Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 May 15 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 [97/847-52]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2932
Themes: Defence (general), Employment, Industry, By-elections, Local elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Pay, Trade, Foreign policy (USA), Health policy, Private health care, Housing, Terrorism, Transport
[column 847]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Sheerman

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

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.

Mr. Sheerman

Given the further relentless rise in the unemployment figures that have been announced today and the depressing long-term trend, together with the announcement yesterday of the loss of 3,500 jobs in the [column 848]British shipbuilding industry and the announcement today of the loss of 1,000 jobs at British Caledonian, will the Prime Minister now announce that she will reverse the disastrous economic polices that she has pursued for the last seven years, or that she will call a general election so that Labour can create genuine jobs?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I did not notice that Labour did particularly well during the last two by-elections. I am sure the hon. Gentleman noticed that the labour force survey confirmed the overall increase in the number of jobs during the last three years to have been 1 million. I am the first to say that we need more shipbuilding orders, but there are very few of them. However, the hon. Gentleman heard yesterday that my right hon. Friend Paul Channonthe Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is to take a number of measures to help unemployment in those regions. An enterprise company is to be set up through British Shipbuilders.

Sir Edward du Cann

Has my right hon. Friend noted the deep anxiety with which, on both sides of the House, the announcement about the decline in Britain's shipbuilding capacity was greeted yesterday? Will she re-examine the many constructive proposals that have been put forward for the development of policies to encourage the expansion of the British merchant fleet—national, European and international—upon which the health of all the marine industries depends? May I beg her to bear in mind that the decline in the British merchant fleet and in our shipbuilding capacity is the most serious matter from the point of view of both the economy and defence? It could be changed and it should be changed.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend will be the first to know that the future of British Shipbuilders depends upon success in winning new orders. We are taking a number of measures, particularly with regard to soft credit, to ensure that we can compete on an equal basis with other people. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the tremendous number of surplus ships in the world, amounting to 40 million tonnes, whereas the world capacity is 18 million tonnes. Therefore, the surplus would replace the world capacity.

Mr. Kinnock

Unemployment stands at 3.3 million. Today's figures show the biggest loss in manufacturing jobs in recent years. In the light of that, and in the light of the case that has just been made, not for the first time, by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann, will the Prime Minister now adopt a policy for British shipbuilding of scrap and build, and bring forward public sector orders in order to sustain work and skills in the yards, especially in those areas of very high unemployment? Alternatively, does the Prime Minister intend to stand aside and let British Shipbuilders join the long and growing list of those industries that have become her economic victims?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are very few shipbuilding orders about in the world and that many other shipbuilding countries have had to close their shipyards. The Swedes have effectively abandoned merchant shipbuilding, the Dutch Government have refused to support their industry to build the sister ship to the large North sea ferry—won by Govan—the Japanese are having to adjust to the shortage of orders, the Germans have cut their capacity by [column 849]half and the French are also cutting capacity. The fact is that there have been so many subsidies for building ships that they have been built and there is surplus tonnage to the tune of 40 million tonnes. There is no point in scrap and build, as there are already too many ships.

Mr. Kinnock

In Japan the unemployment rate is 2.6 per cent., in Sweden it is 2.8 per cent. and in every country which the right hon. Lady has mentioned the unemployment rate is lower than that of Britain, which is nearly 14 per cent. and much lower than the level of nearly 18 per cent. in the northern region of Britain. Different circumstances require different responses. Why will the Prime Minister not look at the option of scrap and build and the option of bringing forward public sector orders for shipbuilding, so as to sustain, for this maritime nation, a viable merchant shipbuilding industry?

The Prime Minister

There are still merchant shipbuilding yards, which I hope will continue. We are trying our level best to get more orders, in particular for Sunderland. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about full employment in those countries, may I point out that those countries have not attempted to shore up older industries, but have vigorously embraced the new technologies, and that is what we must do.

Mr. Soames

Will my right hon. Friend join me in regretting today's announcement by British Caledonian of nearly 1,000 redundancies, many of whom are my constituents [Interruption]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an important question concerning a Member's constituency.

Mr. Soames

In the light of this sad news, will my right hon. Friend have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and ask him to overturn his appalling decision to revoke the licence for the air link between Gatwick and Heathrow?

The Prime Minister

Nicholas RidleyMy right hon. Friend has heard what my hon. Friend has said. I regret that British Caledonian found it necessary to make cuts as a response to lower levels of traffic. Much of the reason for falling traffic has been over-exaggerated fears of terrorism, especially in the United States of America. We are doing everything possible to make them realise that this country has a safer capital than almost any other one in Europe.

Mr. James Callaghan

The fact that the Prime Minister quotes countries like Sweden and Germany shows that the Government do not yet understand that there is a strategic necessity to maintain a maritime presence in this country. If she is looking for orders, why not bring forward the naval programme, especially for the large number of coastal vessels, oil rig protection vessels, guard ships and others that are required by the Royal Navy to overcome this cyclical deficiency? If the Prime Minister does not do so, nobody will believe that the Government are making the maximum efforts to preserve this strategic industry.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that there is still merchant shipbuilding capacity in this country. He is also aware, as I have said, that the surplus tonnage of ships is already of the order of 40 million tonnes. There is little point in building more when we have that surplus.

With regard to naval ships, the right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that we have brought forward one of the [column 850]AOR fleet to help Swan Hunter, and that last year we ordered four major and three smaller warships. That is for the warship yards, which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, are quite different from the merchant shipbuilding yards.

Q2. Mr. Portillo

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Portillo

If my right hon. Friend turns her attention today to the reallocation of resources in the Health Service to help the worst-off areas, will she reflect on the fact that that policy was originally sponsored by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who is now the leader of the SDP, that it has been supported by both parties when in office and that, even so, in London, under that policy, 70,000 more patients are now being treated than were treated when the Government came to office?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The policy of reallocating health resources away from London because the population of London was falling and to try to equalise health provision throughout the country was started by the Labour Government and has been continued by this Government. Nevertheless, the number of patients being treated in London has still increased—70,000 more in-patients, 70,000 more day cases and 50,000 more out-patients are treated each year. London continues to have about 20 per cent. of expenditure on the hospital services, for about 15 per cent. of the population, so it is still improving its services.

Dr. Owen

When the falling competitiveness of British industry can be described as appalling and alarming today by the Prime Minister's own Employment Secretary, does it not show the completely broken-backed nature of the Government's industrial strategy and that unemployment will continue to rise until there is an income strategy which affects the private and the public sectors?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman had a strict income strategy the last time he was in government as a Labour Minister. He also had a strict prices strategy to keep prices down. Inflation is now much lower than it ever was then. The strategy collapsed in the winter of discontent. The right hon. Gentleman would be very rash even to consider bringing it back.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Leicester city Conservatives and their leader, Councillor Michael Johnson, on gaining two council seats from Labour and a 7.5 per cent. swing to the Conservatives in Leicester, East? Is she aware that it was done by hard work, far too high rates—an 80 per cent. increase—Nelson Mandela park and a twinning arrangement with Nicaragua?

The Prime Minister

I gladly congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent results that he achieved in the local government elections.

Q3. Dr. M. S. Miller

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Dr. Miller

Does the Prime Minister intend totally to ignore the lambasting that she has received from the Office [column 851]of Health Economics, which shows that the United Kingdom is among the lowest spenders on health of all the developed countries of western Europe? Does she still maintain that the Health Service is safe in her hands? That claim runs entirely counter to the experience of doctors, nurses, Health Service workers and patients. When will she fund the Health Service to cater for the legitimate needs of the population, taking account of the fact that people are living longer and that we live in a technological age?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman considers the figures carefully, he will see that the proportion of public funds spent is not different. The difference occurs because, in many of those countries, people choose to spend far more of their own money on health, on top of state provision. Some of the countries with the top figures spend enormous sums on health privately. Far more is spent on health in Britain than a few years ago. Far more patients are treated—[Interruption.] Of course Opposition Members do not like it, but they will hear it. Far more patients are being treated, which is what matters. Patient services have increased, waiting lists have fallen and the number of staff in the NHS who deal directly with patients has increased—nurses and midwives by 60,000 and doctors and dentists by 10,000. I am grateful for the opportunity to give those excellent figures.

Q5. Mr. Jim Callaghan

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Prime Minister aware that, despite her declared intention to create a property-owning community, a recent report by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has produced some disturbing and alarming figures on mortgage arrears? Is she aware that one in 10 families are declared homeless because they cannot pay their mortgages? Is she aware that the number of those in great financial difficulties with their mortgage repayments has increased by 40 per cent. in the past six months? In view of those disturbing figures, what will she do about the problem?

The Prime Minister

The number of mortgage defaults is extremely small compared with the enormous number of people who take out fresh mortgages every year and the great success of the Government in increasing the number of owner-occupiers. Last year more than 1 million new mortgages were given and 1.3 million new homes were built. Home ownership is up to 62 per cent. from 56 per cent. in 1979.

Q6. Mr. Wilson

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 15 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Wilson

Does the Prime Minister realise that following last week's huge fallout of radioactivity in Scotland, which was the heaviest in the United Kingdom, [column 852]there is a tremendous revulsion against nuclear power? Does she know that the Torness AGR reactor is at present being fuelled up to go into commission, but is not yet in action? As there is 80 per cent. surplus capacity in nuclear generating in Scotland, will she take account of those feelings in Scotland on the issue of nuclear power and instruct forthwith that Torness be not commissioned?

The Prime Minister

No. Many people were pleased to have the Torness reactor built in Scotland, and many people in Scotland have great faith, as we have, in nuclear power as a way of generating electricity. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have great faith in our most excellent Nuclear Inspectorate, which does a tremendous job. [Interruption.] I see that he says no. That is what he thinks about the Nuclear Inspectorate, but I am sure that that view is not shared by the rest of the House, nor by the majority of people in Scotland.

Mr. Hayes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) made a serious point to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about many of his constituents who are being made unemployed today. You may recall that several Opposition Members responded by cheering and laughter—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Hoyle

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you for a ruling to correct an inaccurate statement made yesterday. At Question Time I asked the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had met Mr. Robert Stempel of General Motors in New York on 4 May. In reply the Minister said that his right hon. Friend had not met him. The Minister mislead the House with that reply, because he did not say that he had that meeting. Today I tried to table a question so that the Minister could come to the House and correct that misleading statement, but the Table Office would not allow me to do so. I ask that you allow me to table that question.

Mr. Speaker

I shall look into the matter. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman asked the Table Office and was told that there was a question on the Order Paper today and that he should wait until the answer was available before tabling his question.

Mr. Bell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While not in any way challenging your ruling on the first point of order in relation to unemployment in Crawley, may I ask whether it can also be said that it was an incorrect statement of fact? There was no cheering by the Opposition at unemployment in Crawley, just as there is no cheering by Conservative Members at unemployment in Middlesbrough.

Mr. Speaker

Cheering at Prime Minister's questions is legitimate, and today it was somewhat louder than it normally is. We have robust debates in this place, but it is incumbent on the House to give a fair hearing to whoever is on his or her feet.