HC Deb 04 December 1980 vol 995 cc423-6
Q2. Mr. Eggar

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 December.

The Prime Minister

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 Commonwealth Secretary-General and another with Dr. Henry Kissinger. This evening I shall attend a dinner given by the German ambassador in honour of Chancellor Schmidt, to mark the presentation of an award to Mr. Henry Moore.

Mr. Eggar

In view of the need to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement and the Government's correct intention both to spread ownership of shares and to increase competition, will my right hon. Friend name an early date for the sale of shares in BNOC?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend's assertion that we need to reduce the amount of Government borrowing. With regard to the sale of shares in BNOC, a Bill will be presented to the House which will give enabling powers for the Government to sell equity to the public. When those powers will be invoked, I cannot say.

Mr. David Steel

Bearing in mind the right hon. Lady's past interest as Secretary of State for Education, is not the quiet announcement of an increase of 46 per cent. in fees for students at the Open University tantamount to a major withdrawal of Government support from that institution?

The Prime Minister

No. The fees for courses at the Open University have been, and are, excellent value. People who take advantage of them will still find that they are excellent value. We cannot go on subsidising everything indefinitely to an indefinite amount.

Mr. William Shelton

During the course of the day, if my right hon. Friend's thoughts turn to Poland, will not she agree that the major cause of the crisis and tensions in Eastern Europe is the failure of Marxist Socialism? Is this not precisely the case in Poland?

The Prime Minister

I believe, as my hon. Friend says, that we have been witnessing in Poland a crisis of Socialism in that it denies personal liberty and increased prosperity to satisfy the legitimate ambitions of the people. That is Socialism in practice.

Mr. Allen McKay

Will the Prime Minister, during a busy day, take time to discuss with her right hon. Friend the workings of the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, which has been cut to 50 per cent.? Does she realise that people on the guaranteed week will now find firms closing round them because the employer will no longer be able to pay up to that guaranteed week because the right hon. Lady has cut the subsidy?

The Prime Minister

The subsidy has been cut in percentage terms but has been extended in length of time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take up details with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who announced the changes recently.

Mr. Philip Holland

Will my right hon. Friend spare a moment during one of her engagements this afternoon to accept the congratulations of her hon. Friend the Member for Carlton on announcing within the space of 18 months the abolition of about 450 quangos, with a consequent saving of public money ultimately of £23 million a year? Can she give some idea of when she might be able to make a further statement about the outcome of the current review of other quangos?

The Prime Minister

I am delighted to have pleased my hon. Friend. I congratulate him on the campaign that he has run, which has exposed this matter to public view. We shall hope to make more progress in the future by reducing further the number of quangos.

Q3. Mr. Tilley

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 4 December.

The Prime Minister

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave a short time ago.

Mr. Tilley

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the only reason why she has not sacked the Minister of State, Treasury, the hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), over the Rossminster scandal is the effect that this would have on the public sector borrowing requirement? Is it not true that whatever savings may be made on his ministerial salary would be more than outweighed by the fact that he would be free once again to advise his clients how to avoid millions of pounds of tax which would otherwise go into the Exchequer?

The Prime Minister

There are a number of people in this House who are professional people whose duty to their profession is honestly to advise all clients. The law could not carry on unless that were so. I believe that it would be totally wrong if we were to exclude such people from membership of the House or from ministerial office.

Mr. Tapsell

I should like to preface my question by associating myself with what the Prime Minister has said about my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Treasury, whom I know well as a man of absolute integrity. Is my right hon. Friend aware that although the likely outcome of the next meeting of OPEC which is to be held shortly in Bali has probably been discounted in advance by the foreign exchange markets of the world, it is nevertheless all too possible that at some point in 1981 there will be a sudden and massive inflow of foreign fends into sterling? Would it not be prudent to ensure that we have the necessary defences ready to cope instantly with that situation if it should arise?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure that there will be a sudden and massive inflow into sterling. As we have got rid of exchange controls, I believe that there will come a time when there will be bigger outflows of sterling than at the moment to balance the inflows. We have always considered the possibility of inflow controls on sterling, but all advice from those who have operated them is that they have to be taken off after a very short time because they do not last long and, with a system such as ours, it would be easy to get round them within a matter of a few days. I agree that it is a problem. I believe, however, that the abolition of exchange control has reduced that problem by permitting outflows at the same time as inflows.

Mr. Maxton

In view of the answer that the right hon. Lady gave to her hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) on quangos, will she tell the House how she can include in a list of quangos in the Official Report this morning two Scottish colleges of education? Since she says that there will be considerable saving arising from those closures, will she state what they are, since her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland seems incapable of doing so?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is one of the best Secretaries of State for Scotland for a long time. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have steadily had to reduce the number of places in colleges of education. The number of pupils in schools overall will reduce by about 1 million over the next four years. My right hon. Friend is tackling this position with courage and absolute fairness.

Mr. Butcher

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to comment on the latest figures for car sales, which show that car imports last month were the lowest, proportionately, for two years? Will she continue to endorse the "Buy British" policy, especially as domestic manufacturers have now improved their model ranges and are also improving delivery?

The Prime Minister

I have noted the figures to which my hon. Friend referred. The number of imports has been reduced. I think that this is partly because imports from Japan were too great in the early part of the year and, therefore, they have positively reduced shipments now. But I endorse what my hon. Friend said. Now that we have some excellent cars being produced in the British market, I hope that people will buy British cars. In doing so, they will also be buying British steel and British components and, therefore, providing jobs well beyond the immediate car industry.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Regarding the similarities between the United Kingdom and Poland, is it not a fact that the only similarity is that in both countries free trade unions are seeking to get a square deal from Governments who act deliberately, through incompetence and spite, to depress the standard of living of working people?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, and his facts are not correct. In this country trade unions still enjoy privileges denied to any other group of United Kingdom citizens.