Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [52/442-46]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2318
Themes: Autobiography (marriage & children), Defence (arms control), Industry, Pay, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (Middle East), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Local government finance, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
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Q1. Mr. Eggar

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 January.

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. Eggar

Has my right hon. Friend noted reports of discussions between Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko in Stockholm yesterday? Does she hope, like me, that the Russians will return to the negotiating table following the proposals from the United States? Does she not think that the way to true disarmament is through painstaking discussion and negotiation rather than through the simple-minded proposal of the Leader of the Opposition earlier this year advocating one-sided disarmament?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I welcome the talks that took place between Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko. They were lengthy and they must have led to greater knowledge and understanding of one another's viewpoint. As my hon. Friend says, there is no substitute for detailed disarmament talks. There is no hope of getting the Russians back to the table unless we have something to negotiate with, which we should not have had if we had already renounced nuclear weapons.

Mr. Steel

In advance of today's debate has the Prime Minister read the two reports issued yesterday of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Citizens Advice Bureaux about the Government's housing benefit scheme? Will she accept that the conclusions of the reports are correct and that the Government's proposals will widen the poverty trap?

The Prime Minister

I have not read those reports in detail, but I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that housing benefit now costs some £3.7 billion per year. It is very much up on what it was. It applies to one family in three. There has to be a limit to the amount that can be given in housing benefit, bearing in mind that each and every penny comes from the other two families unless it comes from the taxation of those who get the benefit. Every extra item of public expenditure is put on the working population.

Mr. Kinnock

Why does the Prime Minister keep on giving the impression that £3.7 billion is new money that is a gift from the Government? Does she know that under the changes proposed by the Government a 65-year-old widow with £75 weekly income from an occupational pension, which was paid for whilst in work, and a national insurance pension, who is paying £23 per week in rent and [column 443]rates, will lose £4.52 income per week? Is not the Prime Minister ashamed of taking money from people like that? Will she instruct the Secretary of State to give notice in this afternoon's debate that these proposals will be cancelled?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. We are spending £3.7 billion this year, an increase over and above inflation of 80 per cent. on spending under the Labour Government. The reductions in housing benefit that have been announced begin to concentrate help on those most in need. No one on supplementary benefit and no pensioner with an income of less than £9.75 above the level of retirement pension need lose by the changes.

Mr. Kinnock

I am more than willing to give credit where it is due, even to this Government, but what justification can there be for people on this level of income to be given a little bit with one hand when great armfuls are taken back with the other? Will the Prime Minister now answer the question? Will she get rid of the amendment to the scheme? Will she instruct the Secretary of State to do so or will she enjoy the ignominy of being a robber of some of the poorest in society?

The Prime Minister

I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there are some households in receipt of benefit with the main earner well above the average earnings—[Interruption.] I said “No” right at the beginning, had the right hon. Gentleman been listening carefully, which I do not expect him to do. He speaks of giving with one hand and taking away with the other, but I point out that this happens in many cases with welfare benefits, and comes from the fact that we are taxing people so highly—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. All this noise takes time out of Question Time.

The Prime Minister

I am delighted with that response, because almost every Opposition Member asks for extra expenditure, which means extra taxation. They will not accept the answer from the Government that we are trying to reduce public expenditure and to lower taxation. People are paying taxes from one pocket and having to seek means-tested benefit for the other. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will seek reduced public expenditure, leading to reduced taxation.

Mr. Kinnock

The right hon. Lady was elected to cut taxes and raise benefit. She promised that she would do both but has failed to do either. Is it not time to give an explanation more convincing than the dodges she pulls twice a week?

The Prime Minister

With regard to taxation, we have reduced direct taxation—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman tackles me. The promise in the 1979 manifesto was:

“We shall cut income tax at all levels” .

The basic rate was reduced from 33 per cent. to 30 per cent. We promised to cut absurdly high marginal rates of tax, and higher rates were considerably reduced. We promised to raise tax thresholds, and income tax allowances have been raised by 6 per cent. more than inflation. We promised that the top rate of income tax would be cut, and the highest rate has fallen by 16 per cent. What is more, real take-home pay—[Interruption.]

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Mr. Speaker

Order. This noise is very unseemly. [Interruption.] The Leader of the Opposition asked a question and the House wants to hear the answer.

The Prime Minister

What is more, real take-home pay for a family on average earnings has risen by 6 per cent. under this Government. Under the Labour Government it remained static.

Mrs. Currie

Has my right hon. Friend taken time this week to examine the achievements of the Conservative-controlled Birmingham city council, of which I am a member, which for the second year running has announced a cut in rates? Does this not give the lie to the wets on both sides of the House, however distinguished they may be, who say that it cannot be done?

The Prime Minister

Birmingham, under Tory control, has an excellent record of living within its means thanks to excellent financial management, which brings benefit to the ratepayer.

Q2. Mr. Beith

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 January.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Beith

Why does not the Prime Minister face the simple fact that it is the working poor who are the sufferers from the benefit cuts that she proposes, just as it is they who are the sufferers from the current levels of income tax? She talks many times about incentives to work, but does she not realise that that is what she is denying them?

The Prime Minister

If one looks at the proportion—according to average earnings—that goes to an average family of four on social security benefit, I am advised that the income that it gets in that way is bigger in relation to average earnings than it was under the Labour Government. On that basis, the position of the working poor has improved.

Mr. Alexander

Has my right hon. Friend had time this week to see the result of the survey undertaken for the Institute of Directors? [Interruption.] Did she note that 84 per cent. of those who responded said that their businesses were doing well, and that 61 per cent. said that they were far more optimistic than they were six months ago? Does that not show that the nation was right to trust the Conservative leadership rather than the failing leaderships offered by the Opposition parties?

The Prime Minister

Yes. We had one of the highest annual growth rates among European Community nations last year. Industrial output was up 3 per cent. on a year earlier, chemicals were up 8 per cent. on the same period last year, car production was up 18 per cent. on 1982, and private sector housing starts were 17 per cent. higher than in the same period. Generally, there is a greater air of optimism both here and in Europe about the future.

Mr. Litherland

Does the Prime Minister confirm or deny that on a recent visit to Oman she had meetings with her son Mark? If she did what was the nature of that visit? Was it commercial or social?

The Prime Minister

There is nothing that I can usefully add to what I said on this subject earlier this week. [Hon. Members: “Shame” .] I suggest, with respect, that we concentrate on seeing why we do not get more contracts and—[Interruption]—I am going to see that we do. [Interruption.]

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Mr. McCrindle

On that matter, will my right hon. Friend recognise that there is widespread appreciation on the Conservative Benches—and, I suspect, throughout the country—of the unfailing efforts that she has made to bring contracts home to this country? [Interruption.] Will she totally disregard the snide campaign being conducted from the Opposition Benches and by some organs of the national press?

The Prime Minister

I am concerned to get more contracts for this country, to help provide more jobs for this country. I sometimes think that Opposition Members are not concerned about improving the living conditions in this country and that they would rather have more unemployment.

Q3. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 January.

The Prime Minister

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

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Will my right hon. Friend reflect briefly on the Leader of the Opposition's excursion to Athens? Did not the right hon. Gentleman display abroad, as he displays at home, his enthusiasm for the expropriation and disposal of assets that do not belong to him?

The Prime Minister

Yes. Neil KinnockThe right hon. Gentleman is constantly trying to spend more of other people's money or give away other people's property.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Prime Minister accept from me the appreciation of my constituents, who greatly admired her courage at Christmas when she visited the UDR, the RUC and Regular Army bases on the frontier at Aughnacloy? Does she not deplore attempts to blacken the reputation of 32,000 Ulstermen who have served with honour in the UDR? Will she acknowledge that only a minute proportion of those who have served during the past 15 years have strayed outside the law? Will she further agree with me that Cardinal O'Fiaich 's recent astonishing attempt to justify Sinn Fein membership should not give rise to a blanket condemnation of all Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland?

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The Prime Minister

I gladly pay tribute to the excellent work that the UDR has done in Northern Ireland and I totally and utterly agree with the hon. Member: one never condemns one group of people compared with another, one condemns violence wherever it occurs and by whomsoever it is perpetrated.

Mr. Adley

While congratulating the Foreign Secretary on his recent visit to the Middle East, may I ask my right hon. Friend to give every support to King Hussein, who is trying to return the West Bank to the control of the indigenous population?

The Prime Minister

King Hussein has, as my hon. Friend knows, recently recalled the Parliament of Jordan which, of course, includes recalling those who represented the West Bank in that Parliament. I believe that that was an encouraging step. I earnestly hope that the time will come when further negotiations can take place on the fundamental Arab-Israeli problem in the middle east.

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the recent exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time you will have heard a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) regarding the visit to Oman of the Prime Minister and her son. Would you draw to the attention of the Prime Minister the fact that she failed to answer a very simple question—[Interruption]—that——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot carry on with that now.

Mr. Foulkes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your advice and guidance? Is there any way at all, any parliamentary means whatsoever, by which we can get the Prime Minister to answer questions about her son's visit to Oman? I tabled questions and I received no answer.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is an abuse. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are many ways of raising any kind of matter in this place.