HC Deb 22 November 1979 vol 974 cc553-6
Q1. Mr. Adley

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 22 November.

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, including one with the Prime Minister of the Yemen Arab Republic. This evening I shall be attending the diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace.

Mr. Adley

Turning my right hon. Friend's attention from the activities of Comrade Blunt to those of Comrade Robinson, may I ask whether she agrees that the activities of those who foment political strikes in this country are a cause for national concern? Will she do her best to encourage an early debate on this aspect of the nation's security?

The Prime Minister

Of course we are all worried about the number of strikes, because they cut down our prospects of trade, both at home and abroad, and they put up prices. Indeed, they are very damaging to the economy. I believe that we may have the opportunity for an economic debate some time in the near future, when perhaps that aspect can be debated, along with more strictly economic matters.

Mr. John Home Robertson

Will the Prime Minister instruct her Ministers to have the courage of their convictions when it comes to snatching milk or hijacking school buses? Why do they persist in trying to pass the buck to local authorities?

The Prime Minister

I rather thought that hon. Members in many parts of the House wished that local authorities had more control over decisions relating to matters in their own areas. We are giving them greater freedom of decision on transport and on school meals.

Mr. Lawrence

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's remarks yesterday concerning her surprise that anyone with Marxist views should have been accepted to do secret work in the public service, is she now satisfied that there are not Marxist groups or individuals in the public service who are in a position to do harm to the national interest? Will she maintain continual vigilance in this regard?

The Prime Minister

We shall, of course, maintain continual vigilance. As I think I said in my speech yesterday, no system is absolutely foolproof against penetration, but we have security services to keep us warned of these things, among others.

Mr. James Callaghan

I should like to ask the Prime Minister about mortgage interest rates. Will she tell us why she has not on this occasion intervened with the building societies to keep down their rates, as she did last time? As the Conservative manifesto clearly told us that the Government's plan would enable building societies to lower interest rates, will she tell us what has gone wrong with her financial policy?

The Prime Minister

It has occurred to me that the right hon. Gentleman might ask that question. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] As the right hon. Gentleman knows, interest rates are at this level because too many people want to borrow. [Interruption.] If the Opposition do not realise that, they will never get their economics right. I recognise that the Government are borrowing too much. An interesting correlation is that when the Government borrow less—as the previous Labour Government did under the instructions of the IMF and the borrowing requirement went down—interest rates go down. I shall be delighted to have the support of the right hon. Gentleman and those who sit behind him to get down Government spending and borrowing, because interest rates will then go down.

Mr. Callaghan

Despite that long answer, I do not think that the right hon. Lady answered my question. The right hon. Lady's manifesto said that the Conservatives would get mortgage interest rates down because their tax cuts would help people to raise deposits for mortgages. What has gone wrong with all this business? Would the right hon. Lady care to circulate that extract from the Conservative manifesto and explain to the people of this country that she was conning them at the general election?

The Prime Minister

I did answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. It was just that he did not like my answer. If he would like more of a reply, I must tell him that the other factor in keeping up interest rates is the private sector borrowing to put up wage rates. The right hon. Gentleman must not run away with the idea that interest rates are determined only by the Government. They are determined by the activities of ordinary men and women demanding wages in excess of output and then striking and requiring companies to borrow to keep going.

Mr. Callaghan

Why does not the right hon. Lady admit that her policy is a ghastly failure?

The Prime Minister

Because it is not.

Mr. Thompson

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to discuss with both the Archbishop of Canterbury—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—and the Archbishop of Westminster and others the serious plight of all Christians in Iran?

The Prime Minister

I need hardly stress how worried we all are about events in Iran and certain events in Islamic countries elsewhere. I hope that the whole world will demonstrate its view that these matters are no part of a civilised society.

Mr. David Steel

Returning to today's meeting of the Building Societies Association, what answer will the Prime Minister give to the building societies if they remind her of her pledge, given when she was Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, that a Conservative Government would take action to protect the mortgage rate from the market rates of interest by intervening to keep them below 9½ per cent? Will she tell them what action she will take, or will she simply tell them, as the rest of us are aware, that her show is slipping?

The Prime Minister

As I have told the right hon. Gentleman before, and as I remind him now, we fought and lost an election on that one. It was not, in fact, in the manifesto on the last occasion. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking why we do not now intervene by lending money to the building societies to keep down the mortgage interest rate, I should point out that that is a possible course of action only at the beginning of a financial year, when the money can be returned before the end of the financial year. The right hon. Gentleman always tries to run away from facts. One problem is the level of public expenditure. It would not be wise, when trying to get it down, to take action that would put it up substantially.

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