Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1981 May 19 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [5/151-55]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2323
Themes: Executive, Executive (appointments), Defence (general), Public spending & borrowing, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Strikes & other union action
[column 151]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Best

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 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. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Best

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread welcome that will be given to the news today of the further elimination of that increasingly extinct species the quango? Will she speed up the process? Will she also say today what further progress she can make in reducing the bureaucracy of this nation?

The Prime Minister

We were able to announce yesterday a further reduction of 140 or so in the quangos. That is very good news. On the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, the numbers in the Civil Service have been reduced by 42,000 since the Government came to office. That represents a saving of £270 million on the pay bill, so we are well on target for 630,000 in the Civil Service by the end of this Parliament.

Mr. Foot

Talking of extinct species, will the right hon. Lady be good enough to tell us about a matter in which there is great public interest, both within and outside the House, namely, the removal or dismissal of her hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed)? Was not he in fact dismissed for telling the truth? How many other Ministers does the right hon. Lady think are likely to commit the same offence?

The Prime Minister

Ministers should fight departmental battles within the Department and not outside.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Lady suggesting that she dismissed the hon. Gentleman solely because he took his departmental battle outside? Will she tell us whether included in that battle was the question, which was much larger than the departmental matter, whether this country can afford, and whether it is right to proceed with, the £5,000 million Trident programme?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman raises three points. First, with regard to his earlier comments, in this Government both within Departments and in Government we believe in working as a team. [Interruption.] That is what the doctrine of collective responsibility means, alien as it may seem to Labour Members who, when they were in power, had to have special dispensation from collective responsibility. I believe in it and shall continue to do so.

Mr. Foot

We have been hearing about all these departmental secrets and disputes. Is that the reason why the right hon. Lady, a little earlier, dismissed the previous Secretary of State for Defence? Is that the reason why he has taken up his present post? Did not he also engage in departmental disputes which he brought into the open? Was that the reason why he was removed?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has observed that my right hon. Friend Francis Pymthe Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is, indeed, one of the foremost members of this Government.

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Mr. Emery

To clear up this matter will my right hon. Friend give an absolute assurance to the House and to the country that the pledge given by the Conservative Party in the Conservative manifesto at the last general election to the effect that there would be a significant increase in defence expenditure—which was established as a 3 per cent. increase on our NATO commitment—will be held to in the present defence review?

The Prime Minister

There has been a significant increase in defence expenditure in real terms. We have honoured the NATO commitment. We intend to continue to honour the NATO commitment of increasing defence expenditure. Therefore, the argument is not about reductions; it is about how to spend the increases.

Mr. David Steel

Given the Prime Minister's views on curtailing public expenditure, is not a massive cut in our conventional defences inevitable as long as the Government insist on going ahead with the Trident missile programme? Would it not show greater loyalty to NATO if we gave up the foolish pretence of being an independent nuclear power?

The Prime Minister

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are talking about increases in defence expenditure in real terms—increases which have taken place and which will continue to take place. We have to decide how best to spend those sums in the defence of the people of this island and in commitment with our NATO allies. That is a commitment to which we shall continue to give considerable consideration. We must meet our commitments to our NATO allies, but there are difficult decisions on how best to spend the money. I think that the vast majority of the people would believe that the independent nuclear deterrent of Trident is extremely good value for money.

Mr. James Callaghan

In her consideration of these issues, does the Prime Minister understand that a proposal to reduce the number of surface ships in the Royal Navy designed to fight submarines would be both an abdication of responsibility and a failure to understand the priorities for the defence of this country?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, bearing in mind that we have put up defence expenditure considerably over his budget, there are difficult choices to be made. The Government cannot escape those difficult choices. They have to spend the extra money, together with the underlying defence budget, in the way best suited to the defence of the people of these islands.

Q2. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Stanbrook

Has my right hon. Friend seen the horrifying stories and pictures of brutality towards old people in recent cases? Taking these together with other evidence of an increase in crimes of violence, are not my right hon. Friend and the Government absolutely right to press on with bringing the police fully up to strength and providing them with proper pay and equipment for their task?

The Prime Minister

As in the case of the increase in the defence budget, we were also committed to an increase [column 153]in the budget for law and order. That commitment, too, has been well and truly honoured by the Government. In England and Wales alone, the increase in the police force is in excess of 6,000, accompanied by further increases in Scotland and in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The Government were quite right to give that priority and will continue to do so.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is it not time that the Prime Minister intervened to end the Civil Service dispute? Is it not time that the Government stopped their cowardly approach to industrial relations, whereby they are being tough towards the weaker sections? Would it not be better now to restore public confidence all round and to get the public services back to normal working, in addition to bringing a measure of justice to this much maligned sector of the Government apparatus?

The Prime Minister

I very much hope that the Civil Service dispute will end, and soon. It is causing very severe disruption to some of the payments to which our citizens are entitled, such as value added tax, and grants which should regularly go to farmers. The civil servants are taking it out on their fellow citizens, not the Government. Bearing in mind that they have had a 50 per cent. increase in pay during the lifetime of the Government, and that they have also been offered a further 7 per cent. increase—which is more than some other sectors of the public service are getting, and a good deal more than many parts of the private sector are getting—they have had a very fair deal, and most of them believe that that is the case.

Q3. Mr. Moate

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Moate

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a priority of the British Presidency of the EEC will be a fundamental restructuring of the common agricultural policy? Is she aware that she will have massive national support in carrying out that task?

The Prime Minister

We have to give priority to the restructuring of the common agricultural policy, along with the restructuring of the budget. Both are required. We cannot do one without the other.

Mr. English

If the British Army of the Rhine were to be transferred to Britain, how many jobs currently given to German civilians would be given to British civilians?

The Prime Minister

No decisions have yet been taken about the allocation of the increased budget. If the hon. Gentleman has very strong views to put, I am sure that he will put them to my right hon. Friend John Nottthe Secretary of State for Defence.

Sir William Clark

In view of the tragic and sad news today that five more soldiers in Northern Ireland were murdered by a land mine, is it not high time that the Government reconsidered the reintroduction of capital punishment for terrorists?

The Prime Minister

It is the case that five more soldiers, members of the Green Jackets, were killed today by a land mine. I am sure that all hon. Members on both sides of the House offer their sympathy to the parents and families of those who were killed in the defence of law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland. [column 154]

My hon. Friend will know the rule of this House with regard to capital punishment. It has always been decided on a free vote. We have taken a free vote in this House in this Parliament and I do not envisage another one being taken at the instance of the Government. It is, of course, significant that south of the border, in the Republic of Ireland, the death penalty still exists.

Mr. Ashley

Will the Prime Minister confirm that she endorses the British delegation's support for a code of marketing for baby food substitutes in the Third world, which will be discussed and debated at the World Health Assembly this afternoon or tomorrow? If she endorses that support, will she express her criticism of the United States' opposition to that code of marketing? Is she aware that if the United States destroys the code, that can damage the lives and health of millions of children in the Third world?

The Prime Minister

I am not familiar with this code of marketing but I shall certainly look at it.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend spell out the difference in perception of the Soviet threat that causes President Reagan to undertake a programme of increasing United States defence expenditure by 17 per cent. over the next two years, while her own Administration are talking in terms of cuts, not in financial terms but in the strength or capability of the Armed Forces of the Crown? Will she give an assurance that there will not be such cuts?

The Prime Minister

We are talking about increases in expenditure in financial terms. Let that be clearly understood. It does a great disservice to indicate anything to the contrary. We shall continue to honour those increases. Of course, within those increases difficult choices have to be made. Difficult choices also have to be made between the defence programme and other programmes. We have given priority to defence and to law and order, and I believe that that was absolutely correct.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

When the Prime Minister has thought about those difficult choices, will she tell us whether breakfast television is more important to this country than a strong navy?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that that question is very relevant to the future of our defence forces.

Q4. Mr. John Townend

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Townend

Is my right hon. Friend aware that she has massive support for her stand on the Civil Service dispute? Will she reassure the House that the Government have no intention of getting round the cash limit by agreeing to a settlement for a period of less than 12 months?

The Prime Minister

I saw the report in the newspaper to the effect that that was the intention. There is no such intention. The cash limit of 6 per cent. has been clearly set for the whole of the financial year. There is no intention of departing from it. The Government believe that the maximum amount that can be awarded within that 6 per cent. cash limit—in view of decreased numbers—is some 7 per cent. We shall not depart from that. I was also somewhat distressed to read, at the same time, that some members of the Civil Service—I believe only a very few [column 155]of those on strike—said that it was their clear intention to disrupt the Government's financial policy and to see that interest rates were thereby increased.