Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Jun 29 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [914/189-96]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2684
Themes: Social security & welfare, Trade unions
[column 189]

CBI AND TUC

Q1. Mr. MacGregor

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to meet the CBI and the TUC.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) on 27th May.

Mr. Macgregor

Does the Prime Minister agree that one of the best ways to bolster international confidence in the pound, which is of concern to both the TUC and the CBI, would be for the Government to announce their revised expenditure programmes for next year as soon as possible? Would this not also help to remove the damaging uncertainty that now exists because of all the rumours surrounding these programmes? Will the Prime Minister assure us that an announcement will be made before the House rises?

The Prime Minister

I agree that rumours are damaging in this matter, especially if they are without foundation. [column 190]Undoubtedly, it is part of the Government's task to strengthen sterling, for a number of reasons that are connected with our domestic situation.

As to public expenditure, I have nothing further to say than I have said so far on this matter. The review is proceeding in an orderly manner and the House will be informed of the Government's deliberations in due course.

Mr. Watkinson

When my right hon. Friend next meets the CBI and the TUC, will he discuss the problem of investment? Has he noticed reports in City papers and financial journals to the effect that there is a growing tendency for companies to send money abroad rather than retain it in this country? Does he agree that this haemorrhage cannot continue if we are to bring about the investment boom that we so desperately require?

The Prime Minister

There is a falling away of investment again this year. According to the estimates, it is likely to be lower than last year. But the forecasts show that the major companies involved expect to begin a new programme of investment which will substantially increase in 1977. Indeed, the last forecasts, for what they are worth—I do not wish to imply anything more than that, because they are all estimates—indicate that companies expect to have an increase of 15 per cent. in their investment in new plant and machinery next year.

With regard to the resources available to companies for this purpose, clearly they will take their own decisions on whether they think it is better to invest here than abroad. But I have no doubt that if we are to overcome our present economic difficulties the investment should take place here.

Mrs. Thatcher

Before James Callaghanthe Prime Minister sees the TUC again, and as the TUC represents about 3 million women members, will he tell the House whether it was the TUC that told the Government to delay the child benefit scheme or the Government who asked the TUC to agree to postponing it for three years?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady might have taken part in the debate yesterday if she felt so strongly about it. She could have put her questions then. The matter was fully discussed [column 191]in the House yesterday, and the Conservative Opposition did not have the guts to vote.

Mrs. Thatcher

The question was not resolved yesterday. That is why I asked it specifically. May I say to the Prime Minister that avuncular flannel will not do?

The Prime Minister

I have often thought of the right hon. Lady in many ways, but never as my niece. As to our relations with the TUC, I do not propose to disclose these in this House. The relations between us depend partly upon confidentiality being preserved, and the fact that it has been broken does not help relations between us.

MINISTERIAL BROADCASTS

Q2. Mr. Rost

asked the Prime Minister when he expects to make his next ministerial broadcast.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) on 27th April.

Mr. Rost

Now that the Prime Minister has been firmly told by the creditors' meeting in Puerto Rico that the price of Socialism has become unacceptable, will he, in a personal broadcast to the nation, spell out what public expenditure cuts are needed now, in addition to the scrapping of the nationalisation programme—or will he wait for the details to be delivered in a shopping basket?

The Prime Minister

The conversations at Puerto Rico did not take anything like the form that the hon. Gentleman alleges. As he was not there, I do not know how he knows. He certainly should not rely upon newspaper reports of what took place at Puerto Rico. I think that there is general anxiety about next year's level of public expenditure—1977–1978—and it is to that that we are directing our attention now.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the statement which appeared in some evening newspapers yesterday, and which was alleged to come from Puerto Rico, that there were to be cuts of £1,000 million in public expenditure is totally untrue? Will he tell the [column 192]House that no such measures are intended by the Government?

The Prime Minister

For obvious reasons, I did not see last night's newspapers. If the reference is to this year, it is totally untrue. I have no ministerial responsibility for what appears in newspapers, whether or not it purports to come from Puerto Rico. I am giving no guarantees on next year's level of public expenditure. I have said that time after time, and I repeat it.

Mrs. Winifred Ewing

In his next broadcast will the Prime Minister tell us whether he will be daunted in the keeping of his election manifesto promise for a Scottish Assembly by the unacceptable face of the English backlash and the alliance of certain rather unintelligent Scottish Members of Parliament?

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Lady to the broadcast which I made in Scotland a few weeks ago when I made the Government's position on this matter quite clear.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Whether or not the American President and his colleagues made the impertinent comments reported in the Press to my right hon. Friend, did he inform them that the level of unemployment that appears acceptable in the United States of America is not acceptable here?

The Prime Minister

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on Puerto Rico at the end of Questions, and I may perhaps reserve my comments until then.

STATE VISITS

Q3. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Prime Minister what factors he takes into account when advising Her Majesty on State visits.

The Prime Minister

All relevant factors are taken into account, including an appreciation of the objectives of British foreign policy and of the manner in which a State visit can promote these objectives.

Mr. Roberts

As we are so often told that the Queen is one of Britain's major national assets, does my right hon. Friend [column 193]accept that in a period of economic stringency it is important to make full use of this asset to support the sale of British goods and services overseas and maintain Britain's national standing overseas?

The Prime Minister

I think that Her Majesty has shown this on one or two occasions, for example, when she visited one foreign country and British business men, with her permission, were able to give a reception in the yacht “Britannia” . In other ways Her Majesty has always shown her full support for our export efforts.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION (PRESIDENT)

Q4. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has to meet the President of the European Commission.

The Prime Minister

I expect to meet President Ortoli at the meeting of the European Council on 12th and 13th July.

Mr. Whitehead

When my right hon. Friend meets President Ortoli will he discuss with him direct elections to the European Parliament? If he does, will he take the opportunity of assuring the President that in Britain the election will be conducted according to traditional methods and not in accordance with the new fancy franchise peddled by some well-meaning people, which would seriously interfere with relations between the individual Member and the individual constituent?

The Prime Minister

I fully support the view that the list system, however applicable it may be in other countries, would be an unwelcome innovation here. That has been part of the attitude that we have had to take in our discussions on direct elections, when other countries have been willing to accept a relatively small number of Members because they would all be voted for on a list. I have had to explain on many occasions that if the number is too small the personal relationship between the Member and his constituency will be broken.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Before the Prime Minister next meets the President of the Commission, will he take the opportunity to give some confidence to the inshore fishing industry that his Gov[column 194]ernment intend to protect its interests within the Common Market? Does the Prime Minister realise that it is time for his Government to take a definite initiative on this important matter?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. We regard the common fisheries policy—which was negotiated just before we entered the Common Market—as naturally requiring amendment in the light of the changed international situation. The 200-mile limit has altered the whole scene. We made that clear during PresidentGiscard d'Estaing 'srecent visit. I assured him at the time that we would certainly have regard to the traditional fishing rights of, for example, French fishermen, but we would expect, in the changed circumstances, a revision of the policy. When we meet at the European Council we shall again make this clear.

Mr. Dalyell

As the European Parliament in the last three months has had meetings in six different cities, will the Prime Minister say a word about costs in terms of officials' and Members' time, and the sheer money cost of the nomadic nature of the European Parliament?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend but, alas, I do not think that anything I might say in anyone's ear would be likely to have much effect. [Interruption.] I do not know what hon. Gentlemen think they get out of that. I believe that it is a cause of great inconvenience to the Members attending the Assembly, but the countries concerned seem to be unable to agree on any one fixed place.

Mr. Dykes

In discussing the circumstances and the economies of individual member States with the President of the Commission, will the Prime Minister ask his opinion of the daunting fact that the total of Britain's international indebtedness exceeds the level of Germany's net reserves?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I shall not ask him that. Our indebtedness is well covered by our assets.

Mr. Spearing

Reverting to the question of direct elections, which will no doubt be discussed under the President's chairmanship, will the Prime Minister confirm that the next stage will be a convention, and that that convention will be [column 195]debatable in the House prior to any Bill—which is the emphasis placed on the matter by the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs?

The Prime Minister

I venture in those waters with some trepidation, but I believe that my hon. Friend has stated the matter correctly. If he wishes to know the exact position, perhaps he will table a Question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSIONER FOR ADMINISTRATION

Q5. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to ensure that, in future, appointments to the office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration are not restricted to former permanent secretaries and other senior civil servants.

The Prime Minister

There never has been a requirement for this post to be held by a former civil servant. In future appointments, as previously, consideration will be given to all suitable candidates.

Mr. Rodgers

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I recently pursued a complaint with the Parliamentary Commissioner because I considered that a Government circular was misleading, the Parliamentary Commissioner was unable to handle the case because he had signed the circular in question, and he passed it on to a deputy? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that that is an incestuous situation? Is there any reason why a trade unionist should not be appointed to that office?

The Prime Minister

I see no reason why a trade unionist or even an employer should not be appointed to that post in due course. My hon. Friend has raised a difficulty, but one which I imagine does not often occur. The appointment of a civil servant at least has the advantage that whoever is appointed knows his way round Whitehall, and that is important in these matters.

Mr. Evelyn King

Does the Prime Minister accept that Parliamentary Com[column 196]missioners, locally as well as nationally, have done an extraordinarily good job, and that many hon. Members and their constituents have reason to be grateful to them? Will he consider extending their powers?

The Prime Minister

From my own personal experience, I would agree with the hon. Member. I have had constituency cases that have been investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner. He has done so with great thoroughness, though not always to the satisfaction of myself or my constituents—but that is only to be expected. I do not know about the case for giving further powers to the Parliamentary Commissioner. If the hon. Member has anything particular in mind perhaps he will let me know.

Mr. Mellish

No doubt my right hon. Friend will be looking for people with a great deal of experience in Whitehall. Will he bear in mind the fact that I am only half-employed these days, and I am very willing to consider the job? In fact, I reckon I am just the boy to knock some of them about.

The Prime Minister

I can think of no one better. In this case, I assure my right hon. Friend that canvassing will not exclude him from consideration for the post.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does the Prime Minister realise that in most countries this position is held by a former politician? Will he undertake to read the report of the Select Committee on this subject, because it has a very pungent paragraph dealing with this point? The report will be published shortly.

The Prime Minister

I shall undertake to do this, as I know the hon. and learned Gentleman's interest in these matters. Although Parliamentary Commissioners have done a good job in the past, I have no particular view about the post continuing to be held by a civil servant. This was settled when the Parliamentary Commissioner was appointed last January. I do not know about the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman made about politicians, but I think it is true that there is certainly a number of countries in which former civil servants are given this post.