Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Jan 20 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [903/1128-36]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3125
[column 1128]

EXPENDITURE

(PRIME MINISTER'S SPEECH)

Q1. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech, made in London on 10th December, concerning the need to put industrial and economic growth before expenditure on the social services.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I did so, Sir, on 11th December.

Mr. Tebbit

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that in that speech he waxed lyrical about priority being given to enable everyone to have “a full share in society” ? What is the full share that he has given, under his Socialist Government, to the extra 800,000 people who have been put out of work since he became Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

I understand that my right hon. and hon. Friends have been answering questions on this matter for the last 45 minutes. Apart, of course, from factors like the 127,000 students, the whole House will regard the figures, as I do, as extremely grave and serious. They will recognise, as the whole world does, that this is happening in every advanced industrial country—as was said in the conference that I attended yesterday with my right hon. Friend. They will know that the steps that we are taking are the right ones to deal with this problem and that what is now happening began under the previous Government, before we came into office.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend not understand that there is a feeling of deep sadness, much misgiving and a great deal of disillusionment, certainly on the Government side of the House, after hearing these very serious unemployment figures, since many of us believe that the Socialist case is going by default and that the arguments used in the Cabinet support those in the IMF, the finance houses and the Common Market who are denying this Government the opportunity of not only rebuilding our capital equipment but making resources available for restocking—which would go a long way to providing the necessary jobs that we are now talking about? Will he give an assurance that the Cabinet will give serious thought [column 1129]to the whole of the Socialist case for reflating the economy while doing nothing to damage the Government's policy for reducing inflation?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's question does not arise, any more than did the previous one, from the speech referred to.

Mr. Tebbit

My question does.

The Prime Minister

That speech dealt with what this Government have done in the way of tremendous increases in the social services and the priorities that must be followed. I agree with my hon. Friend's reference to the sadness and determination that must be the reaction of all of us to figures that are hitting this country and every other advanced industrial country. I had the figures from the Chancellor of Germany and others yesterday. I do not agree with all that my hon. Friend said about his solution. It is the priority of this Government to increase investment and to resist pressure from the Tory Party for ill-considered expenditure cuts at this time, since they would greatly increase unemployment.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister aware that we agree that today's unemployment figures are staggeringly and unexpectedly high? Is he further aware that those figures are due to the failure of his Government to handle the nation's economic affairs and, particularly, to tackle the problem of inflation early enough? Judged by performance, which is the only test by which to judge any Government, the Labour Party has now become the natural party of unemployment.

The Prime Minister

I totally reject what the right hon. Lady has said. Inflation has been a world-wide phenomenon and its consequence has caused the biggest world-wide recession in the memory of most of us. It has hit every country in the world. If I had listened for one minute to the right hon. Lady's prescription about slashing cuts in the social services there would have been half a million more unemployed.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is the Prime Minister aware that there are no alibis now? He is the head of a Government whose policies have resulted in the highest un[column 1130]employment figures since the war. If he is not responsible, will he please sack whoever is?

The Prime Minister

I did, in the General Election of March 1974—with the help of a few million votes. The right hon. Lady, who dissociates only after she leaves a Government, knows that the expansion caused by the previous Conservative Government's vast inflation and printing of money had already come to an end in the spring of 1973—before oil price increases—and that we were already heading into slump when they went out of office, before the effect of those increases began to be felt.

CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY

Q2. Mr. George Gardiner

asked the Prime Minister if he will elevate the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to Cabinet rank.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) on 15th January, Sir.

Mr. Gardiner

In view of today's unemployment figures, will the Prime Minister consider arranging a swap between the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and so clear out of his Cabinet those Ministers who are responsible for this deplorable situation? When he considers the unemployment figures that have been published today, will he arrange to be briefed by the Chief Secretary, who has repeatedly stressed that £1 spent on subsidies is £1 less for industrial investment and viable jobs?

The Prime Minister

I confess that I am in some difficulty, because last Thursday the hon. Gentleman, together with six of his hon. Friends, wanted the Chief Secretary sacked. Now he wants him promoted. I believe that the half-way state between the two is just about right.

The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong if he associates that with the unemployment figures, because my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, with the full support of the Chancellor and myself, has assiduously been ensuring that in the period of world recovery in 1977 and 1978 it will be very important to restrain [column 1131]public expenditure and so release resources for investment and export in that situation, so that we do not face the quick restraints on expansion that have happened in past years. That is not a case for slashing, ill-considered cuts in expenditure now—cuts for which the Conservative Party has been pressing and which they never specify, but which would lead to a large increase in unemployment.

Mr. Duffy

Has my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister noticed the increased grounds for optimism about the performance of our economy in 1976—to which nearly every economic forecaster now subscribes—and notably about our prospects of achieving a single-figure rate of inflation by the end of the year, or even, as some believe, before the end of the year?

The Prime Minister

Yes. By this time we had hoped to receive some comments from the Opposition about the success of the Government's policy and the acceptance by the whole population of our proposals on inflation, which the Opposition did not dare vote against or for. We had hoped that we would receive some compliments from them about the fact that the balance of payments last year showed a deficit of less than half what it was the previous year, and very much less than it was in the Opposition's last year of office, before the rise in oil prices began to hit Britain.

Mr. Hooson

Is it not time that the Prime Minister abandoned his arid argument of loose falsities and told the House what he intends to do about it? The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to encourage investment in industry. How does he propose to do it? Does he intend to reduce taxation and to have more Government investment, or does he intend to go along with unemployment until the end of the decade and then blame someone else for it?

The Prime Minister

I am not in the slightest degree interested in placing responsibility on members of the Opposition, but occasionally when I am attacked I defend myself, which I am entitled to do, in my position. The hon. and learned Gentleman usually adopts a position of amiable neutrality on these [column 1132]matters, but it is quite clear that he missed all the economic debates, the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer about investment, the steps that he has already taken and—one of the most significant points—the considerable resources that he has placed at the disposal of particular industries for regeneration—a measure approved by the whole House—as well as the creation of the National Enterprise Board.

Mr. Ashley

Will my right hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to consider the question of industrial perks to upper management, especially as they include such provisions as housing, entertainment, free insurance and interest-free loans? In particular, will he ask the Chief Secretary to look at apparent negligence by the Treasury, which was disclosed in two Parliamentary Answers to me in December? In reply to a Question from me, one Minister said that those perks were taxable, but another Minister said that the total number of people receiving these perks was not known. Is that not an unsatisfactory situation?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that under successive Governments there has been a tightening up of tax laws in respect of income that is provided in different ways. A great deal of evidence has been adduced to show that this does not go far enough. These matters are continually considered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I cannot at this stage anticipate my right hon. Friend's Budget Statement.

EUROPEAN COMMUNITY

(HEADS OF GOVERNMENT)

Q3. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Prime Minister when he proposes next to meet Heads of Government in the EEC.

The Prime Minister

I met some of my EEC colleagues at the meeting of European Social Democratic Parties that ended in Copenhagen yesterday, Sir. The next meeting of the European Council will probably take place in late February or early March. In the meantime, I shall be seeing the Federal German Chancellor on 7th February and the Netherlands Prime Minister on 16th February, on their visits to London.

[column 1133]

Mr. Watkinson

When my right hon. Friend sees the German Chancellor will he discuss with him the possibility of reflating the European economies? This has been a keynote of Government policy over the past few months. Does he see any hopeful signs, and will he encourage our Continental neighbours to expand and reflate their economies?

The Prime Minister

When I opened the debate on this matter in Copenhagen yesterday I dealt with these questions in relation not only to Europe but to the United States, Japan, and so on, as was done at Rambouillet. The statement that we made has been issued to the Press and placed in the Library, and if my hon. Friend has any points to raise arising out of it perhaps he will table them to me as Questions.

Mr. Churchill

Will the Prime Minister explain how it is that the country of which he is Prime Minister has, apart from the Irish Republic, the highest level of unemployment among the countries of the EEC? Is this not a cruel deception on the people whom he sought to persuade to vote for his party in February 1974 with the slogan

“Back to work with Labour” ?

The rate of unemployment in the North-West has doubled since 1974.

The Prime Minister

At the time of that General Election well over 2 million people were unemployed as a result of the then Conservative Government's confrontation. [Interruption.] There are not 4 million unemployed today. We discussed these matters in the EEC and again yesterday. This problem also hits advanced countries in the world. It hits this country particularly hard, because of the fact that for very long periods previously we have had totally inadequate industrial investment.

Mr. Donald Stewart

When next the Prime Minister meets the Heads of EEC Governments, will he undertake to raise with them the question of the common fisheries policy, in view of M. Lardinois ' statement that it is not being renegotiated at present, which contradicts ministerial assurances given to the House?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister [column 1134]of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been pressing this matter very hard in Europe. There is much progress still to be made. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that even though Iceland is not a member of the EEC, there is a particularly urgent problem affecting fisheries, on which there will be a statement later this afternoon.

Mr. Fernyhough

When my right hon. Friend meets the Heads of Government of the EEC, will he discuss with them the great contribution that they are making to our very serious balance of payments problem? Is he aware that from the time when we entered the Common Market our balance of trade deficit with the rest of the EEC has grown year by year, until this year the deficit with the EEC is greater than the overall deficit? Will he discuss with the Heads of Government how they might take more of our goods and thus provide more employment for our people, as we are buying from them commodities at prices that are higher than those that we could obtain from other countries were we not in the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend, who always looks on the bright side of things, will have noticed from what I earlier that our overall balance of payments deficit last year was less than half what it was in the previous year. I think that that is a remarkable achievement. [Interruption.] Our balance of payments deficit last year was half of what is was the previous year, and less than it was when the Conservative Party was responsible, even though oil price rises had not then hit us. We have now a surplus on normal trade and we are covering part of the oil deficit. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be delighted about that, and that he could not contemplate what the deficit would have been if the Conservative Party had been in power.

Mr. Prior

When the right hon. Gentleman discusses matters of employment with the Heads of Government of the EEC, how will he reconcile the statement that he made on 9th October 1974—that unemployment was falling—with the remarks that he made this afternoon, and presumably to EEC leaders, about the problems of unemployment and inflation being with us long before October [column 1135]1974? Was it that he tells the truth now and told us something rather different during the General Election campaign?

The Prime Minister

What I said was that our vulnerability was greater than that of other countries because of what we had been left with by the Conservative Party. That is certainly true. During the period when our exports were improving, unemployment was holding fairly steady, but once the world depression arising from oil price rises hit the whole world, we were very vulnerable to it as a result of what we inherited.

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend recall the posters that were put up during the referendum campaign by the Common Market supporters—posters that said “Jobs for the boys” ? Does that not look somewhat sick at this moment, when unemployment is growing at a much more rapid pace than we have known for a long time? Does my right hon. Friend agree that trying to seek solutions in the Common Market, or hiding behind the fact that the capitalist system in Western Europe is collapsing, is not the answer for a Socialist Government, who ought to begin to put into effect Socialist policies to deal with rapidly rising unemployment, beginning with import controls and the control of the export of capital abroad, and a general reflation to ensure that our people obtain employment?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend sometimes underrates the importance of this country as an exporter. He certainly underrates the achievements of this country in exports over the last year or two, when, for the first time, we have stopped the rot, in terms of the decline in world trade which our exports represent. I am not responsible for any posters that were put up during the referendum campaign. I did not put up a single poster. I made a number of speeches, and I stand by them. My hon. Friend suggests that the rise in unemployment coincided with the referendum result and the months afterwards, but he must sometimes ask himself—indeed, he used to do so at one time—what would have been the consequent unemployment if the referendum result had gone the other way.

Mr. Heffer

What about these figures now?

[column 1136]

The Prime Minister

In my view—[Interruption.] Sweden? When I discussed this with the Prime Minister of Sweden yesterday, he was able to point out—[Interruption.] I was asked about Sweden. The Swedish Prime Minister was able to point out that there is a very large——

Mr. Skinner

Save the steel jobs.

The Prime Minister

—thriving, high-priced market for Sweden's principal products—forestry products—timber, pulp and paper.

However, I say finally in regard to my hon. Friend's question, in which he said that we should not seek solutions solely in Europe, that he knows that we are not doing that. He knows, for example—[Interruption.] When the extremists on both sides have finished their laughing, I shall finish the answer. We are not seeking the solution solely within Europe. The Rambouillet Summit included the six leading industrial nations, covering three continents. My hon. Friend will know of the conference that we had with the Commonwealth, and our proposals there. He is totally wrong in saying that we are seeking a solution solely within Europe. But if we try to seek a solution without Europe, we shall not find one.

Several hon. Members

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have a short statement to make to the House.