Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1981 Mar 19 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [1/424-28]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2532
Themes: Executive, Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Higher & further education, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Trade unions, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action
[column 424]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Adley

asked, the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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 shall attend a banquet given by President Shagari of Nigeria.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some local authorities that are still opposed to the sale of council houses are regarding the Housing Act 1980 as a hurdle to be overcome rather than a law to be obeyed, and that some councillors and officials are harassing, bullying and trying to coerce tenants out of their rights? Will she please today condemn that activity and assure tenants who want to buy that the Government will stand firmly behind them and do everything that they can to help?

The Prime Minister

Yes, gladly. The law on council tenants' rights must be obeyed. The Government have reserve powers. We are in touch with the 16 authorities in England that are dragging their feet over giving tenants those rights. We have acted with some speed. If need be, we shall not hesitate to use our reserve powers.

Mr. Jay

Does the right hon. Lady feel that her economic policies have produced the results that she intended?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will wait a little longer.

Mr. John Browne

Will my right hon. Friend please confirm that to employ people on a discriminatory basis on grounds of race, colour or creed is illegal in Britain? If that is so, will she tell the House for how much longer she intends to allow the existence of employment on the discriminatory basis of whether of not an individual is a member of a trade union? The closed shop is blatantly unjust and blatantly against Britain's interests.

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that one or two recent cases have aroused the wrath of the British people. I think that the British people are wholly against the sacking of Joanna Harris by a municipal authority. They regard that as a disgrace to that authority. I hope that all those who feel as I do will contact my right hon. Friend James Priorthe Secretary of State for Employment and make their views clearly known on the consultative document, which envisages the possibility of further legislation.

Mr. Healey

As it is now clear that the Budget has added massive new burdens to British industry by raising the exchange rate by 4½ per cent. compared with its level at the beginning of the month and by increasing the price of energy for industry, will the right hon. Lady give [column 425]industry the little psychological boost that she promised on television recently by cutting the minimum lending rate by at least a further 2 per cent. and tabling an amendment to the Finance Bill to cut the price of diesel fuel, which is now a third higher than the price in France and 50 per cent. higher than in Germany?

The Prime Minister

The answer is “No, Sir” . If the level of public expenditure that the right hon. Gentleman had planned was in operation there would have to be even higher taxes and far higher interest rates than those that prevail now.

Mr. Healey

The Prime Minister cannot continue to attack the Labour Government on the level of public expenditure——

Mr. Robert Atkins

She can.

Mr. Healey

She cannot attack that Government for failing to cut public expenditure when she occasionally poses as the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

We have brought public expenditure down to well below the level at which the right hon. Gentleman left it—[Interruption.] It is well below what he had planned. Had we continued on his course—[Interruption.] It is well below what the right hon. Gentleman had planned. Had this Government been on the right hon. Gentleman's course, we should have been on the way to the IMF by now.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me in commending the sense of realism that was displayed yesterday by the work force at the Talbot factory at Linwood in rejecting the extremist and irresponsible course of action urged upon it by the Labour and Scottish National Parties, which would have damaged the image of industrial relations in the West of Scotland?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I join my hon. Friend in welcoming that wise action.

Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hamilton

Has the Prime Minister seen the reports in today's newspapers that Shell intends to increase petrol prices by 5p, in addition to the 20p that has already been imposed by the Budget? In view of the right hon. Lady's known concern for the welfare of rural communities, is she determined to retain the 20p increase in the Budget, as well as the 5p that is threatened by Shell and other oil companies?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman and many others are only too anxious to increase public expenditure. We have to meet the public expenditure that is already agreed, and even the taxes that Sir Geoffrey Howethe Chancellor has proposed are not sufficient for that purpose and we have to raise a further £10½ billion. We took the view that the top priority for industry was to get down interest rates. They are now down by 5 per cent from their peak.

Mr. Bill Walker

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity during her busy day to look at the comments that are attributed to the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), which suggest that we in Britain are conducting a battle similar to that in Zimbabwe for [column 426]independence from the European Economic Community? Will she condemn that and confirm that Government policy is to arrange for matters within the EEC to work for the benefit of this country and all the other members of the EEC?

The Prime Minister

If those remarks really represent what the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) thinks, they are not worthy of comment.

Mr. James Lamond

Does the right hon. Lady believe that her Government have played their proper part at the Madrid conference? If so, can she tell us of any concrete, constructive proposal that has been put forward by the British delegation to assist disarmament in Europe and the building of confidence between the nations that were represented at that conference?

The Prime Minister

One main element is needed to build confidence, both at the Madrid conference and in other international relationships, and that is the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Mr. Farr

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to look at the worrying situation that has arisen in connection with American textile exports to Britain, particularly synthetic textiles, and the deplorable fact that apparently President Reagan has taken no action about subsidised gas prices in America? Is my right hon. Friend aware that 100,000 jobs were lost in the textile industry last year, and that a similar calamitous decline is possible this year?

The Prime Minister

We have referred the matter to the European Commission. I am well aware of the problem. However, it should be pointed out that President Reagan has de-regulated oil prices. That was a courageous step, and I hope that it will be followed by further action on gas prices.

Mr. Grimond

When the Prime Minister meets the President of Nigeria today, will she discuss the difficulties of African students who want to come to universities in this country?

The Prime Minister

We have already done that. We pointed out that those overseas students who were at university when the increased fees came in could carry on at the former fees. My right hon. Friend Lord Carringtonthe Foreign Secretary has a budget to help overseas students to pay increased fees. It amounts to about £42 million a year, which is equal to 10,000 students. That is not ungenerous.

Mr. Ward

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to look at The Daily Telegraph report that the level of redundancy payments to miners may well go up to £42,000? Is she not concerned that this and other payments by the nationalised industries compare badly with what private industry can afford because many firms can pay only the minimum statutory level of redundancy payment, which, at its best figure, is £3,900? Is she not concerned that that money can come only from the private sector, which is already hard pressed?

The Prime Minister

I understand the resentment that is felt about redundancy payments in nationalised industries, particularly that felt by small businesses. Nevertheless, it is to the benefit of the country that we reduce the number of mines that are loss-making so as to reduce the price of coal, which in turn would reduce the price of electricity. The increased redundancy payments [column 427]are being made so that some of the mines that are producing coal at a very high cost can go out of action. That will be to our benefit. These are not wholly mineworkers' redundancy payments. They are the total payments available under some three Acts.

Q3. Mr. Sheerman

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Sheerman

Can the Prime Minister spend some time today considering the announcement that GKN, our biggest engineering company, has lost £1.2 million in the past year, and in view of the fact that ICI, Britain's largest chemical company, has also made a loss this year, what can the Government do to prevent every industry from going bankrupt?

The Prime Minister

Certainly a number of engineering companies, including GKN, have reported bad results. They would be in a much better position if the 1.5 million cars that were sold in this country last year had included far more British cars. That would have had an effect on the steel and engineering industries. The best way to help other companies is for more people to buy British.

Mr. Fox

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that, of the two Inland Revenue computer centres to be closed as a result of the Civil Service dispute, one is in my constituency. Is she aware that many of my constituents who work there are opposed to the strike? One of them wrote:

“We are delighted with the 7 per cent. on offer and trust the Government to see we are paid fairly in the future and in accordance with what our country can afford.”

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says. I believe that the vast majority of people in the Civil Service, knowing that their pay this year is 50 per cent. higher than it was two years ago, and having been offered 7 per cent. on top of that, are of the opinion that this is a fair and honourable deal and are staying at work for that reason.

Mr. Healey

In view of the fact that the heads of both GKN and ICI attributed their appalling results largely to Government policy, interest rates and the exchange rate, will the Prime Minister take action to bring those down, since in real terms interest rates are still substantially higher than they were a year ago and, as a I said earlier, the exchange rate has risen 4½ per cent. in the past few weeks? [column 428]

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is not the right person to give advice about exchange rates, bearing in mind that he brought it to an all-time low of $1.56.

Q4. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. Friend find time this afternoon to remind the Opposition and some of her own hon. Friends that if we are to maintain and extend the reduction in the minimum lending rate we must curb Government borrowing, and that that means hard and unpopular measures in the Budget?

The Prime Minister

That is so. We have to persuade people to lend money to the Government. If we demand too much they will give it only at an unusually high interest rate, and that would spill over on to all those in industry who wish to borrow. It is vital to the future of investment and stockbuilding that the interest rate should be kept down, and that means putting up taxes higher than we should otherwise have wished and trying to keep down future expenditure.

Q5. Mr. Cryer

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Cryer

Has the Prime Minister seen the report that the Civil Service unions have discovered the secret payments centres at Edinburgh and Leeds and are, in consequence, stepping up their action? Is she aware that they are doing this to demonstrate that they have a valuable function in the community—contrary to the continuing sneers of the Government and Members of the Conservative Party—and to demonstrate also that they have muscle? Is she aware that, following her settlement with the miners, all trade unionists now understand that the only language to which the Government will listen is that of trade union muscle? Is she aware that that is the language that the Civil Service is being forced to use?

The Prime Minister

I hardly think so. Before the Government came into office civil servants and others in the public service suffered grievously under the last Government's incomes policies. They did not have a fair deal then but they got a fair deal under this Government.