Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [21/822-26]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2435
Themes: Parliament, Defence (Falklands), Privatized & state industries, Trade, Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Leadership
[column 822]


British Leyland

Q1. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if any new proposals for additional investment funding have been made to Her Majesty's Government by British Leyland.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)


Mr. Canavan


The Prime Minister

The Government have not received from BL any proposals for funding in addition to those contained in the company's 1982 corporate plan. The Government announced their approval of that plan on 22 December 1981.

Mr. Dalyell

Ought not the Public Accounts Committee to have access to British Leyland's books.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having had the courtesy to write to me in detail about his problem over the Bathgate plant and for indicating to me the nature of the supplementary question that he might ask. The Government's view is this. The PAC has access to all those papers to which Government Departments have access and for which Ministers are responsible to Parliament. It is our present view that if the PAC were able to call for all papers in respect of public enterprises in regard to commercial contracts or commercial details, that would make it difficult to make those commercial decisions. It would also be extremely difficult to get anyone to run those undertakings.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that successive Governments have insisted that British Leyland must generate internal funding to match that which it asks taxpayers to provide? Does she agree that if it fails to do so, that sum cannot be made up out of the taxpayers' pocket instead?

The Prime Minister

It is certainly true that eventually British Leyland is expected to have enough money from internal sources both for working capital and for expenditure on new capital requirements. At the moment the Government have provided £970 million of taxpayers' money to British Leyland.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend accept that before any further tranches of taxpayers' [column 823]money go to British Leyland, it should raise what money it can by selling any parts of the group that people are prepared to buy?

The Prime Minister

There is a view that the company should continue some of its policy of selling assets in order to provide capital from internal sources.

President Reagan

Q2. Mr. Cryer

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the progress of Her Majesty's Government's arrangements for the visit to the United Kingdom of President Reagan.

The Prime Minister

President Reagan is to be the guest of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. As was announced on 25 March, he is to be invited to address Members of both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery. The programme is still under discussion and further details will be announced when it has been approved.

Mr. Cryer

Does the Prime Minister accept that her attempt to use the visit of President Reagan to shore up her failing position is widely regarded as an abuse of the House? Has she noted that even President Reagan has called for a peaceful solution to the Falkland Islands crisis, without bloodshed? Does she not accept that, as she is responsible in the final analysis for the conduct of her Government, she should consider an early resignation and allow someone else to meet President Reagan on his visit?

The Prime Minister

We shall welcome President Reagan as the President of our senior NATO ally, the most powerful defender of liberty in the West and throughout the world. I understand that President Reagan, like most of us, would wish a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Falkland Islands. We shall be happy if anyone is able to secure the withdrawal of the Argentinines from the Falkland Islands, the restoration of British sovereignty and the respecting of the wishes of the people to live under British sovereignty without a drop of blood being shed. If anyone can do that, we shall warmly welcome his co-operation. With regard to resignation—no. Now is the time for strength and resolution.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

While warmly welcoming what my right hon. Friend has said, the personal charge that she is taking over these affairs and all that President Reagan can do to help bring about restoration of British sovereignty in the Falkland Islands, may I ask whether she—and all of us—should not keep in mind in this difficult matter the prayer by Sir Francis Drake that she and many of us heard yesterday in Westminster Abbey?

The Prime Minister

I think that the prayer to which my hon. Friend must be referring is:

“There must be a beginning of any matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”

That is an apt quotation under the circumstances.


Q3. Mr. John Browne

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 6 April.

The Prime Minister

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further meetings later today.

[column 824]

Mr. Browne

Does my right hon. Friend accept, with regard to her action over the Falkland Islands issue, that she has the overwhelming support of the House and the nation? Can she confirm that our mission is to destroy the Argentine invasion fleet? If my right hon. Friend cannot confirm that, will she say whether she believes it either possible or desirable in the long term security interests of the Falkland Islands, and to protect the exposed southern flank of NATO, that a NATO base should be established in the Falkland Islands?

The Prime Minister

Our mission is to restore British sovereignty to the islands and to give the people what they want—the right to live under British rule and to owe allegiance to the British Crown. That is our task. I do not think that the idea of a NATO base in the Falkland Islands would be well received, because the islands are far out of the NATO area.

Mr. Foot

Has the right hon. Lady been able to study this morning the reports in many newspapers, such as The Daily Telegraph and The Times, that the information about the attack was known in London 10 days before the invasion? Is the right hon. Lady aware that this is claimed to be on unimpeachable sources and that, if that was true, it would have been possible for action of interception to have been taken? Will the right hon. Lady say whether that information is correct and, if it was received, what action was taken by the Government?

The Prime Minister

There are two points that need to be made. I told the House on Saturday that even if action had been taken—[Hon. Members: “Oh” .] Will the House let me answer the question in my own way, giving information that I am certain is accurate, as I try to do and try to check these matters?

As I told the House on Saturday, even if we had known at the time of 19 March, when there was the landing at South Georgia at Leith—which is a long time before the 11 days to which the right hon. Gentleman was referring—we could not have got ships of the Fleet there in time.

With regard to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I think that he will find a certain amount of confusion in the reports. I therefore stand by what I told the right hon. Gentleman on Saturday—that the first time we had precise information was on Wednesday. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at his copy of The Times he will see that there is a phrase to the effect that they knew there were ships but did not know their intent. [Interruption.] I am telling the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest possible accuracy, as information came to me.

The first information that I had was on Wednesday of last week, when we took action. Previously, we had been very worried about the situation in South Georgia, where HMS “Endurance” had been, and it was suggested that she take off the Argentines by force. We had understood that there were ships on the way for that and when we understood that we also took certain dispositions.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon, Lady now answer the immediate point that I put to her? Questions of British intelligence are concerned in these matters and the House has the right to judge whether British intelligence was operating properly and if so what action was taken. Can the right hon. Lady now tell us whether the information stated in these reports was received? Whenever she may [column 825]have been informed, surely she has had the chance to look at such accusations today and can tell the House and the country whether such information as this was received at the time stated.

The Prime Minister

I have tried to help the right hon. Gentleman. I think that, if he looks at the report on the front page of The Times he will find that it says that there were ships in the area but their intent was not known. [Hon. Members: “Oh” .] That is what I understand The Times to say. We knew there were problems and of course we were dealing with them on South Georgia. The precise time that we had information that it was an invasion fleet and that it was on its way was Wednesday evening. We took action then. [Interruption.] I am trying to give the right hon. Gentleman accurate information. Previously, because of the situation in South Georgia, we had also made certain other dispositions.

Mr. Foot

If the right hon. Lady cannot give us and the country an accurate answer on the matter now, will she study the matter further and make another statement to the House tomorrow, as many of her Ministers have had to do before?

Mr. Ashton

Come clean.

The Prime Minister

I have given the accurate information—[Interruption.]—that I myself know and the action that I myself took at the time when I received it.

Sir Paul Bryan

Is not my right hon. Friend encouraged by the support that the country has received at the United Nations and throughout the free world for the stand that her Government have taken on the Falkland Islands?

The Prime Minister

Yes. There was a forceful resolution moved at the United Nations Security Council calling upon the Argentines to withdraw and we received support in the vote that was passed from the United States, France, Ireland, Japan, Zaire, Togo, Uganda, Guyana and Jordan. Those were the countries that voted for us. The Soviet Union, China, Poland and Spain abstained and Panama voted against.

Mr. David Steel

Did the Prime Minister hear the interview at the weekend with the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) before he resigned as Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office? In that he said quite clearly—and I heard the interview—that the Government had no warning of any attack or threat to the Falkland Islands until about a fortnight ago. A fortnight is a great difference from 48 hours or 24 hours. Will the right hon. Lady try to clear this matter up?

The Prime Minister

As I have been trying to indicate, there were problems, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, on South Georgia. The problems there were that if HMS [column 826] “Endurance” proceeded to take off the 10 Argentines who had landed at Leith and who refused to leave although they did not have proper immigration papers—[Interruption.] We were in touch with Buenos Aires and we said that the men must go or get the proper clearance to be on our territory. We knew that there was a threat that if we took them off by force HMS “Endurance” might well have been stopped, and that there were ships about that could do the stopping.

The precise nature of the threat to Port Stanley and to that part of the Falkland Islands came to me, as I told the right hon. Gentleman, on Wednesday. I do not believe that there was a precise threat to Port Stanley as long before as the right hon. Gentleman indicated.

Mr. Higgins

As the United Nations Security Council resolution on the Falkland Islands is mandatory and the Argentine Government have not complied with it, will my right hon. Friend consider tabling a further resolution enforcing economic sanctions against the Argentine Government?

The Prime Minister

I think that if we were to table a further resolution about economic sanctions we should not have quite such a successful conclusion as we had to the resolution that we have already tabled.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Prime Minister consider the consequences of the Government's mishandling of the Falklands crisis for quite a number of my constituents? Is she aware that 50 per cent. of the trade with Argentina goes through Liverpool docks, and that that trade is likely to stop as a result of military action or sanctions, which I would support? If that trade is stopped, will the right hon. Lady make sure that Merseyside docks, which are already in a state of crisis, receive Government assistance to compensate, so that unemployment does not increase as a result of the mishandling of the Falklands crisis by this Government?

The Prime Minister

The extent of our exports to Argentina is, and has been, comparatively small in relation to our total exports. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer that he seeks. However, I can tell him, as a matter of information, that we have decided to impose an embargo on the imports of all goods from Argentina from midnight tonight.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Winnick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the exceptional circumstances of a national crisis, as this undoubtedly is, may I ask you to give careful consideration to extending Prime Minister” s Question Time, because it is the only way that hon. Members have——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not decide the length of Prime Minister's Question Time.