Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1988 May 5 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 [132/1012-16]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1515-1530.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2331
Themes: Parliament, Conservatism, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Taxation, Trade, Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Law & order, Community charge ("poll tax"), Media, Northern Ireland, Social security & welfare, Terrorism
[column 1012]

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Haynes

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

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 the House I shall be having further meetings later today, including one with the Prime Minister of Hungary.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Prime Minister aware that I have received a letter from a window in my constituency, in the beautiful village of Selston? Before 11 April she was receiving housing benefit. She has now been told that she is no longer entitled to it, and she is struggling to find food. I hope that that point has gone home. Because of the policies of the Government and the Prime Minister, I believe that she is a wicked woman and that they are a wicked Government.

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman must think terrible things of the previous Labour Government, bearing in mind that this Government are spending far more than that Government did on social security and on housing benefit, and that there is a far higher standard of living. What a pity that he did not ask his own Front Bench—[Hon. Members: “Answer the question.” ] I am answering the question. Hon. Members have a much better Government than they have ever had before.

Q2. Mr. Page

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Page

As some of the television companies are indulging in trial by television before the legal processes are completed, will my right hon. Friend consider [column 1013]strengthening the guidelines by which those companies are controlled? Will she consider whether they are the right companies to project the balance that will be necessary when the House is televised?

The Prime Minister

Televising the House is being considered by a Select Committee, and that Committee will no doubt wish to make its own recommendations for the House to decide. As for trial by television, it is not so much the actual specific rules on which we depend. It has been something much deeper than that. It has been a matter of the customs and conventions referred to by Lord Justice Salmon in his report, in which he said:

“One would not wish to see in this country the horror of trial by Press, Television and Radio … We have so far escaped them only because of the high sense of responsibility on the part of Press, Television and Radio” .

It is that high sense of responsibility that does not seem to be here now. Lord Justice Salmon went on to say, and this is vital:

“The real danger of such interviews is that witnesses whose evidence is vital to the matters under investigation are questioned without any of the safeguards which obtain in our courts of law or before Tribunals of Inquiry.”

One of the proudest bastions of liberty is that the rule of law is inviolate. That is what is at stake.

Mr. Kinnock

In her letter to me this week the Prime Minister said: “what matters is the total income of individual people from benefit”

I agree with that, but how does the right hon. Lady respond to a 76-year-old widow who says—[Interruption.] All Hon. Members will have received many similar letters. They had better listen to the Prime Minister's answer, because they will need it.

The widow says:

“My only income is my pension … I was due in April for a £1.30 rise which would bring my income to £44.68 but now I have to pay £1.68 rates which brings me off a little worse … I have to put £25 a week away for bills—electricity, gas, life insurance, house insurance, ground rent, water rates, telephone and TV licence.

This leaves £18 a week to live on, which isn't much fun.
All my home is getting worn out, like me, and cannot be replaced. By the way, I have got £400 in the bank but dare not break into it as it is for my funeral.”
As it is obvious that thousands of people are in a similar position, will the Prime Minister change her social security and poll tax policies again in order to remove the 20 per cent. rates liability for people such as that widow?

The Prime Minister

No. If the lady is within income support, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is full transitional protection. He is very well aware of that. For a start, those people are the poorest in our society. As he knows, widows will greatly benefit from the community charge, as they will pay a lot less than they would have done under the rates system that he wishes to support. There is an 80 per cent. rebate for those who are poor, and those on income support will receive a sum equal to about 20 per cent. of the average rate to enable them to pay either their rates or, later on, their community charge.

Mr. Kinnock

The lady in question lives in a borough where the average rate is lower than the outer London average, and lower than the national average. I know that the right hon. Lady takes notice of her own mailbag. She must know that the average rate in her constituency is £678 a year. A 20 per cent. average liability is therefore £137.40, [column 1014]which is £2.64 a week. To offset that 20 per cent. rates liability, the DHSS pays £1.30 a week. How does £1.30 a week offset £2.64 a week?

The Prime Minister

If there is an average payment, obviously some people will do very much better and some people will not get as much. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly well aware of that. He will bring forward one or two losers and forget all the gainers. He will know from the latest figures that the highest domestic rate in this country is 329p, in Bolsover, and the lowest is 98p, in Kensington.

Mr. Kinnock

The Prime Minister does not understand her own system. DHSS provides £1.30 a week towards the extra liability that people have to meet 20 per cent. of the rates liability, wherever they live. Will she tell me how somebody on an income of just over £44 a week is not worse off as a consequence of having to meet that liability? When someone gets £1.30 a week extra, is she a loser or a gainer when she has to pay £2.64 a week extra for rates? Will the Prime Minister please try to understand the situation of the thousands of people in that position, including those in her own constituency, who have somehow to meet their 20 per cent. rates liability of £2.64 a week out of an extra £1.30 a week?

The Prime Minister

I have answered the right hon. Gentleman. It is he who refuses to understand that if there is an average sum to meet a particular liability, some people will get more than the liability and a few people will get less. Is he suggesting that because sometimes there are losers there should never be any changes? If that is so, why did his Government introduce fair rents, when everyone had to pay increased rents over controlled rents? Why did his Government change the basis of the pension uprating when it did not suit them to compensate pensioners for price increase, and every pensioner lost?

Mr. Benyon

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the grave concern that many of us feel at what appears to be French capitulation to terrorism, and will she convey this disquiet to the French Premier?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend is aware, our policy on hostages has not changed. We do everything that we can to inquire about them and to persuade those who hold them that it is totally wrong to do so and that they should be released unconditionally. We will not pay a ransom or make any payment of that sort to obtain the release of hostages. We have asked the French Government about the matter, and they have assured us that they have not paid a ransom.

Q3. Mr. Chris Smith

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Smith

Can the Prime Minister tell the House whether the ability of British manufacturers to export competitively plays any part in determining her policy towards the appropriate level of the sterling exchange rate, or is it only the Chancellor who is interested in British exporters?

The Prime Minister

We are all interested in British exporters and, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have to import many raw materials and semi-fabricated [column 1015]products in order to export the finished product. Of course, imports under a high exchange rate are much cheaper than they would otherwise be.

Q5. Mr. Andy Stewart

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Stewart

Now that winter is over and our thoughts are turning to our summer holidays, has my hon. Friend considered taking her vocation in the new Center Parcs holiday village in Sherwood forest? Since that new complex opened, 250,000 visitors have attended and paid entrance and holiday fees. The complex employs 450 people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that tourism is the easiest way forward in creating new jobs?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that tourism creates a great many jobs and brings a considerable income to this country. I confess that I had not thought of spending my own holiday at that place, but I hope that many other people will do so.

Mr. Mallon

Given the Prime Minister's belief that recent television programmes produced by Thames Television and the BBC may be prejudicial to the findings of the inquest in Gibraltar, will she express similar concern at the decision of the Attorney-General not to prosecute senior police officers who were involved in similar incidents in the North of Ireland? Does she agree that that must be grossly prejudicial to the inquiries there? Does she further agree that the unprecedented delay of six years in holding inquests into those incidents must lead us to the conclusion that a just and equitable decision is not now possible?

The Prime Minister

No, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. As he is well aware, the Attorney-General's decision was made in accordance with the due and proper process of law, which, he explained to the House. That is quite different from trial by television.

Mr. Gorst

Will my right hon. Friend say whether it would be the intention of the Government, in setting up the Broadcasting Standards Council, to refer to it matters such as the programme on the shootings in Gibraltar and the BBC's programme, “Spotlight” , if it transmits it?

[column 1016]

The Prime Minister

That had not been the intention. As my hon. Friend is aware, we agreed to set up a Broadcasting Standards Council more to deal with violence and matters of that sort. I would prefer to think that we could rely on the television authorities to uphold the rule of law, which, after all, is the fundamental safeguard of the freedom of us all. One cannot agree with the rule of law and then flout its conditions. I hope that we will be able to persuade them that that is the predominant issue.

Q6. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 5 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Flannery

Why is the Prime Minister, who is wealthy beyond the bounds of ordinary people's wealth, so callous and merciless with the old and the poor? Can she explain to the people outside why all this money is going to the powerful and wealthy, when it should be going to the needy, the sick and the old? How can she reconcile that with having a conscience of any kind?

The Prime Minister

Lower rates of taxation have led to far higher incomes, to far higher standards of social services and in the Health Service than we have ever known, and to far higher living standards for widows and pensioners than they have ever known, as all the figures show. The high taxation regime run by Opposition Members led to big cuts in the social services and the Health Service. The hon. Gentleman will never understand the means by which wealth is created and the means by which extra money can be passed on to those in need. It is noteworthy that Opposition Members voted against cuts in income tax. Their votes would have cut the net take home pay of many people on quite low incomes.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents fully support her in the support that she invariably gives to our security services, whose members preserve our lives? Is she further aware that they also believe that if convicted terrorists were executed, they could not escape to kill again.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend knows my personal view on capital punishment. This is a matter for the House as a whole to decide, and I believe that there will one day be an occasion when the House can consider it again.