Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [998/736-40]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2303
Themes: Agriculture, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Private health care, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Trade union law reform
[column 736]

Prime Minister


Q1. Mr. Ancram

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 February.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had 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. Ancram

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to study the Employment Act 1980, with reference to the case of Joanna Harris? Is she aware that many on the Conservative side of the House believe that a person's right to work should not depend on union membership, and that in such circumstances a closed shop is a denial of free choice?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend about the operation of closed shops. I hope that those affected by it will take full advantage of the change in the law provided by the Employment Act 1980. As my hon. Friend will have seen from the Green Paper on trade union immunities, we are reviewing the law and will consider what action to take in the light of the Sandwell cases and other instances of its operation.

Mr. Foot

Has the Prime Minister had the chance today to study what we consider to be the extremely serious matters arising on the agenda of discussions between the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers? Does she not think that it is utterly deplorable, at a time of world crisis in energy, that Britain should contemplate closing pits that still have coal in them? How does she square that with the undertakings given by herself and the Government at the Venice meeting a few months ago?

The Prime Minister

That is a matter for the National Coal Board to consider in the light of its duties, its coal stocks, its requirements, its productivity, and the prices that it charges. We have already fixed the external finance limit for the NCB for next year at the considerable sum of £882 million.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her answer? This is a matter for the nation to consider. Will she give an undertaking that no steps will be taken along that road until the House has had an opportunity to discuss the matter? Will she not reinstitute the tripartite system of discussions for the coal industry, which produced “Plan For Coal” —which the Government said they would carry forward for a period? Does she not agree that it would be better for industry and for the country as a whole if an agreement were reached between the NCB, the miners and the Government about a plan for the industry, rather than the right hon. Lady condemning it to the disaster of quarrels between all three?

The Prime Minister

It would be quite wrong for the Government to attempt to manage every nationalised [column 737]industry. It is for the Government, in conjunction with the NCB, to fix the amount of finance that is available. We have done so, and the figure I gave to the right hon. Gentleman is considerable. That money will have to be found either from taxation or from borrowing, and will go to the NCB for its operations next year. That is in addition to the price that we shall pay for coal and the increased price that we shall pay for electricity because the price of coal is high.

Mr. Foot

Since the future of the nation is involved in this matter and since we shall never recover from the recession if the right hon. Lady and her friends allow the coal industry to sink, may we have an absolute undertaking that all the proposals will be discussed in the House of Commons before the procedure under which she is directing that industry proceeds?

The Prime Minister

No, Mr. Speaker. I am not directing that industry. We have fixed the amount available for the industry. It is for the management of the National Coal Board to make the arrangements and we shall stand by those arrangements.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Although my right hon. Friend does not wish to direct any industry, does she agree that Great Britain is famous for its red telephone boxes? Does she accept that British Telecom's announcement that they are to be repainted because, in the words of its spokesman, “yellow is its colour” , will be treated with the greatest possible dismay?

The Prime Minister

I see my hon. Friend's point. I think that we are famous for one or two things other than red telephone boxes.

Mr. Sever

Will the Prime Minister call to her office the Secretary of State for the Environment to tell him of the widespread concern about the statement that he made in the House yesterday about funding the inner city programmes? Will she tell him that the statement was not good enough and that hon. Members representing inner city areas are worried about the desperate need to improve our inner cities? Will she ask him to come back to the House with a new statement indicating new proposals?

The Prime Minister

I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman any hope that more money will be made available for the inner city programmes. We are operating under considerable constraints. Whatever one wishes to do, one cannot go on borrowing more and more for causes, however worthwhile they are.

Q2. Mr. Hannam

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 February.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have just given.

Mr. Hannam

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing resentment at the prospective increases in the water rate? Will she confirm that the Secretary of State has the power to dismiss as well as to appoint the chairmen of water authorities and that chairmen will be chosen because of their determination to reduce bureaucracy and cut costs?

The Prime Minister

We are aware of the widespread concern about water charges. My right hon. Friend Tom Kingthe Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services has therefore seen the chairmen of the English water authorities. With their co-operation he has appointed [column 738]a team of financial consultants to inquire into the scope for reducing water charges from their present levels and to advise him accordingly.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not strange that people who always profess loyalty to Britain should now threaten to take up arms against this country? Is the right hon. Lady aware that a large majority of people in Britain want to see a lasting solution to the troubles in Ireland and, moreover, a solution which is based on the reality of the situation that exists in the whole of Ireland?

The Prime Minister

The situation with regard to Northern Ireland has not changed and will not change unless the people of Northern Ireland themselves wish to change it and unless the Parliament here so decides. Until that time, it remains exactly as it is.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend find time to study the statistics which show that one in four subscribers to BUPA are trade unionists? Does she agree that when it comes to making provision for the health of oneself and one's family it is better to be independent of the State than dependent on it?

The Prime Minister

I noted the figures. I am glad that an increasing number of people are choosing to spend their money freely on increasing provision for their health.

Mr. Alton

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the devastating consequences that the 1,500 redundancies at the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery in Liverpool will have on the economic and social infrastructure of that city? Has she received requests from the city council and from the spiritual and political leaders in Liverpool for a meeting with her to discuss the implications of that closure? Is she prepared to meet such delegates?

The Prime Minister

We have received some representations. I cannot receive such deputations. They should see management representatives. The hon. Gentleman knows how the problem arose. First, there has been a reduction in sugar consumption. Secondly, an increasing amount of sugar is refined from sugar beet.

Tel Aviv

Q3. Mr. Renton

asked the Prime Minister whether she has any plans to visit Tel Aviv.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Renton

When my right hon. Friend visits Washington at the end of the month will she discuss with President Reagan the great need for a settlement of the Palestinian question? To what extent does she feel that the Camp David concept of Palestinian autonomy within a framework to be determined by Egypt, Israel and, ultimately, Jordan is still valid?

The Prime Minister

When we go to the United States we shall undoubtedly discuss this matter with President Reagan. I believe that Camp David was a great step forward. I have no doubt that the President of the United States will be considering how to take it further. One of the problems is that the concept of autonomy has so far been rejected by Jordan and the other Arab leaders.

Mr. Hooley

If the Prime Minister goes to Tel Aviv will she go to the West Bank and talk to the Palestinians [column 739]there where she will discover that they are determined to secure the right of self-determination in their own independent State?

The Prime Minister

We issued a declaration from Venice on this matter. If there is to be a settlement of the great problems in that area it is vital that one side should honour the right of Israel to live behind secure borders and in peace and that the other side should honour the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The problem has been to move those two essentials forward together.

Viscount Cranborne

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that she recognises Israel's right to exist and that the Palestinian Liberation Organisation is still dedicated to the destruction of the Israeli State?

The Prime Minister

Of course we recognise Israel's right to exist and behind secure boundaries. We have never recognised the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people because of its relationship with terrorist activities.

Mr. Ernie Ross

If the Prime Minister goes to Tel Aviv will she stress to the Israelis that they cannot expect to live behind any type of secure border when they continue to seize land as they did recently when they seized 4,000 acres around the Arab town of Nablus?

The Prime Minister

That illustrates the importance of trying to secure an agreement on this long-standing problem. I do not think that it helps to hurl accusations at one side or the other. We must try to move both sides forward, recognising the two concepts that I indicated earlier.

Common Agricultural Policy

Q4. Mr. Latham

asked the Prime Minister what further proposals she will make at the next European Council to implement the Government's intentions regarding reform of the common agricultural policy of the European Economic Community; and whether she will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

It is too early to say what will be on the agenda for this meeting or what stage will by then have been reached in negotiations on farm prices and related matters.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the Government put as much determination behind reforming [column 740]the CAP as they did behind the successful renegotiation of the budget contribution? Does she agree that it is plain that the present system cannot continue for much longer?

The Prime Minister

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall devote all our vigour to reforming the common agricultural policy. It seems to us to be absurd to have a policy which builds ever-increasing surpluses which take ever-increasing proportions of the budget and of resources to produce food that we do not want and cannot eat.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is the Prime Minister aware that we are honoured with a visit of a delegation from the People's Republic of China? It is not a laughing matter. Although I am not allowed to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that they have not been in the Gallery, would she perhaps consider whether she could arrange a visit to China as soon as possible?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This was not an open question, but one of the questions on the Common Market.

Mr. Budgen

When my right hon. Friend goes to the European Council, will she take the opportunity to comment upon the interesting letter in The Times today by our distinguished colleague, Sir Fred Catherwood? In that letter he asserts, first, that the Euro-junkets such as we have read about recently are necessary and should continue. Secondly, he asserts that the EEC has a trade policy independent of the nation States within the EEC.

The Prime Minister

I cannot vouch for precisely what the letter in The Times says, but, if the sums which were reported as spent on overseas travel visits by Euro Members of Parliament were correct, it was gross extravagance.