Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [36/137-42]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2388
Themes: Defence (arms control), Industry, Privatized & state industries, Trade, Foreign policy (International organizations), Media, Northern Ireland, Religion & morality, Strikes & other union action
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Q1. Mr. Silvester

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 February.

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.

Mr. Silvester

Will my right hon. Friend today urge the water workers, when they come to consider whether to call off their strike, to remember that their present action is putting at risk the jobs of many other workers who have accepted pay settlements well below that currently on offer?

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The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are many people with less secure jobs who would envy the offer that has already been made to the water workers and there are many, many, unemployed people who would like to have similar pay to that which has been offered to the water workers—£145 to £146 a week. As that offer was made as a result of mediation, I hope that the water workers will soon take wiser counsel than they have previously, and return to work. I notice that a MORI poll has just come out which shows that 75 per cent. of the population believe that the water workers should accept the offer that has been made.

Mr. David Steel

Has the Prime Minister studied the CBI industrial trends survey, which was published this morning? If so, has she noted that investment in manufacturing industries is expected to decline next year as well? Therefore, will she gear her Budget strategy to investment in industry?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there were many years when the rising standard of living through wages was at the expense of money that should have gone into investment. That is one of the problems that we now have. There will be a substantial increase in investment in, for example, consumer goods industries, only when there is an increase in consumer expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed from that survey that there are signs of increased demand and activity among some industries producing consumer goods. There is also considerable optimism about exports. There are excellent figures for exports and some good figures that augur well for low inflation in future.

Mr. Alexander

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to reflect on the reported remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury last week, to the effect that it would never be just to use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack? Does she agree that if a potential enemy is told that weapons will never be used in retaliation, the enemy will never be convinced of one's determination to resist?

The Prime Minister

Without making any comment on the remarks of Archbishop Robert Runcie His Grace, for which I am not responsible, I agree with my hon. Friend that the point of having nuclear weapons is to deter a war of any kind. They have succeeded in doing so for the past 37 years. To be an effective deterrent a potential aggressor must believe that under certain circumstances such weapons will be used.

Mr. Foot

If the right hon. Lady thinks that she has a good case, why is she not content to put it to the country instead of suggesting that public money should be used to support it? It has been suggested in the newspapers that the right hon. Lady supports the idea of spending £1 million to support Conservative party propaganda. Will she take this opportunity to repudiate that? If sums of that kind are available for propaganda, why have the Government refused to spend a single penny in supporting the world disarmament campaign, agreed on in the special session of the United Nations—a campaign which she alleged she would support?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the reports about an advertising campaign, no decision has been made, but I note that there is a very effective precedent, which was followed in 1969, when the NATO policy, which involved nuclear deterrents and Polaris, was put across. People [column 139]were urged with full-length advertisements in the papers to write for booklets that would give them full details about NATO and Polaris. That campaign in 1969 cost the equivalent of £1 million today.

The right hon. Gentleman appeared to be saying two things at the same time with his other point. First, he criticised us for thinking of using advertisements, and then for not spending money on disarmament when we are the party of multilateral disarmament. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman seems to agree that that would be a fit and proper subject for advertisement.

Mr. Foot

If the right hon. Lady is to embark on these campaigns, will she make some effort to see that she tells the truth? [Hon Members: “Oh” .] She gave the House, and perhaps the country, the impression that her Government had been backing proposals for multilateral disarmament. Will she put in one of the advertisements, or in Hansard, a list of the occasions, at the end of last year, when she voted at the United Nations against proposals for multilateral disarmament and when this Government were in a minority of one, two or three in voting against proposals for disarmament? If she wishes to tell the truth to the country she should tell it that.

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's recommendation that we should put out certain information in advertisements. I am sure that my right hon. Friend Michael Heseltine the Secretary of State for Defence will have taken his advice into account on that matter. I shall make certain that if any record is published about votes in the United Nations, the full resolution is published, together with the reason for voting. We are a party that believes in multilateral disarmament as being the only disarmament that has to be on a balanced and verifiable basis.

Mr. Foot

In direct response to that point, if the right hon. Lady is to use public money to put her case, we shall demand public money to put our case, as we have not the slightest confidence that the right hon. Lady will tell the truth to the country on this subject.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's Government in 1969 used public money to put the NATO case to the country.

Mr. Mates

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some water workers in my constituency came to see me on Saturday—[Hon. Members: “What a drip” .]—to complain about the so-called democratic process within their union? Is she further aware that they told me that they were prevented from taking part in the second ballot because they could not get to their places of work due to the pickets? The only workers who voted in the second ballot were those who were on the pickets, who are, by definition, against the offer. As this makes nonsense of the water workers' claim to have a 4:1 majority in favour of continuing the strike, will she take urgent steps to introduce proper, democratic processes?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend Tom King the Secretary of State for the Environment put out a discussion document on these matters. I hope that the water workers will consider the offer that has been made through mediation. In May 1979 the average pay of the water worker was £88.70. Before the dispute started, the average was £136.90. They have [column 140]now been offered £146 on average. That is an increase of 64 per cent. since May 1979, when the retail price index has gone up by only 52 per cent.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

In the talks that are taking place between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Irish Foreign Minister, will the Prime Minister confirm that nothing will be said on the British side that is inconsistent with her principle that the constitutional arrangements in Northern Ireland are exclusively a matter for this House and the people of the Province?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that constitutional changes, if such there be, in Northern Ireland are for the people of Northern Ireland and for the House of Commons and the other part of Parliament.

Q2. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Davidson

Will the Prime Minister explain the difference between the zero option, from which she is apparently moving, and President Reagan 's latest offer to Mr. Andropov?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the latest offer reaffirms the zero option which, let us be clear, is the best possible option, because it does away with all nuclear weapons of a particular class. Before that offer was made there was the NATO double track decision, which, in the absence of the zero option, is based on equal numbers and proper counting.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. Friend, within the nuclear debate, make it clear that if cruise missiles are to be based in this country they will be fired only after joint consultations between this Government and the American Government, thus making it clear that it is a decision for both Governments?

The Prime Minister

The phrase goes further than “joint consultations.” The phrase on the use of those bases refers to a “joint decision” , which means a decision of both Governments after consultation.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Does the Prime Minister accept that the 1969 advertisements, apart from the broad consensus on the issue that then existed, were almost entirely factual reports, not a propaganda campaign of the type that appeared to be envisaged in the reports yesterday? In view of the spate of adverse editorial and political comment, does she accept that those who wish to contravert unilateral disarmament, which I do as strongly as she, could do it better by political arguments than by spending taxpayers' money subsidising advertisements?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time when money was spent on those advertisements. The policy in support of NATO was won. The vast majority of people at the moment are in support of NATO and of multilateral disarmament. We stand by both. I am somewhat amazed that the right hon. Gentleman should say that all members of the party to which he then belonged were in favour of Polaris. If that is so, I cannot think why it later held up any publicity on the modernisation of Polaris with Chevaline.

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Q3. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Bidwell

Does the right hon. Lady understand that her remarks in this Chamber on the water industry dispute have been exceedingly unhelpful? Taking examples of average earnings is always dodgy, especially if related to the Members of the House. With regard to the right hon. Lady's remarks last Thursday, may I point out that the report of a mediator connected with ACAS is not holy writ, as evidenced by the recent decision of the Department of Defence, when the Government turned down a mediator's proposal in the dispute with the Transport and General Workers Union?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry that the facts get in the hon. Gentleman's way, as that is virtually all that I have given him in connection with this dispute.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the agreement between the employers and the employees is that the dispute, if such there be, should go to arbitration before there is industrial action. With regard to this dispute, the water workers wanted mediation and the employers agreed to it. The water workers agreed the name of the mediator, as did the employers. The mediator pronounced, and the employers accepted his decision. We are now awaiting the decision of the water workers.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that I am correct in saying that on occasions you, [column 142]with the Leader of the House and what are known as the usual channels, discuss the procedure of the House. Next time that happens, will you consider the possibility that Privy Councillors should have their own time to put questions to the Prime Minister, and not keep muscling in by taking up two-thirds, if not 90 per cent., of the time that should be for Back Benchers, who take the trouble to table questions? Privy Councillors enter the Chamber just before the Prime Minister gets to her feet.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I always listen with the utmost respect to what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) says. I have no doubt that Privy Councillors will do the same.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could hon. Members be selected to ask questions during Prime Minister's Question Time on the basis of those whose questions are among the first 10 or 12 on the Order Paper by virtue of random selection? It would work out perfectly fairly and would prevent the invidious accusations that Privy Councillors receive more opportunities than other Members, as we are all elected on an absolutely fair and equal basis.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This gives me an opportunity to say that I shall call a conference of the various parties to consider the outrageous way in which Prime Minister's Question Time is being ruined. I honestly believe that the open question has changed the character of Question Time. I welcome a conference. I shall now call the respective parties to my House to discuss how to get over this.