Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [45/402-06]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2214
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Parliament, Higher & further education, Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (USA), Health policy, Law & order, Local government finance, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
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Q1. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 7 July.

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. Winnick

Although I realise that a debate on the matter will be held soon, will the Prime Minister agree now that restoring capital punishment for terrorism would not deter terrorists in Northern Ireland but would probably be welcomed by them? Would it not be important next week for the Government and the House to learn the true facts of the hunger strike and, bearing that in mind, is it not obvious that capital punishment is no answer to Irish terrorism?

The Prime Minister

As we are likely to debate the matter thoroughly, probably next week, that will be the appropriate time to put all the arguments from both sides of the House.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that, since the electorate renewed the Government's mandate, the Leader of the Opposition has handed in his notice, the next Leader of the Opposition has lost his voice, the leader of the Social Democratic party has quit and the leader of the Liberal party has gone on a sabbatical? Is not my right hon. Friend breaking some of the mouldier parts of Parliament?

The Prime Minister

I assure my hon. Friend that I am feeling very fit indeed.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Will the Prime Minister state today when the Government will restore the cut in invalidity benefit, which affects 620,000 long-term sick and disabled people? Is she aware that the Government's cuts have slashed the living standards of a married man on invalidity benefit with three children by £10.05 a week? Is that not a spectacular case of kicking people while they are down?

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The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for Social Services made an extensive statement on the second day of the debate on the Loyal Address, setting out the rates of benefits for the coming year, and I have nothing to add to that.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her answer to my right hon. friend and reply to the detailed question about the figures, because a cut has been imposed on the disabled? Will she also clear up her responsibilities in some of the discussions that may have taken place in the Cabinet today and give us an undertaking that, whatever cuts the Government may propose, there will be no reduction in the real amount required to sustain the National Health Service?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I repeat that I have nothing to add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for Social Services. On the second part, which relates to a statement that will be made later this afternoon, we announced our total public spending target for 1983–84 in the public expenditure White Paper published last February. We announced a total public expenditure plan of £119.6 billion, and that remains our target.

Mr. Foot

Does the right hon. Lady accept that to sustain the proper growth of the National Health Service there has to be a growth in spending of 1.2 per cent. in real terms? Will she give the House an absolute guarantee that that figure will be sustained?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman must await further details. I expect expenditure on the National Health Service as a whole to be no less than that in the public expenditure White Paper.

Mrs. Knight

Will my right hon. Friend take a few moments today to reflect that there are many in this House, and millions outside, who are profoundly thankful that, even after four years of the rigours of leading this country and taking the key part in a strenuous general election, she does not now wish to put her feet up for two months? Is she aware that it is hoped that she may, perhaps, take a long weekend?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I like the job and intend to go on doing it as long as I possibly can.

Mr. Beith

Were there to be a vote in favour of the return of capital punishment for any category of murder next week, do the Government intend to introduce a Bill at an early stage which Cabinet Ministers, members of the Government, and Conservative Members will be expected to support in a whipped vote?

The Prime Minister

There has always been a free vote on that matter. If a Bill were to be introduced consequent upon a vote in favour of restoring capital punishment, I would expect it to be introduced by a private Member. [Hon. Members: “Oh!” ] Yes, indeed. I would expect, and I undertake, that the Government would give all possible drafting assistance to that private Member, because the Government would consider that to be in accordance with the wishes of the House. I would expect the Government to provide time for such a Bill to be introduced and debated during the current Session.

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Southend on Sea

Q2. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Prime Minister if she will pay an official visit to Southend on Sea.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Taylor

Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that this splendid borough, which has actually cut its domestic rate over the past three years and co-operated with the Government in every possible way, needs her help in resolving an appalling injustice, whereby it receives an allocation from the North Thames region of £7 million less per year than is set out in the Government's guidelines? Southend has tried in every possible way to resolve this problem. We now seek my right hon. Friend's help in getting a fairer deal for the borough.

The Prime Minister

I know full well that Southend's record in reducing rates is excellent, and I congratulate the authority on its excellent performance. If my hon. Friend has a particular matter in mind, I suggest that he should take it up with my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for the Social Services. If my hon. Friend wishes to see me about it, I shall, of course, see him.


Q3. Mr. Flannery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Flannery

May we turn from the Scottish atmosphere of Southend-on-Sea, so that I may ask the Prime Minister—[Hon. Members: “Reading” ]—to return, possibly for the first time, to the subject of mass unemployment throughout our country? Is it not a fact that British Airways has recently had to state that 3,500 people—[Hon. Members: “British Aerospace” .]——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is asking a question.

Mr. Flannery

Thank you for defending me, Mr. Speaker. I gather that it is British Aerospace. None the less, is it not a fact that mass unemployment is now completely out of hand and that the Government have no answer to it? Is the right hon. Lady aware that, according to The Guardian this morning, 60,000 teachers are likely to be sacked, that 75,000 miners are in grave trouble, and that the Government have no answer of any kind? Will the Prime Minister tell us what her answer is to mass unemployment, because it is not very obvious?

The Prime Minister

The reason given by British Aerospace for having to lay off people and ask others to accept redundancy is the continued depressed state of the civil aircraft market worldwide, in which, among world manufacturers, over the past three or four years, even Boeing has experienced a decline of about 80 per cent. in orders for 747 Jumbo jets. To reduce unemployment it is necessary to have efficient industry, efficient services, and well-designed products, and then to go out and market them. There is no other way.

Mr. Adley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents, who are affected by the closures at British Aerospace, recognise that what she has just said is the factual reason for this move? [column 405]

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that a convicted IRA terrorist, at present in the United States, appears to be about to use the courts in that country to avoid extradition to this country? Does she recall that in the last Parliament we were told that discussions were taking place between Her Majesty's Government and the American Government to try to avoid this abuse of justice? Has my right hon. Friend anything further to report to us on those talks?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the case, but I am afraid that I have nothing further to report to my hon. Friend. The United States Government have not only totally and utterly condemned the giving of any moneys through Noraid to the IRA, but have done everything they can to discourage and condemn violence as a means of pursuing political ends.

Q4. Mr. Neil Thorne

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Thorne

Does my right hon. Friend share the widespread concern over the action of the United States Government in imposing steel import restrictions? Does she not feel that imposing restraint on trade is a retrograde step?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. I think that it is a deplorable action on the part of the United States, especially coming so soon after Williamsburg and the undertaking to try to reduce rather than to increase protectionism. There will be a meeting of the European Community to decide what action to take under GATT. The Community has the right to seek compensation for the loss of trade opportunities resulting from measures of that kind. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary will be taking the matter up with other Foreign Ministers in the Community tomorrow, and my right hon. Friend Cecil Parkinsonthe Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be raising the matter with the American trade representative, Mr. Brock.

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Mr. Ashley

I think that the Prime Minister is right to suggest that we should suspend judgment on capital punishment until the debate on Wednesday, but as her opinion is very important to the few waverers behind her, in making up her own mind will she remember the experience of my constituent, John Preece, who served eight years in goal for murder and was then released because it was found that he had been convicted on crooked forensic evidence given by a forensic scientist whose evidence was defective? Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Preece would have been hanged had we had capital punishment at the time?

The Prime Minister

We shall each make up our own mind on how to vote. I make it clear that capital punishment would be but one punishment that would be available. Even if it were approved by the House it would not be, as it was previously, the only punishment available. There is a very great difference. After the debate we shall know whether the matter is to be taken further.

Mr. Alton

Has the Prime Minister had time to consider the report of the University Grants Committee, published yesterday, which states that more than 11,000 academic staff during the past three years have either lost or are about to lose their jobs? What is the future for university financing? What message of hope can the right hon. Lady give to A-level students this year who will be turned away from universities because places will not be available for them?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend Sir Keith Josephthe Secretary of State for Education and Science was asked a similar question. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman heard his reply. There is a larger proportion of the age group to which the hon. Gentleman referred in higher education now than when the Government took office in 1979. The hon. Gentleman must not ignore the great claims and expertise of the polytechnics to train people, especially in vocational training, which is often needed.