Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Jun 24 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [894/228-37]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3510
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Secretary Of State For The Environment (Speech)

Q1. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment concerning the need of policies to combat inflation made at Grimsby on 8th June represents Government policy.

Q7. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if the speech by the Secretary of State for the Environment on economic matters at Grimsby on 8th June represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, I will answer Question No. Q1 and Question No. Q7 together, Sir.

Mr. Skinner

What about No. Q19?

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave in answer to a supplementary question from the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison) on 12th June.

Mr. Tebbit

Does the Prime Minister recollect that that was the speech in which the Secretary of State for the Environment criticised Government policies as having put this country on a disaster course, indeed a suicide course? Is he aware that since then, on Saturday last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there were only six weeks to that disaster? Is he further aware that today there are only 39 days left to disaster day? When will he act?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has totally falsified what my right hon. Friend said. He did not say that it was the consequence of Government policies. If the hon. Gentleman had studied Government policies he would [column 229]know which Government to blame. On Saturday I spoke on exactly similar lines to those of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He referred to the need for the urgent action that we are working on. He said “at the time” . He did not say that we were six weeks from disaster. The hon. Gentleman should look at what my right hon. Friend said and not falsify it in this manner.

Mr. Tomlinson

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, whatever actions are taken by the Government to combat inflation, he will ensure that the Government's priorities will mean that the sick, the old and the disabled who need a compassionate society to care for them will not be in the front line of suffering as they have been in past attacks on inflation by the Conservative Party?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that. What we have said, and what I said on Saturday, is that anyone who tries to get and in future succeeds in getting more money than the country can afford will be causing the greatest suffering of all to the people who cannot look after themselves, such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Adley

As last month the Prime Minister delayed taking anti-inflation action because of the referendum and this month his reason for delay appears to be the Woolwich, West by-election, may I ask him to recognise that the nation is coming to feel that he is unfitted, unwilling and unable to take any counter-inflation action whatever? If that is so, will he now resign?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in both his hypotheses. What is important is to get the right answer, and the right answer must be on the basis of consent and consensus.

Mr. Skinner

Does my right hon. Friend still agree with the statements that he and many of his colleagues made during the last General Election campaign when he said that to help the old, the sick, the unemployed and those in the bottom strata of our society we should need the Industry Bill and associated measures of public ownership? Has he noticed that, notwithstanding the local difficulties with which we are beset, so full of contradictions are the Opposition [column 230]in the Woolwich, West by-election that the local candidate has had to have his election address rewritten three times to comply with the statements made by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. guru of the Tory Party?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend correctly recalls what I said in the election campaign and what I have said ever since on this question. He will, I know, be the first to agree that, as I have just said, since there are limited real resources available in this country from production and we have to allow for exports, oil prices and so on, if more is taken out by some who have power at least to attempt to take it out, those he has described suffer. The Industry Bill is going ahead and a number of amendments are being tabled tonight for Report which will fulfil what has been said by my right hon. Friends who have been in charge of the Bill up to now. I refer to my right hon. Friend who was in charge of the Bill and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

With regard to what has been happening at the Woolwich, West by-election, I was not so much concerned with the position of the Conservative candidate as with the fact that on two successive days this week radio and television, not to mention the Press, have been full of total contradictions between leading Privy Councillors under the command of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition.

Mrs. Thatcher

As responsibility for the economic position of the country is that of the Government, and as further delay and uncertainly serve only to damage the pound daily, will Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister say when he expects to be in a position to bring a package of economic measures before the House for its approval?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, what is important—[Hon. Members: “Answer” .] What is important, as I have said, is to get the right answer and the right package. That will not be the package that the right hon. Lady proclaims even without support from her colleagues. It is more important to get the right answer on the basis of consent [column 231]—[Hon. Members: “When?” ] It is more important to get the right answer on the basis of consent and consensus, which takes time—the Opposition tried to do without that when they were the Government and, of course, they failed—than to get the wrong answer on a basis that divides the country. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set a timetable. I hope that the answer will come considerably quicker than the timetable he has set.

Mrs. Thatcher

Will the Prime Minister at least undertake to bring measures before the House before it rises for the Summer Recess?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Any measures brought before the House—and I stress the important, with which I hope the right hon. Lady would agree, of getting consent and consensus from those concerned—should be reported to the House, I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady, before the recess.

Mr. Thorpe

Surely the Prime Minister will confirm that for Privy Councillors to disagree on policy matters is nothing new and that he is not experiencing it for the first time. To revert to the speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment, does the Prime Minister remember that his right hon. Friend said that the Government's most urgent task was to bring about basic changes in the social contract to make it an effective weapon? Does the Prime Minister agree with that priority? If so, what changes would he like to see?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with that priority. That has been stated both by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by myself before the speech was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The changes that there should be in the social contract are currently being discussed, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, by the TUC. The TUC and the CBI are meeting today for discussions on these matters. I and my colleagues have had a number of meetings with both organisations.

TUC General Council

Q2. Mr. Ovenden

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on [column 232]his most recent meeting with the TUC General Council.

The Prime Minister

I have had no recent meeting with the TUC General Council, although I am in regular touch with TUC leaders whom I have met on four occasions since the recess.

Mr. Ovenden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many trade union leaders have already expressed their readiness to co-operate with the Government in policies aimed at stemming the rate of inflation? Does he accept that the good will which the trade union movement is showing towards the Government stems in large measure from the consistent manner in which the Government have carried out their side of the social contract? Does he accept that continued trade union co-operation must depend upon the Government having policies aimed at keeping down the cost of essential items in the family budget? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend look again at the policy announced by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and its effect on council rents?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the extent to which trade union leaders are showing tremendous courage, and particularly in the proposals they have put forward for relating wage settlements in future to the target rate for price increases and not to any past period. This is a very big step forward and I know that Conservative right hon. and hon. Members will welcome this fact. One would like to hear them say it from time to time. This is a very important matter and it is certainly the fact, going back to the original agreement about the social contract in 1973, that the Government have fully carried out what we undertook to carry out in the social contract. In those circumstances, we are entitled to expect a response, which we have substantially obtained, and particularly in the latest proposals put forward by the TUC.

My right hon. Friend dealt with rents in considerable detail on 16th June. Having referred to the fact that we froze rents last year and have moderated rent increases this year through additional subsidies, he went on to give figures showing the increase in rents compared with other [column 233]costs during the past two years. He said, of course, that while rents are an important part of the cost of living, the contribution of rents to housing costs has been steadily falling over the past few years.

Mr. Lawson

Instead of the rather absurd charade of warning the TUC that if it does not agree to a tougher so-called social contract there will have to be further public expenditure cuts, would it not be better for the Prime Minister to tell the truth—namely, that there will have to be further public expenditure cuts anyway?

The Prime Minister

The question of public expenditure is always under review at this time of the year by every Government. Indeed, I think that it was under review by the previous Conservative Government although they never carried out their promises in that regard. It is under review with a view to the publication of the National Expenditure White Paper in the autumn. This process is always going on. I made no threat to the unions as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I stated what is fact in relation to the position of the Government as the paymaster and the treasurer, on behalf of the taxpayer, of the publicly-owned industries—namely, that where there are income settlements or wage settlements which take too much out there is a limit. We shall not allow it to be met now by subsidy, by taking it out of the public or by borrowing. That must mean either a more economical use of labour, with all that that means for jobs, or accepting incomes which are related to what is available within public industry. That is what I said last Saturday, and said very clearly.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my right hon. Friend further qualify the answer he has just given—namely, that high wage settlements have enabled the British people to take out more than they have put in? Does he not agree that if the Government were to replace the free market price mechanism by a planned pricing strategy, and at the same time replace free trade externally by planning imports, it would not be possible, whatever wage settlements were made, for the British people to take out more than they were putting in?

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The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I made it clear that if in any industry or concern, public or private, more is taken out than can be afforded by that undertaking, be it a nationalised concern or private industry, the result is bound to be, sooner or later, an effect on jobs unless we are prepared to subsidise. As regards a pricing strategy, we have had a strong price strategy from the time we came to office. It is a fact that traders, particularly in food distribution, have suffered very considerably as a result of the tightening of the price strategy. As regards import controls, apart from those which we apply at any time where there is evidence of dumping or unfair trading practices—and we are considering a number of allegations—I do not believe that a large trading nation like Great Britain will succeed in keeping up its exports along with other countries in this chronic world depression by taking such action. I do not believe that we have anything to gain in starting a rat race by cutting down international trade.

Council Of Ministers

Q3. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Prime Minister what proposals he intends to put to other EEC Heads of Government about democratising the Council of Ministers.

The Prime Minister

I see no need to make such proposals. The Council consists of Ministers of the Governments of the member States, each of whom is accountable to a democratically-elected Parliament, each of whom is concerned with his own principal national interests; and the same—I can tell the House from my own experience—is certainly true of the now regular Heads of Government meetings.

Mrs. Short

Is the Prime Minister aware that the present system is totally unsatisfactory to a very large number of people? Because so many different interests have to be resolved, the horse trading that goes on means that certain important interests for the British people may well be undermined. This Parliament can only ask questions of Ministers when they return from Brussels. The decisions made in Brussels stand, and we [column 235]cannot undo them. Does my right hon. Friend think that there should be a change? Will he look again at this matter?

The Prime Minister

As I have made clear at the Council of Ministers, this is happening increasingly, and it is also the case that at meetings of Heads of Government national interests are strongly pressed by individuals. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in Brussels today for meetings of the Council of Ministers. He may not be a horse trader, but he is a successful cattle trader. I have every confidence that he will be fighting today—as he has always fought, and as the country acknowledged in its recent vote—for British interests. The only criticism I have heard put forward by the German Federal Chancellor is that he feels that the Council of Ministers should be more centralised in the hands of one Minister, the Foreign Minister. He feels that sometimes Agriculture Ministers tend to represent European bloc farm policies rather than the policies of their Governments.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there are two functions in the Council of Ministers? In addition to the function which the hon. Lady has, with characteristic elegance of idiom, characterised as horse trading, there is also the important legislative function which paradoxically the Community vests in the Council of Ministers and not in the legislature. Cannot that function be exercised in public? Will Her Majesty's Government so recommend?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Council of Ministers is a policy making body. It is not engaged only in negotiations. [An Hon. Member: “What about law-making functions?” ] Yes, it is also to some extent a law-making body. It has been an increasing development in the last few months that when the Heads of Government meet the Commission leaders are present, and when the Heads of Government take a decision the Commission representatives go away and try to work out how best it can be carried out.

As for meetings in public, whether of the Council of Ministers or of Heads [column 236]of Government, I can see certain advantages for the entertainment media. I have a feeling that the fight put up there for national interests would cause those meetings to go much further into the night and, indeed, to take more days than they do at present.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

Does not the Prime Minister think that the Council of Ministers would be more democratised if his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland were to attend it regularly in view of his known anti-Market views and considerable responsibilities for many aspects of decision-making in respect of 5 million Scottish citizens?

The Prime Minister

I assure the hon. Lady that if there were any meetings at which the interests of Britain, of this House or of Scotland would be best served by my right hon. Friend attending, he would certainly go.

Mr. William Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is just as important, if not more so, to democratise the European Assembly and to make the Ministers accountable to that body as well as to respective national legislatures? Will he say when he will be in a position to make a statement on the possibility of a firm Government view on direct elections to that Assembly?

The Prime Minister

Not yet, Sir. But my hon. Friend will be aware that, within a few hours of the result of the referendum being known, I said in public that the Government would be making a recommendation to the Parliamentary Labour Party that we should now take up the seats available to us in that Assembly. My hon. Friend will be aware of the decisions taken by my Labour colleagues which should lead to the selection of Members later this week to attend the Assembly. This is now taking place.

Changes in the powers of the Assembly require deep consideration. My hon. Friend will know that these matters have been continually discussed in Strasbourg and also that the Belgian Prime Minister, who is coming to this country in the very near future, has been charged by his fellow Heads of Government to make proposals about future political developments within the Community.

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Mr. Hurd

From a United Kingdom point of view, would not the best way of making the Council of Ministers more democratic be to allow this House better opportunities to discuss EEC matters with the Ministers concerned instead of our having perfunctory debates in the middle of the night, which is all the Lord President has so far allowed us?

The Prime Minister

This is a difficult problem. Nobody is satisfied with the present position. We now have available to us the report of the Select Committee which has made certain suggestions. I should point out that the Labour Government have allowed considerably more time—I appreciate that it is not to everybody's satisfaction, and admittedly the debates take place late at night—than was allowed by the Conservative Government in debating subordinate European legislative proposals.

Mr. Heffer

Since the Paris statement issued last December by the Heads of Common Market States indicated that it was unanimously agreed that the veto was likely to be undermined in future, and secondly that the permanent representatives were to get greater powers, will my right hon. Friend say whether there will be resistance by the British Government to both these suggestions?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think I have already answered that question. Following my statement after the Paris summit last December, the reference in the communiqué to the veto was simply a declaration that so far as possible we would not use the veto unnecessarily. That was what it was really about. There had been occasions in meetings of specialised bodies where the veto had been used rather frequently and where, after consideration and reference back, the matter had not been pursued. But nobody said anything at the summit—I did not do so and the communiqué did not record any such decision—to imply that the unanimity rule was breached in any way or that the right of what my hon. Friend calls the “veto” had disappeared. The situation is exactly as it was in that respect. But it was felt that the veto had been used a little too much, particularly in specialist gatherings.