HC Deb 04 December 1979 vol 975 cc227-33
Q2. Mr. Stanbrook

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

The Prime Minister

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Speaker of the Knesset. Later this afternoon I shall be meeting the King and Queen of Tonga. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Mr. Stanbrook

As the present high level of the minimum lending rate and, therefore, interest charges by building societies are due to the continuing high level of public spending and Government borrowing, and as some local and public authorities claim, falsely, that the economies they make can be made only at the expense of direct services to the public, will my right hon. Friend today give a lead to a citizens' campaign to search out, expose and destroy bureaucratic waste, over manning and general inefficiency such as is characterised by too many public authorities and Government Departments?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend's thesis that high public expenditure leads to high public borrowing and that high public borrowing leads to high interest rates. Indeed, looking back over the period of the last Labour Government, the time when we had interest rates low was the time when the IMF came in and insisted that we reduce public expenditure and when we got the public sector borrowing requirement down to £5½ billion. Interest rates were then rapidly reduced from about 9 per cent. in that year to 5 per cent. I agree with my hon. Friend's thesis, and I hope that all Ministers in this Government are crusaders for sensible savings in public expenditure.

Mr. Dubs

Will the Prime Minister spend a little time today considering the points made in the House yesterday about the high cost of public spending on the EEC? Will she consider preparing a White Paper indicating the economic and political implications for this country of our leaving the EEC?

The Prime Minister

No, I will not think of producing a White Paper to that effect. I answered questions for about three-quarters of an hour on that subject, and I do not think that I can usefully add anything further.

Mr. Montgomery

Has my right hon. Friend noted the article in the Daily Express today calling on individuals to draw attention to national and local waste? Surely that is a better idea than leaving it to bureaucrats who cannot see the wood for the trees.

The Prime Minister

Yes. I firmly believe that there are a lot of reductions to be made in the administration of public services of one kind or another. Too many authorities are cutting services to the public when they should be reducing bureaucracy.

Mr. James Callaghan

As the question of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) related to the hardship that will be suffered by those forced to pay high mortgage interest rates, will the Prime Minister begin a crusade to ensure that they receive their tax rebates early? Is she aware that a notice was put out after the House adjourned last Friday to the effect that the Inland Revenue would not be able to pay the higher tax rebates for some months, although the interest would be paid from 1 January? That extra rebate could be as much as £2 or £3 a month or even a week, and will the right hon. Lady undertake a crusade to stir up the Inland Revenue?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman looks back, he will find that when mortgage interest changes are made tax reliefs take a little time to catch up, and that has been the case for quite some time. In Scotland, where the procedure is already carried out by computer, the reliefs will be granted almost immediately. We have made an arrangement that, where anyone suffers hardship because immediate relief is not available, he may contact the Inland Revenue local office and relief will be given as a matter of urgency.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Prime Minister today reflect on the decision, which she is alleged to have endorsed, to replace the chairman of the Scottish Development Agency? I speak as a Scottish Member and the leader of a party to which she does not belong, and the fact that the chairman was appointed by a Labour Government is neither here nor there. Sir William Gray has done a first-class job and the Government's action in replacing him seems petty.

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we have appointed and reappointed many people who held office under the previous Labour Government. There are times when at the end of a contract we agree to appoint someone new, and that is not a bad idea.

Q3. Mr. Christopher Price

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

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave a moment ago.

Mr. Price

Will the Prime Minister find time today to congratulate herself on dropping the Freedom of Information Bill in the wake of the Blunt affair, and at the same time try to restrain her colleagues' predilections for censorship? Will she also study the broadcast of the Secretary of State for the Environment in which he said that BBC reporting of demonstrations should not be allowed to undermine the nation will? Will she restrain such Fascist overtones from her colleagues and support our free and independent broadcasting services instead of attacking and undermining them?

The Prime Minister

In a free country, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is free to say what he thinks, as is the BBC.

Mr. Murphy

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to reflect on the fact that the more Moscow criticises her so-called "Iron Lady" stance, the more convinced are the people of this country that her warnings about Soviet military power should be heeded by the West?

The Prime Minister

I believe that it is right to warn our people and others in Europe about the fact of Soviet military might and the threat that it poses to this and other free countries in the Western world. I shall continue to do so.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Lady ponder today what sort of achievement it is that, as the first woman Prime Minister, she is introducing sexist and racist legislation that will make lots of women in my constituency second-class citizens? Although possessing British nationality, they will not be entitled to have their husbands here with them in Britain.

The Prime Minister

We have answered that question many times before and during the election, when I was tackled on the matter in a highly public question and answer session. We undertook during the election campaign to do exactly what we are doing, and we shall continue to carry out that manifesto pledge.

Mr. Marlow

Will my right hon. Friend have time today to consider the problem that our steel industry faces in getting coal through the port of its choice? Will she make sure that that industry can import its coal wherever and whenever it wants, at the cheapest price, and, if need be, that our manufacturing industry can import its steel wherever and whenever it wants and through whichever port it chooses?

The Prime Minister

I am most concerned on a number of counts, not least that referred to by my hon. Friend. The steel industry needs cheap coke but does not seem able to get the agreement of the National Union of Mineworkers to obtain it. I hope that people will carefully consider the matter. If they insist that the steel industry has to have expensive coke, they will deprive some steel workers of their jobs.

Q4. Mr. John Evans

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

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave earlier.

Mr. Evans

Will the Prime Minister take a few moments off today to consider the disgraceful way that her Ministers railroaded through the Industry Bill Committee this morning and extended the sittings motion? Will she then have a discussion with her noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to ascertain when he intends to introduce his Bill of Rights to protect minorities?

The Prime Minister

I am always ready to have a discussion with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. Such discussions are always rewarding.

Mr. Latham

If my right hon. Friend wants a crusade against public spending and waste, does she agree that it would be popular on the Opposition Benches to put the right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) in charge?

The Prime Minister

I have read on many occasions what the right hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) said about the need for public expenditure savings. We have implemented some of those savings, although I believe that there is still some way to go.

Mr. McNally

Will the Prime Minister find time later today to meet a delegation visiting the House this afternoon which represents 18 British Aerospace factories? If she did so, she would hear the genuine and authentic voice of British Aerospace which would tell the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to stop meddling in the industry.

The Prime Minister

In any industry there is usually more than one voice. I am sure that if the delegation asks to see a Minister from the Department of Industry, one of them will oblige. I am sorry that I cannot do so.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend today consider the fact that the increase in Britain's net contribution to the EEC, which has increased from £16 million to nearly £1,000 million a year, requires the understanding and support of the Opposition as well as that of our Community partners involved in the renegotiations?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. As he knows, we managed to secure some reduction in the contributions, but we still have a long way to go in persuading our EEC partners that this country must have vastly increased receipts from Community expenditure.

Mr. James A. Dunn

Will the right hon. Lady take time off today to consult her right hon. Friends about the appalling tragedy facing Meccano in Liverpool, and will they take particular account of the means and manner in which the notice to the work force was delivered?

The Prime Minister

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. As I understand the facts, only a few minutes' notice was given that the firm was to close. As the hon. Gentleman knows, under the Employment Protection Act about 90 days' notice is required unless there are special circumstances. We are inquiring into whether those special circumstances existed. If they did not, I understand that the firm is liable to pay a penalty in the courts.

Mr. Dover

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that new towns up and down the country, particularly in central Lancashire, are building a great deal of housing for rent? That places a heavy drain on public funds. It is also uneconomic in terms of long-term financial arrangements. Will my right hon. Friend make a decision about whether new towns should continue to build housing for rent or whether private developers should be allowed to build private houses for sale?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure to which new town my hon. Friend refers. A number of new towns provide for more and more private housing. If they continue to do so, it is a good thing that more land should be made available for it.