealth Finance Ministers because they meet in the same week in September.

Mr. Tapsell

Has consideration been given to the possibility of a formal approach by the Commonwealth to the member nations of the OPEC group, many of the richest of whom are extremely keen to develop food production but have been finding difficulty in identifying suitable schemes and, when they do so, in finding technicians for development?

The Prime Minister

I think that the idea is right but that the machinery proposed by the hon. Gentleman—that the Commonwealth as a whole should meet the OPEC countries for this purpose—is not necessarily right. A number of OPEC countries have, with considerable generosity, approached developing countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere and given them considerable financial and higher technical assistance. We are all concerned over this matter.

I welcome these developments, but I am not sure that it should be a kind of bilateral Commonwealth-OPEC approach.

Mr. Henderson

Does the Prime Minister accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the increase in food production to feed a hungry world? What is the Government's attitude towards the Common Market policy of encouraging people to discontinue horticultural production rather than providing money to allow them to continue?

The Prime Minister

While not wanting to take the House back into those exciting weeks which ended last Thursday, I should have thought the opposite was the case. It may be true with regard to individual products. But the hon. Gentleman will know that the widening up of the developing world to the markets of [column 660]Europe, and, indeed, more widely, is essential to what I know he has in mind.

Mr. Hooley

Does the Prime Minister agree that it is not only the production but the distribution of food which is important? What proposals will the Government be making to other members of the European Community in future to prevent the immoral accumulation of surpluses deliberately taken off the market?

The Prime Minister

I certainly agree about distribution. I think that distribution costs are important. This ties up with what the Prime Minister of Jamaica strongly pressed on me. There have been recent inquiries in this country, for example, about the distribution of fruit and other produce from the Caribbean, to see whether the costs were excessive. That is the line on which we should be working at this time. My hon. Friend will know that we recently had a conference in this country, on our initiative—the Commonwealth Ministerial Meeting on food production and rural development, at which these questions were considered.

Regarding food surpluses in the Common Market, my hon. Friend will know that as a result of the negotiations undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, a number of steps, such as tighter price and cost control, are likely to lead to a much lower accumulation of surpluses in future. We ourselves are not involved in storage. We have secured other means of dealing with surpluses. My hon. Friend will also know that when a mountain developed, since the renegotiations began, it was the British Government who insisted that, instead of selling it off to the Soviet Union, as was done by the previous Government, it should be made available to pensioners in Britain at specially subsidised cheap prices.