Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [996/139-44]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2522
Themes: Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, Law & order, Local government, Northern Ireland, Science & technology, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
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Prime Minister


Q1. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 16 December.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I held meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Roberts

During the course of her day, will the Prime Minister take a few minutes to consider the millions of people who will have a bleak Christmas because they are unemployed or on short-time working? Will she also consider the scores of elderly people who will die this winter from hypothermia or malnutrition directly as a result of her Government's policies, especially the public expenditure cuts? What will she do about it?

The Prime Minister

On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, he will be the first to be aware that retirement pensions have recently risen by 16½ per cent., which is in excess of price increases. He will know also that an extra fuel provision, costing £200 million, is directed towards those who most need the extra heat. The Government have already taken that action.

Dr. Mawhinney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that people in Britain and the United States have noted that the Taoiseach has not unequivocally said in public that hunger strikers should not be given political status? Is she further aware that that statement was not included in the communiqué from Dublin? Will she say whether the Taoiseach told her that hunger strikers should not be given political status?

The Prime Minister

I cannot answer specifically for the Taoiseach. I have not been requested to give the hunger strikers political status by anyone except the hunger strikers themselves. There is no question, either now or at all, of giving them political status.

Mr. Faulds

Will the Prime Minister today give time to the consideration that, although I was approached—[Hon. Members: “Reading” .]

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Learn your lines.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Most unusually, the House requires me to protect the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds).

Mr. Faulds

As I do not wish to waste the time of the House, I shall sit down.

Mr. Hordern

While reflecting on recent discussions with the Irish Prime Minister, will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is no question but that the people of Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United [column 140]Kingdom for as long as they wish? Does she agree that there is no reason why the obstacles that may stand between ourselves and the Republic of Ireland should not be carefully examined? Will she say whether any suggestion was made during the discussions that an Anglo-Irish council might be formed to consider the question more carefully?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the future of the people of Northern Ireland, it remains as I have frequently said—they stay with the United Kingdom until they express the wish to do the contrary and that wish is confirmed by this House of Commons and the Upper House. With regard to an Anglo-Irish council, I am not quite certain what my hon. Friend means. We were not considering any specific constitutional measure. We were considering measures of closer consultation between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, but very much between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and not between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Q2. Mr. Tilley

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 16 December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Tilley

Has the Prime Minister had the time to see the calculation that, if manufacturing output continues to decline by the annual amount announced yesterday, in about three years' time it will be about half of what it was in May 1979? Does the right hon. Lady intend to go into the next general election, assuming that she is still Leader of the Conservative Party, on a promise to squeeze production entirely out of the economy during the next five years?

The Prime Minister

In this House very few of us go in for direct extrapolation of that kind, knowing full well that it is likely to be wholly wrong.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Has the Prime Minister yet had an opportunity to consider the exceptionally important speech made by the retiring president of the Royal Society, Lord Todd, in which he argued most persuasively for a more vigorous and direct representation of the interests of science and technology at the highest levels of Government?

Mr. John Home Robertson

We have Tam Dalyell.

Mr. Lloyd

In the light particularly of the OECD's recent revelations that the West as a whole has been spending much less on research and development throughout the system than it should be, does not my right hon. Friend consider that Lord Todd 's representations are most important?

The Prime Minister

I am always prepared to give very close consideration to Lord Todd's representations. As my hon. Friend knows, in this country we do have science and technology represented at the highest level of Government.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposed recruitment of 1,000 extra workers by BL for extra production of the Mini Metro shows that jobs will be created if we use modern machinery as productively as possible to create and manufacture the goods that people want to buy?

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The Prime Minister

Yes. The Mini Metro production line is manned by far fewer people than the previous Mini line. It is, therefore, very much more efficient, which is one factor, together with the excellent design, which will contribute to higher sales. If more people are being taken on to produce those cars because the demand is there, I am delighted.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Prime Minister take time today to sack the Secretary of State for the Environment, if for no other reason than that of self-interest, since he is destroying the Conservative Party's interests in local government? Is the right hon. Lady aware that this afternoon he will destroy what is left of local democracy by his block grant allocations, that he has already destroyed Conservative councils' housing programmes and he has even turned the building industry, which has many contributors to the Tory Party and CABIN, against that party, so that its criticism is becoming as virulent as the CBI's?

The Prime Minister

I can well understand why the hon. Gentleman would like me to dismiss my right hon. Friend Michael Heseltinethe Secretary of State for the Environment. The simple reason is that he gives better than he gets from the Opposition.

Mr. Foot

Would the right hon. Lady care to tell us what increase in unemployment she believes will be produced by the combined statements of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Wales? How much extra unemployment in those areas that are so badly hit is likely to be produced by the effects of her policy on local government?

The Prime Minister

When the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Employment, he never gave forecasts for unemployment. They are wholly unreliable. I do not intend to give them either.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady mean to tell us that, when the Cabinet discusses the allocation of the amounts for local government and the services that will thereby be injured—and if she does not know that services will be injured, she must be the only person in the country who does not know—it does not discuss the effect on unemployment of cuts imposed on local authorities?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is first advocating direct forecasting, which he never followed, and I shall follow his practice and not his preaching. Secondly, he is undoubtedly advocating that any economies in public spending—and, after all, the Government of which he was a member had to make far more severe economies than I have made—should come from current expenditure, so that there is plenty of expenditure for capital. Unfortunately, he has not followed that advice by supporting economies in current spending.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Lady aware that what I am advocating is that she should answer the questions that we put to her? Will she take into account that the whole country has a right to answers to those questions, particularly because 1980, under her direct supervision, has been the worst year in British history since 1945 for employment of our people, and almost every announcement made by her Ministers from the Dispatch Box adds to the figures? Is she further aware that that is what the country is concerned about, even if she is not?

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The Prime Minister

No. Announcements from this Dispatch Box do not add to the figures. Announcements from this Box are designed to try to release more resources for the private sector. The right hon. Gentleman is attempting to take away resources from the private sector, which will increase unemployment, as he did when he was Secretary of State for Employment, when unemployment rose by 100 per cent.

Mr. Forman

Will my right hon. Friend also confirm that the facts show that the proportion of world trade that this country has is larger than it was a year ago? Will she further confirm to the House that, if we are to maintain that very satisfactory position, it is vitally important that we do not emulate last year's figures, when we paid ourselves 22 per cent. more for 3 per cent. less production?

The Prime Minister

I am happy to confirm that, thanks to the success of British exporters, we now have a bigger share of world trade than we had at this time last year. Both management and work force deserve congratulation on that.

Q3. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 16 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Jones

Does the right hon. Lady understand that yesterday's ministerial statement was very disappointing for the textile industry? Will she instruct her Ministers to take a much tougher line against subsidised American man-made fibre imports, which are taking away our home market? Has she noted the large loss of jobs in the Courtaulds group?

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's summing up of the textile statement yesterday. As he is well aware, the interests of different parts of the textile industry vary, and it was necessary not to continue the limitations on imports for polyester yarn because we were under threat of retaliation being taken against Yorkshire worsted. That was a factor we had to take into account. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that my hon. Friend pointed out that the European Commission will take up vigorously with the United States the under-pricing of oil and gas resources, which are directly in point with textiles based on chemicals.

Mr. Body

If my right hon. Friend is considering economic statistics today, will she pay heed to the remarkable surplus in our current account and balance of payments and make a statement paying tribute to British industry—and to the policies that made this possible?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I am delighted to respond to my hon. Friend's invitation. The volume of exports last month held up extremely well. It was more than 7 per cent. over the volume for the previous month at a time when oil exports were down. That is a very good record and shows that people who have the right design, marketing techniques and vigorous approach can sell abroad in the world at the present exchange rate.

Mr. Heffer

If the right hon. Lady's Government are making resources available for private enterprise, why are all the small business people in Liverpool, particularly small building construction people, writing to tell me that they are going out of business?

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The Prime Minister

One of the reasons might well be that we have taken too high a proportion of resources for public spending. That is exactly what I am trying to bring down.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for our improvement in trade is the export of North Sea oil? Will she consider introducing some system under which the benefits of North Sea oil will be used not only for balancing the national economy but more positively for aiding British industry? As my right hon. Friend said, our manufacturing base can generate the genuine prosperity upon which the future success of the country depends.

The Prime Minister

The income from North Sea oil into the Exchequer this financial year will be about £4 billion. The output from the Exchequer to nationalised industries alone will be 75 per cent. of that, and extra is already going to support industry in the regions. One could say that the proceeds of North Sea oil are already supporting British industry. However, unfortunately, nationalised industries do not provide as good a service to the British people as does the private sector.[column 144]


Mr. Faulds

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may have noticed my untypical and unusual—indeed, one might say practically unnatural—modesty in yielding my place at Prime Minister's Question Time. This is a serious matter. We now have increasing pressure at Prime Minister's Question Time because many more hon. Members want to get in in those two periods of 15 minutes a week. Today, we had 52 questions for Prime Minister's Question Time. I must make the point that the sort of mindless chiacking, the sort of gagging by decibel, that we had today not only wastes the time—those 15 minutes twice a week—but keeps additional Members from getting in on questions. I resumed my seat as a protest against such tactics.

Mr. Speaker

I must say that I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. I often think that the continued noise during Prime Minister's questions cuts out another hon. Member, if only the House realised that.