Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [2/810-14]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2245
Themes: Executive, Employment, Industry, Local elections, Monetary policy, Pay, Trade, Local government finance, Religion & morality, Strikes & other union action
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PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 7 April.

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 shall attend the annual dinner of the Ross McWhirter Foundation.

Mr. Stanbrook

Has my right hon. Friend, as a London Member, had time to study the declared intention of the London Labour Party to increase the rates of every household in London by £1 per week if it is returned to power in the Greater London Council? Does not that demonstrate Labour's disregard for the interests of ratepayers?

The Prime Minister

I have no doubt that should Labour unfortunately be returned to power in the GLC that would mean, judging from the Labour Party's statements, a policy of higher spending, higher rates and intolerable new burdens on industry and the commercial enterprises upon which London relies for jobs. Many of those increases would be passed on in higher prices. That would be altogether a calamity. It would be far better to vote for good housekeeping of the kind that we shall give.

Mr. Foot

Will the Prime Minister tell us to what extent rents and rates in London have increased during the period of her Government? Will she find time in her busy schedule today to meet the TUC representatives from the Northern region to discuss the unemployment which has nearly doubled in that region since May 1979?

The Prime Minister

Over the past four years rates under the GLC have risen less than inflation. On rents, I assume that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to perpetuate the circumstance under which the income from that source was less than half the cost of maintaining local council housing. On the latter part of the right hon. [column 811]Gentleman's question, he knows that I see individual Members if they have a problem about a particular closure, but I do not see general deputations.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider the matter? Throughout this week the House will be lobbied by people who will be making representations about rising unemployment all over the country. Unemployment in the Northern region is as bad as anywhere. Will she therefore meet some of these people during the week? What does the right hon. Lady have to say about the fact that company failures—[Hon. Members: “Too long.” ] I know that Conservative Members are not interested in this aspect, but in the first half of this year company failures have been at a record high—51 per cent. higher than a year ago. When will the right hon. Lady do something about that?

The Prime Minister

In reply to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I should say that I have some highly competent right hon. Friends who will, if need be, receive those deputations. As regards the latter part of his question, there are a number of bankruptcies. That is a measure of the lack of competitiveness and of the overmanning that the Government have had to deal with.

Mr. Lawrence

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the reports to the effect that the International Monetary Fund is giving the seal of approval to the £ sterling and allowing it to be used for loans to countries that are in depressed circumstances? As the pound has for too long been the sick currency of Europe, is this not one of the Government's proudest achievements?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that sterling has once again received the blessing of the IMF. I am also happy to observe that we have reduced our overseas debt in relation to our trade to the lowest level since the war.

Dr. Owen

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Institute of Careers Officers announced today that 1 million teenagers would be seeking jobs this year and that this year promised to be the worst year ever? Is the right hon. Lady aware that the Government industrial Civil Service, for which she is responsible, is cutting apprentice training? How on earth can private industry increase its intake of apprentices when the Government are setting such a bad example?

The Prime Minister

Last year, this year and next year are years that involve a particularly large number of school leavers, because of the bulge in the birth rate that occurred some years ago. As a result, more school leavers than usual will be seeking jobs. That is one reason why we have increased the facilities of the youth opportunities programme. We shall do everything we can to increase training facilities.

Q2. Mr. Roy Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 7 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hughes

Will the Prime Minister pause to reflect on the cowardly nature of the Government's incomes policy and, in particular, on the despicable way that the Government are treating their own staff, the Civil Service? Will she compare the Government's attitude towards the Civil Service claim with their attitude towards the miners' [column 812]claim, when the white flag was hoisted before battle had even begun. Similar settlements have been made in other areas. In reality, has not the Iron Lady got feet of clay?

The Prime Minister

I do not regard a 50 per cent. increase in pay this year compared with two years ago, and a further offer of 7 per cent.—which will lead to an increase of 11 per cent. over last year's pay because of the way in which staging takes effect—together with job security and inflation-proof pensions as bad treatment. Many people would like to have that deal.

Mr. Brotherton

Will my right hon. Friend give further thought today to the Civil Service? Is she aware that there is widespread concern at her Government's failure to reduce significantly the numbers of those employed in the Civil Service? Furthermore, is she aware that any capitulation on the 7 per cent. offer will be regarded with horror by the vast majority of the population?

The Prime Minister

The numbers in the Civil Service have dropped by about 35,000 and will continue to drop in accordance with plans. The offer of 7 per cent. has been made although there is a 6 per cent. cash limit. That is reasonable both in terms of those who work for the Government and in terms of past pay increases. In addition, it is reasonable in terms of what people can afford.

Mr. Dixon

As the right hon. Lady will not meet the leaders of the deputation from the Northern region, will she at least realise that they are complaining about the high level of unemployment? Is she aware that in comparison with other regions in England, Scotland and Wales the Northern region has the highest percentage of unemployment? Is she further aware that, compared with other regions, it has the second lowest number of vacancies? Every vacancy is being chased by 50 men and women as a result of the Government's policy. What message has the right hon. Lady got for those people from the Northern region?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that considerable help is given to the regions in the form of help to the nationalised industries and through regional aid. That will continue to be our policy.

Mr. Hal Miller

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the report today to the effect that the fall in the level of sterling has led to an increase in industry's costs?

The Prime Minister

I have not noticed the report. However, it means that all raw materials or semi-manufactured goods that are invoiced in sterling will increase in price.

Q3. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Prime Minister if she will state her official engagements for 7 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Allaun

Is it not unfair to blame Labour-controlled councils for vast rent and rate increases that have been caused by the Government? Should not the Government refrain from shooting the pianist for being compelled to play a rotten tune that has been composed by the right hon. Lady and her Government?

The Prime Minister

That is just not so. On average, Labour-controlled councils have increased rates far more [column 813]than Conservative-controlled councils. That is due to their attitude toward public expenditure. Labour councillors think that they know how to spend the money better than ratepayers do.

Sir William Elliott

Given the questions that Opposition Members have asked about the North-East, is my right hon. Friend aware that I am completely willing to meet leaders of the TUC from the North-East? However, they do not appear to have arrived. Is my right hon. Friend further aware that when they arrive I shall point out the recent figures that have been produced by the English Industrial Estates Corporation, which suggest that many more factories are opening in our region than are closing?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. I am sure that he will convey that news to the deputation, should it arrive to hear it.

Mr. Spriggs

is the Prime Minister aware that in Merseyside, which has one of the highest levels of unemployment, the Prescot Cable Company is importing cable from Taiwan and thereby importing unemployment into the country? Will she call for a full investigation and report to the House explaining why Taiwan is allowed to export unemployment to the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are a lot of jobs in exports. If we were to adopt a completely protectionist attitude, unemployment would be even higher than it is now.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

While I welcome my right hon. Friend's proper interest in matters ecclesiastical, will she spare a moment today to refute the rumour that ministerial pressure is being exercised to prevent the introduction of a Bill to preserve the Book of Common Prayer for those who wish to continue to use it in their Anglican worship?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend must wait until permission is sought to introduce the Bill. I think that he will understand when I say that he must not be surprised if many of my right hon. Friends and some of my hon. Friends feel that they must constitutionally support the Synod.

Q4. Mr. Flannery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 7 April.

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The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Flannery

Will the right hon. Lady once again turn her mind to unemployment? Does she realise that by tomorrow there will have been five lobbies of Parliament? I venture to guess that none of those involved is worrying about the Book of Common Prayer. Does she realise—[Interruption.] If the public school hooligans would listen they might realise that those people witness factory closures every day. Does the right hon. Lady realise that, where industry was thriving, there are now more than 3 million unemployed? Does not she accept that her policy is a monumental failure? When will she change it and do something about the massive amount of unemployment that is at virtually everyone's door?

The Prime Minister

The best way of protecting jobs is to produce goods at a competitive price that those at home and abroad will buy. There is no substitute for that. As long as goods are uncompetitive or not of a type that people will buy out of their pay packets, there will be factory closures.

Mr. Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Scotland Labour-controlled district councils on average have raised their rates by more than 40 per cent., while Conservative and independent local authorities on average have increased their rates by only 11 per cent.? Does that not indicate that the increasing burden of rates is more a function of the way that local authorities are managed than of any action by Her Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I totally agree. The fact is that Labour councils are big spenders of other people's money.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Prime Minister accept that her insistence on competition opens the possibility of extinction? How long will she and her Government persist in their attitude to imports—until British industry has been so undermined that it can never recover? Does not she accept that technological change throughout the world now makes that a real possibility?

The Prime Minister

Those nations which compete most effectively and have concentrated more on productivity than on pay have the highest levels of prosperity.