Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1985 Dec 12 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [88/1059-64]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2400
Themes: Parliament, Industry, Elections & electoral system, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, Law & order, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Women
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PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Ashley

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

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The Prime Minister

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.

Mr. Ashley

Is it not time that the Prime Minister stopped prevaricating about fraud in the City of London, especially as the Bank of England has just admitted that Johnson Matthey Bankers was involved in fraud? Will she take the opportunity to adapt the words of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who condemned the unacceptable and unpleasant face of capitalism? Will she condemn the unacceptable face of the City?

The Prime Minister

If there has been fraud, no one is more anxious than the Government that it should be tracked down and those responsible for it convicted and sentenced. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, it is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether to bring a fraud case, and it is vital that the decision should not be made by politicians. We shall do everything possible to ensure that the resources are available, and any inquiries such as that by Lord Justice Roskill will be put into action. We hope to have this report and publish it fairly soon.

Mr. Watts

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who call for cuts in interest rates to reduce the pressure on, and the costs for, industry should also have regard to the pressures on industrial costs from the rise in the cost of importing raw materials, which flows from the deterioration in the sterling-dollar parity?

The Prime Minister

Yes, my hon. Friend has made a powerful point. We always need to have regard to the cost of raw materials, and if the exchange rate goes down, the cost of raw materials goes up and into the next round of costs, which makes exports less competitive in the following year.

Mr. Hattersley

Last night the Prime Minister publicly speculated about the prospect of tax cuts. Will she therefore answer the question which she avoided answering on 19 November? Will she confirm that, as the Government expect to receive £4.75 billion from the sale of British Gas and other assets next year, the proposed tax cuts will be wholly financed by the sale of those resources?

The Prime Minister

I said that tax cuts must be secondary to holding down inflation. Now is not the time to decide whether there are to be any cuts, and, as I pointed out about the proceeds of privatisation, even if there were none, and one treated the same amount as being borrowed, during the year the total amount of borrowing as a proportion of national income would be the lowest for 14 years.

Mr. Hattersley

If the right hon. Lady is saying, as she seems to be, that tax cuts next year are by no means certain, will she admit that, without an income of £4.75 billion from the sale of British Gas and other assets, there would be tax increase next year, not tax cuts?

The Prime Minister

I do not wonder that the right hon. Gentleman works so hard, knowing the Labour Government's appalling record on personal income tax. Even if we treat sales from privatisation as borrowings, we find that the PSBR this year will be the lowest since 1971–72 as a proportion of national income. The [column 1061]privatisation programme will continue because it is good for business, for employees, for shareholders and for Britain.

Mr. Onslow

As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has referred to speeches that were made last night, will my right hon. Friend give the House an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will have an early opportunity to make the speech which he was prevented from making by a deplorable, orchestrated and deliberate campaign by the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench?

The Prime Minister

I hope that Norman Tebbitmy right hon. Friend will have an early opportunity to do so. I am sorry that the Opposition could not take his cogent remarks. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will continue with his customary robust style.

Dr. Owen

Does the Prime Minister realise that by continuing to defend a wholly unrealistic exchange rate she is putting British manufacturing industry in the same position in which she placed it in 1980–81 and risking the loss of a great part of our industrial capacity?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk sterling down. I do not and I will not. I wish sterling to stay strong, and I am anxious that were it to go down the cost of raw materials would increase, which would have a damaging effect on British industry in the next round of its costings.

Mr. Hirst

Will my right hon. Friend remind the House that it is thanks to the Government that Ravenscraig will continue producing steel? Does she agree that the future and the interests of the Scottish steel industry are ill served by Opposition Members abdicating their responsibilities in the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I agree with both my hon. Friend's assertions. It is this Government who have done everything possible to save production at Ravenscraig over the current three-year plan. That is the only period on which we have pronounced, and we shall stand by that undertaking.

Q2. Mr. Chris Smith

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Smith

Is the Prime Minister aware that her reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) will be extremely worrying to many outside the House who are perturbed at the apparent lack of concern and action by the Government regarding fraud in the City? Will she give a specific commitment that the Government will bring forward proposals in the Financial Services Bill to improve the regulation of the City and of Lloyd's?

The Prime Minister

The Government have done a great deal to improve the facilities that are available to combat fraud. It was this Government who set up the fraud investigation group. The Financial Services Bill will be introduced shortly by this Government. It was this Government who set up the Roskill commission to [column 1062]consider the future of juries in fraud trials. We shall continue to do all that we can to ensure that those who are guilty of fraud are brought to justice.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

In view of the references to the unacceptable face of capitalism, did not the House see last night the unacceptable face of Socialism—the giggling, smirking face of Socialism—giggling and smirking in a debate on the serious problems of the inner cities? Will the country not draw its own conclusions?

The Prime Minister

I hope that the country will do just that.

Q3. Mr. Penhaligon

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Penhaligon

Does the Prime Minister recognise the contribution made by Cornish mining to the economy of Britain over hundreds of years, typified by today's announcement that English China Clays, operating in my constituency, made a profit of £75 million? Will the Government be offering some assistance to Cornish tin to prevent it being wiped out, and is she prepared to meet a delegation?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, Leon Brittanthe Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made it clear some weeks ago that steps should be taken to enable the legal commitments of the International Tin Council to be met. The latest meeting of that council is still in progress. We want an early return to orderly trading, with other countries meeting their proper commitments. While that meeting is in progress we cannot make any further statements.

Q4. Mr. Leigh

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Leigh

Will my right hon. Friend refuse to accede to the advice given to her last week by that first-rate comic and SDP groupie, Mr. John Cleese, to extend proportional representation from Northern Ireland to the mainland? Does she accept that PR has given Italy no fewer than 35 Governments since the war, has handed whole countries into the clutches of one-interest parties and would break the historic link between a Member of Parliament and his constituency? Does she further agree that if we must listen to comedians, “Yes, Minister” is preferable to “Yes, Manuel” ?

The Prime Minister

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend, and I assure him that this Government have no intention of introducing legislation to change the present electoral system, which has served this country well.

Mr. McCusker

Has the Prime Minister had a chance to consider the carefully drafted words of the communiqué that preceded the announcement that the Irish Republic had already taken action on security on the border, in which it was said that they were taking those measures as a precaution and for reassurance, with no acceptance of the fact that they needed to take action against terrorists? What did they mean by that? Who were they trying to reassure and against whom were they taking precautions?

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The Prime Minister

The meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference was a good start to the Anglo-Irish accord. Both sides are trying to do all they can to improve security, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at matters in that spirit.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to have discussions with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry with a view to referring to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission the bid by Argyll for the Distillers Company, which represents more than 50 per cent. of the entire Scottish whisky industry, which has enormous implications for employment throughout Great Britain, and which company provides about £1 billion to the Treasury, making this a matter of national interest?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. and learned Friend will be aware, Leon Brittanmy right hon. Friend will take advice from the Director General of Fair Trading and anyone else whom he wishes to consult. I shall draw my hon. and learned Friend's remarks to his attention, but in the end the decision is solely for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Mr. Duffy

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Duffy

May I refer the right hon. Lady to yesterday's mob violence in Northern Ireland and the incitement by certain Loyalist Members of this House? Their public statement suggests that they are bent on making Northern Ireland ungovernable, and they say that they will stop at nothing. What steps will she take, if necessary, to keep Northern Ireland governable?

The Prime Minister

I hope that we will give the new agreement a chance and say nothing that inflames opinion [column 1064]anywhere in Northern Ireland. Tom KingThe Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will take all steps possible to maintain law and order and to fight terrorism. I believe that as a result of the agreement greater steps on security will be taken. Having said that, the best thing is to give the agreement a chance.

Q6. Dame Jill Knight

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 12 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Dame Jill Knight

Is my right hon. Friend aware that women widowed during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth are banned from receiving maternity allowance? Does she agree that it is tragic enough to lose one's husband at such a time, without being denied a benefit that all other mothers receive? If so, will she see our right hon. and mutual Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and ask him to reconsider the matter, as he has not so far proved sympathetic to it?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that point. I am sure that my right hon. Friend Norman Fowlerthe Secretary of State for Social Services will give her a complete reply. If she looks into the matter, she will find that since the beginning of national insurance there has been something called “overlapping provisions” under which the same person cannot draw two benefits for maintenance. Under the circumstances that my hon. Friend has drawn to my attention, where there would seem to be a claim for widows' benefit and maternity allowance, the rules are that the person involved can take whichever is the higher of the two allowances. That rule has existed under the overlapping provisions since the national insurance scheme was introduced in the 1940s.