Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [21/1083-88]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2428
Themes: Executive (appointments), Parliament, Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)
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PRIME MINISTER

Government Programme Priorities

Q1. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement outlining the priorities for action of Her Majesty's Government in the remaining part of the present Parliament.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

Our priorities will remain the same as we stated at the outset of this Parliament, and as set out in more detail in the Gracious Speech at the beginning of each parliamentary Session.

With regard to the Falkland Islands, they remain British territory—no invasion can alter that simple fact. It is the Government's objective to see that the Islanders are freed from occupation at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Taylor

While welcoming that assurance, and hoping that the Prime Minister will show the same courage, determination and common sense that she has shown to date, may I urge her to make a special effort to review the various ways in which the scarce resources of the West are used to prop up the Soviet empire? For example, has she seen in this morning's Hansard a report of the fact that in 1981, EEC countries paid more than £800,000 a day in cash subsidies to ensure that the Russians received massive quantities of food and wine at knock-down prices? Will she be prepared to review that and the other ways in which we prop up the Soviet empire?

The Prime Minister

The figures mentioned by my hon. Friend are familiar to me. Let me make it quite clear that the Government are opposed to any form of special subsidy of Community food products exported to the Soviet Union, and we vote accordingly in the Management Committee, which decides these matters. That, as hon. Members should know, is done by majority, and not, I am afraid——

Mr. Shore

Why does not the right hon. Lady change it?

The Prime Minister

Because we cannot change these things except by total agreement. We are wholly against it and we express our views forcefully.

Our partners in the EEC have been, and are being, extremely helpful in respect of our problems in the Falkland Islands. Both President Mitterrand and Chancellor Schmidt have been in touch with me personally and are taking action to support us.

Mr. Molyneaux

Is the Prime Minister aware that national unity will have been greatly enhanced by the decision to shelve the Gibraltar initiative? Is she aware that [column 1084]such unity can be sustained over the next few critical months by the Government's recognition of the simple wishes of British people, wherever they may be?

The Prime Minister

As to the Gibraltar initiative, my right hon. Friend Francis Pymthe Foreign Secretary is in touch with the Spanish Foreign Secretary and a simultaneous statement is expected later today. I take note of the import of the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the determination and resolve in respect of the Falkland Islands is shared not only in this House but throughout the nation? Would it not be appropriate at an early stage to broadcast to the nation on the Government's plans?

The Prime Minister

I believe that that determination and resolve are shared throughout our country and ever wider, because I think that throughout the Western world and beyond there is a realisation that if this dictator succeeds in unprovoked aggression, other dictators will succeed elsewhere. We are fighting a battle against that type of aggression, and once again it is Britain that is fighting it. I do not think that this is the appropriate moment for a broadcast to the nation, but we have not been short of broadcasts on this issue.

Engagements

Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 8 April.

The Prime Minister

In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others throughout the day. This evening I shall have a meeting and a working dinner with Secretary Haig.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the Prime Minister agree with the statement by the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday that the Falkland Islands exercise will go ahead regardless of cost? Has she any idea of what that cost will be—£100 million, £500 million, £1,000 million? How will it be paid for, and how does it come within the cash limits of the Ministry of Defence?

The Prime Minister

I wish to make it perfectly clear to the hon. Gentleman that when this information first came to me—I said when it did—I took a decision immediately and said that the future of freedom and the reputation of Britain were at stake. We cannot therefore look at it on the basis of precisely how much it will cost. That is what the Contingency Reserve is for. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that, should we need to raise more money, that money will be raised in orthodox ways, and that it will not be done in an inflationary way.

Mr. Neil Thorne

A report has just been received to the effect that the Argentine reserve forces are being called up. Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider whether it will be necessary to make an announcement soon about our own reserves, particularly in view of the importance of providing effective cover in Europe, and particularly in Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister

If we thought it necessary to do so, we should of course consider it, but I do not believe that it is necessary at the moment.

Mr. Foot

May I put to the right hon. Lady a question concerning the possible recall of Parliament to discuss [column 1085]these matters, because, in the light of some of her replies now, and of what is happening, we may need to come back earlier than was previously decided? A curious statement was made by the Secretary of State for Defence yesterday on this matter, when he referred to the need to keep the House informed of developments. He said:

“I undertake to do that while the House is in recess” .—[Official Report, 7 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 1045.]

The House should be informed about these major questions. The right hon. Lady may have to report to the House on her discussions with the American Secretary of State. Also, the House might need to be the first place to be informed about any statement on Gibraltar. There are a crowd of matters. I do not ask the right hon. Lady necessarily to reply now, but I put it to her that the House may well need to come back on Tuesday, instead of following the present arrangements. I ask her to consider that. I also ask her to consider that although, of course, she will have the right to make the judgment on the matter, we may wish to make representations to her on the subject.

The Prime Minister

Of course I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and other right hon. and hon. Members may wish to make representations. If it were thought necessary or strongly advisable to recall the House, we should of course do so.

Mr. Foot

I thank the right hon. Lady for that undertaking, which I naturally understood that she would give, but may I press on her that if departures in policy or understanding arise, for example, from the visit of the American Secretary of State, the House of Commons must deal with the matter, and not some television programme?

The Prime Minister

Secretary of State Haig comes as a friend and ally. Between the United States and ourselves the word “mediator” has not been used, because we made our position perfectly clear. The troops must be withdrawn from the Falkland Islands as a first step.

Mr. Montgomery

Will my right hon. Friend take every opportunity to remind the rest of the world that the regime responsible for the invasion of the Falkland Islands did not do it to bring freedom and democracy to the Falklanders? Is not its record of oppression in Argentina a clear indication of the sort of people who are involved?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that that regime has yet to bring freedom and democracy to its own people. I am afraid that we must have gave doubts about the way in which they will treat our people on the Falkland Islands.

Dr. Owen

In the light of the debate yesterday and the clear wish of all right hon. and hon. Members to unite and avoid endless post mortems, will the Prime Minister institute discussions between the parties about the form of an inquiry which will have to take place? The House should be given an assurance about that matter at the earliest possible moment so that we may look at the whole conduct of the affair up to the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

The Prime Minister

I am in some difficulty. There is a later question on the Order Paper, tabled by one of the right hon. Gentleman's distinguished colleagues. Although, in my view, the precise form of the inquiry that the question asks for would not be appropriate, I think that some form of review is appropriate. We are considering exactly what form that review or inquiry should take and [column 1086]what its timing should be. I am quite happy to consult on that matter. What I want to make clear is that we think that some form of review or inquiry is advisable under the circumstances, and we shall consult later.

Q3. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 8 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Stanbrook

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that, contrary to assertions that we are running down the Royal Navy, we are in fact spending more in real terms on the Navy than was spent in the last year of the Labour Administration, and that by 1985 we shall have even more fighting ships and submarines than now?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point. It was raised very effectively in the debate last night. It should be more widely known, first, that we are spending more than £½ billion more in real terms on the Navy now than when we took office, and, secondly, that in the future we shall still be spending more on the conventional Navy, even when expenditure on modernising the strategic deterrent is at its peak, than we were in 1978–79. I also hope that it will be made abundantly clear that the two new aircraft carriers “Illustrious” and “Ark Royal” will be in operational service before “Invincible” and “Hermes” are disposed of.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Will the Prime Minister take time today to reconsider her ministerial changes? Will she explain to the House why she chose to appoint a noble Lord from another place to the very sensitive post of Secretary of State for Trade, bearing in mind the debacle that has just taken place in the Foreign Office because it had a Minister who was answerable not to this place but to another place along the corridor? Will she look into this matter? Does she not feel that she is treating the Members of this Chamber with contempt?

The Prime Minister

Certainly not. A great deal of legislation and debate also takes place in another place, and it has been the custom under Conservative Governments to have three Members of the other place in the Cabinet. Quite apart from that, Lord Cockfieldmy noble Friend will be a very effective Minister indeed.

Mr. William Hamilton

No one has ever heard of him.

Mr. Chapman

In view of the grave responsibilities that fall on my right hon. Friend at this time in our country's history, is she assured that she has the support of all the friends of our country? Will she bear that in mind in her resolve to seek a solution of the Falkland Islands problem and to put back this terrible aggressor on British lands?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I emphasise again the widespread support that we have had, not only from the European Economic Community and our NATO allies, but, as we would expect, from Commonwealth countries, and—even beyond that—from some of the countries in Africa and the Caribbean, which gave us positive support in the motion before the Security Council. I think that everyone clearly understands that unprovoked aggression must be stopped.

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Engagements

Q4. Mr. Cunliffe

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 8 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Cunliffe

What Easter message can the right hon. Lady give the 3 million unemployed in this country? How does she suggest that they share the joys of Easter in the unprecedented atmosphere of despair and hopelessness in which they find themselves? In addition, is it not a scandalous indictment that for thousands of Easter school leavers their first job will be to sign on at an employment [column 1088]exchange? Does the right hon. Lady not feel that that is a scandalous state of affairs and that she must bear some responsibility for this shameless episode? Does she still believe and insist that life is better under the Conservatives?

The Prime Minister

The best hope for future job prospects is to continue to try to reduce inflation. Some of our competitors have a much lower rate than we have—for example, Germany and others in the Community. We must also try to improve the competitiveness of British industry, which is already being improved substantially. As to the young school leavers who will come on the dole, that is precisely why we announced a big scheme of both work experience and training for them.