Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 Nov 25 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [106/133-40]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3957
Themes: Executive, Employment, Monetary policy, Energy, Public spending & borrowing, Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Security services, Sport, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
[column 133]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Redmond

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 November.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I 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 shall attend a dinner in support of the Somerville college appeal.

Mr. Redmond

Will the Prime Minister consider during her busy day appointing a special project team to examine the high unemployment figures and to bring about positive recommendations for improvement?

The Prime Minister

No. I believe that the Government are doing everything possible to increase the number of [column 134]real jobs available, by their general policy and by the number of special measures that are available to help those who are unemployed, and by their new plans to help the long-term unemployed.

Sir Fergus Montgomery

Will my right hon. Friend cast her mind back to 1977 and the case of Agee and Hosenball, which affected national security? Does she recall that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition at the time acted in unison and maintained the traditional bipartisan policy on national security?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I recall that I was Leader of the Opposition at the time. Those on the Opposition side of the House upheld the bipartisan policy and supported Merlyn Reesthe Home Secretary of the day, when more than 30 on his own side voted against him.

Mr. Kinnock

Is the Prime Minister aware of a disclosure that on 28 May, the very day on which Admiral Poindexter was assuring our representative, Sir Anthony Acland, that America was absolutely against arms for Iran, Mr. Robert Macfarlane was actually delivering arms in Iran, and doing so covertly? During the Prime Minister's recent visit to President Reagan, did she seek an explanation or an apology for this apparent lapse in the special relationship?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, our policy is that we do not give ransom of any kind for hostages. Ronald ReaganThe President of the United States has made his policy clear in his several television interviews. I do not yet answer for the United States.

Mr. Kinnock

We heard what the Prime Minister said. Will she tell us, on another aspect of the same case, how she can justify the dropping of bombs on a source of terrorism in April and the giving of cut-price gifts of arms to a source of terrorism in May?

The Prime Minister

I do not answer for the United States of America, nor am I expected to. I have answered the point if the right hon. Gentleman is referring to our policy on Libya, which I believe was fully justified.

Mr. Soames

Will my right hon. Friend pause to reflect during her busy day that, if the security services are to retain the respect and confidence of the House and the public, the Government should establish forthwith a committee of senior and eminent Privy Councillors to provide parliamentary oversight?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend is aware, this matter has been raised before. It has been considered before and rejected. I believe that the reasons for its rejection were the same as they are now. One has to trust those who are in charge of the security services and our Ministers in the discharge of their duties, as has been the case in previous Administrations and remains the case in this one.

Q2. Mr. Terry Lewis

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Lewis

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the decision yesterday to freeze the Sports Council grant to last year's figure will hit most severely the socially deprived [column 135]areas, because the extra money which was expected was earmarked in that direction? Will she reconsider that decision?

The Prime Minister

We recognise that the Sports Council fulfills an important role. It makes a significant contribution to the Government's policy objectives in deprived areas. The council's effective work has our continued strong support and confidence. I am aware of its concern about its grant for next year. The fact is that between 1979 and 1986 its grant has gone up by 67 per cent. in real terms. It received an increase of £6,372,000 in 1986–87—an increase of 16 per cent. in real terms over the previous year—and we informed the council then that it could not expect a higher figure in 1987–88. The Government's record on the Sports Council is outstanding.

Mr. Squire

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many people view with distaste the spectacle of someone who took a vow of secrecy during his working life and who now, having retired, seeks a large sum of money to break that vow of secrecy?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend is aware, I can say nothing about the conduct of this case. I can only point out, as I have pointed out before in the House, that, like all present and former members of the security service, Mr. Wright owes a lifelong duty of confidentiality to the Crown. Unauthorised publication of his manuscript would violate this obligation. Mr. Wright served in the security service from 1955 to 1976. His service therefore relates to a period before the Conservative party's time in office. The Government are concerned with upholding the principle of confidentiality and the obligations of staff, without which there could be no effective security service. I believe that these principles have been upheld by successive Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries of both parties.

Q3. Mr. Ernie Ross

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Ross

Will the Prime Minister take time today to consider the response made by the Minister for Social Security on exceptionally severe weather payments? Does she agree that it did not deal with the problem of poor people who are frightened to put on the heat when they are cold? Will she consider the scheme proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) to pay a £5 winter premium from December until March to ensure that thousands do not die of cold this winter?

The Prime Minister

This Government's record on heating additions and severe weather payments is outstanding compared with the miserable record of the last Labour Government.

Sir Peter Tapsell

Has my right hon. Friend noticed the strange coincidence that, since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer went quite a long way towards adopting the economic policies which I have urged on him, there has been some improvement in the employment situation? May we have more of the same?

The Prime Minister

The improvement in the employment situation stemmed from 1983. One million new jobs have been created since then. The improvement [column 136]in the unemployment position has lasted for three months and I hope that it will continue. I am glad that my hon. Friend is pleased. I think that my right hon. Friend Nigel Lawsonthe Chancellor of the Exchequer was a little surprised at some of the things that he said.

Mr. Steel

Given the Prime Minister's resistance to the setting up of a special Select Committee of Privy Councillors on the security services, and given the principles of confidentiality which she has just announced to the House again, how can she explain the difference between allowing Mr. Chapman Pincher to publish his book based on information supplied by Mr. Peter Wright, with half the proceeds going to Mr. Wright, and her attempt to stop the publication of a book on the same subject by Peter Wright published under his own name?

The Prime Minister

I made it quite clear this time and in the previous answer I gave that the Government are concerned with upholding the principle of confidentiality and the obligations of staff in the service, without which there can be no effective security service. Mr. Wright served in the security service from 1955 to 1976 and therefore his service relates to a time before the Government took office. It is clear that the principle we are upholding is the principle of the obligation of staff to the service, without which there could be no effective service. I wish to uphold the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.

Sir Ian Lloyd

In the context of disinvestment from South Africa, does the Prime Minister believe that the destruction of apartheid should enjoy a unique and singular exception from the fundamental principle that the end does not justify the means? If, as I suspect, she does not think that, does she agree that the anti-apartheid movement now appears to be acquiring most of the characteristics of intolerance, bigotry and sustained discrimination which are common to the very system it seeks to destroy?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend is aware, the Government's position on sanctions remains the same as it was. With regard to Barclays, that is a commercial judgment for the bank. I must point out that all that has happened is a change of ownership of the properties and interests there.

Q4. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Pavitt

Has the Prime Minister had time to study in depth Friday's excellent consensus debate on AIDS? Will she now take two new Cabinet initiatives? First, will she say that the necessary resources will be taken from the Contingencies Fund and not from the allocation regarded purely as NHS, which is comprehensive, and will be comparable in size to the amount found from the Contingencies Fund for the Falkland Islands? Secondly, will she now seek to establish the principle that all vaccines, which we hope will help to solve the problem, purchased by the NHS will be purchased as a service of the Crown, so that there will not be competition for somebody to hit the jackpot, and so that the drug companies' research officers can have cross-fertilisation, and research is not confined within single companies?

[column 137]

The Prime Minister

I have looked at the debate that took place on Friday, although, unfortunately, I could not be here. It seemed to be a very good debate and the action of the Government seemed very welcome. A considerable sum has been allocated for the prevention of this terrible disease and other steps have been taken. I think that the sum is as much as can be dealt with at the moment.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point about vaccines, my information is that there is no effective vaccine against AIDS. Although there is a great deal of research, I understand that it is unlikely there will be an effective vaccine for some considerable time yet. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's second question does not arise.

Q5. Mr. Fallon

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Fallon

Given the serious football hooliganism this season at Middlesbrough, Exeter, Torquay, Shrewsbury and Darlington and the unwillingness of the Football League to put public safety before its own financial self-interest, will the Government act to protect the rights of residents to shop in safety on Saturdays in their own town centres?

The Prime Minister

The police are very much aware of the problems that can arise outside the grounds when football matches are being played. It is for them to decide how they deal with that and how they ensure the safety of citizens.

Q6. Miss Boothroyd

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 25 November.

The Prime Minister

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

Miss Boothroyd

In the light of recent disclosures showing that President Reagan 's admission of a limited supply of arms to Iran fell very far short of the truth, does the right hon. Lady still stand by her original statement that she believes implicitly in the President's integrity in this matter?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to answer for United States policy. President Reagan made his position clear in a television statement. It is that the United States does not give ransom in money or in arms for hostages. That is our policy; that is his policy.

Mr. Marlow

As my right hon. Friend has said that the events which have been scrutinised by a court in Australia arise from circumstances which took place before she was Prime Minister, does she agree that she has no vested interest, whereas the Leader of the Opposition, in his goings-on, is indulging in low, nasty, dirty party politics?

The Prime Minister

I made it clear that the Government are concerned with upholding the principle of confidentiality—[Interruption.]—and the obligations of staff, without which there can be no effective security service. I believe that those principles have been upheld by successive Prime Ministers of both parties and by successive Home Secretaries of both parties.

Mr. Kinnock

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, that arises out of questions. During Question Time it was [column 138]implied that somehow the well-established and entirely necessary bipartisan approach to national security was being breached. The issue involves a matter of order, not only because of its implications for the conduct of government in this country, but because of its implications for the attitudes of hon. Members. Any Government who do absolutely nothing to impede the publication of a book, knowing it to have been published with information directly from people under a duty of confidence—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to direct his point of order to me?

Mr. Kinnock

No Government who do that can preach sermons about maintaining a bipartisan attitude towards national security. That bipartisan attitude is not best sustained, either, by ensuring that what the Prime Minister is not prepared to say in the House is said by a civil servant in secret briefings outside this place——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must address his point of order to me.

Mr. Kinnock

The Government—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. How can I possibly hear if this shouting goes on?

Mr. Kinnock

The Government, who put the Cabinet Secretary in a very exposed position that ensures that attention is drawn to disclosures that are harmful to national security, are not in a position to lecture either. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the only question that I have raised, or would raise, is one relating to the decisions of the Attorney-General. The explanation of those decisions, which I have asked for, has no implications for the national security of my country whatsoever.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that no hon. Member would seek to impugn the integrity of the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you take this opportunity to make your own comment and judgment on the point of order which has just been raised by the Leader of the Opposition? Is it not the case that, in accordance with all precedents, the point of order which was raised by the Leader of the Opposition was not a point of order at all?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that in this place the Leader of the Opposition, whom I judged to be saying that his integrity had in some way been drawn into doubt, is, like every other right hon. and hon. Member, a man of honour.

Mr. Williams

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This afternoon we have seen yet another example of the Prime Minister's arbitrariness and her growing contempt for the House of Commons. You will recollect that in previous answers the Prime Minister has said that she will refuse to answer questions relating to the MI5 case. Because the Prime Minister has taken up that position, when my hon. Friends have gone to the Table Office and endeavoured to table questions they have found that there is a Prime Ministerial block and that they are not allowed to put questions to her. Yet this afternoon at the Dispatch Box the Prime Minister read a statement relating to that block, which is not subject to further questioning, although at the same time she brazenly refuses to come to the House and make a formal statement [column 139]that would be subject to questioning by hon. Members. In view of the antics of the Prime Minister this afternoon, does the block stand? If it does, what rules cover the conduct of a Prime Minister?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman well knows the rules about blocks on questions. Every day after Question Time I look carefully at the answers that have been given, and they will always be taken into account when questions are tabled at the Table Office.

Mr. Heffer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some of us, I am sure most hon. Members, have been reading the various press speculations in relation to the court case taking place in Australia. We have also read, for example in the Sunday Express, that the Government are trying to stop the publication of the book because it says that certain sections of MI5 were bugging——

Mr. Speaker

Order. It must be a point of order that I can answer. I am not responsible for any answers that are given from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Heffer

If you will allow me time, Mr. Speaker, I shall make the point. The point I am making is that, with all the speculation that one of our previous Prime Ministers was bugged, along with some Back Benchers, is it not time that the Government made a statement to the House? You have the right to protect Back Benchers, Mr. Speaker. That is your responsibility. Therefore, you should ask and ensure that the Government make a statement to the House on the reports in the Sunday Express and other papers about the matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here as long as I have and he well knows that it has never been the role of the Chair to demand statements from the Government Front Bench. That does not lie with me.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

rose——

Mr. Winnick

rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is developing into an extension of Question Time. I am bound to have to take that into account in the subsequent debate, in which many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part.

Mr. Winnick

This concerns you directly, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend has quoted the serious allegations of the wrongdoing which has been committed by the security service. We are supposed to be here to ask questions of Ministers. In the absence of any statement by the Prime Minister, and in view of the fact that she refuses to answer questions on the long-standing farce in Australia, can we [column 140]now table questions relating to those aspects of the security service which have been the subject of questioning in the Australian court and extensive reporting in the press here?

When we go to the Table Office, Mr. Speaker—this is directly a matter for you—we are not permitted, through no fault of the Clerks, to table these sorts of questions. Will you now give authority for us to ask questions of the Prime Minister about the allegations that have appeared in the newspapers about the security service?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question was put in different words, but in the same terms, by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), and I have already answered it. I invite the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to read my answer to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Hayes

It is the same every day.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Yes, until we get the truth.

I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister has broken her own block on my questions of last Friday——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have dealt with this matter and I have nothing further to say about it.

Mr. Faulds

This is really in your defence, Sir, as always. Would it not be advisable if you were to remind certain Members—hon. Members—of this House that they should resist the temptation of trying to steal your wig? That applies particularly to the irascible hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).

Mr. Speaker

Order. My wig is not for sale.

Mr. Hanley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Is the point of order related to my responsibilities?

Mr. Hanley

I believe so, Mr. Speaker. There is a limit to the number of questions that hon. Members may table and place on the Order Paper. After all that we have been through so far in this Session, could there not now be a limit placed on the number of points of order raised by hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker

That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.