Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Oct 12 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [917/233-40]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2373
Themes: General Elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties
[column 233]


Q1. Mr. Marten

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

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Marten

Since India is the largest country in the Commonwealth and is of immense importance, will the right hon. Gentleman explain why there has been no visit to that country by a leader of the Labour Party, I think, for the last quarter of a century? Will the Prime Minister [column 234]follow the example of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who clearly recognises the importance of India's rôle, particularly in the Commonwealth and particularly of its influence on today's world problems?

The Prime Minister

I agree that no Prime Minister from this country has visited India for some years, but let me remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Lord President has just returned from a very successful visit and he has given me an account of his discussions with Mrs. Gandhi and other Ministers there which I think have helped to strengthen the ties between us. However, I would certainly consider such a visit if it is possible to fit it into the programme.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Has my right hon. Friend had any reports from Hans Janichek, Secretary of Socialist International, about the continuing detention of George Fernandes, the leader of the Socialist Party of India? Grave disquiet is being felt about the conditions of his detention.

The Prime Minister

A number of representations have been made about Mr. Fernandes. The Indian Government are aware that we are concerned about the proceedings being taken there. I trust that that action will result in his receiving a fair trial—I am sure that it will. I trust that in the end justice will prevail.

Mr. Gow

What lessons did the Lord President bring back from India about the freedom of the Press and the freedom of journalists to write freely in it?

The Prime Minister

That might be an interesting question to put down to my right hon. Friend. I am sure that he will be glad to answer it. I think that everybody who is not an enemy of India will welcome the fact that restrictions on the Press were lifted, I believe towards the end of September. I am sure that that will be welcomed by everybody who has connections with that country.



Q2. Mr. Corbett

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 12th October.

[column 235]

The Prime Minister

I shall be meeting Mr. Nguza, the Foreign Minister of Zaire, and this evening I shall be holding a reception in honour of the British Team at the 1976 Olympiad for the Disabled. In addition, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Corbett

Will my right hon. Friend say whether he has been able to report to the Cabinet yet about his consultations with Chancellor Schmidt of West Germany? Is he aware that we Labour Members congratulate the Chancellor on his recent election success? He is on record as saying that the pound is grossly under-valued. Will the Prime Minister make a statement to the House on that conversation?

The Prime Minister

I have not so far made such a report. I congratulated Chancellor Schmidt on the success of his Government in the elections, and I am sure that the House will join with me in that. Our discussions covered a very wide range. They were without officials and went on for three and a half hours. We discussed a number of very important topics concerning not only such matters as East-West relations, but questions affecting the world economy and the interdependence of world trade. I found these discussions to be of very great value in enabling each of us to influence the other's attitudes.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Prime Minister be putting into his diary for this evening a possible meeting with representatives of the offshore module and platform construction yards, who are presently facing redundancies, in view of the emergency situation and the fact that they have travelled all the way from Scotland to discuss these matters with Ministers and those Members who are interested?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid that I cannot add now to my engagements for today. I had no previous notification of this proposal. I am sure that Members representing certain constituencies, and any Ministers that the representatives have arranged to see, will be glad to hear their representations.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the Prime Minister seek to emulate Herr Schmidt at the next election by ending up with fewer seats [column 236]than the Opposition? As regards today's announcement that the right hon. Gentleman is to take the Chancellor of the Exchequer with him to his meeting with President Giscard d'Estaing in France next month, is he satisfied that the condition of the economy will allow both the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor to be out of the country at the same time?

The Prime Minister

I must remind the Opposition, who are in danger of forgetting this, that at present the Labour Party has 36 more seats in the House than the Conservative Party—[Hon. Members: “So what?” ] The conclusion to be drawn is that we sit on the Government side and the Opposition sit opposite us.

The next election may well be a very long way off. Provided that the Government do not lose their nerve, as our predecessors did in 1972-73 on such matters as the money supply, we have a very good chance of coming through the next election with perhaps even a larger majority.

Mrs. Thatcher

Do I take it that the result of Chancellor Schmidt's visit to this country was that James Callaghanthe Prime Minister learnt from him that if the Government hold an election early they may lose a large number of seats and will have to be saved by the Liberal Party?

The Prime Minister

The German elections, unlike ours, are held at fixed intervals. Although it is possible to hold elections early, on this occasion the election was held at the appropriate time as laid down by statue. As regards depending upon the Liberals, I have made it clear many, many times that as long as I can manage even a modest degree of support from my colleagues, the Labour Party will continue as the Government of this country and I shall be happy to lead it.

Mr. Pardoe

The Prime Minister will know that the Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Government who did their damnedest to get the Liberal Party to bail them out. In the course of his conversations with Herr Schmidt, did the right hon. Gentleman discover exactly what the German Chancellor meant by the word “under-valued” in the context of the British economy? [column 237]Would the right hon. Gentleman like to amplify, having taken his tutorial from Herr Schmidt, exactly what an under-valued currency means?

The Prime Minister

I did not exactly cross-examine the Chancellor on this matter, but I think that he had in mind the competitive nature of British industry in the export market. Our goods can be sold at a much higher rate of exchange than sterling is commanding in the foreign exchange market. That is not a strange phenomenon. Indeed, I believe it was referred to in yesterday's debate. I am aware of some Midland manufacturers who are valuing their exports at a much higher rate than the short-term foreign exchange market. Although I did not cross-examine the Chancellor, I imagine that it was that to which he was referring.


Q3. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the CBI and the TUC.

Q5. Mr. Michael Latham

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the TUC.

Q7. Mr. Robinson

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the CBI.

The Prime Minister

I am frequently in touch with leaders of the TUC and the CBI, both at the National Economic Development Council and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Mr. Roberts

At the July meeting of the NEDC the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of profitability for industrial investment, job creation and job preservation. How does he honestly view the prospects for profitability in industry now when £1,700 million is to be taken out of the system by the increase in the minimum lending rate and employers' national insurance contributions?

The Prime Minister

Obviously the additional national insurance contributions will lower profitability. However, it is interesting and reassuring that the liquidity position of companies has been building up during the past few months. Companies now have more liquid resources from which to finance new investment, or whatever it is they wish [column 238]to undertake, than they had some time ago, and that is to the good.

I am not in the forecasting business—anyway, I hear too many forecasters. I take the view that profitability under the relaxed Price Code—it is not entirely removed—should continue to build up. I think that that will to some extent offset the increase in the minimum lending rate, which was bound to have an adverse effect yesterday. The effect must depend upon how long that rate continues.

Mr. Robinson

When my right hon. Friend next meets the CBI, will he draw to its attention, and to the attention of Opposition Members, that even before the regrettable increase in lending rates and, indeed, when lending rates were much lower, industry was drawing less than 40 per cent. of the facilities available to it from the banks? As my right hon. Friend has said, it is in current gross surplus from its own cash flow. Nevertheless investment is currently 12 per cent. below what it was last year. While we welcome the CBI's intentions for next year, we see no reason for its not getting on the with the job now.

The Prime Minister

The most important thing still for the Government to stick at is overcoming inflation. That, I think, will undoubtedly improve the desire of companies to invest, just as it will improve the objective of securing more jobs. According to the latest views and proposals, I understand that companies will invest about 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. more next year. [Interruption.] Certain Opposition Members are now becoming sedentary prophets. None of us knows what are the intentions, but when we work out the arithmetic it does not work out in the way that some hon. Members suggest.

It would have been valuable if some more industries had taken advantage, as has the non-ferrous industry and the machine tool industry, of our accelerated project scheme, encouraging companies to invest now against the upturn in demand. Undoubtedly that has had an important effect. For a relatively small expenditure of public money we have been able to attract a great deal of extra investment, and that has been accelerated. I hope that others will follow that lead.

Mr. Latham

Will the Prime Minister be stressing to the TUC that he remains [column 239]unalterably opposed to the Labour Party conference resolution about the nationalisation of the banks, not just because it is an electoral albatross, but because it is bad for Britain?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to leave relations between myself and my party to me. If he were to offer to join, I should send him a membership form, but I doubt whether we should let him come in.

As regards the future of the banking system, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson can be trusted to make a detailed examination of all the matters involved. I am glad that his appointment has been so well received, except among Opposition Members. When the examination has been completed, we shall be able to see what are the functions of the banks, how they perform their parts and to what extent it is true that the failure of British industry to invest is related to their policies. For myself, I am not convinced that that is so, as I have said on other occasions.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most complex and difficult problems facing the Government in the forthcoming year will be putting some bones on an orderly return to free collective bargaining? What plans do the Government have for discussing this with the TUC so that it can help to sustain the present pay policy and restore the confidence in the pound, which is so necessary now?

The Prime Minister

I said at the end of last night's debate, though I am not sure whether it was heard above the hub-bub from the Opposition, that it is necessary to have a policy for prices and incomes next year. We are about to begin discussions with the TUC at the appropriate time and we shall also be discussing the matter with the employers in due course. The first thing to find out is whether it is possible to get an agreement on that approach. I have read with care the speeches made at the TUC conference and I am not without hope in this matter. The TUC leaders understand the situation perfectly well and they know that there cannot be a complete return to free collective bargaining.

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Mrs. Thatcher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) was asking him to answer to this House on where he stands on banking and insurance nationalisation? Where does he stand?

The Prime Minister

I answered to the House last night, and we got a majority of 13.