HC Deb 03 April 1980 vol 982 cc641-3
Q2. Mr. O'Neill

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 3 April.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Prime Minister take time today to consider a report in today's press to the effect that manufacturing output will fall by 4½ per cent. and that unemployment is likely to rise to 2½ million? Is it not disgraceful that that announcement was not made last week, at the time of the Budget Statement? Could it be that the right hon. Lady and her colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not have that information? If they did not know about it, will they find time during the recess to produce another Budget that will take that information into consideration?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Member reads the Red Book, he will find the official Government forecast. I know of many forecasts, and some of them are very gloomy. We had some extremely gloomy forecasts for the end of last year, but, in the outturn, the standard of living rose by about 6 per cent.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to refute reports in the press this morning to the effect that the consequence of the tax agreed in Brussels on food imports into Britain will be to increase the cost of our contribution to the Community budget? If that were the case, would it not undermine our position when negotiating with the Community?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend knows, we are trying to secure substantial reductions in our contribution to the Community. I am aware of some of the complicated factors about MCAs. They are designed to see that our producers get a fair deal in competition with others. I have a brief on this subject that consists of two whole pages of foolscap. I assure my hon. Friend that it is highly complicated and that he would prefer me not to read it out.

Mr. Foot

Although it is highly complicated, does not the right hon. Lady think that it is highly important as well, since the report states that under these arrangements we are to have a tax on food coming into this country? When will she report to the House? Does she regard this as a further example of her success in EEC diplomacy?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the report is quite right. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food wants the system to apply in such a way that it will not subject British producers to unfair competition. We are both very concerned about prices to the housewife. However, it would be far better if the right hon. Gentleman were to ask for the full details from my right hon. Friend. I can spend the whole of Question Time on this subject, but I am not sure that it would be illuminating either to the right hon. Gentleman or to me.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady confirm, as her right hon. Friend and the report have indicated, that it is not only a question of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but that it concerns the consequences for Britain's contribution to the budget as a whole? Is it not she who is answerable to the House on all those issues?

The Prime Minister

Of course I am concerned about the consequences for the British contribution to the Community as a whole. With that in mind, we look at every change proposed in the CAP, in order to ensure that it is not adverse to Britain's interests. Some of the proposed changes are adverse to our interests. That is why we could not possibly agree to them. There is no doubt about that.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the style and content of the Government's White Paper on defence were greatly appreciated by all Conservative Members, and no doubt by those in the Armed Forces? Does she agree that the Government still need to make a massive effort to put over to the people of Britain, particularly the young, the need for NATO to update its nuclear weapons and to maintain defence expenditure at that level?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, I agree that the level of defence expenditure must be related to the level of the force that we have to deter. That must happen at all levels, whether nuclear, theatre nuclear or conventional. A decision has not yet been made about the updating of nuclear weapons. My right hon. Friend will report to the House when it has.

Mr. Soley

Will the Prime Minister take time today to consider arranging meetings between herself and the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic on a regular basis, so that matters of concern to both countries can be discussed in a systematic way?

The Prime Minister

We meet at the European summits, and I shall be meeting the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic at the next European summit towards the end of April. I believe that it is preferable for more regular meetings to be held on security matters between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his opposite number in the Irish Republic.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Militant Tendency movement has completely taken over the Southampton Labour Party, and that the citizens of Southampton are alarmed that after the next local election there may be for the first time in living memory a Communist-controlled local authority?

The Prime Minister

I trust that my hon. Friend will be sufficiently active in Southampton in our cause to see that that does not happen.

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