Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Aug 5 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [916/2116-23]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2500
[column 2116]


Q1. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to Leicestershire.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Janner

When my right hon. Friend visits Leicestershire, will he take the opportunity to denounce all those irresponsible fringe groups and individuals who seek to make political capital out of racial disharmony? Will he pay special attention to the Fascist National Front, so many of whose top national leaders are not only former members of the Nazi and Fascist Parties but have criminal records of violence, as well as to all other extremists who seek to interfere with the peace and basic prosperity of Leicester and other cities like it?

The Prime Minister

I know that my hon. and learned Friend, among others, is leading a campaign in Leicester to ensure that racial harmony shall prevail. I [column 2117]am glad to learn that there has been little disturbance there. The Government—and I hope that this is the case on a much wider basis—are totally opposed to the National Front, which seeks to stimulate and inflame intolerance between the races and basks in the publicity which arises from a general state of disorder. I assure my hon. and learned Friend that on all occasions we shall seek to warn the public and to lead them as far away as we can from the direction in which the National Front would take them.

Mr. Aitken

Is the Prime Minister disturbed by today's news that the former Chief Constable of Leicestershire, Sir Robert Mark, has announced his impending resignation as Metropolitan Police Commissioner because of his strong feelings about the Police Bill? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is something of a national tragedy that arguably the greatest police chief since Peel should feel obliged to resign because the Government are determined to spend £1 million of taxpayers' money on making it easier to complain against the police?

The Prime Minister

I have a very high admiration for Sir Robert Mark. In my earlier manifestation as Home Secretary I had some responsibility for his advancement. I have always valued his opinions on many matters. But the Police Bill has been discussed and decided by the House and, however eminent may be Sir Robert Mark, whose advance retirement by three months or whatever it is will be a matter of regret, the House decides these matters. I have always taken the view that the police have a right to special protection because of the ease with which complaints can be made against them, but I do not believe that when the legislation is in operation they will find that their position has been weakened.

Mr. Watkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on all parliamentarians to give the strongest possible lead in improving race relations in this country? Would it not be of the greatest assistance if the Leader of the Opposition were to make such a statement?

The Prime Minister

Naturally, I leave that to the Leader of the Opposition, but I have no reason to believe that she would disagree with what I have said this afternoon.

[column 2118]

Mr. Cormack

If the Prime Minister will not go to Leicestershire, will he consider going to Staffordshire and telling parents there how much he believes in their right to choose their children's education? Will he also tell them that the independent schools are in no danger as long as he holds high office?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I shall be discussing Staffordshire when I visit Leicestershire.


Q2. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if he is satisfied with the co-operation between Ministers in relation to the effect of the Government's review of public expenditure.

The Prime Minister


Mr. Tebbit

Since the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given his estimate of unemployment for the end of 1979 as 3 per cent.——

Mr. Russell Kerr

Come on, Uriah!

Mr. Tebbit

—will the Prime Minister say whether the Secretary of State for Employment has given his estimate of the peak figure of unemployment and when it is likely to be reached, and will he then tell us what those figures are?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to question my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, no doubt he will table the necessary Question.

With regard to the co-ordination of our review of public expenditure, there is agreement, but on the general question of employment my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear more than once that in order to get to this figure of 3 per cent. British industry will need to grow at the rate of something like 8½ per cent. a year. That is very substantial, but it is the basis upon which both sides of the NEDC agreed yesterday that we should proceed, and I am glad to see that that is so. This is not an impossibility. It is beyond what the country has done in recent years, but we should not set our sights too low. This is one reason why we took decisions on public expenditure which [column 2119]are very difficult and trying now. For the first time, there has been created a situation in which we have taken action in advance of the need. I hope that British industry will respond to it.

Mr. MacFarquhar

On the general question of Government co-ordination, although the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection has reaffirmed that nationalised industries that make excessive profits can be forced to reduce their prices, the Secretary of State for Industry has indicated that there is no case for the Post Office reducing its prices although it made twice the budgeted profit last year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a case for the Post Office paying attention to the Early-Day Motion, signed by at least 80 Labour Members, calling upon the Post Office to reduce some of its prices to the consumer?

The Prime Minister

I have been into this matter. There was an adventitious profit made by the Post Office, and in normal circumstances there would be a case for reducing prices. On the other hand, that would pull against another aspect of Government policy, which is to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement. The Post Office will now be more able to finance its needs, especially for telecommunications, out of these profits. Balancing the two together, it seemed to us as a Government that it was better for the Post Office to keep these profits and to finance itself in this way than to add to our borrowing requirement.

Mr. Nelson

Does the Prime Minister consider it realistic of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to talk about another four years of wage restraint when, at the same time, the Government intend to spend more than ever before on such matters as the nationalisation of industry and land? What form does the right hon. Gentleman imagine that the wage restraint will take when the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer amounts to a refinancing of our existing public expenditure rather than a realistic cut?

The Prime Minister

Part of the cuts were refinancing from the private sector. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that in his professional capacity. There is no [column 2120]reason why we should not seek to make this transfer from public borrowing to private savings in this sense.

As for the levels of incomes and wages over the next three or four years, this will be a difficult period for us. But I believe that if we can hold the country on a steady course from now until 1980, there will be great opportunities open to us. I have seen, for example, that trade union leaders have said that they want a return to collective bargaining. But they have also said—and I repeat it because I am in line with them on it—that there can be no wages explosion without setting back all the gains that we have made so painfully in the past 18 months.

Mr. Lipton

Will my right hon. Friend do his best to ensure that his natural optimism is not always shadowed by the natural and perpetual misery of Opposition Members who decry all that we are trying to do?

The Prime Minister

I am not much influenced by Question Time in the House of Commons, I must say. I have now, after four months, come to see the game that the Opposition play.

Mrs. Thatcher

Sometimes the Opposition just try to find out the facts, I am afraid not very successfully. Earlier, James Callaghanthe Prime Minister referred to certain economic forecasts. Since one of the most important of them is the maximum number of unemployed—and he must have informed himself about that—will he tell the House what he expects to be the maximum number of unemployed during next year?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he expected unemployment to begin to come down by the end of the year. I cannot improve on that forecast. In any event, I have come without the figures. The original Question asked me whether I was satisfied with the co-ordination between Ministers——

Mr. Tebbit

One of them is concerned with unemployment.

The Prime Minister

Sometimes the hon. Gentleman is not nearly as nice as he sounds. We must monitor progress on this matter quarter by quarter, but my hope and expectation is that the [column 2121]Chancellor's figure will prove right and that the figure will start to move down towards the end of the year.

Mrs. Thatcher

But Denis Healeythe Chancellor of the Exchequer did not give any figures. He refused to give figures when cross-examined by both sides of the House. I should have thought that the Prime Minister would automatically have informed himself about one of the main figures, which is the maximum number of unemployed expected during the next year. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he has not done so?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I am saying that. I find that these forecasts often cancel each other out. However, as the right hon. Lady has raised the matter, I shall look into what Iain Macleod said when he was Minister of Labour—some hon. Members were not here at the time—about publishing forecasts on unemployment, and perhaps later we can return to the question whether forecasts should be published. If the right hon. Lady is still not satisfied, she or someone else can table Questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I beg the right hon. Lady not to take too much notice of forecasts. So many of them have been proved wrong during the past six months, including, for example, the forecast from the National Economic Institute which said that our gross domestic product would come down during the first half of this year. There are very many other examples. I suggest that we stick to what is known rather than to what is forecast.


Q3. George Rodgers

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

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Rodgers

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend will not be able to call in at Bretherton during his journey to Lancashire in the near future. However, is he aware that Bretherton is a small Lancashire village which has a very severe housing problem and that, for example, there is no local authority provision for elderly people? In view of the regrettable Government policy to cut [column 2122]back on overall house building and to concentrate resources on areas of stress, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that villages as well as larger conurbations have serious housing problems and that stress is not confined to the cities?

The Prime Minister

I take my hon. Friend's point. What is being done in housing is to resile from a policy of an open-ended responsibility for house building. This could not be borne on the National Exchequer as it stood, and was part of our public expenditure cutback. But we are not proposing to go below the programmes that were expected and for which we budgeted. This means that resources will be more limited. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will consult local authorities so that areas of stress, which include not only inner cities, can take into account the kind of area like Bretherton, which my hon. Friend represents.

Mr. Montgomery

Since, apparently, the Prime Minister will not be visiting Bretherton, will he consider coming to Altrincham, where I hope that he will be prepared to meet one of my constituents, who, after 40 years' loyal service with British Rail, is now threatened with dismissal because he has refused, on religious grounds, to join a union? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when he first became Prime Minister he spoke on television about preserving our existing freedoms? Will he say how that is compatible with this sort of trade union tyranny?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman wants a considered reply to his question perhaps he will put it down on the Order Paper.

Mr. Skinner

In view of the fact that my right hon. Friend is not going to Bretherton, or the other place, I wonder whether he would go to Saudi Arabia, which is mentioned in Question No. 7 standing in my name. In view of the fact that about 12 months ago the Attorney-General indicated that Scotland Yard was trying to get into Saudi Arabia in order to interview a co-director of one of the Poulson subsidiaries, of which the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) was also a co-director, so that the loose ends of this affair could be tied up, will he use his [column 2123]power and influence to see whether this matter can finally be resolved?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has illustrated the absurd nature of some of the Questions that are put down. That is why I do not take some of them seriously. It is ridiculous, when I am asked about a visit to Bretherton, that it should then be extended either to the constituency of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) or to Saudi Arabia, or anywhere else throughout the world. If they are sensible and reasonable Questions I shall deal with them, but not otherwise.