Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [10/715-20]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2418
Themes: Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (arms control), Higher & further education, Employment, Industry, By-elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Local government finance, Trade unions
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Q1. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 27 October.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Jones

Bearing in mind the heavy levels of unemployment, does the right hon. Lady not owe it to the country to make significant changes in her economic policy? Is it not now the case that she no longer has a majority in the House for monetarism and unemployment?

The Prime Minister

By fighting inflation we are fighting unemployment. I thought that that was agreed on both sides of the House.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has my right hon. Friend heard that while she was away her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade signed an agreement worth £350 million for engineering exports from Britain to Brazil? Will she do all in her power to ensure that we have further successes of that sort by keeping our prices down?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I congratulate all who were involved in that very big deal of about £350 million for goods to Brazil. It will help British Shipbuilders, Northern [column 716]Engineering Industries, GEC and Ferranti. Much of the work will go to the North. I congratulate everyone involved.

Mr. Foot

Has the right hon. Lady had a chance, since her return from Mexico, to consider the extremely critical situation in British Leyland? Will she undertake to use either her influence direct, or the influence of one of her Ministers, to intervene to ensure that serious negotiations take place? This firm is not on the verge of collapse. It could speedily be moving into a considerable situation of profits and success. I ask the right hon. Lady not to answer the question here and now, but to consider it afresh and to report to the House on Thursday on how the Government can assist in dealing with this situation.

The Prime Minister

I should make it clear that the Government want British Leyland to succeed. We made that abundantly clear by the huge sums that the taxpayer invested in British Leyland in the past. The taxpayer has committed £990 million for 1981–82 and 1982–83. Industrial relations are matters for the company. The Government are not seeking to influence the company in that respect.

Mr. Foot

May I plead with the right hon. Lady, once again, on this matter? I hope that she will take account of what may be said to her by some of her hon. Friends. It would certainly be said by all my hon. Friends who represent parts of the country where British Leyland operates. I believe that anyone who considers the dispute will come to the conclusion that there are many other factors on which some independent assistance is needed. Anyone who talks to the management and to the unions, as we have done, could, I believe, come to the conclusion that there is a possibility of a settlement without victory or defeat for either side, but solely a victory for the nation as a whole. I plead with the right hon. Lady, once again, not to say “No” now, but to return to the House on Thursday, to see what the situation is then, and to consider whether the Government can use their mediating powers to assist in this situation?

The Prime Minister

All comments made by right hon. and hon. Members will be drawn to the company's attention. I must repeat that the Government want British Leyland to succeed, but they do not think it right to intervene in the handling of this matter by the company.

Mr. Foot

I still hope that the right hon. Lady will make a statement to the House. She may not have fully appreciated the feeling throughout the country on this subject. If she looks at the matter afresh, she may wish to make a different statement to the House of Commons on Thursday.

The Prime Minister

I have very much appreciated the feeling in the country. The taxpayer has invested a great deal of money in British Leyland. The sum of £990 million is allocated for this year and next year, so neither the taxpayer's nor the Government's good faith is in doubt.

Mr. John Carlisle

While Mrs. Gandhi deliberates over the fate of the British cricket tour, will my right hon. Friend make urgent representations to the Indian Prime Minister to allow the tour to go ahead? Will she condemn the latest United Nations black list that now seeks to prevent entertainers with a connection with South Africa from performing their arts?

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The Prime Minister

We do not recognise the United Nations black list of individuals. It appears to us to conflict gravely with our ideas on individual liberty. I have not discussed the cricket tour with Mrs. Gandhi. We believe that we have honoured the Gleneagles agreement, and, naturally, we hope that the tour will go ahead for the benefit of cricket in both countries.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Prime Minister aware that while she was away a new Member of Parliament was elected for Croydon, North-West? Will she at any time allow the judgment of the people to affect her draconian policies on unemployment?

The Prime Minister

I was just about aware of that. I remember when Liberal Members were elected for Orpington and Sutton and Cheam.

Q2. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 27 October.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which I have just given.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Prime Minister agree that the magnificent march last Saturday by about 200,000 people in protest against nuclear weapons is a sign of massive public revulsion against those weapons of death? Will she now review her defence policies to take note of public opinion?

The Prime Minister

The prospect of nuclear war is abhorrent to everyone. That is not in doubt. The purpose of our having nuclear weapons is to deter any aggressor who is a threat to this country from attacking this country. Many of us would look forward to the day when people were free to march in Moscow if they held that view.

Mr. Alexander

Will my right hon. Friend spare a thought during the day for the unfortunate ratepayers of Nottinghamshire, who until May this year were in the lowest rated county in the country? Is she aware that since then an 18p supplementary rate has been imposed and that the Labour council is using nearly £10,000 of it for a basketball coach and £100,000 for a perfumed garden in Rufford Abbey?

Mr. Concannon

What about the old-age pensioners?

Mr. Alexander

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anger of our ratepayers that the Association of District Councils—

Mr. Concannon

What about the meals on wheels?

Mr. Alexander

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anger of our ratepayers that the Association of District Councils is implacably opposed to the reforms of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to curb such excesses?

The Prime Minister

I did not know the full facts about the increase in rates in Nottingham, but I know that ratepayers everywhere are angry at some of the increases in rates which they are facing. In particular, small businesses are angry because the increases cause the loss of jobs on a considerable scale. Many people are wishing that they had never elected Labour local authorities, which are extremely extravagant with ratepayers' money.


Mr. Concannon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you will know, I do not habitually raise points of order. In fact, I cannot remember the last time when I did so. [column 718]However, serious allegations were made about Nottinghamshire county council this afternoon. I think that a reply should be given on behalf of the old-age pensioners, the sick, the disabled and the have-nots of Nottinghamshire, not to mention the manifesto commitments of the winners of the Nottinghamshire county council election. Surely that should have warranted a reply from the Prime Minister.

Mr. Speaker

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks with tolerance, but, whatever else they were, they were not a point of order.

Q3. Mr. Neubert

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 27 October.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Neubert

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to emphasise that if we are not to have higher taxes or higher borrowing leading to higher interest rates, calls for higher public expenditure can only mean printing money and that such debasing of the currency leads to chronic uncompetitiveness and loss of jobs? When production is increasing, when productivity is improving and when wages are taking an anti-inflationary trend, it would be folly to return to those discredited policies.

The Prime Minister

I entirely accept that and agree with my hon. Friend. It is absolute folly ever to resort to printing money on the scale on which it has been printed in the past. It would do untold damage and ensure that we could not be competitive with our rivals in overseas countries. Any increase in public spending has to be financed either by taxation or by borrowing, and that could mean higher interest rates.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

Will the Prime Minister confirm that when the Salt II talks were concluded it was announced officially that there was nuclear parity between the Soviet Union and the United States of America? Why do the Prime Minister and President Reagan now say that they must install Cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe to bring about parity before nuclear disarmament talks can proceed? Will she explain that to the House?

The Prime Minister

It is remarkable that the hon. Gentleman should need an explanation, when the Soviet Union has so many SS20s targeted on Europe and when one comes into service every five days. It is remarkable that he should object to our having a deterrent to those.

Mr. Colvin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Dr. Joseph Luns, the Secretary General of NATO, has estimated that about £6 million was spent by Russia on anti-nuclear propaganda in Western Europe last year and that 10 out of 40 members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament national committee are Communists? Which country is likely to benefit most if Britain follows a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament?

The Prime Minister

I was aware of that sum. I hope that people are not taken in by it. Anyone who goes for unilateral disarmament is not likely to get the Soviet Union to the negotiating table on disarmament as a whole. They would put that in jeopardy.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the Prime Minister have discussions with the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the difficulties faced by universities in [column 719]general, and Aberdeen university in particular? Is she aware that the medical school at Aberdeen is likely to lose 60 posts, many at consultant level, and that the principal has said that there is a danger that the university will go bankrupt? He has described the cuts as mindless and unthinking. Will she stop hiding behind the University Grants Committee and take a serious look at the damage that the Government's policy is doing to university education across the whole country?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend Sir Keith Josephthe Secretary of State for Education and Science has just answered questions for nearly three-quarters of an hour. The University Grants Committee is independent. It receives a global sum and decides how it shall be allocated. The Government do not decide that.

Q4. Mr. Alton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 27 October.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Alton

I should be grateful if the Prime Minister would find time today to consider the latest calamity on Merseyside, which is the closure of the Speke motor car factory owned by British Leyland. Is it her intention to [column 720]intervene to save that latest loss of jobs? Will she comment on the gratuitous remarks of the Secretary of State for Employment about unemployed people in Merseyside getting on bicycles and trying to find non-existent jobs?

The Prime Minister

Norman TebbitMy right hon. Friend did not make the exact remarks that the hon. Gentleman has attributed to him. If he had been here earlier, he would have heard my reply to the Leader of the Opposition. Industrial relations are a matter for the company. It is not my intention to intervene.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the high level of exports being attained by British manufacturing companies and the recent substantial orders that have been obtained are clear evidence that this country is becoming much more competitive and that we must do nothing to damage that competitiveness?

The Prime Minister

The export figures for this month were good. Admittedly, they were figures for only one month, but they were 6 per cent. in volume higher than the last figures that we had in January and February. That is a matter for congratulations to all the companies, both the management and the work force, and evidence that they are becoming much more competitive.