Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [33/972-78]
Editorial comments: 15125-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2618
Themes: Agriculture, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, European Union (general), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Northern Ireland, Terrorism
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Q1. Mr. Silvester

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 9 December.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

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 be having further meetings later today, including one with Lord Shackleton on his Falklands report.

Mr. Silvester

Will my right hon. Friend join in the call to all those who are preparing to celebrate a Christian [column 973]festival to urge those who have any knowledge or information about terrorists to put their loyalty to their faith above other loyalties and to help the security forces purge us of this evil?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend, although he and I would also say that we do not need Christmas to remind us that terrorism is one of the evils of our age, that it may happen at any time and any day, and that we owe it to everyone to fight terrorism unremittingly every day. We shall continue to do so.

Mr. Foot

I join the right hon. Lady in saying that the whole House and, I believe, the overwhelming majority of the people of this country, are determined to stamp out the terrorism that constitutes such a great threat to our country. I wish to refer specifically to the exclusion orders that the Home Secretary has imposed. I regret deeply that it appears not to have been possible to deal with the matter in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) recommended to the House on Tuesday. I had thought that the whole House recognised the wisdom of the approach that he suggested at that time.

However, in the aftermath of the hideous events at Ballykelly, I can also understand that no one, including the Home Secretary, could be sure that lives might not be at risk if the visit went ahead. I fully understand, therefore, the reasons why the Home Secretary made the recommendation. That is also the case that I put most forcefully—[Interruption.] If the House will permit me half a minute, I will come to the question—and directly to Mr. Livingstone [Hon. Members: “Oh!” ]. Yes, because I believed that the paramount necessity was to try to get the invitation called off, particularly after the events that had occurred at Ballykelly. I believe that that was the right approach from the point of view of the whole.

I wish to put to the right hon. Lady this question. I understand the reasons why the Home Secretary has acted in the way that he has done today, but considerable anomalies are left. There are now different laws applying to different people—[Hon. Members: “Speech” ]. Will the right hon. Lady consider how we are to deal with this situation? Does she not agree that the application of different laws in different situations causes a great sense of grievance in Northern Ireland and throughout the country as a whole? Will she examine the whole situation?

The Prime Minister

No. I do not agree with what I think the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Parliament gave William Whitelawthe Home Secretary very clear powers under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1976. Those powers enable the Home Secretary to exclude certain people from Great Britain and for the Secretary of State to exclude certain people from Northern Ireland. The powers have been used many times. Exclusion orders made by Home Secretaries under that Act and the previous Act amount to 289. Of those, 37 involved the exclusion from the United Kingdom of Irish citizens. The remainder involved exclusions from Great Britain. Since 1976, 24 exclusion orders have been made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, of which seven involved exclusions from Northern Ireland of citizens of the United Kingdom. The remainder were excluded from the United Kingdom. The powers that the Act gives are clear, and it is under that Act that my right hon. Friend has rightly operated. The powers are: [column 974]

“If the Secretary of State is satisfied that any person … is or has been concerned whether in Great Britain or elsewhere in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism … the Secretary of State may make an order against that person prohibiting him from being in, or entering, Great Britain.”

The Metropolitan Police applied for orders on the basis of intelligence about the men's involvement in terrorist activity. The Home Secretary was satisfied about their past involvement, and rightly and responsibly, made these orders.

Mr. Foot

I do not question the nature of the Act, because we know its nature. Indeed, I specifically said that I believed that in the circumstances, after the events of Tuesday, it was natural that the Home Secretary should act in this way. However, it leaves considerable anomalies. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will understand this. If she reads the reports and comments that have come from Northern Ireland on the matter—not only from the mainland—I believe that she will understand that we still need to look at the legislation and see how it is applied, and see whether we shall have the same laws applying to the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister

I do not understand what anomalies the right hon. Gentleman is referring to under this Act. The Act is perfectly clear. What anomalies is the right hon. Gentleman referring to?

Mr. Foot

The anomaly is—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady asked me a question. The anomaly is——

Mr. Grieve

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the Leader of the Opposition to usurp question time to make a series of statements, however incomprehensible they may be?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That point of order was legitimate earlier, but the Leader of the Opposition was asked a question, and I thought that he should give the answer before we moved on.

Mr. Foot

The anomaly is that under this legislation some people are free to walk about in Belfast but not in London. Surely that is an anomaly. [Interruption.] I ask the right hon. Lady to say that the House of Commons should debate the matter afresh, in view of the circumstances that have arisen.

The Prime Minister

That is not an anomaly. It is inherent in the Act, which the right hon. Gentleman's Government passed.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the face of the clear and grave warning by the Metropolitan Police of the consequences of a visit to London by the representatives of Sinn Fein, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had no safe choice other than to ban the visit and to put an end to a deliberate attempt by the leader of the Greater London Council to raise a whirlwind of trouble for London?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary acted under the clear provisions of this Act, which give the power of exclusion from Great Britain. It also gives powers of exclusion from Northern Ireland, and sometimes those orders could operate so that the person is [column 975]returned to Britain. It is not an anomaly. It is a clearly thought-out Act, and it has been operated correctly over the years. It was operated correctly and responsibly in this case.

Mr. Roy Jenkins


Mr. Skinner

Here is the author.

Mr. Jenkins

As the sponsor of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974——

Mr. Skinner

It was a temporary Act.

Mr. Jenkins

—renewed in 1977, with the full support of the Cabinet, including the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), may I say that in my view the Home Secretary was clearly justified in making such an order under the Act, and that on balance he was right so to do? However, may we know whether he was primarily concerned with the prevention of terrorist acts in this country or the preservation of public order, if these two representatives of terrorism were to visit London at this time?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend was concerned to act under the powers of the Act which I read out, which is related to acts of terrorism.

Q2. Mr. Tom Clarke

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Clarke

Is the Prime Minister aware of yesterday's publication in “Social Trends” , showing that youth unemployment in this country has reached the staggering figure of 25 per cent? Does she recall that during the Falklands exercise she promised to pursue her views at all costs? Will she apply the same principles, dedication and resources to removing this blight from our society?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there is a big new scheme for youth training, beginning in September of next year. We also have a number of centres up and down the country. Within a year's time there will be 150 such centres for training young people in computer skills and in the skills of information technology. In that sphere there is a growth rate of 8 per cent. a year. There are jobs to be had, and we must make certain that those jobs are found in this country and not overseas.

Mr. Heddle

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to read The Observer of 21 November 1976, where she will see a report of a Labour Party committee that considered unemployment—whose membership included the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams)—which predicted that unemployment would rise by 100 per cent. to 2.5 million by early 1980? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is politically immoral for the Opposition parties to pretend to make political capital out of a situation which they knew would happen and which their policies helped to create?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Unemployment has risen under both Governments. Under both Governments, because of demographic factors, we have had a large number of school leavers over a period [column 976]of six years. Between 1978 and 1985 there were an extra 1½ million people of working age in this country. So without a world recession, we should have had to provide many more jobs to keep those people occupied. That is an extra factor, in addition to world recession. Perhaps it is that known factor that gave rise to some of the predictions that my hon. Friend so aptly mentioned.

Mr. Ashton

Will the right hon. Lady find time today to visit Smithfield market? Is she aware that the most profitable industry in Britain today is agriculture, with profits increased by 20 per cent.? Is that not due to compulsory planning agreements, such as those of the Egg Marketing Board and the Potato Marketing Board? Why does she not attach the same principles to controlling imports of steel as she attaches to imports of food to support the Tory farmers, and thus make the rest of industry just as profitable?

The Prime Minister

I regret that I cannot go to Smithfield, particularly as some of my family are involved in farming. Every country has its own measures for agriculture. We operate under the common agriculture policy for agriculture. We operate under a Community system for steel, under which there are considerable restrictions on steel imports to the Common Market. The same is true of agriculture.

Q3. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Townsend

Has my right hon. Friend had time to read the transcript of the Labour Party's last and most misleading party political broadcast on nuclear weapons? Is she aware that the Labour Party is now committed to reducing Britain's defence expenditure in line with that of our European NATO allies, which would mean severe cutbacks in Britain's conventional forces? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that such cutbacks could lead to NATO commanders resorting to tactical nuclear weapons at an earlier stage?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the Opposition's defence policy, which is just not a credible policy. It seems that the answer to the nuclear threat is not unilateralism, which Mr. Andropov called naive, but an intense effort to secure multilateral disarmament.

Mr. William Hamilton


The Prime Minister

Regularly, and now in Geneva, if people will come to the negotiating table. If Opposition Members would direct some of their efforts towards influencing the Soviet Union to negotiate, it would be better. I am aware of what my hon. Friend said. It is the Labour Party's policy to reduce the proportion of our gross national product that is spent on defence from the present 5 per cent. down to the European average, which is about 3.5 per cent. That would mean a drop in defence expenditure of £4½ billion, the equivalent of abolishing the Royal Navy.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance, about the trend in Prime Minister's Question Time? At least two questions today were about the policies of the Labour Party. However, a number of hon. Members have been waiting [column 977]to ask questions on subjects that are the direct responsibility of the Prime Minister, including foreign affairs. We wanted to ask her about her attitude to, and what action she would take over the disgraceful invasion of Lesotho by the South African military——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not, under the guise of a point of order, go on to raise the point that is concerning him.

Mr. Hughes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not seeking to raise a question under the guise of a point of order, but I wanted to seek your guidance. Are we now to understand that if we go to the Table Office and table questions to the Prime Minister about the policies of the Tory Party or Tory local authorities and councils, those questions will be accepted?

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Mr. Speaker

Such questions have been asked ever since I have been Speaker, under the present Administration as well as the last Administration. People answer for their own policies.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you tell us whether you are setting an interesting precedent by calling Prime Minister's Question 81 before Question 2?

Mr. Speaker

No, but we have had some other precedents today. I have not yet looked at Question No. 81. I hope that all of us will bear in mind that Question Time—I have now seen question No. 81, tabled by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke). I am much obliged to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)