Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [21/435-40]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2472
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Higher & further education, Employment, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Taxation, Law & order, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
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Q1. Mr. Meacher

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

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 [column 436]addition to my duties in the House I shall have further meetings later today. This evening I hope to dine with Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Prime Minister aware that she misled the House a week ago when she said that living standards were now higher than at any time under the Labour Government? Is she aware that the Government's figures published yesterday show that real personal disposable income, which is the right hon. Lady's definition of living standards, is lower than when the Labour Government left office? Is she further aware that the truth is that living standards under the Labour Government rose continually by 13 per cent., whereas under the Tory Government they have fallen continually by 5 per cent?

The Prime Minister

I have been looking at the figures. For the first quarter of 1979 real personal disposable income was 109.8 on the index. In the last quarter of 1981 it was 111.5.

Mr. John Browne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the sudden imposition of VAT on the sale of gold coins has, in the absence of foreign exchange controls, exported that business, and that British residents will now buy gold abroad? Will she consider abolishing VAT for all gold purchases in order to bring employment in that important, profitable and influential business back to Great Britain?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, that announcement was made yesterday. It will take some time for the markets to settle down. We shall have to see what happens then.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Will the Prime Minister tell the Department of Education and Science to end the absurd anomaly under which any unemployed young person who studies for more than 21 hours a week is immediately refused supplementary benefit, which is directly contrary to what the Prime Minister has repeatedly said about the need for people to work harder?

The Prime Minister

I thought that the right hon. Lady would know that on the whole supplementary benefit is not meant for students. Therefore, there has to be a certain limit at which it ceases to be paid to students. That has been the rule under all Governments. The question is precisely when that limit is applied. A number of questions have been put to my right hon. Friends Sir Keith Josephthe Secretaries of State for Education and Science and Norman FowlerSocial Services on that matter. There have been some recent modifications to the 21-hour rule. I must stress again that supplementary benefit is not for those who are more or less full-time students.

Mr. Jessel

As the Liberal Party is opposed to the possession by the United Kingdom of an independent nuclear deterrent, and as the Social Democratic Party thinks that we should have one, is there not a deep split between the two parties on a matter that is of fundamental importance to the country? If by any chance those parties were to hold the balance in Parliament after the next general election, the British public would have not the faintest idea whether this country would have a nuclear deterrent.

The Prime Minister

That is but one of the things over which the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party do not agree. There is not the slightest shadow of doubt [column 437]that the Government, realising that an independent nuclear deterrent has served this country well for three decades, believe that we should continue it as the best way of keeping peace.

Mr. Beith

Will the Prime Minister define the circumstances in which the country ought to launch an independent nuclear retaliation when its allies did not think it right to do so?

The Prime Minister

We have been alone before. I trust that we shall never be alone again, but I think it reasonable and prudent to make proper provision for the defence of this country should that happen. Only then could we stand up to any potential aggressor. I note the hon. Gentleman's fundamental weakness.


Mr. Meacher

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your support and advice? For the second time the Prime Minister has misled the House by quoting the wrong figures——

Mr. Speaker

Order. No one should try to use a point of order to correct arguments—[Hon. Members: “Why not?” .] Because it is wrong and is not in order.

Q2. Mr. Bob Dunn

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dunn

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, however sincere some of the people in the peace movement might be, the peace movement by its activities can be construed by the enemies of this country as a sign of national weakness?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right that those who make the loudest public demonstrations for peace are often those whose policies would make war more likely or would induce the feeling in any potential agressor that this country lacked resolve. My generation does not forget what happened in the 1930s. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Norman Atkinson

With regard to the answer that the Prime Minister has just given about national incomes, is she aware that over the same period the top 25 per cent. of income earners in this country have come to share over 50 per cent. of total national income, yet the bottom 25 per cent. of income earners share less than 10 per cent? There is no doubt, using the same figures, that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Is that in keeping with the philosophy of the Tory party?

The Prime Minister

Many statistical analyses are published, and all of them have different methods of calculating their results. There is bound to be a considerable spread of and difference in national income.

Mr. Lyell

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to reflect on the great benefits that would flow to this country from the institution of a scheme of national community service? Will she also consider that while such a scheme would require a great deal of political will it would find huge underlying support in the country, and that no one is better placed to provide that will than she is?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, there are many opportunities available for community service [column 438]under the several programmes operated through the Manpower Services Commission and the Department of Employment. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed to allocate about £150 million in the last Budget, if we can get such a scheme going. He is prepared to increase it if larger numbers of people are prepared to undertake that kind of service.

Mr. Skinner

What about real jobs?

The Prime Minister

It is better to go slowly than to bring in a massive scheme that would be difficult to organise.

Mr. John Silkin

Will the Prime Minister find time today to reflect on the fact that when there is a Tory Government and high unemployment crime always increases, as it is now doing, and as it did in the 1930s.

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman looks, he will find no clear connection between the level of crime and that of unemployment. Even in the most prosperous countries, without high unemployment, the level of crime has increased.

Mr. Ashton

There is a connection.

Mr. Silkin

If the right hon. Lady checks her facts she will find that unemployment under the Conservatives in the 1930s doubled. In the first two years of her Aministration crime figures have gone up 20 per cent., and the Home Secretary said earlier this week that there was a relationship between unemployment and the crime figures.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend William Whitelawthe Home Secretary said that it was one of many factors. If the right hon. Gentleman examines the figures he will find that crime went up during the years when unemployment was low.

Mr. Silkin

If that is what the Prime Minister is saying, why did she promise in the general election campaign that her party would reduce crime?

The Prime Minister

We promised that we would put much greater emphasis on the forces of law and order. There are now 8,000 more police in England and Wales than there were. They are better paid and better equipped, and for once they have the Government wholly behind them in their work.

Q3. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Winterton

No doubt my right hon. Friend has today given considerable thought to the prospect of an excellent summer and an England test team that comprises the best possible cricketers available for England. Has she also found time to consider the recent MORI poll, which shows an increasing optimism about the British economy and also increasing support for the Government and for my right hon. Friend in particular? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that, with her usual vigour and determination, she will continue to fight for the best interests of the United Kingdom at home and abroad?

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The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Long may the polls continue to go in that direction, and may the situation improve. We shall continue to bring down inflation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend Francis Pymthe Lord President will allow us enough time to watch some cricket.

Mr. William Ross

In view of the murder of five soldiers and one policeman in Northern Ireland in the past week, will the Prime Minister increase the capacity of the security forces to deal with the violence, stimulated now, as it was last November, by ill-advised political initiatives?

The Prime Minister

I think that every hon. Member is aware of the sacrifices made on our behalf by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and by the armed forces who serve in Ulster. I pay tribute to them and extend sympathy to their families who have suffered tragedy of this kind.

With regard to any future initiatives in Northern Ireland, I hope that there will be a White Paper and a statement next week.

Mr. Michael Morris

As the Prime Minister will be aware, today we hope to have the Third Reading of the Oil mberand Gas (Enterprise) Bill, the biggest piece of denationalisation, for 30 years. Will my right hon. Friend, at an early opportunity today, or certainly within the next few weeks, have meetings with her colleagues to produce for the next Session of Parliament an even greater measure of denationalisation?

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend. As he knows, it is our policy to press ahead with further denationalisation because we believe that that is in the best interests of the people and it is a genuine way of extending private ownership in this country.

Mr. James Lamond

Will the Prime Minister find time today to start polishing up her speech for the United Nations special session on disarmament? If she does, will she give serious consideration to trying to break the log-jam in the peace talks, and even to break the mould by saying that she refuses to go ahead with Trident and refuses to have cruise missiles in this country, and that she will pursue a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament?

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The Prime Minister

The answer to the hon. Gentleman is “No, Sir” .

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Quite right.

Q4. Mr. Neubert

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 1 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Neubert

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), is it not encouraging that, as a result of denationalisation measures since my right hon. Friend came into office, about 75,000 employees in public industries have become worker-shareholders in their enterprises? Is this not a giant stride towards a nationwide capital-owning democracy?

The Prime Minister

Yes, it is a considerable stride towards a capital-owning democracy. I am happy to report to my hon. Friend that not 75,000 but 90,000 people have benefited in that way.

Mr. Straw

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great anxiety among the employees of the Royal ordnance factories in my constituency and those of many of my hon. Friends about the Ministry of Defence leaks in today's press that the Government are to do an Amersham International at those factories and sell them to the private sector? As this anxiety comes on top of an unprecedented number of redundancies in the Royal ordnance factories, will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to tell us exactly what is the Government's policy?

The Prime Minister

The Government are considering how best to give effect to their policy objective of changing the constitution of the Royal ordnance factories to allow them to operate in a more commercial environment. I must give the hon. Gentleman news which I am afraid will be welcome to him, although not so welcome to some of my hon. Friends. The prospects for fast progress in privatising the Royal ordnance factories are not bright.