Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [47/735-40]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2165
Themes: Executive, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands), Economic policy - theory and process, Employment, Industry, Energy, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (USA), Health policy, Social security & welfare
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Q1. Mr. Alton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 November.

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The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

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. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Mr. Alton

Does the Prime Minister regard the publication yesterday of a confidential memo to her from the Secretary of State for Defence as information that should have remained secret—in which case why was it published—or does she believe that that information should have been available to all hon. Members? Does not the publication of the memo demonstrate that the negotiations at Geneva were long since abandoned by the Government and have been simply a soul-cleansing charade?

The Prime Minister

It is a great pity that a Secretary of State cannot write a memo to a Prime Minister in the absolute certainty that it will remain confidential. Whichever party is in Government, it is vital that confidentiality should remain absolute.

We are earnestly negotiating at Geneva. No one would be better pleased than the Government if the result of the negotiations was a zero option by the end of the year. That would be the way to ensure that neither cruise nor Pershing would be deployed.

Mr. Forman

As disturbing allegations will be made tonight in a Yorkshire Television programme about Windscale, and the possible environmental and public health effects of the plant upon the surrounding area, will my right hon. Friend ensure that the investigation to be conducted by the National Radiological Protection Board and a unit at Oxford university is fully and independently conducted and that the report is published in full when it becomes available next year so that Parliament and the public can form a view about it?

The Prime Minister

I have been informed about the claims to be made on the programme. The levels of radioactivity around Windscale are comprehensively monitored and public exposure is kept within the limits recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, as endorsed by the National Radiological Protection Board. If claims are made that particular hazards have been underestimated, they will be properly and urgently examined by the Departments responsible.

Mr. Winnick

Has the right hon. Lady seen the figures released by the DHSS, which show that some 15 million people are living on the poverty line—a substantial increase since she took office? Is she proud of the fact that while the very rich have had substantial tax cuts, many other people have been forced into long-term unemployment, poverty and deprivation because of her policies?

The Prime Minister

I have no great belief in those figures. A great deal depends upon what is called the breadline, which was the phrase used in the report. As the hon. Gentleman knows, between 6 million and 7 million people are dependent on supplementary benefit. The benefit is available to them, and it is right that that provision is properly made.

Q2. Mr. Penhaligon

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 1 November.

The Prime Minister

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

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Mr. Penhaligon

Is the Prime Minister aware that earlier this afternoon the Secretary of State for Defence suggested that our troops might be prepared to shoot demonstrators at Greenham common? Can the Prime Minister confirm that suggestion and state the circumstances in which that may happen?

The Prime Minister

I understand that Michael Heseltinemy right hon. Friend said that this Government, as all others have done, will defend bases and installations in the same way as has been done by previous Governments. It is the duty of Governments to defend installations.

Mr. Kinnock

In the light of last night's debate, can the Prime Minister tell us how many British nuclear weapons we have deployed in the United States?

The Prime Minister

I fail to see the relevance of the question, but doubtless the right hon. Gentleman will reveal it.

Mr. Kinnock


Sir Anthony Kershaw

Is my right hon. Friend aware——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) wait a moment, please?

Mr. Kinnock

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, especially as it is difficult to determine the accuracy of the Prime Minister's reply. As we are led to suspect that the answer to my question is none, can the Prime Minister tell us what validity there is in the central proposition made by the Secretary of State in last night's debate? Does she not agree with millions of our citizens who believe that there is a certain imbalance when the United States has cruise missiles—[Interruption.] Noise may well signify concern over this issue. The United States has cruise missiles under its sole control in our country, but all we have in the United States is trust? Does the right hon. Lady think that trust in the RAF Regiment is enough to safeguard our sovereignty or our security?

The Prime Minister

The same argument would apply to American soldiers in Europe, and British soldiers in the United States. The fact is that the United States is contributing massively to the defence of Europe, and we should be very grateful.

Mr. Kinnock

If the right hon. Lady cannot distinguish between the presence of conventional arms and soldiers and the presence of cruise missiles, then God help us, for nobody else will. Is she aware that no arrangement between her Government and the United States Government is covered by an arrangement made 30 years ago in a different period of technology, that General Eugene La Rocque has described her agreements as bureaucratic obfuscation, and that our people will not tolerate that domination, especially against the back-ground of last week's absolute desertion of any acknowledgment of British interest?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman reveals that he is a total unilateralist and that his object is to undermine NATO, which is the defence of the free world. As to what he said about the rules that have governed the use of missiles on our soil and in British territorial waters, the whole argument on cruise missiles was reconsidered, as I said before the House rose, and the [column 738]policy was reaffirmed. President Reagan said that that arrangement was equivalent to Britain having a veto on the firing of these weapons.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Returning to the NHS, is my right hon. Friend aware that on cleaning, laundry and office equipment, the NHS spends no less than £1,100 million a year? Would it not be extraordinary if increased efficiency were not obtainable on this enormous expenditure of money?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. It is clear, both from the Griffiths report and from the Merrison report, that there is much scope for economy within the NHS. The Griffiths report, most recently, said:

“It is almost a denial of the management process to argue that the modest levels of cost improvement at present required of the NHS are unachievable without impacting seriously on the level of service.”

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

As hon. Members will be aware, Prime Ministers answering from the Despatch Box are entitled to quote from a report.

Further, the Merrison report, published at the time of the Labour Government in 1977, said:

“Indeed, it would be surprising in a service as large as the NHS if there were not room for considerable improvement in the way resources are used in many places.”

Mr. Alfred Morris

As someone who can afford to pay for the medical treatment that she needs, is not the Prime Minister even slightly concerned that her Government's petty economies are causing so many preventable deaths among kidney patients who cannot afford to jump the queue?

The Prime Minister

The record of this Government compared with that of the Labour Government on the NHS has been absolutely first class, as was shown in the debate the other day. As to kidney treatments, in 1981 we treated 1,550 new patients, compared with 600 in 1971. Numbers have increased by 50 per cent. since 1976 and the number of kidney transplants was over 1,000 in 1982, more than in any other European country.

Sir William Clark

Will my right hon. Friend take time to look at the recent reports of the London Business School and the CBI survey? Do not these encouraging economic forecasts prove beyond doubt that the Government's economic strategy is correct and that it should be adhered to?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. The latest CBI survey is encouraging. It provides further confirmation of the recovery—[Hon. Members: “Reading.” ] For the sake of better accuracy on what the CBI survey says, I am reading. It says that business confidence continues to grow, as does optimism about export prospects, that output is expected to continue rising and investment is projected to grow at 5 per cent. through 1984, and that costs and prices are rising only slowly. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Labour Members cannot bear to hear good news.

Dr. Owen

In view of the democratic elections that have been held in Argentina, and in particular the defeat of the Peronists and the return of a radical Government under the President, will the Prime Minister say to the Argentine people and their President that she wishes them well and is prepared to see an opening of a dialogue between our two countries?

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Mr. Skinner

He is after a trip.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps, fortunately, I did not hear that comment.

Dr. Owen

Secondly, will the Prime Minister make a distinction between the British retaining sovereignty and a readiness to discuss the future of the Falkland Islanders? Will she realise that by making—[Interruption.]—sovereignty a totem-pole, she is impairing the possibility of a negotiated settlement in the Falklands and in Hong Kong?

The Prime Minister

We are always pleased when a country returns to democracy. There can be no question about that. I hope that, now that that country has returned to democratic ways, it will be prepared to consider better economic and commercial relations between itself and Britain. As to sovereignty, the Falkland Islands are a British sovereignty and although the right hon. Gentleman said that that should not be the touchstone, the House has always regarded the touchstone, for the Falkland Islands as the wishes of the islanders. They, too, have a right to self-determination and have made clear their view that they should remain British.

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Q3. Mr. Arnold

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 1 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Arnold

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that the Labour Government made the largest cuts in capital costs in the history of the National Health Service?

The Prime Minister

Yes. As my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State said in an excellent debate the other day, our record on the National Health Service is better than that of any previous Government.

Mr. Dormand

The Prime Minister said a few moments ago that the latest CBI forecast was encouraging. As the last six reports from the CBI have been encouraging, what is so different about this one?

The Prime Minister

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be glad that progress towards recovery continued. [Interruption.] I should have thought also that he would be glad to know that the figures just published show that the total number of jobs in the economy rose in the second quarter, the first rise for over four years.