Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [4/15-18]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2194
Themes: Executive, Monarchy, Civil liberties, Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Employment, Industry, Taxation, Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Media, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Strikes & other union action
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Q1. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 5 May.

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.

Mr. Meacher

Two years ago yesterday, the Prime Minister quoted St. Francis and talked about bringing faith, hope and harmony to this country. Can the right hon. Lady deny, having brought about the highest level of unemployment since 1934, the biggest jump in unemployment in one year since 1930, the biggest fall in total output in one year since 1931 and the biggest collapse in industrial production in one year since 1921, that she heads the most hated Tory Government this country has known for at least two generations?

The Prime Minister

I can most certainly deny that. Most people in this country realise that the steps that have been taken were necessary to put industry in a healthy condition to compete. If the Government had not had the courage to take such steps long-term unemployment in this country would have been much worse.

Sir John Eden

Will my right hon. Friend make clear to the Heads of any friendly Governments, especially the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic and the President of the United States, that they have a direct interest in the defeat of terrorism anywhere in democracies? Does she agree that these Heads of Government should be seen to be helping us and helping her in the stand that she takes against terrorism in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend says. The Government's job always is to protect the law-abiding, and to defeat terrorism. To grant political status would be to give a licence to kill. That is why this Government will never grant political status, no matter what the extent of any hunger strike.

Mr. David Steel

Arising from the NATO Ministers' meeting at the weekend, may I ask the right hon. Lady to give her active personal support to the resumption of talks between the Soviet Union and the United States on a reduction in the horrific stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world?

The Prime Minister

That has been the policy of the Government since the NATO meeting that first enunciated the policy, that there should be talks with the Soviet Union on the reduction of theatre nuclear weapons. It would greatly assist matters if the Soviet Union were to stop positioning an extra SS20 every five days.

Mr. Michael Spicer

In view of the lobby at present assembling at the House, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if private flows are taken into account, this country ranks second only to the United States in its contribution to developing countries?

The Prime Minister

That is so. Private flows of capital from this country to developing countries amount to just over £4 billion. Added to official flows of £1 billion a year, this means that our total GNP proportion is 2.8 per cent., a very good record and second in the world.

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Q2. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Prime Minister, if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Prime Minister aware that unemployment in the Cumnock area is now 17 per cent.? Does she know that a carpet factory is now threatening closure, but, despite that, the Secretary of State for Scotland refused to meet the local authorities in Ayrshire to discuss unemployment? Will she either instruct him so to do, or get someone to do the job who is prepared to do it properly?

The Prime Minister

Most departmental Ministers see that one of their Ministers receives deputations. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I received him when he had a complaint about a closure. There was a happy ending on that occasion, because the closure did not take place.

Mrs. Knight

When the Prime Minister answers questions about terrorism from persons or statesmen throughout the world, will she make clear repeatedly that this country is a democracy and that there cannot be political prisoners in a democracy because in democratic countries people do not go to prison not for their political beliefs but for the crimes that they have committed?

The Prime Minister

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. In a democracy people can pursue their objectives by peaceful means. Only those people who reject democracy pursue their objectives by terrorist means. Terrorism is a crime and always will be a crime.

Mr. Molyneaux

Is the Prime Minister aware that her firmness and determination, steadily supported by Her Majesty's Opposition, have laid a firm foundation for the restoration of public confidence in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I believe that we have the support of virtually the whole House in the action and the stand that we have taken.

Mr. Foot

The whole country's affairs have been darkened by the events that have taken place in Northern Ireland, about which we must all be concerned. In my view—and, I believe, in the view of the vast majority of hon. Members certainly on the Labour side of the House—the central question concerns conceding political status. That cannot be done without the Government giving sure aid to the recruitment of terrorists. If political status were conceded, it would greatly increase the numbers who would be encouraged to join. That, in turn, would mean a great increase in the number of innocent people who would be killed. We believe that matters in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere in the country, should be settled democratically, and not at the point of a gun.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. As I said, to concede political status would be to grant a licence to kill innocent men, women and children, and that is why we shall never concede that status.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does the Prime Minister realise that the Ulster people will not respond to the vicious propaganda of the Irish Republican Army, and that that is due, in part, to the strong and unequivocal attitude adopted by the Government and by the House? Will the [column 17]Government take action to win the propaganda battle? Is she aware that foreign television crews in Northern Ireland are putting out the wrong version of what is happening there, and paying youths to throw stones and other missiles at the security forces and then televising scenes which are being shown in their own countries?

The Prime Minister

What has been said in the House today, and the unity with which the House has approached the problem in its determination to stamp out terrorism, will help the case of the Government, the parliamentary system and democracy throughout the world.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Prime Minister aware that one of the difficulties in Ireland is that there has always been too much “me too-ism” in the House of Commons on the subject? Is she aware of the widespread impression overseas—notably on the part of the New York Times, until recently a stout ally of this country's policy on Northern Ireland—that the death of Mr. Sands whom you, Mr. Speaker, have already described this afternoon as a fellow Member of Parliament will be due to the right hon. Lady's intransigence?

Mr. Robert Atkins


Mr. Duffy

Is the Prime Minister further aware that by appearing hard and unfeeling or “firm and determined” she has spectacularly illuminated for growing bodies of opinion in neighbouring and allied countries, whose comments are flowing in hourly, her Government's moral bankruptcy and the colossal and criminal incompetence of Conservative Governments at all times in their dealings on Ireland?

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government are on the side of protecting the law-abiding and innocent citizen and we shall continue in our efforts to stamp out terrorism. Mr. Sands was a convicted criminal. He chose to take his own life. It was a choice that his organisation did not allow to many of its victims.

Q3. Mr. Brotherton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Brotherton

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread and continuing support in the country for the firm stand taken by the Government on Civil Service pay? However, will she consider one problem that arises from Civil Service inaction, namely, the repayment of VAT? What advice would she give to constituents such as Mr. Brader of Little Grimsby in my constituency, who is owed £37,000—soon it will be £40,000—and who is in danger of going out of business? That would result in 15 to 20 jobs being lost in my constituency. As my right hon. Friend will recall, land drainage is an important part of Lincolnshire life.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the matter. About 500,000 claims for repayment of value added tax are pending, and this is an example of how those on strike in the Civil Service are [column 18]deliberately harming many small businesses. I have been in touch with the Treasury, the Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue, and we are making the following arrangements. The Inland Revenue will not press the collection of PAYE when a company is in difficulties because it is awaiting a value added tax repayment. I hope that that will be a constructive and helpful step. Moreover, it will certify to repay the banks of those traders when a value added tax repayment is due. I hope that those two steps will assist traders who find themselves in difficulties as a result of the actions of the Civil Service. I hope that the Civil Service will soon desist, because if business is not prosperous we certainly cannot have a well-paid Civil Service.

Mr. Christopher Price

Coming to problems rather nearer home, will the Prime Minister reconsider her remarks made soon after the Brixton problems when she said that unemployment was not a primary cause of the trouble? Is it not a mistake in any case for a Minister of the Crown to pre-empt an inquiry in deciding, before the inquiry takes place, what is or is not a cause of the trouble? Is the right hon. Lady aware that there is still a problem in South-East London, where unemployment is rising faster than in most parts of the country, and that the majority of that fast-rising unemployment is among young blacks?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. Unemployment is certainly a problem. I do not believe that it was the prime cause of the Brixton riots.

Mr. Dickens

In view of the distasteful and disgraceful possibility that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had his telephone tapped in Australia when speaking to Her Majesty the Queen and to his fiancée, Lady Diana, will the Prime Minister now consider, during her busy day, whether to introduce a Bill of Rights, such as many hon. Members have wanted for years, to protect other Heads of State when visiting this country?

The Prime Minister

I do not know whether those stories about publication of telephone conversations are true. If they are, they are totally despicable, and I believe that the whole House would condemn any organisation which went ahead and published those conversations. A Bill of Rights is, however, a very much larger question.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

The Prime Minister said that she was making arrangements for prosperous businesses and others to receive VAT repayments. What arrangements do the Government intend to make to enable recipients of supplementary benefit, invalidity payments, pensions and so on to obtain those benefits from DHSS offices which are affected by the strike? Will she now make strong efforts to ensure that the dispute is settled or, alternatively, that those who are in need receive the money to which they are entitled?

The Prime Minister

I hope that the Civil Service will not withhold benefits from anyone who is in need of them. If it does so, that too would be totally and utterly despicable and it would be a great reflection upon the Civil Service.