Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [991/1457-64]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2397
Themes: Executive, Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Social security & welfare
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Q1. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 6 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to [column 1458]my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the President of the European Parliament, Madame Simone Veil.

Mr. Janner

In view of the present tragic level of unemployment may I ask whether the right hon. Lady discussed with her Cabinet colleagues the likely increase in unemployment as a result of the further cuts in public expenditure that she and her colleagues have in dispute at the moment? If so, with what result?

The Prime Minister

The short answer is that we never give forecasts of future unemployment, except in the Red Book that comes out at Budget time. Otherwise, we follow the advice given by the Opposition when they were in power not to give specific forecasts. With regard to the latter half of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, if we take too much out of the private sector for the public sector, we shall be positively encouraging unemployment in the private sector. Those who advocate more and more public expenditure would do well to remember that.

Sir Anthony Meyer

In her talks with Madame Veil today will my right hon. Friend make it plain that the Conservative Party and this Government are finally committed to making a success of British membership of the EEC? Will she also make it plain that, whatever the opinion polls may say now, the Labour Party is unlikely to find that withdrawal from Europe proves a greater electoral asset than unilateral disarmament?

The Prime Minister

I believe that this Government are making a great success of our membership of the European Community. Because we are devoted to the ideal of the European Economic Community and our partners know that we have been a great deal more successful than the Labour Government in securing budgetary settlements and other outstanding matters.

Mr. Foot

We read in the newspapers this morning that the right hon. Lady has sent a message to Mr. Reagan. Could she tell us also whether she has had a chance to send a message to her right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)? If so, would she care to print it in the Official Report, if it is printable? [column 1459]Does she agree with the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman that now that Governor Reagan is President-elect, he would be far too intelligent to follow the policies of ruinous monetarism as they appear to be followed in this country?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is certainly right to say that I sent a message to Governor Reagan after his splendid victory in the American elections, saying how very much I look forward to working with him. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that

“once a decision is made, once a policy is established, the Prime Minister and … colleagues should have the courage to stick to it. Nothing has done Britain more harm in the world than the endless backing and filling which we have seen in recent years.”

That was my right hon. Friend's message to the electorate on the eve of the 1970 general election.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady tell us now to what she thinks her right hon. Friend was referring when he talked of ruinous monetarism? Does she think it is a good idea to continue on that course, even when the ruin is proved all round her?

The Prime Minister

I rather thought from what I heard earlier that Labour Back Benchers were castigating us for not being strict enough on the monetary supply.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Lest my right hon. Friend should be tempted to pay too much attention to the well-meaning, gratuitous but often intemperate advice given to her on the radio, will she bear in mind that some of us take the view that the last person to give advice to Nelson would be Admiral Byng?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the first objective of this Government—as, indeed, it was the first objective of the 1970 Government—is the curbing of inflation. We have to put that need first. We shall continue to do so.

3. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 6 November.

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The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.

Mr. Townsend

Bearing in mind that it was a Labour Prime Minister who committed his Government to increasing defence expenditure, in conjunction with our NATO allies, by 3 per cent. a year until 1984, and bearing in mind that since then the Russians have put 85,000 troops into Afghanistan, will my right hon. Friend make it categorically clear that her Government will continue to meet that commitment?

The Prime Minister

We shall do everything possible to meet that commitment. So that there can be no possible misunderstanding, may I read out the NATO commitment? It was

“to aim at making available resources which would allow for annual increases of defence spending in the region of 3 per cent. in real terms, recognising that, for some individual countries, economic circumstances would affect what could be achieved.”

In the first year we met that 3 per cent. We do not know what will be the precise outturn this year but it will not be very far short of 3 per cent., and may be 3 per cent. Next year there will be an increase in defence spending above this year, but I cannot say of precisely what amount.

Mr. Stoddart

Before the right hon. Lady agrees to further swingeing cuts in public expenditure which will hurt our economy even further, will she bring forward legislation to deal with the tax-dodging Vesteys and others of that ilk who will not pay their way in this country, and will she make that legislation retrospective?

The Prime Minister

The object of the present public expenditure review is to hold next year's totals to those which have already been published in aggregate. That is not a total reduction. It is to hold the total to what has already been published. With regard to the Vestey case, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Chancellor of the Exchequer made perfectly clear that he will be bringing forward legislation in the next Finance Bill.

Mr. Peter Fraser

Will my right hon. Friend convey the gratitude of this House to the Swedish ambassador for the efforts that his staff in Tehran have been making on behalf of Miss Jean Waddell and the [column 1461]other British prisoners there? But at the same time, in communications with the American President and his successor, will she make it clear that if the prisoners are released we would hope in the future to obtain from the Americans the cooperation that we gave to the American people over their hostages?

The Prime Minister

I shall be very happy to convey the generous message from my hon. Friend to our Swedish friends and to thank them very much for looking after the interests of Britain, particularly in regard to the four people who are detained in Iran. I am sure that we shall have full co-operation from the new American Government, as from the present one.

Mr. Buchan

Will the right hon. Lady accept that the real significance of the failure of her policy on money supply is that she has been putting the people of this country through unnecessary and pointless suffering for the last year and a half? When will she stop listening to the advice of the mad monetarist guru in Chicago and listen to some of the wise words of her Tory predecessors in office?

The Prime Minister

I would not agree with the hon. Gentleman for one moment. The fact is that inflation has now come down from 21.9 per cent. to 15.9 per cent.—a figure which Labour Members were telling us a few months ago it was impossible to reach.

Mr. Ashton

Who put it there?

Mr. Neale

Is my right hon. Friend aware of reports coming from the Pakistan Government regarding the annexation by the Soviet Union of the Wakhan corridor, running to the north of the Pakistan borders with the Soviet Union? Will she deplore that annexation, if it has taken place, and confirm that the British Government will not recognise it, and will she refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council?

The Prime Minister

The British Government recognise the integrity of existing borders and I am not aware of any annexation. I am aware that there have been intrusions over the border, which we would naturally condemn as being intrusions upon someone else's territory.

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Q4. Mr. Race

asked the Prime Minister what are the advantages of her policy of advocating the migration of labour from one region of the United Kingdom to another.

The Prime Minister

Some mobility is essential if the labour market is to function properly; that has always been true and is still true today.

Mr. Race

Does the Prime Minister accept that migration of labour from one part of the United Kingdom to another does nothing to reduce the cost of unemployment, currently running at £440 million for every 100,000 increase in unemployment? Does she recognise that it is precisely to those parts of England—and particularly South-East England which voted Conservative at the last general election that the people will be migrating? Does she also realise that people in South-East England, particularly unskilled workers, will be losing their jobs perhaps because of migrants from other industries and other regions?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Member comes from a constituency very near to mine, he will be interested to know that the migration between the regions in the years 1978–79 was away from greater London to the extent of about 56,000 people. It so happens that skilled people have always been used to moving in order to seek work. It can both reduce unemployment and help those employers who want skilled labour if people are prepared to move to where the jobs are.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the 1930s many thousands of people left Wales for the West Midlands, where they made a great success of their lives and careers, and are highly respected?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Soley

With regard to the Prime Minister's remarks about people moving to the South-East, does she realise that they have great difficulty in obtaining housing because house building has already been severely hit in both the public and private sectors by the actions of her own Government?

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The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will find that the new Housing Act gives very considerable help to those who are seeking work.

Mr. McCrindle

Will the Prime Minister agree that in order to achieve mobility of labour it is necessary to make some progress concerning the transferability of pension rights under private pension schemes? Are the Government seized of the need to make progress on this front, and is she able to tell the House that we shall shortly be receiving the recommendations of the Occupational Pensions Board?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that there are changes which still need to be made to ensure complete transferability. The matter is still being studied. I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

Q5. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 6 November.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner).

Mr. Jones

Why must the right hon. Lady cut public expenditure while Britain slides into the deepest recession since the [column 1464]1930s? Why does she callously sanction a massive rise in unemployment while Britain's industries collapse in ruins?

The Prime Minister

I have repeated several times in the House that the present public expenditure review is to hold the totals of public expenditure to those already published for next year. However much one may wish to spend more, particularly on projects that all hon. Members favour, the fact is that public expenditure has to be financed by the private sector. Every increasing burden that we make on the private sector makes it more difficult for that sector makes it more difficult for that sector to cut its costs and remain competitive.

Sir John Eden

While there is still widespread support for the Government's economic policy—[Hon. Members: “Where?” ]—will my right hon. Friend ensure that her Government take vigorous action to reduce the size of central and local government bureaucracy?

The Prime Minister

That is most certainly our objective. Since this Government have been in power the size of central Government has been reduced by about 35,000 people. Local authorities have now embarked upon a policy of greatly reducing over-manning. The figures published for the last quarter were the best ever.