Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [14/133-38]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2271
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Autobiographical comments, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, Pay, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Health policy, Social security & welfare
[column 133]



Q1. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 December.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Brazilian Foreign Minister. 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, after which I shall attend a dinner given by Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Hamilton

Has the Prime Minister had time to read the article on the front page of The Guardian this morning about the Government's proposal to scrap the National Health Service as we know it? Does she recognise that the Health Service is the most popular public service that we have? Is she aware that any threat by her to undermine the basic principles on which it is based would create a revolutionary situation in the country? Will the Prime Minister, therefore, give a categorical assurance that not even she will stoop to such skulduggery?

The Prime Minister

The principle that adequate health care should be provided for all, regardless of ability to pay, must be the foundation of any arrangements for financing the Health Service. Some time ago, on 30 July 1981, Patrick Jenkinmy right hon. Friend, the then Secretary of State, announced that a working party had been set up to examine different methods of financing the Health Service. [Interruption.] Only the minds of members of the Opposition are closed to new ideas. They will not even look at new ideas. [column 134]

I am certain that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) will welcome the fact that under a Conservative Government there are 1,000 more doctors and 21,000 more fully qualified nurses and midwives in the National Health Service than there were when his party was in power.

Mr. Best

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the leaders of the second largest trade union in Britain on having accepted yesterday a pay settlement of 5 per cent. that covers almost 2 million workers in the engineering industry? Does my right hon. Friend agree that workers who, in the national interest, settle for such moderate pay rises will have little patience with others with industrial muscle who seek to damage the nation at the expense of other people by putting in extravagant claims?

The Prime Minister

I saw the report to which my hon. Friend refers. That settlement will help to keep prices competitive and will therefore provide a better chance of expansion and more jobs in the engineering industry. I congratulate all concerned.

Mr. Foot

As the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) is of such crucial importance, and since great suspicion is bound to be aroused by any approach by the Government to the National Health Service, may we have an assurance that there will be a debate in the House before any further proceedings on this issue are allowed?

May we have a direct answer about another report in the papers this morning, following the statement by the director of the British museum to a Select Committee?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The British museum is where right hon. Gentleman should be.

Mr. Foot

All right, I know that the barbarians on the Government Benches are not interested in a great institution such as the British museum, but we hear with great alarm that the director of the British museum is saying that if nothing is changed the museum will have to close in two years. If Tory Members do not care about that, we do. May we have an undertaking that the Prime Minister will intervene today to put a stop to such barbarian nonsense?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's first question, the setting up of the working party was announced in July. It is continuing its work and will identify alternatives for financing the Health Service. I expect that those alternatives will be looked at to see what details are required for further work. There was a debate on the National Health Service two weeks ago. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, if not his hon. Friends, will welcome the fact that there are now 1,000 more doctors and 21,000 more nurses and midwives than there were under the Labour Government.

With regard to the museums, I gave a reception for the museum directors and members of the board yesterday evening. The grant in 1981–82 is 7 to 8 per cent. above that for 1980–81. The museums may look forward to an increase next year, but the precise amount will have to await the full public expenditure results.

Mr. Foot

Will the Prime Minister take account of what is said by the director of the British museum? Does she agree with him—because he knows the facts—that if these conditions prevail the museum will have to be closed in two years? Will she intervene to stop that right away?

[column 135]

The Prime Minister

I have already said that the grant for museums this year was nearly 8 per cent. above that for last year. Next year it will be above that for this year. That is reasonable under all the circumstances.

Dr. Owen

Does the Prime Minister accept Chancellor Schmidt 's recent statement that the British and French nuclear weapons will have to be discussed in the present intermediate missile negotiations that have just commenced? Will the right hon. Lady use this opportunity to reconsider her position on Trident? Will she also tell the House what her view is about a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's first statement, alleged to have been made by Chancellor Schmidt, I do not know about it. He has never made any such statement to me. If that is what he thought, I would have expected him to make a statement to me, to President Mitterrand or to both of us together. With regard to Trident, I understand that the United States is going for D5. Until the United States has made a final decision, we cannot make a final decision. The right hon. Gentleman's third point was about a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone. I always view with great suspicion suggestions for nuclear-free zones, particularly by a country that could easily withdraw its weapons behind the Urals and still have the capacity totally to destroy Europe.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to address a letter of congratulation to all those at British Aerospace who have achieved the major deal with the United States Government to supply £500 million worth of Hawks, to be used by the United States Navy? Is that not an example of yet another British company being a world beater?

The Prime Minister

I give my warm congratulations. The contract has yet to be precisely defined, but the Hawk is an excellent aircraft. It is wonderful to see other countries recognising that fact and viewing the possibility of placing orders with Britain.

Q2. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Allaun

Will the Prime Minister think again about tomorrow's announcement? Is it not hypocrisy to profess concern for the poorest in society and at the same time deliberately to inflict a third and savage increase in council rents, a further increase in prescription charges, an increase in the national insurance contribution and lastly a cut in the dole?

The Prime Minister

As there is to be an announcement by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Chancellor of the Exchequer tomorrow, it is possible that I shall be doing more thinking about it today. Without confirming or denying any of the points made by the hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will subscribe to the principle that those in work should make it their duty to look after those who are out of work.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Will my right hon. Friend today consider the new training initiative? Does she agree that it constitutes the most determined effort ever by any Government to tackle the grave problem of youth unemployment? Will she ensure that any schemes arising [column 136]from the initiative have a high vocational content so that the young people will have a practical hope of an effective job to go to?

The Prime Minister

I hope that the House will warmly welcome details of the new training initiative when they are announced at about the turn of the year. They are designed to give more young people more training so that they have a better prospect of getting new jobs. Taking that together with the youth opportunities programme and the prospect of the scheme for young workers, which comes in on 2 January, I believe that there is a good deal of hope for young people leaving school that they will be able to get training, further education or jobs.

Mr. David Steel

Did the Prime Minister notice that last Thursday the people of Crosby passed judgment on her Government, and as the new Member for Crosby will take her seat this afternoon, is it not the Prime Minister's turn today to feel jolly jealous?

The Prime Minister

Hardly. I do not believe that there is anyone in the House to be jealous of.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my right hon. Friend consult her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland now that the decision has been given about the go-ahead for the NATO base in the Western Isles to ensure that that base, which is essential to the protection of the United Kingdom, and which will create many jobs in that area, is no longer held up?

The Prime Minister

I shall do my best to comply with my hon. Friend's request. He is as anxious for the whole of the United Kingdom to be protected as I am, and that sufficient jobs go to Scotland.

Earnings-related Benefit

Q3. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Prime Minister if she will take steps to publicise the additional benefit that can be obtained by persons registering for earnings-related benefit in the last week of the current, compared with the first week of the following, year.

The Prime Minister

The abolition of earnings-related benefit at the beginning of next month, and the transitional arrangements that accompany it, are being publicised through posters in DHSS local offices and unemployment benefit offices, through a new leaflet, and in the media.

Mr. Bennett

If the Government's economic strategy is working, why is it necessary to abolish the earnings-related benefit, which will mean that new claimants will be £11 a week worse off?

The Prime Minister

That matter was fully debated when it was put through the House. There was an opportunity to vote on it. I have nothing to add to the detailed discussion that took place.

Mr. Paul Dean

Will my right hon. Friend also give publicity to the fact that pensions have been increased by 52 per cent. under her Administration? When the cost of social security benefits is increasing so rapidly, is it not common sense to give top priority to those most in need, including pensioner couples, widows and disabled people?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. That is exactly what we have done. In fact, retirement pensions have kept up with the cost of living.

[column 137]

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Prime Minister aware that the imposition of the NATO base on the Western Isles is resisted by most of the people there——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman's question is not related to earnings-related benefit.

Mr. McCrindle

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to repeat that the Government's policy on the taking up of social benefits is to give publicity to what is available and to encourage the maximum take-up at the same time as the Government pursue their perfectly legitimate campaign against the fraudulent claims about which we are sometimes abused?

[column 138]

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has expressed it perfectly. I cannot improve upon what he has said. I can only endorse his remarks.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend take steps to ensure that when poor families apply for any benefit, the benefit office checks to see whether they are entitled to any other benefits at the same time?

The Prime Minister

That is an administrative matter. It seems to be a good idea that that should happen. I shall, of course, convey the suggestion to my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for Social Services, who may have heard it, to see whether it is administratively possible.