Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [13/415-20]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2142
Themes: Conservatism, Defence (arms control), Industry, Monetary policy, Pay, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Housing, Law & order, Local government, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Trade unions
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Q1. Mr. Robert Atkins

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

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall be presenting the Harding award on behalf of Action Research for the Crippled Child and having further meetings.

Mr. Atkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the so-called centre party has no roots, principles, philosophy or values and that it is little more than a credit card party with the cheap slogan “Vote now, pay later” ?

The Prime Minister

I seem to recognise the quotation as having been made by a person who used to occupy a place on the Opposition Front Bench above the Gangway. However, there is no point in occupying the centre ground, because the centre shifts as the whole spectrum of politics shifts——

Mr. Skinner

Does what?

The Prime Minister


Mr. Skinner

Oh, shifts!

The Prime Minister

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I cannot compete with the kind of mind of Opposition Members below the Gangway. It might suit them better if I were to say that the centre moves as the spectrum of politics moves. Therefore, the only sure ground is the ground of one's belief, on which one can stand like a rock.

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Mr. Lofthouse

Will the right hon. Lady find time to read the report in the Yorkshire Post on Tuesday, in which the former Conservative chairman of the West Yorkshire policy authority accused the Home Office of banning the promotion of senior police officers in that force as a result of their involvement in the Yorkshire Ripper case? If that is true, will she make a statement to the House about why the Home Office found this ban necessary?

The Prime Minister

I know about the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has alleged. Perhaps he will raise matters relating to the police with my right hon. Friend William Whitelawthe Home Secretary.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the statement by President Reagan that he would reduce the deployment of American missiles in Europe if that was matched by the Russians? Will she also find time to meet any delegation from the Russian CND which might care to explain what success it has had in getting the Russian Government to reduce their nuclear stockpile?

The Prime Minister

I cannot meet anyone if there is no one there to meet. I do not imagine that they would be free people if they held those views, because they live in a different society. I formally welcome President Reagan's great initiative in proposing not merely a limitation of nuclear arms but an actual reduction both in nuclear arms and conventional forces. I believe that he has seized the initiative. I hope that we shall find a response from the Soviet Union. We wish to have a balance of arms at a very much lower level than at present. I hope that President Reagan's initiative will lead to negotiations. I do not conceal the fact that such negotiations will be long and difficult, but they will be well worth while and believed in by most of the British people.

Mr. Foot

Is it not true that the Opposition have been arguing and campaigning for a zero option attitude for many months? Did we not advocate that at the time of the discussions in December 1979? Naturally, we greatly welcome President Reagan's statement. We hope that negotiations will take place on that basis and that they will be successful.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that not only should that statement be welcomed, but that it is much better and offers greater hope than the statements about so-called limited nuclear war? If successful negotiations can be carried out properly on the zero option, cannot the whole idea of limited nuclear war, such as that previously professed by the American Administration and others, be outlawed altogether?

The Prime Minister

I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give an unqualified welcome to President Reagan's statement. It is a forthright initiative. However, I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has been converted to multilateral disarmament.

Mr. Foot

The Opposition have a much better right to welcome the statement than has the right hon. Lady. Did not the Opposition argue for the zero option in Moscow, Washington, Europe and everywhere else? The last person to support the zero option has been the right hon. Lady herself. The Opposition hope that the negotiations will be successful. That is why I ask the right hon. Lady to recognise the implications of the zero objective by saying that the idea of flexible response and limited nuclear war must be outlawed?

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The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has been arguing for the surrender of our security, regardless of the Soviet Union's response. I believe in multilateral disarmament. I am anxious that that should happen. I unreservedly welcome President Reagan's statement. I hope that it finds a ready response in the Soviet Union. I see little point in going further than that. We have not yet heard the Soviet Union's response.

Q3. Mr. Adley

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Adley

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read in the newspapers the reports of the agreement signed between the Toshiba company and the electricians union, which appears to set an interesting and hopeful precedent for future industrial relations? If she has not done so, will she read it, commend it, and perhaps even go so far as to congratulate both unions and management?

The Prime Minister

I have not seen the full agreement. I have read the reports of it, which have described it as a no-strike agreement. We all welcome any agreement that eliminates friction between management and work force and maximises output. I understand that the agreement does that and I welcome it.

Mr. Leighton

While the Government proclaim their main aim to be a reduction of inflation, may I ask whether the Prime Minister is aware that when the time comes for her to meet the electorate the rate of inflation will be as high or even higher than that which she inherited, and will be accompanied by 4 million or 5 million unemployed and the production of 25 per cent. less wealth?

The Prime Minister

I do not accept any of the premises of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Will my right hon. Friend spend some time today contemplating our satisfaction at the sudden conversion of the Leader of the Opposition to multilateral disarmament? Does not she find it disappointing that on the first occasion when Russia, which has been campaigning for disarmament for many months, is given a solid proposition, her immediate reaction is to throw it out of the window and call it propaganda?

The Prime Minister

Most of us unreservedly welcome President Reagan's initiative. We still hope for a Russian response. If that does not happen, there will be serious consequences for the amount of money that we shall have to spend on armaments. I sincerely hope that a response will be forthcoming and that the United States and the Soviet Union will enter into negotiations that will be fruitful for us all and for our peoples.

Mr. Maclennan

If the Prime Minister will not accept the premise of the question asked by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) about the condition of the economy in two years' time, will she at least answer for the condition of the economy today? The right hon. Lady showed flexibility earlier when she spoke about the shift from the centre. What changes does she propose that will bring about a reduction in inflation and an increase in employment and output?

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The Prime Minister

At the time of the last election, when the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour Party, inflation was on a rising course. It was rising comparatively fast. He knows, because he was a member of the previous Government, that many price increases were held back for the election. In general, inflation is now on a falling course. As I said in a speech on Monday, because of the change in the pound-dollar exchange rate inflation rose last month and there may be further increases in the immediate future. However, after that I believe that it will resume its downward trend.

Q4. Mr. Winnick

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Winnick

Is the Prime Minister aware that a reply given to me yesterday showed that council rents have increased by 78 per cent. during the time that the Government have been in office? How does the right hon. Lady justify council tenants being penalised in that way, especially those millions who do not wish to buy their homes? How does she justify an increase of 78 per cent. in two and a half years when she wants to impose wage increases of 4 per cent. on the working people?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. Earnings have risen substantially during the period that he mentioned. I now speak from memory and he must check the precise figures, but I believe that at the time of the last election council rents met only 47 per cent. of the actual expenditure on council houses. That was recognised to be an unduly low percentage by responsible Opposition Members. It had to rise. It was recognised that council rents represented about 6 per cent. of the pay packet, that that was unduly low and that it was time for them to rise.

Mr. Emery

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if the Russian Government turned down President Reagan's initiative, any action towards unilateral nuclear disarmament would have no effect on Moscow and would leave us absolutely naked at any conference table?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There must be multilateral disarmament if we are to retain our security. Unilateral disarmament would put the whole future liberty of these islands at risk, and we shall not do that.

Mr. Soley

Has the Prime Minister seen the courageous letter in The Times today from the governor of Wormwood Scrubs prison in Hammersmith? Will she persuade some members of the Tory Party to allow the Home Secretary to take a more radical and humane approach to the growing crisis in our prisons which is threatening the welfare of prison officers and prisoners alike?

The Prime Minister

I have seen the letter. My right hon. Friend William Whitelawthe Home Secretary has repeatedly stressed that the present levels of overcrowding in prisons are intolerable. He has taken steps to try to reduce that overcrowding. The Government's policy is to encourage shorter sentences, consistent with the protection of the public from serious offenders——

Mr. Skinner

It is not working.

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The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman must at least be glad that the Government have raised the number of police and increased their pay to ensure a greater rate of crime detection.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend warn the so-called Ulster Loyalists who threaten to make the Province ungovernable that they could succeed where IRA terrorism [column 420]has singularly failed over the last 12 years in persuading the British people and Parliament to end this country's commitment to the defence of Ulster?

The Prime Minister

I hope that all honourable, law-abiding citizens in the Province of Northern Ireland will support the security forces and the police in their work. No security forces or police can work without the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. I hope and believe that the security forces will secure that support.