Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1975 Dec 16 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [902/1158-64]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2142
Themes: Defence (general), Employment
[column 1158]

SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE

Q1. Mr. Pattie

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

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) on 11th December.

Mr. Pattie

If the Prime Minister will not agree to put his right hon. Friend out of his misery by dismissing him, would he at least agree to give him his full support? Does the Prime Minister support that part of the Cabinet which believes that we should honour our NATO commitment [column 1159]to the full, or the part which seems to believe in death by a thousand defence cuts?

The Prime Minister

Taking what I am sure was the serious content in the hon. Member's mind, if not in his words, I have already made clear, and I repeat it now, that there will be no reductions in defence expenditure that will reduce the effectiveness of our contribution to NATO. Any reduction will be on tail, not teeth.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that the defence review, far from cutting expenditure, has actually increased it, as the Secretary of State for Defence has admitted? Does my right hon. Friend stand by our election commitment to reduce our proportion of resources devoted to arms to the level of Western European NATO countries, thus saving £1.2 billion a year for social needs and industrial re-equipment? Will my right hon. Friend refuse the cry for drastic cuts in almost everything except arms spending?

The Prime Minister

The effect of the defence review was substantially to reduce the defence programme that we inherited from the previous Government, whose members are still pressing for big increases in defence while talking at the same time about expenditure cuts. I fully accept what my hon. Friend has said in the second part of his question and I hope to have his full support in all measures affecting the expansion of our GNP, as well as in those cuts in defence that can be made without impairing our essential contribution to NATO which, I am sure, is the last thing he would want.

Mrs. Thatcher

As the subject of jobs is very much to the fore today, can the Prime Minister say how many jobs have been lost through the cuts already announced by R. Masonthe Secretary of State for Defence?

The Prime Minister

I would require notice of that question, but the answer has already been given in the House by my right hon. Friend. Since the right hon. Lady is absolutely right to stress the subject of jobs in highly vulnerable areas of the country, I take that as an indication that she will not be voting against the Government's proposals tonight.

Mrs. Thatcher

I assumed that the Prime Minister would know the answer.

[column 1160]

The Prime Minister

It has been given to the House. It was before the Cabinet in all the discussions we had on the defence review, and it is a figure that we have accepted as tolerable, not least because there are big increases in the number of jobs connected with arms exports.

UNITED STATES

(CONSULTATIONS)

Q2. Mr. Thorpe

asked the Prime Minister what consultations he has recently had with the United States Government.

The Prime Minister

I had a full discussion with President Ford on matters of mutual interest at the economic summit meeting in Rambouillet last month. I have also had the opportunity of discussions with the President at other bilateral and international meetings in the course of the year, and continue by all appropriate means to keep in close touch with the Government of the United States.

Mr. Thorpe

Does the Prime Minister recall the Government's welcome endorsement of Dr. Kissinger 's five-point plan at the World Food Conference in Rome designed to prevent fluctuations in the world prices of food and the supply of food stocks to developing countries in the Third World? Was it not a disappointment that when it had a 10-million-ton grain surplus the United States should automatically put it on the commercial market and sell it to the highest bidder, which in this case was the Soviet Union? Is not that a negation of the spirit of Rome, which was that there should be international stockpiling at agreed levels to prevent fluctuations in prices to the Third World? Is it not time that we made representations to America that if this sort of policy continues, the spirit of Rome will be dead?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to raise this matter. We have had discussions with the United States. The quantities of food available for developing and starving countries has been considerably increased in the past year or two. Dr. Kissinger gave full support to the proposals which I made at the Commonwealth Conference in Jamaica in relation to raw materials, [column 1161]foodstuffs and the proper planning of commodity agreements. These matters have been further carried forward by the Special Session of the United Nations, where the British proposals received warm support.

Mr. John Garrett

Has my right hon. Friend had discussions with the American Government about their view of the continued commercial viability of the Chrysler Corporation?

The Prime Minister

There is no American ministerial responsibility here. We are concerned with Chrysler's overseas activities, in this case in the United Kingdom. At Rambouillet I had a brief discussion with President Ford—as I think I told the House—but, of course, the future of the Chrysler Corporation within this country is a matter for Her Majesty's Government and the House. My right hon. Friend will be making a statement on this matter at the end of Questions.

Mr. Amery

Will the Prime Minister make clear to the President of the United States that Her Majesty's Government would fully support such steps as he may think it right to take to support the anti-Soviet forces now fighting in Angola?

The Prime Minister

We have made clear our position on Angola. We believe that there is no place for an intervention by the United Kingdom, and we are extremely anxious to see that Angola does not become a cockpit of all the major Powers.

SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EMPLOYMENT

Q3. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Prime Minister if he will dismiss the Secretary of State for Employment.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) on 11th December.

Mr. Gardiner

Will the Prime Minister say whether the Secretary of State endorsed the new Chequers industrial strategy that has now been turned upside down? How does the Prime Minister expect the Secretary of State to win union acceptance of the redundancies necessary [column 1162]at, for example, the British Steel Corporation in view of the vast amount of good taxpayers' money being thrown after bad jobs at Chrysler?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman always imports a number of thoughts into his supplementary questions, but the position is that the whole Government—indeed, my right hon. Friend was at Chequers—endorsed the policies there. The position of the Chrysler Corporation will be explained to the House by my right hon. Friend at the end of Questions. If the hon. Gentleman is telling us that the Tory Party will vote for an immense number of lost jobs, we shall certainly want to know about it.

Mr. Kilroy -Silk

Will the Prime Minister call a meeting of the Secretaries of State for Employment and Industry with a view to devising policies for the industrial regeneration of Merseyside? Does he realise that, with the level of unemployment on Merseyside—especially in Kirkby—well above that of the national average, the people of that area would willingly accept half the money that is being given to Chrysler to create jobs on Merseyside and to stop the loss of jobs which has been going on for well over a decade?

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour to the announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer which have had a considerable effect on Merseyside. I ask my hon. Friend to await the debate on the economic situation tomorrow, when my right hon. Friend will make a further statement. I do not recall that my hon. Friend voted against the Government's policy in relation to British Leyland. Some of his constituents and some of mine work for British Leyland on Merseyside.

PRIME MINISTER

(ENGAGEMENTS)

Q4. Mr. Freud

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for Tuesday 16th December.

The Prime Minister

I shall be holding a number of meetings with my ministerial colleagues and others throughout today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

[column 1163]

Mr. Freud

As the Prime Minister is now—at Question Time—fulfilling one of his engagements, will he recognise the unsatisfactory state of Prime Minister's Question Time as a means of calling the first Minister to account for his actions? Will he recognise the frustration of Back Benchers at having to table Questions in the currently prescribed form, and will he include a review of Question Time in his review of the procedure and practice of the House of Commons as promised in the Queen's Speech?

The Prime Minister

This matter was recently surveyed by a Select Committee of the House and some changes were made. If the hon. Gentleman has any views about Question Time, any suggestions will be a matter for the Select Committee, or whatever body is set up for the review of parliamentary procedure. In recent months, with the growth of syndicated Questions, when I grouped Questions, as I told the House I would, this meant that Questions Q3, Q4 or Q5 could not be reached. That is why I am now answering Questions singly, I hope to the satisfaction of the House.

Mr. Wellbeloved

I recognise that the Prime Minister's engagements for today may make it impossible for him to meet the Parliamentary Labour Party, but could he squeeze in a meeting tomorrow on the Chrysler affair? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour Party manifesto lays down that when public money is used to prop up industry, there should be the option of accountability to the nation by the company assisted? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Parliamentary Labour Party is as much the custodian of the manifesto as anyone else and that an urgent meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on the subject of Chrysler is vital?

The Prime Minister

The question of a meeting with the Parliamentary Labour Party is a matter for the Liaison Committee, which was recently elected. That committee will decide. As to the custodianship of the manifesto, I understand that there are at least two groups within the party each claiming to be the exclusive custodian of the manifesto. I have made clear over a long period that I am always prepared to meet the Parliamentary Labour Party, but not separate groups from within it.

[column 1164]

Mr. Baker

As today develops, does the Prime Minister think that the Government Benches will be able to speak with a united voice? Is it not manifestly clear that the only thing that keeps his Government together is the courageous determination of certain Ministers not to resign?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. On very difficult issues such as the one he has in mind, which the House will be debating in a few minutes' time, it is possible not only for various people to have different views, but to have to take account of the situation under which, at first, Mr. Riccardo and the Chrysler Corporation said that they were getting out at the end of November and would not put in any further money. When Chrysler made significant changes, the matter had to be reviewed. But I draw a distinction—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his vast experience, will understand this—between those who argue the matter around the Cabinet table and those who, after leaving the Cabinet, disown the very line that they supported at the time.