Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Dec 2 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [921/1153-73]
Editorial comments: Around 1515-1558.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2346
Themes: Industry, Public spending & borrowing
[column 1153]



Q1. Mr. Hurd

asked the Prime Minister if he will review the terms of reference of the Scrutiny Committee which examines proposals for political honours.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

I have at present no changes to propose in the terms of reference of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee. It is customary for the Committee to be reconstituted on the appointment of a new Prime Minister. The following members of the Privy Council have kindly agreed to serve: Lord Shackleton (Chairman), Lord Carr of Hadley and Lord Franks.

[column 1154]

Mr. Hurd

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. In the case of life peerages, would these distinguished members of the Scrutiny Committee be able to inquire, in the nicest possible way, whether the person concerned was actually proposing to perform the duties that go with the honour? Is it not rather absurd that, whereas the voting strength of the Government in the other place has been about 90 lately, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), alone and single handed, created 215 life peers?

The Prime Minister

It is not the responsibility of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee to inquire whether those who are honoured in this way intend to attend regularly in another place, and indeed it should not be its responsibility. Its terms of reference are clearly laid out and do not embrace this matter. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was not attacking the system of political honours, especially in view of the honour which he himself received in the resignation honours of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Do the Prime Minister and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), agree with their predecessor Lord Melbourne, who said

“I like the Garter; there is no damned merit in it”

The Prime Minister

There is a certain amount of truth in that, and I would not want to disagree with it. I am reminded of the Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Disraeli—Lord Beaconsfield—who, I am told, when asked whether he could give someone an ivory pass to go through Horse Guards, said “No. You may have a dukedom but not an ivory pass.”

Mr. David Steel

While the Prime Minister will no doubt agree that the honours system has been abused in the past, will he also accept that it would be wrong to exclude from the honours list people who have given voluntary service—or, in some cases, professional service—to politics, and therefore to the maintenance of our democracy, while other people who support other worthy causes are automatically included?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I know that the hon. Gentleman's party has an [column 1155]interesting history on the matter of the abuse of political honours. As far as I am concerned, to judge from my correspondence from both sides of the House, the conferment of honours is something which gives a great deal of innocent pleasure and is felt to be a satisfying reward by many people who give a lot of voluntary service.


Q2. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Hong Kong.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Thomas

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we still need to make progress in improving wages and labour conditions and in rooting out corrupt practices in both private and public organisations in Hong Kong? Will he take up the plans that he had as Foreign Secretary to visit the colony? Does he still hold the view that Britain has serious responsibilities towards Hong Kong, which we must do better at fulfilling, or does he agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Fletcher) that the best course for Britain is for us to become a colony of Hong Kong?

The Prime Minister

I know my hon. Friend's interest in Hong Kong since his visit. That was intended as a compliment, if I may say so, and I want to congratulate him on the assiduity with which he follows up these matters. Indeed, if I may be quite serious, it is one of the advantages of hon. Members visiting such territories that there is a continuing interest that often lasts through the lifetime of a Member's membership of this House.

On the social and labour conditions in Hong Kong, I am told that the target is to achieve a level of legislation in social, labour and allied fields at least broadly equivalent to the best in neighbouring countries within the next five years. I am glad to inform the House that the Hong Kong Government intend to improve their legislation significantly this year in respect of five outstanding ILO conventions, and next year in respect of a further four conventions. I asked for the previous figures, and I am told that, in the previous three years, they had ratified only five conven[column 1156]tions. I think, therefore, that the interest that my hon. Friend is taking—which I also took when I was Foreign Secretary—is bearing fruit.

Sir Frederic Bennett

Meanwhile, would the Prime Minister care to put into perspective the relative average standard of living in Hong Kong as compared with the whole of the rest of Asia, with the possible exception of Singapore?

The Prime Minister

I would if I were given notice of the question, but I do not carry all those figures in my head.


Q4. Mr. Radice

asked the Prime Minister when he next intends to take the chair at the NEDC.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council gave on my behalf to the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) on 30th November.

Mr. Radice

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the very difficult economic decisions facing the Government the problem is how to restore confidence in sterling and to ensure a steady reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement without at the same time deflating further an already deflated economy? Would he also accept, however, that, whatever the difficulties of the decision, it is vital for this country that the right balance be struck?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has stated in a most pithy form the problem that confronts not only the Government but the country—how to ensure as he properly says, that there is confidence overseas among holders of sterling without, at the same time, the country being driven into a downward spiral. That is a problem engaging the attention not only of the Cabinet but of many others, and I hope that we shall come up with the right solution as between those two elements.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

How does the Prime Minister equate his encouragement to industry to invest with the fact that he is about to load upon industry an additional £1,000 million of payroll tax [column 1157]and when the minimum lending rate stands at a record level?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is giving only a partial account of the liquidity and taxation position of industry. As I pointed out in my rather long, and perhaps, boring speech in reply to the Queen's Speech last Wednesday—[Hon. Members: “No.” ]—I thank the House. I paused slightly, hoping for that. I pointed out that there were many ways in which the Government had actively assisted liquidity and profitability in relation to the company sector, and it is our desire to continue to do so and it is clearly a great advantage to it that, in the present year, very few companies will be paying mainstream corporation tax. But that does not mean that that sector can be totally exempt from burdens. I know that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that.

Mr. Atkinson

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there is no solution ahead for our massive unemployment situation in the absence of a substantial reduction in the working week? If that is the case, would my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that, whatever he is now discussing with our creditors overseas, nothing will be said to prevent the steady reduction of the working week so that we can bring about job creation of the kind now demanded in our industry?

The Prime Minister

The problem of unemployment is clearly affected both by the recession in world trade, which has not yet been overcome, and by our own policies of trying to divert resources into exports and into investment first and restraining consumer demand. But I agree with my hon. Friend and believe—though not everyone accepts this—that there is a growing structural problem that affects not only this country but the whole of the Western world. When we are in the position, as I believe we shall be, that we are not asking for any additional support because we shall have a balance in our payments, that may well be the time when we shall have to turn to the kind of measures that my hon. Friend is suggesting, and other countries may find that they need to do the same.

Mrs. Thatcher

May I return to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winter[column 1158]ton)? Would not James Callaghanthe Prime Minister agree that recent levels of public expenditure have been an important reason for our poor industrial performance? If that is so, when does he propose to take steps to reduce them?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I do not think that the two have any relationship at all. The reason that companies do not invest are many and manifold, as was discovered by the right hon. Lady's predecessor when he made his famous lament to the Institute of Directors three or four years ago. I believe that the reasons go far beyond the level of the public sector borrowing requirement. I know that it is something on which attention is focused at the present time, but we seem to have a habit of singling out one item from our national economy and focusing on that to the exclusion of everything else. There are many elements which affect it.

Mrs. Thatcher

But if the Prime Minister does not agree that there is any relation between the two, his Chief Secretary certainly does. I took some of the words from a speech he delivered last Friday which indicated that Joel Barnettthe Chief Secretary thought that the levels of public expenditure were an important reason for poor industrial performance. I thought, too, that the Prime Minister believed that industry should have absolute priority. Does he now go back on that too?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady should not try to put words either into my mouth or into the Chief Secretary's. These quotations extracted from speeches must be looked at against their background. I feel that strongly because I sympathised so much with the right hon. Lady when the accent was drawn on the difference between, as I understand it, “I will never speak to the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) again,” and, “I will not speak to that man ever again.” Of course there is a distinction when one considers these quotations. [Interruption.] I was just trying to get some counsel from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who so devastated the right hon. Lady on Monday night. He tells me that I have nearly got the quotation right, just as the right hon. Lady nearly got the quotation right.

As for the general position on these matters, there is no doubt that the public [column 1159]sector borrowing requirement is one of the factors. It is also the case that we are giving major aid to our industrial strategy. That comes first and will continue to do so.

Mr. Pardoe

Has the Prime Minister seen the comments of the Director-General of NEDO, following his report on the nationalised industries, to the effect that he knew that the way we run the industries was pretty bad, but that he had not realised that it was that bad? Does not the Prime Minister think that we ought to do something to improve the way in which we run our existing nationalised industries before we take on more?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I do not think that the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question applies, although it is true that we need constantly to be improving the performance of all our industry, not just the nationalised industries, but private industry as well. That is the Government's policy.

Miss Joan Lestor

I agree with much of what my right hon. Friend has said, but would he not agree that one of the biggest charges on public expenditure today is unemployment benefit? Will he say what he is doing to ensure that investment takes place in labour-intensive industries rather than in capital-intensive industries in order to deal with unemployment? Investment and employment are not necessarily related.

The Prime Minister

There is no specific Government preference for labour-intensive industries as opposed to capital-intensive industries, although I agree with my hon. Friend—this is the burden of the previous question—that investment in capital-intensive industries does not necessarily produce more jobs. This is one of the problems that we have to face. Of course an increase in unemployment affects the public sector borrowing requirement and that is why we need both to overcome inflation and to get back to steady and sustainable growth.