HC Deb 19 July 1979 vol 970 cc1985-91
Ql. Mr. Forman

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 July.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to duties in this House, I shall have further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Forman

Will my right hon. Friend make clear. preferably in answer to this question, that the recent welcome decision of the Chancellor of the Exchequer further to liberalise exchange controls was an act of economic self-confidence in this country, that it is part of a long-term policy which can bring continuing financial benefits to this country long after oil and gas have been exhausted, and that it is in marked contrast to the attitude of creeping protectionism so evident on the Labour Benches?

The Prime Minister

I agree that the action of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in further relaxing exchange controls was an act of confidence, and that the investment that we shall obtain overseas will be of long-term benefit to this country, and indeed will be an investment when North Sea oil has gone.

Mr. Weetch

Will the Prime Minister, in what I am sure is a very busy day of engagements, refresh her mind as to the virtues of abrasive competition and make a short, sharp visit to Chancery Lane to the headquarters of the Law Society? Will she tell that body, in stern language, that some of the restrictive practices in certain areas of legal services are contrary to the spirit of competition for which her Government purport to stand? Will she further underline—[HoN. MEMBERS: " Too long."] Will she further underline that the restrictive solicitors' monopoly of conveyancing, which is an onerous burden on those who buy and sell, will be swept away by her new broom?

The Prime Minister

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, a study is being made of this problem, I think under Henry Benson, and it would be best to see how he reports before making any further comment.

Mr. Michael Morris

When my right hon. Friend meets the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka will she convey to him the best wishes of the Britsh people and reflect that that country, despite its difficulties, has kept true to parliamentary democracy? Will she also reflect that the most positive way of helping that country would be to look favourably on the Mahawehli Ganja project, which is now before her Ministers?

The Prime Minister

I shall convey my hon. Friend's best wishes and mine to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and say how very much we value those Commonwealth nations that are still fully democratic. I shall bear in mind the other comment made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. James Lamond

As the right hon. Lady continually claims that because she has a mandate from the country she must press ahead with legislation against the rights of trade unionists, may I ask whether she accepts that trade union leaders have every right to fight this legislation as strongly as they can because they have a mandate from their members to do so?

The Prime Minister

The ordinary people of this country also have rights against powerful institutions. After the events of last winter, I believe that we have a mandate—which includes the wishes of many trade union members—to go ahead with legislation on secondary picketing and closed shops and to help with secret ballots. If we were to put that legislation to a secret ballot, I believe that we should get overwhelming support for it.

02. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 July.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I have just given.

Mr. Montgomery

Will my right hon. Friend make inquiries today about the demands of council house tenants from all over the country to buy their own homes? Will she let us know when we can expect to see the Housing Bill? A number of Labour-controlled authorities seem to be determined to prevent people from owning their own homes.

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that a number of complaints are being received from ordinary people who live in the area of Labour-controlled authorities. They want to buy their own homes but they are being denied permission to do so. It is our intention to introduce the Housing Bill when the House returns from the recess.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will the Prime Minister confirm or deny the report in the Financial Times today that she has had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Industry and told him to prune the £125 million of Government support for the microelectronics industry? Is the right hon. Lady aware that if that industry is not developed within the next 10 years we shall become a technological backwater, importing hardware and software from abroad with no trade of our own that will be worth speaking of?

The Prime Minister

I have many meetings with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, and very valuable they are, too. I am most anxious to do everything to encourage the microprocessor industry. I believe that the best way to do that is by the tax reliefs that we have given, which will encourage many in that business to set up in this country instead of in the United States, where so many of them started off previously.

Mr. Tapsell

Bearing in mind the recent remarks on the subject by the new President of Iraq, will my right hon. Friend take an initiative to see whether it is possible to establish an institutionalised form of dialogue between the OECD countries and the OPEC countries about a more sensible method of oil pricing in the future, in the interests of everyone?

The Prime Minister

The possibility of achieving an institutionalised dialogue between the consumer countries and the OPEC countries was discussed at the time of the Tokyo summit. For the time being we felt that it was better to have more informal contacts, but the institutionalised form has not been ruled out.

Q3. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Prime Minister what are her official engagements for 19 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Allaun

Is the Prime Minister aware that this week many councils have been forced to consider cutting pensioners' pocket money, home helps, nursery schools and teachers' jobs? Does the right hon. Lady approve of that meanness?

The Prime Minister

We should all like to spend as much public money as possible on the many projects that are our particular favourites. However, when a nation has been living beyond the means that its taxpayers can finance, it has to return to live within those means. Overall expenditure this year in real terms is equal to that of last year. Its distribution is a little different, but the total amount is the same. Even that amount requires a great deal of public borrowing.

Mr. Kershaw

Does my right hon. Friend agree that ordinary trade unionists agree not only with the proposals for modifying the labour laws but with her economic proposals? I urge my right hon. Friend not to take the advice of the economic cripples on the Opposition Benches.

The Prime Minister

I will refrain from taking their advice. It was catastrophic for Britain during the past five years.

Mr. John Evans

Will the Prime Minister spend a few moments in her busy day contemplating the latest opinion polls in The Daily Telegraph? Are not those polls evidence that millions of trade unionists, who the right hon. Lady alleges voted for her in the last election, realise already that they were badly conned and that voting Tory was the biggest mistake of their lives?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the position will be much better after we have introduced and passed the legislation.

Mr. Neubert

Has my right hon. Friend seen the details of the report published today by the Price Commission? It recommends an increase in the price of gas. Is it not a remarkable proposal from an institution which, the Labour Party constantly claims, exists to keep prices down?

The Prime Minister

I have seen the report to which my hon. Friend refers, and it confirms that an increase in the price of gas was applied for on 1 April—before the election. It was granted for domestic gas on 17 May, but the Price Commission believes that that increase was insufficient.

Q4. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 19 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Winnick

Does the Prime Minister know what the inflation rate and the total of unemployed persons will be by the time the House returns from the recess? Will she consider making one of her nice broadcasts and explaining to the country why the British people are being punished because of her own doctrinaire views? Is it not a fact that the real economic wreckers in this country are the Secretary of State for Industry and the right hon. Lady herself?

The Prime Minister

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman enjoys my broadcasts, but I cannot promise him that I shall be broadcasting officially soon. He misunderstands what we are trying to do. We are trying to enable many of his constituents to keep more of their own earnings in their own pockets to spend in their own way.

Mr. Beith

Earlier today the right hon. Lady mentioned the need to protect individuals against large organisations. Will she arrange to have a meeting with her Law Officers later today to find out why they have been putting up such a spirited defence of the closed shop in Strasbourg?

The Prime Minister

I should not have interpreted the evidence to the European Court in that way. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am absolutely against the closed shop in principle. We shall be legislating upon that matter when the House returns from the recess.

Mr. Hal Miller

Did my right hon. Friend see the report in the Financial Times that showed that, for the first time, imports of motor vehicles and components have exceeded exports? Does she realise the serious implications of that? Will she take time today to explain to the country how that position came about during the last five months of the previous Labour Government's period of office?

The Prime Minister

I have seen that report, and I agree with my hon. Friend that part of the blame lies with the previous Government. We have given improved tax incentives, and the remedy lies in the hands of those who work for the car industry. We hope that there will be great improvements in productivity and delivery times and that sales in this country and overseas will rise.

Mr. Ashley

As the Prime Minister is alone in knowing about the reality of international problems through her visits abroad, will she find the time to find out more about the realities of the grave domestic problem of unemployment by visiting an area of high unemployment and talking to the unemployed in that area? She will discover that the innuendo from her Government that all the unemployed are scroungers is malicious and unmerited.

The Prime Minister

I must take the right hon. Gentleman to task most severely. That was a totally unwarranted comment and very unlike him. We all hate unemployment, but we all remember that it was the previous Government who increased it so much.

05. Mr. Michael Spicer

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 19 July.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Spicer

Will my right hon. Friend take time to reflect on the extent to which a rising pound will force the Treasury to revise downwards its forecast of inflation and the effect that that will have on the context in which pay bargaining takes place in the autumn?

The Prime Minister

Undoubtedly, a rising pound at the levels that we are seeing now will help inflation to come down. It is a factor that helped the previous Government, and it will help this one to combat inflation. It brings other problems with it, but I hope that it will have the effect to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Spearing

Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her answer to the hon. Member for Antrincham and Sale (Mr. Montgomery) about the sale of council houses? Is she aware that I have just posted a letter to a lady constituent of mine who is living with her husband and two small children on the fifteenth floor of a tower block? Will the right hon. Lady reconsider her policy of support for Sir Horace Cutler, who is selling off council houses with gardens and preventing people with modest means from living in them? Is not such a policy antifamily and anti-children?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. A large number of council tenants want the opportunity to make the investment of a lifetime and to own their homes. We shall give them that chance. They would never have got it from the previous Government.