Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [40/460-64]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2146
Themes: Agriculture, Defence (arms control), Employment, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Taxation, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Race, immigration, nationality, Social security & welfare, Strikes & other union action
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Low Pay

Q1. Mr Beith

asked the Prime Minister if she will give further consideration to the problem of low pay.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

My right hon. and learned Friend's Budget will benefit the low paid by taking 1¼ million people out of tax altogether. Since we took office we have raised the tax thresholds by over 5 per cent. in real terms. By last November the real level of family income supplement was 14 per cent. higher, for a family with two children, than it was when we took office. Next November child benefit will be increased to £6.50 a week, and should then reach its highest-ever level in real terms.

Mr. Beith

Has the Prime Minister studied the recent report from the Low Pay Unit on farm wages—a sector with many families on family income supplement? Does the right hon. Lady realise from this that high output, high efficiency and high productivity do not automatically bring about adequate wages in an industry, as she so often claims will happen over industry generally? Will the Prime Minister therefore charge her Ministers to make an urgent investigation into how something can be done about wages in agriculture? Will she revise her views about how the low-pay problem will be tackled over the economy generally?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman will know, although farm incomes themselves rose substantially last year—[Hon. Members: “Farmers.” ] I refer to the income of farmers. [Interruption.] Indeed, I am just about to make the point that although farm workers' incomes have gone up very considerably, the incomes of farmers have fallen very substantially, until this last year. That factor must be taken into account.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Will my right hon. Friend today comment on the appalling dispute about such trivia in the motor industry——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has overlooked the fact that this is not an open question.

Mr. Clinton Davis

When dealing with low pay and the whole question of her monetarist approach, has the right hon. Lady taken time to consider the devastating indictment of her policies by her right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) in his latest book? Has she considered his conclusion that Dr. Panglossis now in charge of our affairs, although the results make it appear that Dr. Strangelove is in charge?

The Prime Minister

What a studied and rather irrelevant question. The monetarist approach has got inflation down. As many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen said in the lifetime of the last Government, inflation is the worst enemy of jobs. Monetarism gets inflation down. Nothing better protects small savings than getting inflation down. The last Government plundered the savings of many people by their record level of inflation.

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Q2. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Prime Minister if she has any plans to visit Macclesfield.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Winterton

Distressed though I am that the Prime Minister will not be able to visit my constituency, may I ask her whether she is aware that, had she had time to do so, she would have realised that the vast majority of my constituents, particularly the war widows whose husbands served this country so well and guaranteed the freedom and democracy that we cherish today, are as appalled as many Members of this House at the antics of those blinkered and dangerous, even if sincere, women who are today invading the peaceful villages of Berkshire? Would they not do better to visit Berlin and link arms along the wall that seeks to keep people in the Soviet Union rather than the allies out of eastern Europe?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, he will know that the Government's record on war widows' pensions is excellent. They have been increased four times and we have taken war widows' pensions out of taxation altogether. Many war widows can also draw a separate pension because of their own contributions and many of them, since the last war, have done so, because they went back to work at the time.

With regard to what my hon. Friend said about those who are demonstrating on Greenham Common this Maundy Thursday, I agree with him and my right hon. colleagues who have said that it would make far more sense for those women to link hands around the Berlin wall. If, by doing so, they managed to persuade the Soviets to take it down, to remove the guns, the dogs and the mines that are there to kill those who attempt to escape to freedom, they would be achieving something. If they do not succeed in persuading the Soviets to take it down, they will prove that the freedom of the Greenham Common women and the freedom of all people in this country still needs to be defended.


Q3. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 31 March.

The Prime Minister

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. Janner

When the Prime Minister met her ministerial colleagues today, did she have time to discuss with the Secretary of State for Employment his belated approval of the Commission for Racial Equality's code on ethnic monitoring, and in particular his decision that the implementation of the code will be delayed by one year? Does she not regard that as a disgraceful delay in view of the wicked levels of unemployment among the black and Asian communities in this country?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman is no. The code has now been published. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, it still gives rise to some controversy because there are [column 462]quite a number of things that are onerous for small business. He will also be aware that, as the law stands, the House has no right to amend that code, which does give rise to some difficulty. My right hon. Friend Norman Tebbitthe Secretary of State for Employment proposes to introduce legislation so that in future we can not only consider a code but amend it.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity to study President Reagan 's latest arms control statement? Does she consider that this would be compatible with an agreement, on balance, along the lines discussed by Mr. Nitze and his Soviet opposite number in their much publicised walk a few months ago?

The Prime Minister

We have welcomed President Reagan's proposal. It is that, as an interim agreement, there should be equal numbers of intermediate range missiles and that that intermediate number should be negotiated at the Geneva table, between Mr. Nitze and his opposite number. That is the right way to go about it and this is a welcome statement.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that over the past two years the British motor industry has built up a splendid name for good products and good productivity? Does she further agree that it is particularly depressinging that, because of a minor dispute, its credibility is now to be thrown into question? Will she appeal to both sides at BL Cowley and Ford Halewood not to destroy what has been so hard to build up and remind them that their jobs and those of other workers are placed in great jeopardy at times such as this?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. All taxpayers in this country have poured money into British Layland to enable it to produce good products such as the Metro and the Maestro. Just at the moment when they are selling well, some of the workers of British Leyand go on strike. That is a tragedy for them, their products, their company and for their country. I hope that they will go back to work and keep their jobs.

Mr. Foot

I wish to ask the Prime Minister two questions on her apparently quite unqualified acceptance of President Reagan's interpretation of the zero option proposal. First, why does she think that it is right to exclude sea-based missiles but to include land-based or air-based missiles in the negotiations? Does she not agree that to include both would be a better way of proceeding with the negotiations? Secondly, will she take into account that one of the reasons why so many British people, including the women at Greenham Common, who are opposing it for that reason among others, are so bitterly opposed to the deployment of cruise missiles is that such deployment would make well-nigh impossible any future arms control agreement? What does the right hon. Lady have to say on that subject?

The Prime Minister

This round is about land-based intermediate range nuclear missiles. There are arrangements for different classes of missiles to be dealt with separately. These are land-based—the SS20, cruise and Pershing. They are all land-based. It is right that they should be dealt with separately——

Mr. Cryer


The Prime Minister

Because there are other arrangements at Geneva for dealing with sea-based [column 463]missiles. I think it best that this is negotiated at Geneva. It is right that we try to deal with land-based intermediate range missiles. Zero is absolutely the best possible answer. Let us never forget that. The reason why it cannot be obtained is the Soviet Union. In the absence of being able to remove SS20s altogether, it is right that we should seek to deploy a smaller number. Provided the Soviet Union reduces the number of SS20s, fewer cruise and Pershings would need to be deployed. That is a reasonable arrangement. I hope that the negotiations at Geneva will succeed.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady answer my second question? Does she agree that the deployment of cruise missiles—[Interruption.] It is all very well for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative Benches to interrupt, but that was the NATO view in June 1979. NATO took the view then that the deployment of cruise missiles would make future arms control arrangements impossible. With regard to my first question, is the right hon. Lady saying that the possibility of including sea-based and other missiles is to be excluded from the Geneva negotiations? That is tantamount to saying that it is pretty well impossible to reach an agreement.

The Prime Minister

First, the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government of whom he was a member agreed to the modernisation of intermediate nuclear weapons. At that time weapons such as cruise and Pershing were discussed. They were in favour of modernisation. The decision in NATO was taken in December 1979 and was taken on the basis that there must [column 464]be balance and verification. The zero option was a special case of that balance. I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman complain about the actual deployment of SS20s. The SS20s are actually deployed. The Soviet tactic is to try to keep that deployment while we do not modernise our nuclear weapons. The only way to get the Soviets to the negotiating table is to say that if they will not take them down we shall deploy ours, but only as many as we need to—which depends on how many of theirs they take down.

Mr. Foot

We shall debate these matters in the House soon and the right hon. Lady's answers make it all the more necessary that we should. First, it is absolutely untrue that the Opposition did not protest about the SS20s. We did protest and we did it in Moscow as well. We also understood, as anyone who tries to understand these matters must, that sea-based theatre weapons should be included in the discussions. It is most noticeable that the right hon. Lady did not even attempt to answer my question about how cruise missiles would make future arms control impossible. That was NATO's view in June 1979 and I dare say that it is still true.

The Prime Minister

There are separate negotiations for strategic missiles. As the right hon. Gentleman should know, the President of the United States made proposals for substantial reductions in strategic missiles. The Russians have not come very far in agreeing to that at Geneva, either. Those proposals remain on the table. If the right hon. Gentleman is against deployment of the SS20s, why does he not protest and ask for them to be taken down?