Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1981 May 7 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 [4/265-70]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2306
Themes: Employment, Local elections, Privatized & state industries, Taxation, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Trade unions, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action
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PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Michael Spicer

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

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. Spicer

Has my right hon. Friend had time to study yesterday's decision of the certification officer to the effect that the National Union of Mineworkers had misspent £86,000 from its general fund for political purposes? Does not that underline the need for those trade union members who are not Labour Party supporters to opt out of paying the levy? What further action does my right hon. Friend propose to take to ensure that a man's or woman's right to work is not dependent upon being a member of a trade union?

The Prime Minister

I agree that that case underlines the need to take advantage of the right to opt out of the political levy. That right has existed since about 1913. We always advise people that that is their right and that they should take advantage of it. I also agree that to require a person to join a trade union as a condition of employment is contrary to the fundamental liberties of this country. We said as much in the Green Paper. We are consulting about whether there should be any further changes in the law. In that connection, I have noticed the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), and signed by 140 of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady inquire a bit more closely into such matters before she pronounces her views to the House? She clearly does not know the details of the case.

On this election day, would she mind telling us which of her achievements she would like to be uppermost in the minds of the voters? Is it higher rents, higher rates, higher taxes, higher prices, the higher number of bankruptcies or the ever-rising unemployment? Which of her achievements does she want voters to remember?

The Prime Minister

I should be happy if the voters bore in mind that it was this Government who gave them the right to purchase council houses. Already, 120,000 people have taken advantage of that right and there are another 100,000 applications in the pipeline. This Government managed to get the police forces to full strength in most parts of the country. There are 6,000 more police than there were. National Health Service waiting lists were reduced by 111,000 by September 1980. Pensions and supplementary benefit have been increased in line with inflation. Indeed, pensions are slightly higher in real terms than they were when the Labour Party was in office. This Government took tax off the pensions of war widows and gave a number of war widows pension rights that they had not had before. For how much longer would the right hon. Gentleman like me to go on?

Mr. Foot

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, because she has made it clear that she does not want voters to remember rates, rent, unemployment, prices, taxes and all [column 266]the items that have been so grotesquely raised by the Government. Is the right hon. Lady still interested in a matter in which she used to display some interest? I refer to British manufacturing industry. Should not the Government pay attention to the fact that the collapse of the British manufacturing industry under her Government is more serious than at any time since the recording of figures? Does she not think that her policies have contributed to that?

The Prime Minister

Well now, rates, rents, prices and employment. I hope that people will remember when they vote today that, of all rating authorities, the average increase in the rates in Labour rating authorities has been 27 per cent. compared with 15 per cent. in Conservative-controlled authorities. I hope that the majority of our people will feel that those in council or any other sort of houses who can properly afford to pay the rent required under the fair rent provisions should pay it and should not rely on the ratepayers or taxpayers to pay it. I hope that they will remember that an unusually high proportion of people of working age want to work and that, even with the present unemployment figures, there is a larger proportion of the population of working age in work here than in any other country in Europe except Denmark.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. John Wilkinson.

Mr. Foot

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I had called Mr. John Wilkinson. I shall call the right hon. Gentleman afterwards.

Mr. Wilkinson

During my right hon. Friend's busy day, will she find time to read the report of the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) in which he suggested that a future Labour Government would nationalise part of Britain's merchant fleet? If that were carried out, would it not mean the death knell of a competitive and sound industry, which brings good invisible earnings to this country?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct. The merchant fleet brings in handsome invisible earnings and we are grateful for its expertise, which is mostly private enterprise.

Mr. Foot

Was it by accident or design that the right hon. Lady did not mention in her reply to me the record taxes that her Government have imposed? Her promise to cut taxes is the chief reason she sits on the Treasury Bench today. Is she proud that taxation is higher than ever?

The Prime Minister

That is not true of direct taxation. I can only reply to the right hon. Gentleman that, had his levels of expenditure prevailed, taxes would have been even higher. It lies ill in his mouth to criticise us for having set them a good deal lower than he would have had them.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the serious situation in the port of Southampton, where a handful of shop stewards have put the port out of action for almost six weeks and are now working no overtime or night shifts? Is she aware that we have already lost two container firms which have laid down the gauntlet and will not return to Southampton? Is there any way that the Government can help in a review of the national dock labour scheme, because a docker can put himself out of work and receive £94 a week for doing so?

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The Prime Minister

I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what my hon. Friend has said. The lesson is that some people are losing their work because they have been striking themselves out of jobs and much business that should come to our ports has gone to European ports. People must learn this lesson. There are good jobs available in the ports for those who work fully, long and conscientiously to keep them.

Q2. Mr. Thomas Cox

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Cox

Will the Prime Minister spend some time today considering how she may be able to salvage something from the ruins of her Northern Irish policy? Is she aware that she has two possible options—first, to seek a meaningful new political initiative or, secondly, to see the continuation of the killings and destruction that have bedevilled that country for so long? Is she telling the House and the world that no matter how many Republicans die as a result of hunger strikes there will be no change in her policy towards Northern Ireland? She must be aware——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is taking a long time to ask his question.

The Prime Minister

No one has sought a new political initiative more earnestly than my right hon. Friend Humphrey Atkinsthe Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He has done everything in his power to try to bring to the Province more responsibility for decisions that affect its future. That initiative undoubtedly failed. We shall continue to search for methods of bringing greater responsibility for decision-making to the people of Northern Ireland but I repeat the guarantee to the people of the Province that as long as the majority wish to stay in the United Kingdom they shall do so. That guarantee must stand. In the meantime we shall do everything possible to have peace and reconciliation with our neighbour the Republic of Ireland, south of the border.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his helpful supplementary questions which have enabled her to elucidate and enumerate the successes of her Government, which are of relevance on county council election day?

The Prime Minister

Yes indeed. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his questions today.

Mr. Grimond

Has the Prime Minister had any consultation with the American Government over the resumption of wheat shipments from America to Russia? Were not the sanctions taken against Russia on her invasion of Afghanistan supposed to be a joint Western effort? Does not that invasion still persist? Would it not be as well if there were agreement and coherence in our policy towards Russia in view of her activities in Afghanistan?

The Prime Minister

I fully understand the right hon. Gentleman's comments and the point he makes that the occupation of Afghanistan continues yet one of the sanctions has been removed. We were warned in advance that that might happen because President Reagan came out against that sanction during his election campaign and he felt that he had to take it off.

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Mr. Waller

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is intended to hold a requiem mass for Bobby Sands in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Benyon)? Is she further aware that, when my hon. Friend criticised that, he was told to mind his own business? Does she agree that that is very much the business of my hon. Friend, bearing in mind that his predecessor, Mr. Airey Neave, was murdered by assassins because of his views on Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

That is a matter on which a number of us feel very deeply indeed and it is why the feelings and thoughts of most of us are with the victims of the Provisional IRA.

Q3. Mr. Christopher Price

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Price

Will the right hon. Lady once again reconsider her decision to pre-empt the whole Scarman inquiry by announcing in advance that unemployment was not a primary cause of the problems in Brixton? Is she aware that unemployment in inner London is rising faster than in almost any other part of the country and that unemployment among the black community is rising nearly twice as fast as that among other sections of the community? In view of those facts, does she not think it better that Lord Scarman should decide the causes of the problems rather than that she should do so without hearing the evidence?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has been working very hard with his question for some time. He has repeated it more than once. I did not pre-empt Lord Scarman's inquiry. My right hon. Friend and I would not have appointed him had we pre-empted the inquiry. I was asked for my opinion and I gave it. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not like it when I give a candid answer.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Has my right hon. Friend read the excellent speech made on Britain and the EEC in London last night by the Leader of the House? Will she confirm that the fact that no flags flew on Europe Day on Tuesday does not indicate any weakening of the Government's resolve to play their full part in the European Community and to defend and protect British interests through that institution?

The Prime Minister

I read my right hon. Friend's excellent speech on Britain and Europe and I hope that all other hon. Members will also read it. It sets out clearly the reasons why the Government firmly believe that we must continue to be a member of the Community and why we find no inconsistency between that as an ideal and a practical reality and fighting Britain's corner in Europe, which this Government have done better than any other.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Prime Minister take time today to intervene in a dispute between two Labour councillors and the Conservative-controlled Sefton council, which is denying the councillors their democratic right to sit on committees merely because they removed the mace from a council meeting in protest at the vicious cuts being implemented by that council, which had a £19 million cut in its rate support grant imposed by the Secretary of State for the Environment? Does not the [column 269]Prime Minister think that illicit mace-bearing is an appropriate protest against cuts imposed by the Secretary of State for the Environment?

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The Prime Minister

I am not responsible for the acts of elected councils.