Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Nov 16 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [919/1106-12]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2198
Themes: Pay, Taxation, Social security & welfare
[column 1106]

ORMSKIRK

Q1. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Prime Minister if he will make an official visit to Ormskirk.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

That reply will disappoint many of my constituents. Does my right hon. Friend realise that Merseyside as a whole is suffering from a serious industrial and economic decline which is largely unrelated to the industrial recession, and that the threatened closure of the Courtaulds factories at Skelmersdale and Aintree and the proposed redundancies at Plessey in Liverpool and in Kirkby will have a catastrophic effect on the industrial life of the whole area? Is it not now time for the Government to relate their industrial policy to the particular needs of Merseyside before it is too late?

The Prime Minister

I recognise that there are special problems for Merseyside, which suffers from structural weaknesses arising from the decline in the port industry over many years and also in some [column 1107]other industries such as shipbuilding and ship repairing. That is why it was given special development area status two years ago. Since then, a number of offers have also been made of selective assistance to a total of about £4½ million and advance factory projects have been undertaken.

But the position of Merseyside cannot be isolated from the general economic position of Britain as a whole, and there is no future in indulging in a consumer boom which would have worse consequences at the end of the day than if we were to focus our attention on earning our living by increasing our exports.

Mr. Graham Page

Is the Prime Minister aware that he will be welcome in Crosby, the constituency next door to Ormskirk, if he will come there and explain what he said at the Lord Mayor's banquet last night—that there must be proper reward for skill and responsibility? What practical steps is he taking to ensure that reward?

The Prime Minister

There will be continuing discussions with the TUC about the next round of wage increases, which must recognise skill and responsibility in some form or other and which, I take it, will be reflected also higher up the scale. What has happened is the result of the wage settlements that have been agreed by the TUC over the last couple of years. They have had the effect of helping to reduce inflation. It has been generally acknowledged that, when there is a rough-and-ready agreement such as we have had over the last two years, anomalies are created. I often spend my time explaining this. I hope to have the assistance of Opposition Members also.

Mr. Heffer

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that if he did come to Merseyside he would undoubtedly have a warmer response than he had from his City audience last night? Would he not agree that one does not have to be concerned with the consumer, in the sense of a consumer boom, to get the building industry back to work? The construction industry on Merseyside is in a dire situation. Could not assistance be given to that industry in order to get many of those thousands of workers back to work at the earliest possible moment?

[column 1108]

The Prime Minister

Perhaps I may be allowed to say that I was in Merseyside in September and had a warm welcome from many people. I should be happy to go back again. As regards the construction industry, my hon. Friend has pursued this matter with great assiduity for a considerable period, but I cannot promise exceptional measures for the construction industry. There is no prospect at this moment of the construction industry going ahead until there is a general return of confidence as we overcome inflation. As inflation is overcome, I believe that there will be an upturn in the economy.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is James Callaghanthe Prime Minister aware that there is little point in talking about taxation and pay anomalies unless he is prepared to take action to deal with them? Does he agree with the view expressed by his D. EnnalsSecretary of State for Social Services on the radio that, in equity, short-term benefits should be taxable?

The Prime Minister

The theory is often very different from the practice. In 1948, short-term unemployment benefits were taxed. It resulted in such an administrative dog's breakfast that the practice was abandoned six months later. Since then, successive Governments have considered how these matter can be rectified, so the issue of principle is, frankly, of less importance than what can be done in practice.

I am bound to say to the right hon. Lady—I hope that she will not join in—that among some newspapers a most squalid campaign is being developed which bears no resemblance to the reality of the situation. There is a real problem here. If there is an overlap between people who are at work and the unemployed because by statute—agreed by this House, with the consent of both parties—the benefits of the unemployed are related to increases in the cost of living——

Mr. Churchill

An £8-a-week increase?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman knows even less about this than he does about Mr. Ponomarev.

We also have a wage agreement which limits the increase in wages—as has been [column 1109]done over the last year—to below the increase in the Retail Price Index. This clearly creates substantial anomalies and, I think, considerable grievances, but it is far easier to state the grievance than it is to consider the remedy, which would require not only legislation but a substantial increase in the number of civil servants. Although the Opposition make noises about it, they are committed to reducing that, too.

Nobody wants to deny that there is a problem here which must be considered. [Interruption.] I shall go on saying it until it sinks into hon. Gentlemen's thick heads. Stating that there is a problem does not necessarily produce the remedy within 24 hours.

Mrs. Thatcher

But the Prime Minister has known about the problem for months and months and was warned in the Budget debate that this would happen: that if he increased unemployment pay by about £8 a week—in other words, by 15 or 16 per cent.—and the pay for those in work by only 5 per cent., he would have this problem. Will he take any action at all?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady is descending to a squalid tactic. It is not so long ago that the Opposition were pressing for a six-monthly review to be based on the Retail Price Index, and on 24th June the House passed this year's uprating order without a Division, in 74 minutes flat. Who are the humbugs now?

TUC

Q3. Mr. Corbett

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the TUC.

Q7. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the TUC.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friends to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) on 12th October.

Mr. Corbett

When my right hon. Friend meets the TUC, will he confirm that he shares the view that no amount of unemployment pay can compensate for the indignity and hardship caused to [column 1110]a man and his family through having his job taken from him? In order particularly to help the young unemployed, will my right hon. Friend consider an early announcement about extending both the scope and the period of the job creation programme?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I shall certainly consider both those matters. The temporary employment subsidy has been a very successful means of helping firms which are in temporary difficulties. It expires on 31st December, and the Government are considering what new plans should take its place.

Mr. Thomas

Is my right hon. Friend aware that due to the problems of the electrical plant industry 15,000 jobs in the Northern Region and 6,000 in my constituency are at stake? Is he also aware that the National Economic Development Office has produced a report which has for some reason not been published and which states that the bringing forward of the orders for electrical plant could save the situation at little or no cost to public expenditure? Is he aware that the policies pursued by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Sport and Recreation for either drought or flood situations are not adequate for the CEGB power plant ordering programme?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I am aware that there is a very big problem in relation to ordering power plants which seems to have arisen from previous decisions of the Central Electricity Generating Board and past Governments. The Government are now giving careful consideration to this matter, and we shall announce our decision in due course.

Sir David Renton

When the Prime Minister meets the TUC, will he tell it of the profound delight which workers in the largest cold store in Europe, which is in my constituency, have expressed about the part that the House of Lords has played in amending the Dock Work Regulation Bill? Will he further tell the TUC that on this occasion, as on others, it is a case of the Lords being on the side of the workers—[An Hon. Member: “Rubbish” .]—and the workers on the side of the Lords and that both those fine bodies of people are unanimous in being against the Government?

[column 1111]

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I shall certainly convey the right hon. and learned Gentleman's sentiments to the TUC, and I shall be interested to hear its response. If it is printable, I shall send a letter to him.

Mr. Pardoe

Will the Prime Minister, when he next sees the TUC, elicit from it why it disagrees with Sir Ronald McIntosh 's view about the need to concentrate on productive rather than non-productive public expenditure? Is it the policy of the Government and the TUC to encourage unproductive public expenditure? If not, how do the Government propose to tell the difference between the two?

The Prime Minister

I have no idea. But as regards Sir Ronald McIntosh, I do not think that I shall be discussing this matter with the TUC. It has expresed its view about it. The “McIntoshes” generally seem to have been causing a bit of bother lately. Regarding the views of Sir Ronald, I thought that his speech was rather like the curate's egg: it was good in parts. There were some parts I found myself in agreement with more than others.

HARLOW

Q4. Mr. Newens

asked the Prime Minister when he last paid an official visit to Harlow.

The Prime Minister

I have not yet made an official visit to Harlow.

Mr. Newens

Will my right hon. Friend come to Harlow to see the tremendous success achieved there as a result of the far-sighted policy of the Labour Government which established the London new towns, the tremendous standard of welfare benefits, unsurpassed anywhere, provided for old people by the Labour-controlled council and a full comprehensive scheme of secondary education? Will he assure the House that in future there will not be any change in attitude towards new towns, despite an increase in the necessary drive to do something about the rundown in city centres?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. It is interesting to note that the successes of the new towns produce sneers from the [column 1112]Conservative Party, even though they are one of the features to which visitors to this country always pay attention and wish to see. I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be no abrupt reversal of new town plans. No final decisions will be taken without proper consultation. Of course, at present there are limited resources and a limited amount of mobile industry. Therefore, we have to consider very carefully the balance between new towns and inner cities and the regions. But no urgent decisions will be taken that will result in the new towns being unable to proceed.

Mr. Cormack

When the Prime Minister goes to Harlow, will he tell the electors of that constituency that the prime function of Her Majesty's Government is to maintain the defence of the realm and that he stands four square on that as being the first priority of his Government? Will he also explain to those electors how he proposes to defend the mixed economy on the lines he advocated last night while 70 or 80 Members from his own party are dedicated to the destruction of that mixed economy?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestions for another speech. I shall bear them all carefully in mind when I prepare it.