Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1982 Dec 21 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [34/819-24]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2479
Themes: Defence (arms control), Employment, Industry, General Elections, Monetary policy, Trade, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Law & order, Religion & morality, Social security & welfare, Trade unions, Voluntary sector & charity
[column 819]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Miss Wright

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 21 December.

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.

Miss Wright

In the course of her activities today, will the right hon. Lady take time to contemplate the Government's disastrous record on unemployment in the past year? Will she consider offering some Christmas cheer to the millions of unemployed by putting the Secretary of State for Employment at the top of her list for a Cabinet reshuffle?

The Prime Minister

The answer to that last question is “No” . As the hon. Lady will know, jobs and prosperity result in the long run from consumer choice and not from Government allocation of funds. Consumer choice is now being exercised in retail shops. I hope that a goodly proportion of it has gone towards purchasing British goods.

Mr. Stokes

If my right hon. Friend thinks that it is necessary to have a Cabinet reshuffle, will she make up her own mind and not take advice from the Opposition Benches? May I also impress upon my right hon. Friend [column 820]that an election in 1983 would be reckless and quite unnecessary? Will she bear in mind that this excellent Parliament can last until the summer of 1984?

The Prime Minister

I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend on both his excellent points.

Mr. Foot

Will the Prime Minister say how many people this Christmas are living on the poverty line at supplementary benefit level? By how much has this total increased since she has been in charge?

The Prime Minister

I think that about 6 million people are involved in claims, either directly or as dependents. I give the figure from memory. It has increased almost exactly with the number of unemployed who have come on to that register.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady agree that this figure, the most appalling in this category in British history, includes 1 million children who are living in families at supplementary benefit level? What has been the increase in the number of those children since she has been in charge?

The Prime Minister

The supplementary grant, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, has been fully price-protected. Supplementary benefit rates are now double the amount they were in 1948 in real terms.

Mr. Foot

How many more children are having to be dealt with in this manner since the right hon. Lady has been in charge?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give directly the number of children who are dependent upon those who make claims. The number of unemployed on the supplementary benefit register and the number of children dependent upon them also went up substantially during the right hon. Gentleman's time in office.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the Court Appeal has just upheld the judgment of the lower court in the recent Moonies libel case? In consequence, will she ask the Attorney-General as soon as possible to initiate action aimed to remove charitable status from the Moonies?

The Prime Minister

Unless the Moonies go direct to the House of Lords, and are successful in gaining leave to appeal to the House of Lords, the way will be open for my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Haversthe Attorney-General to reopen his application to the Charity Commissioners to remove the two Unification Church trusts from the register of charities.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Did the Prime Minister deduce from her talks with Mr. Shultz, and from other sources, a new American awareness of the dangers of the world spiralling increasingly deeper into depression, a willingness to take concerted action to counter that, and a desire to secure currency stability, in contrast to the often totally unwarranted movements that we have had recently? What response is she prepared to offer?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is referring to what appeared to be off-the-cuff remarks by Mr. Reagan about currency stability. There are no proposals for greater currency stability by virtue of international action, nor can there be while we have largely differential rates of inflation and until each and [column 821]every country runs its economy in a sound way. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that inflation rates broke the Bretton Woods scheme long before the oil price increase.

Q2. Mr. Flannery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 21 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Flannery

Will the Prime Minister assure the House before we rise for the Christmas Recess that she will examine with great care the first speech of Mr. Andropov, the leader of the Soviet people? Will she bring more care than prejudice into her examination of the speech? Does she realise that the massively growing peace movement springs from the fact that the entire world is now terrified of a mistake being made by either side that could plunge us all into a nuclear Armageddon? Will she and her party stop accusing the anti-nuclear struggle in Britain of sympathising purely with the Soviet Union? Will she admit that we are trying to remove the first stone from the great nuclear archway, not in order to get the Americans or the West to disarm unilaterally, but to set an example and to bring the two together in order to disarm—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is long enough for a question.

The Prime Minister

A full account of Mr. Andropov's speech is not yet available. From what we know of it, he proposes to reduce SS20s by a proportion. However, the effect of his proposal would be to leave the United States with zero intermediate range nuclear missiles, while he had a considerable number left. That would not keep the essential balance that is required for our security. Britain requires, not the peace of a Poland, Czechoslovakia or Stalin, but peace with freedom and justice.

Mr. Grylls

Will my right hon. Friend find time to study The Economist intelligence unit report on the attitudes of the unemployed, which was commissioned by the Institute of Directors and other bodies? The report makes it clear that 34 per cent. of the unemployed people questioned would wish to start their own businesses, but that finance is a problem. To try to help with that, will my right hon. Friend consider extending the cost-effective enterprise allowance scheme, which now operates in five pilot areas, to the entire country?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, we have five pilot schemes in which enterprise allowances and their effects are being assessed. Under those schemes the people are paid about £40 a week when they start up on their own. We are examining the scheme, but we must have the results before we see whether we should extend it. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is good news that many of the unemployed wish to start up on their own to become self-employed or to start new businesses.

Dr. Bray

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Minister for Trade has overruled the recommendation of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission against the Charter Consolidated bid for Anderson Strathclyde? The Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report named employment and industrial relations as reasons for not allowing the bid. Is she further aware that the Secretary of State for Trade gave as his reason for referring the matter [column 822]to the Minister for Trade the fact that he is involved with Charter Consolidated? Is it not grossly improper for the Secretary of State for Trade to fail to take action to carry through the recommendations of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The Hon. Gentleman is correct in one fact—that my right hon. Friend Lord Cockfieldthe Secretary of State for Trade, having interests in one of the companies concerned, correctly handed over his total responsibility, which is of a quasi-judicial nature, to my hon. and learned Friend Peter ReesThe Minister for Trade. That was absolutely and totally correct. The Minister, in his quasi-judicial capacity, considered the report, as he was bound to do. He took into account also the fact that the chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was a party to the minority report. He took into account the fact that he was bound to consult the Director General of Fair Trading about what he should do. The Director General of Fair Trading was on the side of the minority report. The Minister further took into account the fact that there would be no diminution of competition by allowing the merger to go through. He also took into account the fact that Anderson Strathclyde would be likely, if the merger went through, to have greater access to capital. He proposed certain conditions to be attached to the merger and acted totally correctly in his quasi-judicial capacity.

Mr. Amery

Although I am fully confident that my right hon. Friend will study Mr. Andropov's major speech, may I ask her also to put in hand a study of the speech by the first deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Mr. Aliyev in June before he was appointed to his present post? In that speech he called for a union of Soviet Azerbaijan with Iranian Azerbaijan. What are the implications of that speech?

The Prime Minister

Azerbaijan was prominent in history when we resisted its incorporation into the Soviet Union. I need not give my right hon. Friend any lessons about the implications of Soviet expansionism. The Conservative party will resist it totally.

Later

Dr. Bray

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In her reply to me the Prime Minister selectively quoted advice from various public officials in support of what seemed to have been grossly improper action on the part of her Minister. Is this not a matter that the House should be able to debate before the recess?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Douglas

rose

Mr. Speaker

Order, I cannot take points of order on the content of the reply of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Douglas

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The position, as I understand it, is that an Act of Parliament gives a method and an approach with regard to the Monopolies Commission procedure. The House is entitled to know whether what has been carried out on this issue is a precedent. Has the Prime Minister or any other Minister an instance of a submission from the Monopolies Commission to a Secretary of State being passed to another Minister because of involvement by the Secretary of State in particular companies?

Mr. Millan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point that does arise for you, Mr. Speaker, [column 823]is that the House has an interest in the responsibilities and interests of a Member of this House or, indeed, of a Member of another place who is also a member of the Government. The background to the matter, without going into its merits, is that the Monopolies Commission has recommended against the takeover bid by Charter Consolidated of Anderson Strathclyde. Although the Prime Minister referred to the quasi-judicial function of Ministers, under the terms of the Fair Trading Act 1973 the quasi-judicial function rests with the Secretary of State for Trade. It does not rest with a junior Minister in his Department. If the Secretary of State for Trade has such an interest in Charter Consolidated that he is not able to take a decision on this matter, it raises the question whether he ought to be a member of the Government at all. Despite the recommendation of the Monopolies Commission, and despite universal hostility in Scotland to this takeover bid, the Government have decided in favour of Charter Consolidated, in which the Secretary of State for Trade has an interest. The House deserves an explanation.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That matter will have to be pursued in a way other than a point of order. It is clear that I cannot rule on such a point of order.

Q3. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 21 December.

The Prime Minister

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

[column 824]

Mr. Powell

Will the Prime Minister spend some time during the festive season, when she is living it up at Chequers, considering the millions of people who exist on the poverty line? Will she consider abandoning her policies of clawback from retirement pensioners and others in receipt of social benefit? Will she abandon some of the mean, miserable and contemptible policies that make Scrooge seem like Santa Claus.

The Prime Minister

Like many previous Prime Ministers, I am grateful to those of generous mind who left Chequers for the use of Prime Ministers. I have explained that we have price protected the incomes of those who live on social security. We have given record heating additions during the lifetime of this Government. I remind the hon. Gentleman that retirement pensioners are enjoying a bonus over the above price protection and that for two years under the Labour Government they did not enjoy a Christmas bonus at all.

Mr. Renton

Has my right Friend had time to read the letter in The Sunday Times two days ago in which Mr. David Basnett again refers to significant sections of the trade union movement being prepared to adopt policies of civil disobedience? Does my right hon. Friend see any sign of that happening, or is Mr. Basnett simply whistling to keep up his own courage?

The Prime Minister

There is no sign that that is happening. Indeed, the record of productivity in the many manufacturing industries in which so many trade unions work prominently is improving and is excellent.