Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Jan 15 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [903/576-83]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2325
Themes: Executive, Parliament
[column 576]

PRIME MINISTER

(ENGAGEMENTS)

Q1. Mr. David Steel

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 15th January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I chaired a meeting of the Cabinet this morning and have had a number of meetings with my colleagues and others. This evening I shall be chairing a meeting at 10 Downing Street of the relevant political parties in this House on security in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Steel

Does the right hon. Gentleman have it in mind to attend any more of the devolution debate in the House? Is he aware that if he had been here yesterday, he would have heard, in contrast to his own intransigent speech, a speech by that new man of flexibility, the Lord President of the Council, who told us that the Government would consider the constitutional powers of the Secretary of State, whether the Law Officers ought to be the judges of what is ultra vires, and whether there might [column 577]be separate Bills for Wales and Scotland? Can the right hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the Government's conduct of the debate will continue in that vein? If so, we might end up with an acceptable basis for devolution.

The Prime Minister

You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that answers to this newly developed Question should deal with the engagements I have attended or propose to attend and not to others. I did look in on the debate last night. I have had full reports about it. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Lord President made a very constructive speech, as did his colleagues, on this subject. The assurances that were given will be fully honoured. We are listening to the debate as well as taking part in it.

Mr. Atkinson

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is somewhat surprising that he has not taken the opportunity today to say farewell to the departing American Ambassador, Mr. Elliot Richardson, so that he could at the same time secure from him some assurances about the activities in this country of the CIA? Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the first time, to the knowledge of many of us, the Americans have agreed that there is a considerable force of CIA employees at work in this country, apparently engaged in overt political activity? Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the work of the CIA that he has endorsed does not involve any political activity, but concerns normal secret service work?

The Prime Minister

You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that meetings I do not have are not in order on this Question. I pay tribute to the retiring United States Ambassador, who has had a brief but constructive period in this country. Not least do I pay tribute to him for the lead he has given on the subject of North American aid to terrorism in Northern Ireland. He has made it clear that he will pursue that endeavour when he returns to America. There is no ministerial responsibility for the CIA.

Mrs. Thatcher

As Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister pointed out in his reply that he chaired a meeting of the Cabinet this morning, may I ask him to say whether he has [column 578]given any fresh advice to his senior colleagues about how they should react to requests to appear before parliamentary Select Committees? Is he aware that many of us, whether on the Front or Back Benches, would regard such a request as mandatory? Does the right hon. Gentleman regard it in that way?

The Prime Minister

Again you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that what comes out of the Cabinet is not a matter which is normally reported to the House. No Conservative Prime Minister has ever answered any question of this kind——

Mr. Adley

Why?

The Prime Minister

Because such questions were never put in those days. Nevertheless, this subject is not a matter for the Cabinet. The appearance of Ministers before the House or its Committees is arranged in the same way as it is at Question Time. The Government decide which Minister answer Questions on particular matters. The same should be the case with Select Committees. Ministers who have responsibility for particular questions are available to Select Committees more than ever before in the history of the House, but it is not a question of 23 or 24 Members of the Cabinet being called before a Select Committee, each to express his or her own view. This Government, unlike that of which the right hon. Lady was a member, accept the principle of collective responsibility.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the Prime Minister therefore saying that Harold Leverthe Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had no responsibility whatsoever in the Chrysler matter?

The Prime Minister

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had no ministerial responsibility in this matter. The Ministers with ministerial and departmental responsibility are fully at the service of the House in a way the right hon. Lady's right hon. Friends never were.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has enunciated an extremely important principle which should be abrogated by every Back Bench Member? Does he not accept that Select Committees are empowered to send for persons and papers, which is quite different from the procedure in [column 579]the House? If any Select Committee asks for a particular Minister, can my right hon. Friend give us an assurance that the Minister and not a substitute well attend?

The Prime Minister

Yes, providing the Minister is relevant to the inquiries. My hon. Friend and I were simultaneously chairmen of the two principal Select Committees of this House, and we are now following the procedures followed by those Select Committees.

Mr. William Hamilton

No, we are not.

JOBS

Q3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the existing co-ordination between the Secretaries of State for Employment, Industry and Trade in implementing Government policy to create jobs.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Canavan

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing anger and resentment among working people all over the United Kingdom at the rising tide of unemployment and the Government's apparent inaction? Does he realise that in Scotland another 10,000 to 15,000 jobs are immediately at risk in steel, Scottish Aviation, Chrysler, Rolls-Royce and the Marathon and Govan Shipyards? Is it not about time the Government reverted to the promise of full employment in our manifesto and ensured the right to work for everyone? Can my right hon. Friend also give an assurance that if public money is spent to save jobs, there will be public ownership to ensure public accountability?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's original Question related to unemployment and the House had a very full debate on this subject immediately before Christmas. Should the House, in accordance with its procedures, decide that another debate is necessary in the near future, that will be a matter for discussion through the usual channels. Like the rest of the country, Scotland has been faced with the world-wide recession and the world-wide increase in unemployment, but the rate of increase in Scotland has been less than that in the rest [column 580]of Great Britain. Unemployment in Scotland, as a proportion of the Great Britain rate, has fallen from 162 per cent. when we came into office to 120 per cent. in December last year—in total contrast to what happened in Scotland under the regime of the party opposite.

Mr. Peter Walker

As unemployment in the West Midlands has trebled in the past two years and is now higher numerically than in the North-East or Wales, and almost as high as in Scotland, will the Prime Minister instruct his right hon. Friends to end the IDC discrimination and other forms of discrimination in the West Midlands?

The Prime Minister

Certain action has already been taken in relation to parts of the country which were previously areas of high employment but which now face grave structural problems. I cannot remember whether the right hon. Gentleman voted with the Government on Chrysler, which very much affects employment in the West Midlands.

Mr. John Mendelson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the trade union movement accepted the £6 limit on wage increases on the clear assurance from him and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that unemployment would be brought down this year? Does he also recall that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before going to the conference in Jamaica, said that he intended to bring forward investment programmes to create more jobs from next year to this year? In view of the increase in unemployment announced just before Christmas, can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that this policy will be implemented without delay?

The Prime Minister

Yes, it has already been started. Some of the particular measures of Government assistance, not only for maintaining employment, but for restructuring, were announced by my right hon. Friend in the debate immediately before Christmas. I fully endorse his assurances in that debate, what was done in Jamaica and what my right hon. Friend has said to the House since then. The TUC recognises, as do the Government and, I think, the whole House—or at least those of us who voted or abstained on these matters—that our best protection against continuing and worsening unemployment is to maintain the fight against inflation, and the TUC [column 581]and the Government are fully co-operating in that matter.

Mr. Prior

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the time has come when he should stop making excuses and comparisons with other countries and recognise that it is his Government's fault and that their failure to act against inflation in time has been largely responsible for the rising unemployment that we have now? What consultation is the Prime Minister having with trade unions where there are large displacements of people from jobs, such as at Chrysler and the British Steel Corporation, to see how other jobs and other special training for jobs can be introduced to help people in these areas?

The Prime Minister

I should be happy to make the statements suggested by the right hon. Gentleman if they were in accordance with the facts. They are not. Apart from the world-wide depression, the right hon. Gentleman knows that when he was a Minister he was party to a vast inflationary expansion of money, an expansion which is now being repudiated by the monetarist leaders of the Opposition. He will know that the depression was very far advanced before his party went to the country and gave up the responsibilities of Government.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of successive statements in the Budget and last autumn by my right hon. Friends about vastly increased provision for industrial training. This is far more than his Government ever contemplated, let alone announced.

NATIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL

Q4. Mr. Stanley

asked the Prime Minister whether he will be taking the chair at the next meeting of the National Economic Development Council.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) on 25th November, Sir.

Mr. Stanley

Will the Prime Minister explain to the NEDC the significance of the fact that the voluntary redundancies [column 582]at Linwood are substantially in excess of the compulsory redundancy programme envisaged by the Government? Does not this mean that the confidence expressed by the Government in the viability of the new Chrysler is being totally disproved by the Chrysler workers, who are voting with their feet, and that there has been a serious misdirection of public funds by the pouring in of millions of pounds to protect jobs at Linwood that the workers are now showing, in the clearest possible way, they do not want?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting speech, but I do not accept a single premise in it. Nor is his view shared by the TUC or NEDC. His original Question related to the NEDC.

Mr. Les Huckfield

On the subject of industrial strategy in the car industry; will my right hon. Friend accept that while I welcome the Government's commitment to British Leyland and Chrysler, the injection of public money into these two corporations will not necessarily ensure that we always have the sort of car industry that many of us would like to see? Will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure, through the NEDC and other offices, that we work out a strategy for the future of the British motor car industry, especially so that we can have cars at the smaller end of the range made in this country?

The Prime Minister

I absolutely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. He mentioned the NEDC and the NEB. There have been very significant changes in British Leyland since the action taken with the majority support of this House. Last year, we suffered in the motor car and other industries from a very serious lack of new investment. This is now going ahead. There are still problems in our own car industry, including productivity, overmanning and the number of cars produced per year by each worker. Actions taken in relation both to Chrysler and British Leyland are designed greatly to increase productivity—a matter with which the previous Government never concerned themselves at all. Action is now being taken and productivity is increasing markedly.