Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [28/206-10]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2215
Themes: Defence (Falklands), Education, Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Transport, Strikes & other union action
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Q1. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Prime Minister to what extent Her Majesty's Government assess the numbers of schoolteachers expected to be made redundant in the next three years.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

Our expenditure plans make provision for teachers expected to retire early, including those who do so on grounds of redundancy, as well as for some redundancies among teachers under the age of 50.

Mr. Bennett

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to read the recent HMI report on schools and on the falling standards in education? If so, what plans do the Government have to reverse that trend and, in [column 207]particular, to employ more teachers instead of pushing so many of them into joining the increasing ranks of the unemployed?

The Prime Minister

I do not agree that standards are falling all over. Indeed, in some areas standards are rising. In addition, I would not equate standards in schools with the numbers of teachers, but rather with their calibre. The hon. Gentleman's point cannot be equated with numbers, because the overall pupil-teacher ratio improved from 18.9 in January 1979 to 18.5 in January 1982.

Mr. Dover

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if a reduction of only 10,000 in the number of teachers is required next year, the natural wastage of 2½ per cent. is not unreasonable, compared with private sector wastage?

The Prime Minister

Obviously we prefer as many redundancies as possible to be the result of natural wastage, but that is not always possible, because one must look at curriculum distribution as well as at numbers.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that Tory Members realise the advantage to be gained from small classes, because they send their children to schools that have a much lower pupil-teacher ratio than that found in the ordinary schools to which our children go? Is it not also a fact that the education cuts are now so horrific that teachers in every staff room in our ordinary schools are fearful that they will be made redundant, and that the cuts are so deep that our children's education—[Interruption.] The truth of my point is evidenced by the desire on the part of Tory Members to shut me up. Is it not the case that the cuts are so deep that our children's education and the whole fabric of State education is now in severe danger, as is shown by the HMI report?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there will be a fall of approximately 1 million in pupil numbers and, therefore, there must be a similar and proportionate fall in the number of teachers. [Hon. Members: “Why?” ] In many ways, I wish that more children stayed at school voluntarily beyond the age of 16. It would be infinitely preferable if they did so. There are many places available for them and it would be far better for them, rather than leaving school at 16. The hon. Gentleman has just heard me say that the overall pupil-teacher ratio has improved since the Labour Government, and the amount spent in real terms per pupil is approximately the same.


Q2. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 20 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dubs

In the light of today's record unemployment total of 3,191,000, does the Prime Minister agree that a change of economic policy would be preferable to her attempt to justify one in seven of our work force on the dole? Does she remember a speech that she made three years ago when she said:

“There is nothing inevitable about rising unemployment.”

The Prime Minister

Provided that we keep inflation coming down—[Hon. Members: “Oh.” ]—and provided [column 208]that our companies, industries and firms become more and more competitive and produce goods of the kind that people want to buy, that statement is true. However, there is no way of returning to full employment unless we are efficient, competitive and produce attractive goods.

Mr. Ashton


Sir Bernard Braine

Have the organisers of next Monday's service at St. Paul's Cathedral said to my right hon. Friend whether prayers will be offered for the earlier victims of the junta—many thousands of whom included British subjects—and whether the prayers will be for the early release of such people, or at least for some identification of where the bodies of the dead lie?

The Prime Minister

I do not believe that that will come into the service—[Hon. Members: “Why not?” ] Because it is a service of thanksgiving for the liberation of the Falkland Islands and of remembrance of the fallen. During that service we shall remember all the fallen and all of those who have given their lives so that freedom and justice might continue.

Mr. Foot

The minds of all hon. Members are overcast by the bomb outrages that have occurred in London today. I make it clear from the Opposition Benches that while we understand that the IRA has claimed responsibility for those crimes, our view is that no political question in this democratic country should be settled by resort to such pitiless barbarity. We shall utterly oppose it by every possible means.

I was proposing to ask the Prime Minister several questions on the terrible unemployment figures. I hope that she has some influence with the Leader of the House in this matter. Will she give us a guarantee that there will be a full debate on the appalling unemployment figures, the highest ever recorded in the history of this country? Will she give us an assurance that there will be a debate in Government time before the House rises for the recess?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his initial remarks. The whole House is shocked by the bomb explosions that occurred in London earlier today. My right hon. Friend William Whitelawthe Home Secretary will make a statement later. We all join in extending our deepest sympathy to the families of those who were killed as well as to the many who were injured. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that these callous and cowardly crimes have been committed by evil and brutal men who know nothing of democracy. We shall not rest until they are brought to justice.

With regard to the other matter that the right hon. Gentleman raised, I agree that the unemployment figures are disturbing. I am not sure what the timetable is for debates next week or how the right hon. Gentleman is placed with regard to Supply days. Perhaps that can be discussed in the usual way.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Will my right hon. Friend take time to note how pleased many constituents are at the fact that jobs have been saved by the decision of ASLEF members to return to work? Will she note that much credit is given to her for her firm leadership in that matter, which contrasts most favourably with the pusillanimous conduct of the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We all welcome the end of the strike and regard it as the first step on the long road back to efficient working [column 209]practices. I agree with my hon. Friend. The end of the strike has saved many jobs. Nevertheless, it has been a costly and damaging strike from which British Rail and all who work in it will have to make the maximum effort to recover.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Will the right hon. Lady have a moment to note the delay of three weeks which occurred in commencing the investigation of the evidence that I placed before her and the House on 29 June? Will she recognise that this is a sign of the determination of the Northern Ireland Office to conceal the true context and cause of the Northern Ireland Bill until the parliamentary recess comes to its rescue?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will know that we received the information at No. 10, to which he referred in a debate in the House, on 30 June. After that the head of the Civil Service was asked to arrange for the author of the note to be interviewed. That was announced by my right hon. Friend James Priorthe Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 13 July. A letter of invitation was sent on 15 July. It is hoped that the interview that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to take place will take place in the next few days.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Does the right hon. Lady not recognise that present policies will not bring down unemployment for years ahead? Nor is it enough to talk about competitiveness, which is important, but which, in any event is worse than when she took over three and a half years ago. What is needed is Government stimulus in a form that will increase and not reduce business confidence. Will she provide that, or will she try to live with over 3 million unemployed for as long as she can stay in office?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman agrees that competitiveness is important. So do I. We recovered a great deal last year on the previous two years. It is implicit in what the right hon. Gentleman says that we have not yet recovered enough. I thank him for agreeing with me on that point.

Unemployment is indeed an international problem, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. It is rising faster in Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United States and Germany than in this country. With regard to what he said about stimulating demand, he will be aware that the Socialist Government of France has done just that and come a cropper. Real domestic demand in the six months to the end of the first quarter of this year was almost 3 per cent. higher than for the same period a year earlier. Nevertheless, as a result of that increased demand, there was only a 2 per cent. increase in exports and about a 12 per cent. increase in imports. That does not produce more jobs in this country.

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Q4. Mr. Latham

asked the Prime Minister whether she will pay an official visit to Gibraltar to discuss with residents of the colony the situation arising from Spain's decision not to open the frontier and the reaffirmed decision of Her Majesty's Government to close the naval dockyard.

The Prime Minister

I have no plans at present to visit Gibraltar. My noble Friend Lord Belsteadthe Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs leaves tomorrow for a two-day visit. During his stay he will be discussing the matters that my hon. Friend mentions in his question.

Mr. Latham

We welcome the slight easing of border restrictions over the last week or so, by Spain, but will my right hon. Friend help morale in Gibraltar by giving two assurances today: first, that Britain will give real and generous help to the colony when the naval dockyard shuts; and, secondly that there can be no question of Spain entering the Common Market as long as the frontier remains closed?

The Prime Minister

With regard to my hon. Friend's first point about help for the Gibraltar dockyard, some repair work arising out of the South Atlantic operation may be sent there. In addition, we are considering with the Gibraltar Government whether a commercial dockyard operation can be established. If it can, any surplus dockyard lands and assets that are required will be transferred to Gibraltar free of charge, subject to parliamentary approval. With regard to my hon. Friend's second point, it is inconceivable that there should ever be a closed border between the territories of two members of the Community. Spain could not, therefore, enter the Community unless the border were fully opened.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

I appreciate that the Prime Minister cannot personally visit Gibraltar, but will she ensure that when the Secretary of State for Defence draws up his next defence review—which we are given to understand will be published later in the year—he will take into account the use that has been made of the Gibraltar dockyard and the sterling service that has been given by the people of Gibraltar and the workers in that dockyard during the recent Falklands crisis? Does she agree that it is a bit hard that many of those people are being thrown out of a job, especially when work is badly needed there?

The Prime Minister

The Government have no plans to alter the decision to close the Royal dockyard in 1983. I have said that if arrangements can be made for it to become a commercial dockyard, assets would be transferred free of charge, subject to the approval of the House. We would see whether we could put some repair work into that dockyard.