Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1976 Dec 9 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [922/618-25]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2851
[column 618]

PRIME MINISTER

(ENGAGEMENTS)

Q1. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his engagements for 9th December.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Price

Will the Prime Minister find some time in his very busy day to study the vexed question of the Opposition's policy on devolution? Will he give us the latest tally of Opposition spokesmen who have resigned? Some of us find it very difficult to keep up with it. In view of the debate next week, can the Prime Minister tell us which is the official Opposition—that led by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) or that led by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

We are not impressed.

The Prime Minister

As far as I know, there have been only two resignations from the Opposition Front Bench. At least, the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) have one thing in common—neither the one who has resigned nor the one who has taken his place is in favour of the official Tory Party policy. I cannot really add to the present knowledge of the House, except to say that I believe that in addition to those who have resigned there are a number of walking wounded still on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is James Callaghanthe Prime Minister trying to deflect attention from one of his more important duties, namely, the repaying of the loan that he borrowed six months ago, which is due to be paid [column 619]back today? Will he confirm that the loan has been repaid on time? Will he tell us exactly how much of the standby credit was used and paid, and the source of the repayment.

The Prime Minister

Yes. The right hon. Lady will be rather disappointed to hear that the loan is being repaid exactly on time. It will, of course, be taken from reserves and replaced in due course by the IMF loan on a longer-term basis. As to the other matters which the right hon. Lady has raised, these figures will be published in due course.

Mrs. Thatcher

That is not good enough. The Prime Minister says that the loan has been repaid, but how much was it?

The Prime Minister

That figure will be published in due course, and once again I think that the right hon. Lady will be disappointed to find that it is smaller than she hopes.

Mr. Grimond

Getting back to the subject of devolution, as the Prime Minister has a comparatively light day will he send an answer to the Shetland Islands Council in response to its excellent letter on this subject? Will he let us know what his answer will be? [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister

In reply to shouted comments from the Opposition that I should know the figure for the loan, of course I know it. But I am afraid that hon. Members opposite will have to contain their impatience. I always thought that there was a tradition of individual hon. Members asking questions, and not a Greek chorus. Of course they would much prefer it to be a Greek tragedy.—[Interruption.] In reply to seated supplementary questions, there are fixed dates for publishing this kind of information. These dates will be adhered to, and hon. Members should know that those are not the sort of questions which are likely to prompt an answer.

I note what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) says about the letter. I am considering an appropriate reply.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Since the Opposition do not want to discuss devolution today, will the Prime Minister fit into his engagements an opportunity to chat [column 620]with Lord Goodman and ask him how he can define Eton College as a beneficiary of charitable status?

The Prime Minister

I was not really thinking of discussing this matter with Lord Goodman, because there are many other issues, especially on devolution, which engage my attention at present. However, I know that the question of devolution, which will engage the House for some time, can be added as one more policy on which the Opposition are completely at sixes and sevens.

GOVERNOR OF THE BANK OF ENGLAND

Q2. Mr. Warren

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the Governor of the Bank of England.

Q3. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to meet the Governor of the Bank of England.

Q4. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the Governor of the Bank of England.

Q8. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister if he will meet the Governor of the Bank of England.

Q9. Mr. Michael Spicer

asked the Prime Minister when he next plans to meet the Governor of the Bank of England.

The Prime Minister

I have no immediate plans to do so.

Mr. Warren

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that before the Letter of Intent is given to the IMF he will consult the Governor of the Bank of England about it and will publish it in this House? Is that not particularly pertinent, bearing in mind that it was only 31 years ago this month that the Prime Minister nearly lost the Bank of England fringe benefit of the IMF for this country, when he voted against its establishment?

The Prime Minister

No. My recollection is better than the hon. Gentleman's history. What I, with a number of other hon. Members, including a number of Conservatives, voted against at that time were the conditions that were [column 621]exacted. Some of us are still in the House. I always thought that those conditions were quite wrong. I do not like to say “I told you so” , but I think that it was wrong that the condition should have been exacted that we should return to the doctrine of convertibility of exchanges within two years at the end of the war. That was a basic reason why most of us voted the way we did, and those events are well within our recollection.

As to the earlier question, the Governor of the Bank of England will be consulted about these matters, the Cabinet having reached its conclusions. I think that the hon. Gentleman should put to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor his question about publication of the document. I am not sure what the form is, but obviously the House would be among the first to know.

Mr. Blaker

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Government are now in breach of Schedule 5 of the Industry Act 1975, which lays upon the Government the obligation to publish by 20th November forecasts of the national economy? Is this not another deplorable example of the Government's failure to tell the country the truth about the economy? Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that this situation is rectified before the forthcoming economic package is revealed?

The Prime Minister

I am not aware of the date on which the forecast has to be published. That is a matter for the Chancellor. I am not a catch-all for questions to everyone else. I am most indulgent about some of the questions I am prepared to answer. Since, on the whole, they give me the opportunity to educate Conservative Members, I sometimes do not mind answering them.

I shall certainly look into the question of the date of publication of the forecast, and see that it is published. I agree that if we are to have a debate on the Government's measures the forecast should be published before them. I give that undertaking now. However, on the whole I am not sure how much light it will add. It seems to me that the clutch of forecasts such as we are getting now creates more confusion than enlightenment.

[column 622]

Mr. Atkinson

Will my right hon. Friend clear up the confusion that has been caused by the rumours circulating throughout the banking community and in the City that on two recent occasions he has given assurances to that community that there will be no nationalisation of the clearing banks by either this Government or the next Labour Government? Will he now clear up this matter and say whether he is looking at any alternatives to those contained in the document circulated by the Labour Party?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend should not be in any confusion about this. He was present when I read a statement to the National Executive Committee at Blackpool. He commented on it at the time, so he knows exactly what the position is—[Interruption.] My relations with the National Executive Committee are nothing to do with the Opposition.

Mr. Tapsell

Tell us; tell the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister

As for the future of the City and the banking industry, the committee that is to be established under my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) will, I am sure investigate all these matters. A strong team is being assembled. If the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) is not careful, I shall not put his name forward for it.

Mr. Tebbit

As the Prime Minister has had some months to consider his application to the IMF for further loans, would he be able to tell the Governor of the Bank of England, even if he could not tell this House, whether it has been the unanimity of his Cabinet or the division within it that has prevented his getting the Letter of Credit prepared by 9th December—that is, today—when, as he has already said, he was due to pay back money which this Government had earlier borrowed?

The Prime Minister

There is no particular connection between the Letter of Intent for the IMF and the repayment of the credits that we have had. There is therefore no reason why the two should coincide. This is not a matter that I would discuss with the Governor of the Bank of England, but if I did I think I [column 623]should get more sense out of him than I should out of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Select Committee Report on the Bank of England which was published yesterday, saying that charges for fringe benefits provided for staff of the Bank of England should be brought more into line with the levels charged to the general public?

The Prime Minister

This is a Report of a Select Committee of the House, and the Bank of England will want to take seriously what is said. I agree that some of the conditions that have no doubt been negotiated with the staff seem to be on the generous side, but the Government will have to prepare their view on the matter and publish a White Paper in due course. Before that happens I dare say that the Bank of England will want to consider what the Select Committee said.

Mr. David Steel

When the Prime Minister meets the Governor of the Bank of England, will he discuss with him the interesting observations of the Director General of NEDO the other day about the contribution to our economic failure that has been made by our party political structure, with what he described as

“its obsessive concern with short-term pressures and its destructive concepts of adversary politics.” ?

The Prime Minister

No. I shall not discuss that with the Governor of the Bank of England. I may discuss it with the Director General of NEDO, who, I think, seems to be straying a little beyond what is his proper concern at present.

CBI

Q6. Mr. Brittan

asked the Prime Minister when he last met the CBI.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council gave on my behalf to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 30th November.

Mr. Brittan

Did the Prime Minister, when he last met the CBI, tell it that he did not propose to carry out his obligations under the Industry Act over the disclosure of information and that when [column 624]asked about it in the House he would reply in a cavalier fashion, showing that he was not concerned about maintaining his obligations under the law to give the disclosure required by the Act?

The Prime Minister

The answer to all parts of that question is “No, Sir” .

Mr. Skinner

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that probably not too many members of the CBI live in bedsitters? Does he agree that many of the people who do live in bedsitters vote Labour? Will he confirm that many of those in bedsitters who vote Labour and who are members of the Labour Party have not been lucky enough to be rewarded by that Labour Party to the extent of finding themselves with a seaside bungalow, a country cottage and a town house? Does he agree that if there are any infiltrators into the Labour Party, some of them are in the House of Lords, put there by the former Prime Minister, and that they never vote Labour when they get the chance?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether that is a Roland for an Oliver, or a Skinner for a Taylor. I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful question, which I am sure has given a great deal of comfort elsewhere. I suggest that we have some talks about this privately. [Interruption.] We will not meet in a bedsitter, but in the House of Commons—[Interruption.] We will not meet in the House of Lords. I do not think that my hon. Friend would go there anyway.—[Interruption.] He would not go there, because he is a man of principle. Therefore, I suggest to him that we should have discussions on these matters, which are of concern to all members of the Labour Party and must be thrashed out but which only give a certain amount of childish glee to the Opposition when they are raised in this House.

Mr. Michael Latham

In view of the CBI's great interest in public expenditure, will the Prime Minister express his total support for the Chancellor's proposals to cut public expenditure, rather than leave him twisting in the wind while the Cabinet gossips to the newspapers?

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed next Wednesday, when he hears the statement.

[column 625]

Mr. Crawford

In the context of industrial development, will the Prime Minister inform the CBI and people in Scotland what proportion of the revenues from Scotland's oil has already been mortgaged to the IMF?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman will put down that question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he will get a reply.

Mr. Kinnock

Does my right hon. Friend recall that earlier this week the CBI, in typical fashion, came forward with begging bowl in mailed fist to ask my right hon. Friend simultaneously somehow not to introduce major deflation but, on the other hand, to introduce major public spending cuts? Will he take the advice of Labour Members and, indeed, of the Labour Party, and bring about not the deflation of major spending cuts but changes of policy which will result in increases in production and investment, and again not profit those who have no interest in the real future of this country?

The Prime Minister

I take note of my hon. Friend's views. The Cabinet has reached its conclusion on the matter and it will be published in due course. What my hon. Friend said has been the subject of considerable discussion. One reason why I have not hurried these discussions to a conclusion is that they are of great importance. They go beyond even our own party interests. [Interruption.] I do not expect the Opposition to be serious about anything on these matters. I am talking not about the Opposition, but about the country generally.

What is at stake here, as my hon. Friend correctly pointed out, is the question how we can reduce public expenditure without at the same time heavily increasing unemployment or interfering with social security benefits. Frankly, these questions have engaged the Cabinet for a very long period. We shall produce what we think is the best possible result in the interests of all. I must ask my hon. Friend and the House to wait until it is published.