Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [38/947-52]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2279
Themes: Executive, Parliament, Defence (general), Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (USA), Local government, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare
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Q1. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 10 March.

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, and will leave this evening for East Anglia.

Mr. Canavan

Just in case the Prime Minister gets carried away with the idea of statutory elections and ballots in trades unions, how about democratising her own Cabinet instead of using her patronage powers to appoint non-elected placemen such as Lord Cockfield? Will she support my Bill to ballot the Anderson Strathclyde workers on the take-over bid by Charter Consolidated, in which Lord Cockfield certainly has a vested interest, even if we are not supposed to say that he is lining his pockets?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will just remind the House that, although the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) may think that he is very clever, there is a long-established custom that hon. Members in this House do not abuse those in the other place and that they do not abuse hon. Members. I realise that the hon. Member did not actually do so, but he was not very clever to throw this back in my face.

The Prime Minister

My Cabinet is excellent, and it is quite right that the Cabinet should contain a representative from the other place, through which Bills and measures have to go before receiving full assent and entering into the law of the land. As to Anderson Strathclyde, the decision by my hon. and learned Friend Peter Reesthe Minister for Trade, which was the subject of his statement on 22 December, to allow the takeover to proceed has been upheld in the Divisional court. I see little merit in further discussing the issue. Charter Consolidated's revised bid is now a matter for shareholders of Anderson Strathclyde.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Does the Prime Minister consider that the occasion of Mr. Scargill 's welcome third defeat would be the right moment for a wise leader to abandon the foolish plan to appoint Mr. MacGregor?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I am delighted at the result of the miners' ballot, which seems to me the best result for the future of the coal industry, and therefore for the future of those who will work in it.

Viscount Cranborne

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider whether her present policy in Northern Ireland is such a conspicuous success that it is worth pursuing?

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The Prime Minister

I have no statement to make about the future of Northern Ireland. I am delighted that my hon. Friend thinks that the policy is being carried out with conspicuous success.

Q2. Mr. Sheerman

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Sheerman

If the Prime Minister thinks that she has such a superb Cabinet—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear” ]—and a certain number of sycophants on the Back Benches, will she consider the words of her right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) who yesterday said that her Government lack the imagination and the will to tackle the utterly intolerable level of unemployment? Will the Prime Minister turn imagination and will to the problem of solving the lack of investment, stop using our oil wealth by running it away into the dole queue and invest it in Britain instead?

The Prime Minister

There is only one way to achieve more jobs in this country. It requires imagination in the latest use of technology, using that to secure greater efficiency, and in excellent design—all of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) is aware of and all of which he would support. It is not merely investment but productive investment that is required. Merely to ask for more investment will not necessarily be productive and could, in fact, place extra burdens on industry. This Government are going to get more productive investment, which must be used to bring a proper return on capital and proper, increased efficiency to industry.

Mr. Nelson

Has my right hon. Friend seen the remarkable review just published by the Department of Defence in the United States of the significant new generation of advanced weaponry being developed by that country? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to deter the use of such weapons, it is essential that the NATO countries should not only maintain their defence capability but should continue to demonstrate their mutual trust and loyalty?

The Prime Minister

Yes. We must maintain our defence capability. That is the policy of the Government. It is also, of course, the policy of the Government to be a true and trusted member of the Alliance and to continue research and development, which is equally important to maintaining our weapon capability.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider the reply she gave me a week ago on unemployment? Does she not agree that, whereas all previous post-war Governments have been able to claim with justice that there were more jobs available at the end of their periods of office than at the beginning, this is the first Government who cannot make that claim? This is the Government who have destroyed 2 million jobs.

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's original figures were quite right. If he looks—I speak from memory—he will see that the number of jobs decreased under one previous Labour Government. I believe it was the 1966 to 1970 Government, but I speak from memory.

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Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady will find that her memory is at fault. She will also find that under no previous Government has the destruction of jobs been on anything like the scale that has occurred under this Government. Can she give any comparable figure at all? How many of those 2 million extra jobs lost were in Darlington? [Interruption.] The right hon. Lady made a speech about real jobs in Darlington. Since then, 7,500 people have lost their jobs in the travel-to-work area of Darlington and south-west Durham.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman must know that, even in nationalised industries, more modern methods have resulted in fewer people being able to produce a bigger output. The right hon. Gentleman knows that when he and I first came into politics 700,000 people were employed in mining. Today, there are just under 200,000. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he had to go to his constituents in Ebbw Vale and explain why the number of jobs in the steel industry was reduced. It is ridiculous to try to turn the clock back. We must have maximum efficiency and production, the latest equipment and the latest productivity to keep some of the industries in this country.

Mr. Foot

Why, in that case, did the right hon. Lady promise more jobs in Darlington? What will she promise this time?

The Prime Minister

More jobs will come from small businesses and new industries developing. It is no use the Opposition yowling about it. It is a fact. Other countries that have gradually got more jobs have a higher proportion of small businesses and self-employed than we do. It happens that under this Government we now have a record number of people who are self-employed. That is good news for the future.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the miners on the decision that they have just taken against a national coal strike? Will she go further and, in welcoming their decision and associating herself with their good sense and responsibility, seek to appoint as the new chairman of the National Coal Board a person who is acceptable to all sections of the coal industry, to ensure that this industry, which I have had the pleasure to represent, can continue to play its vital part in the energy policy and future of this country?

The Prime Minister

I have already given my view that the result of the ballot is good news for the future of the coal industry. There is an extremely good future for the coal industry, as the Government have demonstrated by the amount that we have put into investment in coal. It is about £3 billion during the lifetime of this Government—twice as much as during the lifetime of the Labour Government. My concern for the coal industry, with an excellent future before it, is to secure the best management possible for the NCB.

Mr. Stoddart

Has the right hon. Lady considered this morning what The Guardian today described as a stinging rebuff to her by the European assembly in deciding to confirm that it will go ahead with an investigation of affairs in Northern Ireland? Does she realise the implication for the future of what this mischievous and insolent assembly is doing? For example, when Spain comes into the Common Market—[Hon. Members: “Speech.” ]—Just be quiet. When Spain comes into the [column 950]Common Market, will the assembly interfere in affairs between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar? Does she not realise that the warnings we have given from the Labour side of the House to the effect that this assembly would seek to extend its powers at the expense of this Parliament and, indeed, the British Government, were well justified?

The Prime Minister

We have already made our view clear, which is that the European assembly has no business discussing the internal political affairs of a member state. I believe that the decision to produce a report on Northern Ireland will be widely resented throughout the United Kingdom. May I make clear that all six Conservative members of the political committee voted solidly against that proposal. I believe that one Labour member voted for it. We are absolutely against it. I make that clear.

Q3. Mr. Race

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

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Race

Does the Prime Minister not realise that the creation of mass unemployment implies the creation of mass poverty? Does she not know that this year her Government have cut £610 million from benefits to retired people, £300 million from benefits to the sick and the disabled, £300 million from the benefits to the unemployed, £50 million from the benefits to widows and orphans and £150 million from benefits to families? When will the Prime Minister stop hiding behind the phrase “Don't blame me, I'm only the Prime Minister” ?

The Prime Minister

It is not a phrase that I have ever used. May I add to what the hon. Gentleman stated by saying that in the four pension upratings since this Government took office the pension has increased—[Interruption.] Pensions are benefits. The pension has increased by 68.5 per cent. During that period the retail prices index rose by 64 per cent. and the pensioners' prices index by less. We have put up pensions by more than the cost of living. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that, in addition to putting up each pension by that amount, there are now about 600,000 more pensioners than at the time when the Labour Government left office. Their pensions have also had to be funded by payments of national insurance contributions.

Sir Bernard Braine

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that President Reagan is made aware of the astonishment of most people in this country and, I think, in the House, at the proposal of the Americans to resume the shipment of arms to Argentina before that country has declared an end to hostilities with Great Britain, before there has been an accounting for the abduction, torture and killing of vast numbers of people, including British subjects and Community citizens, and before the restoration of democratic Government in Argentina?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We have already made our views known and hope that those shipments will not be resumed until Argentina has declared a permanent cessation of hostilities, which it has not yet done.

Q4. Mr. Alton

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

The Prime Minister

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

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Mr. Alton

Does the Prime Minister agree that when local authority services are privatised, employees should have the right to form co-operatives or companies so as to be able to tender to have the opportunity to run those services?

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The Prime Minister

If they were able to do so, I think that it would have to be wholly outside their own duties. If they were to form companies wholly outside their duties it would be a matter for the local authority to consider.