Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Jan 29 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [904/663-77]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3011
[column 663]

PRIME MINISTER

(VISITS)

Q1. Mr. Wrigglesworth

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to North-East England.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the economic difficulties affecting the North-East, £2 billion will be invested on Teesside in the coming five years in manufacturing industries, but that even so there will still be unemployment among unskilled workers? Will the Government introduce further schemes for the training of unskilled workers and untrained school leavers so that the pool of unskilled workers is reduced?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. In addition to the £250 million ICI programme, the expected 7,000 jobs directly related to North Sea offshire activities and the consequential secondary employment, my hon. Friend will know that of the 45,000 people who will benefit from increased training opportunities as a result of the £70 million provision the Government have made for the Manpower Services Commission, many will be the region's younger work people.

Sir W. Elliott

Is the Prime Minister aware that the unemployment figure in the Northern Region of 103,000 is the highest since 1940 and has risen by 13,000 since Christmas? As a matter of urgency, will he visit the whole region to discuss with those responsible for employment the fall in the level of investment due to this Government's policy?

The Prime Minister

I do not accept the last few words of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. I share [column 664]with him the anxiety he has expressed about the unemployment level in this and other regions which traditionally have had many difficulties. In a few minutes' time the House will be debating the wider subject of unemployment, when the matter will be dealt with in greater detail by my right hon. Friend and hon. Members.

Mr. Beith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware from earlier visits to the North-East, particularly in the rural parts, that it is an area of low wages? Therefore, the people in the North-East have an interest in the second stage of the incomes policy continuing to discriminate in favour of those who are on low wages and also in such reforms of the tax system as ensure that the increases they get are not taken away in tax.

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's diagnosis as it affects the rural areas in the North-East and other regions, although it would be premature for me to try indicate what might come out of the second stage of the incomes policy, because it has to be discussed with industry.

Q2. Mr. Trotter

asked the Prime Minister whether he intends to visit Tynemouth.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Mr. Trotter

When, despite the good industrial relations in the North-East, unemployment is worse in modern times, does not the Government's apparent lack of concern for the shipbuilding industry and its problems contrast with the enormous amount of aid poured into Chrysler? Will the Prime Minister tell the ungrateful leaders of the irrelevant and irresponsible strike at Linwood that no more public money will be poured into Linwood until they change their attitude?

The Prime Minister

While I do not know his constituency as well as the hon. Gentleman does, I have a strong feeling that Linwood is not in his constituency and that he has departed from the Question. On a number of occasions during the Chrysler negotiations last year I gave strong warnings that the provision of public money in the event of disputes would not be forthcoming. Although I welcome [column 665]the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the state of industrial relations in the North-East since the Government came into office——

Mr. Trotter

I did not say that.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman did not say it, but it happens to be a fact. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomes it. He will know that the loss of man-days through disputes last year was very much less than it has been at any time since 1968, and about 75 per cent. less than it was in one year under the Conservatives.

Mr. Horam

As my right hon. Friend is in favour of Socialism, industrial regeneration, regional development and of being even-handed about devolution for England, Scotland and Wales, can I count on his personal support for my Private Member's Bill, which seeks to establish development agencies—comparable with those already conceded to Scotland and Wales—in each of three English development regions—namely, the Northern, Merseyside and the South-West?

The Prime Minister

Of course, there is no Governmental responsibility for Private Member's Bills, but I shall certainly give very close consideration to the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend so that I may decide—if I decide to vote—which way I should vote.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to refer to Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister's Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter). Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Government are responsible for the maximum number of working days lost through unemployment in the post-war period and that Labour's present level of unemployment would represent some 300 million mandays in a single year? The responsibility is his.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady is, of course, falsifying the facts. Only last week even Conservative newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, although being a little critical of us for not acting more quickly on inflation, said that the responsibility was that of the Conservative Government before us. The right hon. Lady should [column 666]take a little more time off to study what the Conservative Government really did.

Mrs. Thatcher

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recollect that he fought the last election in speech after speech on the basis of having got unemployment and inflation down and under control? Unless he fought that election on a false prospectus the present level of unemployment is Labour's level of unemployment.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady is totally wrong, because we warned in the summer of 1974—before the election and during the election—as did the then Leader of the Conservative Party, no doubt while the right hon. Lady was offering her election bribes, that we were in for heavier unemployment in 1975. [Hon. Members: “8.4 per cent.” ] We so warned and we said that this would be a world-wide problem. It was a world-wide problem arising from events in 1973 affecting all countries. The Conservatives Government did nothing about it.

Q3. Dr. John A. Cunningham

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to visit Whitehaven.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so, Sir.

Dr. Cunningham

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that he would be welcomed as a long-standing friend of the community in West Cumbria? Will he also accept from me that there is considerable dissatisfaction in that area with the Government's policies towards compensation for pneumoconiosis? Does he recall his speech to the NUM conference last year when he rightly praised the decision to compensate miners in the coal mining industry? However, does he recognise the incidence of this dreadful disease in other industries, principally, iron ore mining? Is he aware that the Departments of Energy, Employment and Health and Social Security have not made any positive response on this issue? Will he initiate Government action so that all sufferers from pneumoconiosis can be afforded similar treatment?

The Prime Minister

I have, of course, been much concerned with the area and with the introduction and development of a number of factories in my hon. Friend's [column 667]constituency. The problem of pneumoconiosis outside the coal mining industry and especially in the iron ore industry has been extremely serious in that area. My hon. Friend will remember the part played by Lord Adams of Ennerdale in this matter.

However, I must tell my hon. Friend that it is not possible for the NCB scheme to extend outside the coal industry. It is a very generous and imaginative scheme in the coal industry which we have encouraged and helped during the past 12 months or more. However, as my hon. Friend knows, the Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury is studying this matter and we must await its report.

Q4. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Prime Minister if he has any plans to visit Malaysia.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans for such a visit, Sir. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs visited Malaysia from 11th to 16th January.

Mr. Lamond

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Malaysian Government in a brochure designed to attract foreign investment have stated that they are prepared to introduce restrictive controls on imports to protect their industries and that this is similarly offered by many other countries? Is there any chance of our following their example?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that an agreement under Article 4 of the GATT Multi-Fibre Arrangement was concluded last October between the EEC and Malaysia. It came into force at the beginning of November in relation to movements of textiles and clothing.

My hon. Friend referred to a brochure or an advertisement. I have heard some mention of this but, unfortunately, I have not been able to lay my hands on a copy of it. If my hon. Friend has one or knows where to procure one—I see that the Liberal Chief Whip is indicating that he has one—the right thing would be for him to give it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade so that he can study it.

[column 668]

Mr. Amery

In view of the deteriorating international situation, will the Prime Minister consider getting in touch with the Malaysian Government, the Singapore Government and the two new Governments in Australia and New Zealand to see whether it would be a good thing for this country to rebuild the small presence that it had in South-East Asia and on the island of Gan?

The Prime Minister

We are in close touch with the Malaysian Government, although the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that, tragically, their then Prime Minister recently died. However, I have already had exchanges with his successor. We are in constant touch with Singapore and with the two new Governments in Australia and New Zealand. We are in touch with those countries concerning all the problems and dangers that may face those areas. However, I am not at all certain that either they or we would feel that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal was sound and right in the circumstances. Indeed, I think that it would certainly accord ill with the general desire of the whole House for economy in public expenditure.

PRIME MINISTER

(ENGAGEMENTS)

Q5. Mr. Douglas Crawford

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 29th January.

The Prime Minister

I chaired a meeting of the Cabinet this morning and will be holding further meetings with my Ministerial colleagues and others during the course of the day, Sir.

Mr. Crawford

As the Prime Minister is holding further ministerial meetings, will he discuss with his hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council the subject of devolution now that the devolution debate has finished in another place? Will he confirm recent newspaper reports to the effect that the Scottish Assembly is to be given full control over trade and industry and the Scottish Development Agency in Scotland and that the hated veto will be removed.

The Prime Minister

There is no ministerial responsibility for what the newspapers report, as has been said by many speakers at this Box. I was not [column 669]aware that I was having any meetings on devolution today. The House fully discussed the problems of devolution over a period of four days. It happened to seem longer, but it was, in fact, four days. As a result of that debate, I think that all parties have taken the view—as became clear from my exchanges with the deputy Leader of the Opposition last week—that they want to sit back and reflect on the debate. I see that the Scottish nationalists are shaking their collective heads. Of course, they do not want to sit back and think. They have not thought it through at all. However, I believe that the whole House will want to reflect on the very important issues raised in the four-day debate.

Mr. Heffer

If my right hon. Friend finds time today, would he phone his representatives on Merseyside? He will then discover that 549 workers have been given their notice from Western Shipbuilders, adding to the already high level of unemployment on Merseyside. Would he make representations to his fellow Cabinet Ministers that it is high time that the ship owners were requested to have their repairs done and ships built in this country rather than going abroad and so causing further unemployment of workers in our shipbuilding areas?

The Prime Minister

Yes, although it might not arise out of this Question, I am aware of the further redundancies caused by the circumstances described by my hon. Friend, coming on top of some other serious redundancies in other areas of the industrial sector. With regard to the placing of contracts for both shipbuilding and ship repairing, the Government have made clear, as have my hon. Friend and other hon. Members for shipbuilding constituencies on both sides of the House, the desire of all of us to see more orders placed in this country. My hon. Friend will know that, on a recent visit to Merseyside——

Mr. Norman Lamont

Come on, Harold, it is after 3.30.

The Prime Minister

I notice the frivolity of Tory Members about unemployment, a frivolity which they also showed earlier on pneumoconiosis. Whatever disagreements we may have, at least my hon. Friend treats this problem seriously. I was about to say, which is relevant to his question, that on a recent [column 670]visit to Merseyside, as he will know, I spent a good deal of time with the shipping companies in the course of which I urged them to place more orders at home.

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Mr. Michael Latham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I revert to a matter, Mr. Speaker, which you have discussed with the House before—that of the grouping of Questions and the rights of hon. Members in this regard? On a previous occasion, you said that there needed to be some flexibility, but I think that the House would appreciate more guidance from you.

For example, today the Minister of Agriculture grouped Questions Nos. 10, 15, 38 and 46 together, which I believe many of us would regard as going a long way down the list, whereas the Prime Minister is not grouping at all. This raises considerable difficulties for hon. Members and it would be helpful if you could give us some guidance.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that this is a matter on which the Chair should give guidance. I think that it is a matter for Ministers.

The Prime Minister

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been well recognised, by the Select Committee on Procedure and others, that this is one of the most difficult problems we have and that it is not possible to lay down an absolute rule as between individual Ministers. In the case of my own Questions, there were complaints when, like my predecessor, I grouped my Question No. Q23, for example, with Question No. Q1. I have tried to group Questions up to No. Q10, but, because of the development of syndicates, this meant—[Laughter.] Oh yes. It meant that my Question No. Q1 was grouped with Nos. Q2, Q4, Q6, Q8 and Q9 and no other hon. Members got a look-in. I therefore announced to the House—I am surprised that this was not referred to—that from now on and until further notice, until the House could lay down some rules itself, I would not group at all, so as to give all hon. Members, not just members of the Tory syndicate, a chance to have their Questions answered.

Mr. Hastings

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. While we are on [column 671]the subject of Prime Minister's Questions, Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether you have noticed that of the 25 down today, 13, I think—over half—ask that he should visit some place, almost any place, from Penzance to Peru, and that two or three ask him what he is up to today. Would you accept——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a very important debate to come. About 60 right hon. and hon. Members want to catch my eye later. There will be a debate on procedure on Monday and I should have thought that that was the time to raise these matters.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a Member from the North-East of the United Kingdom—as long as it is united—may I ask for some clarification of the use of the phrase “in this House” , including the use by the Prime Minister today of the phrase “the North-East” ? As one of the North-East MPs, I resent the fact——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a matter for the Chair.