Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [902/644-51]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2574
[column 644]

SECRETARY OF STATE FOR TRADE

Q1. Mr. Pattie

asked the Prime Minister whether he will dismiss the Secretary of State for Trade.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

No, Sir.

Mr. Pattie

Does the Prime Minister recall that during the course of his disastrous performance here last Thursday he told the House that the referendum result had been utterly decisive? How does he reconcile that degree of finality with his right hon. Friend's membership of a Labour Party watchdog committee designed to monitor the activities of the [column 645]EEC? Can we now take it that the doctrine of collective responsibility has been finally laid to rest?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong about this matter. I have read the transactions of this particular committee. I did not think that it was particularly a Labour Party committee. I understood that some Opposition Members were on it. The Committee specifically said that it accepted the decision of the referendum.

Mr. Noble

Does my right hon. Friend accept that Labour Members do not share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie)? Will he also accept that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade have a golden opportunity next week to appear as Santa Claus in Lancashire, providing that they are prepared to listen to the voices of the united Labour movement through the TUC, the Labour Party conference, the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday and the liaison committees at work in Lancashire and throughout the country on the subject of import controls? Will he accept the invitation to appear as Santa Claus and not as a star character in “A Christmas Carol” ?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend could have added to that list the CBI. Neither the CBI nor the TUC is in favour of generalised import controls for our balance of payments, but they take the view—we have said that we accept that view—that where sectors of industry that have a future are being threatened for their very existence by imports in a world depression, we must look at the matter.

This matter has been fully investigated and I have every confidence that a statement will be made in the House before we rise. However, there is a problem. Negotiations are still taking place on the very difficult Chrysler problem. The Chrysler problem could involve this matter. I do not want to say more than that. That is why there has been the delay.

Mrs. Thatcher

I wonder whether Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister could clarify a statement on import controls that was made in the House last night after Ten o'clock. D. DaviesThe Minister of State, Treasury, in reply to a question by my right hon. and learned [column 646]Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), gave an assurance that there were no secret negotiations on the subject of import controls. Does that mean that there are no negotiations at all, or that the Prime Minister is going ahead without them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that question. I have not seen the particular words used, but I accept her account of them. There have been no negotiations on this matter—if by that is meant international negotiations. Certain procedures have to be followed. Those procedures have not started for the reasons I have just given to the House. Therefore, there is no question of any secret negotiations taking place, but procedural consultations in accordance with our international obligations would be necessary in certain circumstances. I have explained to the House—I have perhaps gone further than any of my colleagues in this matter—that the issue has been held up because of the difficult situation, which is still continuing, concerning Chrysler. Indeed, negotiations are taking place today.

SPECIAL ADVISERS

Q2. Mr. Gow

asked the Prime Minister if he will reduce below the present figure of seven the number of his special advisers; and what is the present total cost of the salaries of these advisers.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The total annual cost of salaries for the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street is about £43,000.

Mr. Gow

Will the Prime Minister tell the House what areas of Government policy would have been less damaging to the country had the advice of these gentlemen not been followed? Since advice is always available to the Prime Minister from the Tribune Group—presumably free of charge—does he not think that it would be more appropriate for the salaries of this rather discredited retinue of Marxists to be paid by Transport House rather than by the taxpayer?

The Prime Minister

I suppose that might go down well with the Primrose League in Eastbourne. If I thought that [column 647]it was right to waste the time of the House and prevent other hon. Members putting serious questions, I would simply tell the hon. Gentleman that this was in accordance with the provisions laid down by the Fulton Committee. My predecessor had special advisers who were paid for by the Treasury. The suggestion that Dr. Donoughue is a discredited Marxist makes me laugh.

TUC AND CBI

Q3. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the CBI.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 25th November.

Mr. Latham

Will the Prime Minister tell the CBI when next he meets it whether he accepts the warning in the Bank of England's December Quarterly Bulletin that public expenditure must take a smaller proportion of our national resources if the economy is to regain its strength?

The Prime Minister

I spoke on these lines about the base not only at the Guildhall recently, but when I addressed the National Council on Social Services yesterday. I shall tell the CBI that the whole House, I hope, is encouraged by the CBI's latest survey on industrial trends, and I hope that some hon. Member—perhaps some right hon. Member—will get up and say so.

Mr. Watkinson

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving an added impetus to the growth of the economy by limiting hire-purchase restrictions?

The Prime Minister

I cannot anticipate the statement on the economy that will be made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when we have the debate on the economic situation next week.

SELF-EMPLOYED

Q4. Mr. Paul Dean

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now allocate to a senior Cabinet Minister special responsibility for the self-employed.

[column 648]

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. As my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council told the House on 24th July 1975, matters arising from the diversity of the activities and interests of the self-employed do not form a coherent whole, important though they are, and are better handled on the basis of existing ministerial responsibilities.

Mr. Dean

Is the Prime Minister aware that in answer to recent questions I have been told that there have been no meetings with the self-employed about the proposals in the Gracious Speech? As the self-employed and small businesses play a vital part in our economy, surely they are as entitled to be consulted as the big battalions, the TUC and the CBI?

The Prime Minister

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has an important point here. However, it is not an argument for having a Minister with responsibility for the self-employed. For example, some of the self-employed are principally concerned—I am thinking particularly of those in the retail and wholesale trades—with the activities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and others are concerned with purely industrial questions. In my contacts with the CBI I have always felt that it was fully responsive to small businesses and it has made many representations on their behalf. At the CBI's quarterly councils small businesses predominate in the representation.

Mr. Thorpe

Even if we accept the Prime Minister's premise, is it not extraordinary that the Secretary of State for Social Services should use her powers to vary by order the national insurance contribution and put it up by 8 per cent. on gross profits of over £3,600 without reference to the self-employed and apparently without any idea of the increased number of bankruptcies that this might create? If he will not allocate a Minister, is there not at least a case for there being greater consultation or, to put it at its lowest, as much consultation as he is prepared to have with the TUC and the CBI?

The Prime Minister

There is the fullest consultation with the Ministers responsible. The House had a full debate on this matter on 4th November. All [column 649]such questions as those in the right hon. Gentleman's mind were fully dealt with in that debate, which is better by far than to try to deal with them at Question Time.

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members on this side of the House are in full support of the fullest possible assistance being given to small business men? Is he aware that some people who are supposedly self-employed, particularly in the construction industry, have a record of avoiding tax and national insurance payments and are therefore a threat to the very structure of that industry? Will he make it clear that, although we support the genuine small business man, we cannot accept the bogus self-employed?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has on a number of occasions pressed this point, which is fully accepted in the construction trade. He will recall that the House legislated on this matter in the previous Session. However, he is right to point out that there are many anxieties, outside the particular group of people to whom he referred, about the problems of small businesses.

My right hon. Friends and I have given a great deal of attention to this matter. We are trying to find some way—I cannot guarantee that it will be easy—to provide some kind of help for small businesses. A number of proposals have been sent to us from many quarters. I hope that the House will co-operate in this matter, too. We have been looking, for example, at the question of differential interest rates, and so on. It is an extremely difficult matter, but we are trying to find a way of helping small businesses.

They get help on exports. Some of them are remarkably successful and get the fullest possible help. I think that the whole House would wish us to do more if we could find a way of doing it which could not be abused.

PRIME MINISTER (VISITS)

Q5. Mr. David Steel

asked the Prime Minister how many visits he has made to Scotland in the last 12 months.

[column 650]

The Prime Minister

I have visited Scotland on six occasions in the last year, Sir.

Mr. Steel

The Prime Minister will recall that a fortnight ago he disparaged my initial reactions to the White Paper on devolution. Does he accept that every newspaper in Scotland, whatever its political viewpoint, has fundamentally criticised the White Paper? Will he now enter into detailed—[Hon. Members: “The Daily Record” .] I said every newspaper in Scotland, regardless of its political viewpoint. I am not aware that the Daily Record is a Tory newspaper. Every newspaper in Scotland, regardless of its political standpoint, has criticised the White Paper. Will the Prime Minister now enter into serious discussions between the parties before publication of the Bill on how best to improve the White Paper?

The Prime Minister

The House, as I do, always takes full account of the advice that we get from newspapers, whether north or south of the border. These important constitutional issues are for right hon. and hon. Members elected to this House to decide in the last resort. My right hon. Friends and I have answered a number of questions on this matter.

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman was a little nettled by what I said in answer to a previous Question. I think I used the word “squalor” —I agree that it was a bit rough—about the fact that, not for the first time, the Liberals voted with the Conservatives. I am still looking at this Christmastide for an appropriate word to describe what we read in the Press this morning—namely, that the Liberal Party Whips, the Scottish National Party Whips, and all the rest are meeting the Tory Whips. God help them.

Q6. Mr. Radice

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

The Prime Minister

I did so last July, but I have at present no plans for a further visit. I met the Swedish Foreign Minister here last week.

Mr. Radice

When my right hon. Friend visits Sweden, will he examine how the Swedes have managed, under [column 651]successive Labour Governments, to combine a high and rising level of public expenditure with an expanding economy? Does he agree that we have much to learn from Swedish labour market policies, particularly in training and retraining, and that shortages and ineffective deployment of skilled manpower remain among the chief obstacles in the way of successfully expanding the British economy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I believe that the Swedes lead Europe on the subject of retraining. I have had the opportunity of discussing the matter many times with Prime Minister Erlander and Prime Minister Palme. The Swedes provide far more resources and facilities for training than almost any other country. The importance that we attach to this area is shown by the fact that, despite present constraints on public expenditure and demands from other people that we should cut public expenditure to ribbons, we have made extra funds available to the Manpower Services Commission for training and retraining no fewer than three times this year, making a total of about £70 million. I agree that that is nothing like what the Swedes do, but it is very important in assisting training. It is providing about 45,000 additional training places, over three-quarters of them for young people.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Will the Prime Minister consider that the happy situation which his hon. Friend described might have something to do with the fact that the marginal rate of taxation of income and wealth tax combined in Sweden is lower than the marginal rate of taxation on incomes alone in this country?

The Prime Minister

I welcome that intervention. Sitting as he does below the Gangway, the right hon. Gentleman may tell the House something which his Front Bench has not told us—which expenditure the Conservatives would cut in order to cut taxation.