Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Jun 19 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [893/1664-72]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2911
[column 1664]

Czechoslovakia

Q1. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to pay an official visit to Czechoslovakia.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have no plans to do so, Sir, but my right hon. and noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs visited Czechoslovakia from 1st to 5th April this year.

Mr. Whitehead

In view of the widespread recent reports that the Husak Government in Czechoslovakia is pressing for closer contacts with this country, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would not be wise to draw closer to a Government who at this moment are re-opening the persecution of Alexander Dubcek and many others who were associated with the Prague uprising?

The Prime Minister

I share my hon. Friend's anxiety about Alexander Dubcek. My hon. Friend has pressed this matter strongly over many years and in meetings with me. We shall do anything we can in the matter.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Recalling the Prime Minister's past visit to Czechoslovakia, does he now agree that if he changes his mind and pays a further visit there it would be appropriate for him to be rather more critical of the colonial régime that exists in Czechoslovakia vis-à-vis the Soviet Union at present, and in particular in relation to Mr. Dubcek?

The Prime Minister

On that occasion I quoted the actions of Her Majesty's then Government who were reopening relations with Czechoslovakia. Everything I said related to the then Government, and not to any other matter. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that should the Leader of the Opposition visit Czechoslovakia or anywhere else and send a message to her staff through the Diplomatic Service, it will not be leaked to the Press, as was done by the Foreign Office in 1973.

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Nato Heads Of Government

Q2. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his meeting in Brussels on 30th May with NATO Heads of Government.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) on 10th June.

Mr. Watkinson

Was there any discussion at that meeting about mutual and balanced force reductions? Does he agree that both East and West would be best served by cutting the enormous burden of defence expenditure? Will he say whether there has been a new initiative by the United States to cut the number of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe? In the light of progress at the Geneva security conference, does not this augur well for further talks on MBFR?

The Prime Minister

The question of nuclear weapons is a matter for bilateral discussions, at SALT and elsewhere, between the Soviet Union and the United States. With regard to MBFR, I observed at that conference, as did others, that although considerable progress has been made in recent weeks in preparation for the CSCE and other matters causing anxiety, we were not satisfied with progress on MBFR. There have been improvements, and we are closer together—I put the matter no higher than that, because there is no final agreement—in the balance of CSCE in relation to voluntary notification of troop movements as a confidence-building measure. We at NATO all felt that there had been no corresponding progress on MBFR, which is highly desirable if we are to reduce tension and anxiety.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will the Prime Minister say what discussions took place about the Eurogroup and, in particular, about providing it with a secretariat? Is it his view that the European nations within NATO should now play a more concerted and positive rôle than hitherto?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. There was some discussion of this. We received a report from the meeting of the Defence [column 1666]Ministers which took place the previous week. All of us who are concerned still feel that the creation of the Eurogroup by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer some years ago was extremely valuable. That group provides additional guidance and inspiration to the work of NATO. All of us felt on this occasion that it was important not only to pursue the vigilance of the defence alliance and to make it more realistic, and if possible less costly, but also that it should be—as it has become in recent years, under successive United Kingdom Governments—an instrument much more for détente than it was in its first 20 years of existence.

Prime Minister (Broadcast)

Q3. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a transcript of his interview on the BBC radio programme “The World this Weekend” on Sunday 11th May.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) on 12th June.

Mr. Lamont

Is the Prime Minister aware that his constant claim that Britain is doing better in the unemployment league looks rather thin after today's worst-ever June unemployment figures? Is not the true situation that Britain's recession is only just beginning and is likely to be longer and deeper than any since the war, and that with this problem as with every other, all that the Prime Minister has succeeded in doing is to postpone it?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says—nor had it much relation to that broadcast.

We are now facing the worst world depression since the 1930s. In terms of maintaining production and export volumes we are doing better than almost any other advanced country during this depression. I should have thought that the Conservative Party would feel some satisfaction at that—but obviously not.

Unemployment has risen less in this country than in the other advanced countries, despite the fact that the boom of [column 1667]the early 1970s petered out 12 months before Labour came to office.

Mr. Ashley

No one has done more than my right hon. Friend to invite co-operation between the trade unions and the Labour Government, but does he not think that the time has now arrived when he should warn all trade unionists—engineers, miners and every one else involved—that they damage themselves, their unions and their country by allowing themselves to be manipulated by Communists who happen to be trade union leaders—Communists who are dedicated to destroying the social contract and social democracy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I gave warnings on those lines to the TUC Congress last September and, more recently, to a miners' conference less than a fortnight ago, when I referred to what the miners needed to do to safeguard their future.

As for those who are seeking to wreck the social contract for whatever motive, political or otherwise, I say this: the Government have honoured their part of the social contract. I place my faith in the democratic unions and the democratic trade union leaders who are fighting desperately to solve this problem on a basis of consent, to avoid the pressure of a minority of members of the Opposition—I do not refer to the right hon. Lady; I give her credit for this—to return to systems which have proved totally wrecking of the industrial situation in the country.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister recollect that in his radio interview with Mr. Nick Woolley, he said that he would not hesitate to take further measures if he thought that the situation needed them. Bearing in mind that the value of the pound has fallen to 75p, that unemployment is at the highest figure for June since records were kept, and that manufacturing production is down to where it was in the three-day working week, how much worse does the situation have to become before he takes action?

The Prime Minister

We all saw the right hon. Lady's broadcast last night. I noted that her rating with her own party has fallen to 50 per cent., according to this morning's Gallup Poll. Nevertheless, since that broadcast—she correctly quoted what I said in that broad[column 1668]cast of five and a half weeks ago—there has been a debate in the House, and neither the right hon. Lady nor her party has put forward anything further.

I said that we would take whatever action was necessary. The right hon. Lady knows of the discussions we have had with all relevant people and institutions. She will also know that her Government took pride in the protracted negotiations with the CBI and the TUC. They were right to take pride in that. We were given many figures of the number of meetings and the number of hours those meetings lasted. That was their attitude.

I also take pride in the fact that we are trying to obtain a solution by consent. When the Government have proposals to put before the House we shall bring them forward. But we shall continue the negotiations, as her Government did. That is one of the few matters from which she has not dissociated herself.

Mrs. Thatcher

How much worse will the situation have to become before the Prime Minister takes action? Is he just going to let the pound slide further, and unemployment become worse?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady refers to the pound. I hoped that she would pay a tribute to the excellent record which we are achieving. She knows that statements of that kind are encouraging people to campaign against the pound, when we have cut by 75 per cent. the deficit with which her Government left us. [Hon. Members: “Answer the question.” ] I am answering the right hon. Lady's words. I shall then answer her question.

The right hon. Lady has a duty to pay a tribute to what this country has done in terms of the balance of payments, instead of trying to sell it short all the time so as to increase her own Gallup Poll rating.

As for the question when action will be taken, the answer is, when our consultations with those concerned are complete. The right hon. Lady defended the protracted negotiations undertaken by her own Prime Minister before he announced any policies.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Prime Minister aware that the situation has been deteriorating rapidly for a certain time? Does [column 1669]he agree that this means that there is not indefinite time available for consultations? Will he tell us when he hopes those consultations will be over and he will be able to announce concrete measures to the House?

The Prime Minister

They will continue as long as necessary, so as to obtain a result. It is right that there should be consent. Since the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were elected on a policy of introducing statutory policies, may I say that the Government and the Leader of the Opposition reject them?

Mr. James Lamond

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in that speech he referred to the co-operation he had received from the trade unionists? Does he not think that the best way of ensuring that this co-operation continues is to make certain that the Industry Bill emerges unscathed from its three days on Report, so that the democracy which it will bring to the work place is maintained, and the workers who have invested their lives in their work will have some say in their own future?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I agree with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. I should like to see tributes paid occasionally to the co-operation of a wide area of both sides of British industry, including the trade unions.

With regard to the Industry Bill, I made it clear that we shall carry out in full what we said in the manifesto and in the White Paper published before the last election. I had to work and press very hard last year to make sure of the White Paper and the Bill, so that the Bill could become law this Session. There is every hope that it will do so. It will fulfil what we pledged to the country in this matter. As for the anxieties of my hon. Friend, I repeat that so far as the legislative aspects are concerned, and I am referring not to the NEB but to disclosure:

“Arrangements entered into on a voluntary basis are much more satisfactory than the use of a statute.” —[Official Report, 18th February 1975; Vol 886, c. 1246.] Those words were used by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) on Second Reading and I think that they were very wise words. [column 1670]I support them, but, as both he and my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for Energy have said, if there are recalcitrant firms which do not carry out the best practice as endorsed by the CBI in its recent document, we reserve the right, if, necessary to use statutory powers, and that is what we propose.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that every answer he has given has sought to indicate that everything in the garden is lovely? Will he therefore say what on earth we are all bothering about at the moment?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member is altering what I said. I did not say that everything in the garden was lovely. No Prime Minister—not even the hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—has addressed more trade unions and other industrial organisations than I have. I used the same words to the CBI as to the TUC, pointing out the desperate situation this country has been facing for two years, and the need for full co-operation and restraint. That is not saying that everything in the garden is lovely. Perhaps the hon. Member would care to reconsider his words.

Since we came into office we have taken strong action on all these questions. We are seeking a solution by consent, and one of the reasons why we face such difficulties is that the previous Government finally gave up the search for consent. A considerable proportion of the increase in wage rates over this year was due to the Conservatives' introduction of thresholds, not ours.

Mr. Bidwell

On a less hysterical note, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is quite wrong to over-estimate the Reds-under-the-bed issue, and that there is an enormous fund of good will towards the Socialist ideas of the party that my right hon. Friend leads in relation to Britain's economic difficulties——

Mr. William Hamilton

Not in the Morning Star.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a common economic objective between the Government and the TUC is long overdue—an objective which has already been hinted at but on which the time has come for something now to be done.

[column 1671]

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend about the enormous fund of good will in British industry towards the Government's policies. I am sure that, after due consideration, my hon. Friend will decide to throw his full weight behind the mobilisation of this fund of good will. My hon. Friend will agree that on the social contract, as endorsed by the TUC and the Labour Party both in Opposition and in Government, we have fulfilled what we undertook to do. I am sure that he will use his considerable influence throughout the trade union movement to back the TUC leadership to make sure, not merely on a majority basis but as widely as possible, that it gives its full support for the honouring of the principles of the social contract.

Mr. Baker

Does the Prime Minister agree that the bleakest aspect of the figures today is that within six weeks 500,000 schoolchildren, along with the 870,000 unemployed, will be looking for jobs? This means that by Christmas, or even next year, many young people will not have a job. What measures does the right hon. Gentleman have in mind to encourage employers to take on young people, perhaps on the lines of what the French Government have introduced?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member has touched on an extremely serious point. We have had this problem over a period of years. We had it very badly in 1971. In the cyclical movements—we are in the worst world cycle we have had—we have great difficulty not merely in finding enough jobs for juveniles but in finding enough worthwhile jobs, including those in which they can learn skills. Both on the general employment situation and the juvenile employment situation, the Manpower Services Commission and the other organisations of Government are doing what they can to ensure the fullest take-up of those who are entering the labour market. I agree about the seriousness of the question. This is one reason why it is essential to maintain our present posture by the export-led boom upon which we are seeking to embark. I have already referred to the big increase in exports, which means jobs. When hon. Members jibe, as they did, for example, at the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement, which will bring jobs, they were of course jibing at something which would pro[column 1672]vide employment for juveniles as well as for others. We take this matter very seriously and we shall do everything in the power of the Government to solve the problem.