Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [36/1139-44]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2197
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Trade, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (USA), Law & order, Social security & welfare
[column 1139]



Q1. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 10 February.

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. This evening I shall be attending a reception at Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Awards to Industry.

Mr. Skinner

What does the Prime Minister say to people who have been made redundant, such as, for example, one of my constituents, who wrote to me yesterday saying that he had gone to the bank for a loan to set up a small business—he had been redundant for two and a half years—and he was shown the door by the bank manager? How is it that at the same time Argentina can apply for three loans from the British Government and British banks, complete with tax relief on the Prime Minister's approval—a medium-term loan, a bridging loan, and an International Monetary Fund loan? Does that not show the utter hypocrisy of this Government? Is it not an indictment of this Tory “Yosser-land” Britain?

The Prime Minister

I do not know the precise circumstances in which the hon. Gentleman's constituent asked for a loan, and of course one would need to know those circumstances. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will write to my right hon. Friend Patrick Jenkin the Secretary of State for Industry. There is a loans guarantee scheme for small manufacturing business. That scheme was brought in by this Government, and it aids many people who want to start up on their own. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pursue the matter with my right hon. Friend.

The loans for Argentina were arranged in conjunction with the agreement with the IMF, which enables Argentina to repay her previous debts and also to put her economy on a sound industrial basis. One does not need much imagination to realise that the alternative would be for Argentina to default. If Argentina did that, and her past debts were wiped out, having a present balance of payments, she would have far more liquid cash to buy armaments under those circumstances than if she paid her former debts.

[column 1140]

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Will the Prime Minister clear up a confusion? She said on Tuesday that the only route out of unemployment was to get our inflation down to, or below, the level of Germany, among other countries. She also said that German unemployment was now increasing faster than ours. How does she reconcile those two statements?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks a little further he will realise that if we are to have more jobs and compete in the wider world we must be able to compete with efficient industries. There are efficient industries in Britain and in Germany and ours will be the more able to compete when our level of inflation is down to theirs and lower. There is no difficulty, except in the right hon. Gentleman's mind.

Sir William Clark

As, last year, we enjoyed a balance of payments surplus of £4,500 million, of which £2,000 million was in manufactured goods, does my right hon. Friend agree that in many parts of the economy we are extremely competitive and that British exporters should be congratulated on their achievements in a world recession? Is that not further proof that the Government's economic strategy is being rewarded?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The balance of payments surplus was excellent last year and was £1 billion higher than forecast. Quite apart from oil, the volume of manufactured exports held up well despite a declining world trade. The performance of manufactured exports was very good indeed.

Mr. Foot

May I ask the right hon. Lady about her talks with Vice-President Bush? Labour Members are strongly opposed to the deployment of SS20s and to the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles in western Europe. We would be eager, as we have mentioned before, to have a debate on the subject. Did the right hon. Lady discuss with the Vice-President any possibility other than the zero option as defined by him? Is she aware that there are other proposals from the other side of the Atlantic which might have a better chance of bringing about successful negotiations? Did the right hon. Lady reopen the question of the dual key and seek to rectify the agreement that her Government apparently made on this subject in December 1979?

The Prime Minister

I note that the right hon. Gentleman is against the deployment of SS20s, but the fact is that they are deployed, have been deployed for six years, and that deployment has increased over that period. If they are taken down there will be no need to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles. Therefore, I take it that the right hon. Gentleman's first objective is the zero option, which was approved by President Reagan, because that is the way to prevent the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles.

The Vice-President made it perfectly clear in his speech, and in conversations and speeches elsewhere, that the zero option is not a take-it-or-leave-it option. It is, of course, our goal and we must keep to that goal, because undoubtedly it would be the best possible result for those who believe in safeguarding our way of life, but who, at the same time, want to reduce the amount spent on nuclear and other weapons. Therefore, there are other possibilities as well as the zero option.

With regard to the dual key, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the present arrangement is for a joint decision, and that means exactly what it says.

[column 1141]

Mr. Foot

Did the right hon. Lady discuss with the Vice-President the proposals that have been made by Mr. Paul Warnke, the previous negotiator on behalf of the United States at the SALT 2 talks—proposals that many would think had a better chance of resulting in negotiations? Did she discuss that at all, because that would be a real alternative, a real flexible response?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm the reply that the Foreign Secretary gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in December when he asked the Foreign Secretary to assure the House that if the missiles were ever placed in Great Britain they would be subject to the same dual control arrangements of earlier American nuclear weapons based in Great Britain? At that time the Foreign Secretary said that he could not give that assurance. Is that the same situation now, and, if so, does it mean that once again the right hon. Lady has not properly sought a new arrangement to deal with these missiles?

The Prime Minister

Missiles must be stationed somewhere and the arrangements that we have are those that were approved in the days of Attlee, Truman and Churchill. They are the arrangements that have been agreed by all Governments, which have been honoured and which are identical to a joint decision.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady's reply mean that she is confirming the answer that the Foreign Secretary gave on this matter just before Christmas?

The Prime Minister

No. My reply means what I said—that the present arrangements are for joint decision on the use of American bases, which were started in the days of Attlee, Truman and Churchill.

Falkland Islands

Q2. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Prime Minister whether she has any plans to re-visit the Falkland Islands.

The Prime Minister

I have no present plans to do so.

Mr. Bidwell

Has the right hon. Lady seen the recent Gallup poll in The Daily Telegraph, which shows that two thirds of those questioned were extremely sceptical about the costly “Fortress Falklands” policy? Why did the Government turn down Lord Shackleton 's proposal to distribute absentee owners' land to the islanders if they still believe in a property-owning democracy?

The Prime Minister

The policy of putting large defence garrisons in the Falkland Islands has been forced upon us by Argentina. At present there is no alternative if we are properly to defend the rights of the Falkland Islanders to remain British under British sovereignty and administration. It has always been the view of the vast majority of hon. Members that the Falkland Islanders' wishes should be paramount.

We, and I think most of the Falkland Islanders, do not think that it is right for Governments to purchase all of the land in the Falkland Islands. There are alternative ways in which it should be possible to achieve sales of land to some of the Falkland Islanders who wish to purchase it from some of the companies.


Q3. Mr. Pawsey

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 10 February.

[column 1142]

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Pawsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people are becoming gravely concerned about the level of violent crime, particularly that of murder? Therefore, will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that in a new Parliament, in which she is Prime Minister, Government time will be given for a debate on the reintroduction of capital punishment, and will she allow a free vote afterwards?

The Prime Minister

We are all gravely concerned about increasing crime, which is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend William Whitelaw the Home Secretary has put at the top of his priorities the need to increase the number of police, because the greatest deterrent to crime is the certainty of detection. The Criminal Justice Act 1982 strengthened the powers of the courts and provided an opportunity—the second in this Parliament—for a debate on capital punishment. I have no doubt at all that there will be another such opportunity in another Parliament. Of course, there is plenty of time remaining in this Parliament for private Members to raise the subject. I have no doubt that it will be raised again in the next Parliament and it is customary on such occasions to have a free vote.

Mr. Conlan

In view of the regrettable decision by the Home Office to place a contract for a communications antenna with America, will the Prime Minister consider today why that folly is about to be compounded by the Ministry of Defence in placing a further contract for antennae with the Americans for RAF Oakhanger, which is worth three times as much as that placed by the Home Office?

The Prime Minister

I am not at all certain of the details of this, whether it comes under NATO arrangements or elsewhere. If my right hon. Friend Michael Heseltine the Secretary of State for Defence has placed contracts with America, it will have been done after careful consideration and only on the basis that it can fulfil the precise requirements at a competitive price.

Unemployment Statistics

Q4. Mr. Peter Bottomley

asked the Prime Minister what is the latest available information on the rates of unemployment for single men, and married men with (a) no dependent children, (b) one child, (c) two children and (d) three children.

The Prime Minister

The latest information comes from the 1981 labour force survey. About one in six single men was unemployed. The rate for married men with two or fewer dependent children was one in 16 compared with about one in nine for men with three or more dependent children.

Mr. Bottomley

Recognising, perhaps, the different age groups of people without children, does my right hon. Friend accept that the relatively low level of child benefit now compared with 25 years ago may be a partial explanation of the higher unemployment figures for people with more children? Does she recognise that increasing child benefit is a more cost-effective way of helping families with children than raising the married man's tax allowance or giving pay increases at work? If my right hon. Friend has any hang-up about increasing child [column 1143]benefit, will she share it with the House so that people such as myself can help to convince her that an increase in child benefit is highly desirable?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, in November 1980 the Government gave an undertaking to [column 1144]maintain the November 1980 value of child benefit. That undertaking has been honoured. I know my hon. Friend's strength of feeling on this matter. He knows that these matters are dealt with in the Budget. I should also point out that increasing the thresholds is very important as well.