Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [12/415-20]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2163
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Judiciary, Parliament, Defence (general), Private education, Higher & further education, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Middle East), Law & order, Local government, Local government finance, Security services & intelligence, Social security & welfare
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Q1. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I held meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall [column 416]be having further meetings later today, including one with President Burnham of Guyana. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Janner

Will the Prime Minister have the opportunity today to consider the survey that has just been published by the Association of Directors of Social Services, which states that, contrary to Government statements, the services for Britain's most vulnerable groups—the disabled, the poor and the elderly—are deteriorating? If not, will the right hon. Lady undertake to study that survey and, if it is correct, try to lift some of the burden of our present economic miseries from those least able to bear them?

The Prime Minister

There are many, many things on which the Government and local government wish to spend extra money. We have to decide on the priorities, and it is for local government to decide its priorities. I am sure that many local authorities would include the services to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred among their priorities.

Mr. Greenway

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many cheap electrical goods are being imported, at political prices, from Eastern Europe, which is damaging to the home industry and particularly to the Hoover factory at Perivale in my constituency, where many people are being put out of work? Will the Government do something about that, because there are no reciprocal arrangements with the countries concerned?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, the European Commission can take anti-dumping action if evidence is placed before the Community. I am sure that if my hon. Friend has evidence he will place it before the Community. At the moment, the Commission is inquiring into two matters—imports of domestic refrigerators and cylinder vacuum cleaners. I hope that the reports will be published soon.

Mr. Foot

On the question of the extremely damaging cuts referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), has the Prime Minister had a chance to consider the statement made by the spokesman for the vice-chancellors of our universities, who say that the cuts proposed by the Government could maim, cripple and butcher our university system? Will she undertake to review all the proposals for such cuts?

The Prime Minister

I believe that this year's grant to the University Grants Committee is about £900 million. It is, and always has been, for the committee to decide how that shall be allocated. It has been a matter of pride among all Governments that they do not interfere with the allocation of the money. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that a future Government will interfere with the allocation of money to the universities, he is taking a retrograde step.

With regard to cuts, the right hon. Gentleman is aware that we are spending more public money this year than last year and he should also be aware of the crippling effect of high rates and taxes on private business, which provides jobs.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady note that the spokesman for the vice-chancellors says that the present cuts will mean a reduction of 10,000 in the number of [column 417]students coming to our universities each year? Does she not think that that, in the circumstances of heavy youth unemployment, is an act of barbarism?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman neglects to observe that extra money has in the end to come from private sector industry or from people who are making a profit, and that the more we take away from them the less they are able to have capital available for expansion. It is that sector that will provide the extra jobs in the future.

Mr. Latham

What steps does my right hon. Friend intend to take to try to bring about a closer and more harmonious relationship in policy towards the Middle East and Israel between ourselves and the American Government?

The Prime Minister

It is the constant object of our efforts to work for a comprehensive peace settlement that will recognise the right of Israel to live in peace behind secure borders, and the right of the Palestinian people. That was the object of the Venice declaration. We are now hoping, with the United States, to find grounds upon which we can agree to participate in the Sinai force, to try to ensure that that part of the agreement between Egypt and Israel is implemented in accordance with its terms.

Mr. Beith

Will the Prime Minister try to find time today to reflect further on the Long spying case? Is not one of the lessons of that case that if Ministers do not have to answer to Parliament for particular matters, they are likely to be told less about them? Is it not, therefore, important that we devise secure mechanisms by which Parliament can make Ministers answerable on these matters?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman will look at the speech that I made on the Blunt debate, at the extensive statement I made on the Hollis debate, and at the long answers that I have given to questions, he will find that most of the answers to his questions to which it is reasonable to give answers are there.

I want to make one thing absolutely clear, in view of some of the reports. It is said that Ministers, Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries today are not informed. Either in a previous debate or in a very lengthy reply—I cannot remember which it was—I made it very clear that at least for the last decade Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries have been informed, and nothing that has been said recently has come as a surprise to me in any way.

Mr. Canavan

The right hon. Lady knew all along.

Q2. Mr. Newens

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 10 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Newens

Does the right hon. Lady accept the possibility of the super Powers settling their differences in a nuclear war confined to Europe? If she does not, will she take this opportunity of making that clear, so that Mr. Reagan may understand the facts, since he has recently made statements on this issue?

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. Friend John Nottthe Secretary of State for Defence said a few moments ago, we regard it as our first duty to see to the defence of Britain, in accord with our NATO Allies. I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to some remarks which might [column 418]have been made across the Atlantic about NATO's options. It would be irresponsible if NATO had not many options for many circumstances. What they are I am not prepared to say.

Mr. John Hunt

Has my right hon. Friend had time today to study the judgment that has been given in respect of the GLC supplementary rate? Will she commend the initiative of Bromley council, which alone among the London boroughs has stood up against the rapacious demands of the GLC, and will she lend her support to its continuing efforts on behalf of London's hard-pressed ratepayers?

The Prime Minister

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Bromley council on its initiative. I saw the judgment, which will have been greeted with great relief by many people. Whether it will be a matter for appeal I do not know, but it will now be for the GLC to consider what action it will take in the light of that judgment.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Does the Prime Minister recognise the danger of the judges arrogating to themselves political decisions? Although it may be one thing to say that the council has exceeded its statutory power, it is quite another to say that, even if it had the statutory power, it acted unreasonably in balancing the interest of ratepayers and fare-paying passengers? In such circumstances, the judges were making political decisions and not judicial decisions.

The Prime Minister

I wholly reject what the hon. Gentleman has said. Judges give decisions on the law and the evidence before them. They do so totally impartially.

Sir William Clark

As it is the official Opposition's policy—as, indeed, it is the opinion of Mrs. Shirley Williams of the Social Democratic Party—that private education should be abolished, will my right hon. Friend today take the opportunity to remind the taxpayer that that policy would cost the British taxpayer about £2,000 million?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that it is possible to abolish private education and still keep a free society. The sum that my hon. Friend mentions is roughly the capital cost that would fall upon the taxpayer. In addition to that, there would be a substantial revenue cost of about £400 million a year.

Q3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 10 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Canavan

How does the Prime Minister reconcile her whitewash reply to me yesterday with the fact that The Sunday Times has the names of two more traitors who may be revealed this coming weekend, one of whom apparently expressed surprise at not being prosecuted after confessing to MI5? How many other members of the old boy network of spies and traitors must the media reveal before the Prime Minister comes clean and accedes to my demand for a full-scale public inquiry into this Establishment cover-up?

The Prime Minister

These matters, all concerning the same group of people, have been investigated time and again, and I have been very forthcoming in the amount of information that I have tried to give to the House, while still retaining the interests of security. [column 419]

I have made it clear in my replies—I believe that most hon. Members would agree with me—that we should never use parliamentary privilege to imply guilt by association or by accusation, nor should we use it to name people, knowing that we nave not sufficient evidence to mount a prosecution. That, I believe, is the right view to take, and it is the view that I shall continue to take.

Mr. Proctor

While I welcome the Prime Minister's full and frank statement yesterday, may I ask her to confirm whether investigations were made about Mr. Leo Long 's activities between 1946 and 1952, when he held important and more senior positions in intelligence and had access to more sensitive information than he had prior to 1945? Or are we relying on his own words as a self-confessed Soviet spy?

The Prime Minister

I gave a very full reply about Mr. Long and I would not wish to add to it without further very careful notice of a specific question.

Mr. Leadbitter

Although the Prime Minister has gone a considerable way in these matters, will she accept that the official statements and events in the period of the [column 420]Philby and Blunt exposures, and now the Long exposure, have caused increasing public concern? The various cover-ups, the non-prosecution of treachery, the continuation of people in office, and the special privilege for special persons, are matters that should not have been tolerated. Will she therefore agree—I go no further than this because it is an important matter that should not be dealt with loosely—that importance must be attached to the nondisclosure concerning other persons who have committed offences or who are security risks? Will she agree that this applies to those of the Blunt and Long school who may be in office?

The Prime Minister

I believe that most of what the hon. Gentleman has said would be covered by the reply that I gave previously. I have tried to be as frank as I possibly can with the House, but it would be totally wrong for me to name names of people knowing that we could not mount a prosecution against them, or that their confessions had been obtained in a way which would render those confessions inadmissible. That is the honourable course to take, and I believe that it is the right one to continue to take.