Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1981 Mar 17 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [1/192-98]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2504
Themes: Executive, Union of UK nations, Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Privatized & state industries, Pay, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Local government finance, Strikes & other union action
[column 192]

PRIME MINISTER

Nerve Gas Weapons

Q1. Mr. Hooley

asked the Prime Minister whether her conversations with President Reagan included discussions on the stockpiling or deployment of binary nerve gas weapons on British soil.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

No, Sir.

Mr. Hooley

Is the Prime Minister aware that the United Kingdom has hitherto had a good record in promoting discussions on a convention to abolish all chemical weapons and prohibit their use? In the light of the horrific nature of such weapons, will this continue to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister

Yes, indeed. We are anxious to secure a comprehensive ban on chemical weapons. What is holding up such a ban is the attitude of the Soviet Union, which has shown itself unwilling to countenance the verification arrangements that we need.

[column 193]

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that many of us on the Government Benches welcome the Government's decision not to develop an offensive chemical warfare capability but to concentrate on producing better defensive mechanisms against chemical warfare?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It would be better still if we had a comprehensive ban on the possession of chemical weapons but so far there is no prospect of getting one. Moreover, it would be better if those who have been accused of possibly using chemical weapons in Afghanistan would submit to United Nations investigation, which so far they have refused to do.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Will the Prime Minister include in her discussions reference to El Salvador and any military or civil assistance that might be requested?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a very different question from the one that is before the House.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not a matter of extreme concern that the Soviet Union should have made such heavy investments in recent years in offensive chemical capability, both land-based and air-launched? Is it not a fact that every division of the Soviet Army has an integral chemical battalion? In those circumstances, unless some agreement can be obtained with the Soviet Union, is my right hon. Friend prepared to reconsider whether British troops should face these weapons without any means of defending themselves?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is a terrible fact that the Soviet Union has a considerable offensive chemical weapons capability. Criticism should be concentrated on persuading the Soviet Union first to reduce that capability and then totally to disband it. So long as the Soviet Union retains it, naturally other countries are concerned that they have nothing with which to deter the Soviet Union from using it. We must first concentrate on giving our own troops a defensive capability and proper protection.

Engagements

Q2. Mr. Colin Shepherd

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 March.

The Prime Minister

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with Sonny Ramphalthe Commonwealth Secretary-General. I was also present when Her Majesty the Queen welcomed President Shagari of Nigeria. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today, and this evening I shall attend a State banquet given by the Queen in honour of President Shagari.

Mr. Shepherd

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to read the press reports of the tremendous success being enjoyed by British Leyland's Mini Metro, which is currently top of the sales league? Is not the message for British industry that if the work forces and managements of companies work together as teams they will enjoy greater success, with better results for employment? Will my right hon. Friend take time today to congratulate the whole of British Leyland's management and work force team?

[column 194]

The Prime Minister

The news about the Mini Metro was very good. I gladly respond to my hon. Friend's invitation to congratulate both the management and the work force. I hope that the Mini Metro will sell well and that the number of sales will continue to increase. However, many must be sold before the break-even point is reached. I should very much like British Leyland to sell enough to make a profit.

Mr. Foot

In what circumstances has the right hon. Lady set up an inquiry into an alleged Budget leak?

The Prime Minister

I personally do not set up inquiries into matters that are within the province of the Treasury. The inquiry has been set up in the normal way by the Treasury. The Treasury is taking action through the usual Civil Service departments.

Mr. Foot

Must I take it that this a normal inquiry into the usual leakage? May I press the right hon. Lady further? Does she not think that perhaps the most serious of last week's leakages occurred last Friday when it was suggested that she or those closely associated with her had said that it would not be possible to hold pre-Budget Cabinet meetings to discuss the contents of the Budget because of the danger of leakage and because what was discussed in the morning might be out by tea-time? Who are these tea-time traitors? Can the right hon. Lady enlighten us a little more about that and about whether the leakage came from her office?

The Prime Minister

In all the time that I have been in Cabinet I cannot remember a Budget that was discussed in Cabinet before it had been prepared.

Mr. Foot

It is a most extraordinary development if the Cabinet does not discuss the Budget beforehand. That was not the practice of previous Cabinets. [Hon. Members: “Oh” .] I can assure the House that there were discussions, as the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said yesterday. However, I am asking the right hon. Lady about her statements, or about the statements that have been attributed to her, which were released on Friday. They imply that she would have difficulty in instituting any discussions on such matters in this Cabinet. Did that leakage come from her office, or from thin air?

The Prime Minister

Budget Statements are never discussed in Cabinet. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that things were different in his time. I wonder why we frequently saw news items to the effect that on the day before the Budget or on the morning of the Budget the Cabinet had been called together to be told its precise contents.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the enormous rates increase that has occurred in the borough of Preston since the Labour Party took control? Before that take-over Preston had the lowest rates in the United Kingdom. Under Labour control, the borough has announced a rate rise of 160 per cent.

The Prime Minister

I hope that the electorate will draw the lesson from my hon. Friend's question. Labour Governments and authorities are adept at spending other people's money.

Mr. David Steel

A week after the Budget Statement, is it still the Prime Minister's view that we must go on [column 195]taking the medicine? If so, will she bear it in mind that the side of every medicine bottle bears the words “Caution—do not exceed the stated dose” ?

The Prime Minister

The stated does has not yet been exceeded.

Q3. Mr. Hardy

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hardy

Does the Financial Secretary's recent speech, which seemed to give enormously high priority to cuts in direct taxation despite the fact that they will mean substantial increases in unemployment, have the right hon. Lady's approval?

The Prime Minister

I think that the hon. Gentleman must be referring to a television interview in which Nigel Lawsonmy right hon. Friend repeated that it was our objective to reduce the standard rate of income tax. That was and remains our objective, and it is a very good one. The Labour Party would have increased income tax.

Mr. Dover

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that civil servants who take part in the current dispute will lose their pay for the days that they are on strike?

The Prime Minister

People in the Civil Service are not paid for the days that they are on strike.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Since the Prime Minister came into office nearly two years ago, millions of people have suffered as a result of her policies. In what way have she or her family suffered in that time?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I answer for anything personal at this Dispatch Box.

Q4. Mr. Pawsey

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Pawsey

Will my right hon. Friend try to find time during her busy day to urge the nation to buy more British manufactured goods? At the same time, will she underline the point that buying British will save British jobs?

The Prime Minister

Many people could help by buying a larger proportion of British-made goods. I said as much in a speech about a fortnight ago. We cannot always buy British-made goods because jobs are also involved in exports. As my hon. Friend said, it would undoubtedly provide more jobs if more people were to use their pay packets to buy goods made in this country.

Mr. Robert Hughes

During the right hon. Lady's discussions with President Shagari of Nigeria, will she give him an undertaking that when the subject of Namibia next comes before the Security Council the British Government will support mandatory economic sanctions against South Africa?

The Prime Minister

I can give no such undertaking. The British Government will continue to work in the usual way in which we have been working with our partners in order to achieve a settlement in Namibia. In that way Namibia can reach true independence through a proper election and a free ballot.

Mr. Adley

Following the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover), is my right [column 196]hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents feel that civil servants are neither underpaid nor lacking in job security? In the light of the current dispute, will she redouble her efforts to review the manpower levels in every Department of central Government?

The Prime Minister

It is true that the pay of civil servants and of those working in local authorities is, in money terms, about 50 per cent. above the level of two years ago. That shows that the Government have tried to give those who work in the public service a fair and true deal. We have announced that we wish to reduce the Civil Service to its lowest post-war level of 630,000. We shall pursue that objective vigorously.

Mr. Dubs

Will the right hon. Lady spend time today considering the secrecy that surrounds the way in which Governments traditionally approach their Budget plans? In future, could not the options that underlie the Budget be made public before the Statement, so that debate in the House and in the country may be better informed?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Q5. Mr. Lang

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Lang

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider the recent decision of the Scottish Labour Party conference in favour of setting up a Scottish Assembly with tax-raising powers? Does she not agree that another layer of bureaucracy and of taxation is the last thing that Scotland needs?

The Prime Minister

I agree with both the opinions so ably expressed by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Stoddart

Has the right hon. Lady had time to consider last night's vote on the increased petrol tax? The increase was universally condemned by her right hon. and hon. Friends—[Interruption.] Indeed, the increase resulted in at least one defection from the right hon. Lady's party. May I take it that between now and Committee stage—which I hope will be taken on the Floor of the House—the Government will review their policy and remove that tax increase?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. As for the majority, I seem to recall that the Labour Party nationalised British Aerospace and British Shipbuilders on a majority of one. Ours was 1,400 per cent. better than that.

Mr. Neubert

In view of the continuing disruption by civil servants, has my right hon. Friend reached any conclusions about the statement made by the strike co-ordinator 10 days ago that the intention is to damage economic strategy and to reduce the country's defence capability? Does not that go beyond a pay dispute and threaten democratic Government itself? Does it not argue for a renegotiation of conditions of employment of key workers to prevent such sabotage of national security?

The Prime Minister

We would regard these matters very seriously indeed. Sometimes, indeed, I have suggested myself that we have no-strike agreements. We believe that in key matters of this kind it should be almost a matter of honour that there should be no strike without negotiating a special agreement about it.

[column 197]

Mr. Foot

Since the right hon. Lady seems to be happy about the result of the vote in the House on the petrol tax, and since the increase seems to be causing such great [column 198]disturbance in the country at large, would she not care to think it over and perhaps make the matter the subject of a free vote in the House?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.