Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1983 Apr 21 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [41/412-16]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2367
Themes: Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Economy (general discussions), Employment, General Elections, Local elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Local government finance, Sport
[column 412]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 21 April.

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 presiding at a dinner for Chancellor Kohl.

Mr. Cox

Is the Prime Minister aware that the House hopes that she has made a complete recovery from the hysterical outburst that we saw in the House on Tuesday? If she has, is she aware that no amount of smear or abuse against the leaders of the CND will deter the millions of people who see her policies as turning Britain into Reagan 's European nuclear fortress? Will she take up the challenge to debate publicly with the CND why she will allow the siting of cruise missiles in Britain, yet refuse to seek any control for Britain over any possible use to which those weapons of mass destruction might be put?

The Prime Minister

If one wishes to retain freedom and justice in this country, including that for the CND, we must have the will, the means and the courage to defend ourselves. Conservatives have. The place to negotiate on nuclear weapons is at the negotiating table in Geneva.

Mr. Crouch

Has my right hon. Friend noticed this week that a constituent of mine—Mike Gratton—won the London marathon? In doing so he demonstrated that there is nothing wrong in cutting and running, provided that one wins. May I venture to suggest to my right hon. Friend that should she consider having a go in the near future, she would walk it?

The Prime Minister

I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituent on winning the marathon, which raised a tremendous amount for charity and was a successful occasion.

We hope to cut the number of seats held by the Labour party and to continue to run the country.

Mr. David Steel

As the electionitis that the Prime Minister has started can only be damaging to Britain, why does she not announce the date of the election?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I have ever done anything except answer questions that have been put [column 413]to me, and I shall therefore answer this one now. Such questions were first put to me towards the end of last year. May I make it perfectly clear that when I decide to have an election it will be announced in the usual way? Until then, in spite of all provocation, I shall not cut out any options. I have nothing further to add.

Q2. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 21 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Price

I congratulate the Prime Minister on being so frightened—or should I say frit?—of the bishops, doctors and journalists that she has decided to make an irresolute U-turn on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. What are the right hon. Lady's intentions on that Bill now that she has avoided bringing it back to the House for its Report stage for three consecutive weeks? Will she drop the whole thing now that there is no chance that the Bill will get through Parliament? Is giving way to the bishops and the doctors just a cosmetic act because she no longer intends to take the Bill through Parliament?

The Prime Minister

May I receive the hon. Gentleman's congratulations in the spirit in which they were offered? We shall continue with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill in the normal way. It is an important Bill and I hope that it will receive Royal Assent in the usual way by completing its passage through both Houses. I wish to make it perfectly clear that we shall carry on with the Bill.

Mr. Nelson

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the recent reduction in interest rates? Does she agree that interest rates, in both real and comparative terms, are still too high if industrial investment and the competitiveness of British industry are to flourish? Will she therefore confirm that further reductions in interest rates remain a prime objective of the Government's economic policy?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, I am a believer in having interest rates as low as possible. I believe that the Government have done everything to try to bring down interest rates to ensure that the recovery gets well under way. What other nations do has an effect on interest rates, but I hope that they, too, will run their policies in such a way as to keep their deficits, as a percentage of GDP, as low as ours.

Mr. Foot

May I please congratulate the right hon. Lady on the brilliant piece of Government planning whereby the next unemployment figures are to be published on the Friday after the local elections? That is a rather curious choice of date, because normally they are published on a Thursday. Does the right hon. Lady agree that the colossal rise in unemployment and the consequent doubling of those forced to apply for supplementary benefit puts an enormous additional strain on the local authorities, and in particular on their social services and housing policies? How will she help that situation, which she has helped to create, by restricting the resources going to those authorities?

The Prime Minister

The dates on which the unemployment figures are due to be published are made [column 414]known weeks in advance. The date has nothing to do with the reason that the right hon. Gentleman gave—nothing whatsoever.

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's second point is that one must set priorities for resources and to have regard to the total, particularly if one is to control the Budget deficit and to keep interest rates down.

Mr. Foot

On the first point—just a minor matter, of course—did the right hon. Lady and the Government not know the date of the local elections when they selected the time to make the announcement? If the right hon. Lady examines the matter, I think she will find that that is the case. In view of the appalling burdens that have been placed on the local authorities, how much of the increase in rates since her Government came to office could have been avoided if they had not reduced Government grants?

The Prime Minister

The most important thing is the total expenditure of local authorities. That is the most important matter if one is considering that part of the burden of taxation that is accounted for by the rate support grant and rates. It is always the burden of taxation on our people about which the right hon. Gentleman never hesitates to complain. But the most important thing is to keep the expenditure down.

Mr. Foot

What is the extra burden that the right hon. Lady's Government have placed on local authorities?

The Prime Minister

Local authorities determine their level of public expenditure, not, unfortunately, the Government. Under the present law there is no way in which the Government can determine the total expenditure of local authorities. Indeed, one reason why the public sector borrowing requirement is way above what one expected is the increasing amount of borrowing by local authorities.

Sir Peter Emery

During the course of the day, will my right hon. Friend look at Forbes Magazine—the leading American business magazine—which states that the sick man of the industrial world, Britain, is likely to produce a minor miracle in the coming year? Will she, perhaps, refer that article to Opposition Members, because it is a very long and detailed analysis which shows that Britain's recovery is really under way?

The Prime Minister

I saw reports of that magazine, which I know goes to top business men, particularly in America. I note that, having looked at the economy of Britain, the magazine is very optimistic about Britain's future. I am cautiously optimistic. Such news, of course, is not good news for Her Majesty's Opposition.

Q3. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 21 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Skinner

Is it not time that the Prime Minister recognised that the BL workers have a real grievance in defending their six minutes' washing up and bathing time? If the Prime Minister supports the idea of the management of BL and of many other boards having two to three hour expense account lunches, if Members of the House of Lords can walk through and pick up £48 a day tax free for two minutes' nodding through the corridor, and if [column 415]Members of Parliament do not have to clock on at all, why is it not right that British Leyland workers should fight to defend that six minutes' washing up and bathing time?

The Prime Minister

The management of British Leyland is a matter for British Leyland. The company has two excellent cars—the Metro and the Maestro. Both have been financed totally by the taxpayer. Taxpayers, therefore, have put a great deal of faith in those who work for British Leyland. I hope that those workers will not return that faith by striking themselves and many other people out of jobs.

Falkland Islands

Q4. Mr. Latham

asked the Prime Minister what recent progress has been made over rehabilitation and reconstruction in the Falkland Islands and in improving the arrangements for unloading ships delivering equipment and supplies there.

The Prime Minister

There has been encouraging progress. For example, the islands' civil air service is now fully operational, the schools are functioning, new specialist staff are in post, and work is well in hand on road repair and new housing.

I have already written to my hon. Friend about port facilities. The position is improving. The Government freight agent co-ordinates dispatch of the vessels, and a member of his staff is assisting the Queen's harbour master at Port Stanley. Increased lighterage facilities have recently been made available there.

Mr. Latham

I thank my right hon. Friend for her continuing close attention to these important matters. Will she confirm that urgent action is being taken to ensure that our armed forces are warmly and decently housed in the coming winter?

The Prime Minister

The Chief of Defence Staff has just returned from a visit to the Falklands and has reported that things are progressing excellently. I understand that Portakabin-type camps around the islands are now all but complete, and three floating hotels have been obtained to provide both accommodation and recreational facilities. One has been in use since January, another will arrive by the end of this month, and the third will arrive shortly afterwards. I therefore hope that, very shortly, all service men will be warmly housed, except where operational circumstances dictate otherwise. The news is good and the Chief of Defence Staff is very pleased and very complimentary about the excellent work of the armed forces.

Dr. Owen

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that there will be no backtracking on the issue of principle [column 416]that the relatives of Argentines who lost their lives in the Falklands will be able to visit the dead and pay their respects? Will she confirm that that is the British Government's position and that, provided satisfactory arrangements are made, she will allow those visits to be made and not put any untoward obstacle in their way?

The Prime Minister

We stand by our statement that there is nothing against—indeed, we would be prepared to facilitate—a totally humanitarian visit to the graves of the Argentines on the Falkland Islands. We said that that visit should be organised and supervised by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a statement saying that it cannot arrange the visit because it cannot secure compliance with the essential conditions for ensuring that the expedition will be of an humanitarian nature only, and that if it were to go ahead the neutrality of the International Committee of the Red Cross would be compromised. However, the principle remains the same.

Engagements

Q5. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 21 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Meacher

Is it not the case that the Prime Minister's record on inflation—down from 22 to 4 per cent. and then rising to 6 to 7 per cent.—is almost identical with that of the Labour Government—down from 26 to 7 per cent. then rising to 9 to 10 per cent.? Is not the real difference between the right hon. Lady and the Labour Government the fact that for exactly the same record on inflation she has brought about a three times greater rise in unemployment plus an 8 per cent. fall in living standards since 1979, compared with a 13 per cent. rise in living standards under Labour? Is that not the true measure of her failure?

The Prime Minister

No. The hon. Gentleman cannot in any way challenge our record on inflation. The Labour Government did not get anywhere near a 5.3 per cent. rate of inflation, which is the present figure. New figures will come out tomorrow. The figure last month was 4.9, and at the moment it is 5.3. The hon. Gentleman cannot mention any figure in the last 12 years that came near to that. What is more, under his Government inflation went up to 26.9 per cent., far above our worst, which was 21.9 per cent. Thus, his worst was far worse than ours and his best was nowhere near as good as ours.