Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC S: [Debate on Address]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [67/20-31]
Editorial comments: 1544-1629.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 5987
Themes: British Constitution (general discussions), Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Local government finance, Science & technology, Strikes & other union action
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The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

My first and pleasant duty is to join the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Loyal Address. My hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) speaks from the vantage point of someone who has been a member of the House for nearly 30 years. He was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Walter Monckton in about 1956, and he became Minister of State, Department of Employment, so we listened with special interest to what he said about the problems of his constituency. I noticed that he said that the port of Goole had a good present and future because it had proven reliability, something which many other companies could learn. We are indebted to him for his constructive work, as chairman of the House of Commons Parliamentary Group, in helping forward the historic agreement on Hong Kong, which is being considered in Hong Kong and which I hope will shortly come before the House. My hon. Friend played a constructive role in what is an extremely important agreement. [column 21]

I noted what my hon. Friend said about Wilberforce from the school in his constituency. There is outside my room a sculpture of Wilberforce, but No. 10 Downing street also boasts a Wilberforce: it is a cat in black and white, which has equal disdain for both, but which is very good at the job which it is there to do.

I also thank the seconder of the Loyal Address, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), who tackled his task in his usual spirited fashion. Indeed, one never knew what was about to come next. I listened carefully to what he said about the ark. I remind him that the ark was built to keep its inhabitants dry. They went in dry and they came out dry, and I hope that the ark has great relevance to those who occupy the Government Front Bench. It was those who sailed on the Titanic who got wet. However, the light touch of my hon. Friend conceals, as we saw later in his speech, his serious study and his deep-felt views about unemployment. I remember being with him in his constituency in a company that he mentioned, and I join him in hoping that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) will soon return to the House. I also join in his tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), which used to be called Lowestoft, for the work that he did in Northern Ireland. I thank and congratulate both my hon. Friends on the way in which they moved and seconded the Loyal Address.

The Leader of the Opposition had some words to say about several issues. He spoke about my right hon. Friend Nigel Lawsonthe Chancellor of the Exchequer. May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have some good news for him—at any rate, it is good news to the Government. While the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, Barclays bank decided to cut by half a percentage point, from 10.5 per cent., the basic bank rate. That is a great tribute to my right hon. Friend for the firmness with which he has controlled the money supply. The money supply figures were published at 2.30 this afternoon, and the cut in interest rates came shortly thereafter.

The Leader of the Opposition also made some points about personal taxation. I remind him that had the rates of the Labour Government remained in force we should now be paying £3.5 billion more in income tax than we are. I also remind him that had we chosen to retain the national insurance surcharge at the level where the Labour Government left it, and applied that money to cuts in income tax, the personal rates would be much below what they are now. He left us with this terrible tax on jobs—the national insurance surcharge—and it was we who took it off.

The right hon. Gentleman made some comments about Keynes. As far as I could make out, he was saying that if we all spend more than we have we shall be very rich. That was always a stupid sentiment. I remind him that the famous White Paper thought to be written by Keynes pointed out that

“the policies proposed in this Paper affect the balancing of the Budget in a particular year, they certainly do not contemplate any departure from the principle that the Budget must be balanced over a longer period” .

The right hon. Gentleman made the classic mistake of taking the deficit part without the surplus part in any particular year.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me about Mr. MacGregor. Let me make it perfectly clear that I have every confidence in Mr. MacGregor. Had some of the coal [column 22]miners in the north-east taken up the contracts which Mr. MacGregor won—in other words, had they chosen to take those jobs—1,000 Durham miners would have had jobs thanks to Mr. MacGregor which they would not otherwise have had. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has the same confidence in Mr. Scargill. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will not take part in the NUM rallies, and I can understand why.

As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, coal is not especially referred to in the Gracious Speech. He will be aware that it contains mainly the legislative part of the Government's programme. However, energy policy is regularly debated in the House, and I therefore begin with some comments about the coal industry.

We meet today in the shadow of the longest industrial dispute for many years, and the House will expect me to begin by saying something about it. Since the last debate at the end of July there have been more than 100 further hours of negotiations between the NUM and the NCB, mostly under the auspices of ACAS. There have also been discussions between the NCB and NACODS, which clarified some important points and ended in an agreement acceptable to both sides. The NUM leaders have, however, repeatedly made it clear that they have not budged an inch from their original position that no pit should ever close except on grounds of exhaustion or safety.

In the debate on 31 July the Opposition urged the NCB to return to the colliery review procedure. The very next day the chairman of the NCB, Mr. MacGregor, made it clear in an official statement that the NCB had never departed from it.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

Not true.

The Prime Minister

The Cortonwood proposals were made and the NUM was asked to attend a meeting. It did not do so. It did not go to that meeting although the other two unions in the industry were prepared to do so, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

I remind the House that the colliery review procedure always envisaged the closure of uneconomic pits. In a circular in 1973 issued by the then general secretary of the NUM, Mr. Lawrence Daly, endorsing the procedure and explaining it to NUM branches, he stated:

“While the purpose of these meetings” —

the colliery review meetings—

“is to improve results and secure the maximum efficiency and optimum future for the industry and those who work in it, it was recognised that some pits would have to close, either through exhaustion or because of heavy losses or changing markets” .

That was recognised right from the beginning of the colliery review procedure, and that was pointed out to the Select Committee on Energy in 1982.

Of course, it is the duty of the NCB, backed by the Government, to cushion the effects of such closures, to give hope to the communities in which they occur, and for the first time ever the NCB, under Mr. MacGregor, has said that any miner wishing to remain a miner will be able to do so. That is Mr. MacGregor's guarantee.

For those who wish to leave the industry, the Government have supported the NCB in providing the most generous early retirement terms ever. We have backed the Coal Board in setting up an enterprise company charged with encouraging new businesses in areas affected by pit closures, as was also done in the steel industry where [column 23]the redundancies were more concentrated. In the case of steel, BSC (Industry) has helped to create 20,000 new jobs with 16,000 more already in the pipeline. I hope that the new NCB company can be just as successful, although in a smaller way, because the redundancies in any area are far fewer.

Preserving steelworks with virtually no demand for their products, or pits that are becoming exhausted or running at a heavy loss, provides neither hope nor prospects for young people. It is far better to put money into the NCB enterprise company, which is what we are doing, and far better that we encourage inward investment, as my right hon. Friends Nicholas Edwardsthe Secretaries of State for Wales George Youngerand Scotland are constantly doing, with the result that large amounts of inward investment have been attracted.

The issue at the heart of this dispute is the right and duty of the NCB to manage in a way that secures the efficient development of the coal mining industry. That right and duty was recognised in the original nationalisation Act of 1946, as well as in “Plan for Coal” in 1974 and the tripartite agreements by which it was accepted, and the Coal Industry Acts of 1965 and 1977, both of which were passed by Labour Governments.

A settlement which preserves the NCB's right to manage and which meets the unions' reasonable concerns can be reached. The success of the negotiations between the NCB and NACODS proves it. Let me remind the House that as part of that settlement the NCB not only resolved a number of matters specific to NACODS, but addressed issues central to the dispute. Indeed, the NCB undertook, first, to reconsider its 6 March proposals, in the light of the changed circumstances of both supply and demand in the market for coal. Secondly, it undertook that the five pits about which the unions were particularly concerned would remain open, to be considered in common with all other pits under the colliery review procedure. Thirdly, it undertook to enhance the review procedure to include an independent review body to whose advice full weight would be given by the NCB.

I believe that the agreement between the NCB and NACODS is fair and reasonable. I do not believe that the NCB has room for any further movement. Even after 35 weeks of this strike, the leadership of the NUM has a choice: it can continue to manipulate the loyalties and exploit the fears of those who are one strike, knowing, as it does, the hardship and suffering that it is inflicting on their families; it can continue to wreak yet further damage on the coal industry to add to the £500 million in lost wages, the 20 lost faces, and the thousands of lost customers; or it can continue to refuse to budge an inch from its impossible demands. However, if it does those things it must know the suffering that it is inflicting, and it must know also that the NCB cannot and will not yield. The Leader of the Opposition talks about human feeling and suffering, but I ask him to think about the suffering which the NUM is inflicting on many of the striking miners and their families.

Instead of that, the NUM can accept the offer that lies on the table. It represents the best investment programme ever, the best ever guarantee of employment, the best ever early retirement terms and the best ever pay. I believe that scores of thousands of miners, in addition to the one third of miners who are now at work, are longing to accept this [column 24]offer. This week alone, so far more than 1,200 miners have returned to work despite the violence and intimidation and despite the efforts to intensify the strike.

If the leaders of the National Union of Mineworkers, without consulting their membership and rejecting their desire for a ballot, persist in refusing this deal the House is entitled to ask whether they want to end this strike—or do they seek to prolong it for reasons which have little if anything to do with jobs and pay but have everything to do with an extra-parliamentary challenge to the House and to this Government? Why have they chosen to seek assistance from the Libyan Government, who used their embassy for murder on the streets of London? The Leader of the Opposition was right to condemn this sinister alliance, and what he said will be endorsed by all right-minded people.

There is no industrial reason why this strike should go on for one day longer. For the sake of the mining industry, for the sake of the mining communities and for the sake of every miner and his family, I say end it now.

This strike, pursued by the NUM in the name of jobs, is in fact destroying jobs. If customers cannot rely on a secure supply of coal, they will not burn it. They will turn to other fuel. But the Labour party has supported this strike no matter what the cost, no matter what the damage and no matter how many jobs are lost. By their words, the Opposition denounce unemployment. So do we. By their deeds, they help to create it. They forfeit any right to lecture the Government on the creation of jobs.

The Gracious Speech reaffirms that the Government

“remains deeply concerned about unemployment and will continue policies designed to achieve better opportunities for employment.”

We would all like to return——

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The Prime Minister quoted from the 1944 Coalition White Paper on unemployment. It is her responsibility to tell the House whether she accepts, as that Government did, the primary aim of maintaining a high and stable level of employment. Is that the policy of this Government? If the right hon. Lady agreed that it was, she would carry a great deal more support in some of the other areas of the Government's economic policy.

The Prime Minister

We would all like to return, as I was about to say, to a low level of unemployment. The first paragraph of that White Paper says that the Government should

“accept as one of their primary aims … the maintenance of a high and stable level of employment after the war … For employment cannot be created by Act of Parliament or by Government action alone … the success of the policy outlined in this Paper will ultimately depend on the understanding and support of the community as a whole—and especially on the efforts of employers and workers in industry; for without a rising standard of industrial efficiency we cannot achieve a high level of employment combined with a rising standard of living.”

That White Paper accepted that a partnership was required if one was to defeat the problem of unemployment. It set out many factors which have been totally ignored. Had they been accepted it would have been easier to keep jobs, easier to be competitive and easier to create jobs in the future. As I said at my own party conference, I accept most parts of this Paper—pretty nearly all of it except those aspects which over time have changed.

We would all like to return to a low level of unemployment.

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Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

The Prime Minister

In the debate last week the Leader of the Opposition gave us his miracle cure.

Mr. Ashley


The Prime Minister

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. I have quite a long way to go, but I shall give way later to him.

In the debate last week the Leader of the Opposition gave us his miracle cure. It was increased public spending, not by taxation, but by increased borrowing. He argues that that will have the effect of increasing demand and public investment and so produce more jobs.

Let us examine those points one by one. In the mid-1950s and early 1960s, unemployment was only 1.5 per cent. That was a time when public expenditure as a share of national income was only about one third. Between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s unemployment rose to 12.5 per cent. and the share of public expenditure climbed to between 40 and 45 per cent. If higher public spending could solve unemployment, there would have been no problem for many years now. But it cannot, and it has not in any country. Those countries which have been most successful in maintaining employment—the United States and Japan—take a far lower proportion of national income in public expenditure than we do.

If we were to increase borrowing not only would we tend to increase interest rates, whereas they have gone down today—to increase them would be damaging in itself, especially to small business and construction—but we should be diverting into the public sector resources which are now going into private sector investment. Private sector investment has gone up in real terms by some 15 per cent. over the past year in manufacturing industries and by nearly 13 per cent. in service industries.

Mr. Kinnock


The Prime Minister

Apparently the Leader of the Opposition does not believe the official statistics of staff in the Civil Service. I repeat that private sector investment has gone up by some 15 per cent. over the past year in manufacturing industries and by nearly 13 per cent. in service industries.

Mr. Ashley


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Prime Minister is not giving way. Unless she does so, the right hon. Gentleman cannot intervene.

The Prime Minister

I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment, but first let me come to the end of this section of my speech.

The Leader of the Opposition said that he wanted a strong manufacturing base. So do I. I want a strong service industry base as well. But I was saying that private sector investment had gone up in real terms by 15 per cent. over the past year in manufacturing industries and by nearly 13 per cent. in service industries. Do we really want to take away that investment from the private sector to put it in the public sector? Do we really want to lose the jobs that that investment provides? Those who put forward this recipe conveniently forget the jobs that would be destroyed.

Mr. Ashley

Does the Prime Minister recognise that these excuses have never convinced the Opposition but [column 26]that the new factor now is that they are not convincing her own supporters? They are now beginning to be vociferous in their complaints about the Government's policies. What action does the Prime Minister intend to take to meet the complaints of Conservative Members? I assure the right hon. Lady that they will not allow their political necks to be wrung in an election on this issue. They will wring her neck first.

The Prime Minister

Obviously I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I remind him that it was my arguments and policies to which President Mitterrand turned when his own Socialist ones did not work.

Mr. Kinnock

What about President Reagan?

The Prime Minister

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the proportion of national income taken in public expenditure in the United States is very much lower than is taken in Great Britain.

As for the notion that we need to increase demand, the right hon. Gentleman knows that there is no shortage of demand in the country. Retail sales are up by 8 per cent. in value on this time last year, and total spending in the economy is also up by 8 per cent. in money terms. There is no shortage of demand. The trouble is that the supply is being met not from this country but by more competitive industries overseas in some spheres.

Labour's formula offers no solution. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman knows this, for he tried—[Interruption.] The Opposition do not like to listen, especially to facts and figures. They regard debate as something with which they agree and not as something with which they disagree. When they disagree they try to stop it being heard.

I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman knows that his formula offers no solution, because he tried to make the formula more acceptable last week by calling for reflation of £2.3 billion compared with the much more astronomic figure at the general election of something like 10 times that amount. The British people did not believe him then and they do not believe him now.

If the medicine is no good in the first place, what is the point of just reducing the dose? However, there are ways to save jobs, to help to create jobs, and to have a higher level of employment, but they raise issues which the Opposition would prefer not to face. They represent choices which the Government have not shirked and will not shirk.

Now I shall take up the matter of pay in relation to output. Of course everyone would like more pay, but if we are to have German or American standards of pay we must have German and American standards of efficiency and output per person first. That is why I always refer to pay in relation to output. After years of prices and incomes policies people came to think that they had an automatic right to an increase in pay regardless of output, and the increase in pay went straight into inflation and not into extra output.

Indeed, unemployment is caused by paying ourselves more than the value of what we produce. So said a former Leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), in 1976. He said:

“We must ask ourselves unflinchingly what is the cause of high unemployment. Quite simply and unequivocally it is caused by paying ourselves more than the value of what we produce. There are no scapegoats.”

[column 27]That is what a past Leader of the Labour party said.

“There are no scapegoats. This is as true in a mixed economy under a Labour Government as it is under capitalism or Communism. It is an absolute fact of life which no Government, be it left or right, can alter” .

The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) knows that that was sound sense which a Government, be it Left or Right, had to operate.

If wages are too high in relation to what people will pay for goods, they will take their custom elsewhere and jobs will be lost. Time and again we have seen British firms priced out of the market—in cars, ships, motor bikes, washing machines and electronic goods. So there is a choice—of pay in relation to output. It is one which employees and management have to make. There are signs that in some industries, despite the yelping of the Opposition, the message is getting home. Yesterday there was some news that workers earning £170 a week at a furniture factory had voted for a 5 per cent. pay cut in an effort to create more jobs and to save some jobs of their fellow workers. Sense is coming on the shop floor if not in the Opposition.

For young people—the right hon. Gentleman, like me, would like more jobs for young people—lower pay also helps to win more jobs. For example, employers find that the young workers scheme has enabled them to take on more young people. Is it not better to take on three 17-year-olds, paying them £50 a week each, than two paid £75 a week each, with the other one still out of work? Is it not better to train people for a year under the youth training scheme at £26.50 a week than to leave them unskilled and unqualified with less chance of a job?

The results are encouraging. Unemployment among school leavers has fallen over the past year. A far larger proportion of those leaving youth training service schemes are finding jobs than under earlier schemes, but the sad truth is that some unions have blocked opportunities for training and employment for unemployed youngsters by demanding higher pay and more allowances. Faced with a choice, those unions chose higher unemployment rather than lower pay.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

Is the Prime Minister now telling the House, endorsing the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that she believes in a cut in wages?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening. It is pay in relation to output that is the critical factor. Unit labour costs in Britain are still going up at a higher rate than in the United States and Japan. I am afraid that unless we get unit labour costs down it does not augur well for our industry. Pay in relation to output is the critical factor.

The pay factor alone is not enough. The hon. Gentleman will recall the words of the White Paper that I read out, that

“without a rising standard of industrial efficiency we cannot achieve a high level of employment” .

I use the term “greater efficiency” in all its many aspects. That means doing away with old labour practices, as has been done, for example, in the Tyne ship repair yards which have been privatised; working inconvenient hours if necessary; being the first to accept new technology and [column 28]to exploit it to the full, not fighting its introduction and use every inch of the way; and constantly developing the products and services for the markets of tomorrow.

Of course, the major innovations of the past displaced existing products and the jobs of the workers who made them, but each in its own way opened up vast new opportunities and created many new jobs. The same will be true of the inventions and ideas of today, whether in manufacturing or in service industries.

Those things, by their very nature, cannot be done by the Government, but the actions of the Government could hinder the necessary development in the public sector by subsidising yesterday's industries at the expense of tomorrow's. The goods that we are interested in are those which have a relevance for tomorrow's world.

If the Government cannot do all those things, they can cut regulations, reduce controls, increase competition and diminish the financial overheads arising from rates and taxation. This year the increase in local authority rates has been the lowest for a decade, thanks to our legislation. The national insurance surcharge—the Labour party's tax on jobs—was finally abolished last month.

Yes, the route to more jobs does present unpalatable choices for the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman's party backs every pay demand and every strike, no matter how unreasonable or how damaging. It now resists change, whether the transition from high to low cost pits, or the efficient use of new technology, and it belittles the opportunity presented by the service industries. His is the party which, to cap it all, would put up personal taxes on wealth creators and raise inflation and so nullify the advantage which our industries have so painfully won in the past five years.

We can return to a high level of employment only if we face the difficult choices that I have outlined. It also requires the unceasing pursuit of sound financial policies by the Government to bring inflation down and to limit public spending. It requires, too, a commitment to free enterprise which is wealth creating, rather than a commitment to the expansion of the public sector, which is wealth consuming.

As the Gracious Speech shows, we have therefore pursued a programme of returning state industry to the private sector, with vigour and determination. Eleven major companies and a number of other enterprises have so far been restored to private ownership. Shortly the public will receive a prospectus for British Telecom setting out the terms on which the largest ever transfer of a company from state control is being offered. This Session will carry forward the process of opening up the coach and bus industry to competition. We hope to see the return to the private sector of British Airways, a company which has responded magnificently to the spur of competition and to the prospects ahead.

Mr. Bell

The right hon. Lady is tired.

The Prime Minister

Very far from it. Please do not let the hon. Gentleman cherish any such hopes.

The Gracious Speech refers to a major Bill that we shall be bringing forward very soon to abolish the six metropolitan councils and the Greater London council. We want local government to be closer to the people. For the metropolitan councils, that means that the metropolitan districts will be the local authorities and for London it means that the boroughs will be the local authorities. [column 29]

I believe that even the Opposition are not seriously in favour of retaining the metropolitan councils, but to them the GLC is different, even though it accounts for only 11 per cent. of local government spending in London. Nevertheless, the GLC is spending £10 million of ratepayers' money—£7 million this year alone—on trying to persuade us of the value of its services—not, of course, housing, because most of that was transferred to the boroughs some years ago; not, of course, education, because a directly elected Inner London education authority and the outer boroughs will do that; not law and order, because the Metropolitan police do that; not the tubes and buses, because London Regional Transport does that; not ambulances, because the local health authorities do that; and not rubbish collection or libraries, because the boroughs do that work.

The GLC is spending £7 million this year on propaganda. That is more than the total government budget of the city of Oxford, which is £6.5 million, and of the city of Durham, which is £6 million. The GLC has become an intolerable burden on London's ratepayers. Its rate has risen by more than 100 per cent. in the last three years, but its spending days are nearly over. With Parliament's approval, it will come to an end on 31 March 1986.

The Gracious Speech sets out our approach to foreign affairs and defence. I begin by reporting to the House that, together with the Leader of the Opposition and the Leaders of other parties, I have just returned from Delhi where we mourned with the people of India at Mrs. Gandhi 's funeral. History and friendship gave us a specially close feeling for India. We all wish the new Prime Minister well in the great task of reconciliation which will surely be needed in the days and months ahead.

We are very much aware that we open this Session of Parliament on the day of perhaps the most important election in the Western world. Once that election is over, many tasks that have inevitably been held up will be resumed—in particular, the lessening of tension between East and West.

The Gracious Speech speaks of our working continually for a “greater atmosphere of trust” between the two sides. That will be our aim. It is the reason why we shall in the coming months be welcoming two senior representatives of the Soviet Union to Britain.

Mr. Gorbachev has accepted the invitations of the chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and of the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union to visit Britain in December. He will also be calling on members of the Government and the Opposition and other party leaders. Mr. Gromyko has also said that he hopes to visit London next year. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary and I look forward to seeing them both. We shall hope during their visits to take forward the search for ways to reduce the burden of armaments.

With our Western partners, we have made far-reaching but practical proposals in every arms control negotiation. At Stockholm, Vienna and Geneva, it is the West which has made the running. So far, the response from the Soviet Union, there and elsewhere, has been unforthcoming. The Soviet Union proposed talks on limiting weapons in space, but then refused to take yes for an answer.

When the Soviet Government find the political will to respond positively and to resume their empty chair at the nuclear negotiating table they will meet a ready response. [column 30]We want security at a lower level of weapons and at a lower cost—provided always that reductions are balanced and verifiable.

This Government will not put at risk our national security or peace by giving up our nuclear defences while our greatest potential enemy keeps its nuclear defences. We should remember that the possession of the nuclear deterrent has prevented not only nuclear war, but conventional war. At one time, that used to be common ground between the parties. Indeed, after the last war, in the 1940s, it was the Labour Government of Mr. Attlee who first provided Britain with nuclear weapons. In the 1960s and 1970s, Labour Government under Lord Wilson and under James Callaghanthe right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth maintained Polaris and later confirmed the decision to modernise it with Chevaline.

In 1976 the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said

“It is not and never has been my view that unilateral renunciation would promote peace in the world.—[Official Report, 19 May 1976; Vol. 911, c. 1389.]”

In 1981 the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said:

“The only real answer to the nuclear threat is multilateral disarmament and not unilateral gestures.”

Over the past three or four decades, Labour, both in government and in opposition, affirmed again and again that nuclear weapons were crucial to the defence of the West and the preservation of peace. Well, what has changed? It is not the defence needs of the West, but the Labour party itself. Now, not content with getting rid of Britain's own nuclear deterrent, the Labour party is committed to the unconditional removal of all United States' nuclear weapons and nuclear bases from British soil and British waters. So, to our American allies, Labour would be saying, “We do not want your nuclear weapons on our soil, but we still expect you to help to defend our freedom.”

The Opposition's policies would hand the Soviet Union a major military, political and propaganda advantage in return for nothing. They would greatly diminish the value and credibility of Britain's contribution to the Alliance, sabotage the close relationship between Britain and the United States and strike at the basis of the peace and security which NATO has brought Europe for the past 35 years.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

If our relationship with the American allies is so close, why did they vote against us on the Falklands in the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

I am talking about NATO. I make it clear that we believe in the NATO alliance, in honouring its policies and in staying loyal to our American allies. We are very grateful for the tremendous effort that they put into the defence of Europe.

As the Gracious Speech says, the Government consider their highest priority to be the “maintenance of national security” and we will uphold the strategy of NATO and honour our obligations to our principal ally. That is not true of the Opposition.

I believe that in the coming Session we shall have to face a matter that lies at the heart of parliamentary government. Many of the measures in the Gracious Speech will be keenly contested. No one can complain about that. The Opposition can and will criticise, oppose, amend or [column 31]delay any Bill, but once that Bill has been passed through Parliament to become law, that law must be obeyed equally and by all.

Disagree as Governments and Oppositions will on policy, we were united on that constitutional convention. I fear that in recent months that convention has been under threat. As we saw only last month in Blackpool, there are some in the Labour party who hold the law and the courts to be nothing more than obstacles in the way of their political objectives. On Wednesday 3 October the Labour conference passed a resolution giving its official backing to lawbreakers. The resolution promised to support local councils.

“forced to break the law as a result of the Tory Government's policies” .
Forced to break the law! In a democracy, where people can vote at least once every five years to change the law through the ballot box, no one is
“forced to break the law” .
That is not the language of those who believe in democracy, nor of those who believe in law.

The Gracious Speech, like its predecessors, depends upon that fundamental constitutional convention which, because of the attitude of some in the Labour party, is in danger of breaking down. This year let it be seen that those who deny the duty to uphold the rule of law, those who use violence for political ends, and those who deny the ascendancy of the ballot box and the supremacy of Parliament find no support in any part of this honourable House.