Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [13/157-62]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2455
Themes: Executive (appointments), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Higher & further education, Employment, Monetary policy, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
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Q1. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had a meeting with King Hussein of Jordan. Following other meetings with ministerial colleagues, I attended the memorial service for Lord Boyle of Handsworth. 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 before departing for Bonn, where I shall have talks with Chancellor Schmidt tomorrow.

Mr. Sainsbury

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the announcement yesterday about industrial training boards has already been widely welcomed by industry and commerce as contributing to a useful reduction in bureaucracy and making it easier to provide cost-effective training? However, could she find time in her busy day to consider whether more steps could be taken in the near future to make vocational training more widely available to all age groups, especially school leavers?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. The new arrangements for industrial training boards that my right hon. Friend Norman Tebbitthe Secretary of State for Employment announced are in line with the wishes and needs of industry. With regard to the future, my right hon. Friend hopes to announce by the end of the year new measures for more comprehensive provisions for the training of our young unemployed and generally for training our young people.

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Mr. Bidwell

Is the Prime Minister aware that the old age pension increase later this month for a married couple will be nearly £5 lower than it would be under the Labour Government's criteria? Is she not utterly ashamed of that?

The Prime Minister

The world recession would have hit the Labour Government just as much as it has hit this Government. I ask the hon. Gentleman to remember the record of the Labour Government during the last world recession, when they had to go to the IMF because they were broke.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance, with regard to Northern Ireland, that the small number of gunmen who are terrorising that Province are being dealt with by the armed forces without any let or hindrance for any political or other reason?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly give that assurance. A number of things have been said in the last two days which may make the situation more difficult for the security forces in Northern Ireland. Whatever happens, the Army and police will carry out their duty, as we would expect them to do.

Mr. Foot

If the Prime Minister believes her claims about the recession ending, and if she wishes to help young people, as she said a few minutes ago, will she undertake to review immediately the programme for the universities? Is she aware that it is undermining a principle accepted by every Government for the past 20 years, that higher education should be available to those who are able and willing to use it? Will she take immediate steps to take action in that area?

The Prime Minister

I think that my words were that the trough of the recession was reached—[Interruption.] I looked at the words. I said that the trough of the recession was reached in the second quarter, according to most of the commentators. That is not quite what the right hon. Gentleman said.

I understand that the matter of the universities is to be debated this week, and doubtless my right hon. Friend Sir Keith Josephthe Secretary of State for Education and Science will listen keenly to what is said in the House.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady do more than that? In her programme for the universities, she is inflicting permanent damage on this country and on many young people. Does she not recognise that however the money is used, under these cuts about 6,000 or 7,000 university teachers will lose their jobs? Does she consider that to be an intelligent way of dealing with the crisis?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend has already said that if the economies can be achieved in another way, of course he will consider it. The University Grants Committee programme amounts to over £900 million, which is a large amount to be spending on university education. It is similar to the amount that has previously been spent, and I have no doubt that there will continue to be a large measure of university education for those young people who need it, and also higher education in the polytechnics and other colleges of advanced education.

Mr. David Steel

As the Prime Minister is always looking for economies, will she take note of the latest delay announced in the Trident programme in the United States? In view of the mounting costs of that programme, will she review it in her plans?

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The Prime Minister

The precise programme for Trident has not yet been finalised, and the change by the United States to the D5 will have consequences, which my right hon. Friend John Nottthe Secretary of State will be considering, for the programme itself.

Mr. Ward

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the continuing resentment in the private sector over the provision of index-linked pensions in the public sector? Will she undertake to look again at the matter?

The Prime Minister

We have already had the Scott report on that matter, although the committee's terms of reference were confined mainly to whether the contributions should be raised for the provisions of index-linked pensions. The real answer is to continue with policies that, in the end, will get inflation down. That is the best possible form of index-linking.

Disabled Persons (Employment)

Q2. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Prime Minister what steps Her Majesty's Government are taking to increase job opportunities for the disabled and, in particular, the young disabled.

The Prime Minister

The Manpower Services Commission's “Fit for Work” campaign is designed to make employers aware of the abilities and potential of disabled workers. The National Advisory Council on Employment of Disabled People is arranging an in-depth study on how best to meet the needs of young disabled people.

The Government seek to promote the employment of disabled people through the job introduction scheme, employment rehabilitation courses, the funding of sheltered employment, and the work of the disablement resettlement officers in the MSC's jobcentres.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Prime Minister accept that the damage that she has done to the British economy has particularly harmed disabled people in their search for jobs? Is she aware that the most effective policy that she could pursue would be to insist that all firms obey the law and employ the 3 per cent. of disabled people that they are supposed to?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman disregards some of the facts. There are only about 1.9 per cent. of the work force on the disablement register and there are not enough for all firms to employ 3 per cent. of disabled people. That is why the Manpower Services Commission has been issuing permits for firms that wish to take on extra people, even though they are not up to their full disablement quota. The hon. Gentleman should take into account all the facts about the numbers of people who are disabled and actually on the register.

Mr. Hannam

In looking at this worrying problem, will my right hon. Friend take time to consider the example of West Germany where, by the use of a combined system of a 5 per cent. quota and levies on those who do not fulfil that quota, a 4.9 per cent. level of employment of disabled workers has been achieved?

The Prime Minister

I think that our problem here is that there are only about 1.9 per cent. on the disablement register. The present law requires firms with 20 or more employees to employ 3 per cent. of registered disabled people. It is not an offence to be below the quota. An [column 160]employer in that position who wishes to engage anyone other than a registered disabled person must obtain a permit to do so. Firms are obtaining permits to do so at present because there are not sufficient disabled people to meet the quota.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the Prime Minister take steps to remove one of the anomalies that prevent blind people from getting employment? IS not she aware that they are the only disabled people who cannot move from outside employment back again to sheltered work shops and that they are the only disabled people who receive no mobility allowance, which militates against their accepting jobs where there are travelling problems?

The Prime Minister

I shall certainly examine what the hon. Gentleman has said. We are trying in every way to help the disabled to get work, as the special “Fit for Work” campaign demonstrates. We shall examine, in particular, the hon. gentleman's point about mobility.


Q3. Mr. Freud

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Freud

Is the Prime Minister aware that our annual expenditure on military bands last year was £28 million? IS she further aware that for the sake of less than one-tenth of that sum the Conservative-controlled Cambridgeshire county council is reducing capitation, cutting village schools, stopping courses in further education and is now considering bussing mentally handicapped children to places away from Ely? Does she really think that she has her priorities right and that there is no alternative?

The Prime Minister

The amount spent under the rate support grant and through rates on the education of each pupil is the same in real terms as it has been in the past. How it is spent is a matter for the local county council.

Mr. Adley

Does my right hon. Friend recall that when President Mitterrand was elected he was given a rapturous welcome in the House by the Leader of the Opposition? Will my right hon. Friend now welcome President Mitterrand's latest decision on nuclear weapons and his robust rejection of unilateral disarmament, and perhaps invite the Leader of the Opposition to join her?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. President Mitterrand has been staunch in providing for the defence of France and in joining in providing weapons and soldiers for the whole of the Western Alliance. He has also been staunch on the need for a nuclear deterrent and never in favour of unilateral disarmament, because he believes, as most of us do, in multilateral disarmament. The way to achieve taht is the way in which we are proceeding.

Mr. Winnick

Was not yesterday's outburst and exhibitionism a good illustration of the attitude of certain Unionist leaders who are determined to do what they can to create total confusion over the steps taken by the British and Irish Governments? Will the Prime Minister give an assurance today that neither the hon. Gentleman who was responsible for yesterday's outburst, nor the IRA murderers, will prevent the steps that have been taken with the Dublin Government from developing? Does she agree [column 161]that those steps should be developed in order to make it easier for an agreement to be reached between Dublin and London?

The Prime Minister

What has happened will not deflect the Government in any way. The security forces will carry out their duty, as will the police. Most of us deplored what happened yesterday and believe that that—and the alleged assertion of one hon. Member that he will make the Province ungovernable—is not in the true interests of the people of Ulster. It could put the lives of many innocent people at risk and make the task of the security forces more difficult.

Mr. Latham

When, this morning, my right hon. Friend met King Hussein of Jordan—a country with which we have long had close relations—did she discuss with him how Britain, Europe and the Americans could best get their policies together on the Middle East? At present there seems to be a horrendous gap.

The Prime Minister

That is exactly what we were trying to discuss. We have the Camp David agreement, the European initiative and the eight principles enunciated by Saudi Arabia. The latter will be discussed soon at an Arab summit. Those proposals are on the table and we are all seeking a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East problem. As a first step, we all want recognition by the [column 162]Palestinian people of the right of Israel to exist behind secure boundaries and simultaneous recognition by the Israelis of the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination. If we could achieve that it would be a major step forward. I believe that everyone is seeking a way in which to achieve it.

Secretary of State of Employment

Q4. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if she will dismiss the Secretary of State for Employment.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The hon. Member may assume that I do not intend to make any changes in ministerial appointments or responsibilities unless or until I make a statement to the contrary.

Mr. Roberts

Does the Prime Minister accept that the Secretary of State for Employment, as was clear from his answers today, is symbolic of the irrational policies pursued by the Government, which have added about 2 million people to the dole queue and lowered living standards for the great mass of people in this country? Is it not high time that she told him to get on his bike?

The Prime Minister

From what I heard, Norman Tebbitmy right hon. Friend's answers were robust, sensible and realistic. Long may they continue.