Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Nov 11 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [919/651-58]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2626
Themes: Parliament, Employment
[column 651]

PRIME MINISTER

(ENGAGEMENTS)

Q1. Mr. Dykes

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for Thursday 11th November.

Q5. Mr. Luce

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 11th November.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. Later this [column 652]afternoon I shall be leaving for France for talks with President Giscard.

Mr. Dykes

After what must have been, presumably, a lively Cabinet meeting, will the Prime Minister take 10 minutes off this afternoon to have a quiet meeting with his own conscience and then admit that the Dock Work Regulation Bill was defeated here in the House of Commons yesterday, not in the Upper House, and that the only respectable constitutional conclusion to draw from that is that this ridiculous Bill should be dropped?

The Prime Minister

I do not need to consult my conscience about that. I prefer to consult the report of Sir Peter Bristow, published in 1970, which recommended much the same the arrangements as are contained in this Bill. I regret very much the way in which the House of Commons decided the matter last night, but I should like to make clear——

Mr. Skinner

The Tories voted against it.

The Prime Minister

We remember what happened when the Official Solicitor was dragged out when the Tories last interfered. But there is too much inflammable tinder around at the moment. I hope that the Opposition will not behave like schoolboys.

I want to make clear the following points. First, the Government will save what they can from this Bill. I want dockland to understand that. I want dockland also to understand that the House of Commons is the centrepiece of our constitution. It can be wrong. Yesterday, in my view, it was wrong. But I urge all those in dockland who are considering this matter not to be led into intemperate courses by what they believe to be the decision yesterday.

We shall do our best, because we recognise the antecedents of the Bill. I, too, represent dockers, and I recall dockers who used to fight with their fists for a day's work. Those are the antecedents of this Bill. It ill becomes those who have no knowledge of the background of the dock industry, and who have totally neglected the antecedents of this measure, to take the line that this is a matter for mere party games. It is something more important, and concerns the future of the dock industry.

[column 653]

Mr. Henderson

In the context of the original Question, the Prime Minister, of course, will be aware that this is Armistice Day. Is he aware that great offence has been caused to the people of Scotland by the decision to exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) from his proper place, as a leader of a party in this House, at the Cenotaph ceremony? Is he aware that many people in Scotland will regard it as an indication that the ceremony is to be an English ceremony only? Will he intervene personally in this matter to ensure that my hon. Friend—an ex-Service man himself—is given a proper place on Sunday?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman asks his questions according to his own sense of propriety and taste, but I do not believe that the people of the United Kingdom will accept that the ceremony at the Cenotaph should be made a matter for party dispute.

A request was made by the Scottish National Party early this week for representation at the Cenotaph. There are other minority parties in the House which might also wish to be represented. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members please not get excited about this? It is a solemn occasion for many people. The Home Secretary has made it clear to the Scottish National Party that he is willing to enter into discussions before next year about this matter, to see whether some agreement can be reached about the minority parties. Meanwhile, the leaders of the national parties that are represented—including the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), who is a Scottish Member, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition, who represents an English constituency, and I, who represent a Welsh constituency—will be laying wreaths on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Will my right hon. Friend remind the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) that the Scots—my countrymen, like his—who died in those wars died for the Union—the United Kingdom—not only for Scotland?

Mr. Crawford

They died for freedom.

[column 654]

The Prime Minister

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I hope that the people of Scotland will not accept the views that have been adumbrated by the hon. Gentleman. I do not believe that the people of Wales will, and I very much doubt whether Scotland is any different in that sense.

Mr. Luce

Does the Prime Minister agree that the growing contempt shown by the outside world towards Britain is not only humiliating but unacceptable to the British people? In the light of the by-election results and the Government's defeat last night, will the Prime Minister now respond to the national mood by dropping the obnoxious Dock Work Regulation Bill and undertake to introduce the harsh economic measures that are required to secure our economic recovery?

The Prime Minister

I have made clear our attitude to the Dock Work Regulation Bill and I hope that the House of Lords will not add to the potential dangers that exist there—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ]—unless Conservative Members wish to encourage irresponsibility, which is easy enough to stir up. I am trying to avoid stirring it up this afternoon. If we can preserve what features remain of the Dock Work Regulation Bill, I think that we stand the best chance of ensuring that the situation there will remain calm and that we shall be able to carry forward security for the dock workers.

Regarding the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question on economic measures, my right hon. Friend has been answering questions for 45 minutes on this and many other matters, and has given a very good account of his stewardship. I have nothing to add to what he said.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer explain to the International Monetary Fund, to the Opposition, and their newspapers, the elementary fact that if they insist on further cuts in public expenditure it will not reduce the deficit, because it will mean an increase in unemployment and related benefits? If they say that they want to switch from housing, and so on, to exports, is it not unfortunately a fact that, with 1½ million [column 655]unemployed and thousands of factories working at 60 per cent. capacity, there are more than enough resources to cover both these fields without cuts?

The Prime Minister

There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says about ratcheting down the economy at a time when there is clearly no strong growth, although I am glad to say that the figures published today show that for September the all-industries index was 1½ per cent. higher. However, I do not place too much weight on one month's figures, as my hon. Friend knows. As regards the general situation, this is, of course, not just a question of resources and their proper use; it is also a question of financing the deficit, and that is a problem which I do not think my hon. Friend always faces.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I ask the James CallaghanPrime Minister to be a little more explicit about his intentions with regard to the Dock Work Regulation Bill? He must have taken the decisions at the Cabinet meeting this morning. I understand that he completely accepts the verdict of this House on the decision that it made, and therefore it would seem from what he said that he intends to accept the distance of half a mile as the operative limit, because that was the verdict of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman is to make any sense of the Bill—it cannot go on the statute book in its present form, because it is senseless—does he intend to adjust the consequential amendments in the other place to fit in with the verdict of this House and then put the Bill on the statute book in that form? He must have taken the decisions this morning.

The Prime Minister

It is a little late for the right hon. Lady now to say that her amendments make nonsense of the Bill. That was the decision of the House of Commons. The Bill now returns to the House of Lords, and it will be for the House of Lords to consider the matter. If it comes back here again, we shall have to see how sense can be made of it.

My own conclusion on this is that we should accept the decision of the House of Commons so far as we must, and that is what I urge everybody in the industry as well as in the House to do until it can be changed. Having done [column 656]that, it seems to me that we must try to make some sense of the Bill within the procedures laid down by the House. That is what we shall endeavour to do, but I cannot go into those details at Ques-Time this afternoon.

Mrs. Thatcher

What makes the Bill nonsense is the Secretary of State's failure to adjust—[Hon. Members: “Question.” ] Is the Prime Minister aware—clearly he is not, sometimes—that what now makes the Bill nonsense is the failure of A. Booththe Secretary of State to adjust the consequential amendments after the House of Commons' verdict last night. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the verdict of the House—I assume that he does—he must accept the consequences that flow from it.

The Prime Minister

The House of Commons must accept the consequences for what it has done, because it was the House of Commons that took some of these nonsensical decisions. That is why I say that it is now the task of the Government to preserve what they can of the Bill to maintain peace in dockland. The Opposition must recall the history of this Bill and the strikes out of which it arose. They must bear in mind the antecedents. They may disagree with some of the clauses in the Bill, but the antecedents of the Bill lie in industrial bitterness and dispute. It ought to be in the interests of every hon. Member to try to ensure that that kind of situation does not flare up again.

As for the future, having kept what we can of the Bill it is important at the earliest possible stage to see what improvements can be made within it. That may mean, at some stage asking the House of Commons to change its mind about these matters. These, I think, are issues that will have to be gone into at greater length.

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the attitude of the Opposition on this matter has been totally irresponsible? Is he aware that in ports such as Liverpool not only dock workers but those associated with the docks will be bitterly disappointed at what has happened to the Bill? Is he aware also that many of us, like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden), who was a dock worker, have been persuading dock workers to hold [column 657]off industrial action for a long time, because we expected that the Bill would become the law of the land? Is it not clear that we now need to amend the Bill, if we can, at the earliest possible moment in the next Session of Parliament?

The Prime Minister

It is a matter of history that if Sir Peter Bristow 's report, which was made in 1970, had been acted upon earlier, there would have been a good chance of avoiding the national dock strikes of 1970 and 1972. I ask my hon. Friend and all other hon. Members who represent dockland and dock areas to continue with their efforts in the direction of moderation. The Bill must be put right at some stage. Perhaps we cannot do it yet, but we shall clearly need to return to it, and I want everybody concerned with the dock industry to understand that. Even though some provisions may have to be altered, there will be a firm intention to provide security for the dock workers.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Prime Minister go a little further? Will he not explain that what happened last night is a good thing? The House was asserting itself on the Government's legislation. There never has been any public of political support for legislating to the exclusive advantage of one group of workers against others.

The Prime Minister

I am all in favour of the House of Commons asserting itself, although sometimes I wish that the Government had the chance of doing so. On the hon. Gentleman's material point, I do not think that he is penetrating to the heart of the matter. It was the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, following the docks dispute in London, which said that the legislation governing employment of dock workers was out of date and needed radical revision to reflect economic, technological and industrial relations changes.

I want to make the position clear. This is not a matter of party games, whatever the Opposition may think. Perhaps there are some better proposals than those in the Bill which could be put into the Bill, but what is quite clear is that the Opposition's amendment yesterday, in the right [column 658]hon. Lady's words, made nonsense of the Bill.

Mr. Loyden

I accept my right hon. Friend's point on the state of the Bill, but does he not agree that as it now stands it is meaningless in relation to its original intention? Does he accept that the decision taken last night stemmed mainly from the fact that the Bill has been misrepresented and distorted by the Tory Party, by Aims of Industry, and by the media up to 1 o'clock today, when on the BBC it was stated that this was the Bill intended to make every job within a five-mile limit a dock job? That is the sort of distortion that has followed the Bill right through its course, and one of the reasons why it failed last night.

The Prime Minister

I do not think it right to say that the Bill has been made meaningless. I think that it now has grave defects as a result of the amendments that were passed. But there is value in the Bill still, and that is why we should like to proceed with it and put it on the statute book. As for what is said on the BBC at 1 o'clock, I have long given up listening to that. It always gives me indigestion at lunchtime.

Mr. Prior

Does not the Prime Minister understand that in many respects the Bill that he proposed was a recipe for industrial unrest in itself? Would it not be more statesmanlike on his part if he now recognised that the Bill was unsatisfactory and sought the co-operation of the Opposition to introduce a Bill that would look after the dockers' interests without, at the same time, destroying the proper jobs of many other people?

The Prime Minister

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he will co-operate with the Government in removing the amendment for which he voted and substituting something else for it? If that is not what his question meant, I cannot think what it did mean. He knows, as do the Government, that the half-mile limit is nonsense. If that is what he meant, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be glad to meet him to discuss that matter. But if he does not mean that, perhaps he will kindly explain, presumably in the form of a Question, what he did mean.