Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [32/702-06]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2312
Themes: Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Industry, Monetary policy, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, European Union (general), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Local government, Leadership, Social security & welfare
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Q1. Mr. Greenway

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 23 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the Speaker of the Syrian People's Assembly. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Greenway

May I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and ask whether she agrees with the speech by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), in which he described the Labour Party's defence policy as a divisive and insular irrelevance? Has my right hon. Friend read the remarks of Mr. Andropov, who said that the Russians were not naive enough to disarm unilaterally? Does she agree that the Labour Party is very naive?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend and the speech that he quoted, in that the only way to peace is through agreement to disarm multilaterally. We shall then reduce nuclear weapons on all sides and maintain a balance at all times. I noticed the statement made in the Soviet Union, which was reported this morning and which I believe was mentioned on the radio, that no one should expect the Soviet Union to disarm unilaterally, and that

“We are not naive people” .
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I hope that that lesson will not be lost on unilateralist Members of Parliament.

Mr. Foot

Does the Prime Minister not accept that the most serious aspect of this recent issue is the statement yesterday by President Reagan on the proposed deployment of MX missiles? What consultations were there with the British Government before President Reagan made that statement, and what representations did the right hon. Lady make when the subject was raised? Does she not agree that President Reagan's proposal will involve a serious departure from the SALT II agreement?

The Prime Minister

I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. The United States of America is perfectly entitled to take steps to modernise its own strategic nuclear force. That is what the announcement about the MX intercontinental ballistic missile was. I do not accept that it will necessarily undercut the SALT agreements. We must remember that President Reagan made proposals about disarmament and that we are waiting for a response from the Soviet Union.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady say what use there is in talking about new arms control arrangements if some of the old arrangements have been torn up? Is it not a fact that President Reagan's proposals, if carried out, would involve a grave breach of SALT II and that it would involve a departure from article 4 of that treaty? Has the right hon. Lady made any representations to the United States on this matter, or does she not care whether the nuclear arms race goes ahead at a much faster speed?

The Prime Minister

I care that we have sufficient to deter an aggressor. That means keeping the United States strategic nuclear force modernised. It means having a reply to intercontinental ballistic missiles, and it means having regard to the level of our conventional Armed Forces. The Americans have said that their basing plan for MX missiles does not undercut the SALT agreements in any respect.

Mr. Foot

This is the most serious matter in the world. We want to know what representations the British Government have made on this matter—or did we just say to President Reagan “You can go ahead, irrespective of whether it injures SALT II” ? If the right hon. Lady consults article 4 of SALT II, she will see that this is a breach of that article. I want to know what attitude the British Government took when the proposal was made.

The Prime Minister

It is not for us to tell the United States what to do about its strategic nuclear force. It is for us to recognise that its strategic nuclear force is the final guarantor of Europe's liberty. I have told the right hon. Gentleman that the Americans have said that their basing plan for MX missiles does not undercut the SALT agreements in any respect. We believe that we should negotiate from strength. The right hon. Gentleman would negotiate only from weakness, and he would have no hope of coming to a reasonable settlement.

Mr. Eggar

In view of Mr. Andropov 's statement, are we not fortunate that the Labour Party spent so much money on Chevaline when it was in office?

The Prime Minister

That is a fact which some Labour Members conveniently like to forget.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

There are other serious matters relating to the state of the economy. Will the right hon. [column 704]Lady explain why relations between the Government and British industry are now worse than at almost any time, except for a brief period when the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) sought to tell industry how to do its job?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman at that time was supporting the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I also point out that the premise of his question is wrong. Relations between British industry and the Government are not bad. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed some of the votes at the CBI conference which supported our policy.

Q2. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 23 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Powell

Will the Prime Minister say whether Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins are correct in stating in their book on the Falklands that she despatched three submarines to the South Atlantic on 29 March?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry, but I did not hear the whole of the hon. Gentleman's question. I have no idea about those two books. I have not read them, because I have been too busy doing other things.

Mr. Churchill

As the United States has not added to its strategic nuclear inventory of missiles since 1967, when it became static at 1,710 missiles, and as during the same period the Soviet Union has been deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles at the rate of 100 a year, is it not humbug and hypocrisy for the Leader of the Opposition to make such a song and dance about the fact that the United States is now belatedly taking steps to modernise its own capability, which is substantially below the SALT II limit?

The Prime Minister



Mr. Ray Powell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the Prime Minister's unsatisfactory reply to my question, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.

Falkland Islands

Q3. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on discussions between Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government on policy towards the resolution agreed at the United Nations on 4 November in relation to the Falkland Islands.

The Prime Minister

We were in frequent contact with the United States Government before the vote on 4 November, and they were left in no doubt about our views concerning this resolution.

Mr. Dalyell

What hard evidence does the Prime Minister have for her statement that the American vote was an aberration?

The Prime Minister

We were very grateful for the support of the United States Government throughout the Falklands campaign. They have supported, and we expect them to continue to support, a country which is an ally and which stands for the same democratic principles and for self-determination. To depart from that, to support Argentina, would be an aberration.

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Sir John Biggs-Davison

Was it not indeed an aberration, and would not the United States be better employed in mobilising international support for the United Kingdom, as sovereign power, in islands that are vital to the strategy of the West, including the United States?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Tom Clarke

In view of the frequent comments about so-called social security scroungers——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not on an open question now. We are dealing with the Falklands.

Mr. Strang

As at least one newspaper which supported the Prime Minister's Falklands campaign blurted out the truth, namely, that negotiations on the basis of the resolution should take place as soon as the election is over, even if we have a Conservative Government, is the Prime Minister aware that it is bad enough for her to spend £400 million a year on the garrison in the Falklands, but that it would be intolerable if she sacrificed the lives of more Service men in defence of this relic of our imperial past?

The Prime Minister

There can be no question of negotiations on sovereignty for the Falkland Islands. It would be a betrayal of those who fought and died.


Q4. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 23 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is an unfilled vacancy, and that is the leadership of the free world at a particularly perilous moment? Is she further aware that, as the senior leader in the West—[Interruption]——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House does itself no good by all this noise. If we get into the habit of trying to shout down what we do not like, democracy will come to an end here.

Sir Anthony Meyer

—she is uniquely qualified to fill that post if she can demonstrate the same intensity of concern for the well-being of the peoples of the European Community and the Atlantic alliance as she has convincingly demonstrated for the well-being of the people of this country?

The Prime Minister

I realise what my hon. Friend is saying, but anyone who attempted to self-style himself as the leader of either the free world or the European Community would not get far or have much influence. In [column 706]the European Community we are a partnership of 10 sovereign nations, each representing its own interests, but realising that it is better for all and each of us to do certain things in common. We shall continue to represent British interests, and we shall continue to try to seek equitable policies for the Community as a whole. That is the best leadership that we can give.

Mr. Tom Clarke

In view of the frequent references to so-called social security exploiters, is it not outrageous that millions of pounds are lost to Britain because of tax evasion? Will the Prime Minister respond to the Civil Service trade unions by making personnel available for the collection of such vital revenue and in so doing respond to the views of the Public Accounts Committee?

The Prime Minister

If there is fraud of any kind, either in connection with social security or tax, there are people allocated to root it out, after which it becomes a matter for the police. There are such people in the Department of Health and Social Security and in the back tax department of the Inland Revenue.

Mr. Dickens

For the sake of the strength of the £ sterling, will my right hon. Friend please confirm to the House that the Government intend to stand steadfast behind their economic policies and that we have merely requested local government to spend up to its controlled agreed quotas?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. No one in the market should have any doubt about our determination to hold fast to our strategy to beat inflation. Sound money remains at the heart of our economic policies.

We have asked local authorities to spend up to and not beyond their allocations. Indeed, it is our policy to keep all public expenditure within the cash limits that have been set.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise again a matter which I raised with you a couple of weeks ago? There is an increasing tendency among hon. Members—today it was a right hon. Member—to raise points of order in the middle of Question Time, which takes away the rights of other Back-Bench Members.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The House knows that I have asked right hon. and hon. Members to wait until after Question Time to raise points of order. I shall do my best to ensure that that happens in future.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was it not the case that the right hon. Member desired protection, and does not the House need protection from spurious points of order?