Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [74/1162-66]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2431
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservatism, Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Education, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Local government finance, Security services, Social security & welfare, Transport, 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 7 March.

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

The principal findings of the Bridge report published yesterday leave far too many questions unanswered. Has the right hon. Lady seen the film produced recently for ITV which contains the allegations of Miss Massiter and others? If not, will she find time to see it during the course of the day or possibly on Channel 4 tomorrow, when I gather that it is to be shown to the public? Alternatively, does the right hon. Lady wish to see the establishment of a McCarthyite structure in this country such as existed in the United States in the early 1950s?

The Prime Minister

Responsibility for the intelligence services has been discharged in the same way by all Governments, including the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported in office. It has been recognised by all Governments that what they can say on the matter on the Floor of the House is very limited. James CallaghanThe last Labour Prime Minister said:

“I shall adhere to the normal practice of not commenting on security matters.” —[Official Report, 29 June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 631.]

I called in Lord Bridge to make certain that there had been no unauthorised interception through the procedure adopted by Ministers. He fully discharged that responsibility.

Mr. Maclean

Has my right hon. Friend seen reports that the British Rail unions are seeking pay rises of over 30 per cent? In view of the fact that in recent months the prehistoric leadership of those unions has deliberately sabotaged the freight network to the tune of £200 million, [column 1163]does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be no pay rises for British Rail staff this year until there have been productivity gains on a similar scale?

The Prime Minister

British Rail has already lost a great deal of income through not carrying sufficient coal and, in some cases, because during the coal strike there has not been enough coal to carry. I hope that all those who work for British Rail will make it their top priority to get back both freight and passenger traffic.

Mr. Coleman

It is reported that, since her visit to the United States the Prime Minister has been enthusiastically inbued with the idea of substituting vouchers for supplementary benefit. Is she aware that members of families who suffered under parish relief and the ministrations of relieving officers in pre-war days could give her advice on the indignity of such a system, without such a costly visit? Will the Prime Minister recognise that if she proceeds with that idea it will be fought line by line and inch by inch by those of us who had that experience?

The Prime Minister

I have no intention of substituting vouchers for supplementary benefits.

Q3. Mr. Evennett

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Evennett

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the strike action taken by teachers is unprofessional and irresponsible? Will she consider the provision of a no-strike clause in teachers' employment terms?

The Prime Minister

I agree that the strike action taken by teachers is deplorable and damaging to the children in their care. My hon. Friend will be aware that at least one teachers' union—I believe that there is more than one—has a no-strike clause in its constitution. We applaud that as being in keeping with the professional standards that we expect of teachers. I hope that it will be followed by other unions.

Mr. Steel

As the Prime Minister accepts that she has a duty to maintain public confidence in the security services, does she agree that there is something lacking in a report which does not address itself to complaints about surveillance not authorised by a ministerial warrant, blanket surveillance under single ministerial warrants or the widespread interception of transatlantic calls, which are not subject to ministerial warrant at all? Do not those issues need to be addressed?

The Prime Minister

As I said in a previous reply, all Governments have discharged their responsibility for the intelligence and security services very carefully. All have been governed by the same practices. Sometimes when we were in opposition I came to the House to support the then Home Secretary—he will know the occasions—because I accepted the practices and traditions that govern the service. It is vital that we do nothing to undermine the security services or to undermine the freedom on which the country depends.

Q4. Mr. Cohen

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

The Prime Minister

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

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Mr. Cohen

Does the Prime Minister recall that passage in her speech to the Tory party conference in which she said that she wanted to reduce the influence of the state over the individual? Is she not being two-faced in this matter? Is not the Government's real policy one of cutting the welfare side of the state—housing, social services and education—while massively increasing the repressive arm of the state, taking away civil liberties in the process? In this latter respect, is she not becoming to the British state what Joe Stalin was to the Soviet one?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will go to the Soviet Union for a considerable length of time and see how he enjoys the comparison.

Mr. Churchill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is reckless and irresponsible of the Leader of the Opposition to promise the Kremlin the two highest priorities on its shopping list—a nuclear-disarmed Britain and a break-up of the NATO Alliance by our dismissing the Americans from their nuclear bases here? Is it not strange that he should condemn American researches into space defence while not equally condemning those that have been undertaken by the Soviet Union since the middle 1970s?

The Prime Minister

For any right hon. or hon. Member to suggest that he would remove cruise missiles from Britain and then close United States' nuclear bases here is thoroughly to undermine our defence and security, freedom and democracy. It is wise to point out that, had we not remained firm in deploying cruise with our Allies, I doubt very much whether the Soviet Union would have been brought back to the negotiating table.

Mr. Ryman

Following the decision of the National Union of Mineworkers to return to work on Tuesday, is the Prime Minister aware of the vindictive and gloating attitude of the National Coal Board, which, on Tuesday morning, refused to allow, 1,700 miners to return to work at Bates's colliery, Blyth?

The Prime Minister

The management of the NCB has discharged its duty at the end of the strike excellently and commendably. It is anxious to get workers working together harmoniously and back in the pits. I commend the management on the action that it has taken.

Q5. Mr. Tracey

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Tracey

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity to read the extraordinary statement of the deputy leader of the Greater London council to the effect that GLC funds will be supplied to Labour-controlled boroughs which refuse to set a rate, so that irresponsible authorities can pay their workers when they should take responsibility for them? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is another disgraceful abuse of ratepayers' money in London.

The Prime Minister

Every council has the duty to make a legal rate, otherwise very serious consequences can follow. I believe that it is completely irresponsible to set out to assist any council which is not going to discharge, or seeks not to discharge, its legal responsibilities.

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Mr. Kinnock

When this month's unemployment figures show an increase yet again of 20,000, does the Prime Minister propose to continue with the policies which have already increased unemployment by 2 million and will certainly bring even higher jobless totals if they go on?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is correct in his description of the numbers of unemployed. They have risen, seasonally adjusted, although the headline figure is down. I believe that

“the only answer to the economic problems which have dogged Britain … is to improve the performance of our manufacturing industry. That means higher productivity, better design, more vigorous salesmanship, more reliable delivery and servicing.”

So said the right hon. Gentleman's Denis HealeyLabour Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Kinnock

It was convincing then. From the right hon. Lady now, it is utterly unconvincing. That response does not convince even her own hon. Friends. Her hon. Friends on the Treasury Select Committee reporting today said that the Government's attitude exacerbated the problems of the pound. The Tory Reform Group today said:

“Under the Prime Minister's policies we are not eating the seed corn, we are burning it.”

Will the right hon. Lady take the advice of the Tory Reform Group and ourselves and many others? [Interruption.] I know that the Tory party is split, and it is demonstrating it very conclusively. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This takes up a lot of time.

Mr. Kinnock

Perhaps right hon. and hon. Gentlemen would like to take up these claims with the chairman of the Tory Reform Group—[Hon. Members: “Who is he?” ] The Secretary of State for Energy. Will the Prime Minister, in any case, take its advice and increase investment in production, housebuilding and improvement, education and research before the deterioration gets even worse and before unemployment goes even higher?

The Prime Minister

It was not easy to discern a thread through the right hon. Gentleman's question, but I noticed that he disagreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), a former Chancellor of the Exchequer. That means that he disagrees with the message. I am surprised about that, because the message was clear—higher productivity, better design, more vigorous salesmanship, more reliable delivery and services. The speed at which—[Interruption.] It is no good the Opposition yowling at something they do not like. The speed at which we achieve those objectives will decide the speed at which we get unemployment down. With regard to the Treasury Select Committee, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—[Interruption.] The Opposition are yowling away, Mr. Speaker, as usual. The Treasury Select Committee said: [column 1166]

“There are good reasons why the Government should not state explicitly an exchange-rate target, ceiling or floor. To do so would reduce speculators' risks” .

I agree.

Mr. Kinnock

Conservative Members are—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am doing my utmost to try to get in another Back Bencher. Mr. Kinnock.

Mr. Kinnock

It is the Tory Back Benchers who are preventing that, probably by prior arrangement. There was not so much a thread on the Prime Minister's response as cobwebs. All of what she said related to six years ago—2 million jobs ago, £40,000 million of investment ago, and £50,000 million worth of oil revenues ago. In spite of that passage of time, all that the Prime Minister does is worsen the situation. Are we supposed to hang around and wait for the equivalent of Mr. John James to turn up to do for the British economy, and 3⅓ million unemployed people, what he has had to do for Guy's hospital.

The Prime Minister

In spite of everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, this Government have achieved record output, a record standard of living and record investment. That is a very strong economy.

Later——

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I will take points of order after the statements.

Sir Anthony Grant

The point arises from Question Time today, and I deferred making it until after business questions.

Mr. Speaker

Then I will take it now.

Sir Anthony Grant

You will recall, Sir, that on Tuesday my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) rightly raised with you the abuse of Prime Minister's Question Time by excessive long-windedness on the part of the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. It occurred again today. It is rapidly becoming an abuse of the House. Although I appreciate that you give some licence to Front-Bench spokesmen, could you tell the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen that sometimes the shortest interventions are the most effective? To be perfectly fair, would you also tell Members on the Government Front Bench that sometimes the shortest answers are the most effective?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman's comment will have been taken to heart. However, that is not a matter with which I can deal.