Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [995/1066-70]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2296
Themes: Agriculture, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, Labour Party & socialism, Local government finance, Northern Ireland
[column 1066]

Prime Minister


Mr. Bob Dunn

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 11 December.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I have also held further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I have been invited to speak at the Welsh CBI dinner in Cardiff.

Mr. Dunn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that business men in my constituency, while welcoming the reduction in MLR and the announcement of a 6 per cent. cash limit for public sector pay, still regard public expenditure as an enormous millstone round their necks and express complete support for the Government's intention to reduce it further?

The Prime Minister

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that we cannot continue putting increasing burdens on the wealth-producing sector of the economy. That would result in fewer wealth-producing firms. We must, therefore, have regard for public expenditure, and I hope that the local authorities will think twice before they make severe increases in local rates.

Mr. John Morris

Would it not be both better and more honest for the people of Wales if the Prime Minister clarified the position of the steel industry before going to South Wales today? I always welcome meaningful and proper consultation with the trade unions, but will the Prime Minister tell us the basis upon which Mr. MacGregor is having his consultations today before he talks to the steel board? What is the purpose of the steel board today?

The Prime Minister

Mr. MacGregor is charged with the duty of producing a plan for the future of the British Steel Corporation. He is carrying out the duties of consultation, and he would be under very severe criticism if he did not consult before that plan went to the board for approval. I have not seen the plan. I do not know its content. I shall not see it until it is presented to the Government, and that will not be until after the board has approved it.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. Friend have any chance today to consider whether it is possible for her to make an official statement on her discussions in Dublin with the Irish Prime Minister? The feeling is that whilst no one in the House dreams for a moment that she would agree to anything that would weaken the longstanding and historic link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the interpretation of the talks that is coming from Dublin alone means that a somewhat misleading point of view is now being received.

[column 1067]

The Prime Minister

There never have been statements on bilateral talks such as these between the United Kingdom and Ireland. I think it most unwise to set a precedent. That would elevate the meeting far beyond its importance or significance. The agreement was set out in a communiqué. There is nothing behind the communiqué—it is all there.

Mr. Foot

May I plead once again with the Prime Minister to give her report to the House of Commons on her discussions in Dublin so that hon. Members on all sides will be able to question her? Will she take into account before she replies the full debate that is taking place in the Dail? We ask her to return to the subject next week.

May I refer to her answer on the steel industry—[Hon. Members: “No.” ] I know that Conservative Members are not very interested in the steel industry and never have been. In view of the right hon. Lady's remarks a few minutes ago, will she give us an absolute guarantee that there will be a debate in the House before Christmas and before any decision is taken on the plan for steel that Mr. MacGregor may be making public tomorrow? Does she accept that great numbers of jobs are involved and that it is partly direct Government policy that has led to the collapse in the steel industry and the reduction in demand for steel in our economy? Will she give an absolute assurance to the House this afternoon?

The Prime Minister

On the right hon. Gentleman's point about the talks between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the agreed statements are in the communiqué. If the right hon. Gentleman has any particular question to put to me, I hope that he will do so. I am here for a quarter of an hour every Tuesday and Thursday. Although everyone is asking for a statement, precious few hon. Members have put pertinent questions about the agreed communiqué which has already been issued and published.

Secondly, on the question of steel, the right hon. Gentleman will have to pursue that matter with my right hon. Friend Norman St. John Stevasthe Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I doubt whether there would be time for a debate next week. With all due respect, it would be far better to take time thoroughly to consider the report before any of us reach conclusions upon it.

Mr. Foot

The two matters are important for the people of this country. Does the right hon. Lady realise that it is not satisfactory for her to say that we should leave the steel issue until after Christmas? We demand a debate on that subject in the House next week. Will the Government provide the time? On the Dublin meeting, as the right hon. Lady has put it in those terms, does she agree with the statement made in the Irish Parliament this morning that it was the most important visit to the Republic since the foundation of the State? Does she agree with that statement made by the Taoiseach in the Dail, and, if so, why?

The Prime Minister

It is the first time that four members of the Cabinet, in pursuit of the bilateral talks that we now have between fellow members of the EEC, have attended such talks in Dublin. It is the first time that they have been held in Dublin. Last time they were held at No. 10 Downing Street between similar Ministers. That does not seem to me to be unusual.

On the question of steel, I agree that it is extremely important to the future of this country, and to many parts [column 1068]of this country—not only to those who work in steel but to those who work in industries that depend upon it. For that reason, I think that the report requires thorough consideration before we rush in to make comments upon it.

Mr. Foot

On the question——[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The sooner we have order, the more likely I shall be to call other hon. Members.

Mr. Foot

On the question of steel, if the right hon. Lady will not provide a debate, we shall have to force one. That is our answer to her on that issue. On the Dublin meeting, which is a matter of great importance, does the right hon. Lady agree that if four Ministers think that it is important to go to Dublin to take part in the talks, at least one of them should have the courage to come and report to the House?

The Prime Minister

On the right hon. Gentleman's latter point, four Ministers is the usual number that we take to bilateral talks. It is far more natural than the right hon. Gentleman is willing to concede for this Government to have regular talks with the Government of the Republic of Ireland in the same way as we have regular talks with France, Germany and Italy. We have been trying to establish that regularity and trying to achieve better co-operation and understanding. We have received excellent security co-operation along the border.

On the question of steel, of course the right hon. Gentleman is free to use his Supply days precisely as he wishes. I can say only that the Government will wish to study the report very carefully indeed. Doubtless my right hon. Friend Sir Keith Josephthe Secretary of State will wish to have talks with Mr. MacGregor. We shall wish to discuss the matter in the Cabinet before we rush into a statement about it. It would be reasonable to give a certain amount of time to that study for consultations to take place and to find all the facts before we make important pronouncements upon it.

Mr. McQuarrie

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the action of the Norwegian authorities yesterday in banning 18 trawlers fishing legally in proper waters? If it has, will she hold urgent talks with her right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to get something done about that matter before we have another Icelandic position, which would do nothing towards the completion of the common fisheries policy?

The Prime Minister

I understand the importance that my hon. Friend attaches to the issue. I shall draw Peter Walkermy right hon. Friend's attention to the matter so that he can give urgent attention to it.

Q2. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 11 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Jones

Will the Prime Minister please reconsider her refusal to tell us anything about the widespread speculation about steel closures? Does she truly understand the awesome scale and the distressing consequences of a major steel closure? Does she really wish to go down in history as the Premier who turned No. 10 into the slaughterhouse of the steel industry and the abattoir of British manufacturing industry?

[column 1069]

The Prime Minister

It would be futile and irresponsible to make statements on a report that I have not seen. I do not intend to do so.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are approaching a critical stage in the formation of the British Leyland five-year corporate plan, which is of great importance to the whole country? Can she assure me that she will use her powers to enable the Leader of the House to allocate a day's debate when the corporate plan is released?

The Prime Minister

The corporate plan has been presented to the Government. It will shortly be considered. When decisions have been reached, they will be announced to the House. I imagine that my hon. Friend will make representations to Norman St. John Stevasthe Leader of the House to have a debate on these important matters.

Mr. David Steel

Does the Prime Minister understand that those of us who wish to applaud the initiative that she took in going to Dublin and in having wide open talks with the Irish Government on new relationships between our two countries—having noted the Irish Premier's statement that it was the most important meeting since the creation of the Republic—are absolutely baffled by her refusal to make a statement to the House and also at her insult to the House in pretending that it was a routine Common Market discussion?

The Prime Minister

Equally, does the right hon. Gentleman understand that I am baffled by the fact that, after about 10 questions about whether I will make a statement, few hon. Members have asked substantive questions about the communiqué?

Mr. William Shelton

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report that two British cars were among the three cars of the year? Is that not an encouragement to British industry?

The Prime Minister

I was pleased to hear that two British cars were included. I hope that it will raise the [column 1070]proportion of the car market that goes to British cars. In so doing, it will also raise the proportion of steel bought from British Steel and the components and other items bought from Britain.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Prime Minister aware of the widely divergent versions of the Dublin meeting both in Dublin and in London? Is she further aware that unless the matter is clarified by a statement or a debate the Dublin version will pass into history in Eire?

The Prime Minister

I am responsible in part for the agreed communiqué. Upon that communiqué I stand. Upon that communiqué the right hon. Gentleman may ask me any questions that he wishes.

Mr. Trippier

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to warn the country of the attempts by the British Communist Party to increase its influence in the Labour Party? [Interruption.] Was she not appalled to read the article in this morning's Daily Mail pointing out that a Communist played a leading role in the party political broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party on Tuesday night?

The Prime Minister

To many of us it seems that there is precious little difference between the policies of the Communist Party and the policies of the Labour Party.

Mr. Garel-Jones

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you give some guidance to me and to hon. Members in all parts of the House? We appreciate that the Leader of the Opposition is anxious to make his points at Question Time, but I think that the whole House is surprised and upset at the way in which he seems to be occupying well over half of Question Time—and, indeed, keeping out many of his own Back Benchers.

Mr. Speaker

I have said on previous occasions that I always allow extra latitude to the Leader of the Opposition. It is a matter for his judgment and for mine—[Interruption.] Order. I am not handing that over.