Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [3/904-08]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2386
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Executive, Civil liberties, Industry, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Race, immigration, nationality, Terrorism, Strikes & other union action
[column 904]



Q1. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 30 April.

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.

Mr. Ross

Is the Prime Minister aware of our continuing support of her stand on refusing to give special political status to IRA prisoners? Does she agree that the world should know that it is utterly wrong to give special privileges to IRA terrorists? Will she support the poor widows who are preparing a petition to the European Commission of Human Rights by saying that the Government's services in Northern Ireland should be available to help them to that end?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. There can be no question of granting political status to convicted criminals, now or at all. Individuals can make application to the European Commission of Human Rights. They do not usually need Government support, but I shall look into what the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is my right hon. Friend aware, and will she tell the House, of the great achievement of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade, who last month secured an enormous Brazilian agreement for British industry to refurbish Brazilian coal mines, power stations and the transport media?

The Prime Minister

I am always delighted to hear about excellent export orders for Britain. My right hon. Friend John Biffenthe Secretary of State for Trade is good at securing them. British industry is doing very well in its export trade.

Mr. Foot

Has the Prime Minister had the opportunity today to read the remarkable article by Melvyn Westlake in The Times, which from earlier questions, appears to have given rise to great interest in the House? Is she aware that the article shows that the Government's three Budgets have raised the nation's tax burden by one-fifth, that they have increased the numbers of those entering the poverty trap by 40 per cent. and, generally, that what has happened has been a repudiation of the Government's claims of what they would do about tax cuts? Has she had the opportunity to read the whole article? Will she give the House and the country her considered response to it?

The Prime Minister

The short answer is “No” . To judge from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, he will give the Government his full support in making further expenditure cuts.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady cannot run away from the most notorious of her election pledges. Is it not true that she won the election with her promise of tax cuts? She has increased the tax burden of the nation by one-fifth. Is it not true that a married man, with two children, on average earnings is now, following her Budgets, paying over 9 per cent. more in direct taxation than he was three years ago? When will she face those responsibilities?

[column 905]

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman cannot run away from his arithmetic. If he wants tax cuts—and I do—we must first have expenditure cuts. I hope that he will support us in that. If he does not, he is saying that as a matter of policy he will positively create inflation on top of inflation. I will not accept that.

Mr. Foot

Why did the right hon. Lady make such widespread promises during the election about tax cuts before she knew whether she could carry them out?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman reads the whole of the Conservative manifesto he will note that reductions in planned expenditure were promised. There have been reductions in planned expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman has given no support whatsoever to them. I reiterate that if he wants further tax cuts—and I do—he must support expenditure cuts. I look forward to the day when he does.

Mr. Bendall

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity recently to see Avitol Scharansky, whose husband has been detained in a prison camp in Russia? What does she think the Government can do to help to get this man released?

The Prime Minister

I received Mrs. Scharansky yesterday, as I always receive either ex-dissidents or the wives and relatives of those who are at present held in prison in Soviet Russia, in appalling conditions. In company with a number of other Governments we have made representations in Madrid—[Interruption.] I am interested to note that Labour Members below the Gangway do not seem to be the least bit concerned about those who are being held in appalling circumstances in Soviet Russia. They are not in the least bit interested, but we are. We are interested in doing everything that we can to secure their release, and we shall continue to try to do so.

Mr. Ford

Will the right hon. Lady take time today further to consider the effects of the Civil Service industrial dispute? Is she aware that many small businessmen are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the non-repayment of VAT? Is she further aware that the Government have made an error of judgment and that to refer the issue to arbitration is the only way of achieving a fair and satisfactory settlement? Does she agree that the Government have made an error of judgment and that those who never make a mistake never make anything?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the offer of 7 per cent. to the Civil Service this year is very fair. It comes on top of increases in pay to the Civil Service over the past two years of some 50 per cent. I believe that public opinion is behind us in agreeing that that is a fair offer. Although there are a small number of civil servants on strike, vast numbers are loyally continuing with their tasks.

Q2. Mr. Warren

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 30 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Warren

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in trying to resolve the Civil Service strike the public are much on her side, because this year more than 2 million workers in the public service have already settled for pay rises of less than the 6 per cent. limit set by the Government?

[column 906]

The Prime Minister

It is true that about 2 million public servants have settled for pay increases within the 6 per cent. cash limit, and without industrial action. My noble Friend Lord Soamesthe Lord President saw the Civil Service unions about a week ago. He said that 7 per cent. was as much as the Government could possibly afford within the 6 per cent. cash limit, but he made proposals for an independent inquiry into arrangements for Civil Service pay, terms and conditions of service and so on. It is a matter of great regret that the Civil Service unions have not responded to an invitation to discuss that aspect of the matter.

Mr. Guy Barnett

Does the Prime Minister think that Anglo-Indian relations are better or worse than they were before she went there?

The Prime Minister

There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that they are better.

Mr. Goodhew

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I arrived at Heathrow last Sunday I was accosted by a young lady—[Interruption.]—merely because I happened to be the twenty-fifth person to pass through the United Kingdom passport check on my flight? I had to answer a Government questionnaire involving many personal questions, such as where I had been, who I had been with, why I had been there, how much money I had spent and what was my age group. Is it really necessary for the Government to have this information? Will she find time today to cancel the questionnaire?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly look at it, although to judge from the way in which my hon. Friend asked his supplementary question he seems to have enjoyed the experience.

Mr. Ashton

Has the Prime Minister found time today to decree a cut in the the tax on petrol that was introduced in the Budget, or does she prefer to face disaster in the local elections in rural areas next week?

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Chancellor of the Exchequer answered questions before I began to answer them, and as he will be speaking later, I think that I might leave the answer to that question to him.

Canadian Constitution

Q3. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement about the progress of discussions on the future of the Canadian Constitution.

The Prime Minister

Discussion in the Canadian Parliament is now in suspense until the Canadian Supreme Court has delivered its opinion. The court began its proceedings on 28 April and its opinion is not expected before late May or early June.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend accept that presumably everybody in the House puts the highest priority on good relations between the British Government and both the Canadian Federal and provincial Governments? Does she agree that while a solution to this problem is obviously desirable, it should not be a solution at any price, and that we should not want to give Mr. Trudeau the impression that we would like to encourage him to force Westminster to find a solution that is not generally acceptable to the majority of Canadians?

[column 907]

The Prime Minister

I hope that good relations between this country and Canada will continue. Obviously further decisions must await the completion of the political and legal processes in Canada.

Mr. David Watkins

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind the fact that there is considerable opposition inside Canada to Mr. Trudeau 's devious moves in the matter of the Canadian constitution? Would not it be undesirable for this Parliament to be manipulated, or even to appear to be manipulated, in his interests rather than in the interest of the Canadian people?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that at the moment it is for me to comment on what went on in another Parliament. We have not received a request from that Parliament. We shall not receive one until all the Supreme Court and parliamentary processes have been completed. I believe that we should have respect for another similarly elected Parliament.

Sir Derek Walker-Smith

Does my right hon. Friend agree that both the Government and Parliament in Britain world be well advised to await the informed guidance of the Supreme Court in Canada before taking up any fixed positions, in view of the rather paradoxical circumstance that we in this House of Commons, as the representatives of a unitary State without a federal constitution, are not best placed to advise on the intricacies of a federal constitution in written form?

The Prime Minister

I wholly take and agree with my right hon. and learned Friend's point. I am grateful to him for putting it.

New Businesses and Small Firms

Q4. Mr. Home Robertson

asked the Prime Minister what progress has been made with the implementation of that part of the Gracious Speech which referred to the encouragement of new businesses and to measures to permit small firms to expand and prosper.

[column 908]

The Prime Minister

The Chancellor's recent Budget included a considerable number of measures to help small businesses and to encourage enterprise and risk-taking, for instance the business start-up scheme, the loan guarantee scheme and the venture capital scheme, raising the threshold of value added tax, investment interest relief scheme, new forms of stock relief and also the review of the statistical services to save small businesses 1 million forms a year.

Mr. Home Robertson

I wonder whether the Prime Minister realises that her Government have succeeded in doubling the rate of liquidations among British companies to almost 200 every week. Will she consider the crippling effect on companies throughout the country of the high tax on petrol? Even if she succeeds in fobbing off some of her Back Benchers with concessions on diesel fuel, surely she must be aware that many companies, especially in rural areas, depend every bit as much on petrol as on derv.

The Prime Minister

There is a higher number of liquidations than previously, but there is also a considerable number of companies starting up and there are good grounds for hoping that more will start up and expand. With regard to what the hon. Gentleman said about tax, I repeat what I said to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. If he wants further tax reductions, he will either have to have cuts in expenditure or increases in tax elsewhere.

Mr. Best

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, as from today, there is less likelihood of hon. Members and small businesses being accosted by young ladies because the Minister of State, Civil Service Department, has announced that three quarters of a million statistical returns will be cut out, at an annual saving of £25 million and 2,500 posts?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of that. The review of the statistical services was excellent and will result in an annual saving of about £25 million as well as cutting out many forms, reducing Government scrutiny and helping small businesses and others.