HC Deb 17 July 1979 vol 970 cc1295-9
Q1. Mr. Whitney

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 July.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

In addition to duties in this House I shall have meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. This evening I hope to have an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Mr. Whitney

Will the Prime Minister confirm that she has had the opportunity of reading press reports of the decision by 1,300 members of the Transport and General Workers' Union to participate in a private health scheme offered by their employers? Does she agree that this is yet another indication of the widespread view that there should be greater freedom of choice to participate in health schemes and similar enterprises?

The Prime Minister

I read the reports. I think that it is an excellent arrangement, and I hope that other branches will follow suit. The arrangement will bring great benefit to the members of that union and will also bring more money into the National Health Service.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

During her busy day, will the Prime Minister take time to read again the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget speech on 12 June, and in particular the moving and emotional part of it in which he said that he did not propose to increase the duty on paraffin because it was used primarily and domestically by pensioners? How does the right hon. Lady reconcile that speech with the action of the Secretary of State for Energy who, on 11 July, removed all price control from domestic paraffin? Is this the first and fastest U-turn of the present Administration?

The Prime Minister

I am only too happy to read my right hon. and learned Friend's excellent speech again. The Sec- retary of State for Energy did not put a tax on paraffin. However, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, there was a great shortage of paraffin in the shops. The choice was either to release price control or not to have paraffin at all.

Q3. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Dubs

Will the Prime Minister find time to remind herself of the commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto not to cut spending on the National Health Service? Will she reimburse the National Health Service for the extra burden of VAT on its purchases of equipment and supplies?

The Prime Minister

We shall honour the commitment to maintain expenditure on the National Health Service in real terms. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have to raise money to spend on these expensive health services. We chose to raise that money through indirect rather than direct tax.

Mr. Marlow

Will my right hon. Friend have time today, on behalf of the vast majority of trade union members whose views and aspirations she, above all in the country, represents, to suggest that trade unionists might spend some time this summer in Germany examining the standards of living of trade unionists in that country? Will she urge them to make comparisons between the standards of living there and here, to examine the role and activities of trade unions in Germany and to draw the necessary lessons? Perhaps my right hon. Friend might also be able to provide a little precious Government money to help them in that task.

Mr. Russell Kerr

A trainee SS man.

The Prime Minister

I hope that increasing numbers of trade unionists will make such visits. I have said frequently from this Dispatch Box that if we want a German standard of living we must have a German standard of work.

Mr. Ennals

Has the Prime Minister, during the day, come to a decision on the Government's policy on the admission of more refugees from Vietnam, including some of those whom we hope will be picked up from the sea by the mercy ship? When will the House have a statement on the Government's policy in this respect?

The Prime Minister

I saw the small petition that was handed in to me at No. 10 this morning by some of the children. We hope and expect that there will be a statement tomorrow.

Mr. Adley

On the question of trade union membership, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to ensure that people outside the hierarchy of the TUC have an opportunity to express their views to the Government on the Government's proposals for trade union reform?

The Prime Minister

Judging by the numbers of people who come to see me and my right hon. Friend, I believe that they have an opportunity to express their views. However, I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to the request that others as well as the TUC should have the chance to represent their views.

Q4. Mr. Donald Stewart

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer the right hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier.

Mr. Stewart

Is the right hon. Lady aware that her Government's policies will divide the United Kingdom into two nations in a way unknown since Disraeli's day, and that the impending regional aid cuts will accentuate that trend? Is the country to be carved up, with the South-East of England being set against the rest?

The Prime Minister

I cannot accept the right hon. Gentleman's views for one moment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will be making a statement shortly, and it would be better not to comment further until we have heard that statement.

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity today to make a statement about immigration? Does she agree that one of the reasons why many people, particularly in the urban areas, voted Conservative at the last election was that they agreed with the detailed promises in the Tory Party's manifesto? Does she agree also that there should be an announcement about a change in the immigration rules before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

The Prime Minister

We shall, of course, be implementing the promises that were made in the Conservative manifesto, but I cannot promise an announcement before the Summer Recess. I shall be frank with my hon. Friend. We do not plan to have an announcement on immigration before the recess.

Mr. George

Will the Prime Minister have time to meet the chairman of the Tote to discuss with him the accusation that bets have been placed by a subsidiary of the Tote after the result of a race has been known, whether there is a secret laundering system for these late bets and how many punters have been swindled out of their rightful winnings? Will she arrange for a public inquiry to be held into the allegations of malpractice at the Tote?

The Prime Minister

I am not very expert at betting. May I therefore pass the buck to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who may know a little more about it?

Q5. Mr. Aitken

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 17 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.

Mr. Aitken

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to intervene to prevent the threatened closure of an important regional airline company, Air Kent? Is she aware that this successful company, which does not need public money, is endangered only because of minor administrative interdepartmental squabbles? Will she take the opportunity to remind officialdom that it is now a priority of Government policy to assist small businesses and private enterprise by cutting through red tape wherever possible?

The Prime Minister

I have received representations from my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) and a number of my other hon. Friends about this company and about the position that obtains at the airfield from which it operates. I understand that the problem is that it can operate successfully and profitably, but that it will not be allowed to do so unless there is an immigration officer on duty. If that is the case, it is one of which I am aware. I am looking into the matter personally in such a way that I hope it will not be necessary for my hon. Friend to repeat his question again before the House rises for the recess.

Mr. Winnick

Is the Prime Minister aware that many people are saying that if so much damage has been done in two and a half months in terms of jobs, cuts and prices, what on earth will be Britain's position in four or five years if the right hon. Lady and her crew remain in office? Would it not be in the country's interest for her to give way to someone who is less of an extremist than she is?

The Prime Minister

The damage in terms of jobs and increasing taxes was inflicted by the previous Government, who doubled unemployment, increased taxes and landed this country in the position where our growfth, compared with that of our competitors, was a disgrace. It is because of that Government's record that we are changing the whole strategy in a more positive direction.

Mr. Renton

Has my right hon. Friend read the report in some of today's press that the TUC intends to oppose the Government's changes in industrial relations law on the ground that the proposals, with the banning of secondary picketing, might lead to an overall curtailment of the right to strike? Will she make it clear to the TUC that that is not the Government's intention and that, moreover, it is the wish of the Secretary of State for Employment to be open for consultation on the detail of these changes, if not on the principle?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has put a consultative document to the TUC, but I must make it clear that we are pledged to bring in legislation against secondary picketing. Most people who remember what happened last winter will be fully behind that determination. The precise detail is a matter for consultation.

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