HC Deb 22 April 1980 vol 983 cc211-6
Q1. Mr. Marlow

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 22 April.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House. I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Marlow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the dangerous situation in the Middle East, the respect in which Britain is held in that part of the world, the international prestige of her right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary and the restrictions currently imposed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—on American foreign policy, there is both an excellent opportunity and an urgent need for Britain—with or without our European partners—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—to take an early initiative to bring peace to that area by setting in train measures leading to the just establishment of the Palestinian State that has now become inevitable?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation in the Middle East is extremely dangerous and that, obviously, the greatest possible advance would be to secure a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute. We are, of course, ready with our European partners to make a constructive approach to the matter but at the moment negotiations on the future of the West Bank are taking place. We must not undermine those negotiations.

Mr. Benn

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the steps that she has taken in Iran leading to the virtual withdrawal of diplomatic representation, plus the obvious pressure on President Carter to move towards the use of force pose a serious danger to world peace in that area? Would it not also be helpful to recognise in some public statement the deep sense of resentment that underlay the original aspirations of the Iranian people in seeking to get rid of the Shah and establish greater control over their own affairs?

The Prime Minister

The future internal government of Iran is a matter for the Iranian people. Our quarrel with the Iranians is that they are holding—wholly contrary to international law—some 50 hostages. All our efforts are designed to secure the release of those hostages. The European ambassadors were recalled for consultations last week after which our ambassador Sir John Graham returned to Iran. The other ambassadors did not. Sir John Graham has now returned to Britain for further consultations.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Prime Minister give her reaction to the highest postwar unemployment figure for April announced today? Will she now accept that North Sea oil revenues could be used to run the economy at a higher rate of activity than her Government are doing? Will the Prime Minister calculate the long-term consequences on our wealth-producing capacity of leaving school leavers idle in their present numbers?

The Prime Minister

One is always very worried about any increase in unemployment, and that is a view that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has also expressed. Revenues from the North Sea go into the Exchequer in the ordinary way and are used to finance all Exchequer expenditure. Under the employment measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, 401,000 people are now assisted by those special measures compared with 248,000 12 months ago.

Mr. Mellor

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to congratulate the directors and work force of the Ford Motor Company on their record output, exports and profits? Does not that show what British industry can achieve when a company has a relatively strike-free period in which to work?

The Prime Minister

I am only too happy to join in congratulating a company which has shown considerable improvements both in profitability and output over the past year. I note with great satisfaction that it was due to considerably reduced strikes and interruptions in production. I hope that example will be emulated elsewhere.

Q2. Mr. Dubs

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 22 April.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave a few moments ago.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Prime Minister agree that democracy in this country would be greatly helped if the cloak of secrecy surrounding the Government and Whitehall were to be lifted? Would she be prepared to take a small but significant step in that direction by making available to the public the names of the Cabinet committees and their member- ship, without using the excuse that the collective responsibility of the Cabinet would somehow be prejudiced if she were to do so?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first question, I must confess that I had not noticed an undue amount of secrecy lately.

As to the second part of his question, I have specified what Cabinet committees we have set up. I am not prepared to specify which members of Government serve on them. I believe that I said in reply to that question—and it is perfectly accurate—that the membership varies according to the matters under discussion.

Mr. Burden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many trade unionists object to the political one-day strike that trade union leaders aim to instigate on 14 May and that they are not least concerned because they are being threatened with withdrawal of their union cards and fines if they do not participate? Will not this puerile exercise by the trade unions cause a great deal of discomfort to the public while in no way causing my right hon. Friend to change the policies that she believes to be in the best interests of the country?

The Prime Minister

If that day of action takes place, it will have a totally political objective and nothing to do with a trade dispute. I hope that most trade union members will have no part in it at all.

Mr. James Callaghan

On this question of unemployment—and a large number of people who would like to be working are now being put out of jobs—since the Chief Secretary has said that there is no mechanistic or demonstrable link between the money supply and the reduction in the rate of inflation, why are the Government subjecting this country to such a savage rate of increase in unemployment?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for referring to my right hon. Friend's excellent speech at the weekend—and I trust that he will read it in full—in which he said that the Government must adhere to their policies. He also said that the policy cannot be abandoned because of the price that would have to be paid in output and employment in the short term to secure the prize of reducing inflation. Towards the end of his speech, he noted that the money supply policy was now beginning to work.

Mr. Callaghan

If unemployment is part of the Government's policy as a means of doing this, why are they reducing the level of benefits to those who are unemployed or sick?

The Prime Minister

The main factor in the Government's policy is to reduce the level of inflation, without which the level of unemployment in the long run cannot be reduced, as the right hon. Gentleman observed in one of his main speeches when he was at this Dispatch Box.

With regard to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, unemployment benefit is being increased slightly below the level of increases in prices pending the introduction of taxation of short term benefits.

Mr. Richard Shepherd

Has my right hon. Friend seen newspaper reports that Walsall Labour councillors, who have imposed one of the largest rate increases in the country, now propose to politicise staff appointments to Walsall borough council? Does she agree that that is a most unfortunate trend in our political process? Will she ask the Department of the Environment to look into ways in which it could safeguard the political impartiality of local government officers?

The Prime Minister

I saw that report. If what the report contains is true—and it appears to be—the proposals of the Walsall Labour Party are wholly contrary to democracy. I am glad that NALGO has also condemned the proposals. I hope that the official Labour Party will also condemn them for what they are—a thorough disgrace.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the right hon. Lady give serious consideration to the suggestion by the Danish Government that action against Iran by the European States should be postponed until elections have taken place in that country? Does she agree that would be a useful cooling-off period before matters escalate any further?

The Prime Minister

The United States has waited for six months and the hostages have not yet been released. The Foreign Ministers are meeting in Europe today. Doubtless the Danish Foreign Minister will be there and will put his viewpoint. I hope and believe that the Foreign Ministers will come out with a joint communiqué at the end of their meeting indicating full solidarity with the United States in diplomatic and economic measures.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Prime Minister find time today to consider the problem of Scottish teachers' salaries and agree to find the £1.5 million necessary to bring the salaries of Scottish primary school teachers up to those recommended for England and Wales by Clegg and, in so doing, ensure that we have industrial peace in the classrooms in Scotland?

The Prime Minister

The salaries of Scottish teachers are negotiated in their own negotiating body. I believe it is best to leave matters to that body.

Mr. Kilfedder

In view of the trade and diplomatic action that the Government are contemplating to help the United States' hostages in Iran, will the Government express the anger of this country at the failure of the United States—after 11 years of violence in Northern Ireland, where the Provisional IRA has slaughtered and mutilated thousands of men and women and young people—to stop money and guns from going to the Provisional IRA, and their continued refusal to send 3,000 Luger weapons to the police because they feel, wrongly, that they do not wish to take sides in this dispute?

The Prime Minister

We and, I believe, the vast majority of people in the United States, condemn any supply of money from the United States to the IRA for the continuance of its terrorist activities. When the former Taoiseach, Mr. Lynch, was over there, he openly and courageously condemned such action.

Regarding the supply of pistols to the RUC, 3,000 were supplied and an application was put in for a further 3,000. A final decision has not yet been made.