Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [4/879-82]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2317
Themes: Executive, Parliament, Defence (general), Employment, Industry, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Foreign policy - theory and process, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government finance, Northern Ireland, Religion & morality, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Trade unions, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action
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Q1. Mr. McNally

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 14 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. McNally

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Chancellor's recent statements have caused grave anxiety among pensioners about the future of their pensions? Will she allay the fears by saying that the State pension will continue to keep pace with inflation?

The Prime Minister

The Government are bound under our election pledge to keep the retirement pension to its full purchasing power in connection with inflation. The pledge has been more than honoured and will continue to be honoured.

Mr. John Townend

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in his first statement the new Labour leader of Humberside said that he intended to re-impose the closed shop, which was abolished by the Conservative administration? What aid will my right hon. Friend give to Humberside's poor employees who may be treated like Joanna Harris?

The Prime Minister

The imposition of a closed shop by an authority runs totally contrary to our belief in individual freedom. If the unions were doing their job, they would be able to get people to join them voluntarily and not have to impose compulsion. The Green Paper on trade union reform has a section on the matter. I hope that we shall have strong representation about future legislation on the closed shop.

Mr. Foot

We shall be glad to return to the other topics later, but as this is the first occasion that the House has met since the terrible news from Rome, does the right hon. Lady agree that the House will wish to voice the opinion of the country and to express our horror at the event and our desire that the Pope should make the speediest possible recovery? The politics of persuasion and argument are the pre-eminent qualities of the House, and we should express our horror at the event. We deplore not only the brutality but the sheer wanton futility of such action, which is almost as horrifying.

The Prime Minister

I gladly join the right hon. Gentleman in his comments. I sent a message yesterday. Most of us heard the news with disbelief that such an attempt could be made. All of us in the House, by definition, believe in the politics of persuasion and not in the politics of the gun.

Mr. Churchill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the entire House wishes to be associated with her remarks and the sympathy and prayers that she sent to the Pope last night? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that her stand against terrorism, supported by the Leader of the Opposition, commands the respect of the entire nation?

The Prime Minister

It seems to me that people turn to the gun when they have failed to persuade, and they use the gun to try to threaten the civilian population into [column 880]submission. They must never, never succeed. Those who use terrorism against great public figures must know that there will be still greater public figures coming on who will never, never be afeard by such action.

Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 14 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hamilton

Now that the Prime Minister has had time to consider the question put to her on Tuesday by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), will she say why the Government in one breath say that they cannot afford to pay the civil servants more than 7 per cent. this year and in the next breath say that they are to award 11 per cent. to the Armed Forces? Why the indefensible contradiction? During the past two or three years the Armed Forces have had more increases than civil servants or almost anybody else.

The Prime Minister

The decision on the Armed Forces review body will be given shortly. I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that in this week of all weeks most of us know that the Armed Forces undertake far more risks on our behalf than any other section of the community.

Mr. John Carlisle

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance today to see the early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Lee) listing the TUC's investment portfolio? Will she take great encouragement from the fact that the TUC has seen fit to invest in British Government stock and British companies?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that the TUC has such faith in the Government's sound financial policies, and I hope that it will continue in its shrewd investments.

Mr. David Steel

In view of the Government's failure to negotiate a settlement of the Civil Service dispute, what advice has she for firms that are waiting for tax repayments and are in financial difficulties as a result?

The Prime Minister

I offer the advice that I gave in response to a similar question on a previous occasion. The Inland Revenue has made arrangements not to press for the payment of PAYE where firms are in difficulties because their value added tax repayments have not been made. Further, banks can be given an undertaking where there are repayments of value added tax outstanding.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Prime Minister find time today to explain the conversation that she has had with the Secretary of State for Employment on the so-called national employment service for young people? There seems to be a head of steam behind this coming from the more Right-wing parts of the Conservative Party. Does the right hon. Lady acknowledge that there will be extreme opposition in all parts of the country to young people being deployed on some form of square bashing when what they need is proper training and jobs?

The Prime Minister

There may be opposition to a compulsory service, but the extension of such a service voluntarily would have a very wide welcome across the country. There are already youth opportunities schemes and community enterprise schemes, and those are very welcome. There will be a few places in the Armed Forces. I suspect that those, too, will be over-subscribed. James PriorMy right [column 881]hon. Friend and I are anxious to secure more training opportunities and, in particular, to use the many places available in further and higher education for that purpose.

Q3. Mr. Heddle

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Heddle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is tragic that, just when it is making its way back to recovery, the British motor industry should once again be hit by a wave of strikes leading to lost jobs, more lay-offs and greater competition from abroad? Will she take time today to explain this danger to the management and work force and urge them to settle their differences and get back to work?

The Prime Minister

Gladly, yes. Strikes give this country a very bad reputation. They raise the cost of vehicles and put back delivery dates. In my tours overseas, when trying to push the cause of more orders for Britain, I have frequently been told two things— “Yes, but your prices are still too high and your delivery dates too bad.” Until unit labour costs come down—they are particularly bad in the car industry, as we know—and until delivery dates are on time, we shall not get the car jobs that we need.

Mr. Soley

Will the Prime Minister give some thought today to the fact that the Provisional IRA is making significant propaganda gains, both nationally and internationally, out of the position in the Maze prison? Will she bear in mind that the Irish Government solved a not dissimilar problem without granting political status—to which I think the vast majority of us would be opposed—and, in so doing, scored a significant propaganda victory against the Provisional IRA?

The Prime Minister

It is generally acknowledged that the Government are running, in the Maze prison, one of the most liberal and humane prison regimes anywhere. The European Commission of Human Rights went in in 1978 and reported in 1980. It made eight or nine proposals for improvements. Those proposals were fully met by the Government. After that we went even further, agreeing to an issue of civilian clothing by the prison authorities for wear in the Maze. All that was done before the first hunger strike began. What hunger strikers are asking for—the one who died last was in fact a murderer; let us not mince our words—is political status by easy stages. They cannot have it. They are murderers and people who use force and violence to obtain their ends. They have made perfectly clear what they want. They cannot and will not have it.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that of the £2,000 million borrowed from the International Monetary Fund between 1975 and 1977 by the Labour Government, when they were in extremis, only £240 million now remains for repayment? If so, does it not speak volumes for the skill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his team and for the excellent economic management of the country by the Government?

The Prime Minister

I believe that my hon. Friend's figures are broadly right. They show that Labour Governments run the finances of the country in such a way that they have to borrow large amounts overseas and leave Tory Governments to repay them.

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Q5. Mr. Alton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 14 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Alton

Will the Prime Minister find time today to read the debate last Friday on a Bill of Rights? Will she give the House an undertaking that the all-party talks on this important matter, which she promised some months ago, will now take place?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pursue that matter with my right hon. Friend Francis Pymthe Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. A Bill of Rights has been mooted for a very long time because people believe that somehow it will enable us to have entrenched provisions. The fact is that in the system that we run, in which there is parliamentary supremacy, there is not possibility of entrenched provisions. That is the difficulty with a Bill of Rights.

Mr. Stokes

Does my right hon. Friend think that there is any way in which there can be international collaboration to overcome the menace of terrorism world-wide?

The Prime Minister

There is already a good deal of international collaboration between police forces. I think that all Governments in the Western world are aware of the need to co-operate to overcome this terrible menace that is afflicting our countries.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Lady aware that, unlike the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), I was with the leader of Humberside council when he made his first statement on the policy to be adopted there now that Labour has regained control? Is she aware that the first thing that he said was that the council had examined the books and had found that, in order to reduce rates, the Tories had left Humberside virtually bankrupt? That was his first statement. He also said that the council wanted to restore the cuts in social services to the old and to the young, which is the policy of the Labour Party.

The Prime Minister

It seems that the hon. Gentleman is embarking on a policy of increased expenditure regardless of the cost. In particular, if the rates on Humberside are to go up greatly, I remind the hon. Gentleman that vastly increased rates on industry and commerce cost jobs and create unemployment.

Mr. Higgins

In the light of earlier questions, will my right hon. Friend review the proposal that Civil Service pay next year should be negotiated without predetermined cash limits? Are there not grave dangers in such a procedure, both in terms of repercussions elsewhere in the public sector and in view of the need to control public expenditure not just this year but next year as well?

The Prime Minister

Lord SoamesThe Lord President has said that next year we would be prepared to negotiate without predetermined cash limits. That does not alter the fact that in the end we would have to reconcile any amount given with the public's ability to pay, and with Sir Geoffrey Howethe Chancellor of the Exchequer's requirements as far as public expenditure is concerned. But there is room for a little latitude, as pay is only one factor in the departmental budgets.