Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [10/985-90]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2742
Themes: Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, European Union (general), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Law & order, Local government finance, Trade unions
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Q1. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 29 October.

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 the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Price

Will the Prime Minister describe to the House the efforts that she personally has made today to save British Leyland, its component industries and tens of thousands of jobs of skilled engineering workers throughout Britain?

The Prime Minister

There is not a great deal that I can add to what I said last Tuesday. It is the wish of the British Government that British Leyland should succeed. We have made that perfectly clear through the amount of taxpayers' money that has been made available this year [column 986]and last year. It is not our intention to intervene in the negotiations. At present—and this is the new thing since Tuesday—ACAS is now involved in the negotiations, and I hope that those negotiations will be successful.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Has my right hon. Friend read of the reported refusal of the French Socialist Party to participate in the recent highly co-ordinated campaign against the siting of United States nuclear weapons in Europe, on the ground that it was sponsored by the Communist Party? Does she agree that it is highly dishonourable to seek to shelter under the American nuclear umbrella while refusing to allow United States nuclear weapons to be sited in this country?

The Prime Minister

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that to expect the United States to defend us with its home-based missiles and yet to refuse to have missiles based near our homes is totally and utterly dishonourable. I know that the French Government take a similar view about nuclear arms to the one that we take, and they have been most firm and robust about it.

Mr. Foot

Labour Members would be very happy to debate that extremely important matter, and the Gracious Speech may give us the chance to do so. However, I return to the immediate question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) and the urgent question about what is to be done to avert the catastrophe that could befall not only British Leyland, but British industry on a large scale. On Tuesday I asked the right hon. Lady to reflect on the matter. She says that ACAS is dealing with it, but all the latest indications are that it is not possible for ACAS to produce a solution. Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her refusal to intervene in the matter on industrial relations grounds, and also tell us her view about the threatened liquidation of parts of British Leyland? Does she believe that that is a matter on which the Government should have no view?

The Prime Minister

Pay and industrial relations must be a matter for the company to decide in negotiation with the unions. Mediation is not the role of Government. It is the role of ACAS, and that is continuing at present.

Mr. Foot

On both matters, will the right hon. Lady undertake that if the discussions with ACAS break down the Government will do their duty and intervene to avoid this catastrophe? As the House is to prorogue on Friday, will she give an absolute undertaking that none of the assets of BL will be sold until the House has had the full opportunity to debate the mater in Government time and to vote on it? The industrial catastophe that can follow for the country is a matter for which the Government will have to take responsibility if the Prime Minister is not prepared to intervene on those two aspects.

The Prime Minister

It is reasonable to assume that my right hon. Friend Patrick Jenkinthe Secretary of State for Industry will keep in close touch about the possibility of liquidation. The Government are the main shareholder, and my right hon. Friend will be consulted about it.

The negotiations taking place at the moment are a matter for ACAS. I well remember that when the right hon. Gentleman was Leader of the House he was often asked about debates and statements on disputes. His frequent reply and that of his colleagues was that it was [column 987]unwise to discuss these matters further when negotiations were at a very delicate stage. I refer him to his reply on 8 February 1979, when asked about a debate. He said:

“I feel we should await the outcome of the negotiations. I do not think that it would be intelligent to have a debate right in the middle of the negotiations.” —[Official Report, 8 February 1979; Vol. 962, c. 579.]

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady is totally misinformed. We are not in the middle of the negotiations. Last night and this morning ACAS has been seeking a solution. All the indications are that its efforts will break down—[Interruption.] The Government have the same access to information as the Opposition, and all the indications are that the negotiations will break down. I ask the Prime Minister to give an absolute undertaking that if the ACAS negotiations break down the Government will be prepared to intervene to try to secure an industrial settlement. Further, I ask for an absolute undertaking that the projected sale of these assets will not be proceeded with until the House has the opportunity to pronounce upon it.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman does not have very much confidence in the body which his Government set up. The negotiations in ACAS are continuing. I may say that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are most unhelpful. Most Government supporters hope very much that the negotiations will be successful. It is the Government's wish—we have backed it with taxpayers' money—that British Leyland should succeed. The right hon. Gentleman is not helping what is a very difficult state of affairs. As major shareholder, the Government will be in touch with the board of British Leyland if there is any question of putting it into liquidation.

Mr. Durant

When my right hon. Friend opened her post today did she discover a supplementary rate demand from the GLC? Will she remind the ratepayers of London that it is proposed next year that rates will go up by 114 per cent. and that many Conservative hon. Members support the moves to curtail this crazy expenditure?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We see yet again what happens when Socialists get into Government. They are profligate with expenditure, regardless of the consequences of the rates and taxes that have to be paid by their electors.

Q3. Mr. Dormand

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 October.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dormand

Will the right hon. Lady cancel all her engagements for today and the next few days so that she can visit the North and see the devastation that her policies are causing up there? They are policies that have, unfortunately, kept the region at the top of the unemployment league every month since she assumed power. If the right hon. Lady comes to the North, will she visit Jarrow on Sunday? Is she aware that in that historic town she will see 100,000 people marching and demonstrating against her policies? Is it not appropriate that the town, which was murdered in the 1930s by her predecessors, should be the scene of a similar murder by her Government in the 1980s?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is “No” , but I am glad that he would find such [column 988]a visit welcome. We discussed these matters yesterday. I did not hear any viable alternatives put forward by the Opposition.

Sir William Elliott

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Opposition Members who represent constituencies in the North-East never seem to hear good news? There is considerable business encouragement in the region already, engendered by the enterprise zones. Four large factories have been let recently in Hartlepool, and 40 of 200 acres allocated in the Team Valley have been taken up in the last two months alone. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people in the North-East have far too much common sense and are far too down to earth to be fooled by the diet of pessimism prescribed by Labour Members?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There are a good number of excellent contracts going to the North. There is an increase in engineering orders. I think that many people in the North realise that some of the measures that have been taken should have been taken many years ago.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Although I accept that it would be wrong for the Government to become directly involved in the negotiations between the management and work force of BL, may I ask whether the Prime Minister agrees that the consequences of the closure of BL would be much greater, possibly, than have been anticipated so far? Does she accept that many major firms have been teetering on the brink for many months and that they may be tipped over it by the closure of BL?

Mr. Cryer

I can think of someone who was teetering on the brink of the Labour Party for a long time.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Will the right hon. Lady consult her Cabinet colleagues and the Governor of the Bank of England about the possible consequences for banking and industry and draw them to the attention of both management and workers?

The Prime Minister

For many of the reasons given by the hon. Gentleman, we hope that the negotiations will be successful. However, it is not the Government's role to conduct industrial negotiations.

Mr. Michael Brown

I have just received a communication from one of my constituents, and I wonder whether my right hon. Friend can suggest a reply. He asks for my advice about what he should do with the supplementary rate demand that he has received from the Humberside country council. He asks whether he should defy the county council and not pay the supplementary rate and what the Government intend to do about it. Can my right hon. Friend suggest what I should reply to him?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend knows that I would never advise anyone to defy the law. People must act in accordance with the law, however much they dislike it. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will continue to campaign against a council that is profligate with ratepayers' money. Perhaps he will inform his constituent that my right hon. Friend Michael Heseltinethe Secretary of State for the Environment hopes to introduce legislation to restrict supplementary rates in future.

Q5. Mr. Moate

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 October.

The Prime Minister

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

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Mr. Moate

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is 14 years since we had an inflation rate comparable with, or lower than, those of the majority of our major industrial competitors, such as we have today? Would it not be the height of folly to abandon the battle against inflation, as she is urged to do by a great many people, including the Leader of the Opposition, just when there is a sign that the nation can win the battle?

The Prime Minister

If we abandoned the battle now there would be no hope of our ever rivalling our main industrial competitors again. If we continue with our strategy there is a chance that we can break through to industrial success and be as successful with our industrial orders as our competitors are.

Mr. Faulds

Reverting to an earlier supplementary question on the subject of theatre nuclear weapons, will the right hon. Lady contemplate where that intended theatre lies? Will each European Government be free to choose or to veto the push on that final button by that incoherent cretin, President Reagan?

The Prime Minister

I greatly deplore the discourtesy and total futility of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Faulds

Answer the question.

The Prime Minister

They do not help when the security of Europe depends upon the support of the United States of America. With regard to the theatre of theatre nuclear weapons, the SS20s are targeted on Europe, including this country.

Mr. Lawrence

Will my right hon. Friend encourage her Cabinet colleagues to give currency throughout the country to the point made in an excellent speech yesterday by the Secretary of State for Industry to the effect that Labour's policy of withdrawal from the Common Market is likely to lead to the loss of 5 million jobs within two years?

The Prime Minister

Labour's policy of withdrawal from the EEC would be devastating for jobs and could be devastating for all hope of getting inward investment into areas that need more work.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not intervene during Question Time, as is your wish. Is it not out of order, and has it not always been out of order, to refer in the House discourteously to other Heads of State?

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Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is correct. That is out of order. However, because the Prime Minister replied immediately, I thought that the whole House understood, including the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), that we refer politely to the Heads of all States, as we expect them to refer politely to our Head of State.

Mr. Faulds

I am sorry if I have offended against one of the traditions of the House, but when the lives of every person in this country depend on such people, I am entitled to make that point.

Mr. Speaker

Order. In the House, no one is entitled to speak discourteously of the Head of another State, particularly a friendly State. That has been our rule for centuries.

Mr. Adley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the noise and acrimony among various groups of Socialists on the Opposition Benches, which looks as if it is likely to increase in the months ahead, have you any plans to lay down guidelines so that we can at least hear what they are saying?

Mr. Christopher Price

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a fact that the reference in “Erskine May” about pejorative references to Heads of State first came into “Erskine May” because of references to Herr Hitler in the House in 1936? Is it not time that we looked at that reference, because surely it should be the right of any hon. Member to draw attention to the dangers from other countries, as Winston Churchill did in the years before the war?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not seeking in any way to stop anyone's argument, but no one's argument is advanced by abuse. That applies particularly when someone is not able to reply for himself in the House.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw attention to the fact that, on occasions, abusive references have been made to people such as President Amin—properly, in my view? Can you recall any instances when an attempt has been made to stop an hon. Member from making such references, as happened when my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) referred to President Reagan?

Mr. Speaker

As it happens, the hon. Gentleman is right. Disrespectful remarks were passed about President Amin, which I did not hear at the time.