Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [42/395-400]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2246
Themes: Defence (arms control), Employment, Industry, General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Private health care, Local government, Local government finance, Science & technology
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Q1. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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 holding a reception for the NSPCC.

Mr. Mitchell

Is the Prime Minister aware that her decision to postpone telling the House whether there is to be a June election until after she has had a chance to analyse the local election results shows clearly—[Interruption.]—that, despite all her fine words and all her moral gestures, she is just the same as all the rest—a cynical person prepared to put party before the good of the country?

The Prime Minister

I think that by his stumble the hon. Gentleman has provided the answer to his hollow question.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Does my right hon. Friend approve of the decision of CND to send two observers to the World Peace Council in Prague, sponsored by the Soviet Union? Would not CND do better to campaign against the missiles already deployed in eastern Europe and Russia?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend—it would do very much better so to campaign. The way to get nuclear disarmament is to persuade the Soviet Union to negotiate in Geneva to get the number of weapons on both sides down.

Mr. Foot

When the right hon. Lady said earlier in the week that she would announce the date of the general election using the normal method, was she referring to the story attributed to the Home Secretary today—the leakage method of telling us—the headline of which read:

“June 9 is poll date—Whitelaw” ?

If that is the case, should not the right hon. Lady tell us herself?

Turning to more serious matters than the Home Secretary, will the Prime Minister look afresh at the statement that was apparently made by her Government to the effect that they will object to any proposition for including British nuclear forces in the matters to be discussed at the INF conference in Geneva? Does she not think that the Government should consider this afresh before she blocks a step that might cause serious wreckage of the disarmament conference?

The Prime Minister

I do not think the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question merits a reply. [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] With regard to the second part of his question, I should make it clear that the British and French nuclear deterrents cannot be included in the INF negotiations, nor should they be. They are our strategic last resort deterrent. They face many many strategic weapons from the Soviet Union, none of which the Soviet Union proposes to include in the INF negotiations.

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Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady cannot dismiss my first question in that way. Does she repudiate the statement that appeared in The Birmingham Post? Will she say that it is false? When will she correct the Home Secretary on the matter?

We are eager to debate the second matter next week in the House. Is the Prime Minister saying that there will be some other negotiations at which the British Government would be prepared to discuss the British nuclear deterrent as well? If it is possible for these matters to be discussed at the START talks, why should they not be discussed at the INF talks if that could help the talks to succeed?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of the question, I have nothing to add to what I said last week, and what I said then stands absolutely. The French and British nuclear deterrents are our last-resort deterrents. They are already the absolute minimum to deter. We cannot give up the absolute minimum without robbing this country of a very necessary part of its defence.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Is it not clear, however, that Mr. Andropov 's limited, but significant, step forward appears to have been much more coolly received in London than in Washington or NATO headquarters? Is the Prime Minister prepared to correct that impression?

The Prime Minister

The previous question referred only to one particular part of the proposals. The other part of the proposal was that we should count the number of warheads rather than the number of missiles. That is what NATO has always wanted, and that part of the proposal is to be welcomed.

Certain other parts of the proposal are highly complex and must be considered carefully before comment is made upon them.

Dr. Mawhinney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the offer this week of an attractive private health insurance scheme to British Rail workers is most welcome? Does she accept that many of my railway constituents will be joining thousands of other trades union workers in wishing to spend their money in the way that they want, despite the threats of the Opposition party?

The Prime Minister

I agree that it is absolutely right that people should spend their money in their own way and on things of their choice. Many trade unionists have already taken advantage of offers to belong to BUPA that have been negotiated through their employers. They enjoy good terms under such schemes, and it is right that they should continue.

Q2. Mr. Pitt

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Pitt

In view of the news from America this morning, will the Prime Minister now seek to encourage President Reagan to take the advice of the House of Representatives and support a nuclear freeze?

The Prime Minister

No. To support a nuclear freeze would freeze the superiority of the Soviet Union. I do not know whether that is the hon. Gentleman's policy, but it is not the policy of the Conservative party. Those who want genuine disarmament want reductions in nuclear weapons on both sides, and a freeze would hinder that objective.

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Q3. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Winterton

During my right hon. Friend's very busy programme for the rest of the day, will she pay attention to the levels of public expenditure that are still causing the Government problems, especially revenue expenditure? Will she consider giving an assurance to the House that a future Conservative Government will consider the abolition of the GLC and the other metropolitan county councils that are known for their financial squandermania? Would that not only help public expenditure but create a more accountable and efficient local government? It might, perhaps, be one step on the road to rate reform.

The Prime Minister

It is true that the GLC and ILEA have added enormously to public expenditure. They overspend their targets considerably and, therefore, add greatly to the burden on ratepayers. In view of their record, I agree that many people would find abolition attractive.

Q4. Mr. Strang

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Strang

Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Andropov's offer to count warheads and not simply missiles in Europe is a significant Soviet concession to the United States, and that she was right to welcome it this afternoon? As she said that the Government intend to continue to resist the long-standing Soviet proposal that British nuclear weapons be included in the INF talks, will she tell the House in what circumstances, if any, the British Government would be prepared to negotiate about our nuclear weapons?

The Prime Minister

It is wholly wrong to suggest that our last-resort strategic submarine-based nuclear weapons should be included in the INF talks, which are about mobile, land-based weapons. For the Soviet Union to suggest that is to leave totally out of account all her strategic weapons, including her submarine-based weapons and is meant to delude the British public. It must not succeed in doing so. If we were ever to have a world where there were no nuclear weapons, we should not need a last resort nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Scottish Conservatives are very much looking forward to welcoming her to Perth next week?

Mr. Foulkes

All 10 of them.

Mr. Henderson

During my right hon. Friend's visit to Scotland, in addition to emphasising the importance of Scotland in the policies of her Government, will she pay particular attention to the importance of the electronics industry—not least to the significance of the Government's proposals, based on the Alvey proposals, for a £350 million scheme to assist fifth generation computers?

The Prime Minister

Scottish people appear to have a great aptitude for the electronics industry. The companies that have gone to Scotland are doing very well. We made an announcement on the Alvey scheme because [column 398]we felt that there were certain aspects of technology that required money spent on a scale that ordinary companies could not achieve. Therefore, we have these collaborative ventures between the university, the Government and certain companies to secure the essential breakthrough. I hope that a number of companies in Scotland will apply for that scheme and participate in it.

Q5. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister whether she will publish her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hamilton

Will the Prime Minister take time today to prepare her election speech for the Tory party conference in Perth a week on Friday? Will she note that on an agenda with 225 motions, not one motion deals directly with unemployment? Indeed, 44 deal with defence. It is a case of bombs, not jobs. Is the Tory party in Scotland and Britain not concerned with unemployment?

The Prime Minister

It would be impossible to discuss any economic question without involving the need to create new jobs. I wholly reject the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Churchill

Further to my right hon. Friend's reply to the Leader of the Opposition, will she make it clear both to him and to Mr. Andropov that the 64 Polaris missiles—16 of which are, at any time, guaranteed to be on station—are there to offset not only the 600 intermediate range Soviet nuclear missiles aimed at our people and our allies in western Europe, but to counter the 2,400 intercontinental strategic nuclear weapons of the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Our weapons are an irreducible minimum to deter anyone who might wish to attack us with nuclear weapons. It is absolutely vital that we keep them. We have no shadow of doubt about that.

Mr. Dormand

Will the Prime Minister find time today to congratulate the miners on their record-breaking productivity during the past year? Does she agree that there is now no case for closing pits, especially as we shall need every tonne of coal that we can get to sustain the economic recovery that she assured me last week is, this time, genuine?

The Prime Minister

I am always pleased to congratulate anyone on increased productivity. I look forward to the day when we do not need to make a loss-making subsidy to coal. The British public not only pay for coal by way of its price, but also through the taxpayers' pockets. The total subsidy this year is expected to be about £540 million. The total external financing limit, of which that subsidy is a part, is £1,201 million. There is quite a long way to go. Mr. Siddall is making an excellent job of his work at the National Coal Board.

Mr. Nelson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that insistence on inclusion of the British nuclear deterrent in any negotiations about arms limitation will inevitably be tantamount to unilateral disarmament, in that we would thereby largely do away with our only form of nuclear shield—the ultimate guarantee of our security—whereas [column 399]the Soviet Union, under any proposals, would still have a considerable arsenal capable of being directed at and hitting this country?

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The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that to abandon our independent nuclear deterrent would be a form of one-sided disarmament. Deterrence is the most important and first part of defence.