Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1984 Feb 23 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [54/970-76]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2807
Themes: Agriculture, Defence (arms control), Employment, General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Pay, European Union Budget, Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism, Local government, Local government finance, Northern Ireland, Security services, Terrorism, Trade unions, Strikes & other union action
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PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Stan Thorne

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 February.

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, including one with the Council of Civil Service Unions about GCHQ.

Mr. Thorne

Has the Prime Minister yet had time to consider the report of Coopers and Lybrand, which reveals that the abolition of the metropolitan councils will produce no net saving but a possible increase in cost of £60 million per year? Will she comment on that?

The Prime Minister

I have seen the outline of the report. Coopers and Lybrand have identified scope for significant savings. The extent to which those savings are realised will depend on how vigorously they are pursued by the boroughs and districts. It is to be hoped that they will actually consider the interests of the ratepayers.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend have time in the course of her busy day to consider the plight of the British lorry drivers in France, and will she make a direct personal intervention with President Mitterrand in her best Palmerstonian manner?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend Raymond Whitneythe Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was in Paris this morning and made vigorous representations to the French Government about the plight of our lorry drivers. I should like to report to my hon. Friend that our consular staff in the area worst affected have been increased by people going down there from Paris. Money is being loaned to lorry drivers so that they can purchase the things that they need. Most of them wish to stay with their lorries. We have had requests for repatriation from one group and are urgently considering what can be done about them. In general, however, the drivers wish to stay with their lorries and our consular staff are doing everything possible to see that they are properly looked after.

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Chesterfield

Q2. Mr. Heddle

asked the Prime Minister if she will pay an official visit to Chesterfield.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans to do so.

Mr. Heddle

Does my right hon. Friend recall the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition on Monday in Chesterfield, in which he called for the immediate abandonment of Britain's nuclear defences? [Interruption.] Does she also recall that on the same day one of Mr. Benn 's even closer parliamentary friends said that the IRA were not terrorists? Does she agree that the moderate majority in Chesterfield would rather be governed by a party dedicated to peace through strength, and to outlawing Irish terrorism, than by the sweet nature of Russia?

The Prime Minister

I saw the speech to which my hon. Friend referred. I thought that Neil Kinnockthe Leader of the Opposition's comments were thoroughly irresponsible and even further to the Left than the Labour manifesto in the general election. The Government's policy on defence is the only sure and effective defence for Britain and the only guarantee of peace with freedom and justice.

Mr. John David Taylor

Will the Prime Minister assure the people of Chesterfield that the people of Northern Ireland consider those responsible for the murder of a British Army sergeant two days ago to be terrorists and not freedom fighters?

The Prime Minister

I warmly endorse what the hon. Gentleman said and thank him for it.

Engagements

3. Mr. Norman Atkinson

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 23 February.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Atkinson

Does the Prime Minister recall that she and her party won a handsome majority at the general election based on record unemployment? [Interruption.] Is she aware that she is reported to believe that unemployment is no longer an election issue and, therefore, that she has no incentive to reflate the economy before the next general election? Is she further aware that hon. Members now know from her statements and those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government intend no intervention, especially in manufacturing? Is she prepared to allow her cynicism to condemn millions of British people to a future of no work and no hope?

The Prime Minister

The British electorate had a better appreciation of the causes of unemployment than the hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons for their vote was that they believed that the Conservative party was the right party to bring back more jobs and greater prosperity to all British people. The hon. Gentleman should note that real personal disposable income in Britain is now higher than it was at any time under a Labour Government.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister will meet the Civil Service unions about the vexed matter of GCHQ today. Is she aware that the whole House wants an amicable, just [column 972]and enduring solution to those problems, and accepts that it is possible to achieve an outcome that maintains civil rights and guarantees seacurity at GCHQ, because the union members at GCHQ and elsewhere are firmly and irrevocably pledged to both civil liberties and to security?

The Prime Minister

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. I must tell him that the Government's decision, announced on 25 January, remains the only effective guarantee of our objectives, which I believe are widely shared.

Mr. Kinnock

But the Prime Minister is seeing those unions today. If she is stubborn over that view, what is the point of a further meeting? Should she not be entirely preoccupied with the values of democracy and with the interests of national security, clearing her mind of any desires to defend what was initially an ill-advised and thoroughly impetuous decision which cannot enhance security and will not enhance democracy?

The Prime Minister

It was well-advised and well considered. It followed well-established lines of treating agencies whose principal function is security and intelligence as being different from others. I believe that it was the right decision. The majority of people in GCHQ have accepted it, and the majority increases day by day.

Mr. Kinnock

None of that explains either the long delay or the utterly incompetent way in which the Government are trying to deal with it. Is it not a fact that the Prime Minister is not dealing with issues of democracy, liberty, efficiency or security, but with issues of personal vanity?

The Prime Minister

I note how lightly the right hon. Gentleman chooses to treat issues of national security.

Sir Peter Mills

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that there is great uncertainty in British agriculture, especially because of the Community, but also because of the so-called inquiry into the privileges of British agriculture? Will she explain the position and express her confidence in an industry which has served Britain well, both consumer and producer?

The Prime Minister

The Government are determined to reduce the surpluses that are produced under the common agricultural policy. The reason for that is well understood by all farmers in the Community, although we all recognise that it will cause painful adjustments. However, people realise that it must come about. The Government also believe that people realise the need for support for British agriculture—support that is offered by every Western industrialised country to its agricultural services. They recognise the need for that support and they recognise, as do the Government, the need for a healthy agriculture industry.

When all that has been said, it is natural that every Government should examine the amount of public support given to any industry, and keep that carefully monitored and scrutinised in the ordinary way of public expenditure. I should make it clear, because there have been reports to the contrary, that, as was said in the White Paper, we do not propose to reopen the question of rating agricultural land and buildings.

Mr. Beith

Does the Prime Minister recognise that yesterday's events at Ellington colliery in my constituency caused deep concern to many of my constituents, [column 973]including large numbers of miners, who share the deep sense of frustration of miners in other parts of the Nurthumberland coalfield about pit closures, but who do not consider violence or disorder to be any answer? Does she especially deplore the comments of the area union president, who, unlike the local lodge officials, had no regrets about the incident, when what happened was that a badly organised protest was allowed by the area to get out of hand?

The Prime Minister

I join the hon. Gentleman in totally condemning the incident in which Mr. MacGregor was knocked to the ground yesterday. It was a disgraceful incident, which most miners will condemn. I share the hon. Gentleman's revulsion that it was not universally condemned, and I am sad that the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) chose not to condemn it in his selection of questions today.

Mr. Onslow

When my right hon. Friend meets the GCHQ unions this afternoon will she bear in mind that most hon. Members, and most people in the country, take the view that it is the Government's responsibility to see that the requirements of national security are satisfied, not those of the trade unions, and not those of the Leader of the Opposition?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is a very heavy responsibility, and the way in which we have chosen to discharge it, I am convinced, is the right one.

Mr. Ryman

With respect to the Prime Minister's answer to a supplementary question a few minutes ago about the incident in Northumberland yesterday, could the Prime Minister reconsider her complacent attitude towards jobs, and appreciate that, as a result of the ferocious campaign by the National Coal Board, dozens of pits in the north-east are threatened with redundancies and closure, and her Secretary of State for Energy and the chairman of the National Coal Board have flatly refused to listen to representations on behalf of the men in that industry?

The Prime Minister

This Government's record on putting investment into the coal industry is outstanding. It exceeds the “Plan for Coal” . The “Plan for Coal” had three parts—good investment in good pits, raising productivity and closing old pits. [Interruption.] The Government have more than honoured the promise to put investment into the coal industry, and Mr. MacGregor has been particularly active in securing investment for Asfordby. That demonstrates this Government's and Mr. MacGregor's faith in the future of the coal industry.

Mr. Flannery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ask a proper question in the House—as has been evidenced by the last two seconds or so—because the sheer hooliganism and noise—[Interruption.]—as again evidenced, is organised deliberately to prevent the Labour side of the House from putting questions. On this occasion, when I sought to ask a question, the situation, which I had not noticed at the time, was not connected with the question, but with the intervention of SDP members on the Front Bench below the Gangway who were forcing long-experienced Members out of their places, when there was plenty of room for them to join the Liberal party, to which they belong.

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Mr. Speaker

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about his inability to hear the answer to a question. I found it difficult, too. I think that the problem arose from the incident which the hon. Gentleman pointed out, but I must say to the House that there is no prescriptive right to a seat in the House unless the hon. Member concerned is present for Prayers. I think that was really the cause of the trouble today.

Mr. Kinnock

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the course of one of her replies towards the end of Question Time the Prime Minister gave the impression that she would like to have told me what question to raise during the questions that I was putting to her. That would be an extraordinary step. But, may I say, through you, Mr. Speaker, that the reason why it was inappropriate to raise the matter that the Prime Minister suggested is that, within minutes of knowing of the incident in Northumberland yesterday, I spoke to Mr. MacGregor's office to inquire about his welfare, because I shared the concern of everybody in those circumstances. I spoke to Mr. MacGregor in a personal conversation this morning. I have checked details of the incident with the Northumberland police and I conclude that, deeply regrettable though the incident was, both the Home Secretary and now the Prime Minister are simply trying to make mischief out of a regrettable incident. It is not worthy of such use by officers and senior members of the Cabinet.

Dr. Owen

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have an extension of Question Time. A point of order must be one upon which I can rule.

Dr. Owen

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it is an intolerable abuse of points of order that the Leader of the Opposition——

Mr. Skinner

Sit down. This is boring.

Dr. Owen

You are going to get it.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I be allowed to hear the point of order?

Dr. Owen

Is it in order that the Leader of the Opposition should be allowed to make a statement on an incident about which the Leader of the House refused to make a statement yesterday and on which the Minister of State later wrote a letter to me which did not contain any of the words in the statement which the Home Secretary made at 11.30 pm and which the Prime Minister made at Question Time? We have had no opportunity to raise the issue.—[Interruption.] Such abuse of the House has been tolerated for the last eight months. It is getting to the stage where we will not accept this behaviour. [Interruption.] I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to respect the views not just of minorities, but of a substantial body of opinion in the country. I must ask—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the right hon. Gentleman come to his point of order? These are questions on which I cannot rule. They are not matters for me. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Dr. Owen

You, Mr. Speaker, allowed the Leader of the Opposition to make his statement. I am asking you whether you should have allowed that statement or whether you should have interrupted it as you would have done if any other right hon. or hon. Member had made [column 975]such a statement—[Interruption.] The House has rights and we have rights and they are being abused day after day.

Mr. Speaker

Order.—[Interruption.] A broadly similar point was made by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday. Had I anticipated what the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) was going to say, perhaps I should not have allowed it. We should not have an extension of Question Time through points of order.

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Mr. Nellist

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, one of your functions to preserve and protect the veracity of the business statements in the House. [Interruption.] Today and in previous statements the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have repeatedly stated that the only areas of suppression of trade union activity—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is perpetrating what I said was not in order. I am responsible for statements made from the Front Bench for the veracity of any answers.