HC Deb 06 December 1979 vol 975 cc608-13

Q1. Mr. Budgen asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 6 December.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later today, I shall be meeting the Prime Minister of the Netherlands and, this evening, I shall give a dinner for him.

Mr. Budgen

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that a reduction of up to 15 per cent. in the number of immigrants from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan cannot properly be described as an end to immigration as we have known it since the war? Will she take the opportunity today to make a statement in which she gives her personal undertaking that legislative time will be found in the next Session of Parliament to introduce both a register and a British nationality Bill?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give an undertaking about legislation in the next Session because we do not know what the pressures on legislation will be. The only decision that has been taken about the register and a quota, both of which would require substantive legislation, was not to introduce a Bill in this Session but to proceed by order to undertake those matters which could proceed more rapidly.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the right hon. Lady, when she has time, ponder on the fact that many of her more enlightened hon. Friends refused to vote in the recent proposals on immigration? Will she take great heed of that fact, because many people in Europe, particularly in the EEC, will find it a little queer that our first woman Prime Minister has made proposals for discrimination against her own sex—that is, the women in this country who have received settlement rights?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman forgets that the vast majority of my enlightened hon. Friends fully supported the Government in carrying out the proposals which were foreshadowed in the manifesto.

Mr. Graham Page

Has my right hon. Friend read the report in the press today of the comment by Mr. Scargill that secret ballots are a subtle interference with unions? Will she take pleasure in expressing at a public meeting today her pleasure in the result of the subtle interference with the miners and with British Leyland?

The Prime Minister

As my right hon. Friend knows, we are very much in favour of secret ballots. I believe that they are the only way of properly revealing what the work force wants. We were delighted with the result of the miners' secret ballot, in that it rejected industrial action.

Mr. James Lamond

Does the right hon. Lady believe that it is right that her representatives should go to Brussels next week to take a decision about nuclear missiles before the matter has been discussed in this Parliament? Is she aware that we are one of the few western European countries in NATO who have not discussed the matter? Therefore, does she agree that her representative will go representing only the Tory Party and not Britain as a whole?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend goes to Brussels representing the Government, who had a majority from the people of Britain as a whole at the last election.

Dr. Mawhinney

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although most of us agree with more open government, we do not mean by that leaks of confidential minutes from Cabinet Committees, including those chaired by my right hon. Friend, such as have appeared in The Guardian today? Can my right hon. Friend say what steps are being taken to find those who are leaking confidential minutes and will she assure us that when those people are discovered, whether they are in government or the Civil Service, they will be fired, not for their political views, but because of their unfitness for office?

The Prime Minister

There was a leak and there will, of course, be the customary leak inquiry. [Laughter.] I believe that it is only the second leak of Cabinet papers in recent times. The first, which was serious, took place under the previous Government. This is the first leak under the present Government. There will be a leak inquiry because it is extremely serious if Cabinet or Cabinet committee minutes find their way on to the front pages of newspapers. One cannot carry on government on that basis. We had better wait and see what the inquiry discovers.

Q2. Mr. Dormand asked the Prime Minister, if she will list her official engagements for 6 December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I have just given.

Mr. Dormand

Will the Prime Minister take the necessary action today to stop the importing of coking coal? Is it not a crazy system that this island, which is virtually made of coal, imports millions of tons of the stuff, which is threatening the jobs of thousands, not only in my part of the country? If the Prime Minister is so concerned about the financial aspects of the matter, what does she have to say about the fact that our coal industry receives a subsidy of 94p per ton, compared with subsidies in EEC countries ranging from £14 to £24 per ton? Is that not manifestly unfair, not only to our coal industry, but to our steel industry?

The Prime Minister

The load in question came from the United States on a Greek ship. I will not interfere in the argument between the National Coal Board and the British Steel Corporation. I understand that the Wales TUC is trying to get people together and that Mr. Len Murray is intervening.

There is a problem for both industries. It is understood that the miners naturally wish to sell as much coke as they can, but it is important to the future of the steel industry and the jobs init that that industry is able to get coke at as reasonable a price as it can.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I understand that my right hon. Friend expressed yesterday a certain amount of pleasure, and no doubt relief, at the fact that the miners had settled their pay claim as a result of their ballot. Will she make clear to other groups in the public sector, professional and otherwise, that they will not be justified in asking for a similar rise, as they did in 1974?

The Prime Minister

I make no comment on the level of the settlement, though there was a cogent comment in today's Daily Mirror about the level, which undoubtedly could not be sustained in other industries. The pleasure that we felt was that the ballot showed that people did not wish to pursue industrial action.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Prime Minister undertake to ask the Dutch Prime Minister about a leak that was infinitely more far reaching than any leak of Cabinet papers? I refer to the leak of crucial nuclear secrets from the centrifuge project at Almelo. Will the right hon. Lady ask the Dutch Prime Minister how that situation occurred, since it is arguably more damaging to peace in the world than anything done by the Rosen-bergs or any other atom spies?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have already made protests about this matter, which involved a person who had been working at that plant of Uren co on enriched uranium and the centrifuge process and then went to work in Pakistan, where we are trying to see that there is not proliferation of production of nuclear materials or any nuclear weapons. The matter is not on the agenda, but I shall reinforce the protest that we have already made.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Has my right hon. Friend noted the growing spate of truly horrific murders? Does she agree that there are many who have lost their lives in those dreadful crimes so that hon. Members can keep their consciences? Does she agree that if we had a referendum on the return of the death penalty, the great majority of our people would vote overwhelmingly for its return?

The Prime Minister

We were all horrified at a particular recent case, but, as my hon. Friend knows, the question whether there should be a return of capital punishment was dealt with in a debate in the House earlier this Session.

Q3. Mr. Skinner asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 6 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Skinner

Does the Prime Minister recall that last week she referred in strident tones to the callous disregard for humanity shown by those who were allegedly threatening to close Charing Cross hospital? Will she now, in loud and clear tones, repeat that to the Tory health authorities and Tory councils up and down the country which are threatening the closure of wards and hospitals, including the Lang with Lodge diabetic hospital near my constituency? If she fails to do that, she can be properly accused by hospital patients and millions of others of operating double standards.

The Prime Minister

I am delighted to know that we shall have the hon. Gentleman's support when we introduce a Bill to reduce administration in the National Health Service. I shall tell all health authorities that it is far better for them to reduce administration than services to the public.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Will the Prime Minister lend her great authority and influence to an initiative designed to save life in Rhodesia? In the period between the signing of the ceasefire and its implementation, will she use all the communications media available to her Government to suggest that there is no excuse for either side to carry loaded weapons?

The Prime Minister

It is far better to leave any further statement to the negotiations at Lancaster House. As my hon. Friend knows, we had hoped that there would be a ceasefire on all sides at the beginning of those talks. There was not, but I believe that we are near to one now. I think that it is best to leave the negotiations to the negotiators there who have already been so brilliantly successful.

Mr. Spriggs

Has the Prime Minister received any correspondence about the Providence hospital in St. Helens? If so, would she care to make a statement about the position there?

The Prime Minister

We get at least 11,000 letters coming in to my office each week. Before making any statement about the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I prefer to consider it carefully.

Mr. Tapsell

Has my right hon. Friend noted that a distinguished American has said that our noble Friend Lord Carrington ought to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

The Prime Minister

I have not seen that suggestion, but I am pleased to add "And so say all of us."

Q4. Mr. Leighton asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 6 December.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Leighton

Is the Prime Minister worried about the way in which the country is being swamped by imports, particularly of manufactured goods and particularly from the original EEC Six with which we have a horrendous deficit of £4,000 million this year, leading to factory closures and mass unemployment? Will she read carefully the speech made last night by her hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who advocated import controls? Unless we have import controls, as part of an economic package, we shall have an industrial desert in Britain.

The Prime Minister

I am obviously worried about the amounts of imports and particularly the latest figures about the degree to which foreign cars are penetrating our home market. That means that there is a tremendous opportunity for car firms here to increase their output, because the market and the demand are here and our car firms must take advantage of that opportunity. I must be absolutely frank with the hon. Gentleman. We are against import controls. This country could not survive without considerable manufacturing exports. I believe that if we were to put on import controls, our export trade would be extremely badly hit.