Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [1000/126-30]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2367
Themes: Executive, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Privatized & state industries, Pay, Trade, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Local government, Local government finance, Northern Ireland, Strikes & other union action
[column 126]


Safety of Reservoirs (Departmental Co-ordination)

Q1. Mr. Wigley

asked the Prime Minister if she is satisfied with the administrative co-ordination between Departments in relation to the safety of reservoirs.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Wigley

Is the right hon. Lady aware that, following the recent BBC2 “Open Secret” programme, there has been wide-scale public concern at the non-implementation of the Reservoirs Act 1975, an Act that was welcomed on 22 January 1975 by the Conservative Party when in Opposition? Does she understand that the Act gives further powers to local authorities in terms of inspections and policy to make binding their decisions? Will she discuss the matter with the Department of the Environment, with a view to bringing in a commencement order for this important Act?

The Prime Minister

I have had information from the Department of the Environment, which I think was communicated to the hon. Gentleman in answer to his previous question. I am informed that all the powers regarding the safety of reservoirs can be exercised under the 1930 Act, and that they are exercised under that Act by the district councils, whereas under the 1975 Act they will be exercised by the country councils. In both instances enforcement can be through the Crown courts. My right hon. Friend Michael Heseltinethe Secretary of State for the Environment will shortly be drawing to the attention of the district councils the fact that theirs is the responsibility for the safety of reservoirs.

Mr. Hannam

As reservoirs are the responsibility of the water authorities, will my right hon. Friend congratulate the accountants who so quickly achieved a reduction of £86 million in the level of water rates proposed for the coming year?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I think that both the accountants and the chairman of the water authorities have done an excellent job. About £86 million less will be levied by water rates than would have been the case. Water rates have been reduced by an average of 6 per cent. I think that my right hon. Friend Michael Heseltinethe Secretary of State for the Environment is to be congratulated on the initiative that he took.

Mr. Maxton

Is the right hon. Lady aware that members of the civil engineering industry, many of whom voted for the Conservative Party in the previous election, are now saying that unless large sums of Government money are spent the safety of reservoirs will deteriorate and sewerage works will be on the verge of collapse, as will water supplies? Only the massive injection of Government money will solve the problem.

The Prime Minister

I am as much concerned about the safety of reservoirs as is the hon. Gentleman. The first step is to get the powers under the 1930 Act exercised by the district councils, so that we have a better idea of what is involved.

[column 127]


Q2. Mr. Watson

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 3 March.

The Prime Minister

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. Watson

Following the teachers' 7½ per cent. pay settlement yesterday, will my right hon. Friend confirm the Government's commitment to cash limits for public sector pay? Is it not the case that the 7 per cent. now on offer to civil servants will add £315 million to the Government's pay bill?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I confirm that the cash limits already announced will be adhered to. I confirm also that the figure given by my hon. Friend is about correct. I hope that the members of Civil Service unions who have announced that some of them will go on strike next week will have regard to the views of ordinary people, many of whom would resent it very much if those who have good and secure jobs attempted to strike for even more pay.

Mr. Marks

Will the Prime Minister take time to consider her Government's relationship with the United Nations? In her discussions there and with President Reagan, did she consider the United Nations resolutions passed at the 1978 Special Assembly? Have she and President Reagan considered what proposals they will put forward for disarmament at next year's conference?

The Prime Minister

I saw Secretary-General Waldheim, but we did not discuss those matters. President Reagan and I also discussed arms control. We are concerned, as is everyone else, to see that the balance is struck at a much lower level than now, but any balance that is struck must be clearly monitored and verifiable.

Mr. William Shelton

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to turn her mind to the hard-pressed ratepayers in boroughs such as Lambeth and Camden? Does she not agree that the time may have come for the Government to consider legislation to curb such boroughs?

The Prime Minister

We shall consider what my hon. Friend has said. It is clear from some of the figures that are coming in that the most extravagant boroughs are those held by Labour.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Will the right hon. Lady take a few minutes today to telephone her friend President Reagan in the White House and inform him, with regard to the British-American initative on the rapid deployment force, that John Wayne and Errol Flynn are dead, and that David Niven was 71 last Sunday?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member's remark is cheap and unwarranted, and will do damage to this country.

President Reagan

Q3. Mr. Emery

asked the Prime Minister whether she will extend an invitation to the President of the United States of America to visit the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister

During my visit I renewed my invitation to President Reagan to visit this country.

[column 128]

Mr. Emery

Will my right hon. Friend assure the President of the United States that he will have the warmest welcome in this country? Will she also tell the House what positive steps she can take, prior to his visit, to carry out that part of her statement yesterday concerning the American purchasing of British defence equipment? Has not that been a wish that has been frustrated previously by Congress or by the industrial lobby on Capitol Hill? Will not positive action be needed to turn that intention into reality?

The Prime Minister

I discussed that matter with Defence Secretary Weinberger. We recently signed a memorandum of understanding for the United States to purchase Rapier. Secretary Weinberger told me that the Administration are giving their support to the development and production of the Harrier AV8B, which is for Congress to decide on. The Administration will also give their support to the United States rejoining the JP233 programme, which is an airfield denial weapon. We also took the opportunity to mention a number of other weapon systems to Secretary Weinberger, such as the Searchwater Radar, Sting Ray, the Wavell command and control system, Giant Viper and the Hawk jet trainer. The Government are concerned with getting orders for this country and with keeping people employed where we have excellent defence equipment. We are also concerned that while every member of the Alliance cannot become involved in the production of every weapons system, we should concentrate our research and development on those things that we do best. We put all those points to Secretary Weinberger. I should like to think that such a robust case would never have been put by the Opposition.

Mr. Canavan

While agreeing that it is wrong for the Russians to use their military might to prop up a puppet regime in Afghanistan, may I ask why the Prime Minister is afraid to tell President Reagan that it is also wrong for the Americans to use their military might to prop up a puppet regime in El Salvador? Has the right hon. Lady been reduced to being President Reagan's puppet?

The Prime Minister

I rather think that I was at it before President Reagan came to the White House. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the President does not need any warning about the Soviet system. With regard to El Salvador, I hope that the hon. Gentlemen will support the statement that we made before we went to the United States and will support the call that arms should not be supplied to guerrillas, because that is where the initial interference is coming from.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her visit to Washington has not only revived the Anglo-American alliance, but has created a much better climate for British trade, investment and jobs? However, bearing in mind that it is deeds and not words that count, will she hesitate before making further reductions in British defence equipment, because that could lead to our being unable to carry out in practice some of the undertakings that she gave to the Americans to assist them in defending freedom outside as well as inside Europe?

The Prime Minister

In our first year of office we reached our target of spending 3 per cent. more in real terms on defence. This year we shall go over that target, possibly to 4 per cent. or even as much as 5 per cent. In [column 129]view of that performance we cannot order extra equipment, but I think that the performance speaks for itself.

Mr. Foot

I refer to the right hon. Lady's answer on El Salvador. When she made the statement expressing the British Government's support of the American position, was she aware that the Americans were about to dispatch about £30 million worth of military equipment to El Salvador? Does she approve of that form of military intervention? Has she had a chance to examine the possibility of some form of mediation, as was originally suggested by the West German Government? Whether that was suggested by that Government or not, will the British Government seek some form of mediation in what has been described by the last American Ambassador in El Salvador as civil war? Will she take a constructive initiative in this matter?

The Prime Minister

As my noble Friend and I said yesterday, extensive armaments are reaching the guerrilla forces in El Salvador. It would be most advisable if those were stopped. The people of El Salvador must then be left to sort out their own matters in their own way and have the chance to choose democracy. As I said to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, I cannot comment on each and every action of the United States Administration. I fully understand their alarm and concern at any subversive activity in a country that is so close to them.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady has not sought to answer my question about mediation. She says that she cannot comment on each and every action of the United States Government, but did she not examine the amount of military supplies that were being sent to El Salvador before she made the statement approving their policy?

The Prime Minister

To examine evidence is one thing; to comment on every particular action is another.

Mr. Temple-Morris

When my right hon. Friend sees the President, will she invite him to welcome the release from Iran of the three missionary detainees? Will she make it clear to him and to the world that normal relations [column 130]between our two countries, let alone Western commercial confidence in Iran, cannot be restored until Mr. Andrew Pyke is also released?

The Prime Minister

President Reagan was pleased at the action that we took to help secure the release of the American hostages from Iran. He was also pleased about the release of our three detainees from Iran. Normal relationships between this country and Iran cannot be restored until Mr. Pyke is similarly released and brought home.

Q5. Mr. Leighton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 3 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Leighton

Is the Prime Minister aware that in 1981 her East of Suez posturing and bombastic bluster at the Dispatch Box yesterday are pathetic and absurd? Will she answer the question that she dodged yesterday? Will she consult the Gulf States about the so-called rapid deployment force?

The Prime Minister

We said that if the Americans create a rapid deployment force we will be prepared, in principle, to join it. A rapid deployment force is not meant for deployment in any particular region of the world or to be stationed in any particular region. If States did not ask for it, they obviously would not have it. The tragedy would be if certain States needed it and there was not one prepared and ready to go.

Mr. Kilfedder

When the Prime Minister spoke to the President of the United States about arms, did she remind him that the RUC is still waiting for the second half of its order for sidearms, which was suspended as a result of pro-IRA sympathisers in the United States lobbies? Did the President have any comment to make on the capture of a United States machine gun from the IRA in Belfast?

The Prime Minister

I did not discuss Irish matters with President Reagan. I understand from the Chief Constable of the RUC that the force has sufficient arms for its present requirements.