Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1984 Apr 26 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [58/877-82]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2664
Themes: Agriculture, Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Employment, Privatized & state industries, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (USA), Law & order, Media, Northern Ireland, Race, immigration, nationality, Sport, Strikes & other union action
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PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Stephen Ross

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 April.

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. Ross

Before the day is out, will the Prime Minister have an urgent meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the plight of our dairy farmers, many of whom will face early bankruptcy unless some interim financial measures are introduced to cushion the blow that has descended upon them because of the sudden introduction of quotas? Will she recall at the same time that the vast majority of those people voted for her and her supporters in the general election last year?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will agree that measures had to be taken to reduce the surpluses being produced under the common agricultural policy. It was right to take those measures in two steps. My right hon. Friend Michael Joplingthe Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has sent, as far as he is able, the quotas to the industry. We have not yet received full details from the Commission. [column 878]I agree with the implied criticism made by the hon. Gentleman of the slowness with which the Commission is acting, and I hope that we shall receive further details soon. However, it was thought right to let the industry have the details that we could provide, because the quotas apply from the beginning of April.

Mr. Tim Smith

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to examine figures published last week by the Department of Employment, which show that the number of jobs increased in the fourth quarter of last year by 118,000? Does that not give the lie to the suggestion that the economic recovery extends only to output, productivity and profits, not to jobs?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct. The published figures showed not only what my hon. Friend said, but that last year there were 200,000 extra jobs in the British economy. I should have thought that that was a matter about which we could be pleased, rather than it being a matter for criticism.

Mr. Kinnock

Did the chairman of the National Coal Board inform the Government of his reported willingness to revise the timing of his pit closure programme?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend Peter Walkerthe Secretary of State for Energy is regularly informed of the details by Mr. MacGregor, but I understand that it was under the regular consultative machinery that any suggestions were made by Mr. MacGregor to the unions in the industry.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister did not answer the question. I think that the word for which she was groping was no. As the chairman of the NCB did not see fit to inform the Government, what validity does she believe others could put on that reported offer? Will she now use the powers that we know she has to play her full part in satisfactorily resolving the dispute? For how long will she continue to pretend that she, who, through her policies, is the author of the conflict, has nothing to do with it?

The Prime Minister

The Government leave the National Coal Board to get on with the management of the industry within the objectives that it has been given and within the financial arrangements that have been made, which are the most generous that any Government have made for the coal industry. Under this Government one would not expect details to be passed regularly between the management of the Coal Board and the Secretary of State for Energy. The chairman of the NCB has made it clear that the board is ready to continue discussions of the industry's problems and of how best to achieve the restructuring necessary to realise the high-volume, low-cost industry which is the board's aim. It is a matter of regret to all those who wish the industry to resolve its present difficulties that the National Union of Mineworkers has not attended any of the recent meetings of the industry's consultative committees. If the dispute is to be resolved, as we would wish it to be, that is the place where it can be resolved.

Mr. Kinnock

I swear that I did not plant that question. The Prime Minister's continued argument that she has nothing to do with these things does not convince anyone. She clearly gave Mr. MacGregor his remit. He takes orders; she is in a position to change the orders and stop the conflict. There is something else that is not convincing. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that [column 879]while the level of investment is higher, under the last Labour Government investment in the coal mining industry went up by over 160 per cent. over five years while under this Government it has gone up by 9.2 per cent. in four years?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the percentages are relevant—[Interruption]—particularly when one looks at the base figures. Since I went into No. 10 Downing street, £3.8 billion has been invested in the coal industry and it is expected, assuming that this management continues, that a further £3 billion will be invested over the next four years. Try to match that!

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend undertake that the Government, between now and 1986, will not make a loan of £280 million to the EEC? If there is any discussion in the EEC about repayment of that loan, will she please tell the EEC that the consent of Parliament to any increase in own resources should not be taken for granted?

The Prime Minister

There are two points to be made in reply to my hon. Friend's question. The first is that we have not yet agreed to an increase in own resources because the two conditions that we attached to such agreement before we could recommend it to Parliament have not been fulfilled—that is, strict, guaranteed control of the Community's expenditure before the budgets for the year are discussed by the separate Departments, and a fairer system for financing the burden of spending in the Community. Those conditions have not been agreed and therefore we have not agreed to an increase in own resources.

The second point is that, in the event, an increase in own resources was not opposed for two years, and that means that the Community will already be in difficulty over this year's expenditure and possibly next year's. It is suggested that there should be a voluntary loan. That also would have to be unanimous. We made it clear that we could not agree until other things were settled.

Q2. Mr. Canavan

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 26 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Canavan

As the NUM has offered to meet the National Coal Board to discuss an agenda for expansion of the industry rather than contraction, is it not about time that the Prime Minister stopped shirking her responsibilities and intervened to try to bring about an amicable settlement to the dispute, which has already cost the NCB £1,000 million plus £80 million in extra policing costs, which is money that could be used to keep pits open, instead of conducting this senseless vendetta against the miners?

The Prime Minister

The best way to expand the coal industry is to secure low costs and lower prices, which would enable us to have not only excellent sales in this country but a greater possibility of exports. That is precisely the policy that Mr. MacGregor is pursuing.

Mr. Best

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is both petty-minded and despicable that the GLC, the leader of the Torfaen borough council in south Wales, and also what is left of the Labour party, should pick on and cause distress to a fine, 17-year-old athlete who is normally [column 880]settled in this country, while pursuing their ignorant personal vendetta against another country and their ignorant abuse of South Africa?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I thought that the treatment of a 17-year-old girl was utterly appalling and a disgrace to those who meted it out to her.

Mr. Steel

In view of the recent events in connection with The Observer, will the Prime Minister echo the words of her predecessor and condemn the activities of Lonrho as the unacceptable face of capitalism?

The Prime Minister

A private notice question on that topic is to be answered later. In the meantime, no application for consent to a transfer of the newspaper has been made to Norman Tebbitmy right hon. Friend. If it were to be made it would be considered under the relevant provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973. It does not seem that the other matter is relevant to the question.

Q3. Mr. Nellist

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Nellist

Is the Prime Minister aware that during his stewardship of the steel industry Mr. MacGregor took steel production back to the levels of the 1930s? Is she aware that if the attempt to cut coal production to 97 million tonnes is successful it will result in the lowest level of coal production in Britain for 120 years—since 1864? Does the Prime Minister recognise that her intentions for the future of the working class will bring production levels, wages, employment laws and the police down to the levels of the 19th century?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman should know that world capacity for steel is 900 million tonnes although world demand is only 650 million tonnes. As a result, production has had to be cut substantially in Western countries. At the same time, we are giving aid so that people can build their own steel plants in other countries.

The main way to expand the coal industry is to do what Mr. MacGreggor is trying to do by producing high volume, low-cost coal. That is what the investment is directed to achieve and that is the way that we shall build a prosperous, profitable coal industry, which will be of great benefit to people who work in it and to those who purchase coal.

Mr. Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend wholeheartedly condemn political strikes and the attempted financing of the current miners' strike by a political party?

The Prime Minister

This dispute shows the great differences between the miners who work in the industry. If one looks at the dispute on merit, one sees that an extremely reasonable pay offer has been made to keep miners' pay about 25 per cent. above average industrial pay. The extremely generous early retirement and voluntary redundancy offer is far better than anything offered previously. Our investment in the future shows this Government's faith in a prosperous coal industry.

Q4. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Prime Minister if she will list here official engagements for 26 April.

[column 881]

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Fatchett

Would the Prime Minister be satisfied with an incident, which I experienced at first hand, of a person going about his legal and legitimate business being held by the police for five hours, photographed by the police, questioned about his personal bank account, debts, and hire purchase commitments, being cautioned and told that he was not to go into Nottinghamshire again? Is she satisfied with that type of policing? Does she recognise that it is a direct result of her industrial policies?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman has a specific complaint to make against the police, a well-known police complaints machinery is available, which should be used. The conduct of the police in general has enabled many thousands of miners to carry out their wish to go to work to achieve a good deal of production in this and previous weeks.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Has my right hon. Friend noted that six submarines are to be purchased by the Argentine Government, two of which are being built in West Germany? What message does my right hon. Friend have for the Falkland islanders?

The Prime Minister

There are a number of contracts which were made before the conflict over the Falkland Islands. We are now making it clear that any new contract should not be made while the Argentine has refused to say that permanent hostilities are at an end.

Later——

Mr. Best

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A short while ago, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) raised a question with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister relating to a personal complaint that he had against the police. I seek your judgment, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to abuse his privileged position by seeking to further his own complaints against the police by raising them with the Prime Minister rather than going through the recognised procedure?

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Mr. Speaker

Order. The House well knows that every hon. Member who asks a question takes responsibility for that question.

Mr. Fatchett

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have realised that I was talking about somebody other than myself. I just happened to be travelling in the same car. It is a pity that he did not listen to the question that was asked. It is also a pity that the Prime Minister did not listen. If she had, she may have answered the question.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that honour is satisfied.

Q5. Mr. Hanley

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 26 April.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hanley

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity of welcoming President Reagan 's visit to China as a contribution to international peace and world understanding?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I believe that it is a very good move, and I hope that he will have a very successful visit, which I believe will be of benefit far beyond the shores of the United States and of China.

Mr. Beggs

Will the Prime Minister concede that Northern Ireland has been further disadvantaged by recent decisions of this Government and the EEC negotiations? Can she give an assurance that steps will be taken to assist the meat industry in Northern Ireland to combat the disadvantages arising from the clawback of variable premium?

The Prime Minister

During Northern Ireland questions I heard certain answers on the situation with regard to agriculture, milk and beef in Northern Ireland. I do not think that there is anything more that I can usefully add. I believe that the advantages that we secured for Northern Ireland in the recent negotiations have in fact been fully honoured in the quotas for Northern Ireland.