HC Deb 24 May 1979 vol 967 cc1220-6
Q1. Mr. Wrigglesworth

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 24 May.

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 holding further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

During the election campaign the Prime Minister mentioned the possibility, in certain circumstances, of a pay freeze. In view of the grave concern of those whose pay claims have been referred to the comparability commission and the prospect of rapidly increasing prices, will she today make clear her intentions on a pay freeze and state the circumstances in which it would be introduced?

The Prime Minister

I was asked at a press conference whether I would entirely rule out a pay freeze. I responded, as would any responsible incoming Minister, that no responsible person would entirely rule out a pay freeze during the whole course of a Parliament. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a large number of claims have been referred to the comparability commission. We agreed to honour the recommendations of the commission on those cases referred by the previous Government.

Mr. Michael Latham

Following recent and highly deplorable outbursts from certain trade unions, will my right hon. Friend congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his remarks yesterday that political action should not be taken against the elected Government of Britain? May we hope that that advice will be followed by the trade unions and the Tribune group?

The Prime Minister

I shall gladly do that. I feel sure that that view is shared by the vast majority of responsible trade unionists.

Mr. Skinner

As the Prime Minister does not have a mandate for a pay freeze, and as she says that she is a conviction politician, will she categorically rule out a pay freeze in the next 18 months?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is trying to do exactly what the press tried to do, and I shall reply in exactly the same way. I do not rule out a pay freeze over the lifetime of a Parliament, and I will not go further than that.

Mr. Forman

On the subject of trade union reform, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that it is the reverse of the truth to say that the Government are inspired by a spirit of dictatorship? Will she also make it clear that we seek moderate, reasonable reform, carrying the broad mass of the trade union membership with us?

The Prime Minister

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. The Government are concerned to have a proper balance between the powers and responsibilities of any powerful body. We believe that we have the overwhelming support of the vast majority of the people for the legislative reforms that we propose, and that they are fair and reasonable.

Mr. David Steel

How does the Prime Minister consistently rule out any form of sustained and comprehensive pay policy while failing to rule out the most draconian, arbitrary and unfair form of pay policy, namely, a pay freeze?

The Prime Minister

Natural caution and good financial instinct.

Q2. Mr. Temple-Morris

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 24 May.

The Prime Minister

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I have just given to the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth).

Mr. Temple-Morris

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Labour Party, through its instrument, the Labour Southern Africa Solidarity Fund, has donated, and this month paid, no less than £1,000 to the Patriotic Front? Is she further aware that the right hon. Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart), the former Minister of State for Overseas Development, has declared that to be in accord with Labour Party policy?

The Prime Minister

I have read the report to that effect in the press. I am very grateful that I lead a party that does not take donations to terrorist organisations.

Mr. Bradford

Will the Prime Minister find time today to decide on the date for a, debate on capital punishment for terrorism in the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I can possibly do that today, but the hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, catch Mr. Speaker's eye and put the same question to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a little later.

Mr. Rost

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we would not, today, be faced with an oil shortage if Governments of the Western world had taken more initiatives to implement a conservation programme over the past five years? Will she take the opportunity today to state clearly that the new Conservative Government will do what the Labour Government failed to do—provide geniune incentives for us to save energy for the years to come?

The Prime Minister

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that energy conservation is a matter of great importance and that we must take all possible steps to see that we have an effective policy.

Mr. Spearing

As the Conservative Party and the right hon. Lady advocated the sale of council houses with gardens, not only to sitting tenants but, as the Greater London Council is doing, the sale of vacant, newly-built property, will the right hon. Lady explain to the House why she thinks that that increases the choice of mothers with small children living in tower blocks? Will she personally prepare a letter which she will give to her private office so that such ladies, when writing to her asking for justification of that policy, will receive a personal reply, which is the responsibility of the Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister

Mothers with small children living in lower blocks, just as anyone else living in tower blocks, will, under a Conservative Government, now have three options to carry on renting, to put down an option to purchase the flat within a reasonable time, or to purchase the flat. That seems to me to enlarge the freedom and possibilities available to such people.

Q4. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 24 May.

The Prime Minister

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

Mr. Hughes

In her discussions on Rhodesia, does the right hon. Lady take account of the fact that a constitution under which 28 per cent. of the parliamentary seats are reserved for 3 per cent. of the population is basically undemocratic? Since that constitution was submitted only to the white minority for approval, and not to the black majority, how can that possibly satisfy the sixth principle, the test of acceptability? Given that set of circumstances, will the right hon. Lady realise that the recognition of the Smith-Muzorewa alliance has the gravest consequences for peace in Southern Africa, and that if she does this she will be supporting the real terrorists in Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

It is a constitution which attracted a large number of people to vote during the recent election. That is a factor which we must take into account. We shall, of course, pursue the policy which I have announced, that of trying, along with many other nations, to bring Rhodesia back to legality. We shall do everything we can to try to secure international recognition.

Mr. Goodhew

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was on record the other day on the wireless as suggesting that Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Nkomo together had a majority of the people of Rhodesia behind them? As 64 per cent. of the electorate voted for people other than them, is he not badly informed on the whole subject?

Mr. English

While carrying out her engagements today, did the Prime Minister ensure at the Cabinet meeting that one Conservative commitment was carried out? Will the House of Commons immediately after the Budget, have an opportunity of a free vote on the Procedure Committee's recommendations?

The Prime Minister

The Prime Minister presided at the Cabinet, beautifully, as usual. We hope to have an early opportunity of debating the procedural motions before the Summer Recess.

Mr. Alan Clark

Did my right hon. Friend have time to look at an article in this morning's edition of The Daily Telegraph, in which a former Minister makes a completely bogus assertion that a substantive decision had been made by his Government to increase the provision of fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force? Does she not think it curiously hypocritical of the hon. Gentleman to try to claim credit for drawing attention to the deficiencies of the United Kingdom's air defence when it was his Government and his policies which were responsible for running them down?

The Prime Minister

I noted the article in today's edition of The Daily Telegraph. I understood from it that a decision had been taken in principle only. I assure my hon. Friend that no money whatsoever was provided for it in the Estimates.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will the Prime Minister, with her new-found, beautiful, political caution, take the trouble to examine very carefully the needs of air defence, and not automatically reject the proposals which were approved by a part of the Ministry of Defence over which I presided substantially to increase the number of air defence fighters in service with the RAF committed to the defence of this country? That is the point.

The Prime Minister

It is not the decisions in principle that count. It is whether the resources are committed to carry them out. I note what the hon. Gentleman wrote in the article in The Daily Telegraph today about his own period in office: For what a sorry spectacle the story of Britain's home-based air defence makes".

Mr. Wellbeloved

Do something about it.

The Prime Minister

That is exactly the sorry spectacle which the hon. Gentleman left.

Mr. Adley

Having disposed of the notion that the previous Government committed any money to the defence of this country, will my right hon. Friend consider drawing up, perhaps even starting today, an inheritance schedule of debts incurred, commitments entered into and contracts completed by the previous Government between the time of the vote of confidence and the date of the general election? Could she do this so that we can find out whether some of the reports in the newspapers about commitments entered into by, for instance, the Secretary of State for Industry, are accurate? If they are, is it not disgraceful? Could we not have a code of practice to prevent outgoing Governments doing this in the future?

The Prime Minister

I shall endeavour to follow my hon. Friend's advice. He will already have seen today that the public sector borrowing requirement was higher than we thought for the past year. It was not £8½ billion, as was forecast when the last Chancellor of the Exchequer did his caretaker Budget, but is up to £9 2 billion for last year.

Mr. Meacher

Will the right hon. Lady take time to give a guarantee that, when she comes to sell off public industrial assets, as she seems to be threatening to do, this rip-off will not be used to feather the private nests of the predators of capitalism seated behind her?

The Prime Minister

There cannot be an effective public sector unless there is a prosperous private one.

Mr. Wellbeloved

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Prime Minister's reply to my supplementary question, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

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