Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [51/268-72]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2406
Themes: Judiciary, Defence (general), Privatized & state industries, Energy, Foreign policy (USA), Housing, Law & order, Local government, Local government finance, Northern Ireland, Terrorism
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Q1. Mr. Colvin

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 20 December.

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. Colvin

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to endorse the line taken by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland regarding Americans' attitudes to the activities of Noraid, the fund-raising organisation in the United States, for the IRA? Does she agree that the tragic death on Saturday at the hands of the IRA terrorists of a United States citizen and the injuring of two others might bring home to the American people the fact that money given to Noraid does not go to help widows and orphans, but goes to create them?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and agree with what he says. We condemn very strongly as, indeed, does the President, money given to Noraid. It is given to those who reject democracy and pursue their ends by violence and the death and destruction of innocent people. It has also, possibly on this occasion, resulted in the death of one American citizen and the injury of others as well as those of other nationalities.

Mr. Kinnock

As well as endorsing the views expressed on American television yesterday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I am sure that the whole House will want to commend the helpful and forthright response of Dr. Garrett FitzGerald and, indeed, the positive statements of the American ambassador on Saturday's atrocity. Could the Prime Minister tell us what consideration has been given to increasing formal joint efforts between Governments to block off the flow of munitions and money to terrorists, wherever such resources come from?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Dr. Garrett FitzGerald was very sympathetic and sent a sympathetic message. Likewise, we were able to congratulate him on the tremendous efforts that were made in the Republic to secure the release of Mr. Tidey. [column 269]I know that that resulted in the death of two of their security guards. Co-operation is very close between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in trying to block off munitions or, if they get over, in trying to find them. Indeed, the destruction caused in the Republic of Ireland by the activities of the IRA is very damaging indeed to the Republic and we therefore co-operate on these matters to the maximum extent. I also join the right hon. Gentleman in being very grateful for what the American ambassador said when he came to see me last evening.

Mrs. Currie

May I turn my right hon. Friend's attention to another important question and ask if she will find time today to study the remarks of Judge Gibbens in the High Court on Friday and yesterday in which he expressed sympathy for a man who had unlawful intercourse with a 7-year-old girl and described it as an accident. Does she agree with me, as the mother of a 7-year-old girl, that the judge's remarks were disgraceful?

The Prime Minister

I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend. The Government regard with very great seriousness all sexual offences against children, and I cannot emphasise that too strongly. As my hon. Friend will know, Lord Lanethe Lord Chancellor has called for a transcript of the proceedings so that he may first find the facts, which I believe is the proper course to take.

Mr. Steel

Is the Prime Minister aware that millions of her fellow citizens will, this Christmas, be contemplating the new year with some dread in view of her overruling of the Secretary of State for Energy on electricity prices, coupled with the Government's cuts in housing benefit? Does she begin to understand their anxieties?

The Prime Minister

Peter WalkerMy right hon. Friend answered questions very forcefully yesterday and pointed out that, as electricity prices had been frozen for two years, the possibility being considered might mean an increase of 2 per cent. over what would turn out to be the course of two years, whereas the Government whom the right hon. Gentleman supported, and whose life that support extended, had an increase in electricity prices of 2 per cent. every six weeks.

Mr. Conway

Bearing in mind that 490 people were convicted last year of sexual assaults on children, does my right hon. Friend agree that there is growing public concern at the leniency of sentences passed on such attackers, such as the one passed yesterday on the attacker of a 7-year-old child?

The Prime Minister

Within the statutory limits for sentencing that are laid down—and the statutory limits usually allow for very severe sentences—the precise sentence that is given is a matter for the judge. However, as my hon. Friend will be aware, the Government intend to introduce legislation that would subject a sentence alleged to have been too lenient to the scrutiny of the Court of Appeal. While that court could not then overrule that particular sentence, what it said might be a guide for future sentences.

Mr. Hume

Will the Prime Minister dampen down the hysteria in this country about Irish-American support for violence in Northern Ireland by recognising that the vast majority of Irish-Americans, of whom there are 44 million, do not support violence in Northern Ireland and that opposition to it is forcefully, strongly and [column 270]constructively expressed by their political leaders, such as Speaker O'Neill, Senator Kennedy and Senator Moynihan?

The Prime Minister

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including those in the Government and in prominent positions—indeed, I think all in the Government and in prominent positions—and the Irish, condemn violence as a means of pursuing political ends. Violence is the negation of democracy and we pursue democracy. They have the chance of pursuing these things through the ballot box. We hope that one day they will take that course and reject the path of violence.

Q2. Mr. Alex Carlile

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Carlile

In the light of the recent crash of the first ground-based cruise missile to be tested operationally, what new steps do the Government propose to take to secure at least equal control of these very unreliable weapons?

The Prime Minister

The cruise missiles are not yet fully operational and will not be fully operational until the end of December, because that is the time appointed by the agreement with NATO. With regard to the control of these missiles, that is governed by agreements that have been satisfactory to all previous Prime Ministers, including the one whom the hon. Gentleman's party supported when it was able to do so.

Mr. Rathbone

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the liaison between the Law Officers and the Minister with responsibility for consumer protection on the House Buyers Bill?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that I am well served by the Minister with responsibility for consumer protection and by the Law Officers. I had hoped to be asked about that matter last Thursday, but unfortunately the questions that one expects and hopes for do not always come. Perhaps I might make it perfectly clear by saying now what I would have said then—it might have been better had I been asked the question then, but that is how it goes—that the Government have decided to introduce a Bill to enable solicitors employed by institutions such as building societies and banks also to convey houses. That goes for all kinds of conveyancing, not just properties that are on registered land.

With regard to registered land, the Government are consulting to extend the rights of conveyancing to others, if that can be done safely. I am grateful to have had the opportunity of referring to these matters.

Q3. Mr. Michael Forsyth

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 20 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Forsyth

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government's rate-capping policies have proved an enormous success in Scotland in practice? Does she agree that they have brought widespread relief to people, such as my constituents, who are living under the [column 271]yoke of Marxist councils? Does she further agree that it is high time that these benefits were brought to ratepayers in England and Wales as a whole?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend Many ratepayers have been grateful for the action of my right hon. Friend George Youngerthe Secretary of State for Scotland, which he can take under Scottish law, especially the many businesses for whom rates are the largest tax. We shall be pleased, and many industries and most ratepayers will be delighted, when the rate-capping legislation is passed for England and Wales.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Is the Prime Minister aware of the impending industrial catastrophe and human tragedy in the west of Scotland with the possible closure of the Scott Lithgow yard? Will she hold negotiations to establish whether the contract can be renegotiated, otherwise the west of Scotland will suffer a tremendous disaster? Bearing in mind the money spent on nuclear weapons, it would be only a drop in the ocean to save those jobs.

The Prime Minister

There will be a statement about the contract at Scott Lithgow after Question Time. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that competition for both ships and oil rigs is very great indeed. Employment can be provided only by keeping customers, which means building ships or oil rigs to budget and on time. I very much regret to say that the record of that yard is abysmal. The yard has two other orders—a ship for the Ministry of Defence and another oil rig. British Shipbuilders will be considering how best to complete those orders in the light of the difficulties that it may face in any negotiations about the original rig.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the Prime Minister not listen to the eccentric and unrepresentative views of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) on the Government's Scottish legislation on rates? Does she recognise that, whatever criticisms there may be of spendthrift Labour authorities, there is no support whatever for the Government's interference with local democracy and the removal of all decision-making from local government?

The Prime Minister

Local democracy has those powers that are conferred upon it by Parliament. Bearing in mind that the Government have the final responsibility for the level of public expenditure, for many years there was a convention that local authorities in general followed the wishes of Government about the total level of [column 272]expenditure locally. That convention has broken down and differences have to be introduced. Many ratepayers, indeed I believe the overwhelming majority, will be very pleased with the rate-capping legislation because they believe that rates are far too high. There would have been no increase in rates this year if the 18 Labour over-spenders had spent to target instead of above it.

Q4. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

asked the Prime Minister is she will list her official engagements for 20 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Has not Britain kept to the NATO agreement to increase defence expenditure by 3 per cent. a year in real terms? Does that not mean that we are spending more than any other NATO country, except the United States? As no other European ally has stuck to the NATO targets, does my right hon. Friend think that we are now bearing too heavy a share of the burden, especially as the defence of the Falklands is not included in the defence budget for that purpose?

The Prime Minister

We are committed to increasing NATO expenditure by 3 per cent. per annum to the year 1985–86. We are not committed beyond that, and we are considering what level of expenditure we shall have beyond that date. I agree that we are spending a higher percentage of GDP than our allies in NATO, but the distribution of expenditure over the years has been different. Some of those who are not reaching the 3 per cent. increase in expenditure spent a great deal more during the years before that commitment was made, and I refer especially to the Federal Republic of Germany.

Mr. Maxton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although I did not attempt to catch your eye during Prime Minister's Question Time, and while I accept that you have a responsibility to defend and look after the interests of minority parties, may I ask you to consider whether you were right, when calling six Members from the Opposition Benches, to call five from minority parties and only one from the Labour party?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has correctly stated that it is my duty and responsibility to protect the rights of minorities, and to do so over the general pattern of Question Time throughout the month—

Mr. Nellist

What about us?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been called three times. I bear my duties very much in mind.