Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [45/758-62]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2642
Themes: Executive, Union of UK nations, Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Public spending & borrowing, Foreign policy (USA), Health policy, Housing, Local government, Local government finance, Sport, Social security & welfare
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Q1. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 12 July.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with President Burnham of Guyana. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Prime Minister aware that, as a result of cuts in National Health Service spending, the South London hospital for women, which is the only hospital in this country that provides a full range of acute services by women for women, is under threat of closure? Does not the right hon. Lady owe it to the women of this country to keep that hospital open? Will she arrange for central funding to enable it to survive?

The Prime Minister

As I told the House when I last answered questions, I expect that expenditure on the National Health Service as a whole will be no lower than that announced in the public expenditure White Paper. Indeed, it will be higher in real terms in 1983–84 than in 1982–83. With regard to any particular hospital, including the South London—the question of its closure was raised long before the statement by my right hon. Friend Nigel Lawsonthe Chancellor of the Exchequer last week—the usual procedures are being followed and ultimately this matter will come to Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State.

Mr. Higgins

In view of the Government's consistent support for the Gleneagles agreement, and their clear obligation under that agreement to discourage sporting links with South Africa, will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to make it clear that she is opposed to an MCC tour of South Africa?

The Prime Minister

Yes. Such a tour would be contrary to Gleneagles. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport has already written to the MCC to let it know the Government's views.

Mr. Wardell

Does the Prime Minister accept that there is unfair discrimination against the long-term unemployed, who form the only group in our society eligible for supplementary benefit yet not eligible for the long-term rate? If the right hon. Lady agrees that that is unfair, will she reconsider the matter and end that discrimination?

The Prime Minister

No. The long term rate is usually available only to those who are going into permanent retirement. The turnround in unemployment over the year is considerable—about 350,000 leave the register each month. We do not think that the hon. Gentleman's suggestion would be appropriate.

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Mr. Hordern

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea if the reasons why local authorities apparently need to borrow so much money were made known earlier so that markets could know where they stand? When will the Government require local authorities to sell some part of the 100,000 acres of surplus development land that they own so that more houses can be built and the construction industry put to work?

The Prime Minister

I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, especially about the disposal of land that has been in the hands of local authorities for a long time. They also have access to capital by virtue of selling council houses. My hon. Friend is right. We do not have the means of controlling local authority borrowing. The extent to which they are borrowing is one of the causes of over expenditure at the moment.

Nuclear Weapons

Q2. Mr. Stuart Holland

asked the Prime Minister whether she will seek to negotiate with President Reagan an agreement on joint control of United States nuclear weapons on British soil.

The Prime Minister

I have already reviewed with President Reagan the existing understandings between the United Kingdom and the United States governing the use by the United States of nuclear weapons and bases in this country. I described the effect of these understandings in answer to a question on 12 May and again on 30 June.

Mr. Holland

Is the Prime Minister aware of the great concern inside and outside the House about the lack of transparent agreement on these matters? If, in fact, there can be no guarantee of dual control of these weapons, does she agree that the so-called nuclear defence strategy of the Government will be seen to be neither independent of, nor co-dependent with, the United States, but utterly dependent on President Reagan?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman has indeed read the reply that I gave again on 30 June, he will know that joint decision means exactly what it says. It would require the decision of both President Reagan—or the then President of the United States—and the current Prime Minister before any such weapon could be fired. President Reagan has already made that perfectly clear and has said in the United States that it is tantamount to a veto.

Mr. Faulds

Gullible lady.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while most people are quite satisfied with the arrangements for the control of nuclear weapons here, what does concern them, and concerned them at the last general election, is the utter lack of concern shown by Opposition Members to the huge build-up of Soviet arms facing this country and threatening our way of life?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is NATO that has made extensive proposals in Geneva and, for many years, in Vienna, for disarmament.

Dr. Owen

Do logistic difficulties mean that it might not be possible to deploy Pershing 2 in Germany and cruise missiles in Italy at the end of this year, should it be necessary? Does this not underline the importance of having RAF personnel involved in the dual key mechanism if Britain alone of the NATO allies has to deploy cruise missiles at the end of the year?

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The Prime Minister

I am not aware of any such logistic difficulties, particularly with regard to Germany. It is Germany's intention to deploy at the end of the year in accordance with our agreements.

Mr. Dykes

Was not a striking feature of the election campaign the complete public satisfaction and calm on the issue of joint decision-making and supervision? It was not an election issue, despite Left-wing attempts to build it up as such. Does my right hon. Friend agree that public acceptance of an obviously sensitive arrangement that has lasted for many years will continue in the future?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. The last election showed two things very clearly; first, that the British people believe that Britain's defences should remain strong and part of NATO and, secondly, that disarmament should be on a multilateral, balanced and verifiable basis.

Administration (Scotland)

Q3. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Prime Minister if she will consider reviewing the arrangements for the administration of matters affecting Government Departments in Scotland.

The Prime Minister

I am satisfied with the present arrangements and have no plans to review them.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the Prime Minister recall that in her Scottish manifesto she promised to consider further changes to improve the government of Scotland? When does she plan to bring forward those changes, or is this another promise that will be reneged on, like her promise to protect the Health Service?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman asked about

“arrangements for the administration of matters affecting Government Departments in Scotland.”

I have no complaint about those, but if the hon. Gentleman has proposals to put forward we shall consider them.

Mr. Foulkes

The right hon. Lady said that she would put them forward.

Mr. Canavan

As the Prime Minister was decisively rejected at the general election by more than 70 per cent. of Scottish voters, will she admit that she received no mandate from the people of Scotland, the majority of whom voted for candidates who stood on manifestos containing commitments to set up a Scottish assembly? If the Prime Minister pays any more than lip-service to democracy, will she now take steps to deliver to the people of Scotland what they voted for?

The Prime Minister

On the basis of the hon. Gentleman's criteria, four out of the last five Labour Governments had no mandate to govern England.

Mr. Henderson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, outside the immediate vicinity of Glasgow, Conservative candidates received more votes than Labour candidates at the recent election? Is she further aware that Scotland appreciates the fact that she has provided not only a most admirable team of Scottish Office Ministers and Law Officers but, just as important, has ensured the continuation of Scottish influence in the United Kingdom Government?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have an excellent group of Ministers in the Scottish Office, [column 761]an excellent group of Scottish Members elsewhere in the present Government and a marvellous group of Scottish Members in the House.

Mr. Wilson

Does not the Prime Minister realise that the arrangements that she finds acceptable for the administration of Scottish affairs by a Government who have no mandate from Scotland is not acceptable to the Scottish people? Why is she willing to declare that the rights of the Falkland Islanders are paramount but that the rights of Scots who have voted for self-government are not?

The Prime Minister

With all due respect, the nationalist party did not do very well in Scotland at the general election.


4. Mr. Moate

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 12 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Moate

Has my right hon. Friend seen the report that the losses of the National Coal Board are in excess of its reserves, which means that, by most normal standards, that industry is bankrupt? Is it not unacceptable that this great national asset should be a continuing liability to the taxpayer? Is it not necessary that the position should be remedied and that the Coal Board should be brought back to viability as a matter of urgency?

The Prime Minister

Yes. As my right hon. Friend Peter Walkerthe Secretary of State for Energy announced, the National Coal Board is certainly insolvent although not, as I understand it, technically bankrupt. It is technically insolvent. Government support for the industry is huge. The total external finance for this year is set at £1,201 million and the grants for this year alone amount to £640 million. My right hon. Friend made an announcement that covered this year. It is a protected industry. It is an example of what happens to a protected industry and it is absolutely vital that it should return to viability. That would be very good news for the rest of British industry. When the price of coal is down because it is equated to productive pits, the price of electricity could come down and therefore we would start to save jobs and the rest of British industry would pay lower energy costs.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Lady talks of viability in the coal industry. Will she confirm that many Governments in western Europe subsidise their coal industries a good deal more than we do in this country and that many of them regard it as a good investment? Will she clear up the confusion caused by her statement last week to the effect that the cuts announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were somehow not cuts? Will she confirm that £140 million was taken off the hospital and community health budget; that £30 million was taken off the education budget; that £57 million was taken from nationalised industries' finance; that £40 million was taken from the employment services; £20 million from foreign aid; £16 million from transport and £230 million from defence? Are those cuts or are they not?

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The Prime Minister

Where Government Departments, businesses or even ordinary households are overspending on their budgets, the budget has to be brought back within its total. The total budget published in February 1983 for this year is £119.6 billion. That is our target. We have reduced overspending to come down to that target.

Mr. Foot

If those are not real cuts—I gather that that is what the right hon. Lady is trying to tell us—will she tell the Secretary of State for Social Services and the House how the cuts in the National Health Service can be made without cutting people's jobs? Is it not the case that the proposed round of cuts—or whatever she calls them—may involve the loss of about 20,000 jobs? How will she stop that?

The Prime Minister

I expect expenditure on the National Health Service as a whole to be no lower than that outlined in the public expenditure White Paper. It will be higher in real terms in 1983–84 than it was in 1982–83. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman judges the success of a service by the amount spent on it. If that is so, this Government and the last Government have done a great deal better than Labour Governments.

At the last count more than 1,003,500 people were employed in the National Health Service. They include 484,000 nurses and midwives—a number that has substantially increased under this Government—and doctors and dentists. I must also report to the right hon. Gentleman and the House that, much to my regret, the numbers employed in administrative and clerical sections increased during the lifetime of the last Government. On the ancillary side there are 209,000 people employed. There are, therefore, considerable areas for improved efficiency in manpower.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady now say whether any jobs in the NHS will be lost as a result of the announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago; and was that fact known before the general election?

The Prime Minister

As I have indicated, there is already an increased number, even in the administrative and clerical grades—[Hon. Members: “Answer.” ]—which figures we were pledged to reduce under the manifesto before last. We attempted to reduce those numbers by an Act of Parliament, with the aim of taking out a whole administrative layer from the Health Service, and my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for Social Services——

Mr. Skinner

Come off it.

The Prime Minister

Opposition Members may have short memories, but they will recall that my right hon. Friend announced in February, about four months before the election, that he had appointed Mr. Roy Griffiths to look into management in the NHS and had taken powers to control manpower targets. All that was done before the last election.