Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1983 Mar 3 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [38/368-72]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2225
Themes: Parliament, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Local government finance
[column 368]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Barry Jones

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 3 March.

[column 369]

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.

Mr. Jones

Does the Prime Minister understand that the south Wales miners are angry because investment in their coalfield slumped to only £14 million last year? Does she concede that the provocative appointment of Mr. MacGregor appears to be a signal that the coalfield can be mauled and cut back hugely? Is that not why the miners have no confidence in the Government?

The Prime Minister

Precisely where investment is made is a matter for the National Coal Board. “Plan for Coal” has been carried out and extensive investment has been made in the NCB because new pits have a very good future. I have no statement to make about the chairmanship either of the NCB or the British Steel Corporation.

Mr. Skinner

The right hon. Lady is backing off.

Q2. Mr. Ward

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 3 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Ward

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does she agree that the threatened coal strike is both unnecessary and unjustified? Will she take this opportunity to remind the miners that they receive enormous subsidies from the public—[Hon. Members: “What about farmers?” ]—and that taxpayers are entitled to expect that that money will be used sensibly and economically, not to keep uneconomic pits in production?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. The pit in question is 120 years old and its losses this year are expected to be about £13,000 per man employed.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady agree that one of the causes of the problem in the coalfield is the great mistrust of Government policy that prevails there, partly because of what has happened in the past few years and partly because of what is projected? Does she appreciate that that is likely to be increased by the latest unemployment figures? Does she see any prospect of a fall in unemployment? Does she not understand that the Government calculate an increase of some 280,000 in the number of unemployed? How many of them will be in south Wales? How many of them will be miners?

The Prime Minister

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman started off on the subject of coal. Following “Plan for Coal” , investment in that industry during 1974 to 1978–79 was about £1,500 million. About £3,000 million was invested in coal between 1978 and 1982–83. That shows this Government's faith in the future of coal. Once those excellent pits are in production, there is hope that coal might be produced more cheaply. If that happens, there is hope that electricity costs might be reduced, which would help the many industries that now complain about the cost of electricity.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the actual figure for unemployment is down, but I would be the first to admit that the seasonally adjusted figure is up. As I have said many times, the only way to get more jobs in a world recession—the right hon. Gentleman will have seen the [column 370]German figures that were also published today—is to be as competitive both in price and in design as the best of the rest of the world.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady recall the remark that she made on one occasion to the effect that every Conservative Government since the war have left more people in work than when they came to power? Is she still of that opinion? Does she not acknowledge that that proposition is true of every Administration except hers? Can she tell us when there will be a fall in unemployment, particularly as she made that speech in Darlington at a very convenient moment?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's figures for unemployment are not quite right. As he knows, and as I noted carefully, during the Labour Government unemployment increased substantially. He will note that a bigger proportion of our population have jobs than in any other country in the EC, with the exception of Denmark.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady come along next week and tell us whether the promise that she made about unemployment in 1979 in Darlington was true or untrue?

The Prime Minister

I would be the first to say that unemployment has increased considerably. It has increased in almost all industrialised countries. The German figures were published today, and to those one must add the number of gastarbeiters, of whom about 500,000 have been sent home. If one compares the records for the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany from 1979 to 1983, one sees that from May 1979 to the latest available figures the increase in unemployment in the Netherlands has been 193 per cent., in the United Kingdom 139 per cent., and in Germany 154 per cent. It is a worldwide problem.

Q3. Mr. Chapman

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 3 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Chapman

Will my right hon. Friend take time today, not only as Prime Minister but as a London Member of Parliament, to recognise the utter dismay felt by the vast majority of Londoners at the recent to-ings and fro-ings of the leader of the GLC and the way in which the council is using ratepayers' money to give grants to what can only be described politely as extreme, way-out organisations? Does she agree that those actions call into question not only the future of the GLC but the future of the rating system? Can she give any hope to the House that one or the other, or better still both, will be reformed radically or abolished?

The Prime Minister

I agree that the vast majority of Londoners are unhappy about the antics of Ken Livingstonethe Leader of the GLC. I also agree that we need major reform of the rating system. That is being considered and we shall make an announcement in due course. I accept that consideration of rating reform must include an examination of the functions of the several local authorities.

Mrs. Renée Short

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to see the report just released by the British Medical Association—[Interruption.]—What are hon. Members laughing at? The report is the result of an inquiry chaired by Professor Sir John Stallworthy into the [column 371]negative effects of nuclear war. Is the right hon. Lady aware that if one nuclear weapon were exploded over London, more casualties would be created than could be cared for by all the acute beds in the country, of which there are 136,000? Will she examine the report, act upon it and get in touch with President Reagan and Mr. Andropov—[Interruption.]—Tory Members are hooligans. This is a serious matter that affects the lives of all the people of this country and of many other countries. Will the Prime Minister use whatever influence she has with President Reagan and any one else who is prepared to listen to ensure that a meeting can take place to remove the threat of nuclear war from the entire world?

The Prime Minister

I have not seen the report to which the hon. Lady refers in full, but I have seen a summary of it. The purpose of possessing nuclear weapons is to deter the Soviets from making any attack, either nuclear or conventional, on the countries of the Western Alliance. That strategy has been successful for 37 years, and the Soviets are as aware of the dangers of nuclear war as we are. As long as they face a credible nuclear deterrent as part of our defences they will never risk either a conventional or a nuclear attack.

The best possible course is for Mr. Andropov to accept President Reagan's proposals to reduce intermediate nuclear forces to zero, to reduce strategic weapons by one third as a first step and to reduce conventional forces. The initiative has been taken by the entire NATO Alliance and by President Reagan, but the Soviets are not responding.

Mrs. Renée Short

I am asking the right hon. Lady to do it.

Mr. Alton

Is the Prime Minister in favour of fixed-term Parliaments? If not, why not?

The Prime Minister

I see no reason to change the present system. The onus is on those who propose any change to prove the case for it.

Mr. Neil Thorne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Livingstone and his Labour colleagues on the GLC have cancelled the Territorial Army banner rededication ceremony that was to take place this month at county hall on the ground that it would offend their friends in the peace movement? Will she take time to consider the grave offence that this has caused to the many thousands of men and women who have participated in maintaining the peace of this country through the Territorial Army for the past 35 years?

The Prime Minister

The Territorial Army is a wonderful service, and I hope that its members will realise that the vast majority of British people are firmly behind them. We believe in a strong defence, which among other things, enables people such as Mr. Livingstone and others to express their views—a freedom that would be denied to them if they lived under the Soviets.

4. Mr. Lofthouse

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 3 March.

The Prime Minister

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

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Mr. Lofthouse

Does the Prime Minister recollect my question to her on 8 February, when I informed her of the reaction of the mining industry to the rumoured appointment of Mr. Ian MacGregor? Is the Government's announcement during the past two hours, directly after the decision of the national executive of the National Union of Mineworkers, that great democratic union—[Interruption.]—Yes, that great democratic union, to ballot its members, a deliberate act of provocation on her part to make sure that the miners vote for a strike, which is something she has wanted for many months? Can she tell the House whether Mr. MacGregor has accepted the offer?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman probably heard me say earlier, I have no announcement to make about the future chairmanship of the National Coal Board.

Mr. Lofthouse

It has been on television.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman should not always believe as gospel what he sees on television. I have no announcement to make about the future chairmanship of the National Coal Board. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Mr. Siddall 's appointment comes to an end, I believe, at the end of July, and he cannot carry on. There is no secret about the fact that Mr. MacGregor is being considered for the chairmanship. There are good reasons why his name should be considered. When he was chairman of AMAX, in his first year—[An Hon. Member: “Reading.” ]—Yes, because I want to be accurate in what I say. When he was chairman of AMAX, Mr. MacGregor took it into coal production, and coal operations expanded by 75 per cent. between 1971 and 1976, making AMAX the third largest producer of bituminous coal in the United States. In 1976, after the worst year for United States mineral consumption since the depression of the 1930s, AMAX, unlike other United States mineral companies——

Mr. Lofthouse

This means that the Prime Minister has appointed him.

The Prime Minister

—embarked on a $2 billion expansion programme. That is the background. I have no announcement to make. May I make it clear that no one has yet been appointed to the job.

Mr. Latham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to consider the convenience of hon. Members? There is serious overcrowding on the Opposition Front Bench below the Gangway, which I believe should have your immediate attention.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you have received a request from the Minister of State, Home Office to make a statement retracting his explicit and clear endorsement of police violence towards the women at Greenham Common when replying at Question Time to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).

Mr. Speaker

Order.