Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1985 Jan 22 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [71/855-60]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2267
Themes: Judiciary, Defence (arms control), Industry, Privatized & state industries, Energy, European Union (general), Law & order, Social security & welfare, Strikes & other union action
[column 855]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 January.

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.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

If, as the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, Britain is still worth investing in, when will the right hon. Lady put her money where her mouth is and invest more in jobs and people?

The Prime Minister

Last year there was an all-time record of investment of £55 billion in the United Kingdom, and that seems a very good earnest of faith in Britain and a good return on investment for people who invest here.

Mr. Rost

Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm her respect for the increasing flood of working miners who are fighting to save what is left of their industry after the disastrous NUM leadership has tried to ruin it?

The Prime Minister

Yes, gladly. The working miners have given first-class leadership, demonstrated courage and bravery and done a great deal for their industry. They have kept the rest of industry going in Britain and kept the homes of Britain warm.

Mr. Kinnock

The National Union of Mineworkers has decided to expand the negotiating team to embrace the whole executive and has made a new offer to enter into negotiations without preconditions. Mr. Ian MacGregor [column 856]has said that he wants resumed negotiations. In view of those developments and the £4 billion cost of the dispute so far, why is the Prime Minister's Office giving briefings to the press saying that the Government do not favour a return to talks until more than 50 per cent. of the miners have been driven back to work?

The Prime Minister

I noticed the offer of talks, allegedly without preconditions. I noticed also what the leader of the NUM said at the same time as that offer was made. He said that his aim was what it was at the start of the dispute, that the industry should not close pits on economic considerations: some lack of preconditions!

Mr. Kinnock

No preconditions means no preconditions. Why does the Prime Minister not test the strength of the undertaking by using her power to encourage a return to the negotiating table? Is it because she is afraid that there might be a settlement if that were undertaken? Is it the case, after all these months of strikes and with new opportunities now existing, that her cynicism and vindictiveness have overwhelmed all sense of duty?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman really wants an end to this strike, as I do, he can achieve that in two ways. First, he can ensure that the NUM withdraws its impossible demand that no uneconomic pits shall close—that is a point on which seven rounds of talks have foundered—and secondly, he can do so by the simple method of accepting the independent ACAS compromise settlement.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the Prime Minister now answer the question? Why does she not use the power that we know she has to test the strength of the undertaking that negotiations will be entered into without preconditions by encouraging the National Coal Board to go to those negotiations?

The Prime Minister

No, because I noted what the leader of the NUM said. He said:

“My aim is what it was at the start of this dispute” ——

Mr. Scargill said this on Sunday

“that this industry does not close pits down on economic considerations.”

If the right hon. Gentleman means without preconditions, perhaps he would advise the NUM to accept the ACAS agreement. Will the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. These are very serious matters of concern to the whole House. It is only fair that the Prime Minister should have an opportunity to answer the question.

The Prime Minister

Seven rounds of talks have foundered on the essential point that the leadership of the NUM has boasted that it has not budged an inch. As Mr. Eaton said yesterday, there is no point in going into a further round of talks only to fail.

If the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) wants a further round of talks, the NUM should be advised to withdraw its impossible demand that no uneconomic pits should close. He should advise the NUM to accept the independent settlement recommended by ACAS—a body set up by the last Labour Government. He dare not do so.

Sir Anthony Grant

Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the fact that during the past year there were no fewer than seven rounds of talks—175 hours—during which [column 857]what many regarded as over-generous concessions were made by the NCB? Is she aware that in the opinion of the majority—certainly on the Conservative Benches—the only talks necessary now are for Mr. Scargill to talk to the NCB and accept the terms offered, as NACODS did in earlier negotiations?

The Prime Minister

ACAS was independent. It reached a compromise settlement, which the NCB accepted but which the NUM did not accept. Neil KinnockThe right hon. Member for Islwyn should urge the NUM to accept that settlement so that there can be an end to the strike.

Q2. Mr. Wareing

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 January.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Wareing

Is the Prime Minister prepared publicly to commend the decision of the Soviet Union to enter the arms talks without preconditions? If so, why is she so opposed to the decision of the NUM to enter into talks without preconditions, despite its earlier position on the question of uneconomic pits? Is it not better to jaw-jaw than to war-war?

The Prime Minister

It is better to accept the independent ACAS settlement. Why does the hon. Gentleman refuse to do so?

Sir John Biggs-Davison

To be realistic, is it not inconceivable that any sane trade union leader should expect better terms from the NCB than those offered, and which are the envy of workers in other industries? Would it not be statesmanlike of the Leader of the Opposition if he were to advise his friends in the mining industry to bring this unnecessary dispute to an end so that the miners could accept the excellent terms offered?

The Prime Minister

Yes. As Mr. Michael Eaton, the Yorkshire area director, said this morning:

“Our offer of no compulsory redundancies, guaranteed jobs, continuing major investment in the future of the industry and pay increases really is the best deal for miners than anything that has been available since nationalisation”

Some 77,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers are not on strike. Well over 30,000 members of the National Union of Mineworkers have returned to work since the beginning of the strike, including 8,400 this year. They are accepting this best-ever offer.

Mr. Steel

Does the Prime Minister recall that last October, during the committal proceedings of Mr. Clive Ponting, the prosecution reported that no national security had been damaged by his actions? In view of that, why is he now being subjected to an East European style secret trial? Who took the decision to make it in camera——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have regard to the sub judice rule.

Mr. Steel

I am asking about who took the decision that the trial should be held in camera and who took the decision that the jury should be vetted?

The Prime Minister

The full trial starts on Monday next, 28 January. As far as I am concerned, the matter is sub judice. The courts are independent of Parliament and must remain so.

Q3. Mr. George Robertson

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 January.

[column 858]

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. George Robertson

Will the Prime Minister care to take time to look at the weather map of the United Kingdom? Will she reflect on the fact that the regulations of the Department of Health and Social Security mean that the poor, the old and the sick who are freezing in the east midlands, west Wales, east Anglia and London are now to get help with their heating bills, but that those who are freezing in Scotland and the north, which today are blanketed in snow, are to get no help at all? Will the Prime Minister today give the order that these insane and insensitive regulations should be withdrawn forthwith?

The Prime Minister

Spending on heating additions—[Interruption.] The Opposition hate to hear this. It shows how bad their record was in practice. It reminds them that they tried to stop heating getting into homes. Now they are asking for extra grants. Spending on heating additions—I shall gladly answer the question—has risen by £140 million in real terms to £400 million this year. The value of heating additions is up by 40 per cent. more than the rise in prices. What the hon. Gentleman is referring to is on top of that excellent record. The particular regulation to which he referred, as my hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Minister for Social Security made clear a week ago, is at present under review.

Mr. Couchman

During her busy day, has my right hon. Friend had time to read the report stating that the European Parliament is to consider the tattooing of domestic pets? Will she confirm that this will be a complete waste of time by this body and will she confirm that this country will have nothing whatever to do with it?

The Prime Minister

I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. I hope that the European Assembly has something better to do with its time than that.

Mr. Wilson

Will the Prime Minister now answer the question put to her by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Roberston): why should additional heating allowances be given to the people of southern Ireland [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We all make mistakes.

Mr. Wilson

—to the people of southern England, deprived though they are? Does she not realise that people in Scotland have greeted with incredulity and resentment the announcement made yesterday by her right hon. Friend that large areas of England are to be given these allowances? Is the Prime Minister's message to the people of Scotland that so far as she is concerned they can shiver and die of cold?

The Prime Minister

That is nonsense, and the hon. Gentleman knows that it is nonsense. The ordinary heating additions and, indeed, the extraordinary heating additions, amount to some £400 million this year, of which £200 million are paid to pensioners. Of course, the people of Scotland fully participate in and fully receive those heating benefits. What the hon. Gentleman is talking about is additions to the £400 million, which are distributed on the same basis—an extra single payment that is distributed when certain objective tests are reached. The hon. Gentleman does not like those objective tests, but they are laid out for everyone to see and to ensure that that regulation is fairly administered. The hon. Gentleman does not like the objective tests. The whole question of the [column 859]single payment legislation is being considered and reviewed at the moment by my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for Social Services.

Q4. Mrs. Currie

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 22 January.

The Prime Minister

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

Mrs. Currie

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the considerable lightening of the atmosphere of East-West relations following the recent talks in Geneva? When she visits President Reagan in the near future, will she take with her the message that the British people have a strong [column 860]desire for peace and wish to see a substantial reduction in arms expenditure by East and West and a reduction in the armaments that are currently stockpiled?

The Prime Minister

Yes, we very much welcome the talks between Secretary Shultz and Foreign Minister Gromyko. We welcome the results. There is a long way to go on settling the agendas and deciding the forums in which those talks will take place. We wish them well. Our policy is one of balanced and verifiable arms reduction and we hope to achieve a reduction in the amount spent on weaponry, provided that we always keep balance and verification.