Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [995/780-84]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2380
Themes: Elections & electoral system, Monetary policy, Pay, European Union (general), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
[column 780]

British North America Acts

Q1. Mr. Foulkes

To ask the Prime Minister if she will arrange to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada to discuss the patriation of the British North America Acts.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I have no plans to do so.

Mr. Foulkes

But does not the Prime Minister realise that we are now on a collision course with Canada? Since the Prime Minister does not have to seek her problems, will she now say to Pierre Trudeau that changes in the constitution of Canada should be decided over there and that he should now abandon his unilateral action?

The Prime Minister

We have as yet received no request from Canada. When a request comes, we shall try to deal with it as expeditiously as possible and in accordance with precedent.

Mr. Aitken

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it has been reported all over Canada that the British Government have given Mr. Trudeau some sort of commitment that they will push the 59-clause Bill through this House of Commons as quickly as possible? Will my right hon. Friend confirm or deny those reports, and will she bear in mind that constitutional issues of this complexity must surely be decided not by the Government but by Parliament as a whole?

The Prime Minister

I know of no 59-clause Bill. On 14 previous occasions this House has been asked to deal with a request from the federally elected Parliament of Canada. It has done so in accordance with well-established precedent, bearing in mind that we are an elected Parliament and that the federal Parliament of Canada is a similarly elected Parliament. When we receive the request, we shall try to deal with it as soon as we can.

Mr. George

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that there are many advisers outside the Foreign Office who have argued that, unless there is unanimity or near unanimity among the provinces, the Canadian Prime Minister should not proceed to patriate and we should not [column 781]acquiesce? If we acquiesce, we shall be reneging on constitutional obligations not only to the provinces but to the native people of Canada—people who were there 15,000 years before the French or the English ever realised that Canada existed.

The Prime Minister

If we receive a request, I believe that we have to deal with it in accordance with the statute which governs it——

Mr. English

Hear, hear.

The Prime Minister

—in accordance with precedent, and in accordance with the fact that it is received from a fully democratically elected Parliament and would be a request from a fully democratically elected Parliament to a similarly democratically elected Parliament.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the only elected body that can make representations on behalf of the Canadian people to another Commonwealth Government, such as our own, is the federal Government of Canada, and that provincial Administrations cannot have any locus standi vis-à-vis the Government of the United Kingdom or the Parliament of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I believe that we can receive a request, under the relevant statute, only from the federal Parliament of Canada.

Prime Minister


Q2. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 9 December.

The Prime Minister

This morning I held meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with Mr. Kisiel, Deputy Prime Minister of Poland. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and another with a group of senior French industrialists, who are here on an official visit.

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. Friend note that most people now believe that public sector pensions should not be index-linked only at the taxpayer's expense? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that action will be taken immediately after the Scott committee has reported?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend pointed out, we are awaiting the report of the Scott committee on index-linked pensions in the public sector. It would be best to wait and see what the report says before committing ourselves in any way. I accept my hon. Friend's point that the existence of such pensions for a particular sector of our people is causing some concern.

Mr. Foot

Does not the right hon. Lady think that she should have included in her duties today a full and comprehensive statement to the House of Commons on her discussions yesterday in Dublin? Even at this stage, will not she agree to the request that the Opposition made throughout the morning—namely, that she should make a full statement?

The Prime Minister

No. Those discussions were part of a series of bilateral discussions with our Community partners, which are regularly undertaken with Germany, France, Italy—[Interruption.] They were not even the [column 782]first bilateral discussions to be held between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It would be wrong to make a special statement about that particular meeting.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady take into account that her communiqué, issued afterwards, stated:

“These discussions were … extremely constructive and significant.”

Surely any extremely constructive, fresh and significant decisions on such matters should be reported to the House of Commons. The right hon. Lady held a press conference on the matter. She has made a television appearance on this subject. We may wish to encourage the Government in their actions, but we must have the right to cross-examine on such matters. I plead with the right hon. Lady to respond to what I believe to be a feeling that can be found on all sides of the House. Will she make a proper statement?

The Prime Minister

No. Many of the bilateral discussions that we hold are both constructive and significant. They are a frequent occurrence as a result of our Community relationship. To make a statement on one particular meeting would elevate it in a way that is neither desirable nor warranted.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady makes a great mistake when she deals with the House of Commons in such a way. Will she tell us the terms of reference that are to apply to the discussions on new institutions and on citizens' rights? Will she tell us how those possible citizenship rights accord or coincide with the nationality Bill which is to be brought before the House? There are a host of questions that the House of Commons has a right to ask.

The Prime Minister

These are matters that are to be explored. No decision has been made. [Interruption.]No decision has been made. Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor his predecessor required a statement on previous bilateral discussions between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Doubtless the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will cross-examine my right hon. Friends as they wish.

Mr. Squire

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the hypocrisy of the protestations of the Leader of the Opposition? The right hon. Gentleman has not even considered——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Did the hon. Gentleman apply the word “hypocrisy” to an individual? [Hon. Members: “Yes.” ] The hon. Gentleman will soon say so if he did.

Mr. Squire

I must have meant “inconsistency” . I apologise.

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman withdraw the word “hypocrisy” ?

Mr. Squire

Yes, Mr. Speaker. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the right hon. Gentleman's inconsistency, given that he has seen fit to withdraw from his Shadow Cabinet any speaker on Northern Ireland, defence and other important matters? Is not this an indication of the importance which the right hon. Gentleman attaches to Northern Ireland? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that that shows a very distorted sense of values?

[column 783]

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has enough problems with his Shadow Cabinet without my becoming involved.

Mr. Molyneaux

As a result of yesterday's talks in Dublin, will the Prime Minister reaffirm that no concessions whatever will be made to the Maze prison hunger strikers? Secondly, if the joint discussions that were referred to in yesterday's communiqué take place, will the Prime Minister accept from the Ulster Unionist Party a list of subjects that might be appropriate for consideration?

The Prime Minister

As regards the latter part, the answer is “Yes, of course” . No decisions have yet been made. Nor have any terms of reference been established or anything of that kind.

As regards the former question, I am glad to confirm that there were no concessions as regards the Maze hunger strike. My view is very well known. There can be no possible political status for those crimes, which include murder, carrying explosives and so on. The concessions on civilian clothing, which were made before the hunger strike began, were made to all prisoners in Northern Ireland. Last Thursday, we issued a comprehensive statement on the rights and privileges that are already available to conforming prisoners in Northern Ireland.

Q3. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 9 December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I gave some time ago.

Mr. Meacher

Will the right hon. Lady acknowledge that she has pulled off a truly remarkable double? Given a 6 per cent. forecast fall in national output for this year and next year, we face the biggest slump since the 1930s, yet the money supply—on which altar the real economy has been sacrificed—is escalating out of control at twice the Government's target. If the right hon. Lady thinks that inflation is her one big success, what estimate will she give for the rate of inflation in 18 months' to two years' time, given that M3 is now escalating at 20 per cent. a year?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has made an excellent case for a very much tighter money supply than that now operating. I accept that the money supply figures foreshadowed today are worrying. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will accept that the main reason for those figures is the very high central Government borrowing requirement for this month. That is a factor that I have been trying to deal with, but I have had precious little support from Opposition Members.

Mr. Edward Gardner

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the constructive character of the bilateral talks that were held in Dublin yesterday? [Interruption.] In any future bilateral talks of that type, will she ensure that one subject of discussion will be the continuing right [column 784]of citizens of the Irish Republic—who are not citizens of this country—to vote in our general elections? Does not my right hon. Friend agree that a rational and agreed end to such an absurd anomaly would do much to improve future Anglo-Irish relations?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for those comments. We were trying to improve relations between the United Kingdom Government and that of the Republic of Ireland. As regards the right of citizens of the Republic of Ireland to vote in the United Kingdom, I understand from the Taoiseach that the Republic is prepared to consider giving rights to British subjects so that they can vote similarly in the Republic. That was announced long before yesterday's bilateral discussions. Naturally, we must first proceed with the nationality Bill, which will soon be placed before the House.

Mr. Foot

Does not the Prime Minister's answer illustrate the grievous wrong that has been done to the House? I speak as one who is strongly in favour of developing as good relations as we can between the London Government and the Dublin Government. Surely, the right hon. Lady must appreciate that many hon. Members in different parts of the House wish to ask questions relating to the nationality Bill and a whole series of matters. Is there not a danger that the right hon. Lady's discussions will have one interpretation put on them in Dublin and another here in London? Will not the Prime Minister provide a proper opportunity, as she is the only person who can answer on the matter for the whole Government, to make a statement to the House—perhaps tomorrow, at the beginning of next week, or certainly before the House rises for the recess—when we can cross-examine her properly?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. If the right hon. Gentleman has a question to ask, he has had 15 minutes in which to ask it.

Mr. John Townend

As my right hon. Friend has made such an excellent start in abolishing quangos, will she try to find time today to turn her attention to wages councils, the activities of which are contrary to the Government's philosophy that wages should be settled on the basis of the individual employer's ability to pay? Will she bear in mind that the awards over the past two or three years have resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs of low-ability workers and young people?

The Prime Minister

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but if there were any question of doing what he suggests we should have to consider very carefully what would be put in the place of wages councils. I believe that we should pursue that first through my right hon. Friend James Priorthe Secretary of State for Employment.

Mr. Speaker

Statement—Mr. Patrick Jenkin.