Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [969/280-87]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2770
Themes: Agriculture, Education, Industry, General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Energy, European Union Budget, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Race, immigration, nationality, Trade unions
[column 280]

PRIME MINISTER

(ENGAGEMENTS)

Q1. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 26 June.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

In addition to duties in this House I have had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with Lord Harlech. Later this afternoon I shall leave for the Tokyo economic summit.

Mr. Montgomery

Before my right hon. Friend leaves for Tokyo, can she find time today to read the report on school examination results, which was published yesterday? Does she not think that it would be better for all concerned if every local education authority published the separate examination results for each of the schools in its area?

The Prime Minister

I have indeed, glanced at the report to which my hon. Friend refers. I totally agree with him. I believe that local education authorities should publish the examination results as they refer to schools. I believe that parents are entitled to that information and that it most certainly should not be withheld.

Mr. Bidwell

At some time during her long journeys abroad, will the right hon. Lady reflect upon the fact that her Government are shaping up to deny women's rights in changing immigration rules to [column 281]prevent equality of the spouses—rules which were previously changed in 1974? Will she also reflect upon the fact that if she has a son-in-law in Australia who is non-partial it is a long way to go to do a bit of baby-sitting?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman knows that the changes we propose to make in immigration rules were put before the electorate perfectly clearly, and that I answered all questions with great candour, regardless of their source. I believe that we have a mandate to go forward with the changes.

Sir Paul Bryan

No doubt my right hon. Friend will be spending some of today preparing for the summit conference in Tokyo. When she is there, will she constantly bear in mind that the Vietnamese refugee problem is a world problem and that it can be solved only by the very world leaders with whom she will be conferring?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that question. The subject came up at the European Council and will certainly come up at the Tokyo summit. I think that there are two aspects. First, we should do everything we can to stop Vietnam so callously turning out those people. Secondly, there is the matter of trying to cope with the immense refugee problem that the Vietnamese have already created. We must condemn Vietnam with all the power at our command.

Mr. William Hamilton

Will the right hon. Lady take time today to read the newspaper reports about the capitulation of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food last week? Does she agree with the figures in those newspapers indicating that as a result of that capitulation the EEC farm budget will be increased by about £1,000 million and that our contribution to that will be roughly 20 per cent? Does she confirm those figures?

The Prime Minister

I inquired about the figures before I came to the House. May I make it quite clear that there is a freeze on milk prices for the first time since we joined the Community. There is an excellent butter subsidy and there is something for the farmers. The net effect of Peter Walkermy right hon. Friend's efforts in Luxembourg last week is that we are now £30 million better off than we should [column 282]otherwise have been—for the simple reason that we get back more on the butter subsidy than we pay by way of increase in prices through the budget.

Mr. Emery

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the summary executions in Ghana today of six former leaders of that Commonwealth nation, three of whose lives were thought to be at risk, as expressed by an early-day motion signed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House? Will she express her abhorrence of this action and see, perhaps with the Foreign Secretary, what action Britain, in conjunction with other African and Commonwealth nations, might take to try to impress on the present Ghana Government that unilateral action sweeping to one side—[Hon. Members: “Too long.” ] These are men's lives—sweeping to one side internationally accepted human rights and justice cannot be acceptable to the many friends of Ghana throughout the world?

The Prime Minister

We heard from Accra this morning that six further executions took place today, both of former Heads of State and of previous high officials in Ghana. As my hon. Friend knows, when a similar occasion occurred a few days ago we expressed our abhorrence. We do so again, in response to this terrible action. We made it perfectly clear that, if there were to be prosecutions, they should be in accordance with internationally accepted principles of justice. We are already in touch through our high commission in Ghana, we are in touch with the Nine, and we hope to get both America and Canada to join us in making similar strong representations to the Government of Ghana.

Mr. James Callaghan

With reference to that last answer, may I assure the right hon. Lady that she will have the full support of the Opposition in those representations and, in view of the special relationship which existed with Ghana and the assistance which this country has given to Ghana in recent years, add the hope that the present leaders will listen to what she has to say?

May I revert to the question about the agricultural policy? There is a great deal of either misunderstanding or something else about this. Why did the Minister of Agriculture depart from the [column 283]strong words that he had used in the House on 15 June, because it is clear from them that he was “in total agreement” with the proposals of the Commission for a general freeze? Why did he abandon that position? It was an impregnable position. Did the right hon. Lady advise him to do so because of some misunderstanding on the budgetary contributions at Strasbourg, or is it that he just was not tough enough to stand up to what was held over him?

The Prime Minister

There was no linkage between the negotiations going on in Luxembourg and those in Strasbourg. The right hon. Gentleman underestimates the excellence of the package which Peter Walkermy right hon. Friend gained. No Labour Minister of Agriculture managed to secure a freeze on milk prices. The results on the butter subsidy which my right hon. Friend gained were excellent. The net effect of his work is that this country is £30 million better off than it would otherwise have been without it. I might add that those farmers who, without my right hon. Friend's efforts, might have had to pay a co-responsibility levy on milk are very pleased with the results of his work.

SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ENERGY

Q2. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister if she will dismiss the Secretary of State for Energy.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Whitehead

Is the Prime Minister aware that many hon. Members have been deluged with correspondence from local authorities, transport undertakings and farmers about their failure to secure essential fuel supplies? As the Secretary of State for Energy appears to be embarked upon a one-man energy saving programme, cannot the right hon. Lady get him and the Minister of Transport together and impress upon them what the rest of the country knows already, namely, that proper allocation rather than pious exhortation is needed in this matter?

The Prime Minister

I am very much against having a great big bureaucratic scheme of allocation. Two or three years ago we experienced very considerable [column 284]shortages. When we had previous difficulty, there was then no system of allocation put into effect. If the hon. Member has particular difficulties in his constituency, perhaps he will get in touch with David Howellmy right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Mr. Neubert

Has my right hon. Friend seen the West German economic Minister's prediction today that there will be war within five years arising from the oil shortage? In view of the growing gravity of the petrol crisis, will my right hon. Friend urge upon her fellow statesmen at Tokyo a joint programme for reductions in petrol consumption throughout the Western world?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, at Strasbourg last week we tried to do all that we could to economise in our own countries on the use of oil and to try to bring our influence to bear on those who supply oil perhaps to increase the supply by a comparatively small amount, which is all that is needed. I agree totally with my hon. Friend that there is little point in our trying to depress the demand in Europe unless that is met with matching determination in the United States and Japan. We shall further that view at Tokyo later.

Mr. James Callaghan

In view of the growing critical nature of the oil position, when do the Government propose to abandon their policy of selling nearly £1 billion worth of BP shares?

The Prime Minister

I understood that the right hon. Gentleman's Government also sold BP shares.

Mr. Callaghan

But is the right hon. Lady aware that there is a controlling interest in BP at the moment of more than 51 per cent. and that the shares which were sold did not reduce it below that level? Will she please give us any rational explanation why further shares should be sold at this time?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the explanation in his Budget Statement. It is not the ownership of a company which counts; it is the laws which relate to that company. BP is a perfectly ordinary commercial company. It operates commercially. We should be free to dispose of some of those [column 285]assets in accordance with what my right hon. and learned Friend said in his Budget Statement.

PRIME MINISTER

(ENGAGEMENTS)

Q3. Mr. Viggers

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery).

Mr. Viggers

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance today to see the devastating analysis by the former Home Secretary of the reasons why the Labour Party was defeated in the last election? Has she noticed also that about half of the country's trade union members voted for the Conservative Party in the election? Does she think, as I do, that this means that union leaders should think twice before using their union positions for political ends and, similarly, that union members who voted Conservative should ensure that their union leaders know their views?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend, and apparently with the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), that a larger number of trade union members voted Conservative than ever before. I hope that we shall continue to gather strength from that source. They believe now that our policy best represents their ambitions for their own future and for their families, for a better standard of living and for better jobs.

Mr. Tapsell

When my right hon. Friend leaves in a few hours' time, with the good wishes of the British people, to attend this exceptionally important economic summit conference at Tokyo strengthened in the knowledge that sterling has increased in value against the Japanese yen by 25 per cent. over the past six months, and by the fact that she represents the only industrialised country which is almost self-sufficient in energy, will she take every opportunity to emphasise to the other world leaders that what really matters for the prosperity of everyone is the maintenance of the levels of world trade and that a key factor in that will be the establishment of constructive [column 286]methods of re-cycling the surplus oil revenues?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend's question is especially pertinent in view of the OPEC meeting today because, if the price of oil goes up, there will be considerably increased revenues which ought to be re-cycled unless they are to have a very damaging effect on world trade and on the under-developed countries. I agree with my hon. Friend's analysis.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Is the Prime Minister aware that many hon. Members, like myself, have constituents who depend on the shipbuilding and heavy engineering industries, for neither of which she holds out any promise? These industries are often located in areas of high unemployment. Will she give some information to the House on the progress of the shipbuilding intervention fund? What is to happen to the shipbuilding industry and the jobs within it? What progress has been made on the AGR nuclear orders for the power plant industry? What will happen to those people for whom she professes to care—those who work creatively in industry?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the shipbuilding plan is under review. He will also be aware that there is surplus capacity in this country, as well as in others, and that reducing that surplus capacity will be a painful process. It is not a process that we wish to undergo but one which the situation means we shall have to undergo. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] I am afraid that nationalisation does not prevent a reduction of jobs. This must be looked at realistically. We are interested in trying to get new, “tomorrow's jobs” , and doing everything to encourage new industries, new small businesses and expansion of existing industries.

Mr. Frank Allaun

If the Government increase the cost of living by introducing VAT, cutting public spending and causing unemployment, is it not both an industrial and a political question? Are not the trade unions entitled to reply with all their force, backed all the way by the Labour Party in the House?

The Prime Minister

As one of my hon. Friends said a few moments ago, many trade union members have indicated their support for the Government [column 287]and our policies, which will get more money into the private sector where the new jobs will be truly created.

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Mr. Winnick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reach the Prime Minister at Question Time. On the Order Paper today there were 35 questions to the right hon. Lady. A number of hon. Members have withdrawn their questions, for obvious reasons. If an important facility and right for Back-Bench Members to be able to question the Prime Minister of the day is not working, I should like to ask whether this matter can be looked at again. Either we should have alternative arrangements, or the right hon. Lady should devote more time to answering questions in the House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman, who was in a previous Parliament, will have noticed that there is a change in the type of question. We now have what I call the open question. The House insists on having that open question. The number of hon. Members who are called to question the Prime Minister is as great as ever.

Mr. Winnick

Further to that point of order——

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is no point in our discussing that matter now.

Mr. Skinner

On a point or order, Mr. Speaker. In the House last Friday the Minister of Agriculture made a statement, arising out of questions from both sides, that there would be a cut of 6p a pound in butter prices. We now read in the newspapers that this will not be the case. The Prime Minister has not been able to tell us that she will give a guarantee of a 6p cut in butter prices. Can you arrange, Mr. Speaker, for another statement to be made by the Minister of Agriculture to clear up this important matter?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House knows that that is not my business.