Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [999/739-44]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2328
Themes: Defence (arms control), Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Housing, Local government
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Prime Minister


Q1. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 24 February.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and 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, which will give me an opportunity to——

Mr. Foulkes


The Prime Minister

—to express the great pleasure which the news of the engagement of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has brought—[Hon. Members: “Hear, Hear” ]—to the Government, and, I am sure, to the House as a whole.

Mr. Price

Now that—as far as the coal industry is concerned—the Prime Minister has doffed the garb of Iron Maiden and put on that of Jelly Baby, will she make a similar U-turn in her policy of creating unemployment? Will the right hon. Lady answer the question that she refused to answer a few weeks ago when she was faced by her friend Mr. Brian Walden, and tell us what level of unemployment will finally force a U-turn out of her?

The Prime Minister

I shall give the same reply to the hon. Gentleman as I gave on the occasion to which he referred. To fight inflation is the best way to fight unemployment.

Mr. David Steel

While the Prime Minister prepares for her journey to see President Reagan tomorrow, will she consider urging him to make a positive response to the speech made by President Brezhnev? Is the right hon. Lady aware that throughout the country and among those of all political persuasions, there is growing anxiety about the heightening of East-West tensions, and that the most constructive move would be to secure a summit meeting on the lines suggested by President Brezhnev?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that President Reagan will look carefully—as we are doing—at that speech. However, the best way of improving East-West relations is not to make speeches but to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

As the claim of the water and sewerage workers will obviously command attention today, will my right hon. Friend confirm that any Government influence or intervention will have regard to the merits of the case and not to extraneous considerations? Will my right hon. Friend further confirm that although Ministers—for reasons that we understand—did not pick up the gauntlet thrown down by the miners, they will resist any temptation to prove their [column 740]machismo by adopting an excessively robust attitude towards this smaller and less powerful group, which nevertheless does valuable social work?

The Prime Minister

As regards the water industry's claim, I understand that the employers are meeting soon and that the unions will meet shortly. As regards the merits of the claim, there are many people in this country who would like a job with that security and with the increased sum of money that has been offered. I hope that those who press this matter further will bear in mind that the money has to come from many citizens for whom such an increase is not possible. As regards the employers, the water authorities have been most co-operative with the accountants who have gone in. Most of those who have held their statutory meetings have already reduced the water rate substantially from the level that had previously been envisaged. They are to be congratulated on doing so.

Mr. Foot

With regard to the crisis in the water industry, may we urge the right hon. Lady to be her usual pragmatic, interventionist self?

As the right hon. Lady will be making a most important visit to the United States of America, in the week when unemployment totals have risen to the highest figure recorded in this century, may we assume that she will not discuss economic matters with the President but that she will give her mind to the speech that was made yesterday by Mr. Brezhnev? May we assume that she will urge upon the President—and, indeed, upon all the other Powers concerned—the need to make a constructive response to the proposals that were made for arms limitation, particularly as they appear to be a response to what was said by others in Madrid?

Will the right hon. Lady therefore go to the United States in the knowledge that stopping the arms race is the most important question in the world?

The Prime Minister

I have already given one reply to a question about Mr. Brezhnev's speech. I pointed out that the very best thing to improve relations would be for the Soviet Union to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. With regard to the rest of the speech, the proposals concerning confidence-building measures, arms limitation, and the particular point about theatre nuclear forces, the fact is that the Soviet Union has already got much further with the deployment of theatre nuclear forces than we have. One of the factors that we must bear in mind is that there are occasions when it would suit the Soviet Union to stop further deployment immediately.

Every aspect of the speech has to be looked at—not only the content of the speech but the actual facts on the ground.

Mr. Foot

I am sure that we are all in favour of looking at the facts on the ground, as we did in the coal industry dispute. We are all in favour of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. [Interruption.] Oh, yes. We have said so from this Dispatch Box, right from the time when the invasion took place. Since the Western Powers themselves put forward in Madrid some suggestions about arms control, and since the speech in Moscow appears to make some response to those suggestions, surely we should use every endeavour that we can to build on this and to try to get an agreement?

Will the right hon. Lady go from this House to the meeting in the United States of America and say “Let us [column 741]make a Herculean effort to stop the arms race” ? Surely she should approach the matter in that spirit rather than in the spirit that she showed a few minutes ago.

The Prime Minister

I am showing a thoroughly realistic spirit. As to the proposals to have talks on arms control with regard to theatre nuclear forces, I stress that that proposal was made at NATO, that there was one attempt to discuss the matter, and that it has not been taken any further.

Mr. Brezhnev has made some further suggestions. In looking at those suggestions, we must remember the number of SS-20s deployed on the ground, and the fact that they are way ahead of anything that we have. In certain circumstances, therefore, it would suit Soviet Russia to have a moritorium on those weapons now. We are concerned with trying to get nuclear arms reduction, with a genuine balance. We cannot have a reduction that would leave one side very much better off than the other.

Mr. Latham

Will my right hon. Friend today tell any Labour local authorities that are going slow on the sale of council houses that this House expects them to obey the law, and that there are powers within the Housing Act to ensure that they do so?

The Prime Minister

I wholly endorse what my hon. Friend says. If people are given a right by this House to purchase their council houses, we expect every agency and local authority to obey the law. My right hon. Friend Michael Heseltinethe Secretary of State for the Environment has reserve powers, but naturally he would be reluctant to use them. I hope that the local authorities will expedite the process of selling houses in accordance with the wishes and rights of their constituents.

Q2. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 24 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Whitehead

Is the Prime Minister aware, at long last, of the high price that this nation is paying for the re-education of her Government? Since so little has been done so late on such a wide area, from high interest rates through to public sector finance, may we now take it that the Government will make industrial re-investment their first priority?

The Prime Minister

If we were to make our first priority industrial reinvestment—a principle that I find very attractive indeed—we would have to cut down very substantially current expenditure in other areas. I shall be happy to receive the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Thornton

As I know that my right hon. Friend shares my concern about the increasing unemployment figures in Merseyside—[Interruption.]—Will she find time, before she goes to the United States, to urge upon her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment the need to expedite the setting up of the enterprise zone and the urban development corporation in Merseyside, as this offers a way of providing new jobs for the hard-pressed people in that area?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are very anxious that the enterprise zones should become operative as soon as possible. They offer opportunities which no one in this country has had before. We have done almost as much as we possibly can for [column 742]Merseyside. As my hon. Friend knows, it is a special development area. It has also an inner city partnership scheme. It has an urban development corporation. I hope that that will be expedited, and also the enterprise zone at Speke. I do not think there is much more that one can do on top of that. For the rest, it will be for Merseyside itself to attract new industries.

Mr. Maclennan

After the unprecedented and terrifying unemployment figures, will the Prime Minister say whether she regards the jobs created under the Government's special employment schemes as real jobs? If she does, will she create many more of them? If she does not, will she ensure that they are not listed with the official figures of those in employment, thus artificially creating an impression that more people are in work than is the case?

The Prime Minister

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we are carrying on schemes that were initiated by the previous Labour Government. Many of them are work experience schemes. It is far better, as the hon. Member knows, for young people to be occupied on those schemes than for them to be on an unemployment register. A considerable number of them are training, because we believe that we can use the interim period to train people for the time when expansion comes. It is better to have those people engaged on work experience and training than to have them on the unemployment register. But there is, of course, a limit to the extent to which we can go. If we add very much more to that area, we have to take the money out of the private sector—money that could otherwise be used to create commercial jobs.

Mr. Hill

Is my hon. Friend aware of the unease among some of us on the Conservative Back Benches with regard to the excessively generous funding of nationalised industries? Is it not creating the position whereby, at the end of the day, only the nationalised industries will survive, and the private sector, to which we are dedicated, will fall?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend Sir Keith Josephthe Secretary of State for Industry will be making a statement shortly about the steel industry. About 50,000 jobs have been lost in the British Steel Corporation, and one of the purposes of the moneys being injected into it is to get it into a condition and a size where it can be profitable. That is being done by slimming it down, and by paying some of the money for redundancies to ensure that the industry will become profitable. When it is, I believe that we can perhaps denationalise it.

Q3. Mr. Soley

asked the Prime Minister how many representations for an increase in overseas aid she has received since the cuts in the budget were announced.

The Prime Minister

Over 1,300 since last April.

Mr. Soley

Why does not the Prime Minister respond to those representations and to the Archbishop of Canterbury's plea to restore our aid in real terms? Even if she dismisses the moral obligations on this country, surely it is in our interest to encourage development in those countries for the benefit of our own devastated economic base.

The Prime Minister

One would be in a very nice position if one were able to give enormous handouts to overseas aid wherever one wished——

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Mr. Christopher Price


The Prime Minister

Help, aid, gifts, loans, and anything that can help. This year the sum is about £960 million but with the tremendous burdens on our own Exchequer we must give our people the first priority.

Mr. Whitney

Will my right hon. Friend agree that, for most developing countries, access to the markets of the [column 744]industrial world is, in general, much more important than official aid? Does she agree that there is a fundamental paradox in the position of many Opposition Members who urge increased aid and also loudly advocate protectionism?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that those who are most vociferous in urging increased aid are often those most vociferous in urging reduced trade.