Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [997/765-69]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2304
Themes: Parliament, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Pay, Taxation, Foreign policy (USA), Local government finance
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Prime Minister


Q1. Mr. Lawrence

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 27 January.

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The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the French Ambassador and another with the Foreign Minister of Mozambique. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome on the Conservative side of the House for her initiative in arranging a seminar in Downing Street last night for inventors and entrepreneurs.——[Interruption.] Apart from the reaction on the Labour Benches, which all of us expected, can my right hon. Friend say what further steps she has in mind to promote the interests of small firms, which, after all, will provide the way out of the heavy unemployment problems that the nation faces?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that my hon. Friend gives a warm welcome to the useful reception last night. I note that the Opposition are neither interested in new inventions nor in getting them into technological production. Those who attended naturally wished to have more tax reliefs in the future, but were grateful for what the Government have done for small business. They pointed out that one of the real problems was that years and years of high taxation in this country had deprived us of people who were either willing to take risks themselves or were willing to take risks to back others.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady not think that these tragic and terrible unemployment figures announced today should be debated immediately in the House of Commons in time provided by the Government who have created them?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that they are very tragic figures——

Mr. Robert Hughes

Do something about them.

The Prime Minister

—and if he wishes to pursue the question of debating them I am sure that he will find a ready ear with my right hon. Friend Francis Pymthe Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady go further? We have asked, as she knows, and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, that figures of this tragic significance should be debated and arrangements should be made for the Government to provide time. Is she aware that the figures announced today are not merely worse than any unemployment figures announced since the end of the war, but worse even than any figures for a January, except for one month, even in the 1930s? That is the situation that we face.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in May 1977, when the unemployment figure was more than 1 million less than it is today, speaking from the Opposition side of the House she said that the Conservatives would have been drummed out of office if such figures had prevailed at the time? Is she not prepared to face the House of Commons and debate these matters properly? Will she acknowledge that she has been responsible for the worst unemployment figures recorded in this country in this century?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman can pursue the question of a time for debate with my right hon. Friend Francis Pymthe Leader of the House through the proper channels. As a former Leader of the House, he knows full well that that is the correct place and time. Dealing with [column 767]his specific accusation, these times are quite different from the 1930s. In the 1930s only about 18 million people were at work. The employed working population today is nearly 24 million.

Mr. Foot

As the right hon. Lady has now apparently acknowledged for the first time that the unemployment figures are different, tragic and of momentous consequence, does she still intend to persist with the policies that have helped to produce them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman appears to indicate that we cannot fight inflation and unemployment together. Fighting inflation is the best way to fight unemployment in the longer run. One reason for increasing unemployment is that for 20 years we have not taken the steps that we should have done to put right the fundamental and deep-seated problems.

Mr. Michael Spicer

Will my right hon. Friend, in a busy day, consider raising with President Reagan the extremely unfair and non-reciprocal arrangements between our two countries over visas, which are likely to affect over 1 million people from this country this year?

The Prime Minister

I am perfectly prepared to raise with President Reagan a considerable number of topics, including that matter, if my hon. Friend will give me full details before I go.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Will the Prime Minister, in the course of today, take the opportunity to discuss with the Secretary of State for the Environment the serious loss of rate income suffered by some authorities in the North-West, of which Rochdale is one, as a consequence of textile mill closures? Will she ask him to consider the possibility of a special rate grant such as he announced for those areas suffering a loss of rate income through steel closures?

The Prime Minister

The scheme announced by Michael Heseltinemy right hon. Friend is primarily for the loss of rate income through steel closures. However, it is possible that it also pertains to other major closures that affect certain authorities, and he will be prepared to consider the matter.

Mr. Whitney

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the constitutional implications of the fact that henceforth the Leader of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition will, as Mrs. Shirley Williams said, be appointed by a handful of trade union leaders?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the essence of democracy is that in this place we are each free wholly and fully to say exactly what we think, in the best interests of the country as a whole.

Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 27 January.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Prime Minister aware that the figure of 287,000 unemployed in Scotland today represents a doubling of unemployment since May 1979, when she took charge? Is she dressed in black because of the unemployment figures? Does she not recognise that her advice to keep on taking the medicine is creating industrial wastelands all over the United Kingdom? When on earth will she come to her senses and face reality?

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The Prime Minister

The policy of fighting inflation, trying to get industries competitive and trying to encourage innovation and investment is the only one that will create jobs in the long run.

Mr. William Hamilton

Come off it!

The Prime Minister

I do not intend to depart from that policy for one moment. Yes, the figures are very serious. We are trying to assist as best we can in the interim. In Scotland we have considerably increased the youth opportunities programme so that young people are helped. In the United Kingdom as a whole we are spending altogether on special employment measures and training about £843 million, which is a measure of the concern with which we view the situation.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the welcome reduction in the level of pay increases, had it occurred last year or the year before, would have done much to reduce unemployment?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I gladly confirm that. Had pay increases marched hand in hand with productivity increases some firms would not be as uncompetitive as they are today and we should have a lot less unemployment and a lot more jobs.

Miss Joan Lestor

In view of the Conservative Party's propaganda at the last election on unemployment and the statement that a Conservative Government would reduce the number of unemployed, can the Prime Minister make clear to the country whether it is the Government's deliberate policy to increase unemployment, or whether they are doing so by accident and their policies are out of control?

The Prime Minister

There are two main reasons for the substantial increase in unemployment. One is the world recession. I am reminded very much of what the right hon. Gentleman who is now Leader of the Opposition said when there was a similar recession and unemployment rose similarly. In July 1975 he said:

“The main cause of the unemployment throughout the whole of this period has been the recession which has hit the whole Western world.” —[Official Report, 1 July 1975; Vol 894, c. 1173.]

The other reason is that for years in this country we have tolerated overmanning, restrictive practices and pay increases far in excess of productivity. At last we have a Government who are dealing with the underlying problems.

Q3. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 27 January.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to pay tribute to the management and work force of British Aerospace? [Hon. Members: “Nationalised.” ] Is she aware that because of the continuing success of the Airbus project a further 2,000 jobs will be found at Chester, that because of the continuing success of Jetstream a further 500 jobs can be found at Prestwick and that if there is success in selling the excellent Tornado abroad there will be even more jobs at Preston?

The Prime Minister

I gladly pay tribute to companies that are looking to the future, whether nationalised or not. Unfortunately, not many nationalised companies are [column 769]making a good profit, otherwise we should not have to find so much money to pour into them. I gladly pay tribute to British Aerospace and wish it well in the future with its new developments and scope for extra jobs.

Mr. Golding

Is the Prime Minister aware that unemployment in Staffordshire, which was prosperous under Labour, has risen to 9.7 per cent. today, which is in no way due to high wages? Will she accept that employers and trade unionists alike agree that it is due to a lack of competitiveness, but that competitiveness has been destroyed since May 1979 by the Government?

The Prime Minister

With all due respect, that is absolute nonsense. Competitiveness is usually destroyed by unit labour costs that are higher than those of our competitors. The only way to secure more jobs in the future is to see that our unit labour costs are approximately the same as, or even better than, those in other countries.

Q4. Mr. Butcher

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 27 January.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Butcher

Has my right hon. Friend had time to study the excellent speech by Sir William Barlow to the Royal Institute of Public Affairs, in which he called for the denationalisation of as many industries as possible? Will she follow up his suggestion that the remaining nationalised industries should be turned into Companies Acts businesses, so that they can more easily raise capital on the open market at home and abroad?

The Prime Minister

I saw the report to which my hon. Friend refers in The Times. I agree that where we have a nationalised industry that is a monopoly it has advantages in being able to secure a higher price than other companies and, indeed, that it does not concentrate on cutting costs and securing efficiency as much as it should. The real answer is to denationalise such companies in whole or in part. We shall pursue that policy as far as we can. It is not enough merely to put the whole lot into a company, because, as we know from British Leyland, it is still in the public sector. However, I agree that we should denationalise.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Prime Minister aware that as her policies have been decisively rejected by the electorate of Scotland—[Interruption.] Our time is coming? Is the right hon. Lady aware that as her policies have been decisively rejected, she does not have the slightest political or moral mandate to increase unemployment in Scotland? Is she further aware that, in one month, 25,000 people more have become unemployed? What steps does she intend to take to correct that?

The Prime Minister

In so far as I heard the right hon. Gentleman, I very much regret the unemployment figures in Scotland, just as I regret those elsewhere in the United Kingdom. There are substantial job opportunities in Scotland through the oil-related industries. In addition, there will be increasing job opportunities as the new petrochemical complexes and the gas-gathering pipeline come on stream.