Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 Dec 4 Th
Margaret Thatcher

House of Commons PQs

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [106/1076-80]
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2977
Themes: Executive, Parliament, Defence (general), Higher & further education, Industry, Trade, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Law & order, Local government finance, Northern Ireland, Security services
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PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Blair

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 December 1986.

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, including one with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Mr. Blair

As the Prime Minister had cast-iron legal grounds for stopping Pincher's book in 1981 and could not possibly have been advised that she did not, why did she deliberately allow its publication? Is it simply that when it suits her she is prepared to sacrifice the interests of national security to the interests of the Tory party?

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The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I cannot comment on matters which are in issue in the proceedings in Australia.

Mr. Brinton

Does my right hon. Friend recall the important work done for successive Governments by Lord Rothschild? In the course of her busy day, will she consider what steps can now be taken to protect his reputation against false innuendoes and smears?

The Prime Minister

I have seen Lord Rothschild 's letter, published this morning. That letter is being considered in government. I cannot add anything further at this stage.

Mr. Hattersley

That is an extraordinary answer for the Prime Minister to give on this subject. Can she not follow the precedent that she herself set on 26 March 1981 in the case of Sir Roger Hollis and respond explicitly now to Lord Rothschild 's plea by making it clear that he is not, and never has been: a Soviet agent?

The Prime Minister

Lord Rothschild 's letter was published this morning. I have seen it. The letter is being considered in government, as it should be, and I cannot add anything further at this stage. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would understand that.

Mr. Hattersley

I certainly understand the implications of the Prime Minister's prevarication, and I hope that she does, too. Putting aside the personal anguish that her answer is bound to cause, Lord Rothschild was the head of the central policy review staff working in Downing street for the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) when he was Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister not prepared to say here and now that Lord Rothschild was not a spy?

The Prime Minister

It is the right hon. Gentleman who is causing anguish. Lord Rothschild 's letter was published this morning. I have seen it. The letter is being considered in government, and I cannot add anything further at this stage.

Mr. Hattersley

Even now, answering this question, will the right hon. Lady consider not simply the obligations of generous impulses, which she does not possess, but the damage that her answers are doing to the British Security Service? It is preposterous to continue to give the impression that we are infiltrated by moles. We are not, and the right hon. Lady ought to make that clear here and now in the case of Lord Rothschild.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing furter to add to what I have already said about Lord Rothschild. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said about security matters. When he was asked about them, when he was a Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he said:

“It is the long-established practice of this House that the Government do not comment on matters of this kind.” —[Official Report, 28 July 1976; Vol. 916, c. 626.]

Sir Ian Gilmour

I understand that the DROPS contract will shortly be awarded. Has my right hon. Friend been made aware that the procurement process in this case has been a continuing scandal, not only on the part of the Ministry of Defence, but on the part of one of the competitors? Will my right hon. Friend insist on the Ministry of Defence setting up an immediate independent inquiry into this very murky affair?

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The Prime Minister

I have heard what my right hon. Friend says, and I will, of course, consult my right hon. Friend George Youngerthe Secretary of State for Defence.

Q2. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hamilton

Will the Prime Minister tell us when she first became aware that Sir Robert Armstrong 's evidence was incorrect, and when she instructed him to correct it?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, and as Sir Michael Haversthe Attorney-General repeated on Monday, the Government are plaintiffs in this case and we are not able to comment upon matters before the court.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many of us share her view that we must build one nation? Will she square that with what happened yesterday, when Birmingham lost £31 million of its grant? Bearing in mind the deprivations in Birmingham and the prosperity in the south, how does that help to build one nation?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend speaks about the rates details published yesterday. As he is aware, a new consultation paper has been published. I am aware that it will be greeted with approval in some parts of the House and with disapproval in other parts. I am afraid that that is inevitable in view of the way in which the formula works. That is one reason why we shall have to change the whole way in which that formula works. I understand my hon. Friend's feelings.

Q3. Mr. Terry Lewis

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Lewis

In the court in Sydney Sir Robert Armstrong said that a Committee of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, decided not to ban the Chapman Pincher book. When did that book come into the possession of the right hon. Lady?

The Prime Minister

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the answer given by Sir Michael Haversthe Attorney-General on Monday, when he said:

“So far as the proceedings in Sydney are concerned, I must remind the House that I am the plaintiff and therefore cannot comment on anything which is in issue before the court. Although, under the rules of the House, judicial proceedings abroad are not subject to the sub judice rule, I have to be careful to avoid the risk of prejudicing the case or at the worst being in contempt of court in Sydney. It inevitably follows the Government are handicapped in respect of some of the allegations being bandied about.” —[Official Report, 1 December 1986; Vol 106, c.415.]

Q4. Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Smith

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to consider the extra-parliamentary pressure that is being applied to certain Members of Parliament? Is she aware [column 1078]that Arthur Scargill has demanded the expulsion from the Labour party of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) and the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)? Will she refer that matter to the Lord Privy Seal as a possible breach of parliamentary privilege? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should listen to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. He asked the Prime Minister whether she would refer the matter to the Lord Privy Seal.

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend John Biffenthe Lord Privy Seal will have heard what my hon. Friend said and will have taken note of it. I believe that it is a matter purely for the House, not for me.

Mr. John David Taylor

As the Prime Minister missed out last year on her annual pre-Christmas visit to Northern Ireland, and as she has not been to Northern Ireland since her rather strange visit to Hillsborough on 15 November 1985, does she propose to resume her pre-Christmas visits by going to Northern Ireland this year?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman may be wise to ask that question; it would be most unwise for me to answer it.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim

Will my right hon. Friend consider later today the excellent news that the Labour party has decided to sell shares in one of its loss-making publications and that the National Union of Mineworkers has decided to contract out cleaning at its Sheffield headquarters? Does that not prove that it is never too late to learn?

The Prime Minister

I join my hon. Friend in welcoming those latest converts to the efficiency which comes from competition.

Mr. Steel

Did the Prime Minister know that arms sales to Iran were being arranged through London? If she did know, was that not contrary to the publicly declared policy of the Government; and, if she did not know, was not her friend, President Reagan, not keeping her in the dark?

The Prime Minister

The Government have not received evidence of illegal exports of defence equipment from Britain. If the right hon. Gentleman has such evidence, he should make it available. The United States Government did not inform us about their arms consignments to Iran. British policy on arms sales to Iran and Iraq is one of the strictest in Europe and is rigidly enforced, at substantial cost to British industry. That policy has been maintained scrupulously and consistently.

Mr. Rhodes James

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I am sure that she is—that Lord Rothschild is an eminent constituent of mine, that he is a distinguished public servant, and that his letter requires immediate and urgent attention?

The Prime Minister

I cannot add to what I have said. I had hoped that the House would understand that. I cannot add to it at this stage.

Cabinet Secretary

Q6. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if she will separate the position of Cabinet Secretary from that of Head of the Civil Service; and if she will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

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Mr. Dalyell

Six years before Sydney, was Sir Robert Armstrong acting in his capacity as Head of the Civil Service, or in his capacity as Cabinet Secretary, when he participated in the decision to withhold from the Attorney-General knowledge of how Chapman Pincher 's book was obtained or purloined?

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Attorney-General's answer on Monday 1 December when he said:

“So far as the proceedings in Sydney are concerned, I must remind the House that I am the plaintiff and therefore cannot comment on anything which is in issue before the court.”

He went on:

“I have to be careful to avoid the risk of prejudicing the case or at the worst being in contempt of court in Sydney.” —[Official Report, 1 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 415.]

Mr. Latham

Has not Sir Robert Armstrong, acting in either of his official capacities, been trying to assert the essential doctrine that former British security personnel have an overriding duty to keep their mouths shut?

The Prime Minister

I cannot add anything to what I have already said.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

Is the Prime Minister aware that many of us on this side would be glad if she would suspend forthwith her contacts with the Leader of the Opposition on matters of security, because none of us believes a word that she says about that or anything else?

The Prime Minister

As far as this side of the House is concerned, the normal courtesies will continue to be observed.

Q7. Mr. Thurnham

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Thurnham

In view of the benefits that polytechnics bring to local industry, will my right hon. Friend, during her busy day, find time to consider the case for an additional polytechnic in the north-west and the additional jobs that would bring?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that the National Advisory Board is meeting today, and I will pass on my hon. Friend's comments to my right hon. Friend Kenneth Bakerthe Secretary of State.

Mr. Williams

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This arises out of Question Time this afternoon.

As you appreciate, Mr. Speaker, questions, in terms of admissibility, are very much guided by precedent. We have had a rather confusing exchange this afternoon during which the Prime Minister has repeated that, in her opinion, in the case of Rothschild, she cannot comment because of the precedent relating to security. Conversely, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has quoted the precedent set by [column 1080]the Prime Minister on 26 March 1981, when she made a statement to the House regarding Hollis. Which precedent applies in the case of Rothschild? Who decides which applies, or is it utterly a matter for the Prime Minister to choose as suits her individual whim?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I cannot be responsible for the answers that are given. It is not a matter for me.

Mr. Marlow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a matter for you arising out of Question Time and the events in Australia.

I understand that the Leader of the Opposition—I am sorry that he is not here at the moment—wrote to you at some length about the affaire téléphonique that he has had with various succulent sources in Australia. I believe that this affair culminated—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot know what letters are sent to me anyway, but I must tell him that the Leader of the Opposition certainly did not write to me about that matter. He asked if he could issue his letter to me as a press release. I dealt with this the other day. I replied that it was entirely in order for him to issue that letter as a press release.

Mr. Faulds

Further to the earlier point of order Mr. Speaker. As you will know more than most, the conduct of this House is based on precedent, and you are the guardian of that behaviour. Would it not be advisable for you to make some utterance on whether the Prime Minister is, at will, entitled to slough off these earlier practices?

Mr. Speaker

A moment ago I said that these are not matters for me. Order in this House is essential. We have freedom of speech here, and we should conduct ourselves with discretion in a parliamentary fashion.

Mr. Home-Robertson

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have been hearing a lot from across the Atlantic about the fifth amendment. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to keep refusing to answer questions on the ground that they are likely to incriminate her?

Mr. Speaker

I am not Tip O'Neill.

Mr. Skinner

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that you have just remarked that the business of the House depends on good order, on hon. Members being able to hear what other hon. Members are saying and that that causes you some difficulties, and as recently there have been recurring instances of the Prime Minister refusing to answer questions, will you look into the possibility of allowing Ministers, such as the Prime Minister, to plead the fifth amendment? That would save a lot of time.