Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [26/745-49]
Editorial comments: 1515-30.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2140
Themes: Executive, Defence (Falklands), Economic policy - theory and process, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Health policy, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Transport, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action
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Q1. Mr. Brinton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I attended a meeting of the European Council in Brussels. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having several meetings later today.

Mr. Brinton

I am very grateful for that reply from the Prime Minister. Will she tell the House what advice she would offer members of the railway trade unions now that the NUR conference has decided to suspend its strikes?

The Prime Minister

I think that first of all I should like to say “Thank you” for the good sense that prevailed among the many railwaymen who turned up for work, and to those who voted in Plymouth. I am sure that their view is shared by the many who use the railways for travel and those who use them for transporting goods. Secondly, the negotiations on productivity have still to take place. They are extremely important. I hope that the unions will now deliver on all the outstanding measures of productivity that were included in their pay agreement last year. Out of the six measures, four have yet to be agreed.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the very best way of celebrating what has happened on the railways would be for the Government to come forward and deliver on the investment programme? Does she not think that this would be the best course to take in the interests of not only the railways and the railwaymen but the nation? Has she had time today to study the paltry forecasts that are now made by the Treasury? Will she confirm that it is now even scaling down the miserable forecasts that it was making earlier? Is that not a further reason why the investment programme on the railways and elsewhere should be stepped up by the Government?

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The Prime Minister

With regard to investment on the railways, one has to be certain that one will get the productivity and a good return from that investment before it is made. May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that £150 million was invested in electrification, track and signalling works on the St. Pancras-Bedford line? The work was started in 1976 and it is almost complete. It is only disagreement over manning that is holding up new electric services between Moorgate and Bedford. That is an example—there are others—of the investment that has been made. However, the insistence on double manning does not bring a return on investment and the equipment is not even being properly used. With regard to the CBI survey, the results of the inquiry are disappointing and they confirm recent indications that there has been some flattening out in activity over the past six months or so. But the CBI's own end-May forecast, the latest London Business School forecast and most other independent assessments, point to continued and resumed recovery during the course of 1982 and 1983. It is important that we keep inflation coming down and that we make every effort to keep interest rates down.

Mr. Foot

None of the right hon. Lady's prophecies about flattening out accord with her earlier prophecies about the upturn. Is she aware that since she first discovered the original upturn, unemployment in this country has gone up by about 1 million? How does she think that anybody will understand or agree with her predictions in future? As for the railway negotiations, does she dispute that one of the matters that is in dispute is the Government's own investment contribution, and that Mr. Weighell claims—I believe justly—that his members have fulfilled what they promised and that they are waiting for the Government to do the same?

The Prime Minister

The forecasts that I quoted were not mine, but those of other independent assessors, including the CBI end-May forecast. Those forecasts are pointing to improvements later. With regard to investment, I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the external financing limit for the railways this year is £950 million, the highest amount ever. The right hon. Gentleman says that some of the productivity agreements have been delivered. There were six productivity items for which payment was made last year. They were, first, flexible rostering, secondly, experiment with open stations, thirdly, single manning, fourthly, introduction of the trainman concept, fifthly, no guards on the Bedford-St. Pancras new service, and, sixthly, removal of guards from freight trains fitted with automatic brakes. So far only the first two items have been agreed by the NUR.

Mr. Tom Benyon

Does my right hon. Friend realise that eight soldiers have died in the past eight weeks in Northern Ireland? Does she agree that when we are rightly honouring our dead and wounded in the South Atlantic war, we must not forget that those who have died in Northern Ireland have died for a cause that is as vital and compelling as any in our ancient history?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Death and terrorism in Northern Ireland go on week in and week out, year in and year out. We should never forget those who risk their lives to uphold the law in Northern Ireland and to protect all law-abiding citizens in that Province. I gladly pay tribute both to them and their families for the wonderful work that they do.

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Mr. Alfred Morris

Has the Prime Minister had recent news about, or has she any comments on, the predicament of the three British journalists detained in Argentina?

The Prime Minister

There has been bail for those three journalists. We hope and believe, as at present advised, that they will leave Argentina today. That is expected. We hope very much that it will come about.

Dr. Owen

Is not the real lesson of the railways dispute in the past few days that the urgent need is to extend and enlarge the democratic procedures of the trade union movement and to increase the use of the secret postal ballot? Will the Prime Minister consider at the Committee stage of the Employment Bill in another place putting in the amendments, in favour of which the Social Democratic Party argued in the Employment Bill Committee?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's points about the conclusions to be drawn from what has happened during the dispute with the NUR. Those people can be paid the cost of using a postal ballot, should they wish. I cannot promise to introduce that clause in this Session, but I hope that it will be introduced before the general election.

2. Mr. Nelson

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Nelson

Will any of my right hon. Friend's meetings later today be concerned with the forthcoming discussions on the level of public expenditure next year? If so, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that improvements in individual living standards should come well before any enlargement of the public sector? If she agrees with that, will she confirm that the Government adhere to our manifesto objective of reducing the burden of direct taxation?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. Given the choice between higher public spending and lower personal taxation, most people would plump for lower personal taxation. That is our objective.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Is the Prime Minister aware that, as a direct result of her policies, unemployment in the Northern region is now approaching 250,000? Is she further aware that the publication of those figures last week united the region as never before? The Newcastle Journal featured a banner headline stating:

“Jobless ‘disaster’ hits North.”

Is she further aware that the regional secretary of the TUC condemned the fairy stories that she and members of her Government tell when they talk about a recovery in the economy? The regional secretary of the CBI said precisely the same thing. We are not chasing Ministers who are simply trying to talk us out of a recession.

The Prime Minister

The answer to unemployment, which we have been discussing in the European Council, is to keep inflation coming down, to try to keep interest rates down, to keep unit costs down so that we can be competitive, to take on board all the latest technology and to have excellent productivity agreements so that it can be used. The answer is not necessarily found just in making speeches but in encouraging those who can produce the new creative jobs in industry.

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Mr. Dykes

Will my right hon. Friend be able to confirm today that the Government will press energetically for the release from prison in Argentina of Daisy Jane Hobson, who has been sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment, tortured and badly treated by the Argentines?

The Prime Minister

In the past we have made representations. That person has Argentine nationality as well as British nationality. Therefore, we do not have sole jurisdiction over what happens. We constantly make representations in such cases. In a country such as Argentina, I am afraid, they have no great effect.

Q3. Mr. Joseph Dean

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 29 June.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dean

To protect herself against allegations of political favouritism in making appointments to public bodies such as health authorities and to the chairmanship of those authorities, will the Prime Minister instruct her Ministers to publish the political affiliations of such appointees?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that if the affiliations were all known, my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for Social Services would be happy to give them to the hon. Gentleman, if he wishes. The hon. Gentleman asked me about that matter last week. Just because appointments come to an end does not mean that people have a right to be reappointed. I stand by both the reappointments and new appointments made by my right hon. Friend. Both are excellent.

Sir Bernard Braine

When my right hon. Friend considers the form of the proposed inquiry, will she enable it to seek explanations of how British Governments allowed themselves to be pressurised into negotiations over the future of British and democratic Falkland Islanders when they knew, but Parliament did not, that among the thousands of people taken into Argentine prisons and torture chambers were United Kingdom subjects?

The Prime Minister

The inquiry will not only have access to documents but will be able to interview and cross-examine Ministers, ex-Ministers and civil servants. I shall not constrain the people concerned as to what they can ask.

Q4. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 29 June.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hoyle

Will the Prime take time off today to read the article in The Times today by Mr. Kingsley Williams, retiring chairman of the Wessex regional health authority, in which he says that her Government have deliberately provoked the confrontation in the National Health Service, that regional administrators have twice told the Government that their pay policy is indefensible and that the 6 per cent pay offer means a substantial cut in the standard of living of low-paid workers? Will the right hon. Lady listen to the voice of practical experience and call off the vendetta against National Health Service workers and meet their just demands for a 12 per cent. pay increase?

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The Prime Minister

Since 1979 the amount of money in real terms spent on the National Health Service has increased considerably. There are now 34,000 more nurses than there were and also more doctors and other professional ancillary workers in the National Health Service. One would have assumed that, had we had efficient administration, with more resources and more medical staff the service would be better.