Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Feb 19 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [905/1481-97]
Editorial comments: 1515-1552.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2111
Themes: Public spending & borrowing, Taxation
[column 1481]

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS

(MINISTERS' SPEECHES)

Q1. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech by the Secretary of State for the Home Department on [column 1482]economic policy, in Anglesey on 23rd January, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Adley

As in that speech the Home Secretary doubted whether it was possible to maintain the values of a plural society with freedom of choice if the level of public expenditure exceeded 60 per cent., what is the Prime Minister doing to push back the frontiers of compulsory State intervention to achieve that essential 40 per cent. freedom figure in health and education?

The Prime Minister

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will study the White Paper on Public Expenditure that is to be published this afternoon. He will know that in 1973–74, under the Conservatives, the percentage of gross domestic product accounted for by public expenditure was 53.5 per cent. When he reads the White Paper he will be able to make his own calculations about Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

When does the Prime Minister expect to be able to make a speech announcing that he will lance the obscene boil of growing unemployment and will return people to work, as we promised in 1974?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment in the recent debate on unemployment, and he will recall the measures taken by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week—measures that were widely acclaimed throughout the country.

Mrs. Thatcher

Harold WilsonThe Prime Minister will recollect in that there was reference in that speech to tax levels. Does he accept that the burden of taxation is now too high? If so, how does he propose to cut it next year without also cutting public expenditure next year?—or will he make up the difference by yet more borrowing, thus postponing the day of reckoning even further?

The Prime Minister

That is a rather long question to answer, but I would ask the right hon. Lady a question—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] Observing Mr. Speakers injunction, I refer the right hon. Lady to the White Paper which is [column 1483]to be published this afternoon. I hope that she has read it. Will she say which of the public expenditure cuts she does not agree with and what further cuts she would make. We have never had those figures from her. On the question of taxation I have never known a time when taxation has not been too high in the view of all of us, but I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend's Budget Statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Prime Minister is avoiding the question. He has frequently said that he will not cut public expenditure next year, but he has also hinted, as has Denis Healeythe Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he will cut tax next year. How will he do the one without doing the other?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady had better wait for the Budget to find the answer to that question. The Leader of the Opposition, who dodges every question, has never yet said what she would cut—apart from increasing defence expenditure by £5 billion and apart from her election bribes on rates and mortgages. Will she now tell us what she is going to cut? I have asked before, and ask again—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question.” ] I have answered the question. We are not cutting Government expenditure this year. The Shadow Chancellor has said he would cut public expenditure this year, even though it would mean more unemployment. Does the Leader of the Opposition agree with him?

European Community

(HEADS OF GOVERNMENT)

Q2. Mr. Townsend

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to meet his opposite numbers in the European Community.

The Prime Minister

At the European Council in Luxembourg on 1st and 2nd April, Sir.

Mr. Townsend

Will the Prime Minister try to persuade his opposite numbers to provide a crash aid programme to such African countries as Zaire and Zambia, which rightly feel threatened by the 20 per cent. of the Cuban Army which Soviet imperialism has let loose on the African continent?

[column 1484]

The Prime Minister

I replied to this question on Tuesday, and refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave. I have said—and the Common Market is very receptive to the suggestion—that we should do more to help Third World countries generally, on the lines of our Jamaican initiative.

Mr. Fernyhough

When my right hon. Friend next meets his opposite numbers in the EEC, will be remind then that before we joined the Community our trade deficit with it was about £500 million, and that last year it had grown to a staggering £2,500 million? Is that not a complete contradiction of what we were told would happen if we joined, and will my right hon. Friend ask the other members of the the EEC what they are prepared to do to help us narrow this trade gap?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware of some very significant changes in the margin in the last few months. Our exports have increased considerably there and elsewhere, and the balance of payments deficit has been more than halved in the past year or two and is now, in total—which is what counts—less than half the rate it was when we took office, even though that was before the oil price increases really hit this country.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Will the Prime Minister be a little more specific in what he said about dealing with the problems created by Soviet action in Angola and ensure that there is a concerted approach to this problem politically, economically and in defence terms, by the countries of the EEC? Perhaps the Prime Minister will be good enough to answer my question himself and not refer it to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

The Prime Minister

We have never yet had an answer from the right hon. Lady. The right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. He will be aware of the Government's disappointment that our efforts to secure a common Community approach to this matter of recognition were not successful because certain countries wanted to go off—if I may use a diplomatic phrase—at half cock. As regard the right hon. Gentleman's approach to defence expenditure [column 1485]in these matters, I refer him to my answer to the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday. The Americans decided by a vote of Congress that they would not intervene in Angola, and I hope that no one is suggesting that we should have made a military intervention when the Americans did not.

Q3. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for the Home Department in Anglesey on 23rd January about economic policy represents Government policy.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. Member for Christ-church and Lymington (Mr. Adley), Sir.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Prime Minister under a misapprehension? Will he bear in mind that this is Prime Minister's Question Time and, now that he has had time to think it over, answer the question put by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister

I answered the right hon. Lady's question. If, as a member of the syndicate, the hon. Member keeps putting down Questions that occupy the time of the House, he might at least think out his own supplementary questions to justify them.

Mr. Atkinson

On the question of the cuts advocated by the Opposition, does my right hon. Friend not think it would be a good idea if he employed the secret agent who uses the code name “Red Chiffon” ? Could she not tell us that if the railways carried as many passengers as the Opposition Front Bench, they could do without a subsidy?

The Prime Minister

I disclaim any connection, direct or indirect, with “Red Chiffon” . As far as the quality of the Opposition Front Bench is concerned, it speaks for itself.

Mr. Hooson

Will the Prime Minister say how the Government intend to deal not with the increase in public expenditure but with the enormous increase in the National Debt? Is it not true that this has risen enormously? Will the right hon. Gentleman disclose what the increase has been on the interest payable on the National Debt in the past year?

[column 1486]

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. and learned Member to the White Paper that is about to be published. The figure is there. The ludicrous expansion engaged in by the Opposition in 1972, which, as all impartial hon. Members on both sides and the City recognise, practically ruined the City and the economy, resulted in very big increases in interest rates. In regard to next financial year, whatever the Opposition say, we are not cutting Government expenditure and thereby increasing unemployment this year.

Q5. Mrs. Winifred Ewing

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on the economy on 2nd February to the Overseas Bankers Club in London.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) on 17th February, Sir.

Mrs. Ewing

Should the Prime Minister have been so optimistic in using phrases like “We are winning through” , against a background of more than 7 per cent. unemployment in Scotland? Why did he tell such august people that no major industrialised country could opt out of the world recession—and blame unemployment on that recession—when we know that unemployment in Sweden is only 2 per cent., in Norway 1 per cent., and in Austria 2 per cent.?

The Prime Minister

World inflation is caused partly by domestic inflation in individual countries, including Britain, and partly by oil and commodity prices. The unemployment which followed has been common to almost every country in the world. I did not take an excessively optimistic view in that speech. I said that some of the signs of confidence in industry were now becoming clear, as was indicated by the Financial Times survey, which was the best since the spring of 1973, the CBI survey, which was also the best since mid–1973 and the West Midlands survey, to which I referred in a speech in Birmingham. I can only express my sympathy with the Opposition Front Bench that some of these things are beginning to improve.

Mr. Canavan

I appreciate the references in my right hon. Friend's speech [column 1487]to the reduction in the rate of inflation, but does he not agree that it is completely unacceptable to working people in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom, and completely contrary to Labour Party policy, that we should tolerate for much longer a situation in which prices are going up at a faster rate than wages? What is my right hon. Friend going to do about it?

The Prime Minister

I have referred to the causes of world inflation and the inflation of this country under successive governments—as I am more ready to admit than are the Opposition. The fact remains that the attack on inflation announced by the Government last year and supported by the House—although the Opposition abstained—is widely accepted by the whole country. We have warned throughout that there would be a period when living standards would inevitably be held without increasing—or even be reduced. We were prepared to face that, and the whole country backed us.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of your campaign to try to limit the length of questions and answers, may I ask whether you will be prepared to review the position, bearing in mind the Prime Minister's pathetic inability to answer any questions at all——

Mr. Speaker

Order. It was clear from the beginning that that was not a point of order. Scoring points is not a legitimate ground for raising points of order.