Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Nov 25 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [901/659-66]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2418
[column 659]

NATIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL

Q1. Mr. Stott

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to take the chair at a meeting of the National Economic Development Council.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

While, as my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is Chairman of the NEDC, I like to chair the council about once a quarter, as I did at the last meeting, on 5th November. I hope to chair NEDC again quite early in the New Year.

Mr. Stott

In view of the vital importance of the new industrial strategy linked with our economic recovery, is it possible for this House to have a progress report [column 660]on the strategy, and any developments? If that is the case, when may we expect such a report?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the next meeting NEDC is likely to discuss the follow-up to decisions taken at Chequers on 5th November. I also understand that in January there will be a full document raising this subject in terms of about 30 industries, including the work of the EDCs. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is right that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer should report to the House on NEDC, in the follow-up to the meeting of 5th November.

Mr. Budgen

May I ask the Prime Minister to reflect on his last great attempt at a selective regeneration of British industry through the medium of the IRC? Is not the IRC best remembered by the merger between Leyland and BMC, and did not that merger bring great sadness and misery to countless thousands of our fellow citizens?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The Bill to set up the IRC was fought by the Conservatives with great vigour and venom, but after it passed into law it received the fullest possible co-operation from industry. The board of the IRC consists, to a large extent, of top industrialists. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, immediately after the change of Government in 1970 the IRC was abolished, but I understand that there have been statements since that time suggesting that Conservatives regretted the decision to abolish the corporation. If the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the IRC, I suggest that he is not speaking for industry.

Mr. Skinner

Before my right hon. Friend chairs the next NEDC meeting, will he announce that the Government will introduce a fairly wide-ranging set of import controls, and will he make a concurrent announcement that those import controls will be introduced as a facet of Socialist planning, but will not be used as a device to lure certain trade union leaders into accepting a continuation of an incomes policy in 1976 and 1977?

The Prime Minister

On the latter point, the trade union leaders speak with more authority on behalf of the trade union movement than does my hon. Friend. [column 661]

With regard to import controls, I have repeatedly told the House—and I repeated at Rambouillet exactly what I said in the House—that we reject a generalised system of import controls, whether to help our balance of payments, which is rapidly improving, or for any other reason.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Has the Prime Minister got the figures right this time?

The Prime Minister

We have said that where abnormal imports—quite apart from whether dumping can be proved—threaten industries that are vital and needed in our economy for many years to come, and where those imports supplement the effect of world depression, we reserve the right to introduce selective import controls, following the procedure laid down in Article 19 of GATT but not as a general policy. I explained all this at Rambouillet.

Mrs. Thatcher

When the Harold WilsonPrime Minister next meets the NEDC will he be able to tell it which ministerial voice on Government economic policy he proposes to follow? Will he follow the voice of the Tony BennSecretary of State for Energy, who, over the weekend, seemed to want more nationalisation, or that of the Anthony CroslandSecretary of State for the Environment, who argues that State collectivism is incompatible with liberty and democracy?

The Prime Minister

I thought that that was rather pathetic. I thought that in the last few weeks of the last Session the right hon. Lady did better by speaking only on Thursdays.

The policy of Her Majesty's Government was explained in the Gracious Speech, in my own speech and in the White Paper on the regeneration of industry.

Mrs. Thatcher

On the Gracious Speech, the Prime Minister addressed no part of his speech to the future. The right hon. Gentleman has become a complete memoirs man. Will he now tell us exactly what he proposes to do in the future?

The Prime Minister

It sounds as though the right hon. Lady's public relations department was working overtime this morning.

I spent most of my time on the Gracious Speech talking about our policies for the future. I spent much time talking about [column 662]the present policy on inflation—on which the right hon. Lady could not even vote. I also looked forward on the matter of public expenditure, in respect of which the right hon. Lady has not yet told us what cuts she would make.

PRIME MINISTER (VISITS)

Q2. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister when he next hopes to visit Scotland.

The Prime Minister

As the House knows, I was in Scotland on 3rd November to attend the ceremony to mark the inauguration of BP's Forties Field, but I have no plans for a further visit this year.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Prime Minister apply all his powers of scepticism to the recent over-simplistic approach of certain polls purporting to give the views of the Scottish people? Does he agree that if we are asked in the vaguest terms whether we want more say in our own affairs, we naturally say “Yes” ? Does he agree that if one of the real questions is put—namely, do we want to pay more rates and taxes for yet another centralised bureaucracy in Edinburgh—the answer may be different?

The Prime Minister

Yes.

Mr. Thorpe

If the Prime Minister has no plans to visit Scotland, will he at least satisfy the curiosity of people in Scotland, and indeed those outside, on the question whether it is a fact that television commentators and newspaper reporters this morning received copies of the report on devolution? Is it not incredible that on Thursday night hon. Members in all parts of the House will be asked to make an instant judgment on a highly complicated document, which the Press and the media have been able to study in depth?

The Prime Minister

I shall inquire into what the right hon. Gentleman said. I do not know the answer. It is a serious question. There is the question of the rule on confidential early revises, which has been in force for many years, under successive Governments. I have sometimes been critical of it, for the reason mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. I shall inquire into it, as I [column 663]know that there is concern in the House about it—not least because some of these revises find their way into the hands of some hon. Members and not others, which creates unfairness and inequity.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Does the Prime Minister accept that the worst advice that he could take is that of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who is out of step with the Labour Party—which is out of step with Scottish opinion? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what will be his alibi on his next visit to Scotland for the sell-out of his promise on a devolution Bill?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I shall do that without even asking for the hon. Gentleman's alibi for voting with the Conservatives tonight. That will take some explaining in Scotland.

There has been no sell-out on devolution. The White Paper will be published on Thursday. The House will have the opportunity of an early debate on it, especially by those who, as a result of their study of it, form views, but who did not have preconceived notions before they had even read it. We want the House to have that debate. We also want a great national debate in Scotland, in Wales, in England—in Britain as a whole. We want a full debate. We propose to introduce in this Session a Bill which reflects our decisions in the light of that debate. I hope that we can make some progress with it. I cannot be certain. The progress we make depends on the House. But we intend at the beginning of next Session to introduce a Bill and see that it becomes law.

Mr. Gourlay

Is the Prime Minister aware that his words in last Thursday's debate about devolution created a great deal of disappointment among Labour Party members and other parts of the electorate in Scotland? Will he therefore make an early visit to Scotland to announce the date of the elections for the Assembly?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. That does not arise. I understand that there was a productive and fruitful meeting between my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends in Glasgow last Saturday, which dealt with the whole question of the time-table. I do not believe that the people of Scotland, or the members of the Labour [column 664]Party in Scotland, want to see the matter rushed without proper consultation with them, so that they can express a view on what will be a full and complicated White Paper. Nor would they wish to deny to the people of Wales or England the right to express their views on this. We shall at the earliest possible moment, with no avoidable delay, introduce the legislation. I hope that it will be debated this Session. We hope, with the good will of the House, that it will become law in the next parliamentary Session.

Mr. Monro

Is the Prime Minister aware that in the County of Dumfries unemployment has doubled in the past 13 months of Socialism? What steps will the right hon. Gentleman take, other than to issue platitudes from Chequers? Is he aware that, so far, unfortunately, his scheme to help school leavers has had no practical effect, and seems unlikely to have an effect in the next few months?

The Prime Minister

The downward phase in the cycle began under the Conservative Government even before we felt the effect of increased oil prices on this country. The hon. Gentleman knows what is happening all over the advanced industrial word in exactly the same degree. [Hon. Members: “It is 8.4 per cent.” ] The hon. Gentleman referred to unemployment. The figure is nothing like 8.4 per cent. In Germany the increase is a great deal more. The Opposition will be interested to know that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Scotland, expressed as a percentage of the Great Britain rate, which was 157 per cent. when we took office, has now fallen to 122 per cent.

Mr. Buchan

When my right hon. Friend visits Scotland, will be consider paying a visit to Linwood, so that the workers can thank him for saving the jobs of those at present employed in the Chrysler organisation in Linwood and the Midlands? In the meantime, will he take steps to ensure that warm welcome?

The Prime Minister

The whole House appreciates the deep concern of my hon. Friend and of other hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have a long way to go in the negotiations before anyone can hope to save any part of the Chrysler empire, in view of the negotiations with which we have been presented. [column 665]We are striving might and main to save the whole operation, if that is possible, and certainly to save Linwood, because of the high level of unemployment there. There are powerful difficulties in concentrating production on one area. [Interruption.] That would not be the answer, because this is a heavy loss-making sector of the motor car industry, which suffers because no new models have been produced for many years. It will be a very costly operation. It would not help for me to go further in this direction, except to say that I regard it as imperative that Mr. Riccardo returns to this country tomorrow to hear the result of the Government's consideration of these matters.

Mr. Whitelaw

Does the Prime Minister accept that we on the Conservative Benches believe that he is right to have a major debate on the whole devolution prospect, and that there should be a long and proper debate on the whole issue? Does he appreciate that during that debate two tests will be applied to the Government's proposals, as put forward on Thursday? The first is whether they will ensure the unity of the United Kingdom in the future or will lead to its disruption. The second is whether they will lead to more attractive and more efficient government for people in all parts of the United Kingdom. Will those two tests be met by the Government's proposals?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said in welcoming the great debate, which is extremely helpful. I felt that he did better than I did in dealing with his hon. Friend who was talking of weeks rather than months. This is a very important subject, which must be fully examined. The unity of the United Kingdom is the whole essence and inspiration of the White Paper, as the right hon. Gentleman will discover. On the question whether it provides effective and efficient organisation in the interests of all the people who are governed within these islands——

Mr. Gordon Wilson

What about Scotland?

The Prime Minister

Scotland is part of one of these islands. I knew that the hon. Gentleman did not know history; it is about time he learnt geography. I thought that Scotland was within these [column 666]islands. There are the Orkneys and Shetlands, which cause trouble to certain hon. Gentlemen.

Dealing with the much more serious question—not the interruption—it will be for the House to decide, when it sees the White Paper, whether the criteria set out by the right hon. Gentlemen are met. I hope that they are. The White Paper is based on the unity of our country, with a maximum possible devolution of control over their own affairs to Scotland and Wales.