Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1985 Mar 19 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [75/774-78]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2470
Themes: Parliament, Union of UK nations, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, European Union Budget, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Australia & NZ), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Housing, Local government, Local government finance, Social security & welfare
[column 774]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 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 this House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Mr. Stanbrook

At a time when we, the people of a comparatively wealthy and successful country, are about to consider the distribution of our wealth, would it not be right to remember how lucky we are compared with the thousands of people dying from starvation in Africa—a continent in which Britain has hitherto made an immense contribution to human progress? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Britain will play a leading role in the international campaign to find long-term solutions to the problem of famine in Africa?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Mr. Speaker. At the United Nations conference last week on the emergency in Africa my right hon. Friend Timothy Raisonthe Minister for Overseas Development stressed the need to sort out the underlying difficulties of some of the problematic countries in Africa, and pledged £125 million in development aid to 20 of the worst affected countries in Africa. That is in addition to the £60 million in emergency aid, and covers the coming financial year. On a longer term basis, my right hon. Friend has pledged £75 million to the World Bank special facility for Africa. We are well aware of the problem that my hon. Friend has highlighted.

Mr. Beith

Does the Prime Minister share the view of The Times that the Foreign Secretary's speech on the [column 775]American star wars programme was muddled, mealy-mouthed and damaging to the Alliance? [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Lady believe that that statement represented a realistic assessment of the dangers of the star wars strategy?

The Prime Minister

I reject the language and the conclusion in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. The policy was, and remains, in the four points set out at Camp David and reaffirmed when I was in Washington. My right hon. and learned Friend Sir Geoffrey Howethe Foreign Secretary was speaking in pursuance of that policy.

Mr. Hayes

Is my right hon. Friend not greatly encouraged by the Manpower Services Commission's quarterly review, published today, which shows that 10 per cent. of the work force are now self-employed? Will that news encourage my right hon. Friend to make the very successful enterprise allowance demand-led?

The Prime Minister

I noticed the report and the increasing numbers of people who are self-employed. That augurs well for the future of small businesses, as the self-employed gradually come to employ other people. I am afraid that for the answers that he sought in the last part of his question my hon. Friend must await the statement of my right hon. Friend Nigel Lawsonthe Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Kinnock

The four points agreed with President Reagan are rather vague in several respects. For instance, can the Prime Minister tell us what veto she has that will ensure there will be no step from research into development, with all the consequent experiments, without her permission and the permission of the House?

The Prime Minister

It is not a question of a veto. Research is permitted, and the constraints on deployment are those contained in the anti-ballistic missile treaty, signed in 1972 by both the Soviet Union and the United States, which fully permits research, but requires negotiation before testing and deployment, in accordance with the terms of the treaty.

Mr. Kinnock

As these are matters of great concern, will the right hon. Lady tell us very clearly where she draws the line between research and development?

The Prime Minister

Where it is drawn by the anti-ballistic missile treaty.

Mr. Forth

Will my right hon. Friend undertake to instruct our representatives in the negotiations to enlarge the EEC that all details of costs to the United Kingdom and the Community should be given to the House before we are asked to approve such enlargement?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend is aware, we reached agreement at Fontainebleau, and this included the proportion of enlargement costs that would be borne by this country. It is not possible to say precisely what they are while the negotiations are still incomplete. However, I shall do my best to see that they are laid before the House at the relevant time.

Mr. Wilson

Has the Prime Minister seen the report from the Australian Royal Commission, which surfaced yesterday, that previous British Governments had entertained a proposal for holding nuclear device tests in Scotland? In view of the anger about that proposal in Scotland, will she join me in condemning it as an act of aggression against the Scottish people?

[column 776]

The Prime Minister

A letter used in evidence at the Australian Royal Commission showed that in 1954 a location near Wick was considered as a possible area for a minor trial of a triggering device in support of nuclear weapon development. It was not a nuclear device. The area was quickly rejected because it was considered unsuitable.

Q2. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Atkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the French Government's deliberate procrastination over the development of the European fighter aircraft for use by the air forces of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Spain and France is preventing the collaboration in that industry that we all want? In view of the imminence of international ministerial discussions on this matter, will she use her considerable influence with President Mitterrand to resolve, as a matter of urgency, French obstructiveness?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, a good deal of work has been done on the European fighter aircraft. A common staff target has been agreed between the five air forces, and the industries of the five countries are now doing a feasibility study. I expect that the Defence Ministers will meet in May to make their assessment. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that it will be difficult to resolve some of the problems. Should intervention be necessary, I shall not hesitate to make it.

Mrs. Renée Short

Does the Prime Minister agree with the statement made in the debate on the west midlands last Friday that a low wage is better than no wage at all?

The Prime Minister

I believe that it is better to work for a low wage and to have it topped up by family income supplement than not to have a job.

Sir Edward du Cann

Will my right hon. Friend make time today to note the mounting anxiety being expressed in all quarters of the House and outside it about the serious decline in the British merchant fleet? Will she consider whether she should appoint a senior Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating constructive Government policies to reverse that very worrying trend?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the decline in the British merchant fleet, because of severe competition from other parts of the world. I recognise my right hon. Friend's point that it is of strategic significance to have a good British merchant fleet of considerable size. I shall take his point to heart.

Q3. Mr. Tony Lloyd

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Lloyd

Is it not apparent to the Prime Minister that today we have another Budget for jobs? Will she specifically tell the House and the millions of unemployed people in the country when unemployment will begin to turn down dramatically? If the Prime Minister will not do that today, will she at least tell us that this Government have neither the wit nor the compassion to do anything serious about mass unemployment?

[column 777]

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that the number of those in jobs increased by 342,000 over the year to September and by 480,000 over the last 18 months. The rise in the working population is still continuing. The proportion of the population of working age who are in work is higher in this country, at 66 per cent., than in West Germany at 61 per cent., France at 61 per cent. and Italy at 55 per cent. We shall create more jobs and begin to reduce the number of unemployed when industry is even more competitive and produces goods and services that people both here and overseas will buy in greater quantities.

Mr. Hill

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Russians have breached the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty so many times in the last 10 years that there will have to be many safeguards if we are to develop the strategic defence initiative? Has my right hon. Friend had discussions with President Reagan about the safeguards?

The Prime Minister

Various accusations about breaches of the anti-ballistic missile treaty have been made, in particular about radars and the direction and position of those radars. The place to sort those out is in one of the consultative committees provided for in the anti-ballistic missile treaty. I believe that this subject will be taken up at the Geneva talks.

Q4. Mr. Pike

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Pike

When will the Prime Minister take steps to stop the widening rift between the north and the south? When will the Government take steps to deal with the deprived regions of the country? Would not the first step be for the Government to take a positive decision and say that no development will take place at Stansted and that any public money that would have been used at Stansted will be used in the regions instead?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the alleged north-south divide may I point out—[Interruption.] It is not right to talk of a straightforward divide between north and south. Parts of the north are very prosperous—[Hon. Members: “Name them.” ]—while other parts have very high unemployment. There are also parts of the south which have very high unemployment. However, public investment per head of the population in the last year for which figures are available was £89 in the north, compared with £76 as the English average. It was even higher in Wales and Scotland. Public investment was purposely higher in the north to help with the unemployment problem.

[column 778]

Q5. Mr. Heddle

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Heddle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that council house rent arrears have risen from £74 million in 1980 to a staggering £188 million today? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many local authorities are thus denying to thousands of single homeless people the right to rent a home? Are not these local authorities flying in the face of the interests of their ratepayers?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is correct. Rent arrears are far too high, and they are rising. The management is not good enough. Both the Department of the Environment and the Audit Commission have issued comprehensive guidance. It would be as well if the authorities followed this guidance and reduced the arrears, in the interests of their ratepayers.

Mr. Ewing

To return to the number of people in work, is it not true that 2 million fewer people are in work now than when the Prime Minister came to office in 1979 and that her economic policies have effectively destroyed 2 million jobs in this country?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the amount of overmanning in British industry due to the refusal of the Labour Government to face fundamental problems, such as the steel industry, left us the problems to deal with. Had we not been able to deal with them, Britain would have had no industrial future because it would have had no competitive industries. It now has, thanks to this Government.

Q6. Mr. Hannam

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 19 March.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hannam

Is my right hon. Friend aware that development and exploration activity in the North sea is reaching record levels? Is this not due to the success of free enterprise, backed by a helpful tax regime? Will she apply similar tax incentives to the rest of the British economy?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is right. The development of the North sea was a great tribute to private enterprise. It was done quickly and with great profit and benefit to Britain, especially to the north-east of our country, where it has provided many jobs for industries associated with North sea oil development. That was added to and assisted by the right framework of taxation policy. That is the right recipe—the Government set the framework and people take advantage of it in private enterprise.